Lots of great music this year; here's my subjective list of the best. Snider's will be posted later.
1. of Montreal: Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)
2. Bon Iver: For Emma Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)
Bon Iver is Wisconsin singer/songwriter Justin Vernon. His rootsy debut album under this moniker is the sort that takes your breathe away with its stunning, austere beauty -- light drums, acoustic guitar, the occasional wash of background sonics. But the sole element that makes For Emmas subtleties and well-crafted songs of longing and loss work so well is Vernons delicate, soulful falsetto, sometimes multi-tracked to elegant effect and so magnificently expressive it brings a tear to the eye.
3. TV on the Radio: Dear Science (Interscope)
Bumpin disco-funk dance music marked by out-of-the-box beats and brimming with sexiness and soul, Dear Science found a rather serious Brooklyn art rock band building upon their dark meditative style by letting loose and having fun with it.
4. MGMT: Oracular Spectacular (Columbia)
People use the word derivative a lot when discussing this band. But MGMT does 70s-style psychedelic
5. Icy Demons: Miami Ice (Obey Your Brain)
The experimental Chicago/Philadelphia ensemble departed from their distinctly Zappa-esque-jazzified-prog-rock-meets-New-Wave-pop sound to an album so out there that even I couldnt wrap my mind around it at first off-kilter melodies, shifting time-signatures colliding with warm and mellow samba beats, menacing cello and buzzing synthesizers broken up by a xylophone-infused vocal interlude. In the end, the novelty spoke to me.
6. The Ms, Real Close Ones (Polyvinyl)
The Chicago bands third album is psychedelic pop with personality that culls from a myriad of late 60s rock styles. Bouncy and boisterous, ambling and easy, or heavy and distorted, all of it augmented by horns, chiming bells, electronic blips, hand clapping and all-manner of other small but noteworthy
7. Marco Benevento, Invisible Baby (Hyena)
Marco Benevento of jazz rock twosome Benevento/Russo Duo has managed to rise above the jam band scenes rather lackluster year with a debut solo studio effort that captures what the masterful keyboardist does best experimenting with texture to create dense layers of sound, pairing electronic bursts from his hodge-podge of noise-making and circuit-bending gadgets with banjos, drum loops and even a Glockenspiel for some lighthearted dimension, and using clear, lyrical piano notes rather than vocals to convey a feeling.
8. Department of Eagles, In Ear Park (4ad Records)
The third effort of a side project by Grizzly Bears Dan Rozzen, In Ear Park is a lovely, surreal work that manages to take the 60s folk-pop style of Grizzly Bear and combine it with the organic elements of 2007s The Cold Nose ghostly vocals, buoyant percussion, acoustic guitar without losing the inherent electronic touches.
9. Black Keys, Attack & Release (Nonesuch)
I really dig the Black Keys rough-and-tumble neo-blues style and was eager to hear what Danger Mouses production skills brought to the table. Some critics complained that it wasnt very much. I think DM managed to enhance what the Keys do best without becoming overbearing; a swell of strings here, spooky gospel-tinged back-up vocals there, hand claps and B3 organ and key-flute and banjo and spacey electro-
10. Cloud Cult, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) (Rebel Group)
I discovered this gem a little less than two weeks ago and liked it on first listen. Its not quite a concept album, but the bulk of the songs deal with the man/environment life cycle. The Americana-informed chamber pop manages to come off as lighthearted despite the sometimes sinister subject matter, and though the precious lilting vocals and joyous Wes Anderson film score-style moments almost border on cheesy, the album is so goddamn sincere that it makes up for any missteps.