1. Eisley – The Valley
I didn’t pick this album to be obscure or a contrarian, to convince or convert you it’s better than your favorite, and absolutely not to declare it The Best, the greatest compilation of poems and guitar tones, of life-sustaining melodies and God-affirming harmonies, with moments so miraculous they’ve rendered me unwieldy, released since the last time we all made such a list. I picked it, simply, because I adore it, because I played it and played it and played it all year, because it still sounds like the work of my favorite working band, because because because… just because. I love this album, everything about it. I love this band, everything about it. “The Valley” and Eisley, they speak to me, loudly, as loudly as I’m failing to speak to you here. Nothing I’ve written has signified anything. Eisley. “The Valley.” Blah blah blah. The last word: Celestial. I’ll leave it at celestial.
2. Adele – 21
I don’t care that this album captured the zeitgeist. I only care that it captured me. It’s the album I listened to at least the second most, possibly the most thanks to hearing it everywhere: my car, my home, my work computer… restaurants, malls, televised singing competitions… And yet, I never got sick of it. Ever. From the singles to the b-sides, from the rollicking to the sad, every song sounds, to my ears, like a classic, as close to the ideal, in my head, of a love song, as anything I’ve heard since January 1st. A woman scorned, who scorches the earth? Stunning. Lovely. Healing.
3. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
He sings. She sings. They sing together. These two people share one voice. Their eyes meet, yes, but their bodies cannot. They’re married to the music, and to people far offstage. She looks away. The crowd. The lights. He strums his guitar. His wedding ring gleams. Even when whispered, their wishes sound screamed, loud enough to rattle the voyeurs in the balcony, all of whom toss back their own deferred dreams. What if…? Are they…? Could I…? Why? The concert of the year, the speculation of a lifetime, an album that reveals, and conceals, so sweetly.
4. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
It’s probably becoming clear to you that I love women’s voices: their prettiness, their mystery, their more dynamic range. In St. Vincent, there’s also that feminine guitar: not in the sense that it’s weak (it can cut you), but rather in the sense that I’ll never understand it. It’s soft, then loud, then gorgeous, then vicious – a maelstrom of everything this male longs to hear. Annie Clark is my new guitar heroine.
5. Pistol Annies – Hell on Heels
6. Miranda Lambert – Four the Record
The stories, the sass, the sweet, sweet badassery. I’d totally let them burn down my house, as long as they’d write me a song about it afterwards. These two albums (and everything else Miranda Lambert has ever done) are how I learned to stop worrying and love country bombshells. My dirty little secret is out. This music is too bright for me to hide it any longer.
7. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
Sure, they sound older. So do I. They’re still making music that matters to me, music that reminds me of youth and fun and laughter, music that makes me forget being mortal. Another favorite band of mine still sounds like itself: bratty guitars, brattier voices, the brattiest science that’s ever been dropped. I’m still fighting for the right to reminisce.
8. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
Language Arts: A
Pop Sensibility: B+
Folk/Rock/Indie Genre Deconstruction: A-
Speaking Directly to This English Major/Music Fan: A++
Teacher’s Comments: The Decemberists continued to excel on record and on stage this year, meeting if not exceeding my highest expectations. Their work, once again, was exemplary, despite or because of its newfound concision. Highest honors. Huzzah!
9. Lady Gaga – Born This Way
I agree with all the haters. Her persona, image, and even just her costumes are more interesting than her music. Her interviews are more provocative, and less cringe-worthy than her lyrics. Her biggest singles this year were derivative, if not dumb. But I agree with all the Little Monsters, too: The rest of the album is sexy and empowering. It might not inspire me to challenge the hegemony, but it does do its damnedest to make me not sit still. For my own pure pleasure, nothing beats it. Not even Britney, who, yes, I also listened to. Nor Avril, nor Katy, nor Robyn, nor Lykke Li… Nor anyone else who dares me to dance, or at least to think about leaving my seat.
10. My Morning Jacket – Circuital
A complex album for my simplest urges. For all those times when I just wanna rock.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
The Baseball Project – Vol. 2: High and Inside
Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Cake – Showroom of Compassion
Death Cab For Cutie – Codes and Keys
Feist – Metals