(Originally published in City Link Magazine. You can read the full story here, which includes my list of 10 honorable mentions.)
As usual with my year-end Top 10s, I immediately threw out live albums and reissues. It's a weird rule, but I think that any album worthy of the list should consist of new music. So you won't see some noteworthy albums here, including awesome live sets by Tom Petty and Nirvana. Also, a couple of fantastic covers albums by Roseanne Cash and Steve Earle got bumped down to my "honorable mentions" list for similar reasons. With those caveats in mind, here's this:
10. American Saturday Night by Brad Paisley
In a year in which Taylor Swift dominated country-pop, it's Brad Paisley, whose previous efforts have ranged from forgettable to borderline-disgusting (see: "Ticks"), who had the genre's best album. It'll be memorable in years to come mostly for "Welcome to the Future," and given the quality (or lack thereof) of Paisley's previous efforts, it might be his only shot at greatness. But for what it is, it's essentially perfect: a poppy country album with equal parts rollicking party tunes and weepy ballads.
9. There Is No Enemy by Built to Spill
Like 2006's You in Reverse, this album isn't quite as good as the band's late-1990s masterpieces, but when you have a guitarist like Doug Martsch, it doesn't have to be.
8. Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective
Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective's 2007 release, was disappointing in light of the psychedelic glory that was 2005's Feel. But this past January, Animal Collective issued an album whose sonic explorations built upon the ground covered in Feel to reach out to a soaring, swirling, kaleidoscopic cosmos.
7. 21st Century Breakdown by Green Day
Improbably, the punk kids who cashed in on odes to masturbation in the '90s have become the best musical documentarians of the post-post-postmodern, utterly alienated dawn of the 21st century. Five years on from the bleak yet brilliant American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown finds Green Day continuing its march toward a sort of happy nihilism. When hipster liberals who still believe in Democrats, Starbucks or Steve Jobs finally realize that everyone's in it for the money, they won't be able to say Billie Joe Armstrong didn't warn them.
6. No More Heroes by Solillaquists of Sound
Psst! The hip-hop album of the year comes from a little-known, free-love-loving quartet of two women and two men out of Orlando. Believe it!
5. I and Love and You by the Avett Brothers
The first time I heard this album, I thought it was just so-so, even forgettable. Since then, I couldn't count how many times I've put it back in the CD player in my car and, near-weepy, sang along, "Oh, Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in ..." No album this year has so increased in my estimation with each repeated listening.
4. Embryonic by the Flaming Lips
After flirting with accessibility over its past couple of albums, the Lips return to the pointedly weird band we all knew and loved circa Transmissions From the Satellite Heart. Welcome back, Wayne Coyne. Pass the acid.
3. Middle Cyclone by Neko Case
Despite placing every one of her albums since 2002's Blacklisted on my year-end lists, Neko Case still won't return my phone calls! Why, Neko? Why?!
2. Backspacer by Pearl Jam
Two's a trend! With this and its previous album, 2006's Pearl Jam (a.k.a. "the Avocado album"), the biggest band in America is doing its best work since Vitalogy.
1. Monsters of Folk by Monsters of Folk
Among the hipster set that deified the three songwriters in this band (Conor Oberst, M. Ward and My Morning Jacket's Jim James), there's been something of a drawn-back, muted response since the initial, orgiastic greeting this album received. I blame the I'm-so-cool-I-liked-these-guys-back-when-and-now-they-suck syndrome that affects many people of this ilk, but they are dead wrong. Those orgiastic greetings were far more apropos for the best supergroup since the Traveling Wilburys. "Say Please," "Whole Lotta Losin'" and, especially, "The Right Place" are more than enough to put this album among the best work released by any of the band's incredibly gifted parts.
Finally, for comparison's sake, here's last year's top 10 list. All right, my fellow music geeks, flame away!