Album: Age of Winters
Genre: Doom Metal
Sounds like: A bunch of bison being pushed over a cliff
For most, heavy metal is not music. I can agree on some fronts, especially with song titles like: "Lament for the Aurochs" and lyrics that sound like a hilariously drunken attempt to recount a night playing Dungeons and Dragons: "Bane of the demon lord/Slayer of the spider-priests/Spiller of the silver blood!"
Yet apart from all the Norse-viking mythology, this is the most engaging hard rock album in ages - guaranteed to get your head bobbing and heart pumping. Part Black Sabbath, part Lynard Skynyrd, and part Led Zeppelin - the riffs are heavy(two guitars tuned down to drop C) and will restore your faith in rock music.
Album: In Rainbows
Genre: Experimental Rock
Sounds like: OK Computer, yet much more lush and sparse
This is Radiohead's most accessible album. It is also their most quiet and yet it's still classic Radiohead: easy-going but tense, comfortable and anxious, fatalistic and hopeful. Tom York remains one of the most gifted song writers of his generation: "I'm an animal trapped in your hot car," from "All I Need," has to be one of the saddest, most open-hearted metaphors used to express unrequited love.
Sounds like: A long walk by yourself, in the middle of the night
Created by an anonymous producer from London, no other album this year conveys such loneliness(ok, so In Rainbows comes close) through the raw atmosphere it creates. This album is full of beats, bass and voices that reinforce the music's sense of persistence and alienation. Nowhere does it cross over into mainstream electronica nor are there any stylistic variations, just solid dubstep taking center stage.
Artist: Iron and Wine
Album: The Sheperd's Dog
Genre: Indie Rock
Sounds like: Warm, Lush, Autumnal, Reflective, Melancholy, Intimate, Bittersweet
No more does Sam Beam sound like a musician who records his albums in a small closet. His distinctive whisper falsetto is all but gone and instead we are treated to banjos, bongos, pianos, guitars, and tambourines - making Iron and Wine sound almost like a full band. This is masterful songcraft and a note-perfect production.
Artist: Saul Williams
Album: The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust
Genre: Poetry/Political Rap
Sounds like: Public Enemy collaborating with Nine Inch Nails
Saul William's isn't an MC, he's a straight-up poet. Teaming up with Trent Reznor, these songs are a one-way street littered with industrial, punch-in-your-face story telling. Layer after layer of meaning, Niggy Tardust goes further than most hip-hop albums. It hits you harder as well. Oh, and the entire album can be downloaded for $5.
Arcade Fire Neon Bible
Echospace The Coldest Season
Feist The Reminder
Nine Inch Nails Year Zero
Panda Bear Person Pitch
Rilo Kiley Under the Blacklight
Spoon Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
The White Stripes Icky Thump