We’ve had such an outstanding year for music, I couldn’t get down to 10. Albums in the top 5 could have been other years’ best record. Without further ado …
12. M. Ward, Hold Time — If anyone’s gonna make money from their music playing in Bud Light ads, may as well be someone as distinctly skilled as Ward. His musicianship, offbeat arrangements and voice sounding like an old soft sweater probably deserve a campaign with a better beer. Best song: The beerselling yet ingratiating shuffle of “Never Had Nobody Like You.”
11. Dex Romweber Duo, Ruins of Berlin — He doesn’t have the voice of when he led Flat Duo Jets, but Dex’s rockabilly is way cooler than anything on the radio. He’s learn to adjust what he does over the years, but stays true to his musical influences. Best song: “Picture of You,” a jaunty yet plaintive rockabilly gem.
10. Madeline, White Flag — A fine example of songwriting in the Southern gothic tradition. Consider her Neko Case’s deeper voiced long-lost cousin from the sticks. Best song: “This Train,” a folk throwback train song.
9. Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown — I’ll admit it. The first time I heard “Longview,” I never dreamed the band would be this good and for so long. But this testament to 21st century living, the agony and the ecstasy, is a worthy follow-up to American Idiot. Best song: The most upbeat tune, “Last of the American Girls,” where they let their California roots infuse their post-punk ethos.
8. Tegan and Sara, Sainthood — Tegan and Sara albums usually take a while to grow on me, but I’m still not digging this as much as many previous efforts. Plenty of good head-bobbing riffs and make-you-think lyrics though. Best song: “On Directing,” a vintage example of their catchy licks and clever songwriting.
7. Good Old War, Good Old War — Better harmonies than even Crosby, Stills and Nash. There, I said it. This group is a revelation, a throwback to a time when honest-to-goodness vocals were more important than studio tricks. Best song: “Tell Me,” one of the prettiest songs you’ll expect to ever hear.
6. David Gray, Draw the Line — Gray felt his music was getting stale (I’d agree), so he ditched his band and started from scratch. He brings a new energy and outlook, but fortunately his usual vocal prowess remains. Best song: The odd coupling of Gray with Annie Lennox on “Full Steam Ahead,” a lot of singing skills on one track.
5. Butterfly Boucher, Scary Fragile — Between this effort and Flutterby, the British songstress has recorded two of the most overlooked albums of the decade. With lyrical, musical and vocal skills, she’s got it all, and maybe someday the world will notice. Best song: With its deep-breath introduction, ultracatchy melody line and stop-go-stop setup, “I Found Out” isn’t just the best song on this album, I’d give it the nod for Song of the Year.
4. Tragically Hip, We Are the Same — The latest from my favorite band features more great stories marvelously told by Gordon Downie surrounded by solid musicianship. There’s a deeper feeling to this release than much of their catalog, and Gordie’s vocals seem to get better with age. Best song: “Coffee Girl,” which would be a huge hit in some alternative universe.
3. The Damnwells, One Last Century — Track after track of catchy rock tunes wonderfully rendered. And did I mention the band released it as a free download? This mostly unheralded band seems incapable of recording a bad tune. Best song: Kind of a toss-up between gorgeous ballad “Dandelion” and rocker “55 Pictures.”
2. Matthew Good, Vancouver — The newest and best of a very impressive catalogue combined the cinematic sweep of Avalanche with some of the intimacy of Hospital Music. The songs are larger than life with the stories running the gamut from war (as always) to small-town frustration to his concerns about what’s happening to his hometown of Vancouver. Best song: “Us Becomes Impossible,” grammar issues notwithstanding, is a perfect example of the powerful build Good masters.
1. Avett Brothers, I And Love And You — Masterfully written, performed and produced (hat tip to Rick Rubin). The Avetts have always had the ability, but sometimes sloppiness kept this from becoming evident. Here, it’s all focused on their ability. Easily the album of the year. Heck, I have it as the #2 song of the decade. Best song: The title track, which will take residence in your head so long you’ll have to charge it rent.
There you are. Did I miss anything?