Friday, December 24, 2010

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I did this last year with a couple of albums, so I thought I would bring back the tradition.  Last year I chose a couple of albums that got a ton of terrific reviews, but that I just didn't seem to "get" (Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and The Avett Brothers' I And Love And You).
This year, I will talk about Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Pitchfork gave it a 10.0/10.0 (#1 on album of the year list).
Rolling Stone gave it 5/5 (#1 on album of the year list).
Spin gave it a 9/10 (#1 on album of the year list).
It was the top-ranked new album on Metacritic, getting a 93/100 (in case you don't know, Metacritic takes the scores of hundreds of reviews, then gives them a ranking based on those reviews.  Basically, it's like Rotten Tomatoes).
Even Paste, one of my favorite publications, gave it a 9.4/10 (#4 on album of the year list).

I could go on and on, but you get the point.  After suffering a wave terrible reviews for 808's and Heartbreak, the public seems to love Kanye again.  They're calling this album "brilliant", "a new wave of hip-hop", "a genius' masterwork", and other such things.
The nicest thing I can say about this album is "extremely uneven".
I won't deny that there is some great production on this album.  There are a couple tracks on here that could rank among my favorite Kanye tracks.  But there are also a couple that could rank among my least favorite, too.
Let's start at the beginning.
The album kicks off with Nicki Minaj's faux-British accent on "Dark Fantasy".  Eventually the chorus kicks in, and it reemerges throughout the song.  It really is a terrific chorus, and, while I didn't love it the first time I listened to it, it really started to grow on me with repeated listens.  It's a slow track, and a little long (it's under 5 minutes, but it still feels like it drags on for a bit long).
The next track ("Gorgeous") is decent.  Not great, but not terrible, either.  It actually works pretty well between "Dark Fantasy" and the third track, "Power".  The production on "Power" is great, starting off with handclaps and stomps before eventually kicking in with everything else.  When the bass drums kicks in, you can feel the room shake.  It's a terrific song...but even this song has its problems.  Kanye has never been a great rapper, and it shows again here, with bad lyrics rapped extremely clumsily (the lyric, "I was drinkin' earlier, now I'm drivin'" never fails to make me cringe).
After "Power" comes "All of the Lights", a massive song, featuring a hook sung by Rihanna, and guest spots by Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi, and about 12 others.  With the building horns, Rihanna's voice, and some psycho bongos, this track really is amazing.  You won't be able to get it out of your head for days.
Then comes "Monster", which is my favorite track on the album, and quite possibly my favorite Kanye track.  It features Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj (Nicki kills her verse...far and away the best moment on the album).  It's kind of an odd song...dark and driven and angry.  It's almost as if there actually is a monster, lurking somewhere in the background.

At this point, the albums falls off.  I like the production of "Runaway", but I hate the chorus (almost as much as I hate Kanye trying to sing the chorus), and the song eventually ends in about 3 minutes of Kanye talking through some heavy autotune (the song itself is 9 minutes long).  "Blame Game" is not a terrible song, but it ends with about 2 minutes of Chris Rock doing a terrible phone skit (the song itself is close to 8 minutes long).  "Lost in the World" (featuring a sample of Bon Iver's "Woods") is not bad, but it's a bit long, and there's really not much to it.
"Hell of a Life", "Devil in a Red Dress", and "So Appalled" are terrible.  Of all the times I've listened to this album, I think I have only made it through each track once.

So, a little summary.  The album has 13 tracks.  I like tracks 1-6 pretty well (with one of those being a one-minute interlude to "All of the Lights", so it barely counts), and parts of 2 others ("Runaway" and "Lost in the World").  Everything else is either forgettable, or something I wish I could forget.
So, what it boils down to is this: I like about half the album, and it's the first half.  After "Monster", I could just shut off the album, forget about the last half, and never have any regrets.
For that, I guess I can thank Kanye.
Thank you for putting all the songs worth listening to in the first half of the album.  I have no reason to ever venture past track 6.  If you had mixed in the good songs with the bad songs, I would have to do a lot of skipping.  As it is, I don't have to do that.  Thank you for saving me time.

If you like Kanye, give it a listen.  But, if you feel the urge to shut it off around the halfway point, you can do so in the knowledge that you've heard all the best tracks.

Rating: 2/5
Favorite track: "Monster"

Friday, September 17, 2010

The School, Arcade Fire, Margot & The Nuclear So And So's, Maximum Ballon

Here are a handful of albums that I have been enjoying recently.

The School - Loveless Unbeliever

There are times when you get can exactly what an album sounds like by the album cover.  Just by looking at this cover, I could almost hear the 50s/60s inspired pop music radiating from its cover.  When I hit play on this album, that is exactly what I heard.  It opens with "Let it Slip", a 50s inspired pop tune if ever I've heard one, complete with "bop-bop-ba-lu" background vocals, reverb-laden drums, building strings in the background, handclaps, and, of course, "that" voice.  Liz Hunt has a perfect voice for this kind of music.  It's kind of cute, but not overly so.  She recalls 50s pop music without sounding like she's ripping anything off.  It's an homage...not an exact recreation.  While it is definitely rooted in 50s pop music, there is also more than a hint of 80s pop.  There are more than a couple of times on this album where I hear a melody and ask myself, "Did they take that from The Smiths?"
All-in-all, it's a terrific album, filled with songs that are short, sweet, and memorable.  If you like pop music at all, you'll love this album.

Rating: 5/5
Favorite Track: "I Want You Back"

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

My love for the Arcade Fire is well-known.  I loved Funeral, and (I think) I loved Neon Bible even more.  With this album, my expectations were high.  I couldn't help it.  I tried to lower them, so that I wouldn't have unreasonably high expectations for it, but I just couldn't do it.  New Arcade Fire.  That's reason to celebrate.
As it turns out, my expectations couldn't be too high.  This album took those expectations and exceeded them.  I was a bit nervous about the length of the album at first...looking at that track listing and seeing 16 tracks staring back at me was a bit daunting.  But it didn't matter...every track is terrific. maybe not every track.  I'm not overly excited about "Sprawl I (Flatland)", but it works as a great intro to "Sprawl II "Mountains Beyond Mountains)".  And that's the thing...this album works so well as an album.  Before the album released, I heard a "Month of May" and "The Suburbs".  They were good, but not great.  But, in the context of this album, they both seem to make more sense.  This is a great, cohesive album.  And it is proof that, no matter how many people say otherwise, the format of "the album" is not just needs to be done correctly.  That's something that the Arcade Fire understand.  
When all is said and done, this may end up being my favorite Arcade Fire album...and that's really saying something.

Rating: 5/5
Favorite Track: "Suburban War"

Where the Arcade Fire exceeded my expectations for their new album, Margot let me down.  Hard.  I loved the sound of their first couple albums...they were folk songs at heart, but filled out with fantastic instrumentation.  What drew me to their music were their arrangements.  I loved the percussion, the horns, and the haunting keyboards.  I loved how they could start out a song very soft, and end with the perfect combination of beauty and noise.  
On this album, those arrangements are gone.  The subtle instrumentation (and the explosion of that same instrumentation) has been replaced with loud electric guitars.  Between Not Animal and Buzzard, Margot turned into a rock band...and no one even though to warn me about it.  After one listen, I put down the album, extremely disappointed.
But then, of course, I picked it up again.  With one listen under my belt, I knew what I was getting into.  The second listen proved to be a much more enjoyable experience.  Sure, I missed the old Margot...but I couldn't expect them to stay the same for their entire career.  This album still had good songs.  As good as some of the songs on their previous two albums?  No...but some solid songs, all the same.
I sit here now, on my fifth listen.  It has really grown on me.  I'm not sure I'll ever love this album the same way I love The Dust of Retreat or Not Animal, but I do really like it, and it's getting better with each listen.  It's a different Margot...but that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Rating: 4/5 (this rating is sure to increase with more listening)
Favorite Track: "Lunatic, Lunatic, Lunatic"

Maximum Balloon - Maximum Balloon

Maximum Balloon is the side project for Dave Sitek of TV On the Radio fame.  If you did not know this before listening to the album, it would become immediately apparent.  The opening to "Groove Me" sounds like the funked-up brother of TV On the Radio's "DLZ" (off Dear Science).  That song opens the album with a bang, and lets the listener know what they're in for.  It's a funky, catchy, dance album, featuring dirty synths, slinking basslines, and a different singer on each track (notable vocals come from Tunde Adebimpe, Kyp Malone, Karen O, Holly Miranda, David Byrne, Little Dragon, Theophilus London, and others).  It's an album that has a hint of danger laced album that would sound perfect at 2AM in a dark alley.  It's a dance album for those of us who don't really like dance music.
While the album does get a little long by the end, it's still a good listen.  This is an album that you may have to be in the right mood for...but, if you are, it can be glorious.  I dare you to listen to this and not start's darn near impossible.

Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Track: "Groove Me (feat. Theophilus London)"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Albums I've Been Listening To

The National - High Violet

The National found many new fans with their last album (Boxer), and with good reason.  It was a dark, melodic album with shimmering guitars, thundering drums, and the ever-present baritone of Matt Berninger.  High Violet picks up where Boxer left off.  The album kicks off with "Terrible Love".  The first couple of times I listened to this track, I thought there was something wrong with my copy of the album.  The guitars are fuzzy, and the drums sound like they were recorded behind a curtain of mud.  But the piano is crystal clear...and it gives the song a haunting sense of beauty.  It starts slow, but the song ends in a cacophony of noise and beauty.
Where the drums seemed to be the central instrument on Boxer, the piano seems to be the central instrument here.  When it shows up, it takes over the song...whether you realize it on first listen or not.  Much like Boxer, this is an album that needs time to sink in.  You may not love it right away, but, with multiple listens, you'll find that each song has more going on than you originally thought...and that all the songs work perfectly together to make a terrific album.  Boxer is great.  High Violet is better.

Rating: 5/5
Favorite track: "Conversation 16"

The Black Keys - Brothers

The Black Keys have been releasing a steady stream of blues albums since 2002's The Big Come Up.  They released a number of albums, all pretty much the same as the last.  They were good, but there wasn't much to separate them from the last.  You knew what you were getting with The Black Keys: blues music, played by two guys.
That changed with 2008's Attack & Release.  On it, they teamed up with master producer Danger Mouse, who took their traditional blues sound in a different direction.  The blues was still very much present...but there was something else.  A little more atmosphere.  Some more inventive arrangements.  More instruments.
With the exception of one track on Brothers, Danger Mouse is gone.  But some of that experimentation remained.  To call this a blues album would be accurate...but not 100% accurate.  They channel T. Rex on the opener ("Everlasting Light").  They throw a harpsichord into the mix on "Too Afraid to Love You".  They bring out an old-soul sound on "Unknown Brother".
Yes...The Black Keys are still a blues band.  But, rather than just playing straight blues, they play music with a blues base...but they're still free to throw in different arrangements and influences as they see fit.  These past two albums have shown a new Black Keys...and I like it.
I do have one complaint: at 15 tracks and clocking in at nearly an hour, it's a little long.  By the time I got to the end, I felt like I had heard a couple of the songs twice.  Yes, they have expanded their music...but not enough to keep you interested the entire time.  It's a good album...but it's just a little too long.

Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Track: "She's Long Gone"

Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame

Dr. Dog hasn't changed much over the years, but there's not really anything wrong with that.  They make 70s-inspired pop music, and they do it extremely well.  Those sweet backing vocals.  Those slightly fuzzy guitar solos.  The songs that all seem to be building to something.  Those head-nodding bass lines.  I can't explain what it is about this album, but it's hard not to smile when you're listening to it.
This is one of those albums that I liked immediately...but some of the sheen started coming off with repeated listens.  Listening to it now, I realize that I like it...but there are a couple of songs I'm not fond of ("Unbearable Why", "Later", "I Only Wear Blue").
Most unexpected moment of the album: around the 2:30 mark on "Someday", the band breaks into a guitar solo that sounds a lot like a moment from Disney's Robin Hood.
It's not a great album...but it's a very good album.

Rating: 3/5
Favorite Track: "Where'd All the Time Go?"

I'm trying to get back to this on a regular basis.  I have a backlog of albums that I want to talk about, so hopefully I'll get to more of those in the not-too-distant future.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Summer Albums to Listen To

It has been entirely too long since I've updated this thing.  For that, I apologize.
Here are a handful of albums that I've been listening to lately...all of which will make for terrific summer listening.

Sleigh Bells - Treats

Take a healthy mixture of rock, pop, and hip-hop.  Crank the levels up until everything is in the red.  Then take a female vocalist who is half cheerleader and half girl-group popstar, and you have Sleigh Bells.  I listened to it a couple of times, and didn't think much of it.  Eventually I brought it with me in the car on a nice day, rolled down the windows, and cranked it.  All of a sudden, it clicked.  What I'm saying is this: give it a couple of listens before you decide whether you like it or not.  If it's still not clicking, take it out with you and give it a spin on a nice day.  It's perfect.

Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Track: "Crown on the Ground"

Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away

Josh Ritter is one of the best songwriters alive.  I began to agree with this statement after hearing "Girl in the War" (from The Animal Years).  "The Temptation of Adam" (from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter) convinced me even further that this was true.  "The Curse" (from this album) leaves no doubt in my mind.  In "The Curse", Ritter has created a beautiful love story between a mummy, and the archeologist who resurrected him.  In anyone else's hands, a concept like this could come off as a bit cheesy or gimmicky.  But Ritter makes it a wholly believable - and extremely heartbreaking - tale of love and loss.   
But Ritter is not just a great songwriter.  With each album, the musicianship of his songs has improved.  Pounding drums, slide guitars, and a swirling piano bring "Change of Time" to a close.  Clacking drumsticks drive "Rattling Locks".  Finger picked guitars, eerie pianos, and a myriad of atmospheric noises bubble under the surface of "Another New World".
This album is a strong contender for album of the year.  If you haven't listened to Josh Ritter before, now is the time to start.  (If you have a chance to see him live, go do it.  He puts on a killer live show.)

Rating: 5/5
Favorite Track: "Change of Time"

Broken Bells - Broken Bells

My love for Danger Mouse has been widely chronicled here.  I have also loved the last couple of Shins albums.  When it was announced that James Mercer (The Shins' lead singer) and Danger Mouse were working on an album, I was extremely excited.
This album exceeded my expectations.  Danger Mouse proves why he is such a sought-after producer.  Throughout this album, he creates a sound that is somehow unique and familiar.  It's a pop album...but there's something different about it.  It's extremely addictive, and it's a great album for the summer.

Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Track: "October"

Sally Seltmann - Heart That's Pounding

I had no idea who Sally Seltmann was when I listened to this album for the first time, so I had no idea what to expect.  Upon first listen, I thought it was a good - but not great - album.  After a couple of listens, that view changed.  I fell in love with this album.  From the album cover to the production to her voice...this sounds like a classic album; like an unreleased Dusty Springfield album that was found sitting on a shelf somewhere.  It's a mood that is set early, and one that continues throughout the album.  That's not to say that all the songs sound the same.  Each song has its own personality.  But, through it all, her voice is the constant.  And it works perfectly within the songs.  It's a fantastic pop-soul album that sounds much older than it is.

Rating: 5/5
Favorite Track: "Dream About Changing"

Yeasayer - Odd Blood

Of all the albums here, this one took me the longest to "get".  It's an odd combination of pop, space-funk, soul, rock, world music and electronica.  It is, to put it quite bluntly, a strange album.  It doesn't help that the first track ("The Children") is a seemingly formless blob of distorted voices and clanging noises.  It's still my least favorite track on the album...but I hate it less now than I used to.  Still, it seems a poor choice to introduce the rest of the album.  But, if you don't get past it (or, at the very least, just skip it), you'll never find the true greatness contained on this album.  This album is definitely a "grower".  It took me at least 6 listens to really start to love it.  But, once I did, I'm glad I gave it the time I did.  It's a terrific album.  Put some time into it, and you'll be glad you did.

Rating: 4/5
Favorite Track: "Mondegreen"

The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

It's hard for me to put into words why I love The Tallest Man on Earth.  It's because words can't really describe his uniqueness.  He is a solo artist.  His songs (save for the closer, "Kids on the Run") contain a guitar and gravelly vocals...and sometimes a banjo.  All of his songs sound like they were recorded in a small room with a single microphone.  Nothing about that description makes him sound very special...but he is.  He operates within the "a man and his guitar" musical framework, but he doesn't really sound like anyone else.  Like I said, words can't really describe The Tallest Man on Earth.  So make sure you give this album a listen. You'll be glad you did.

Rating: 4/5
Favorite Track: "King of Spain"

She & Him - Volume Two

Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward return for another album containing more of the same music they created on Volume One.  This is an album that borrows liberally from the girl group pop of the 50s and 60s.  There's nothing wrong with that.  They're so good at this, that it's hard to find any fault with them.  It's not daring in any way...but that's fine.  When you can create a sound so perfectly, it would almost be a disservice to do anything else.  It's a pleasant album.  If you liked Volume One, you'll like Volume Two.  I love them both.

Rating: 4/5
Favorite Track: "Thieves"

I'll return in the not-too-distant future with part 2, featuring The National, Dr. Dog, The Black Keys, and more.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2009

Here are my top 20 albums of 2009.  In the not-too-distant future, I'll try to post those that fell just outside of the top 20...but I make no promises.

20. Sufjan Stevens - The BQE

Sufjan's modern-classical album.  Lots of strings, horns, and electronic experimentation.  Exactly what I expected...and it's glorious.

Favorite track: "Movement IV: Traffic Shock"

19. Solander - Since We Are Pigeons

Dark, acoustic-based Swedish music.  A bit spotty at times, but, overall, I really like it.  It kind of reminded me of Sufjan's Seven Swans era for a while...but that may have just been the banjo.

Favorite track: "Berlin"

18. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures

John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl, and Josh Homme got together and made a terrific hard rock album.  There are shades of Led Zeppelin and Queens of the Stone Age, to be sure...but it's still a great hard-rock blues album, that, at times, doesn't really sound like anyone.

Favorite track: "New Fang"

17. Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson - Break Up

 I've never been a big Pete Yorn fan, but I liked this album.  He found a good singing partner in Scarlett Johansson.  This is just a good pop album, which revolves around a couple breaking up (in case you couldn't tell from the title).  Drop your cynicism and give this album a's better than you think.

Favorite track: "I Am the Cosmos"

16. Susan Enan - Plainsong

This album is, at its heart, a folk album.  But all the songs are filled out with great instrumentation, making for a very enjoyable listen.  Her voice really makes the album, though.  Even on songs where the instrumentation is sparse (as it is on "The Grave"), her voice never allows the song to become boring.

Favorite Track: "Moonlight"

15. David Bazan - Curse Your Branches

I'll turn this one over to Matthew, who wrote about this album on his blog:
"Here we have possibly the most well-known man in Christian indie rock (Pedro the Lion) openly questioning his faith, sometimes in the most blunt manner: 'Wait just a minute, you expect me to believe that all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree?' This is an important record, simply because it shows how one man can struggle so deeply within himself. Alcoholism, wavering faith, depression, this is as personal as it gets. 'When all this lethal drinking is to hopefully forget about you. I might as well admit it, like I even have a choice. The crew have killed the captain, but they still can hear his voice.' This s*** is heartbreaking."
Couldn't have said it better if I wanted to.

Favorite track: "Please, Baby, Please"

14. Blakroc - Blakroc

The Black Keys decided to do a hip-hop record.  So they laid-down some tracks, and invited some friends over (Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Ludacris, NOE, RZA, Raekwon, Jim Jones, and others), and cranked out an album.  It's an album filled with a blues-rock backbeat, and some great emcees in the forefront...just don't call it a rap-rock album.

Favorite track: "Done Did It (feat. NOE)"

13. The Dead Weather - Horehound

Jack White on drums.  Allison Mosshart (The Kills) on vocals.  Jack Lawrence (The Greenhornes/The Raconteurs) on bass.  Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) on guitar.  It's a loud, crunchy blues/rock mix that sounds terrific.

Favorite track: "60 Feet Tall"

12. Wale - Attention Deficit

He has a smooth style, reminiscent of Lupe Fiasco (with shades of Kanye's better moments), but without sounding like he's ripping either of them off.  The production is terrific as well (including one song produced by TV On the Radio's Dave Sitek).  There are some moments when the lyrics are a bit cheesy ("I remain a Giant and you Jeremy Shockey" comes to mind), but, for the most part, he keeps it interesting and funny, with moments of seriousness (most notably "90210" and "Shades").  The great moments on this album far outweigh the lesser ones.

Favorite track: "Chillin' (feat. Lady Gaga)"

11. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz

A synth-laden album that starts out with the dance-club feel of "Zero" and ends with "Little Shadow", a slow song with minimal instrumentation.  Karen O has really found out how to use her voice.  Gone is the howling of Fever to Tell, replaced with a more polished (but still a hint of wildness under the surface) vocal style.  It's their best album to date.

Favorite Track: "Skeletons"

10. The Raveonettes - In and Out of Control

The Raveonettes do fuzzed-out-and-distorted 50s inspired pop music better than anyone (with the possible exception of Glasvegas...but, with only one record under their belt, it's tough to tell).  This album is no different.  The album gets off to a perfect start with "Bang!", and it doesn't let up from there.  While their lyrics have never been their strong point (there's a song called "Boys Who Rape Should All Be Destroyed"...and, while I agree with the sentiment, it makes for a pretty clunky set of lyrics), they're good enough to not be a distraction in most cases.  There's not much to differentiate this album from some of their previous albums...but there's nothing wrong with that.  They know what they're good at, and they're sticking with it.  As long as they continue to be this good with it, I don't care if they ever change.

Favorite track: "Last Dance"

9. Elvis Perkins - Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Elvis hooked me with his first album (Ash Wednesday).  It was a ridiculously sad album, and the music reflected that.  This album has an entirely different feel to it, and it took me a couple of listens to get into it because of that.  The lyrics haven't gotten much more hopeful on this album (although "I don't let Doomsday bother me/Do you let it bother you?" may be the closest he'll ever get to writing a happy song), but the music is much peppier.  There are elements of New Orleans jazz (the aforementioned "Doomsday" sounds like it was recorded on a New Orleans street), blues, pop and folk sprinkled throughout.  The songs are filled out with a full band and some terrific horn arrangements.  It's an album with a lot going on, and it takes a couple of listens to take it all in.  But once you do, you'll want to turn it up loud and never stop listening.

Favorite track: "1 2 3 Goodbye"

8. Handsome Furs - Face Control

Made up of the husband and wife team of Dan Boeckner (from Wolf Parade) and Alexei Perry, this album comes off as a dark, scuzzy rock album with a hint of dancehall.  It's upbeat and catchy, but it also feels a little creepy.  It's one of those albums that I loved right away, and the more I listened to it, the more I loved it (for the record, that's extremely rare for me).

Favorite track: "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything"

7. Fun - Aim & Ignite

An upbeat album from a band that seems to love Queen and ELO.  Nate Ruess' (from The Format) voice has a Freddy Mercury feel to it, but not quite as dramatic (it sometimes comes off a little more as Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance).  For the most part, the songs are very well orchestrated, filled out with lots of voices and strings.  "The Gambler" is the exception.  It's a piano-driven love song that brings to mind Ben Folds' "The Luckiest".  It's a beautiful song, and it fits well on this album, even though it's a slightly different style.
(Extra note: Andrew Dost, a former member of Anathallo, is also a member of this band.)

Favorite track: "All the Pretty Girls"

6. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

I originally had this album ranked much higher.  Then, as I went back and listened to it again, I realized there were a handful of songs that I didn't really care for ("Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth" and "Fever" being the major culprits).  I didn't hate them: I just didn't really like them too much.  But, aside from those couple of tracks, all the others are amazing.  I've been a Neko Case fan since 2000's Furnace Room Lullaby, and I think this is her best album.  "This Tornado Loves You", "Magpie to the Morning", and "Don't Forget Me" rank right up there with the best songs she's ever done.  The music sounds terrific (the "piano choir" on "Don't Forget Me" is absolutely gorgeous) and her voice is in top form.  If you haven't listened to Neko Case before, this is a good place to start.

Favorite track: "Magpie to the Morning"

5. Bat for Lashes - Two Suns

Bat for Lashes' first album (Fur and Gold) was a great debut album, but it was a little uneven.  I liked it a lot, but there were a number of songs that never really hit me.  This album is a different matter.  It's a much more cohesive album, and the songs are a much stronger group.  There's nothing that quite approaches the beauty of "Sad Eyes" from Fur and Gold, but, as a whole, this album is much better.  The album is laden with synths, percussion, and lots of lyrics featuring crystals.  It's a haunting album that sounds something like Kate Bush in her prime.  Don't miss this album.

Favorite track: "Sleep Alone"

4. Regina Spektor - Far

Regina Spektor has been making quirky, piano-driven pop music for a number of years now.  This is the best she has ever sounded.  I can't explain it, but the piano just sounds better on this album.  Perhaps it's a little cleaner...but it definitely sounds like there's an extra measure of beauty in those keys this time around.  I can't explain why...I just know how it feels.  There's not a weak song on the album.  It's a great quirky pop album.  Like you could expect anything less from her at this point.

Favorite track: "One More Time With Feeling"

3. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Summer of Fear

His first, self-titled album was decent.  It started off strong, but, overall, there wasn't much to it.  It was originally recorded to be a demo, and it sounded like it.  It was mainly Miles and his guitar.  Pretty stripped down.  This album was produced by Kyp Malone (of TV On the Radio), and it shows.  The songs are more realized, and they're filled out with layers upon layers of guitars, vocals, percussion, horns, and strings.  When everything is working, it sounds terrific; a glorious sound that only improves the louder it gets.  At times it sounds a little ramshackle, and at times his voice doesn't quite sound on-key, but it all seems to work.  It's not the most accessible album (it took me 6 or 7 times to really start liking it), but, once it "clicks", you'll be glad you gave it a chance.  There are moments when this album is absolutely breathtaking.

Favorite track: "Summer of Fear, Pt. 2"

2. Florence + The Machine - Lungs

I had head that Florence Welch had a great voice.  That's all I knew going into this album.  But there's so much more to it.  Her voice is incredible...but it's the percussion that really made me love this album.  It's not often you hear deep, booming percussion as far up in the mix as you do on this album (it is most evident on "Howl" and "Drumming Song").  Yet, even with the percussion sitting up far in the mix (and the rest of the instrumentation swirling around it), her voice is able to be prominent without the need for screaming.  She has a commanding voice that demands to be heard, no matter what else is going on.  Her voice is also diverse enough to switch from dance pop ("Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up") to punk rock ("Kiss With a Fist") to slow-building, explosive pop/soul/blues ("Girl With One Eye") without skipping a beat.  Florence Welch is a tremendous talent...and she should be making terrific music for a number of years.

Favorite track: "Girl With One Eye"

1. St. Vincent - Actor

From the moment this album came out, I knew it would end up here.  It had to.  Annie Clark is a unique talent; she is able to make creative, abrasive rock music without sounding forced or "arty for the sake of arty". She's sincere in her music, and you can tell.  This album is a perfect blend of pop, rock, and violent outbursts of sound.  Sure, there are some quieter moments (like "The Bed"), but even those songs have enough creative instrumentation going on to keep it interesting.  But it's the harder moments (the crunchy guitar of "Actor Out of Work", the woodwind and kick-drum driven groove of "Marrow") that demand your attention.  When everything kicks in, you can't help but listen with your mouth hanging open.  And, of course, throughout the entire album is Annie's voice, doing whatever it needs to do to fit with the music.  She's a a good way.  She's a master of vocal delivery (the moment that starts around the 2 minute mark of "Neighbors" may be my favorite moment of the entire album...her voice kicks in and just steals the show), standing strong in the midst of the musical chaos that surrounds her.
Marry Me was incredible.  This album is darn near perfect.  I can't wait to see what she does next.

Favorite track: "Marrow"

Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comment section.