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This year was a tough year for mainstream music- no one came out the clear-cut winner, except for Modest Mouse, because everyone wanted to celebrate the indie hero. Yay. For actual indie music, however, it was a banner year- the music came out of the woodwork to blow me away. Four of my top five releases were highly unexpected, unhyped, and unheard of when I received the packages- after hearing their contributions to the music world, I thoroughly believe that independent music will never die.

5. Actionslacks – “Full Upright Position” – Quite possibly the best straight-up pop album I’ve ever heard. It has depth to the lyrics, diversity in the song styles, clarity in the performances, and aesthetics to blow you away. There’s none better than Actionslacks in the world of pop/rock music.

4. Matt Shaw- Matt Shaw and Devices in Shift fought hard for this spot in my head. In the end, Matt Shaw won because I love the dual punch of “The Argument” and “The Fields” so much. Indie electronica doesn’t get better than this. The arrangements keep you guessing, the beats keep your head bobbing, the melodies keep you humming, and the overall product leaves you stunned. A vicious diatribe against technology is dramatically set against technologically created beats- the irony isn’t lost, and neither is the message. You can take this album simply musically (without views) or lyrics and all (with views), and either way you will love it.

3. The Felix Culpa – “Commitment” – Now this is a band that knows what it’s doing. I caught the Felix Culpa bug after simply one listen to this album- and who wouldn’t, after hearing an artistically minded indie/emo band that bends and breaks the rules of ‘emo’ to form something actually emotional? This is a whirlwind trip through the best ways to be passionate about something.

2. Novi Split/The Adrian Fortress Split CD “The Split Series, Volume Two: The Lost Volume”. Anything the Novi Split commits to tape is simply astonishing in the fact that it doesn’t feel like it’s on tape. Every time I hear a Novi Split song, it feels like lead man David J is sitting in my room with a guitar, peacefully singing himself and I to sleep. This man is a genius, and I will continue to laud him at every chance I get. This split is just a continuation of Novi Split’s saga- lovely, stark, haunting acoustic songs. The Adrian Fortress also puts up some deliciously messed up post-rock, only adding more goodness to this split.

1. Hotel Lights – S/t There’s something truly stunning in Hotel Lights: wisdom. That’s a lofty statement, but after thoroughly picking apart this album, I feel that it is justified. These pop/folk/mellow songs are all quite morose in their musings, but they’re also heavily weighted with a sense of ‘been there, done that’ remorse. The fact that the piano, guitar, and vocals work together to craft simply jaw-dropping landscapes helps the delivery of these lyrics, and voila- you’ve got the best album I’ve heard all year. Song of the year: “Stumblin’ Home Winter Blues”.

Honorable Mentions: Devices In Shift, “Velas Para La Enferma”, Relient K “Mmhmm”, Ghosting “October EP” (if they ever release a real album, I’ll rejoice), Page France “Come! I’m a Lion!”, Ember Days S/t EP