1. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Living with the Living
While perhaps not his strongest album, “Living With The Living” reveals a slightly more romantic side of the hardest working man in punk rock today. Sure, there are still plenty of those fiercely political songs – “Bomb Repeat Bomb” is particularly wonderful to scream along with at the top your lungs – but it’s nice to see Ted’s kinder, gentler nature reveal itself in songs like “A Bottle of Buckie” and “Who Do You Love?”
2. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
While any Wilco album is guaranteed to be miles better than most popular music these days, it was nice to see Jeff Tweedy and Company return to their alt-country roots after the experimentation that was “A Ghost is Born”. “Sky Blue Sky” is the perfect album to play on a lazy Sunday morning spent reading novels on the couch with your legs intwined with those of your significant other. It’s a gentle record that doesn’t require a lot of thought, but definitely pays off when you take the time to really listen. “Hate it Here” is the real gem.
3. Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
Indie rock’s favorite whistler returns with a fleshed out album that still manages to highlight his quirky lyrics, sleepy vocals and emotional violin work. Enlisting other musicians gives the album a much bigger feel than his previous solo work, and that bigger sound lends itself quite nicely to Bird’s style. “Fiery Crash” is a stand out.
4. Mike Birbiglia, My Secret Public Journal Live
There were several really good comedy albums that came out this year, but this one topped the list. Based on a suggestion by his therapist, Birbiglia kept a journal of embarrassing moments in his life and decided one night to start reading his entries at shows and on the Bob and Tom radio show, where they instantly became a hit. “My Secret Public Journal Live” retells some of those stories and Birbiglia’s congenial style and self-effacing humor is a perfect match for such autobiographical material. Being introduced to Birbiglia’s nighttime altar ego Sleepy Karl is a treat.
5. Once Soundtrack
When this soundtrack came out, I was working in the music department of a large bookstore. I’m a huge Frames fan, but this CD sat on a display for weeks before I noticed that Glen Hansard was on the cover! But I finally noticed and listened to the snippets available and fell in love. I was incredibly moved by the film, especially how beautifully the first track “Falling Slowly” is weaved into the film.
6. Flight of the Conchords, The Distant Future
No one can tell me “Business Time” isn’t one of the top ten best songs ever.
7. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away
The Shins may have screwed themselves out of the top spot on a lot of Albums Of The Year lists just because they released this album so dang early in the year. Everyone was crazy about it at the end of last year and all through January, but then interest waned as Arcade Fire and Bloc Party released their albums. But “Wincing the Night Away” is still a really, really good album. From the first jangly notes of “Australia” you’re drawn right in. Maybe this band can still change your life. I swear.
8. The White Stripes, Icky Thump
The White Stripes prove they still got it, releasing a downright funky album. There’s not much to write about this band that hasn’t already been said, except that the title track and the cover of “Conquest” are brilliant.
9. Patton Oswalt, Werewolves and Lollipops
Another comedy gem released this year. On the tail of his starring role as the voice of Remy in the Disney/Pixar film “Ratatouille” (ha, “tail”. Get it?), Oswalt releases a hysterically filthy album, full of wonderful one-liners – “Sprinkle some French fries on that cupcake!”, “I would like a failure pile in a sadness bowl”. His logic behind why people deserve only twenty birthday parties is amazing.
10. Alison Krauss, A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection
Alison Krauss is probably the most recognizable personality in modern bluegrass, and this album is a great compendium of her work, reaching back to her early career with Union Station and going through the soundtracks she has helped to shape – “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Cold Mountain”. She even does a mean version of “Baby Mine” from ‘Dumbo’, a heartbreakingly beautiful song. Just do me a favor and don’t listen to the last two tracks in which she duets with John Waite. They’re sketchy at best.