Notable trends on my albums list this year? How about the sheer volume of Canadian content? No less than 10 of my 25 records come from the great white north, indicating a pretty great year for our countrymen (and women). How about the sheer depth of quality music? This is the first year I’ve put together 25 records at year’s end, and I could have probably come up with five or ten MORE records deserving of a mention. It may have offered up few records that were “great” in the greatest sense – this year’s top records pale in comparison to, say, 2006 or 2007 – but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t an impressive year overall.
As with my singles list, mentions for the bottom 10, write-ups for the top 15:
25. Tegan & Sara – Sainthood
24. Metric – Fantasies
23. A.C. Newman – Get Guilty
22. Kelly Clarkson – All I Ever Wanted
21. Joel Plaskett – Three
20. Silver Starling – Silver Starling
19. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
18. Noise Addict – It Was Never About the Audience
17. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
16. The XX – XX
15. Said the Whale – Islands Disappear
The featured record of my first Maisonneuve column, here’s what I wrote about Islands Disappear: “Whether or not there is a “Canadian-ness” to Canadian music is still up for debate, but Vancouver’s Said the Whale make a strong case for its existence…[it] feels like our country does: spacious at times, intense at others, clever when it wants to be, but always endearing.”
14. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Though I’m not as enamored by the band’s immaculate constructions as many other music bloggers seem to be, it’s hard to deny the songsmanship of Veckatimest. Its melodies don’t hit so much as they magically float, weaving and flowing through space and building upon one another until their collected cacophony is impossible to ignore.
13. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
It topped the lists of many bloggers and critics this year, but I’m still kind of in shock that Merriweather Post Pavilion is on my list at all. A strong contender for the decade’s most overrated indie band, Animal Collective somehow pulled a legitimately awesome record out of their rear ends: a collection of songs that were powerful, catchy and often quite beautiful.
12. Manic Street Preachers – Journal for Plague Lovers
A bad idea done good. The Manics took 13 years before cracking open the remainder of Richey Edwards’ left-behind lyrics and putting them to music, which for any lesser band would be an act of desperation. But somehow the band managed to set them against their best material in over a decade, creating a blisteringly raw, powerful tribute to their fallen friend.
11. Japandroids – Post-Nothing
Keep it simple stupid. Eight songs, two players and some appropriate yelling is all that Japandroids needed to create one of the most fun, energetic and exciting Canadian records all year. It plays like a rocket shot from 20 years ago, piercing through the space-time continuum and showing this decade’s garage rockers just how it should be done.
10. Cold Cave – Love Comes Close
Perhaps the year’s hidden gem, this moody, gothic synthpop album is the product of former hardcore vocalist Wesley Eisold, but it’s more beautiful than brash. At times an upbeat joy, at others a dark and moody piece of misery, it’s an impressively colourful collection of keyboard-driven hooks and melodies taken straight from the 1980s; it hits, and it hits hard.
9. La Roux – La Roux
Every year that I go to Montreal’s Osheaga festival, there’s an artist or two that I skip out of ignorance, only to discover them months later and proceed to hate myself for missing their set. This year, it’s La Roux. If only I had known that the British duo had made the dance record of the year with their gloriously glammy debut, I could have seen it live. Stupid McNutt.
8. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
7. Handsome Furs – Face Control
Wolf Parade are planning a new record next year. But after the 2009 that Spencer Krug and Dan Boecker had, who cares? Krug’s been turning Sunset Rubdown into a chamber-pop juggernaut for years now – and Dragonslayer is another fantastic addition – but this year Boeckner caught up and delivered his own equally accomplished but more Springsteenian alternative.
6. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
I’m not sure if it’s her best record – that honour still goes to Fox Confessor, I think – but I’ll be damned if this doesn’t come close. Middle Cyclone continues Case’s fascinating obsession with dreamscapes and the natural world, her riveting vocals trying to convince the listener that we’re no different from our animal brethren: harsh, brutal and beautiful.
5. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
One of the most charmingly idiosyncratic albums of the year, I’m still not quite sure what exactly Bitte Orca wants to be. Is it a hidden pop record buried under its weirdness? Is it an abstracted folk project? A David Byrne-esque dance album with rock ambitions? It’s as if Dave Longstreth wants the Projectors to be everything to everyone. And I’ll be damned if he doesn’t succeed.
4. Various Artists – Dark Was the Night
Calling Dark Was the Night a “compilation” does it a great disservice. Impeccably curated by the brothers Dessner of the National, the Red Hot charity record is like a time capsule for the state of folk-based indie rock at the turn of the decade. Contributors like Yeasayer and Sufjan Stevens deliver some of their best work towards a collection of songs remarkably consistent and compelling.
3. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns
If you were cool enough to have this one on your 2008 list, congrats. The rest of us had to wait until its Saddle Creek release this year to discover one of Canada’s best kept secrets. Offering prairie echoes with an urban twist, sprinkled with some Jeff Mangum for good measure, Hometowns is endlessly catchy with a sharp edge to its folk foundation.
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
So in my decade list, I wrote about how pretty It’s Blitz is. I hope that I didn’t give off the impression that it doesn’t also kick ass. Because it totally does: from the bluster of “Dull Life” to the dance rush of “Heads Will Roll,” Karen O never misses a chance to impress. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs may want to break your heart, but they still can smash your head.
1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
One of music’s best-kept secrets is hardly a secret any longer: with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix selling over 200,000 copies in the U.S., it’s clear that the world knows who Phoenix are now. About time. This is is not only the year’s best coming-out party but one of the best pop albums of the decade: an awesome collection of jangley guitars and keyboard hooks. It earns the right to do everything from bizarre instrumentals (“Love Like a Sunset”) to moody synth (“Fences”), and it has the guts to lead off with the year’s best one-two punch (“Lisztomania/1901”) and then following them with eight more almost as good. For all the great music this year, no record was simultaneously as fun and as fulfilling as this one.