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Westword's favorite national albums of the year

As I compiled this year's edition of Nationalistic, I was struck by how diverse our Backbeat scribes' tastes were in 2008. Unlike with Moovers & Shakers, the roundup of our favorite local albums of the year that ran in last week's issue, there was hardly any crossover. Not even with my picks, which are running online (at blogs.westword.com/backbeat) to make room for those of my colleagues, writers whose opinions I hold in the utmost regard. Like the musicians they're writing about here, they're an amazing array of knowledgeable, opinionated and talented artists who share an unabashed love for music of all kinds. Dave Herrera

The Avett Brothers, The Second Gleam (Ramseur Records). Gleam touts all of the warm acoustic tones and sterling vocals that made the Avett Brothers a highlight at this year's Monolith festival. With melodies and strings that recall the best Appalachian musical forebears and powerful lyrics rooted in loss and redemption, these tunes are both timeless and novel. — A.H. Goldstein

Beach House, Devotion (Carpark Records). A collection of requited torch songs and hazy twilight daydreams put to music, this sophomore effort from Baltimore's Beach House is full of warmth and gentle flourishes. Victoria Legrand's expansive, resonant voice is like an affectionate embrace sweeping you off into candlelit fantasy stories worthy of a John Crowley novel. — Tom Murphy

Gus Black, Today Is Not the Day... (Cheap Lullaby Records). With black humor and an even blacker soul, aptly pseudonymed singer-songwriter Gus Black gently but incisively dissects human nature, human relationships and his own delicate emotional state. His lightly weathered baritone and Leonard Cohen-esque production add depth and pathos without ever descending into rote sentimentality. This is possibly one of the most quietly poignant records of the year. — Eryc Eyl

Black Angels, Directions to See a Ghost (Light in the Attic). Urgent, gritty and expansive, these songs bridge the gap between psychedelic garage rock's narcotic bite and the otherworldliness of shoegaze. Trippy yet bracing, jagged yet flowing, this entire record is rife with the menace, paranoia, anger and currents of defiance prowling the American zeitgeist for the past eight years. — Murphy

The Black Keys, Attack & Release (Nonesuch). Previous Black Keys platters have been enjoyable, but their post-blues raucousness sometimes felt creatively limiting. Not so Attack & Release, whose production, by Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton, opens up new vistas for partners Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. "Things Ain't Like They Used to Be" speaks to the disc's ingenuity, both figuratively and literally. — Michael Roberts

Black Milk, Tronic (Fat Beats). Having studied under the late, great J Dilla, Black Milk displays a skill level that is comparable to that of his mentor. The same soulful, neck-snapping, Detroit hip-hop sound that informed Dilla's work runs throughout Tronic, helping sustain the respectability of hip-hop coming out of the Motor City. — Quibian Salazar-Moreno

Blitzen Trapper, Furr (Sub Pop). Although critics aplenty have likened Blitzen Trapper's latest to American Beauty-era Grateful Dead, the comparison is superficial at best. True, Furr feels pastoral and bucolic at times. But there's an indie-rock sensibility to songs such as "Stolen Shoes & a Rifle," which features the line "I just can't seem to stay dead." Or Dead. — Roberts

Blood Ceremony, Blood Ceremony (Candlelight Records). If you like your witch rock laced with plenty of Traffic-esque organ and a couple of flute solos (uh-huh), then this female-fronted Canadian occult outfit is for you. Doom-metal cliches are offset with wicked Wiccan musicianship and a commitment to the genre that you can't help but admire. — Eyl

Bohren & der Club of Gore, Dolores (Ipecac Records). The second album by this German instrumental outfit to be brought to the States by Mike Patton's Ipecac label, Dolores explores brooding, jazzy and slightly ominous audio landscapes, and somehow manages to turn them into the most seductively sexy music you've heard in a long time. Put this record on and let things get freaky. — Eyl

Braille, The IV Edition (Syntax). For his fourth album, Braille tapped such top-notch producers as Marco Polo, Oh No, DJ Spinna and J-Zone, who all turned in their best work in years. And while the beats are first-rate, Braille's no slouch on the mike, getting both battle-ready ("The IV") and reflective ("Blessed Man"). — Salazar-Moreno

Hayes Carll, Trouble in Mind (Lost Highway). Carll is capable of penning some of the most guffaw-worthy ditties imaginable. For proof, sample the honky-tonk lament "She Left Me for Jesus." Yet he's just as credible a tunesmith when he explores the darker side of life, as on "Don't Let Me Fall," or uses witty lines for deeper purposes, as he does throughout "Drunken Poet's Dream." — Roberts

Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel, Dual Hawks (Misra). South San Gabriel is essentially Centro-Matic plus a few other musicians, but the music on these two discs is quite different and highlights the duality of prolific songwriter and frontman Will Johnson. The Centro-Matic songs pack a rocking wallop, while Johnson peels back layers on the wistful, heartfelt South San Gabriel tunes. — Solomon

Cloud Cult, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) (Earthology). This Minnesota-based septet's eighth studio album fuses the most compelling elements of the band's previous records with steps in promising new directions. Songs like the album's opener, "No One Said It Would Be Easy," bursts with Cloud Cult's insistent harmonies, while tracks like "It's What You Need" boast engaging synth-based, syncopated sounds. — Goldstein

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