There were so many reunions, tours, and new releases this year that I couldn’t keep up with all of it, even though I usually embark on 3 hour trip every other weekend leaving for plenty of listening time for new music. So while I undoubtedly missed some great new albums, I did listen to around 50 new releases this year. It’s been a wonderful year for music and I’ve fallen in love with quite a few albums, not to mention all the great shows that’ve come around. Led Zeppelin, Portishead, Wu-Tang Clan, and Rage Against the Machine all reunited and played shows this year. While I wasn’t able to see any of those, some of the best concerts I was fortunate enough to attend (in no order) were The Roots, Joanna Newsom, Mum, The Arcade Fire, Bjork, Tool, The Blow, RJD2, Peeping Tom, Pigeon John, Devendra Banhart, Sage Francis, Gabriel Teodros, Ween, and St. Vincent. I recommend all of them!
Please keep in mind that this list is my list. In fact, this list might even infuriate them to some degree (Kanye and Arcade Fire aren’t #1 & 2, and Springsteen’s absent–sorry Bob). So, keeping in mind that this does not represent Owl Pellets as a whole, here we go:
20.) Sigur Ros – Hvarf/Heim
A beautiful double disc accompanying an equally beautiful film.
19.) Gogol Bordello – Super Taranta
Gypsy Punk! Some of the most unique, insane music of the year.
18.) PJ Harvey – White Chalk
-Instead of the usual heavy guitars, White Chalk if filled with piano ballads and soft, high-pitched vocals. It’s a huge departure, and it works. “When Under Ether” and “White Chalk” are two of the most beautiful songs I heard all year.
17.) The Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
-The expectations were through the roof, and for the most part, it didn’t disappoint. Awesome use of the organ.
16.) Grinderman – Grinderman
-Nick Cave’s new band is heavier and bluesier than the Badseeds. Great road trip/bar music. One of my favorite new bands.
15.) Joanna Newsom & The Ys St. Band EP
-This managed to make the list despite only containing 3 songs, 2 of which are incredible renditions of past works. The tremendous new song, “Colleen,” might just be my favorite of the year.
14.) Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Solo album from the Animal Collective member, he almost beat out his own band.
13.) Saul Williams – The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust
-An amazing mash-up of genres. Saul Williams unexpectedly collaborates with NIN’s Trent Reznor, and I loved the results. His download only, In Rainbows-esque, release method was wonderful too.
12.) Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
-Wonderful sophomore album. Zach Condon keeps all the beauty from Gulag Orkestar while also growing as a musician. Can’t wait to see what he does next.
11.) M.I.A. – Kala
-A very enjoyable/original record. Wonderful voice and personality. I can’t wait to see her live, let’s hope her Visa doesn’t get denied next time.
10.) Ween – La Cucaracha
-It’s a Ween album not recorded in a garage! The list of guest musicians is pretty amazing, and of course the record is all over the place. Ween can do no wrong.
9.) St. Vincent – Marry Me
-This gets my vote for best debut of the year. She’s got an amazing voice, and the diversity of the instruments and styles is exciting. She’s a guitar prodigy, too.
8.) Kanye West – Graduation
-It’s definitely an instant classic. It’s unique, especially for mainstream hip-hop. And, if it matters, it was the #1 selling album of the year.
7.) Johnny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood
-The Radiohead guitarist probably made the best contribution to music this year. He wrote one of the best scores for what I anticipate to be one of the year’s best films, and he released one of the best rock records of any year.
6.) Bjork – Volta
Though Volta got mixed reactions from Bjork fans, I think it’s among her best. Every song’s a gem, and it’s got her most diverse mix of styles yet.
5.) The Swell Season – Once
-Glen Hansard’s film Once is one of the best of the year, and it’s mostly due to the beautiful music it’s centered around.
4.) Tomahawk – Anonymous
-No one saw this coming, no matter how big a fan they were. It’s a “metal” band’s take on Native American music, and it works. Anonymous is one of my favorite Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Peeping Tom, etc.) records, which says quite a bit. Duane Denison’s guitar work is pretty amazing as well.
3.) The Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
-“Peacebone” and “For Reverend Green” are two more candidates for song of the year. One of the catchiest/strangest records of the year.
2.) Radiohead – In Rainbows
-There’s nothing new I can say about Radiohead. They’re considered the best band on earth, right? This one did get some mixed reviews, but for me it’s up there with their best (Kid A & Ok Computer). It’s a classy record, and it’s got some of their best songs. The “pay what you want” release was brilliant.
1.) Devendra Banhart – Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
-So, a lot of people really hated this record. It’s 76 minutes long, and Devendra genre-hops quite a bit. He’s also playing with a full band for the first time (I don’t really count Cripple Crow), and a lot of the time the lyrics make little to no sense. Personally, I think his backup band is outstanding, and I found this to be one of the most unique records of the year. It’s also incredibly fun and consistent. Not a weak or even mediocre moment throughout its 76 minutes. “Seahorse” is another candidate for my favorite song of the year.
Honorable mentions include the new albums by Tori Amos, Band of Horses, Andrew Bird, The Blue Scholars, Deerhoof, Feist (she’s officially better than Regina Spektor), Grizzly Bear, Holy Fuck, Eyvind Kang, Jens Lekman, Mum, Puscifer, Spoon, Gabriel Teodros, and Patrick Wolf.
Also, some random awards:
Best Squeek: Joanna Newsom
Best Scream: “For Reverend Green” by Animal Collective
Most Unnecessary Album: Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace by The Foo Fighters.
Best Party Album/Best Album I was Constantly Forced to Listen to: Graduation by Kanye West
Best Album to do Homework to: Athlantis by Eyvind Kang
Best Horrible Album Maryann Likes to Sing in the Shower and While I Try to Read: Exclusive by Chris Brown
Best Band Bob and I followed around the Pacific Northwest: The Arcade Fire
Worst Supergroup: Velvet Revolver/Army of Anyone
Best Supergroup: Tomahawk/Grinderman