Dropping this before the deluge of Albums of the year lists starts. I always find a few gems i haven't heard of in other's people's lists - Band of Horses and Midlake spring to mind from last year. Neil Young and Caribou might have made this one had i got around to listening to them yet. So, in particular order..
1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
An indisputable classic. It is more commercial than their debut and perhaps has slightly less of Funeral’s frenetic sense of urgency but its also a deeply ambitious, exciting and accomplished record with a smorgasbord of all kinds of rock’n’roll ghosts and legends influencing the sound - from Orbison and Johnny Cash to Springsteen and U2.
2. Feist, The Reminder
Right up there with Joni Mitchell’s Blue as one of the best female singer songwriter albums ever; varied in style and consistent in quality. The voice, the songs, the arrangements. I’m blown away by how strong this is.
3. Radiohead, In Rainbows
Radiohead’s most focused record since Kid A and their most accessible since OK Computer. This is a fantastic piece of work with some of the finest moments of their career in Nude, Weird Fishes, and Reckoner. Its accurately been described as their most romantic album yet with the fairly heavy duty appearance of strings and harmonies and, by their standards, some occasionally soppy lyrics. Shock, horror!
4. Patrick Watson, Closer to Paradise
Patrick Watson’s voice is as good as Jeff Buckley or Anthony Hegarty's and Closer to Paradise is a supremely confident and complete work, chock full of great ideas. It sounds like Pink Floyd meets Rufus Wainwright meets Erik Satie meets Tom Waits meets late Beatles meets Animal Collective meets Coldplay. A woozy, psychedelic delight.
5. The National, Boxer
The National’s sound is essentially Tindersticks meets Interpol and that is as miserable as it sounds, but in a very enjoyable way. Boxer is an exercise in restraint - you can hear them holding off from the obvious big anthemic choruses and crescendos that could come out of these songs. The result is a subtle delight - an album of warm, doomed songs - and a classic grower. And what are the bets the Killers wish they’d written ‘Mistaken for Strangers’?
6. Panda Bear, Person Pitch
On this solo effort, Animal Collective's singer/drummer Noah Lennox adds a poppier and more melodic aesthetic to Animal Collective's avant garde, barmy Beach Boys on acid type sound to produce this absolutely gobsmacking, jawdropping wonder of an album. A little reminiscent of Manitoba/Caribou's work but better.
7. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
LCD Soundsystem finally find their heart and soul to become more than the irony laden clever, clever, New York scene band they once were - but dont' forget to produce a savage dance-rock cracker in the process. Put this on and try not to dance around your house like a deranged idiot. I can’t. A huge step forward.
8. Spoon Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Does any other rock band swagger and strut while making it sound quite as effortless as Spoon? I don’t think so. Singer Britt Daniel has one of finest rock singers drawls ever and the band are very tight. This, their best album, is pop genius. Why aren’t they huge? I don’t know.
9. The Good, the Bad and the Queen, The Good, the Bad and the Queen
Yet another masterstroke from Damon Albarn. Its a grower but probably the best evidence of Albarn's ability to mine sweet melodies. And what an atmosphere! Dubby, smoky, melancholic. He keeps surprising us with things we don't know we want to hear till we hear them.
10. Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars
The pre-album buzz from Rufus had him talking about stripping down his sound and doing something more intimate, you know? Smaller. But Rufus can’t do small. So we got another HUGE, over the top sounding album from this preposterously over the top and gifted man. I’m not complaining.
11. Pharoahe Monche, Desire
Possibly the best rapper of all time, Monche's flow has to be heard to be believed. This is his first album in almost a decade. Enough said.
12. Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger
Finally a filler free effort from alt country’s 32 year old enfant terrible genius. The man has talent oozing out of his fingertips and now he’s got the quality control back on.
13. Kings of Leon, Because of the Times
Kings of Leon start trying to sound like U2 to sell more records and guess what? It works, both commercially and artistically, an excellent trad rock album and probably their best album yet.
14. Iron & Wine, The Shepherd’s Dog
A huge improvement on 'Our Endless Numbered Days', its pretty but somewhat anodyne predecessor. Iron & Wine were perhaps a little too laid back for their own good. There's a lot more going on here instrument wise, particularly on the percussion. Combined with Sam Beam’s soothing voice, its a really strong album.
15. Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare
The Arctics faced the Supergrass dilemma for their second album - when you're initially famous for short sharp punk-pop songs how do you mature and develop? Favourite Worst Nightmare initially takes the Oasis route, i.e. just not developing - but there's quite enough on the second half of this in the likes of 'Do Me a Favour' and '505' to show they have the talent and imagination to be around for a long time.
16. Black Milk, Popular Demand
An irresistibly catchy, inventive album from this Detroit based hip-hop producer turned rapper. Fantastic beats all the way through and great samples. On 'Sound the Alarm' Black Milk says, 'this the one gonna make you go live in the club' - resistance is futile, believe me.
17. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin
They still sound an awful lot like My Morning Jacket and this isn’t as good as their criminally neglected debut, Everything All the Time. But its still urgent, heartfelt, great American rock music.
18. Oh No, Dr No’s Oxperiment.
Oh No outdoes his brother Madlib at the bollywood meets hip-hop game in this bangin collection of short instrumentals. A lot of fun
19. Common, Finding Forever
Kanye West produced most of this and for me its better than Kanye's own album. 'The Game' is the best hip hop track of the year, and the Nina Simone sampling cracker 'Misunderstood' isn’t far off either.
20. Bjork, Volta
A partial return to form from a musical treasure. Wanderlust and the Dull Flame of Desire are superb. When she's good she's very good.
21. PJ Harvey, White Chalk
White Chalk’s sparse piano textures can get a little monotone but there’s enough strong material on here from one of rock’s greats to give this the thumbs up.
22. Wilco Sky Blue Sky
Like many, I was slightly saddened to see Wilco produce such a conventional album after the relatively experimental likes of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. But you can’t argue with songs like ‘You Are My Face’.
23. Talib Kweli, Ear Drum
Some amazing stuff on here - Listen, Say Something, More or Less. Sadly its too long and should have been shortened down to an excellent 50 minutes or so but lets not nit pick, there's quite a lot of one of the best rappers in the business at his best here.
24. Editors, An End Has a Start
Formulaic British stadium rock - Joy Division meets U2 meets Coldplay but its really well done. 'Bones' in particular is superb.
25. Kanye West, Graduation
Wouldn’t it be great to report this unbearably arrogant big head had released a dud album? But darn him, this is actually a pretty fine piece of work.
26. M.I.A., Kala
M.I.A.'s mix of dance-hip-hop-bhangra-and many more genres is pretty darn original and that's what she gets most of her brownie points for. Like Kanye West, her album is ideal if you want something that makes you feel obnoxiously confident. Like Kanye, you'll probably feel like telling her to shut up after twenty minutes. But it'll be quite an enjoyable twenty minutes.
27. Devendra Banhart, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
An enjoyably rambling, hazy shaggy dog story of an album from freak folks' king hippie.
28. Animal Collective, Stawberry Jam
Animal Collective are by turns mindblowing and - when they indulge in too much high pitched yelping - annoying - and there's no change here. Their musical imagination is amazing though.
29. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
The unexpected pairing of two of the finest voices in modern music. This is a lovely mix of country, blues, bluegrass, skiffle, and rock. And its always nice to hear Robert Plant singing softly.
30. The Go Team! Proof of Youth
The exact same musical overload formula as their last album - a hyper mix of TV themes, My Bloody Valentine-like guitar distortion, horns, rapping, and lots of shouting. A fine formula it is too. Still working.
31. Bruce Springsteen, Magic
Broooce finally delivers a shameless crowd-pleaser of an album. E Street Band? Check. Lots of big choruses? Check.
32. Keren Ann, Keren Ann
Great late night stuff. It reminds me of Cat Power and a little of the Cowboy Junkies in their Trinity Sessions era but with a little less country going on.
33. Sigur Ros, Hvarf/Heim
A stop-gap rehash album. This has only three unreleased songs with the remainder of the album taken up with new takes on old songs. Its still a new album by one of the best bands of this or any other time so its going in the top 50.
34. El-P, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
A dense, sprawling, dystopic monster of an album from one of hip-hops least commercial propositions. Compelling if uneasy listening.
35. KT Tunstall, Drastic Fantastic
She may well be utterly middle of the road but she’s got a great voice and some fine songs here.
36. Cinematic Orchestra, Ma Fleur
This melancholic, moody jazzy, string laden album has one of the finest songs of the year - ‘To Build a Home’ has a jaw dropping vocal from Patrick Watson. The rest is strong too if a little samey. Like Zero 7 but marginally cooler and quite a bit jazzier.
37. Jose Gonzalez, In Our Nature
More of the same from Jose - more flashbacks to hippie 60s/70s songwriters. Strong guitar picking, singing and songwriting.
38. King Creosote, Bombshell
Another fine album of Scottish folk rock from Kenny Anderson following last year’s rather lovely KC Rule Ok. The man has a beautiful voice and a fine line in witty, grounded lyrics.
39. Aqualung, Memory Man
More ‘sensitive’ bedwetters music! Matt Hales has a great ear for a good melody. If you like Coldplay, you should get this.
40. Travis, The Boy With No Name
Middle of the road indie-rock bedwetters music. I like Travis. Fran Healy's got a good voice. So, sue me!
41. Jens Lekman, Night falls over Kortedala
This is Disco-folk and its as funny peculiar, funny funny as that sounds. If you like Final Fantasy, Beirut, and Rufus Wainright you’ll like this guy.
42. Amiina, Kurr
Sigur Ros’ string section make an album. It sounds rather like their fellow Icelandic compatriots Mum, if they’d been forced to make an album stripped of all the electronics
43. Tiniariwen: Water is Life
Bluesy funky Tuareg vibes, they’re like an army of Ali Farka Toures.
44. Beirut, The Flying Club Cup
Reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallet who guest vocals on this. A good effort from the young fella. One for the future as Alex Ferguson might put it.
45. Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
More post-rock from the Texan Mogwai. Glorious in places.
46. White Stripes, Icky Thump
Not their best, a bit patchy but better than Get Behind Me Satan.
47. Justice, Cross
A squelchy, rougher version of Daft Punk. To me not as good as the critics say it is but better than the Chemical Brothers new album.
48. Josh Rouse, Country Mouse, City House
More warm, laid back 70s sounding songs from the prolific Mr Rouse.
49. Gruff Rhys, Candy Lion
Gruff, the Super Furry Animals singer releases a solo album in the same year his band have an album out. Essentially its like getting a more intimate Super Furry's record. Its also a better album then the band produced themselves.
50. Super Furry Animals, Hey Venus
They've been round so long, we take them for granted but not many bands can make melodic songwriting sound as effortless as this.