25. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
This is when I knew it'd be a good year. Blake had loved Bird's previous album (Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs) and played it often when we were still in college (ages and ages ago!). But I had always resisted, always found a reason not to dive in. Not this album. It was the first album of the year that I played repeatedly, and still do. I think it was "Heretics" that drug me in. It feels wonderful to be proved wrong. So this seems like the perfect place to start this list, with a fantastic album in a year completely stocked full of them.
24. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
It could have been a contender. With Niles Cline pulling the strings, and a live album showcasing some serious rocking, this one seemed destined to be a hell of good time. But all was apparently not well. Instead of bringing the barn down, they decided to retire to it. And they made an easy-going mid-70s soft rock album. Or at least they attempted to. Which is just as well, for when this album works, like the first half, I think they succeed brilliantly. It’s not until the later half that the lazy songs become boring, and some rather awkward rocking goes by without much moving in their wake. I'll still take the easy spirit of the first half, and especially the title song, to settle down to any day.
23. Grizzly Bear - Friend E.P.
Yellow House was a beautiful record, but for some reason I didn’t realize how complex the arrangements were until I saw them go apeshit live. The mutli-instrumentalist would be on both knees screaming into different microphones, punching different pedals, while the guitarists would be playing insanely intricate picking patterns, and someone would be screaming...and still, the melody would be maudlin and lazy. I couldn't figure it out. But some of the new song they played were moving a little faster, and those all ended up on the E.P. That includes a particularly creepy version of "He Hit Me", which changes the romantic relationship and increases the doom. The E.P. is still insanely beautiful, but this time with a little more below the hips.
22. Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
I wanted to adore this album like I had with “I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning”, but it’s shiny veneer is hard to get through. Where that previous release felt warm and inviting, this one is glossy and slick. It makes some of his acoustic songs feel insincere.
Fortunately, he didn’t write an album of acoustic pleas, and when he strays from that formula some beautiful things start to happen. Who knew Connor could pull off a mid-tempo sixties pop gem like “Make a Plan to Love Me”? Or that he could finally get the jagged electronic beats to do something for him with “Coat Check Dream Song”?
Sure, I still like “Four Winds” and "If the Brakeman Turns My Way", but this album shows his restlessness is what makes him interesting, and why he still sounds like he has so much more to find.
21. Battles - Mirrored
What the...? I still have no idea what is going on in this album and I suppose I never will. The rhythms are too tight, the vocals too scattered, and the guitars...where to begin. As out of control and chaos-tinged, it's still maddeningly methodical and never overbearing. Much has been made about how this is indie-rock's stab at prog, but no song stretches past the 10 minute marks and (I don't believe) anyone breaks out in three part harmony. Just some insane rock made by people too talented to do anything else. I think it has much more in common with freak folk than Yes, but I suppose that's because I actually enjoy this stuff.