#40 – The Raveonettes, Raven in the Grave: This duo of transplanted Danes pulls together a lot of disparate influences – British noise rock, ‘80s synth pop, and a 1950s and 1960s melodic sense – into a coherent and unique whole. Moody and dark, with an often drone-like quality.
#39 – Panda Bear, Tomboy: Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) has a highly unique sound with his expressive harmonies and extensive use of electronics. His fourth solo album (he’s also a founding member of Animal Collective) is highly accessible, with strong and melodic songwriting, while still honoring his experimental roots with a dreamy and shimmery sound.
#38 – The Boxer Rebellion, The Cold Still: Even though this ended up only at #38 after running everything through my formula, this is one of my favorite records. It’s driving, dramatic and moving – characteristics I’m almost most attracted to in music. A terrific rhythm section, high and strong singing, and good songwriting fill out this alt-rock gem.
#37 – Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto: Everyone loves to hate these guys and I really don’t understand why. Sure, they’re earnest and they shoot for Big Band Status à la U2 (sometimes missing in the process). But they seem like genuinely modest guys who love making music with each other, and since when did ambition become a sin? Leaving aside the goofy name, this is a great collection of echoey, big-hearted music meant for arena sing-alongs.
#36 – Dengue Fever, Cannibal Courtship: You’ve got to love this band’s creativity, combining Cambodian music with psychedelia and other influences to produce something completely unique. With extensive use of a Farfisa organ, there’s a fun cheesiness to this music. Combined with lead singer Chnom Nimol’s quirky swaying voice and you can imagine hearing this music at a shack on a beach in Southeast Asia.
#35 – Puscifer, The Conditions of My Parole: A concept album, as far as I can tell (a trend this year: Nero’s Welcome Reality, Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi’s Rome, Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life, etc.) about a man wandering the world facing his mistakes and his demons, from Puscifer, a side project of Maynard James Keenan from Tool and A Perfect Circle. The music is dark, heavy, and industrial. Somewhat tongue in cheek but still pretty serious stuff.
#34 – Wilco, The Whole Love: Someday Jeff Tweedy and company are going to make a bad album (although “Less Than You Think” on A Ghost Is Born sure pushed it!) but this isn’t it. Tweedy has become quite a guitar player over the years, as he demonstrates on the opening track, “Art of Almost,” and he continues to push the band’s sound in interesting directions while still writing great pop songs, e.g. “I Might” or “Born Alone.”
#33 – Ron Sexsmith, Long Player, Late Bloomer: Please, for the love of God, will people start buying this guy’s albums? He’s one of the best singer-songwriters out there, crafting exquisite songs for adults (maybe that’s his problem right there) and delivering them in a strong yet delicate voice that’s the perfect vehicle for his music.
#32 – Austra, Feel It Break: A strong debut for this electronic band from Toronto. Orchestral and precise to the point of chilliness, this album has a strong Kraftwerk/Depeche Mode feel. Vocalist Katie Stelmanis is perfect for the material with a voice that ranges from dramatic to silky smooth to slightly menacing.
#31 – Radiohead, The King of Limbs: Another head scratcher from the ultimate geek-rock band, very much on the electronic/house side of their personality. Aside from the use of loops and extensive electronics, this album is also notable for its world music influences with Hindi and Arabic sounds heard on a couple of tracks.