Just took a few minutes to compile my year-end best-of list for Popmatters. It was surprisingly difficult - there was a lot of good music but it didn't seem like there was much great music. There was a bunch of stuff from high-profile artists which were OK but not awesome, certainly not "top ten" material. It's Blitz! had a handful of really good songs and a whole lot of boring, which is a shame considering just how much of a masterpiece Show Your Bones was. The Flaming Lips and Animal Collective both came out swinging and are to be applauded for both making interesting albums, if not capital "G" Great ones. Dylan's Together Through Life seemed more casual and, dare I say, more fun than his last few heavily lauded but highly sterile discs - but a fun trifle is still a trifle, even if it's Bob Dylan's trifle. Likewise, Moby, the Basement Jaxx, Rammstein, Franz Ferdinand - all hit nice doubles in the High Profile Established Artists category - but no home run action between them.
(The real Dylan action was in the long, long, long overdue remastering job on The Basement Tapes. Still not "one of the greatest albums in the history of American popular music," but a fun disc nonetheless. I'm still wondering why they haven't done a legit release of the five-or-so disc "Genuine" Basement Tapes bootleg that has been floating around for years, except to say that 1) they might be waiting to release it as a big collector's box some Christmas and 2) Dylan awfully resents all the bootleg stuff that was released against his wishes over the years so he may just not want to bother.)
So, here's The List - a lot of good but not too much great. #1 is only #1 because, well, none of these other discs were better. It's a great album, maybe one of their best, but I wouldn't have expected Yo La Tengo to be the best of the year when all the dust had cleared. There are a lot of these albums I wish were better than they actually are - Dan Deacon, the Field, Passion Pit, it seemed like there was something missing that kept them from going over the line separating very good from modern classic status.
The biggest surprise was Girls - a group I had absolutely no knowledge of whatsoever before I heard a song on Pitchfork, bought the album on sale on a whim, and was completely bowled over by how good it is. Definitely the breakout of the year. Some of this new lo-fi is actually pretty good. Now that lo-fi is less a political statement than an aesthetic choice, it seems a lot more fun than it did back in the 90s when people like Sebadoh were sincerely dedicated to being as perversely amateurish as possible. (I mean, really, anyone with a halfway decent computer can make their shoestring indie debut album sound like it was recorded by Jeff Lynne these days, so you're not really sticking it to The Man if you record it on a boombox.)
Neko Case gets her spot by inertia as much as anything - a good album, but I can't shake the feeling that she's getting more than a little bit complacent. This feeling was not arrested when I saw her over the summer - a depressingly perfunctory, if very professional show, complete with a fancy video projection show.
I might say more later. In case you haven't noticed, my hiatus is kind of a joke.
10. Passion Pit - Manners
9. Gui Boratto - Take My Breath Away
8. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
7. Jay Reatard - Watch Me Fall
6. Dan Deacon - Bromst
5. The Field - Yesterday & Today
4. Girls - Album
3. REM - Live At the Olympia
2. The Juan Maclean - The Future Will Come
1. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs