If you paid any attention to my favorite songs post, it was a pretty clear indicator of how my favorite albums would play out (although I think Peter at *tmwsiy figured me out). Again, I hesitate to use the word “best”; it just feels too close-ended and objective.
A quick note: After wrestling with these rankings, I decided that anything beyond the top 15 is quite arbitrary. That said, my 14th favorite album might be my favorite album on any given day. The rankings are more of a way to indicate which albums drew most of my attention and gave me the most listening joy.
Please, discuss, criticize, laugh. But I recall John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity: “How can it be bullshit to state a personal preference?”
15 (tie). John Vanderslice – Pixel Revolt; Low – The Great Destroyer
Comment: OK, I’m cheating. It was impossible to leave either of these off my favorites list. Both are enthralling and thoughtful. Vanderslice always is engaging, and Low took a more accessible approach than albums past without losing any credibility.
Favorite tracks: Continuation off Pixel Revolt; Cue the Strings off The Great Destroyer.
14. Blackalicious – The Craft
Comment: It’s surprising (no, more disappointing) that this is the only hip-hop release on this list. These guys deliver what you come to expect: tight production and a verbal barrage.
Favorite track: Rhythm Sticks.
13. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – s/t
Comment: It’s almost amusing that some people who surf mp3 blogs daily find these guys overhyped or overrated or over-whatever. How fast the backlash! Whatever, this is a great album, and the band deserves praise for its DIY ethos.
Favorite track: In This Home on Ice.
12. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary
Comment: I was way late to this party, but I’m glad I finally showed up. Even when all the buzz dies down (has it? will it?), this still stands up as an excellent album.
Favorite track: Modern World.
11. Brendan Benson – The Alternative to Love
Comment: There is something about the singer/songwriter format I just love: the solitude, the desperation, the honesty. I think Brendan Benson encapsulates it all, with absurdly catchy melodies, to boot.
Favorite track: Alternative to Love.
10. The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree
Comment: I’m hard-pressed to think of an album that gripped me as quickly as this one. I was taken aback by John Darnielle’s forceful enunciation, which made The Sunset Tree impossible to ignore.
Favorite track: This Year.
9. Radar Bros. – Fallen Leaf Pages
Comment: Radar Bros. don’t seem to be blogged about much – as if that is some measuring stick of popularity – but Fallen Leaf Pages is a grand, sweeping piece of beauty. It’s an album that forces you to slow down before you can appreciate it.
Favorite track: Is That Blood.
8. Nada Surf – The Weight is a Gift
Comment: I was surprised that I barely considered any tracks from this album for my favorite songs list. But The Weight seems more a product of the sum of its parts. Taken as a whole, the writing is earnest – and sometimes borders on corny, but never really crosses that line.
Favorite track: Always Love.
7. The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
Comment: Really, is there a bad song on this album? Catchy hooks, strong arrangements, Neko Case. What more do you need?
Favorite track: Use It.
6. Rogue Wave – Descended Like Vultures
Comment: Out of the Shadow was good, but Descended … whew, we’re tapping into some serious potential here.
Favorite track: Publish My Love.
5. Spoon – Gimme Fiction
Comment: If I’ve learned anything since starting this blog, it’s that my listening habits depend on albums like this: four-minute snapshots of a little guts and gusto with nary a hint of pretension.
Favorite track: My Mathematical Mind.
4. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
Comment: Could this go down as one of the greatest debuts in recent memory? (By the way, drummer Matt Tong is crazy good. Like, amazing.)
Favorite track: Like Eating Glass.
3. Elbow – Leaders of the Free World
Comment: Why is it that Elbow seems to be ignored in the blogging circles? There’s a bit of everything here: great writing, tight instrumentation, political statements. They deserve a lot more credit.
Favorite track: Mexican Standoff.
2. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Comment: Admission: I didn’t want to like Sufjan. I resisted. The hype was overkill. And, well, I like him. For some reason, I’m able to put up with the ambitious pretension (come on, the song titles are like a paragraph long) if only because he’s got the talent to justify it.
Favorite track: Chicago.
1. The National – Alligator
Comment: Two songs in the top 5 of my favorite songs list, including No. 1. Was it obvious? There’s something mysterious and attractive about this album. Matt Berninger’s baritone voice is brooding and pensive, underpinning the somewhat cryptic lyrics. I’m not sure I’ve come across an album in the past five years or so that pulls me in so many different directions in terms of its moodiness and thoughtfulness. When an album gets under my skin like that, I’m sure of its greatness.
Favorite track: Looking for Astronauts.
The best of the rest (in no particular order):
DJ Z-Trip – Shifting Gears
The Rosebuds – Birds Make Good Neighbors
Queens of the Stone Age – Lullabies to Paralyze
Shout Out Louds – Howl Howl Gaff Gaff
Tim Fite – Gone Ain’t Gone
Kaiser Chiefs – Employment
Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
The Kingsbury Manx – The Fast Rise and Fall of the South
Kings of Leon – Aha Shake Heartbreak
The Decemberists – Picaresque
Foo Fighters – In Your Honor (Disc 1)
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Howl
Dios (Malos) – s/t
… And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Worlds Apart
Albums I need more time with:
Danger Doom – The Mouse and the Mask
My Morning Jacket – Z
The Clientele – Strange Geometry
Kanye West – Late Registration
Fruit Bats – Spelled in Bones
Glaring omissions (or, albums I need to listen to):
Stars – Set Yourself on Fire
Broken Social Scene – s/t
Tapes N’ Tapes – The Loon
The Spinto Band – Nice and Nicely Done