The 6 Best: My Favorite Albums of 10 Cities/10 Years, So Far

As I head into my 7th year of a 10 year project, I’m looking back on the art that I’ve discovered in my first 6 cities.  I’m examining the music, films and literature that have had the greatest impact on my life throughout the previous 6 cities.  In doing so, I’m only discussing the albums, movies and books that were released since June 1st, 2005, the official start of the project.  My intention is not to proclaim these as the greatest works of art in the past 6 years, but rather to spotlight the art that has had the deepest, most consistent effect on my life and the entire 10 Cities Project.

Regular readers will probably recognize a few of these from previous posts.  But maybe a few will surprise you.

Listed in order of release date.


Sufjan Stevens – Illinois (a.k.a. Come On Feel The Illinoise)
Released: July 4, 2005

How I came across it:  I was living in Charlotte, the first city of 10, and a girl I worked with gave me a burnt copy of it.  The rest is history.
Thoughts:  What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said a million times?  It is a masterpiece, best album of the year and in top running for best of this (still young) century.  If you haven’t given it a chance yet or if you have and haven’t fallen in love with it, nothing I say is going to change that.  I just feel sorry for you.

Margot & the Nuclear So And So’s – The Dust of Retreat
Released: March 28, 2006

How I came across it: I was living in Philadelphia, my second city, and a lot of my online writer friends were raving about a few of their songs.  I liked what I heard, so I tracked down the whole album.
  Probably the most obscure album on this list (not counting a couple of the honorable mentions), but among a certain subset of Indie folks, this is a holy work.  But don’t let that turn you off, because this album has an emotional resonance that most of the Too-Cool-For-School type albums couldn’t touch.  Nothing the band has done since has been even a tenth as rewarding, but at least we’ll always have this one album.

Thom Yorke – The Eraser
Released: July 11, 2006

How I came across it: I was working at the infamous used CD store in Philly when this album came out.  Being a huge Radiohead fan, I tried to get the store to bring in a few copies.  After waiting a week, I grew impatient and bought it from another store down the street.
Thoughts: Some might be surprised that Radiohead’s excellent “In Rainbows” isn’t on this list.  Well, I truly love that album and it almost made it to the top 6, but while I was thinking about it, I had to admit, this album has engrained itself into my life and memory so much more.  Perhaps it was getting to see Thom Yorke and his Atoms For Peace band play it live, or maybe it was just listening to the album while I walked the streets of Philly alone, but this album is an indelible part of my past now, a landmark work for me and 10 Cities.

Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
Released: September 25, 2007

How I came across it: This album had been out for probably a year before I bought it.  I had an mp3 of standout track, “Boy With A Coin,” on my computer and loved it, but for some reason it took me months and months to pull the trigger.
Thoughts: Idiot!  That’s all I can say, because I should have had this album in my life for a year longer than I have.  Oh, how I have deprived myself!  Iron & Wine has always been a band (or act) that I’ve liked, but this album truly transformed my feelings into love.  Yes, it’s more produced and filled out than earlier albums, but contrary to common opinion, I don’t think intimacy and beauty can only be achieved by lo-fi recordings and poor sound.  This album deserves your time.  Don’t make my mistake.

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Released: February 19, 2008

How I came across it: Another album where I had songs off of it for a few months before I bought it (thanks to Paste).  I can’t remember when I bought it exactly, but since it was released in 2008, I must have been living in either Costa Mesa or San Francisco.
Thoughts: Like Sufjan’s album, there is nothing I’m going to say about this album that is going to convince anyone to give it a chance if they haven’t already.  And also like Sufjan’s album, this is one that has become so big it’s broken out of the arena of strictly Indie kids.  And good for it.  I’m not one of those scenesters that needs my music to be obscure.  Great music should belong to the world, and deservedly this album has found a large audience.

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Released: March 3, 2009

How I came across it: I’d been loving on Neko since Philly.  When this album came out, I think I probably bought it the first day.
Thoughts: Frankly, even I’m a little surprised that “Fox Confessor Brings The Flood” isn’t in this place, but I have to face reality.  While “Fox Confessor…” is the album that introduced me to Neko, and my favorite Neko song, “Star Witness” is from that album, I have to say that Middle Cyclone from beginning to end is the better album, and many of the songs on it have embedded themselves into my mind so deeply, even a hint of a melody from them can evoke an emotional response.  An album that deserves to be loved as much as “Illinois” or “For Emma, Forever Ago.”

Truly Honorable Mentions:

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Florence + The Machine –  Lungs
The Mountain Goats – Get Lonely
The National – Boxer

Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Paul Duncan – Be Careful What You Call Home

Radiohead – In Rainbows
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Next:  My Favorite Films of 10 Cities/10 Years, So Far