here it is then, without further ado-
1. thee oh sees- 'help'
holy crap is this a fantastic record! the only oh sees record that i would've rather put up here in its place is 'thee hounds of foggy notion', but it was released last year. how does jon dwyer manage to craft so many cohesive and well-crafted records full of great songs in such a short amount of time? is his reserve well that deep? i'm on pins and needles to hear 'warm slime' next year- if you don't know what i mean try and pick up a copy of the 'blood in your ear' 7"- they still have a few left at permanent records i believe. if not then you could troll around on ebay and try to get it that way or go to http://ongakubaka.blogspot.com/2009/11/thee-oh-sees-blood-in-your-ear-bw.html (this is where i've gotten downloads of all of their hard-to-find stuff).
2. hope sandoval and the warm inventions- 'through the devil softly'
one of my favourite things about this record is how it appeared so suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere after an eight-year gap between this and the breath-taking 'bavarian fruit bread.' somehow this record manages to sound similar to 'bavarian fruit bread' while also building on its brilliance in a way that's done so subtly in so many different ways that i wouldn't even begin to explain how it's different. anyone who has one of those sublime bootlegs from the last mazzy star european tour back in 2000 will recognize the heavily-delayed bass line from 'for the rest of your life.' now if the stupid record company could just cough up the vinyl version already i'd be happy to lay down some money and finally pay for this excellent release! (actually i've bought this release officially- i bought the cd as a gift for my dad)
3. neko case- 'middle cyclone'
yes, it's true that i have it bad for neko case. there are myriad reasons for this but truth be told i would have it bad for her just from hearing her music- this album and 'fox confessor...' especially. i'm not going to wax philosophical about her voice because it's been done to death. this record is an underscore to her unique talents as a songwriter as well as an arranger. all of these elements crystallise into a mass of hissy-analog-recorded warmth here in such an amazing way that it becomes an addition to what i like to call 'down comforter albums.' once it has you in its grasp it's difficult to get out because the music wraps you up in so much warmth that it's difficult to pull yourself out of because you're so warm, happy and comfortable in its arms. that said i don't think that this album is quite as strong as an album as 'fox confessor brings the flood'- but 'fox confessor...' is also the most cohesive album that anyone's made in a really long time- as in it's songs are threaded together carefully with a common thread that doesn't weigh the songs down with its own important-ness. that's going to be a tough nut to crack. probably impossible. that said this album is amazing.
4. the warlocks- 'the mirror explodes'
i got a bit cavalier listening to this for the first time. it arrived in my inbox from teepee records for some reason. apparently they believe i am some kind of music journalist and they sent me a free download of the album and i was powerless to resist it being dropped into my lap about a month before its release. i did write a review. i did send it out. it did not get published. i also ended up pre-ordering it on vinyl. upon the first listen it didn't seem that special- i think that only about three tracks leaped out at me. i'd already heard 'red camera' a jillion times because i had heard the demo on their myspace back in 2006, bought the 7" (which has a live version recorded by the 'surgery'-era group at kexp) and then heard the new version when they premiered it. it wasn't until i was driving to the spectrum show at the darkroom in april that i got it. the record sounded so GREAT blasting out of those car stereo speakers. the impression the album left stuck with me more than the rather rote and lackluster live set played by pete kember and his band that night (i ended up leaving after they played 'when tomorrow hits'). read the review that pretty much says it all. also- this is one of the saddest cases of a brilliant band who will never get their due that i've ever seen.
5. grizzly bear- 'veckatimest'
i almost didn't want to put this in the top-five given the grizzly bear fever-pitched hype that's going on as we speak. i also don't like this album quite as much as 'yellow house'- it's definitely leaning more towards the poppy side of things than that one was. even given all of this i listened to this album a TON this year and it has some songs on it that i absolutely love. plus the arrangements are still way on the weird side. i did skip out on their show at the metro despite having tickets- it was sold out, the line was full of pitchfork-reading hipster-types (who are REALLY annoying to be stuck in sold-out shows with- holy shit kids, grow a brain) and i'd just seen them at pitchfork festival a few months earlier (i enjoyed it a lot despite being in the talking section). i hold to my stance that grizzly bear are much more worthy of their hype than animal collective will ever be (the frenzy surrounding animal collective continues to confound and annoy me to this second). 'foreground' is one of the best songs they've ever done, 'all we ask' is about as sublimely weird of a pop-song as one could ask for, side two (yeah, i've got it on vinyl) is mesmerizing and the whole thing just has a beautiful flow as an album (which actually is one advantage it holds over 'yellow house'- which sags under the weight of its own sleepy weirdness from after 'knife' until before 'marla').
a few honorable mentions that i almost put in the #5 slot-
the black ryder- 'buy the ticket, take the ride'
i'm listening to this right now, actually and have listened to it about two-thousand times since it came in the mail this week all the way from australia. all-in-all i think this is a fantastic debut- the band arrives in the world almost fully-formed. almost. i feel like the less ponderously-shoegaze-y tracks are the ones that work the best- 'sweet come down,' 'the greatest fall,' (this track reminds me of what a raveonettes songs should be- i can't help but wish that 'in and out of control' had turned out as well as this song) 'outside' (churning warlocks-esque drone done beautifully) and 'what's forsaken' (that spacemen 3 tornado-wah-wah effect is fantastically done here as are the vocals). 'burn & fade' and 'rise' work beautifully as a closing couplet as well. one thing is for sure- the morning after girls should've kept these two on board and accepted their contributions- 'alone.' might've made this list if they had. on the other hand it's clear that aimee nash deserves to have her voice HEARD. and a lot. as a footnote this record works best as a headphones album- for some reason i don't enjoy hearing it come out of speakers anywhere near as much as i do through headphones. it seems that the loud shoegaze-y stuff would really shine that way, but it just works better through headphones.
the duchess and the duke- 'sunset/sunrise'
i still don't own this record, so i couldn't put it in my top five because i haven't had the time to fully dissect it. i've only heard it mostly at work played by two of my co-workers. one of them maintains that the first duchess and the duke album is probably better, but i am loving the more fully fleshed-out arrangements on this one. this is a relative term as, even with more instrumental variety over each of the tracks they still retain their sparseness- the violins, organs and tambourines tend to actually enhance the sparse, intimate nature of the songs causing the melodies to leap from the recording and hang in the air. i'm ashamed to say that i will probably end up buying this one for myself before christmas... it's okay though- no one even knew that i wanted it. not even me until about two days ago.