For me, the first two months of 2009 have already produced more memorable albums than all of 2008. With a few notable exceptions — like Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago, Son Lux's At War with Walls and Mazes, Deerhunter's Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. — 2008 felt like a largely forgettable year. I couldn't even put together a Top 10 list for the year's best. But, from what I can tell, it looks as if 2009 will easily lap 2008.
If 2009 ended right now (okay, some of these don't come out for another month or so), I'd feel very good about putting these albums on a Top 10 list:
1. The Antlers: Hospice — Frontman Peter Silberman is only 23, but has produced one of the most beautiful and moving works I've heard in a long, long time. Just astonishing.
2. The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love — At the rate it's going, we won't recognize this band in another five years. With the 2007 album The Crane Wife, The Decemberists began to drift into more progressive and experimental rock, and away from the quirky sea shanties of earlier work. On The Hazards of Love, the band moves even further into stranger and darker territory, and it's all the better for it.
3. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion — It's just a bunch of senseless noise to some people. But I really believe that this group is inventing an all-new kind of music, and it's simply brilliant. It's a sound that asks us to reconsider how we define everything that music is, from chord structure and patterns to rhythms, lyrics and the way it makes us feel.
4. Laura Gibson: Beasts of Seasons — I thought her 2006 album, If You Come to Greet Me, was lovely, but I never would have guessed she'd follow it with something as inspired and affecting as Beasts of Seasons. It's a quiet masterpiece.
5. M. Ward: Hold Time Call it new folk or neo-folk or art-folk, nobody does it better than Matt Ward. Hold Time is a gorgeously produced mix of finger-picked guitars, upright bass and shuffling rhythms, all tied together by his achy voice.
6. Jason Lytle: Yours Truly, The Commuter — Unfortunately, this won't be out until May, and I can't wait to share it with everyone. Hopefully, we'll be able to get it to you early as part of our Exclusive First Listen series. Lytle was the frontman for one of my all-time favorite bands, Grandaddy. I was so bummed when they split up. But he's back with his first solo album, and it feels like nothing's been lost.
7. Andrew Bird: Noble Beast — His music is an elegant mix of jazz, folk and quirky art-pop, with whistled melodies and lots of wordplay. After seeing him live and reading his blog on the art of songwriting and the creative process, I think he may be a genius.
8. Dan Deacon: Bromst — I'll be honest: When I first saw Dan Deacon a few years back, I thought he was a joke. He seemed spectacularly disorganized, with a jumble of wires and junky old drum machines and electronics, and his goofy interaction with the audience left me laughing more than anything. I was impressed with the cohesion of his official label debut, Spiderman of the Rings, in 2007. But now, he's putting out an incredibly tight and beautifully realized follow-up, called Bromst. This guy is for real.
9. U2: No Line on the Horizon — I haven't really cared much for anything U2 has done in the last 10 years or so. It was starting to feel like the band was lurching into that dead zone where so many older groups go, where they just phone it in. But No Line on the Horizon stopped me dead in my tracks. The band sounds inspired again. We hope to have a cut for you soon on All Songs Considered.
10. Mirah: Aspera — After getting her hooks in me with her artfully crafted folk-pop on You Think It's Like This, But It's Really Like This, Advisory Committee and C'mon Miracle, Mirah disappeared to work on remixes and other projects. I've missed her. Mirah's new studio album, her first in five years, is transporting. Few artists can balance experimental ambition with quiet intimacy as well as she does.
What do you think? How does this year compare to last year? What are the standouts so far this year for you?