Disclaimer: I have not heard anywhere near all of the releases of this year. However, of what I have heard, this is what I most appriciated. There may be more talented or more creative albums that I heard, but these are the ones which I connected with.
15) Denali: The Instinct… Maura Davis’ voice is out of this world. She takes some above par indie rock and makes it gold.
14) Extol: Synergy… This is hands down the best metal release I heard this year. The guitars are intricate and the songwriting slays everything they’ve released previously.
13) Andrew WK: The Wolf… This album takes “I Get Wet”, puts it in a strainer, and removes everything that was cheesy about the previous album, replacing it with smart songs that sound good.
12) Warren Zevon: The Wind… While I don’t know how “The Wind” compares to past Zevon efforts, the starkness of this album, contrasted with his passing away, make this an awe-inspiring piece of art.
11) Starflyer 59: Old… The best Starflyer album to date. The first track is one of the most satisfying songs of the year. The few filler tracks keep this from being the top album.
10) New Pornographers: Electric Version… Mix one part Neko Case and two parts strong songwriting with a few bottles of beer and what do you get? This fine album that tops everything else of the genre.
09) Serart: Serart… Serart is Serj Tankian from System of a Down and Arto Tung Boyaciyan, an “avant-grade folk artist”. They do an experimental avant-grade project which is really pretty cool. No, it doesn’t sound like System of a Down.
08) Outkast: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below… This should be a better release than it is. But there is too much filler. The majority of “The Love Below” is subpar, including “Hey Ya”. “Speakerboxxx” is a lot stronger, however, there are still too many skits. Too many filler tracks clogging the works. Hence the reason this is farther back than it should be.
07) Bubba Sparxxx: Deliverance… This is a really fun rap record. Bubba Sparxxx utilizes a southern sound and thanks to Timbaland’s production it really mixes well. There are harmonicas, fiddles, and so on and so forth. A couple of the songs have that irish/country sound that The Chieftians use on their “Down The Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions” album.
06) The Violet Burning: This Is The Moment… A nice alternative rock album in the vein of U2. It’s been a really constant player for the past number of months. The songs are solid and executed well. And there isn’t a single filler track on the cd. Find it at www.thevioletburning.com or www.northernrecords.com
05) The White Stripes: Elephant… This is an album that I listen to and I think to myself, “Yeah, this just feels right.” The only track I would not include would be “Seven Nation Army”, as it is the weakest track on the album. Jack White completely controls the album flow, and his control is perfection.
04) Furthermore: She & I… So many rap fans would disagree with me about this pick. While it’s a rap album, it’s not a traditional rap album. There aren’t many big beats. Just some layered keyboards, a male rapping, and a female singing. It’s a rap album done more for the sake of making music, rather than selling records.
03) The Polyphonic Spree: Begining Stages Of…… This is seriously the happiest record I have ever heard. No one can listen to this cd and remain mad, sad, or whatever. This should be required listening in high stress situations, like dentists, meetings with the IRS, holiday shopping, and so forth.
02) Emmylou Harris: Stumble Into Grace… This is a great showcase for Harris’ voice. She has the ability to just capture a listener. A great listen that will be one of Harris’ best works.
01) The Blood Brothers: Burn Piano Island, Burn… This is the best hard album that I heard this year. It rides the line between hardcore and punk, yet has more creativity than either of those genres combined. It’s chock full of energy and passion. And it’s the best cd I heard that was released this year.
Top EP Releases
03) Evelyn Hope: Evelyn Hope… The first release from a band featuring a former member of the now defunct Element 101.
02) Iron & Wine: The Sea & The Rhythm… An alt.country/indie project that sounds like a more bare 16 Horsepower.
01) Eisley: Laughing City and Marvelous Things… Eisley made their national debut by touring with Coldplay without the support of an album. So they did two EPs to give their new-found fans something to enjoy. Both are spectacular. More computer-savy people will buy the two eps and then burn them both on to one disc for continuous enjoyment.
Bleach: Astronomy… They build momentum with several strong, fist shaking songs, then destroy the flow with a softer ballad.
IMA Robot: IMA Robot… You can see a glimpse of a good thing, however, the album just does not quite jive right. There is an aspect of them that kids would enjoy, but then when you look to the lyrics, it’s definately mature material. As a result the album flops about awkwardly.
The Mars Volta: De-Loused In The Comatorium… The review I wrote for this album is the one that I look back on most fondly. It makes very little sense, is scattered, and scaresly talks about the cd (shameless promotion: read the review here http://blogcritics.org/archives/2003/09/27/201117.php ). But it captures the album, in my not so humble opinion. However, the cd is horribly redundant and doesn’t hold up well under repeat listens.
POD: Payable on Death… There are two tracks worth listening to on this album, just for the guest guitars of Phil Keaggy. But Keaggy was supposed to be the spice of a good thing, not the only good thing.
The Waterboys: Universal Hall… I loved The Waterboys’ last offering so much that I thought that this one would be an automatic induction to my top 15 list. But I was sadly wrong. Each song sounds too akin to each other.
Best Free Release of the Year
Wilco: Camera EP… Nothing better than a free ep download, eh? Especially since it includes downloadable artwork.
Best B-Side of the Year
Sixpence None The Richer: “Don’t Pass Me By”… This was the B-Side to Sixpence’s second single, “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. I am not joking when I say that “Don’t Pass Me By” is the best song Sixpence has ever recorded.
Guilty Pleasures of the Year
Kings of Leon: Youth & Young Manhood
Minus 5: Down With Wilco
Honorable Mentions for Best Album of the Year
Air-Baricco: City Readings
June Carter Cash: Wildwood Flower
Lost Dogs: Nazarene Crying Towel
Shelby Lynne: Identity Crisis
Over The Rhine: Ohio
Pigeon John: Is Dating Your Sister
Derek Webb: She Must & Shall Go Free
Woven Hand: Blush Music
Woven Hand: Woven Hand
All in all it was a good year for music. It was a revolutionary year for me in that I discovered rap and deepened my appriciation for country, however, my metal and alternative roots still shone through.