15. Crime In Choir – Trumpery Metier
Epic, instrumental rock and roll. Sounds like fleshed out renditions of music from some magical adventure game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Watch out for a searing saxophone solo!
14. Tunng – This Is … Tunng: Mother’s Daughter And Other Songs
Dark folk with some surprising electronic beats and manipulation. Reminds me a bit of Califone, whose new album I still haven’t bought yet for no good reason.
13. Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country
Classy, charming pop from Scotland. Recorded in Sweden, though, if I’m not mistaken.
12. Midlake – The Trials Of Van Occupanther
I usually try to avoid making comparisons like this (and it might sound unpleasant), but it just seems appropriate: Radiohead meets The Eagles. It’s smooth, to be sure, but with interesting instrumentation and lyrics that evoke the perils of country life in some bygone era.
11. White Whale – WWI
High-flying, piano-filled and somewhat-proggy rock. Akin to The Arcade Fire, but I much prefer this album to Funeral.
10. Lansing-Dreiden – The Dividing Island
This group’s music is hard to categorize. What I can say is that the melodies are unusual yet satisfying, synthesizers play a major role and there’s at least one song on this album that is best described as a “slow jam.” Also, the band members refuse to identify themselves, which is just an amusing detail.
9. Crystal Skulls – Outgoing Behavior
I didn’t find this album to be as consistent as their debut, Blocked Numbers. But I think that there are some stronger, catchier songs here, especially “Baby Boy,” which you must download if you haven’t already (see “Several MP3s” post below).
8. Liars – Drum’s Not Dead
Experimental, perhaps, but somehow melodic and accessible rather than just noisy. There’s a primal quality to the whole affair that you’ll really want to sink your yellow country teeth into.
7. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
Three-part masterpiece “The Island” alone is worth the price of admission here. The organ jamboree in Part 2 (“The Landlord’s Daughter”) is the most thrilling musical moment I experienced this year. Who else can rock you down like that with an organ these days? Elsewhere on The Crane Wife, there are just a couple of tracks I haven’t warmed to that keep it from landing closer to the top of my list.
6. Hot Chip – The Warning
Fun and funny electronic music from a bunch of friendly-looking British lads. Saw them here in L.A. recently. Though they hardly moved on the stage, the crowd danced like it was MTV’s “The Grind” circa 1994. Less freaking, though.
5. James Raynard – Strange Histories
In the vein of Alasdair Roberts’ No Earthly Man (which was my top album last year), Mr. Raynard digs up some old tunes of the British Isles and presents them in stark arrangements. Many of these songs are from around the 17th century, and I imagine that they were performed similarly back then.
4. Supersystem – A Million Microphones
Could be described as “dance-punk,” but it’s much more fresh and interesting than you might suppose of something with that tag. To adapt a phrase used earlier in the jamboree: This is the album I wish The Rapture had come out with this year.
3. Peter Bjorn And John – Writer’s Block
This album exudes tunefulness and low-fi charm, which I expected going into it based on what I had heard from these gentlemen. But there’s an emotional resonance here that I didn’t expect, and it makes the album. I didn’t realize that Writer’s Block hadn’t been released in the U.S. until Cary mentioned it in one of his posts. Here’s a great place to order it and other Swedish treats: www.parasol.com.
2. Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye
The palette of sounds on this album and the atmosphere they create are captivating. It’s more downbeat than I anticipated after having heard “In The Morning,” and I was even a bit disappointed by the album initially. But I grew to love it. If I were wandering the wintry streets of some Canadian city at night, So This Is Goodbye is what I would want to listen to.
1. The Knife – Silent Shout
Ranking most of these albums was tough, but Silent Shout was clearly my favorite of the year. It is bold, beautiful and downright creepy. While it could be categorized as dance music, it’s hard to imagine it being played in any club in this dimension. It sounds like the soundtrack to some dark, intense cousin of The NeverEnding Story. The vocals are so warped at times that I picture them coming from trolls or some other crazy creatures. Not the type of music I normally listen to, but perhaps that’s why this album hit me so hard.