I was going to publish my list of the 50 Best Albums of the Year in reverse order spread out over the course of this week, starting with 50 to 40, and building to the Top 10, since the latter won't appear in print until Sunday. Then I realized that I already talked about seven of these 10 albums on "Sound Opinions" last weekend, so why should I make you wait?
Look for 11 to 20 tomorrow, 21 to 30 on Wednesday, and so on. Hit the links to read my reviews as they appeared in the paper throughout the year -- and feel free to share your own lists, too.
Though he is now a published poet, novelist and dignified elder statesman, Nick Cave originally drew equal inspiration from the raunchiest blues and the most chaotic noise-rock. With his new side project, the 50-year-old artist weathered a mid-life crisis by reconnecting with those primal, abrasive and purely sexual sounds, producing some of the best “I Can’t Get No” songs since the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”
It’s been nearly two decades since New Jersey cult legends the Feelies disbanded, but their influence continues to loom large on groups such as the Strokes, Arcade Fire and Yo La Tengo. This year, the Feelies’ co-founder, lead guitarist and vocalist released his first solo album, and it was as hypnotic and melodically infectious as his old band at its best.
Based in Brooklyn, Fite has been a novelty rapper and a postmodern, Beck-like acoustic bluesman. Here, he combined both approaches for a searing indictment of rampant consumerism, charging that the result of our fascination with bling has been a nation blindly led to war. Befitting the topic, the album is available only as a free download; visit his Web site and check it out for yourself.
4. Modest Mouse, “We Were Dead before the Ship Even Sank” (Epic)
Isaac Brock, leader of Washington state’s long-running alternative-rockers Modest Mouse, linked up with legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and channeled Captain Ahab on a strong collection of skewed pop songs rife with watery imagery and charting a mad quest for, if not a great white whale, then some unattainable goal nearly as mythic.
5. Kanye West, “Graduation” (Roc-A-Fella)
On his third album, one of the most successful rappers and producers today continued to trace his journey from Chicago’s South Side to worldwide stardom, examining his sometimes obnoxious public persona with brutal honesty and self-effacing humor over another startlingly creative musical backing displaying a newfound fascination with electronica.
6. LCD Soundsystem, “Sound of Silver” (DFA/EMI)
Less immediate but no less rewarding than last year’s debut, the second album from the dance-rock band led by Brooklyn producer James Murphy continued the deft plundering of cult-favorite sounds and riffs (Kraftwerk! David Bowie! Pink Floyd!). But songs such as “North American Scum” and “New York I Love You” are so strong, you don’t have to know any of those references to love them.
On their sixth album, the Austin-based art-punks expanded their basic sound -- stripped-down, propulsive rhythms punctuated by jagged, insistent keyboards and impressionistic observations of the modern world -- to incorporate some kicking Motown-like horns, making the always smart hooks all the more irresistible.
8. The Apples in Stereo, “New Magnetic Wonder” (Simian/Yep Roc)
These psychedelic rockers returned after a long silence with their strongest album yet -- a set of joyful, exuberant guitar pop that holds it own in comparison to the best by their heroes the Beach Boys, the Beatles and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd.
The second album on this list to be released as a free download -- Music Industry, are you paying attention? -- the latest from these British art-rockers was just as noteworthy for the subtle but effective change in Thom Yorke’s vocals and a mix that found the perfect middle ground between stadium bombast and avant-garde experimentation.
This French electronic duo makes ambient music you can hum along with, and here they gave us an album that unfolds like a great soundtrack, slowly building suspense and an atmosphere of dread with a seamless mix of synthesizers and classical Japanese instruments.