This year saw several high-profile releases, from Radiohead’s first record in four years to much-anticipated sophomore efforts from Arcade Fire and Band of Horses. Some of hip-hop’s biggest stars, including Kanye West, Jay-Z and 50 Cent, also released new material to varying levels of success. Now that the dust has settled, here are the year’s ten best albums.
10. The Shins
“Wincing the Night Away”
“Wincing the Night Away” is a little inconsistent, but at times The Shins are able to recapture the magic of their earlier work. “Australia” and “Girl Sailor” are among the album’s strongest songs, with frontman James Mercer delivering some of his best melodies to date.
“Sky Blue Sky”
“Maybe the sun will shine today,” Jeff Tweedy sings on “Either Way.” “Sky Blue Sky” is a softer side of Wilco, but an enjoyable listen throughout. Album closers “What Light” and “On and On and On” send “Sky Blue Sky” out on a high note.
8. Band of Horses
“Cease to Begin”
Band of Horses hit the ground running with their debut album “Everything All the Time,” and “Cease to Begin” is a nice continuation of their shimmery sound. Tracks like “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands” show the band still has the ability to rock.
7. Modest Mouse
“We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank”
Though critical reaction to Modest Mouse’s latest was mixed, it’s possible that everyone just had their hopes too high. While it’s no “Lonesome Crowded West” or “The Moon and Antarctica,” “We Were Dead” still has great songs like “March into the Sea” and “Missed the Boat.”
6. Apples in Stereo
“New Magnetic Wonder”
“New Magnetic Wonder” is the Apples at their most experimental, punctuated with compositions based on Robert Schneider’s new non-Pythagorean musical scales. Other tracks are consciously backward-looking and channel the spirit of psych-pop bands like Olivia Tremor Control.
5. White Stripes
In case you needed any more proof that Jack White is one of the coolest musicians alive, just listen to the title track’s guitar riff. Where previous White Stripes albums brought a combination of rock, country and pop to the table, “Icky Thump” focuses on more of a rock, rock and rock dynamic.
4. Arcade Fire
Expectations were high for Arcade Fire’s follow-up to “Funeral,” and Neon Bible is a worthy successor. Wynn Butler still sings like he’s about to pass out, and while “Neon Bible” is less anthemic than “Funeral,” it’s still a great album.
From the moment the drum machine kicks off “15 Step” you know Radiohead is about to take you on another wild sonic ride. The album doesn’t disappoint, and by the time the piano chords of “Videotape” fade out, “In Rainbows” has proven to be one of Radiohead’s best works.
2. Kanye West
As good as “The College Dropout” and “Late Registration” were, “Graduation” might be Kanye’s best album yet. Whether collaborating with Chris Martin or sampling Steely Dan, Kanye keeps his lyrics intelligent with some humor thrown in: “I’m like the fly Malcolm X / Buy any jeans necessary.”
1. Of Montreal
“Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?”
Unlike most of their former-labelmates at Elephant Six, Of Montreal is just now reaching their creative peak. “Hissing Fauna” sees Kevin Barnes taking the band in an entirely new direction (again), this time by into electro-dance-pop. The end result is a truly great record, and the year’s best.