1. THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND: 13 BLUES FOR THIRTEEN MOONS (Constellation) – Four epic songs play out like the document of a pagan ritual. Simple melodies rise quietly from the orchestra pit, swelling and gaining intensity as they repeat and repeat – until they finally erupt in catharsis. Efrim Menuck and his six fellow Montréal Tra-La-La’ers chant and rant against the darkness. When their voices meet one another in a rough, communal sort of harmony, I think: Maybe singing together can save the world.
2. ONEIDA: PRETEEN WEAPONRY (Jagjaguwar) – Oneida stretches every musical form beyond its normal parameters, repeating riffs until they achieve mesmeric effect. Driven by propulsive drumming, the music on this album is divided into three tracks, but they’re all of a piece. Think of the first track as the intro, the second as the “song,” and the third as the cascading fadeout. Despite the scarcity of lyrics, it feels somehow spiritual and transcendent, like a Krautrock version of “A Love Supreme.”
3. SHE & HIM: VOLUME ONE (Merge) – The year’s prettiest pop music. M. Ward’s old-fashioned arrangements are the perfect setting for Zooey Deschanel’s cool voice.
4. CAT POWER: JUKEBOX (Matador) – Chan Marshall doesn’t just cover these songs, she makes them her own, with all the panache of a great jazz or soul singer.
5. SEUN KUTI & FELA’S EGYPT 80: SEUN KUTI & FELA’S EGYPT 80 (Disorient) – Fela’s son keeps Afrobeat alive and well, and it sounds as fun and funky as ever, with politically conscious words that would make dad proud.
6. KAYHAN KALHOR AND BROOKLYN RIDER: SILENT CITY (World Village) – A breathtakingly beautiful blend of Iranian and Western classical music traditions, with soul-piercing harmonies floating over galloping rhythms.
7. IDA: LOVERS PRAYERS (Polyvinyl) – This musical family gathering brings out intimate folk rock with hushed, soothing voices.
8. FRIDA HYVÖNEN: SILENCE IS WILD (Secretly Canadian) – This Swede’s smart, highly personal and whimsical words sound sublime, in lush settings as well as spare solo-piano arrangements.
9. SAM PHILLIPS: DON’T DO ANYTHING (Nonesuch) – These terrific turns of phrase are pure poetry, sung by one of rock’s most singular voices.
10. PORTISHEAD: THIRD (Mercury) – The absence of sounds where you expect them. Notes that hit twice as hard as you think they will. Chillingly lovely.
11. My Brightest Diamond: A Thousand Shark’s Teeth (Asthmatic Kitty)
12. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!! (Anti)
13. Randy Newman: Harps and Angels (Nonesuch)
14. Kelley Stoltz: Circular Sounds (Sub Pop)
15. Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago (Secretly Canadian)
16. Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Lie Down in the Lights (Drag City)
17. The Black Angels: Directions to See a Ghost (Light in the Attic)
18. Delta Spirit: Ode to Sunshine (Rounder)
19. The War on Drugs: Wagonwheel Blues (Secretly Canadian)
20. TV on the Radio: Dear Science, (Interscope)
21. Dr. Dog: Fate (Park the Van)
22. Sprengjuhöllin: Sprengjuhöllin (eMusic Selects)
23. Bodies of Water: A Certain Feeling (Secretly Canadian)
24. Sons & Daughters: This Gift (Domnio)
25. Big Buildings: Wampum (Stars/No Stars)
26. Weinland: La Lamentor (Badman)
27. Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: Bootleg Series Vol. 8 (Columbia)
28. Musee Mecanique: Hold This Ghost (Frog Stand)
29. Black Mountain: In the Future (Jagjaguwar)
30. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
31. Evangelicals: The Evening Descends (Dead Oceans)
32. The Rural Alberta Advantage: Hometowns (eMusic Selects)
33. Titus Andronicus: The Airing of Grievances (XL)
34. James Yorkston: When the Haar Rolls In (Domino)
35. Plants and Animals: Parc Avenue (Secret City)
36. Constantines: Kensington Heights (Secretly Canadian)
37. Parts and Labor: Receivers (Jagjaguwar)
38. The Hold Steady: Stay Positive (Vagrant)
39. Tift Merritt: Another Country (Fantasy)
40. The Helio Sequence: Keep Your Eyes Ahead (Sub Pop)
41. Sun Kil Moon: April (Caldo Verde)
42. The Walkmen: You & Me (Gigantic)
43. Deerhunter: Microcastle (Kinky)
44. Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel: Dual Hawks (Misra)
45. KaiserCartel: March Forth (Bluhammock)
46. Vivian Girls: Vivian Girls (In the Red)
47. Throw Me the Statue: Moonbeams (Secretly Canadian)
48. The Last Shadow Puppets: The Age of Understatement (Domino)
49. Darker My Love: 2 (Dangerbird)
50. The Magnetic Fields: Distortion (Nonesuch)