1. Future Of The Left, Travels With Myself and Another
With harder riffs, a fiercer and more macabre sense of humor, and a singer who possesses the rare gift of turning screams of disgust and anguish into catchy hooks, no album excited or amused me more (check out the conversation about great prison breaks in American film in "Lapsed Catholics"). Funny, provocative and unsettling, this album and its first song, "Arming Eritrea," became the Bible by which I now choose to deal with condescending individuals in D.C.
2. Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II
I've written in-depth about this album before. Suffice to say it more than makes up for its lack of any cohesive musical or narrative structure with sheer artfulness and craftsmanship on the part of Rae, Ghost, Meth, Deck and the rest. Hundreds of beautiful moments, anchored by Rae's streetwise sense of detail and buoyed by the still-fecund mind of the late J. Dilla.
3. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest
Not a bad song in this collection of sly, virtuosic tone poems, proving that experimental music utilizing devotional church-type harmonies is the kind of gambit that virtually requires repeated listens. Primo art rock, and tuneful, too.
4. Them Crooked Vultures, Them Crooked Vultures
I've written about this album in-depth as well. I can't account for its middling reception from critics, except to note that most of them seem to think that Homme doesn't have the chops or the songwriting skills to merit playing with a rhythm section of Grohl/Jones' caliber. These critics are stupid and completely, 100% wrong about Homme. This album is an intense, enormously rewarding journey in the most classic rock sense.
5. Tyondai Braxton, Central Market
This experimental, orchestral solo work from Battles' leader basically jettisons whatever remote pop instincts that group had in favor of more virtuosic passages of avant-garde noise. I enjoyed it enormously in the same way I enjoy a lot of Frank Zappa's longer fusion works. Not necessarily tunes that are containable in one's head, but eminently listenable if you are in the mood. If you're a fan of 10+ minute songs, this has one very good one.
6. The Almighty Defenders, The Almighty Defenders
What looks to be a one-off collaboration between the Black Lips and the King Khan & BBQ Show has yielded this enormously impressive album. These soul-influenced lo-fi punkers and their songs of heartbreak and transcendence make this album the best of the year to drink alone to.
7. The xx, xx
This band gets my award for "debut album of the year that doesn't sound at all like a debut album." Smartly sequenced and immaculately produced, this album proves that all you need to carry a tune is a boy, a girl, and a bass, and everything else is merely timbre.
8. Passion Pit, Manners
I understand that this album is basically the aural equivalent of high-sugar junk food, and some of the songs are only a few D.O.C. samples away from becoming straight jock jams. Still, as I always say, one can't argue with effectiveness. The opening 25 seconds of "Little Secrets"? There's nothing that came out this year that gets me more pumped.
9. Morrissey, Years Of Refusal
Morrissey's solo work this decade has yielded a lot of quality returns, but a lot of it still has the sort of jangle-by-numbers quality that has marred (heh heh) most of his post-Smiths oeuvre. Though Jeff Beck's work on "Black Cloud" is lax and "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" is too damn short, this album may be the best and most creative he's ever made, and the final two tracks in particular may be his best solo songwriting, ever.
10. Wale, Attention Deficit
Not a perfect album, unfortunately, which may make it sound like I am trying to affect some annoying sort of critical hometown boosterism now that I have relocated. I assure you this is not the case. Wale's flow isn't 100% spot-on, but he is one of the most intelligent and likable new rappers out there, and I guarantee you no other rap album sounds like this: if you want to know what D.C. contributes to the rap game sonics-wise, and you need an introduction, best start here. There will be more to come.