It’s hard to tell whether this was a really great year for music or if I was just paying attention more than last year. That sums up my feelings at the end of every year. I don’t want to do too much of an introduction because I have quite a bit to say. I’m not putting these releases in any particular order, they are just my favorites. Some I listened to more than others, but putting them in order just seems too subjective and a pointless waste of time.
Chad VanGaalen // Diaper Island
Listening to this album filled the void left by Women not releasing an album this year. This was my gateway into listening to more of VanGaalen’s stuff, it remains my favorite album of his. With it’s haunting and warm sound, psychedelic imagery and noisy guitars Diaper Island hit all the right notes. Standout tracks “Peace on the Rise,” “Heavy Stones” and “Do Not Fear” would be a good fit on any year end mix.
Fucked Up // David Comes to Life
Simply put, this is one epic album. It may seems like a chore to listen to this nearly 78 minute hardcore opera about love and loss, but when it comes down to it the album still relies on catchy hooks, pure unbridled emotion and more guitars than have ever appeared on any album ever. The complexity of the arrangements may be overshadowed by the brash vocals but take another 10 or 20 listens and you’ll undoubtedly start to appreciate how truly brilliant this album is from it’s structure and lyrics right on down to the execution. This continues Fucked Up in their clear evolution of a hardcore band that is always searching for new ways to expand the medium.
Radiohead // The King of Limbs
Radiohead will never be able to catch a break ever again. They are caught in the terrible, yet still enviable, position of people expecting great innovations from album to album and then fans and critics regularly misunderstanding their music and heaping faint praise onto them. Make no mistake The King of Limbs is a fantastic album. Sure, it is short, and there isn’t much in the way of guitar on it, and it’s really percussion heavy. It’s still a Radiohead album though and in my mind they are nearly at the level where they can do nothing wrong. There are definite gems on here and it should not be simply cast aside.
tUnE-yArDs // w h o k i l l
Probably the most divisive album of the year. I have yet to come across anyone that could say, “Yeah I heard the tune-yards album, it was ok”. The reactions were always hard to one side. If I recall correctly even those of us in the Tympanogram camp were at odds over how we felt about it. My take on it is that it’s a wholly new sound that is interesting rhythmically to a very high degree, orchestrationally it also makes great use of everything available but never tries to go too far, or do too much. This album manages to do all of those things while continuing to keep it interesting and different from song to song covering a variety of moods.
tUnE-yArDs // Bizness [mp3] from w h o k i l l
Wild Flag // Wild Flag
This is a straight up rock record. I had been looking forward to its release ever since Carrie Brownstein left NPR to pursue music in a touring band once again. They manage to easily sidestep any of the normal pitfalls of a debut album because all of the members of Wild Flag are seasoned pros. Each track is exciting and energetic and simply rocks. They captured the energy of a live show and released it simultaneously as they toured across the country garnering acclaim for their exciting, energetic show.
Colin Stetson // New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
This album is the only thing I have listened to that has left me absolutely speechless and astounded upon its conclusion. It’s flashy, arty and walks that line between art-music and jazz. It’s another album that stands in a category of its own, which is exactly the kind of thing that I’m attracted to. What’s even more amazing is that it’s almost all solo saxophone music, except for one track that Stetson performs on French Horn. On the surface it is not exactly the kind of thing that I would be drawn to, and maybe it’s not the kind of thing that you’d be drawn to either. To you I would say this is definitely worth a listen or ten. It’s damn near revolutionary and will leave you spellbound.
Starfucker // Reptilians
Catchy as hell, synth-laden, danceable pop tunes about life and death, though mostly about death. This was definitely an album that I had cast aside earlier in the year, but when I came back to it I found that I was surely missing out. There’s something satisfying about a thick, buzzing synth sound.
Starfucker // Bury Us Alive [mp3] from Reptilians
Tim Hecker // Ravedeath 1972
I definitely don’t fashion myself an expert on ambient music, but there is just something so moving about this album the way that it uses masses of sound to create an atmosphere that is ethereal and familiar all at once. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what I love about this album. Maybe it’s the fact that I keep coming back to it, that it keeps forcing me to come back to it. It’s just so damned intriguing.
Tim Hecker // The Piano Drop [mp3] from Ravedeath, 1972
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks // Mirror Traffic
The Pavement nepotism is obvious. I became absolutely obsessed with Pavement when I finally started paying attention to their albums around 2006. Come to find out I was wasting all sorts of time missing Pavement because Malkmus has been putting out fantastic albums since right after Pavement’s last album came out in 1999. “Mirror Traffic” is full of songs with interesting harmonies, sudden shifts, catchy melodies and Malkmus’ literate and sometimes cryptic lyrics.
The Two Koreas // Science Island
I know that hardly anyone is going to agree with me on this album. I also know that not too many people have heard this album and that is a shame. That is also partially the reason why I am making it a point to mention it on my year end list. The music is sloppy to a certain degree, totally embodying a garage rock aesthetic. Every track is a barn-burner sung with a sneer with plenty of jangly, noisy guitars adding to the overall experience. If you listen to anything on this list, or are inspired to listen to anything new I would suggest most highly this album.
The Two Koreas // Midnight Brown [mp3] from Science Island