40. SUFJAN STEVENS- AGE OF ADZ
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The boy genius takes a left turn with “Age of Adz” by making it a mostly electronica album. Though Sufjan being Sufjan, there is still plenty of orchestration and elaborate composition. His albums usually take many listens before revealing themselves, I still find “Age of Adz” spottier than “Michigan” and certainly the amazing “Illinoise!”, but 25+ minute closing track “Impossible Soul” and a few other standouts on the album like “Too Much” and the title cut gets the album on this list alone. The amazing closer us a suite with 5 or 6 different parts that is the most elaborate piece of music I have ever heard from Stevens, and his career is filled with musical ambition. It’s one of the top musical moments of the year.
39. ERYKAH BADU- THE NEW AMERYKAH PART 2: THE RETURN OF THE ANKH
Badu’s part II of the “New Amerykah” is a throwback to her neo-Soul and breakout late nineties debut album “Baduism”. The vibe is much less foreboding than part 1 which I heard as a nod to very early Funkadelic and the most stoned-out aspects of Sly & the Family Stone. That said, Badu still plays it loose- some of the songs start and then stop before a melody or chorus really takes shape, but when she does focus she offers up some of her very best songs like “Window Seat”, “Umm Hmmm” and the Biggie Smalls sampling “Turn Away (Get Munny)”. If there were a few more of those nuggets the album could have been in my top ten like Part 1.
38. SHARON JONES & THE DAP KINGS- I LEARNED THE HARD WAY
If you yearn for the style of soul music made by Stax Volt, Rick Hall’s Hall of Fame studio in Muscle Shoals and the rougher edges of Motown then this album is made for you. Sharon and the Dap Kings are not just a throwback to the sixties but seriously sound like sixties music. And these songs are almost all originals. The Dap Kings are one of the funkiest bands going today- there were the backing band on Amy Winehouse’s breakthrough “Back to Black”, and Jones has the vocal pipes to match. Though they have made good albums in the past, “I Learned the Hard Way” is their best so far- more well written songs to match the great musical performances.
37. CHARLOTTES GAINSBOURG- IRM
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“IRM” is the second solo album by Gainsbourg, who is also an actress and the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg the singer/songwriter/pervert who is perhaps France’s best known musical artist of the last half centure. On “IRM” Gainsbourg collaborates with the workaholic Beck and is a concept album about the recovery period that Charlotte experienced during her bout with near death due to a 2007 water skiing accident. The collaboration is a good one as Charlotte takes many more musical chances than on her relatively straight forward singer-songwriter style debut “5:55”. She experiments with blues, French and American pop, noisier indie-rock, folk, techno & drum & bass. Beck is co-vocalist on the successful “Heaven Can Wait”. A really good album by an intriguing artist.
36. LOS CAMPESINOS!- ROMANCE IS BORING
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Los Campesinos! Are a young, Welsh, 7 piece band whose two 2008 albums put them on the indie map. Their first album, “Hold On Now, Youngster” made my top ten of that year- it was the most exuberant, spastic, hilarious indie punk I had heard in some time and I loved it. The follow-up was also very good, though it explored darker themes and was more musically ambitious than the first, though not as much of a thrill. Their third album “Romance is Boring” splits the difference between the two. The hooks are still there and it’s more amped up than the second album but it’s more cohesive and less off the rails than the debut. It has less amount of great songs than “Youngster”, but enough for me to say that this album has been a bit slept on this year. More people should be talking about Los Campesinos!
35. THE NATIONAL- HIGH VIOLET
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I have a feeling I will get more complaints about my placing of this album than anything else on this list. Like it’s predecessor “Boxer”, “High Violet” is an album made by adults for adults concerning adult issues. It’s a mellow album that doesn’t often rock, and therefore will likely prove to be a grower. Their albums seem to really only settle in after many listens. Despite this early standout songs for me are “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Afraid of Everyone”. This has been on dozens of year end top ten lists and I’ve even seen it as #1 a few times. I dig this band and will happily eat crow if “High Violet” ends up becoming a classic. As it stands with me now, it’s another very good album by the National.
34. YEASAYER- ODD BLOOD
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Brooklyn’s Yeasayer vastly changes its sound for its second full length, moving away from the acoustic music and high harmonies of their debut and toward a more eclectic, electronic and dance oriented follow-up. They mix pop, rock, folk & dub and take inspiration from both middle eastern and Afro pop. At times the album can be a mess and there is more than one misstep but four or five of the songs on the album are so good that it more than makes up for the misses
33. THE BLACK KEYS- BROTHERS
Many already think I underrated this album and it sure has received a ton of love this year. “Brothers” is a commercial breakthrough for a band that has released a slew of albums since the early oughts. Although I think it’s on the upper end of their albums, I don’t think it’s their best or wildly different than most of their other albums. But there is something to be said for a band delivering blues rock this consistently good over a ten year period. And “Brothers” does contains some of the Keys’ best songs like the successful single “Tighten Up” (hilarious video too) and the “True Blood” inspired (?) “Howlin’ for You”. If the album would have been edited down another 15 or 20 minutes it would surely rank higher on this list, but even as it currently stands it’s a very good listen.
32. WAVVES- KING OF THE BEACH
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After receiving a pile of backlash in the wake of an overhyped, overrated debut album and an on-stage meltdown in Europe, Nathan Williams grabbed the sadly deceased Jay Reatard’s backing band and crafts a second album very worthy of all of his initial praise. “King of the Beach” amps up the production value hugely from the lo-fi debut and the songs are much more fully fleshed out. Though the album does fizzle a bit towards the end, the first five songs are all standouts. A great companion album to fellow slacker punk and his good friend Best Coast.
31. HOT CHIP- ONE LIFE STAND
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Hot Chip is a London based techno-indie rock band that resembles a cohort of computer geeks. “One Life Stand” is their fourth full-length album and a mellower, more adult affair than their previous albums. They are more consistently good here, but complaints that “One Life Stand” lacks the big singles like “Over and Over” or “Ready for the Floor” are unfounded as the title track, “Take It In” and “I Feel Better” more than make their mark in catchiness even if they aren’t quite as danceable. This mature step for the band makes them poised for more greatness over the long haul.