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Here’s my top ten. This year, for once, I tried to focus on ten albums that I listened to a lot. In previous years, I gravitated towards major statements, and a list-wide balance marked by genre eclecticism. This led me to include records that I neither like nor listen to any more (see: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, among many others).

If I wrote about a record on this list for publication, I’ve included an excerpt below. If not, I’ve tried to find a good excerpt from another writer, someone I admire. There are no audio samples, because: A) I’m old (mid-thirties) and I don’t even own an iPod and; B) every time I try to teach myself something new on the computer my infant son tells me, in his own baby-rageous way, that I should give up. Happy holidays.

1. Meanderthal, Torche (Hydra Head)

Pitting Torche toe-to-toe with Rihanna may be reaching (people are still grousing about the time Decibel’s resident genius/ heathen Kory Grow dropped Missy Elliot’s name in a Nachtmystium review), but even at its most skittering, math-y moments (“Little Champion”), Meanderthal has a rhythm made to shake rumps. Shame on me, shame on us, we won’t get fooled again. Maybe it’s time to start booking the arena tour. Hello, Cleveland!

—Nick Green, May 2008 issue of Decibel

2. Black Sea, Fennesz (Touch)

One gets the sense that, even as he slouches toward easy listening, Fennesz is wary of making music that is too beautiful or unblemished. There’s a cold, clinical aspect to Eno’s ambient music that’s missing from Black Sea. It’s not just the fact that you can hear Fennesz’s acoustic guitar or imagine him sitting in the space where it was recorded. It’s all of the digital pockmarks and instrumental imperfections combined. Perhaps more than any other Fennesz record, Black Sea exemplifies the kind of ambient music that’s never so seamless that you forget it was made by a human being.

—Brent Burton, Washington City Paper

[More below the jump!]

3. Krallice, Krallice (Profound Lore)

One of the biggest surprises of the year is that Mr. Spazzy Fingers himself, Orthrelm and Ocrilim guitarist Mick Barr, can not only play a riff for longer than, say, a second, but also write some of the most epic and tuneful black metal you’re likely to hear. Along with Wolves in the Throne Room’s 2007 triumph Two Hunters, the self-titled debut from Barr’s new band Krallice suggests that the future of black metal might lie right here in the United States.

—Brent Burton, January 2009 issue of Decibel

4. The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, Earth (Southern Lord)

Someday [Dylan] Carlson’s post-hiatus music could mean as much to country as Earth 2 means to metal. If that day ever comes, two things are for certain. One, Carlson will by then have moved on to some other mimimalist-informed plateau. And, two, Earth’s latest will be revered as a classic, the sort of record that true believers refer to only cryptically, as if to speak of it in a less-than-exclusive fashion—acronyms, abbreviations, hushed tones—might somehow break the spell. Carlson’s made that record before. Who’s to say he hasn’t done it again?

—Brent Burton, Washington City Paper

5. Litany of Echoes, James Blackshaw (Tompkins Square)

At its best, his sumptuous new album, “Litany of Echoes” (Tompkins Square), conveys a stark and ancient feeling, like something handed down through the ages.

—Nate Chinen, June 22, 2008 New York Times

6. January, Marcin Wasilewski Trio (ECM)

It takes nerve for a young trio to create music of such stillness, such patience. The fact that these three have played together since they were teenagers is audible in the way they trust the epiphanies they collectively come upon. January is an album to keep coming back to, if not for new answers, then for deeper questions.

—Thomas Conrad, September 2008 issue of Jazz Times

7. The Ruiner, Made Out of Babies (The End)

Arriving on the heels of [Julie] Christmas’ stint with Battle of Mice and [Brendan] Tobin’s tours with Red Sparowes, the Brooklyn group’s new disc features uncommonly well-written post-punk. The band has always excelled at Shellacked riffs and Zepped grooves, but on The Ruiner they’ve brought melody to the fore, a songwriting development that allows Christmas to show off her range.

Brent Burton, October 2008 issue of Revolver

8. Pyramids, Pyramids (Hydra Head)

Perhaps no other debut in recent memory has astonished us as much as that of Denton, TX-based mystery group Pyramids. Bewitched by their exquisite choral arrangements and beatific post-rock whorl, we spent most of the year convinced that the band was comprised of ex-Mare dudes who had moved down from Canada, changed their names and decided to fuck with us (blast beats + choral vocals = amazing) just ‘cause they could. We were wrong, of course, but that doesn’t make Pyramids’ textural ecstasy any less compelling.

—J. Bennett, January 2009 issue of Decibel

9. Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1, Nachtmystium (Century Media)

[Nachtmystium frontman Blake] Judd’s giant step—his change you can believe in—is best measured in synthscapes, jazz solos, and songwriting that transforms underground music into mainstream metal. The genius of Assassins has everything to do with the music itself. Judd doesn’t sing about inclusiveness. He just plays it.

—Brent Burton, Washington City Paper

10. Magnificent Fiend, Howlin Rain (American)

Had Bob Dylan sung over these Hammond-drenched grooves, baby boomers would be falling over themselves to call it his best in years. And they’d be right. Dylan, of course, is a better lyricist, but, as an instrumentalist and composer, [Ethan] Miller has tapped into the same mashup spirit that defined Dylan singles like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”

—Brent Burton, Washington City Paper