I joined the Usual Gang of Idiots over at the Tucson Weekly this year, so check out the four-barreled cannon of music writer awesomeness where this was originally printed.
And if you're really into lists, check out the amazingly thorough master list over at Large Hearted Boy... wow.
On his second album, this extraordinarily talented songwriter assembled a full-time band to perfect a ramshackle folk sound—full of horns, organ and unorthodox percussion—that updates The Band by way of Neutral Milk Hotel. "Doomsday" is the song of the year, with an exultant horn intro becoming a stomping celebration of life, defiant even against doomsday.
DOWNLOAD: Elvis Perkins in Dearland - Shampoo
Spencer Krug is at his best crafting intense and pummeling music, but by backing away slightly from his more experimental impulses, Krug has made his best album yet. Dragonslayer's greatest achievement is its taut focus that makes bombastic, lengthy and relentlessly twisting songs nonetheless accessible and catchy throughout.
DOWNLOAD: Sunset Rubdown - Idiot Heart
Taking inspiration from nature's tumultuous power, Neko Case has written her most-assured, least-enigmatic batch of songs yet. Anchored by her soaring, radiant voice, the record updates Case's usual dreamy atmospheric sound with catchier songs like "People Got a Lotta Nerve" and "I'm an Animal."
DOWNLOAD: Neko Case - People Got A Lotta Nerve
Jason Molina's reedy, wounded voice gives this record a piercing, lonesome sorrow, matched impeccably by lyrics drenched in images of the open sky, deep shadows, ghosts and the faraway horizon.
DOWNLOAD: Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine
With major-label polish from Rick Rubin, the Avett Brothers reach toward both rowdier rock songs and tender ballads, leaving their rootsy bluegrass as background accents. But it is versatility, talent and honest songwriting that carry the day for the Avetts, who offer musical abundance like few others.
The Fruit Bats turn out 11 songs of blissful, sunny rock music. This is the best Beatles-influenced album of the year, full of the quirky enthusiasm that sparked labels like "zoology rock," "bootgazer" and "rustic pop."
DOWNLOAD: Fruit Bats - The Ruminant Band
This flawless debut cradles starry-eyed romance in fuzzy guitars, driving beats and boy-girl harmonies, a winning aesthetic for a band that wears both hearts and influences on its sleeve.
The beats weave in acoustic guitar, piano, banjo and harmonica, and the lyrics are imaginative, poetic storytelling. Sum and Belief's first collaborative album sounds like what hip-hop might have been in the 1960s, mixing with blues, R&B and soul.
LISTEN: Sum & Belief Are The Lone Wolf
This electrifying dance record stacks high-wire guitar riffs, surging keyboards and heavy bass on driving beats, but it's Emily Haines' spellbinding vocals that provide the irresistible charm.
VIDEO: Metric - Sick Muse
Hardly complacent with its most stable lineup in 15 years, Wilco's latest features mesmerizing guitar freak-outs, sweet ballads and jaunty piano rock. It's more proof that Wilco is the best band working today.
LISTEN: Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
Vic Chesnutt - At The Cut
Clem Snide - Hungry Bird
Justin Townes Earle - Midnight At The Movies
Fourkiller Flats - Treasure & Trash
Generationals - Con Law
Girls - Album
Golden Boots - Winter of Our Discotheque
Joe Henry - Blood From Stars
Mason Jennings - Blood of Man
Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
Lucero - 1372 Overton Park
Megafaun - Gather, Form & Fly
Mos Def - The Ecstatic
Modest Mouse - No One's First And You're Next
Pearl Jam - Backspacer
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Provocative Whites - Evolym
Chuck Prophet - ¡Let Freedom Ring!
Dave Rawlings Machine - A Friend of A Friend
Tom Russell - Blood & Candle Smoke
Gabriel Sullivan - By The Dirt
Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs