By "Top" I mean most frequently played by yours truly. This is what I like and have continued to like for the past 12 months. Songs for download from each album follow:
15. 'Em Are I - Jeffrey Lewis
Ok so this is a very top-heavy album, but I'll be damned if the first four songs on this album weren't among my most played of the year.
Broken Broken Broken Heart
14. Actor - St. Vincent
I finally fell for Annie's angelic voice, plus Those syrupy strings juxtaposed with jarring angular guitar makes for some of some of the most fractured yet melodic pop of the year.
13. Romanian Names - John Vanderslice
Underrated, underrated, underrated. Light acoustic guitar, piano and elliptical synths mingle in an elegant and foreboding way.
Too Much Time
12. I and Love and You - The Avett Brothers
Slick and sincere Americana
I and Love and You
11. Self-Titled - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Fuzzy pop goodness. Nuff said.
This Love is Fucking Right!
10. Those Darlins - Those Darlins
This trio of Tennessee gals rip it up country-style. It's old timey twang with a dash of rollicking DIY-punk spirit, which make for one of the most charming debuts of the year. Darling indeed.
9. The Law of the Playground - The Boy Least Likely To
Just like their debut, this long-awaited follow-up contains the most twee-ly upbeat songs about scary downbeat things. In other words it's some of the most precious pop ever made about slaying dragons and the onset of adulthood.
Every Goliath Has its David
8. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix
This is pop of not only the catchiest variety, but of the most Populist order ("1901" proved inescapable with those ubiquitous Cadillac commercials) In other words, this is Pop the way it should be.
7. The Warm Heart of Africa - The Very Best
Truly global music - British producers and Malawi singers meld indigenous instrumentation with elements of electronica, hip-hop, gospel and afro-pop for a grandly original sound only possible in 2009.
6. XX - The xx
I haven't heard anything this seductive in ages. Boy-girl vocals, sparse yet soulful synths. Swooooon.
5. Veckatimest - Grizzly Bear
Given the devastatingly intricate nature of this album, these boys must have slaved away putting all the strings and guitars and pianos parts together. And yet the all the layers work in perfect, fractured harmony. With this neo-classical masterpiece the Grizz succeed in the once unheard of island of Veckatimest on the map.
4. The Life of the World to Come - the Mountain Goats
Sure all the songs are titled after Bible verses, but really this album is about more than God. It's about more than death, it's about more than our impending mortality. It's about the way faith heals and fails us. And like every song John Darnielle has ever written, it's about all of us. Just listen closely, the devil's in the novelistic details.
3. My Maudlin Career - Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura contines to do what they do best: make romance sound giddy, girly, swirly and dreamy and make heartbreak sound heartbreaky and also dreamy. It basically makes for their most cohesive and consistent album to date.
Honey in the Sun
2. Vs. Children - Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
The painfully underrated songwriter Owen Ashworth soundtracks stories of one-night stands, abortion and crime sprees with lo-fi synths and choral organ drones. The prospect of adulthood (and having kids) never sounded so ominous, not to mention catchy.
Harsh the Herald Angels Sing
1. Album - Girls
Nothing released in the past 365 days has the visceral emotionalism of this record. Declarations of youthful frustration, like wanting love, pizza and wine never sounded so pure, raw or honest. From the Beach Boys party pop of "Lust for Life" to the hangover haze of "Hellhole Ratrace" this is easily the greatest documentation of angst that never sounds angsty. To quote "Ghostmouth", "I knew it when I heard the first time. I knew it when I heard it the last time, nothing compares to you."
Lust for Life
Honorable Mentions and other notes:
Morrissey, Wilco and especially Yo La Tengo and the Flaming Lips all put out respectable efforts this year. Perhaps you've heard of them? We bet these kids are going places.
Also everyone seems to be creaming their pants over Animal Collective and the Dirty Projectors. Now, while I certainly dig "My Girls" and "Stillness is the Move" from a purely subjective standpoint these are "small doses" bands for me. Doesn't mean you shouldn't check 'em out though.
The Decemberists, Andrew Bird and Neko Case are all artists I'm normally enamored with, yet this year they left me hanging dry. Not that I was completely disappointed (Hazards of Love works MUCH better live) I just found myself wanting something different, something fuzzy, something like Girls.
Most productive band that didn't release an album in 09 but worked harder than most bands who did: The National
Whether it was contributing an original song to Dark Was the Night (which was curated by the members of the band as well, Go Dessner Brothers!) or providing cover songs to various other compilations like that one Merge put out and charity project Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy these boys sounded great. Plus they toured their butts off and even debuted a couple of new songs while on the road. It all bodes well for a productive 2010!
Speaking of which, what 2010 albums are you most psyched for? The Magnetic Fields, Los Campesinos!, Spoon, She & Him, Frightened Rabbit, The Arcade Fire? And will Peter Peter Hughes brilliant Fangio album finally see the light of day?