I've included the album covers because I think this year boasted some pretty amazing album covers (there are definitely a few brutal one on this list as well). And I've posted a link after each blurb, so you can get a sample of the albums I'm praising.
I think that's enough of a preamble. Here goes:
20. Bear in Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth (Hometapes)
This list is full of Animal Collective copy-cats; some of them even place above AC. These guys are, like a lot of others on this list, hail from Brooklyn. Let's just say, I like the darkness they conjure in these spacious pop anthems. I'm not really sure what their album title's getting at, but their blend of Southern rock and ambient synths --it's refreshing.
Listen: Wholehearted Mess
19. The Clientele - Bonfires on the Heath (Merge)
No one likes to say it, but The Clientele is really a one note band. Though some are a bit more upbeat than others, their albums are pretty similar: light, open chorded guitar pop. Alisdair MacLean, doesn't have much range as a vocalist, and yet I absolutely love his voice. Warm, refined and inviting, The Clientele don't experiment much, but their rainy day music is done well and the atmosphere's they manage to create are captivating enough to keep me coming back.
18. Cryptacize - Mythomania (Asthmatic Kitty)
This one was a surprise, but then, I've learned to trust Asthmatic Kitty when it comes to cute indie-pop. And this album is no exception. Nothing life-changing here, but the quality is high, the album is fresh, consistent, and the melodic hooks are plentiful.
Listen: Tail & Maine
17. Akron/Family - Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free (Dead Oceans)
As a whole, the album is a bit of a letdown. I'm not expecting them to recreate their debut, but a little more cohesion (and a little less of the drugged-out inaccessible bits) would be nice. That being said, the truly great moments --"River" and "They Will Appear," for example-- are phenomenal: simultaneously restrained and excessive, at once small and grandiose.
16. DM Stith - Heavy Ghost (Asthmatic Kitty)
He's weird but I like him. With a good editor, Stith could put out a great album; this one was excellent, but you get the sense that among the diversity of sounds presented here, he's still trying to figure himself out as musician. Visual artist by day, and now an indie-folk darling by night, Stith clearly evokes labelmates like Sufjan Stevens and My Brightest Diamond, but he's far less restrained: more willing to let go of his songs and let the spirits get out of control.
Listen: Pity Dance
15. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone (Anti)
At first, I wrote this one off. Perhaps I wasn't ready for another Neko Case album. Fox Confessor Brings The Flood definitely got a lot of rotation at one point and I won't pretend that I'm not still enamored with it. Middle Cyclone felt less accessible; my first listen was forced. I thought I should try as hard as I could to like it, but only after I'd completely given up and one of my profs played it over and over one afternoon did I realize that you can't force this stuff. When you let your guard down, Case sweeps you off your feet like she's not even trying. That voice is simply irresistible.
Listen: People Got A Lotta Nerve
14. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilian (Domino)
This was Animal Collective's year and only a fool would deny it. They deserve to be at the top of nearly every list that matters (as opposed to this one...ha!). I'm not going to apologize for not putting them higher; they don't need any more support. As on past releases, dub, trance, and Afro-pop figure into
Listen: My Girls
13. Bat for Lashes - Two Suns (Parlophone)
12. Point Juncture, WA - Heart to Elk (Homemade)
Listen: Sick On Sugar (live)
11. Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue (Warp)
Listen: Ambivalence Avenue
10. St. Vincent - Actor (4AD)
9. A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar (Mis Ojos Disco)
8. Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light (Secretly Canadian)
Listen: Aeon (live)
7. Julie Doiron - I can wonder what you did with your day (Endearing Records)
Listen: Consolation Prize
6. Here We Go Magic - Here We Go Magic (Western Vinyl)
5. Atlas Sound - Logos (Kranky)
Listen: Quick Canal
4. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (Warp)
Listen: Two Weeks
3. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca (Domino)
Listen: Stillness Is The Move
2. Micachu and the Shapes - Jewellery (Rough Trade)
Listen: Turn Me Well
1. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (Domino)
Listen: This Is Our Lot