It's that time of year again. Best of the year time. I'm starting with albums, because I doubt any new release between now and 2011 will disrupt the top ten I've been compiling in my mind the last few weeks (I'll be exclusively listening to Christmas music for the next few weeks in any case). So here are my picks, in reverse order:
10) Jonsi, Go: Jonsi's first solo album is as lovely, soaring, and musical as you'd hope it would be. Nothing groundbreaking here, but an album that I've come back to time and time again this year. Download now: "Tornado," "Hengilas."
9) Surfer Blood, Astro Coast: Seems like years ago that this album came out, but it was actually just early 2010. A great debut full of fresh, sunny, addictive pop gems. Download now: "Floating Vibes," "Twin Peaks."
8) Joanna Newsom, Have One On Me: This triple album may be a bit, um, much, but it's utterly beautiful and full of all the sorts of unexpected sounds and squeaks and timeless melodies we come to expect from Ms. Newsom. Download now: "Baby Birch," "No Provenance."
7) Sufjan Stevens, Age of Adz: The biggest "grower" of the year for me. I wasn't a fan at first, but listened to it over and over again in China, and couldn't stop. Sufjan, you've done it again. Download Now: "Futile Devices," "Get Real Get Right."
6) Vampire Weekend, Contra: This sophomore album is anything but a slump. Vampire Weekend capitalize on their privileged post-colonialist preppie rep and give us some gems of pastiche pop. Download now: "White Sky," "Diplomat's Son."
5) Arcade Fire, The Suburbs: Not quite as kinetic as their previous albums, but a little fuller and more mature. Great themes, motifs, and suburban angst. Download now: "City With No Children," "We Used to Wait."
4) Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: The one great thing about Kanye's ego and obsessive narcissism is that it forces him to be really anal about creating only the very best craft. Thus, we have an album like this, which is so painstakingly assembled so as to be white hot and groundbreaking, that it more or less is white hot and groundbreaking. Download now: "All of the Lights," "Lost in the World."
3) The Radio Dept., Clinging to a Scheme: The most unassuming album on my list, and yet one of the most gorgeous. At scarcely more than a half hour in length, this brisk and inauspicious album is a no-frills, to-the-point dose of shoegaze mood. Download now: "Heaven's On Fire," "Never Follow Suit"
2) The National, High Violet: A near-perfect assemblage of all the best aspects of The National. Brooding, melodic, somberly hopeful, urban. It effortlessly captures many of the messy preoccupations of the modern American man. Good companion piece to The Suburbs. Download now: "Sorrow," "England."
1) The Walkmen, Lisbon: From the first gleefully straightforward (and yet conflicted and weary) 30 seconds of opener "Juveniles," to the bare-bones lamentations of the title track's closing strains, Lisbon is one long, tragic, minimalist bit of nostalgia and eulogy. It's an album that somehow captures both resignation and hope, and which glories in goodness as much as it teases out the rough-edged particularities of life's hard knocks. Just listen to the mournful mariachi horns of "Stranded" and you get a picture of the sort of Remember the Alamo (by way of cigarettes and whiskey) post-traumatic Americana that kind of defines Lisbon. Download now: "Stranded," "Blue as Your Blood"
Honorable Mention: Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More; Over the Rhine, The Long Surrender; Best Coast, Crazy for You; Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest; Girl Talk, All Day; John Mark McMillan, The Medicine; The New Pornographers, Together; Sandra McCracken, In Feast or Fallow; Yeasayer, Odd Blood; Das Racist, Sit Down Man.