#30 – Korallreven, An Album by Korallreven: Another one of the electronic bands I learned about this year, this is lush, clear pop. It starts with the sound of rain falling and that perfectly captures the mood this album creates. Vocal loops, handclaps, rising and falling electronic flourishes – it all works to create a wonderful buoyant atmosphere.
#29 – Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean: Judging from the many negative comments online, Sam Beam managed to alienate more than a few long-term fans who wanted him to continuing pumping out lo-fi bedroom music. Thank goodness he didn’t and instead pushed his music forward with this well-crafted gem featuring Beach Boys-like vocals, unique instrumental decorations, and cleaner production.
#28 – Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts: Released prior to the announcement of the break-up of his marriage to Sonic Youth partner Kim Gordon, this album (produced by Beck) of quiet acoustic numbers, often backed by strings and featuring unusual chord progressions, now seems like the chronicle of the dissolution of a relationship in its sadness and longing.
#27 – Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes: While this album doesn’t seem as danceable and melodic as its predecessor, it’s actually a stronger and more mature album. No sophomore curse here. With a strong debt to ‘60s girl groups (but lyrics firmly set in the present), this is a great collection of pop music.
#26 – Bon Iver, Bon Iver: Justin Vernon adds a band and a new voice in this strong sophomore effort. The falsetto of For Emma, Forever Ago is now joined by a sexy growl, and the instrumentation is uniformly perfect for the songs, but the sense of intimacy and quietness remains. Lyrically he’s moved beyond the angst of Emma to more of a travelogue approach.
#25 – St. Vincent, Strange Mercy: Annie Clark’s third album is another mind-bender. Melodies shoot off in strange directions. Instruments break in at odd moments with strange sounds and notes. It’s a tour de force of art rock (for lack of a better term) and a highly coherent work, although occasionally the “art” gets in the way of the “rock.”
#24 – TV on the Radio, Nine Types of Lights: This album is a good example of why one should never rank albums immediately (so pity on more recent releases that I didn’t initially like – they don’t have time to redeem themselves): this album didn’t grab me at first. While I still don’t think it’s their strongest effort, they’re still one of the most interesting bands out there, really committed to creating a unique sound – and not just for the sake of being different.
#23 – The Mountain Goats, All Eternals Deck: The 13th album under this monilker showcases John Darnielle’s high, carefully phrased and yet emotionally satisfying voice, and highly literate lyrics. It amply demonstrates the power of “less is more.” Arrangements are simple but well executed: piano, guitar, drums, bass, violin.
#22 – Cymbals Eat Guitars, Lenses Alien: This band sets the tone for this psychedelic and artsy album right from the start with the mind-blowing epic “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name),” an eight and a half minute suite of tuneful singing set against unusual time signatures, quiet sections and a wash of psychedelic noise. An exciting, challenging and ambitious slice of rock.
#21 – Yuck, Yuck: Another terrific debut album, this British band’s distorted vocals, Dinosaur Jr.-like guitar sound and often heavy bass (the bass player often plays the bottom end and the bass drum is well up in the mix) can’t disguise its obvious pop sensibilities. Even on a crashing tune like “Holing Out,” the melody is strong. This is great driving rock ‘n’ roll.