Thematically, it's equally dense: Frontman Tim Smith's lyrics focus on ideas of feeling lost, feeling useless, feeling empty, feeling unfulfilled—lots and lots of feelings, and mostly somber ones at that. Actually, listening to The Courage of Others isn't a pleasant experience at all—it's more likely to make you curl up into a ball and start crying than it is to elicit smiles.

But that's the thing: This disc is an impossibly engulfing listen. As Smith fills your head with enough questions to put you into a tizzy, his bandmates' lush arrangements and impeccable performances surround you, sealing in that sense of bewilderment.

The Courage of Others is a monumental accomplishment—something that will surely be appreciated over time.

In a year filled with impressive releases, Sarah Jaffe's full-length debut stands out as the best.
In a year filled with impressive releases, Sarah Jaffe's full-length debut stands out as the best.

1. Sarah Jaffe

Suburban Nature

(Kirtland Records)

It seems as if the entire region had been waiting years for this, the full-length debut from the most promising singer-songwriter North Texas has spawned in recent memory. And Sarah Jaffe's Suburban Nature hardly disappointed.

If anything, it surpassed expectations, having almost instantly thrust Jaffe to the very top of the local music heap.

Propelled by lead single "Clementine," Suburban Nature has earned Jaffe countless accolades from regional and national outlets alike in 2010, and deservedly so. Smartly arranged to highlight both the delicate folk-rock instrumentation and the vulnerability of Jaffe's vocals, the disc is a shockingly intimate listen.

It's almost too private for comfort at points, actually. And maybe that's why it's so enticing a listen. Throughout the album, Jaffe emotionally belts out her tales of heartache and uncertainty with an enviable, reckless abandon and willfully entrusts her audience with her vulnerability. It's a bold move that would be unwelcome if its presentation weren't so tender and, more important, relatable.

Jaffe, it turns out, isn't different from anyone. And that's what makes her and, in turn, Suburban Nature, so unique. It's a disc for everyone. It just so happens that Jaffe is behind it.

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