When I first listened to Gulag Orkestar, I was not quite sure what to make of it. The music was unlike anything I had ever heard before. It was deep, soulful and engrossing. Songs like 'Postcards from Italy' and 'Brandenburg' were melodic and beautiful, yet surprisingly catchy. Whenever you realize that the brain child behind this is 19 at the time of its recording, you have an added level of appreciation for it. Zach Candon is nothing short of a musical prodigy. He has crafted something far more mature than his age should allow, and then some. Gulag Orkestar is a beautiful compilation, full of wonder and amazement...and this kid was only 19. It's funny how something so beautiful can make me so depressed at the same time.
9 - The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
The Crane Wife is the follow up to 2005's Picaresque, and while it is not as good as it's predecessor, it is still a remarkable disc. The Crane Wife, losely based on a Japanese fairytale, builds upon their folk tendencies from their earlier CDs, and the result is a much deeper effort. While the CD does lag in the middle, with such strong songs as "The Perfect Crime", "the Crane Wife 3" and "O Valencia", it is easy to overlook its short comings. The Decemberists proved with The Crane Wife that they are capable of creating great music, and I for one cannot wait for their next offering.
8 - Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds
Three things drew me to this CD, the first was the name Final Fantasy, which coincidently is the name of a well known, and well loved RPG series. Second, the fact that it is the solo project of Owen Pallett, the violinist from the Arcade Fire. Thirdly, the title, "He Poos Clouds". It took me a few listens through the CD before I 'got it' so to speak. It's also very difficult to explain what makes the CD as good as it is. Even trying to compare it to something borders on the impossible. Owen has managed to make something that words simply cannot describe, and in a day and age where bands struggle to do something different, he does it effortlessly.
7 - Muse - Black Holes and Revelations
Black Holes and Revelations is Muse's gateway to success on this side of the pond. Like all of Muse's music, it keeps its new age experimental tendencies while combining them with a more media friendly approach than their previous efforts. The crowning achievement is the six minute epic closing track "Knights of Cydonia". The best way to describe this piece of music is a Space-Western Rock Ballad. It is the culminating track on a CD full of excellent songs. The production value on Black Holes is also much more solid than their previous efforts. I tend to compare Muse to The Decemberists, as both bands are on the cusp of greatness, and just need that little extra to push them over the edge, and there is no doubt in my mind that Muse is capable of that.
6 - Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
Everything All the Time is the first full-length LP from this Seattle band, who manage to make amazing sounding music for a band of only two members. While the CD is far from perfect, their lush indie rock sound is intriguing and just plain good stuff. I find it difficult to explain what it is about Band of Horses that appeals to me, but the CD does at any rate. They can definitely write a solid tune, they are both very accomplished musicians, and both of these things together make for a really solid debut album.
5 - TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
I first stumbled upon TV on the Radio when they opened for Franz Ferdinand when I saw them a year and a half ago. However, this was premium drinking time so I missed their set entirely. Then when watching Conan one night, TV on the Radio performed "Wolf Like Me". Needless to say I kicked myself for not seeing them when I had the chance and bought this CD the following day. Return to Cookie Mountain is a much more mature offering than the title would make you believe. TV on the Radio are a much more polished band on their second album, but their sound is as big and ambitious as ever. With songs from the attention grabbing opener "I Was a Lover" to my personal favorite, "Wolf Like Me", Return to Cookie Mountain offers the listener a challenging array of styles, and it seems to blend all of these elements together in a way that only TV on the Radio can do.
4 - The Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
This was the front runner for my favorite CD of the year for the majority of last year. The title of the CD, coming from a 1960 movie starring Albert Finney, seems to perfectly summarize what the Arctic Monkeys are. Their sound isn't anything new, and their lyrics aren't the most inspired, but the Arctic Monkeys realize that. They make good music, plain and simple. They aren't trying to make a statement, and they aren't trying to change the face of music. They make music because they like it, and they have something to say. This makes their music accessible, extremely catchy, and it is with this in mind that makes Whatever People Say I Am as good as it is. Yes they weren't trying to make a statement, yet they did, and in the process, they changed the face of music, at least in the UK where it became the fastest selling debut CD of all time.
3 - The Automatic - Not Accepted Anywhere
If someone told me that I would be raving about how good a brit-pop CD was a year ago, I would have stabbed them. Then, one night out in the UK, "Monster" came over the speakers, and I was blown away. It wasn't the best song I'd ever heard, but there was something about it. Everywhere I looked people were jumping up and down, comepletely taken in by the song. It runs through your veins unlike anything I had heard before. Not Accepted Anywhere is like that from beginning to end. It digs in to your skin and doesn't let go.
2 - Beck - The Information
I had no expectations when I first listened to The Information. I wasn't a huge fan of Guero or the remixed version, and quite frankly, had begun to give up on Beck. Then I heard The Information. Beck's latest offering is quite different from Guero, and it shows. The song writing isn't as 'mainstream' and he takes a lot more liberties instrumentally. That is not to say that is doesn't sound like Beck, cause it definately has a Beck-sound, but it is a different Beck-sound than we are used to, and that is a good thing.
1 - The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
What can you say about this CD that hasn't already been said before. From beginning to end, this CD is so good, that you will find yourself coming back to it again and again. Their catchy, 'night-on-the-town' lyrics make it easy to imagine yourself at a pub with some buddies with these guys on the stage. If their is anything negative to Boys and Girls in America, it seems short even with its approximately forty minute length. I could definately have used another half hour of this stuff. If you have not heard of The Hold Steady, you owe it to yourself to find out what all the fuss is about.