First, a few honorable mentions. Arcade Fire, Stars, Deer Tick and Jonsi, you barely missed the cut. Dawes and Florence & The Machine were big for me, but both technically were 2009 records. Delta Spirit, with competition nowhere in site, have my favorite song of the year with Bushwick Blues.
10. Broken Bells – Broken Bells
A monster of a record that takes you down a long, uncertain trip. Teaming Mr. Shins with Danger Mouse was surprisingly perfect. Gnarles, who?
9. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt / Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird EP
This Swedish songwriter leaves me with my jaw on the floor every time. He’s one of the best alive right now. Pair the LP released at the beginning of the year with the recent EP.
8. J. Roddy Walston & The Business – J. Roddy Walston & The Business
Party record of the year. You’ll not need to worry about turning this down. The neighbors should be at the party, anyway.
7. Freelance Whales – Weathervanes
Reportedly, most of the lyrics come as a product of dream-journaling. The same could be said about the music, which drifts in a colorful haze ripped from nighttime adventures of Little Nemo.
6. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
Best straight up rock record of the year. Sure, he’s saluting the Boss throughout, but I’m not sure anyone has done it better, and PLENTY have tried.
5. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
She could turn out to be this generation’s Joni Mitchell, or could continue to surprise us as being something uniquely her own. Both are perfect paths. Keep it on for a rainy day or a campfire.
4. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
I’ve not been able to explain their sound at all. They take from so many places and what comes out is one hundred percent original. I caught them while cramped like sardines in a club in Austin earlier this year. When they went into the bridge in Sun Hands, the entire place erupted into one of my top concert moments of all time.
3. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
You can call it a dance record, but that would be depriving it of so many textures. The songs on here are near operatic, all the while keeping a pulse that rumbles through a robotic dance floor from the future.
2. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
How can they top this? How did something this amazing come from something as natural as a few friends fiddling around with their banjos and guitars? The Cave??!? Are you serious? It’s amazing. And if Dust Bowl Dance had played during the closing credits of True Grit, it might have been the ultimate media experience.
1. The National – High Violet
Even with as many Grade A records that came out this year, it was hard for me to turn this off. The first listen left me with a warm shiver, but each repeated play pulled me deeper in. The stories, the melodies, taking a simple chord structure and turning into a complete, complex piece is nothing short of genius. This is why albums became the dominant format for so long. Like Dark Side of the Moon or Blue, this is one you turn on in the attempt to deconstruct. There is a puzzle that slowly comes together. There is depth and emotion unmatched. And it doesn’t matter how many people feel the same thing, because this is a record that still feels personal even when it sat at Billboards number one position.