Painstakingly sequenced…here they are, the lucky 13. They are albums I was obsessed with. They are albums I know by heart. They became my best friends.
- Sufjan Stevens – Illinois: I have never listened to this album and not gotten the chills at some point. In fact, I regularly cry during any given song during the first half. Despite its quiet nature, this album became a driving companion on many trips to Wisconsin, bringing this Minnesota girl just a little closer to Illinois. Check out Jacksonville, a song forever on my mix CDs for friends. That banjo!!
- Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: I wasted probably a year not liking this album. I must have somehow missed Kamera.
- The White Stripes – White Blood Cells: Absolutely perfect album from the 1960s or 1970s that somehow landed in the 2000s. Jack White’s songwriting could not be better here. The simple, arresting power of these songs thrills me every time I listen. And what was the best homage to Citizen Kane this decade? The Union Forever.
- The Strokes – Is This It: This is the album I grew up to. Sitting alone in my studio apartment in St. Paul, a country girl in the big city chatting on MSN all night, trying to play Someday on my acoustic guitar. I had downloaded all the tracks individually through Napster or something, and they’re mostly different from the American album. Don’t worry Julian, Fab, etc. – I did eventually buy the real version.
- Badly Drawn Boy – Hour of Bewilderbeast: Let the world not forget this incredible debut album! He never came close to replicating this masterpiece, but Damon Gough will always have a place near and dear to my heart. Camping Next to Water helped me transition from college to real life.
- The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow: I don’t know if the songs on this album were simply overplayed, or if they don’t stand the test of time, but this is not an album I still listen to. Yet, it was one of those rare albums I heard once and gasped at its cleverness. I couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t wait for particular bits of songs, like the swirling organ on Mine’s Not a High Horse. It sounded different every time I heard it, and I love that.
- Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther: I submitted this album to a music club I was in, and it was a huge smash. It started my fascination with what I’ve dubbed “pastoral rock”…not necessarily folk rock, but songs with an earthy feel, almost always played by men with beards. My term never seemed to take off, and some simply call it beard rock, but I think my description is more accurate, especially based on the video for Roscoe which I swear I haven’t seen until this posting.
- Radiohead – Kid A: Even though In Rainbows is fresher in my mind, I had to go with Kid A here just for the memories. I wasn’t happier in college until I couldn’t get the drone of Idioteque out of my head while I walked home from working at the library at 4:00 am one night a week.
- The National – Boxer: Matt Berninger, the baritone of The National, is a fucking fantastic songwriter. He is like a bastard son of Paul Simon and Kurt Cobain. He writes of personal but ordinary things like Simon, while still speaking for a generation like Kurt. Slow Show came at the right time as I entered 30th year.
- Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: I don’t think I can add any more praise than what I’ve already written.
- Brian Wilson – SMiLE: I’ve been interested in rock music history for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted to know how we got to where we are today. Despite having started this album in 1967, occasionally scraping a few songs from the pile for various Beach Boys albums, Brian Wilson finally got to the point of releasing SMiLE. Its weird, arresting tracks sprint through American history while making it. Listen to the old west, mad musical and lyrical genius style: Cabin Essence.
- Jenny Lewis – Rabbit Fur Coat: I’ve never been a New Pornographers fan, but for some reason, probably thanks to Bob Boilen’s great taste, I became totally obsessed with this album. Jenny’s voice with the Watson Twins is nothing short of angelic, while maintaining that true country & western nastiness. Her lyrics really grabbed me: And it’s a surefire bet I’m gonna die / So I’m taking up praying on Sunday nights /And it’s not that I believe in your almight / But I might as well as insurance or bail. This album also opened my ears to female singers, who I had avoided since Mariah Carey’s sophomore album.
- M. Ward – Post-War: What I find interesting about Matt Ward is that he verges on the lame. His lyrics are always teetering on uninteresting comments on love or God, yet somehow it always works. Maybe it’s his outstanding guitar skills or raspy voice that make up for it. I can’t help but love a man who loves recordings from before he was born, and it’s nice to see his work display that love so consistently. Every song from Post-War is now a classic in my fakebook, but nothing is more epically classic than To Go Home.
Check back in the coming weeks for my favorites of 2009, and probably some other random lists. Because that’s what I do well…I make lists.