Mos Def puts out his best album in a long time with this collection of eclectic beats and wonderfully obtuse lyrics that are instantly recognizable as Mos Def. In an era where hip hop gets lazier and lazier, its nice to see people like Mos Def lead the way.
9. Muse (The Resistance)
The Best Queen album of the year (in a year where Queen themselves actually released an album). While at times Muse can induce some serious eye rolling (seeing a 3 movement symphony on a rock cd is usually never a good thing), there is no denying their ridiculous talent for coming up with stadium leveling choruses. Like "Black Holes and Revelations," the good definitely outweighs the bad on this disc.
8. Portugal. The Man "The Satanic Satanist"
Saw these guys at Schubas this year and it shed an entirely new light on this disc for me. While the disc gives off a laid back hippy vibe (I mean, look at that cover) live they actually brought a little acid-rock edginess. The show made me think of them as the closest thing to Pink Floyd this side of Secret Machines.
7. Animal Collective "Merriwether Post Pavilion"
Unlike Portugal the Man, I kind of gave up on this disc after seeing them live at Lollapalooza this year. Their show was way too avant garde for me, and kind of turned me off of this disc for a while. Then about a month ago, I was riding the train somewhere between still buzzed and hungover and put this disc on and realized why I liked it so much to begin with. Probably the most lush, creative disc to come out this year, it really challenges you to discover all of its many layers. I recommend getting some expensive headphones and putting this one on.
6. Franz Ferdinand "Tonight"
This album represented a big step forward for Franz. The basic building blocks of Franz songs are there, but this time the gloss is stripped way back and the focus is more on the keyboards than guitars. There's a swagger that opens the album, but you can also tell there is an undercurrent of unease throughout that rears its head starting with the epic "Lucid Dreams." If the first few tracks are the pre-party and night out at the bar, "Lucid Dreams" starts the stumble home ending with "Katherine Kiss Me" which would be akin to that last beer while sitting on the porch wondering where it all went wrong.
5. Arctic Monkeys "Humbug"
Unfair or not, there are certain bands that I choose to ignore on principle based on the kind of hype they get right away. Arctic Monkeys were one of those bands. Then I saw them at Lolla this year and ended up totally eating my words. This album was a revelation of sorts, a great disc of well crafted pop songs that kept the balance between catchy without being too poppy and instrumental prowess without getting too prog rock about it. Definitely a band I will be listening to more of.
4. Them Crooked Vultures
One time while watching Nirvana's Unplugged on MTV, I remember saying out loud "man, Dave Grohl is a terrible drummer." Well, after him pummeling me into submission on albums like "Tenacious D," "Songs for the Deaf" and now this one, I take it all back Dave Grohl. Can you ever forgive me? While the songs on this album take a decided lean towards the Josh Homme spectrum of the trio, a lot of times its the rhythm section that is the real star here. Songs like "No One Loves Me, and Either Do I" "Elephants" and "Gunman" show off what a hard rock supergroup can do instrumentally, but the most exciting parts are when Jones and Grohl lock into that ENORMOUS Zeppelin-esque groove. Maybe all those bands from the 60's have it all wrong hiring Bonham and Starr's kids to drum for them. It looks from here like Dave Grohl is the MAN for all of them.
3. Doves "Kingdom of Rust"
What else is there to say about Doves except note how criminal it is that Coldplay is huge and they are not. Yet another solid at worst, soaring at best album from these guys. Grittier than anything they've put out to date, yet some of their best songwriting.
2. Handsome Furs "Face Control"
For the second time on my list, a side project of the previous years #1 album has made my top 3 for the year. I love everything about this album from the skittering, sparse beats to the frantic, paranoid half shouted, half sung vocals. While paranoia has often been a hallmark of Dan Boeckner's music, here it comes front and center instead of taking a back seat to the instrumental heroics of his day job fronting Wolf Parade. In a year where I was stressed to the breaking point a few times, I found a lot of comfort in this album. And if not for a couple songs on my #1 album, "All We Wanted Baby Is Everything" would probably be my top song of the year.
1. Mastodon "Crack the Skye"
Ok, I admit it. Deep down I'm just a big guitar nerd. And for sheer guitar awesomeness without getting all Van Halen-y about it, there was really no topping Mastodon this year. From the mind bending riffs of "Quintessence" (which is probably the most ridiculous song I've heard in years) to the sweet classic rock soloing of "The Czar" to the borderline terrifying screams of the title track, this album blew my mind from start to finish. I'm not a big metal fan, so its nice to hear a band that can bring that kind of virtuosity to more conventional rock without sounding to wrapped up in themselves. That's exactly what Mastodon does.
Lifetime Achievement Awards
Phish "Joy" Pearl Jam "Backspacer" U2 "No Line on the Horizon"
While these are probably my top three favorite bands ever, none of them made my top ten list. The encouraging part is that these are all discs that are better than the last couple discs from these bands. So even though they didn't crack my top ten, I would feel remiss if I didn't list these discs somewhere.
Album That Everyone but Me Liked: The Decemberists "The Hazards of Love"
I just didn't get it I guess. It seemed way too heavy handed for me and the recurring themes just weren't that strong to be on the disc three of four times.
Album that didn't live up to the bands stellar live show. Heartless Bastards "The Mountain"
When I saw this band open for Wolfmother (Yeah, I like Wolfmother), they were gritty, dynamic and rocked. This album was none of those things. A big disappointment really.
That's all! Wishing everyone the best new year.