The Best Albums of 2009

Dizzy's pick:
Around The Well
by Iron & Wine
"It's like having a tiny little electrical friend living in my iPod that listens to my problems and makes me feel better about the world. I could just listen to it over and over again...every song."

Basho's Picks:
1. The Hazards of Love
by The Decemberists
It speaks for itself

2. Far
by Regina Spektor
3. What Will We Be
by Devendra Banhart
4. Heartbeat Radio
by Sondre Lerche
From Scout: 
This year, Basho and I agree that we didn't receive what you would call 'classic' albums. Instead I personally got something much more important. I got memories in the form of records. Maybe these albums won't be remembered as the best of any year, but for me they came at a time when I needed them. They defined what has been a troubling but ultimately rewarding time for me. Some of them were handed to me by the very people who made them, others simply found me. They've all become hugely important to me over the last year and I encourage everyone to look outside the mainstream for the best music this year. I wasn't quite as taken with some of the records people have already started calling classics and masterpieces (Animal Collective, Phoenix, St. Vincent) though I did quite enjoy them. I think Actor is a fine album, but loving the first half of a record doesn't qualify it for 'best of' status, especially since it doesn't fill me with the same feeling of warmth or satisfaction I get listening to the records by Julie Doiron or British Sea Power. I got something better than classic records this year, I got memories of love and hope and inspiration and they came from these albums. When the lines between the songs and the times I was happiest started to blur, I knew that these were records that would stay with me.

The Airborne Toxic Event 
by The Airborne Toxic Event
I didn't quite expect much from Airborne Toxic Event. My editor loves the hell out of them but we also part company over The Hold Steady, so I was essentially neutral. When I finally heard their album I was floored. "This is the album Pitchfork gave a 1.6 to? Are you fucking joking? This is great!" A lot of frontmen have harrowing experiences but Mikel Jollet's voice communicates every day of his suffering in a totally honest and exciting way. His songs are catchy, thanks to the kick-ass guitar all over the record, and most of them are perfect car-trip fodder, unrelenting music you want to drum, shred and sing to but can't do all three and drive at once. Their dynamic suggests a mixture of The Shout Out Louds and The National but with a voice all its own. It's poppy, it's fierce, it's fiery and dysfunctional and full of suffering but it rocks and every song chips away at your heart until by the end you're at the bar with the band enjoying a drink. It's an album told by someone who's depressed, has no one to talk to, but no one's gonna live his life for him so he keeps on. And as I've been there and I love these songs, from the dramatic "Sometime Around Midnight" to the seething "This Nowhere", I give it up for this record. 

Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free 
by Akron/Family
I admit to being a late-in-the-game Akron/Family devotee. I didn't know they had a singer who had run off to Tibet which caused them to shift their dynamic drastically. I just thought I'd found a good record in what was probably a string of good records; it helped that I caught them at a mind-blowing instore. My friend Laura described the show they played later that day as like "being reborn." Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free is vastly different sonically from the other Family records but just as good if not better. A sort of dreamy pop emerges from it's 11 songs equally suited to waking up surrounded by your friends in summer or watching the sun rise over fields of snow. It's all very thrilling and full of life and to see it rocket from mountainous rock guitar to yearning violin and muted trumpet like on "Everyone Is Guilty", you just feel exhilarated, you feel alive. The songwriting feels cohesive despite coming from a place of fractured fortune. The soft, rootsy "Set 'Em Free," "The Alps & Their Orange Evergreen" and "Sun Will Shine" fill you with hope and the Brian Eno influenced "River" and "Creatures" make you want to dance and sing. Either way though it is really hard not to listen to Set 'Em Wild and not feel that these three know something crucial. They know the warmth of friendship, the intensity of love, the beauty of every inch of a natural world whose shadows are all over this record. They are happy to be here, you can just hear it.

Man Of Aran 
by British Sea Power
On paper Man Of Aran is either the most self-indulgent thing British Sea Power could ever hope to do or a really great idea or both. Self-indulgent? Maybe, but who cares, it's the latter. Scoring an obscure Robert Flaherty documentary about a remote Irish fishing village isn't anyone's idea of a blockbuster but I don't reckon Noble, Yan or the other members of camp Sea Power are all that interested in what you'd call success. I think they're out to catch the big fish like the fishermen of Aran. As a whole, BSP's chugging instrumental themes compliment the beautifully restored documentary footage of a seaside community's life and ritual uncannily. Isolated Man of Aran may be stripped of its ostensible purpose but loses nothing of its longing or its heavenly aimlessness. It necessarily moves arbitrarily because the film is already fairly uneventful (Flaherty had to stage the shark spearing, which gets the most ferocious song BSP's ever recorded). Perhaps the best summation can be found in the song "Come Wander With Me." What the band has done is create a mood that compliments a set of brilliant images but still delivers the mood divorced from those images. It's a spellbinding bastard; it asks nothing of you or even of itself. It does what it pleases and will with or without you but would love your company. So those gorgeous melodies on the viola and guitar are like the men of Aran, secreted away serving a purpose known only to those who seek them out. Once you're there, you may find it hard to leave. And if you can find another song that is quite so full of the joy of life as "The South Sound" I'd like to hear it because it makes 11 minutes feel like the blink of an eye. Man or Aran is a beautiful album and is bigger than just rock music.

Middle Cyclone 
by Neko Case
I can't account for why Fox Confessor Brings The Flood didn't affect me like it did everyone else. I don't know why, it just didn't. Middle Cyclone is another story. I think this is her record, her end-all, be-all tribute to torturous, tumultuous and terrible love. It's beautifully arranged, first of all. "This Tornado Loves You" sounds exactly like what it describes, a force of nature blowing across vast plains and through homes. I like this one because her voice works with her songs in a way I didn't get from Fox Confessor. Her unstoppable voice guides the guitars through seasons and emotions and heartbreak. Listen to the way the songs dip into minor chords, as on "The Next Time You Say Forever." "That's a dirty fallow feeling," Just listen to her sing. It's like sweet betrayal. Then of course her lyrics, which are wink-nudge brilliant, come from characters from all walks of life, species and planes of existence, each with a weary eye and a devastating voice. Thanks to John Convertino, some of her songs sound extra dusty and windswept a la Calexico ("Fever" and "Prison Girls"). If you'll indulge in some ridiculous metaphor, she's the sheriff of Heartbreak, world-weary and facing loneliness and infidelity at sundown. She has a thankless job and all she can ask for is outlined in "Don't Forget Me." Ultimately she'll end up alone; she's done this a thousand times and it's always the same. How else could she sing something so cruelly gorgeous as "Middle Cyclone?"

My Maudlin Career 
by Camera Obscura
Seeing as there was nothing by Belle & Sebastian worthy of the name this year and nothing by The Concretes ever again, it seems that my need for chamber pop will henceforth by filled by Tracyanne Campbell and her merry pranksters Camera Obscura. I haven't heard enough of their early music to put this in context but I do really enjoy My Maudlin Career. It's got tambourine and xylophone, shiny violins, the odd trumpet fill, sweet vocals, wistful lyrics and melodies fit for a Wes Anderson film. It's a trip to a fictional 60s where women walked the waterfront waiting for what will while wishing they could walk away from the working man who's won their heart who won't leave his wife or wear a tie; alright, so I sacrificed logic for a maddening and stretch alliteration. I'm sorry about that...anyway, the 60s I'm talking about...Ok, so it's a rainy day and a girl walks about an empty street in a dress with a pattern stolen from a Picasso. You there yet? Ok, she's window shopping, now she's dancing, now she's in love. Back to the record, shall we? It's not a break-up album so much as it is a classic boy troubles record. Campbell's narrator has both seen it all, can't catch a break and can't do what's best for her because she still believes in love. Above all though My Maudlin Career is a blast to listen to, whatever mood you're in, because there's both sadness and elation to be found in these songs. Light as air at first glance, but there's heavy soul beneath these feathers.

The Hazards of Love 
by The Decemberists
What's funniest about all the blah-blah-blah that comes with each new Decemberists album is that there is almost no consistency between any of them beyond the fact that it's Colin Meloy and his twelve-string guitar writing the songs. Castaways & Cutouts was fun but had no unifying theme so exists as a collection of disparate elements whose order is unimportant. Her Majesty The Decemberists contrasted a distinct vision of a fictional past with a modern narrative about finding yourself in new surroundings, so of course the orchestration was going to be a touch more expansive. Picaresque was about the power of storytelling and what it means to be lost at sea, which meant creating a thick atmosphere and utterly convincing evocations of a Dickensian unreality. The Crane Wife was a romantic ode to death and not doing what you're told and so had a dark 70s edge, replete with prog-rock keys and haunted folk anthems. The Hazards of Love is the first of their records to hold a narrative through every song and Colin Meloy went out of his way to see that you never got bored. So what does he do? He pulls out all the stops: a Wendy Carlos-cribbed organ opening, hidden harmonies, creeping ragas at once calming and nervous, Becky Green and Shara Warden killing it in character roles, repeated themes, a sing-along, maybe the third proper sounding pop song he's ever released, and of course some of the most bitchin' metal guitar (70s metal; think Bowie or Hawkwind or early Zeppelin) to ever grace a folk album. It's tempting to say this ain't your mama's Decemberists (mostly because that's just a fun thing to say), but under the epic nature of Hazards are some great songs that play off each other nicely despite being slightly incongruous. Not to mention that Colin Meloy's been writing about infidelity, forced abortion and murder since their first record, he just did it in charming, Beatlesy acoustic songs. And those are still here - the melody of "Won't Want For Love" is as sweet as ever, and tell me "Wager All" isn't adorable. So, in other words The Decemberists haven't changed; if you don't like The Hazards of Love it's because you can't handle the truth...or the metal! Rock on, Decemberists!

Other Truths 
by Do Make Say Think
Do Make Say Think have long been in a class all their own. With Godspeed You! Black Emperor no longer spinning webs of beautiful darkness and Sigur Rós on a sentimental holiday, they are the most powerful orchestral rock band out there. I think what sets them above your other instrumental or post-rock bands is that there's a deftness and a harmony in their records that just feels like the work of something ancient. They go where the music takes them and each new instrument is a welcome addition to an expertly crafted stew. The duel drumming of James Payment and Dave Mitchell and Charlie Spearin's bass are at once an aggressive yet effortless rhythm section. Justin Small and Ohad Benchetrit's guitar tones, by now staples of the Do Make's sound, tell you that though something unique is happening, it's also familiar. In fact the guitar is the one reminder that you're listening to a 'rock' record. What with Small's keyboard, Julie Penner's eloquent string playing and the ever-present brass section, the guitar is the one grounding element. I think they expand beyond the confines of rock music on the latter 3/4s of the album but let's look at the leading track, "Do." The groove that the band finds themselves in is unmistakably something you'd find on a rock record (and it's also brilliant) but it feels like something bigger, something more. When finally they shed it halfway through you realize that this is a work of art that utilizes the form of a rock album as it's canvas. This is about creation, seeing where inspiration leads you and about being together as a collective and though it might not be their best record to date (though it could be. I haven't quite made up my mind if I like this or & Yet & Yet better), it's their most whole. It is the most we may ever see of its members coming together in blinding harmony to make something wonderful.

I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day 
by Julie Doiron
Julie Doiron is one of Canada's national treaures which means that America hasn't quite found her yet but that every other Canadian musician you meet loves her to death. They're all right, incidentally. For over ten years the Eric's Trip bassist has been giving "on the nose" a good name on her charming solo albums. It's always tempting to wrap Doiron up in words like 'adorable', especially on songs like "The Life Of Dreams" or "Nice To Come Home" but her view of life is a privileged one indeed. A mother now, Doiron knows exactly what's important to her and thus to be able to see that the desires of teenagers are tenative (as in "Borrowed Minivans") and the ability to host a giant music festival in her tiny home town are no small victories. I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day is what it sounds like when no matter where you are you think of the ones you love and know you'll be home soon.

Outside In 
by Julie Fader
Julie Fader and Graham Walsh invited me into their home studio one evening so I could interview her and film them playing a song together. A few minutes in their home explained the warmth and familiarity that permeates every new verse on Fader's newest record Outside In. The construction of each isn't exactly groundbreaking yet everytime I hear any of the songs onOutside In I'm at a loss for words. Fader's songs are just breath-taking. Perhaps it's their simplicity, perhaps it's the love and support in Fader's life, perhaps it's the conditions under which she wrote the songs or the freedom given to her by Canadian indie label Hand Drawn Dracula - I can't figure it out but something made her record especially lovely. Every song is irresistable, every line of her yearningly delivered lyrics, every flourish of her economical but crushing guitar playing, every new bit of multi-tracked instrumentation. Outside In is a beam of light from the setting sun at the end of an autumn day.

Jet Black 
by Gentleman Reg
Gentleman Reg has finally started to crack through to the mainstream and he's brought his vivacious take on isolation and social constructs with him. Jet Black may be Reg's most catchy (it's certainly his most wistful) to date; it takes place in two locations, a club and the ether, often at the same time. To that end the record is part dreamy disco and part rough-around-the-edges rock like an ultra-hip take on The Kinks. What I find most enchanting is that Reg's band is that rare backer that manages to sound like they're improvising. Songs like "How We Exit" and "You Can't Get It Back" turn from great pop songs into the kind of whirlwind performance you'd expect the band to come up with spontaneously one night at Lee's Palace.

by Grizzly Bear
When Veckatimist came out I was bummed. I'm still a little confused, come to think of it. I love Veckatimist. Why? Because I love music so murky you need to stir it with a stick to tell that it's actually music and not the sound of your own despair echoing in your head. I love writing while music like this plays, I love driving at night while letting it make my surroundings spookier, I love putting it through headphones on rainy days on the subway. I love darkness and I myself am a fairly dark person. It doesn't take a geneticist to see that Veckatimist is just as grey as it's older siblings, Yellow House and Horn Of Plenty, and it stands to reason that I'd enjoy the hell out of every creepy, scraping, gloomy second even when it resolutely refuses to go anywhere (like on "About Face" and "Hold Still"). My question is what exactly did everyone else see in this record? I got the distinct feeling that Grizzly Bear's rising star acquired quite a few bandwagoneers and Veckatimist was the starting gun for blind love. Where the hell were all these rapturous reviews when Yellow House came out? Where's that record's classic status? That album is absolutely brilliant, genius in a way that few bands will ever approach. That's my problem with Veckatimist. I like it sure, but the production isn't as good as Yellow House and no one else seems to care that their best album was put out three years ago. Also I liked "Two Weeks" better before it entered a studio.

Face Control 
by Handsome Furs
Married. Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry have gotten married since 2007's Plague Park. I've seen the wedding photos. What does it mean? It means that this record burns brighter than the last one, it burns as bright as love. It starts with a punch in the gut called "Legal Tender" a love song so like Gary Numan and The Cure and all those other turn of the 70s goth crooners that it's not worth comparing them. They just fall right in and if you ever see them live, you're lucky to leave with your hearing. Love is louder than hell. Dan Boeckner is Will Sergeant and Elvis and Bernard Sumner and Joe Strummer, his bride Gillian Gilbert, Sid Vicious and Tubeway Army. Listen to "Evangeline" and don't think about sex. I dare you. Alexei invited us all to do it on stage, now I'm passing on the slavings to you. Guitar and drum machine and their voices; there's something positively forbidden about us hearing this record. It's enthralling and electrifying. Boeckner's found a whole new voice for his singing and his lyrics come out like punches. He's got Dylan here "Talking Hotel Arbat Blues" and New Order there "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything" and those songs are ridiculously listenable. The interludes are like wandering through a club following someone you saw from the street trying to get their number; the last one being the pay-off, that unending kiss when you've finally connected and you know they might be the one you marry. But the favorite has always been the last song. "Radio Kaliningrad." It's too enigmatic and compelling not to be about something but what the hell does it mean? It grabs you by the ears and you have to sing along. The rhythm guitar is like a combine, the feedback a buzzsaw, the beat footsteps up a hotel staircase or into the woods. Boeckner's enunciation during the chorus is peerlessly exciting. One last time before bed. Face Control is sweaty and alive and amazing.

by Headdress
I saw Headdress open for Dungen early this year and I raved to the few people I knew would appreciate them. "Sunn O))) from Texas" was the best approximation I could come up with. More accurately it's two hefty guys in alligator boots running a telecaster and keyboard through a myriad of effects creating an expansive, ear-drum bursting drone that despite sometimes consisting of no more than seven notes (as in "Tip of the Pramid") is absolutely killer. It says so much with so little. There are echoes of Neil Young's fog-like score for Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, which means it's the sort of thing dreamt up for spirit walks and lonesome drives through miles of desert road, Lunes is lonesome, grungy, dirge-like genius.

by The Hidden Cameras
In my review for Origin:Orphan at Between Love & Like, I ran off a laundry list of influences I heard in each of its songs, which to me made the record all the better. That I recognized Wings of Desire and The Pleasure Principle in the album doesn't mean that Joel Gibb was neccesarily listening to them when he made Orphan, it just means his record has a timelessness missing from...I don't know Attack! Attack! or The Ting Tings. I'm not criticising their music (well, ok, I am) but my point is that Gibb's construction of pop songs has something more than radio-ready hooks to them, it has an understanding, an awareness of its place and of pop's history and what pop music is supposed to do. I think that "In The NA" is pure genius because it is a study of pop music as well as a brilliant pop song. His lyrics are pointedly obscure so that while you're often inclined to sing along, you don't know what you're saying. Pop music makes us sing along with things we may or may not believe but we do anyway because it fills us with good feelings. "In The NA" is a song made of hooks, the verse just as catchy as the chorus and each instrument is from a different era of pop. The whole album isn't quite as good (some of it is: "He Falls To Me," "Underage," "The Little Bit," "Colour of a Man," "Ratfiy The New") but they come from the same place and it is a warm feeling, glad to strain your jaw singing along, air drumming, cheesy-but-who-cares? good time album. I also think its the closest thing since The Who's Tommy to a sonic version of Günter Grass's The Tin Drum, but that's another essay.

West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum 
by Kasabian
Kasabian are my favorite arrogant people. In fact as arrogant people go, they're very nearly the only people who earn it with talent. I've said it for years, in fact I reviewed their last record,Empire, for my high school newspaper and said the same thing. I liked that record, I loved their debut (though it hasn't quite held up as well as I thought it would) and I love West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. It is an expertly produced yet still loose and psychedelic rock record. There's Happy Mondays and Yardbirds in equal measure; the sort of thing Brian Jonestown is famous for doing but I think West Ryder is an altogether more coherent and likable record than anything Anton Newcombe ever did. Tom Meighan finds himself doing a bit of proper singing to go with his usual hypnotic bark and Serge Pizzorno's compositions show a depth missing from their previous efforts; in other words the snarl is there but it's being courted by a soft and hypnotizing beauty. It's a Stanley with a Stella. It's got hooks to boot and some of their best songs to date including an unprecedented duet with Rosario Dawson (...?) about two lunatics falling in love; not a bad metaphor for the record itself. It's a bit like someone making Blade Runner but instead of looking to film noir for inspiration, they chose Blow-Up and Clockwork Orange

Masters of the Burial
by Amy Millan
Amy Millan's solo records are decidedly different from her work with Stars. Left to her own devices, as on the heart-warming Masters of the Burial, she writes a sombre and beautiful country tinged sound that cuts through a serene sunset reflected on the surface of a pond propelled by lazy lapsteel guitar and perpetually singing mandolin. Her voice calls out for love on the shore, even as she recounts stories of her own loss and loneliness. She seems determined not to go it alone any further. "I'll find my way back to you," she sings in "Low Sail." Her compositions are much more assured than on 2006's Honey From The Tombs and match her storied and beautiful voice, the kind you fall in love with. You have your pick of heart-melting choruses from the sticky sweet "Old Perfume" to the sighing "Towers" and she still lets her Canadianness flourish a la trombone solos, a hundred guitars and a whole rogue's gallery of collaborators. She and producer Marty Kinack have managed a sound just as pastoral and amber-hued as Vilmos Zgismond's cinematography on McCabe & Mrs. Miller or Heaven's Gate; for those of you whose head that just went over, that's my way of saying Bravo!

Rain Machine
by Rain Machine
I never thought I'd ever compare anyone to early John Frusciante records but Kyp Malone matches his addict-energy and comes out the more coherent and capable songwriter. Killing all darlings from his day job, singing and playing guitar in TV On The Radio (save an affinity for bitchin' rhythmaning and intense percussive melody), Malone's songwriting has been sharpened like a shiv. Like the best of 70s cinema, Rain Machine is a record that feels like the city it comes from. Spinning tales from grey streets of Brooklyn's forgotten, moaning and in need of a fix, when he isn't howling like a preacher with an electric guitar, he, his band and his studio lay down relaxing yet vibrant bits of Tinariwen-inspired tribal rock. Rain Machine explores hitherto unseen depths in Malone's subconscious that are alternately warm ("Driftwood Heart") and cold ("Love Won't Save You") and often both ("Hold You Holy"); wholly different from his previous work and wholly welcome.

The Eternal 
by Sonic Youth
After over 25 years of life, Sonic Youth haven't really calmed down. In fact not only do they still rock, they're artists and The Eternal a late period masterpiece. Like Do Make Say Think's Other Truths, they've painted a masterpiece using the rock record as their canvas or medium. Each song is of a piece and everything from the harmonic-laden interludes to the almost dada-esque lyrics are all designed to fill your brain with the possibilities of sound and the efficacy of rock music and its legacy but never quite settle down and play by the rules. That so many of the songs have rather over-used blues riffs as in "Anti-Orgasm" or that absolutely devastating bassline in "What We Know" (that thing's like being in a car with a tiger and a snake. You know something's gonna happen) is not because they're trying to write blues rock, it's because that's a staple of a rock record and just as you can't have a painting without paint, you can't have a 'rock' record without an instance of a guitar doing what a guitar does historically. Once established, both songs cut up their canvases like knives and become something unclassifiable. Just what do you call what Sonic Youth does? So the genius is in weaving in and out of what could be called "rock" and delivering, in the in-between, something beautiful and audacious that sounds like heroin filling a vein, mixing with your blood like their feedback mixes with your rock music. It took almost 30 years for these four razor-sharp minds to be able to deliver this work of art to you and all you need to do is let it wash over you. Not a bad deal.

The BQE 
by Sufjan Stevens
Another of this year's many conceptual projects, The BQE received almost no fanfare when it was released. Sufjan Stevens resolutely refuses to do what the world wants him to, making another state specific album of quirky, yet haunting pop tunes (New York: Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor!) and instead does precisely what he wanted to, an instrumental record for one tiny piece connecting two tiny neighborhoods in a big city in a big state (The Brooklyn Queens Expressway). Stevens' album of expansive themes for a keyboard-driven orchestra may not have the heart of Illinois or Seven Swans but it also lacks the art school indulgence of Enjoy Your Rabbit. So where does that place it? It's kind of its own beast, switching lanes from swooning string themes to jittery electronic pieces when the numbers call for a change. What's funniest about the establishment all but overlooking this record is that it is so evocative and says more than so many of the other albums being heralded as the best of the year without actually saying a thing. I'd put money on this being called classic if it weren't by Sufjan Stevens or if it was the soundtrack to a Woody Allen film 30 years ago or if Philip Glass or Steve Reich had composed it midway through the 80s. Expectation has made the world deaf to what is quite simply a beautiful work. Stevens famously puts much more work into his albums than anyone really appreciates him for (without looking what's the full title of the second song on Illinois?) so it's no surprise that The BQE isn't on the radar. But The BQE does deliver some of his most lavish and heartrending songs to date. "In The Countenance of Kings" leads right into "Sleeping Invader" leads to "Dream Sequence In Subi Circumnavigation" right on through to "Self-Organizing Emergent Patterns;" as compelling and lovely a progression as any, inscrutable names aside. His genius as a composer outweighs his genius as a writer of flooring not-quite-pop songs at this point and seeing as The BQE is a record of staggering genius that doesn't feel at all epicurean, in fact it makes perfect sense in the context of his career, I think he should be given a good deal more praise than the likes of blogs or hip music magazines can give him. Beyond all that, though, it is just a powerful and stirring album.

It's Blitz 
by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It's their best. I could leave it at that and I don't think it would matter. It's awesome, it's got Karen O's strongest vocal delivery (and she's really singing) to date and she shows both depth and amazing control. Nick Zinner's compositions are both accessible and complex and I can just see the sweat forming on his brow while he nails the guitar on "Zero" and "Runaway," nevermind the thousand layers to be found on those and every other song on the record. To me this works so well because every second feels poured over, like they were giving it their all at all times. They could have been flat, easily, but they're not. Each moves with its own pulse and life and sound like the work of a full orchestra (and they even got one when they recorded Michael Nyman-esque alternate versions for the bonus cd). These are brilliant songs rendered timeless by a band at the peak of their powers. And really, as I'm sure they've been told, the record could have been Show Your Bones and I still would have lauded it as the best thing since reverb if all it had to offer was "Hysteric." Karen O's most confident and beautiful performance yet complete with a wonderfully restrained Zinner and Brian Chase backing her up, making use of silence when needed, something most bands don't respect. The spaces between Zinner's notes in the chorus show his talent more than any solo could. They understand. They know and their record is big. It's excellent. It's sweet. It's...

Honorary Awards:

To Willie
by Phosphorescent
The reason I hesitate to include this with the others is because all the songs were written by Willie Nelson, not Matthew Houck. Why it's here: because it's one of the most heartrending albums of all time. Houck's voice is pain and hope, together, given aural form. His band of former southerners help him rock, wail and moan but Houck's voice does more than justice to Nelson's songs, he does a better job than Nelson himself. If you're down, poetically down, give it a try. It's awesome, it's lovely and it's unforgettable.

The Happiness Project
by Charlie Spearin
I don't listen to this often, but it's on hear because not only is it one of the most original and intriguing and creative projects ever undertaken, it has the distinction of being the album that made me feel the greatest I've ever felt when buying a record. It came wrapped in biodegradable film (the first Arts & Crafts release I'd bought with the now mandatory wrapping), with its title in brail and inside was one of the most touching musical stories I'd ever heard. Also it's full to bursting with a bunch of lovely Canadian musicians, many of whom I've had the honor and pleasure of meeting. So while there may be a dearth of pop songs to rock out to in your car, you will love Charlie Spearin and his moustache even more than you already should. This is happiness, alright.

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