1. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
No one can write like her. No one can sing like her. Unlike her last album - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood - this album took a while to grow on me. But once it grew on me, I was hooked. Her voice is amazing, yes, but it was the lyrics that hooked me: "Your rails have always outrun mine." "And I raked the springtime across your sheets." "I love your long shadows and your gun powder eyes." "My hotel room won't remember me." They helped me write many a story this year.
See tracks: This Tornado Loves You, Vengeance is Sleeping
2. Drake - So Far Gone mixtape
I remember when Drake's Degrassi character Jimmy Brooks rapped for the first time on the show. I loved his voice then, and I loved it as soon as I heard this mixtape. I've seen a lot of people make fun of his overly earnest, overly cocky rhymes, but I love them. I usually could do without autotune, but even that doesn't bother me here. Most of the raps are slow, smooth and sexy. I never tired of listening.
See tracks: Houstatlantavegas, Lust for Life
3. Telegraph Canyon - Tide and the Current
I saw this band (my cousin's) so many times in concert this year, and every time I felt more proud than the last. Chris Johnson is a great songwriter. Each song is so complexly layered (Yep, it's an Arcade Fire-sized band). It's not folk. It's not alt-country. It's something much more lush and experimental than that. Whatever the label, I think it is a great album.
See tracks: Safe on the Outside, Into the Woods
4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - self-titled
This album reminds me of Quentin's apartment. In the summer, we would make fancy lunches and play this record while making crafts. It's so fuzzy and so fun, and, for me, will remind me of 2009 more than any other record. Q and some other co-workers and I saw them play a free, 10 a.m. show at the end of summer, and the songs held up pretty well live. Plus, everyone in the band is drop-dead gorgeous.
See tracks: This Love is Fucking Right!, Come Saturday
5. MEN - Limited Edition Demo
MEN played, by far, my favorite live show of the year. I've loved JD Samson for years, and in the absence of any new Le Tigre, this does very nicely. It's an EP, so the chance that all songs would be good is greater, but I imagine they will do just as well with a full-length, too.
See tracks: Off Our Backs, Make it Reverse
6. Tegan and Sara - Sainthood
This album also took a while to grow on me. Every Tegan and Sara album sounds like an album -- cohesive, thematic. This one is harder, more grown up but still focused on love (both lost and looking). It's not as immediately as catchy as their previous albums, but I think that may be on purpose.
See tracks: The Ocean, The Cure
7. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
Perfect for Portland's rainy winter. This album, like all Andrew Bird albums, is pretty, simple and lush at the same time. There are a few good standout tracks, but this works better as an album.
See tracks: Nomenclature, Tenuousness
8. The xx - self-titled
Plenty of blogs have written about this band. I like it because it's slow and sexy. The songs are all clear and catchy.
See tracks: Stars, Basic Space
9. Gossip - Music for Men
Not every song on this album is good, but the ones that are are great. It's a great dance album -- even better live.
See tracks: Heavy Cross, Men in Love
10. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
I love several songs on this album, but some are too weird for my tastes.
See tracks: Summertime Clothes, My Girls