11. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You — What do you want from me, it’s Neko Case? She hasn’t made an album in close on 15 years that wasn’t one of the most important albums of that year.
12. Camera Obscura, Desire Lines — It’s weird to me that Camera Obscura has been around for nearly 20 years. Rarely has a band so wholly inspired by a single artist (in their case, Scotland’s Belle and Sebastian) lasted this long with such an impressive body of work. The band’s early efforts, while full of beauty and wonder, seemed an island to themselves, an improbable sunny island off the south of 1960s France. Desire Lines still draws from older pop styles but it’s unmistakably modern twee pop at its most affecting.
13. Pretty & Nice, Golden Rules for Golden People — Ridiculous hair, skinny jeans, offbeat song structures–if Pretty & Nice were any more hipster they’d piss PBR. It works for them, though– where many similar acts don’t bring much the table besides a vague art school sensibility, this New England band focuses their unrelenting quirkiness into thought-provoking, satisfying songs. An album with real meat in it.
14. MGMT — Hey, speaking of quirky! Highly produced, ornate, wandering, and eclectic, MGMT knows what they are about here. This feels like the kind of album that 70s krautrock fans would play for their friends at every chance, trying to get at the deeper meaning. Not exactly toe-tapping, but it stands with the band’s best work.
15. Bill Callahan, Dream River — I admit that I was never a big fan of Smog. I don’t know whether I’ve changed or if Callahan has, but this music really speaks to me. It’s so . . . still, I guess, so stately and centered. Callahan’s rich, laconic bass voice delivers such a punch with just a few lines (“I always went wrong in the same place / Where the river splits towards the sea / That couldn’t possibly be you and me”). Americana fans take note.