“Album of the Year” – it’s an honorific I’ve bestowed on one album every year since 1978. The candidates are drawn from what I’ve purchased, so the pool is decidedly limited in comparison to, say, what the writers at Rolling Stone or Allmusic.com are exposed to. Some years I buy a lot and some years not, primarily due to my listening habits – I play albums I love over and over and over until they become one with my subconscious (obsession, not variety, is my spice of life). So the more I like certain albums, the less overall I hear.
My No. 1 and 2 albums of 2009, Diane Birch’s Bible Belt and Melody Gardot’s My One and Only Thrill hung around through the early part of 2010. And then, as always happens, certain new albums caught my ear, heart and soul.
My fifth runner-up is courtesy of The School, a group from Wales that echoes its influences in the grooves (and bytes) of its debut album, Loveless Unbeliever. It’s a pure shot of upbeat retro-pop sure to cure the foulest of moods.
No. 4 is Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep, a two-disc collection of classic poems and nursery rhymes set to Natalie’s melodies. At its best, it’s sheer brilliance in song – e.e. cummings’ “maggie and milly and molly and mae,” for example.
My No. 3 album is courtesy of an artist who’s been one of my favorites since 1980: Neil Young. The solo (but not all acoustic) Le Noise is a stark, rumbling collection of strong songs, as evidenced by “Angry World” and “Love and War.”
The final runner-up: Seasons of the Soul by Rumer. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s a British singer-songwriter whose lush, atmospheric Burt Bacharach-inspired music will (hopefully) consume you. “Slow” and “Aretha” are just two of the standout tracks. In fact, I’ve become so enamored of it that it almost became my No. 1. The only reason it didn’t? It’s yet to be released in the States. So, technically speaking, it’s not an official release and shouldn’t be considered for the top honor.
And, with that, my Album of the Year for 2010 is… Well, let’s start here: Yesterday morning, on my way to work, I circled my thumb around my iPod’s magic wheel and skipped from the Rs to the Ts and clicked on Tift Merritt, whose See You on the Moon consumed my attention for much of the spring and early summer. The North Carolina songbird’s literate lyrics and sublime melodies conjure the singer-songwriter era of the 1970s in that her songs are well-crafted, complete and utterly addictive. Her last studio album, the inspired Another Country in 2008, became one of my favorites of that year, ranking No. 2 on my end-of-year list. See You on the Moon is one step better, the audio equivalent of a Jayne Anne Philips short-story collection. “Mixtape,” an ode to analog playlists, and “Engine to Turn” are two highlights, but – as with all good albums – every song is a gem.