3:19 PM: Matthew's Four Day Year End Extravaganza, Pt. 1

I'm back in a big way, everyone. Starting today, I will list and defend my choices for my top 22 albums, top 20 songs, top 10 musical moments, and top 10 concert experiences of the year.

Today, I'll be listing my top 22 albums of the year (Couldn't narrow it down to 20, didn't want to write 25 blurbs). Read, enjoy, and don't forget to tell me how right/wrong I am in the comments section. Sorry in advance to all the Ghostface, Umphrey’s McGee, The Go! Team, Panda Bear, Les Savy Fav, Califone, and Interpol fans out there. They all just barely missed the cut.

22. Green Day-American Idiot

Four years after bringing the suck hardcore with Warning, Green Day has grown up, and out of the pop-punk conventions that they’ve been confined by for over a decade. While not every song may be a revelation (Boulevard of Broken Dreams, anyone? Anyone?), the four songs that bookend American Idiot more than make up for the album’s mediocre middle section. Download them below, and enjoy possibly the best EP of the year.

Download my American Idiot EP:
American Idiot
Jesus of Suburbia

21. The Secret Machines-Now Here is Nowhere

The Secret Machines are nowhere. The Secret Machines are now here. Well, which is it? Both and neither. The Secret Machines channel many great bands on their first full length release, from U2 to Zeppelin to Pink Floyd. What sets this release apart from the majority of musicians willing to ride the coattails of other, better musicians all the way to mainstream success is their completely original tracks. “Nowhere Again,” the album’s centerpiece, may very well be the single of the year, while Now Here is Nowhere’s title track provides an epic, satisfying close to one of the most pure rock and roll albums of the year, while hinting at a more experimental direction for the band. Expect great things from The Secret Machines in the next few years.

20. Steve Earle-The Revolution Starts Now

19. Jens Lekman-When I Said I Wanted to be Your Dog

While listening to Jens Lekman’s debut album, When I Said I Wanted to be Your Dog, it’s easy to picture Lekman, guitar in hand, listening and playing along to 69 Love Songs, stopping from time to time to frantically scribble notes. The Magnetic Fields comparisons are obvious and merited, but what sets this album apart from Stephen Merritt’s brand of songwriting is Lekman’s sparkling wit. It’s hard to imagine Merritt writing a song about being witnessed to at a 7/11, getting arrested while spray painting obscenities on his girlfriend’s mom’s car, or using the power of music to get rid of those pesky Jehovah’s Witnesses. The humor’s not the only reason to stick around, though: Lekman’s lush, organic arrangements prop up his lyrical observations even when they fall flat (see “Julia”).

18. The Futureheads-The Futureheads

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of vocals in pop music, as The Futureheads' debut album proves. Vocals seem to be the only thing that matter to the The Futureheads, and the result couldn’t be more fun. From the frenetic, paranoia of the album’s opener, “Le Garage” to the album’s venemous closer,” Man Ray,” The Futureheads create a tidal wave of momentum that simply doesn’t let up, and never fails to excite.

17. The Streets-A Grand Don’t Come For Free

16. Jim White-Drill A Hole in that Substrate and Tell Me What You See

15. Rilo Kiley-More Adventurous

More Adventurous proved to be an apt title for Rilo Kiley’s latest effort, as it expanded the boundaries of the band’s sound, a brave move that helped Jenny Lewis and Co. finally gain some mainstream notoriety. The politically charged “It’s a Hit” was a hit, thanks to the song’s timely subject matter, and one of the best refrains in recent memory. Perhaps the most impressive thing about More Adventurous is that Rilo Kiley was smart enough to aim just high enough to keep fans and critics happy, without overreaching their talents musically or lyrically. Just ask The Fiery Furnaces how hard that can be.

14. Modest Mouse-Good News For People Who Love Bad News

If one was forced to summarize Modest Mouse’s 2004 release, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, it might best be described as one glorious contradiction after another. Before you even hear the first notes, you have the play on words that seems to be compulsory for every Modest Mouse album (i.e. The Lonesome Crowded West). The band released what is arguably one of the catchiest, feel good rock anthems of the last decade in “Float On” only to then answer its surprising success with what could be considered one of the darkest songs ever to be commercially released in “The Ocean Breathes Salty.”
These kind of contradictions are what make Modest Mouse’s “sell-out” album one of the most frustrating, complicated, and ultimately satisfying releases of the year. Much like Lou Reed’s famous “fuck you” to his detractors, Loaded, Isaac Brock proves his critics wrong on GNFPWLBN, crafting an album full to the brim with accessible alt-rock gems without sacrificing any of the emotional intensity that keeps his fans coming back again and again.

13. Wilco-A Ghost is Born

Neither the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot II or the return to alt-country roots that fans were wanting, A Ghost Is Born can be pegged as Wilco’s most organic sounding record to date - as natural as it is jarring. In interviews, Jeff Tweedy is quick to point out how much he’s against repeating himself and how his listeners are all the better for it. “At Least That’s What You Said,” shows off a part reinvigorated, part exhausted band saying things the loudest without using any words. “Theologians,” balances the more jam-oriented songs with some of the best lyrics Jeff Tweedy has ever penned. Suddenly I feel like gushing about a record that I literally didn’t think much of the first time I heard it. That’s because Wilco is not out to “WOW!” you. They would rather seduce and lure you into their collective heads where you discover for yourself how great of a place it can be.

12. Earlimart-Treble and Tremble

Call it an Elliott Smith tribute album if you must, but Earlimart couldn’t have picked a better time to explore Smith’s sound in ways even Elliott himself hadn’t though of, and unfortunately, never will. The songs aren’t all reminiscent of the great, tragic songwriter though, and some of Treble and Tremble’s most ambitious works, namely “Unintentional Tape Manipulations,” don’t borrow from Smith at all. Everyone deals with grief in different ways, and luckily for us, Earlimart sent their musical hero and friend off with a beautiful, melancholy gem.

11. Kanye West-The College Dropout

The College Dropout may not have aged as well as, say, Franz Ferdinand’s debut album, but the fact that Kanye’s still very much in the public spotlight ten months and five singles after it’s initial release is a testament to this album’s universal appeal. Kanye, more than any other musician this year, hip hop or otherwise, understands what makes most Americans tick, hitting on issues of financial, religious social, and ethnic insecurity with a humanist sincerity that listeners of every ethnicity can appreciate. Not to mention those wonderful beats...not even Dizzee Rascal, indie’s current hip hop darling, was able to relate so many diverse sounds and ideas on a single album.

10. Franz Ferdinand-Franz Ferdinand

9. Joanna Newsom-The Milk-Eyed Mender

It’s easy to dismiss Joanna Newsom. The Bjork-at-age-7 vocals, stilted alliteration, and spare arrangements certainly may be hard to look past upon first listen, but as the album develops it soon becomes clear that there’s something special about Ms. Newsom. The album can be enjoyed on so many different levels: A pleasant, comforting soundtrack to a rainy day, a seminar on literate folk song writing, or even just something to bide the time until the next Cat Power album. The Milk-Eyed Mender may not be for everyone, but for those tired of the lazy lyricists and gimmicky songwriting that has become far too common these last few years, this is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.

8. Destroyer-Your Blues

There was no album released this year that sounded like Your Blues. Not one. Dan Bejar’s Bowie-on-a-budget noodlings aren’t going to win a lot of fans over initially, but those who choose to stick around will discover one of the most creative albums to be released in years: When Bejar screams “Someone’s got to fall before someone goes free!” he means it, and he's talking about you.

7. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists-Shake the Streets

How nice is it to hear a politically motivated album that doesn’t beat you over the head with it’s ideologies and biases? Ted Leo knows how to craft a perfect power pop album...he’s been doing that for years. What’s surprising about Shake the Streets is how comforting it has become in the months since the presidential election debacle. There’s just something about hearing “It’s alright” over and over for about two minutes (“Little Dawn”) that makes everything seem ok.

6. The Libertines-The Libertines

5. Arcade Fire-Funeral

In which, on a frigid evening, young lovers pledge their troth, neighbors dance to the blue strobes of police lights, kids hang from lifeless power lines, their eyes shooting sparks, kettles whistle mournful melodies, a poet high on life (or something else) thinks he's achieved spiritual enlightenment ("We're just a million little gods turning every good thing to rust!"), and a girl watches the countryside blur past her eyes, from the backseat of a car. Created during a period of great loss for all band members, the Arcade Fire choose to focus on life, and this album positively explodes with it. Any questions?

4. The Polyphonic Spree-Together We’re Heavy

Should Wayne Coyne die in some tragic accident, it’s nice to know we have a backup in Tim DeLaughter. The fearless leader of The Polyphonic Spree, DeLaughter draws often on The Flaming Lips’ most recent work, and pushes Coyne’s ideas to their logical limit: A 50 minute orchestral pop opus about the things that matter in life, like being happy, and...umm...hugs.
That this album is not a complete failure is a testament to DeLaughter’s mad genius. While Brian Wilson’s long overdue “symphony to god” may get all the attention this year, it’s The Polyphonic Spree’s symphony to humanity that pushes the boundaries of pop music as we know it.

3. Drive-By Truckers-The Dirty South

While Gretchen “Redneck Woman” Wilson was busy gaining crossover notoriety and racking up Grammy nominations by exploiting her southern roots this year, Alabama’s own Drive-By Truckers quietly released the best album of their career, The Dirty South. The Truckers have a gift for storytelling not seen often on either side of the Mason-Dixon line, and the musical chops to bring those stories to life. With Jason Isbell finally up to the challenge of sharing songwriting duties with Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood after giving us a taste of his potential on 2003's Decoration Day, the Truckers now have three of the most gifted songwriters in music today, southern rock or otherwise.
Foot stomping, deep fried anthems like “Where the Devil Don’t Stay” and “Never Gonna Change” provide enough excitement to make even the most stoic listener bust out their favorite air guitar for an extended jam session, but it’s Isbell’s hazy, reflective ballads that stay with you long after the initial adrenaline rush of the rest of the album has worn off. “Goddamn Lonely Love,” the album’s woozy closer, reminds us that heartbreak is universal, while “Danko/Manuel” points to the often overlooked influence of The Band on the Truckers, and Isbell’s personal struggle dealing with the sudden, constant comparisons between himself and The Band’s legendary Richard Danko. It’s still Patterson Hood’s band, though, and he continues to perform his duties as representative of “the southern thing,” churning out story after heartbreaking story, seemingly effortlessly.
In a year marked by an annoying, almost obsessive emphasis on ironic detachment, it’s only fitting that the most earnest, audacious band in rock music today has put out one of the very best albums of the year. Take that, William Hung.*

*sorry for the extra length, but I already wrote this blurb, for another list.

2. Elliott Smith-From a Basement on the Hill

1. A.C. Newman-The Slow Wonder

Why is The Slow Wonder number one, you didn’t ask? Well, a couple of reasons, actually.
First of all, this is the most perfect pop album to be released this millennium. There are dozens and dozens of hooks and melodies running through The Slow Wonder, ready to lodge themselves in your head for days and weeks on end. Second, A.C. Newman has crafted an album that sounds familiar and new at the same time. Newman could have rehashed his patented New Pornographers formula eleven times, and sold just as many copies of his album as he already has. Carl has turned expectations upside down with The Slow Wonder, and created an album that just makes you feel happy to be alive. And Isn’t that what music is all about?

Download The Slow Wonder:

1. Miracle Drug
2. Drink to Me Babe, Then
3. On the Table
4. Most of Us Prizefighters
5. The Battle for Straight Time
6. Secretarial
7. Come Crash
8. Better Than Most
9. The Cloud Prayer
10. The Town Halo
11. 35 in the Shade