Josh has given you both of his cents, now I'm throwing my hat into the ring. Quite a good year for music in my opinion. Some disappointments, some surprises, and a whole lot of booty shaking. Enjoy...
I debated long and hard about putting all of these in my Top 10, and hopefully each song will give you a good reason why. One song won’t do any of them justice, but hey, it’s a free download.
Burial - Untrue
Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings
The Crystal Cat
The Field - From Here We Go Sublime
Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Shocking Pinks - Shocking Pinks
How Am I Not Myself?
Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
You Got Yr Cherry Bomb
10. Liars - Liars
Liars have a big bag of tricks. They follow their heavy krautrock opus with an album containing some actual radio-friendly songs. “Houseclouds” sounds like a long lost Beck tune, “Sailing To Byzantium” eerily sounds like Radiohead, and “Freak Out” is pure snarling Stooges. There’s still a heaping spoonful of their classic murk, but Liars is as varied an album as I’ve heard all year while being raw, upbeat, and straightforward. It’s fun listening to a band known for experimentation prove they can play by the rules. I consider this their Loaded.
Must Listen - “Sailing To Byzantium”
9. The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters
As you can tell from the band name and album title, this Scottish quartet is a little bummed out. That doesn’t mean their music isn’t pretty. Layered My Bloody Valentine-inspired guitars and vivid lyrics make Fourteen Autumns’ angst touching rather than whiney. Lead singer James Graham occasionally screams lines with an accent so thick and charming it’s tough not to feel for him. In a year full of great danceable albums, it was refreshing to hear The Twilight Sad’s big rock sound and tormented lyrics.
Must Listen - “That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy”
8. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
I feel like such a putz for getting into Jens so late, but I’m glad I finally did. All the comparisons to The Magnetic Fields and Jonathan Richman had me curious yet suspicious, but Night Falls presented me an artist who clearly had his own voice (and what a voice at that). At first listen, the sweeping strings and playful woodwinds might seem a bit schmaltzy, but he delivers each word with such sincerity I’m forced to believe this is how Jens truly feels. His lyrics paint such interesting metaphors and touching scenes that it makes me want to pour a glass of wine, get sentimental, and dig into his entire back catalog.
Must Listen - “The Opposite of Hallelujah”
7. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Following up Funeral was no enviable task, but these Montrealians(?) gave it their all. There’s a sense of foreboding from the start as Win Butler sings of bombs and nightmares after a wave of thunder washes in. The album is packed with stories of fear, loss, and a grim future. “Intervention” is easily the best anti-Iraq War song I’ve heard and serves as the ultimate hipster protest anthem. Despite all the darkness, it’s far from depressing. It’s a call to action for anyone frustrated with our current political climate, economic climate, or climate climate. “My Body Is A Cage” closes the album not with fear, but with hope, as Butler pleads, “Set my spirit free.”
Must Listen - “Intervention”
6. Justice - †
Throw this album on and you will D.A.N.C.E. for the next 48 minutes, not including the residual dancing that will follow. Their electro is so intricately crafted and instantly catchy, it’s going to be a daunting task for them to follow this up with something better. Some people claim they’ve lifted too much from Daft Punk, but Justice infuse harder house edges, some Motown sing-alongs, and considerably less cheesiness than their French idols. I’ve regretted every moment since I failed to score tickets to see them in concert. Not because I won’t have another opportunity, but because I desperately need to dance their music out of my head and onto the floor.
Must Listen - "Phantom”
5. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
As a lover of AC, I can’t get enough of their fusion of tribal rhythms, innocent/creepy lyrics, and Brian Wilson-inspired melodies. Strawberry Jam is their most (relatively) accessible album to date. The tunes are more focused and simple, straying from their previous norm of using over 100 tracks per song. They’ve sacrificed sprawling tracks for uniform bounciness throughout. I’ve found it nearly impossible not to jump around like a twelve-year-old while listening to songs like “Peacebone” or “Winter Wonder Land.”
Must Listen - "For Reverend Green”
4. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Once upon a time, men like David Bowie and Marc Bolan pranced around looking like women and posturing with excessive machismo. Of course their music had heart, truth, and wit as well. You can now lump Kevin Barnes into that mix. Of Montreal dole out sugar-coated synth while Barnes confidently sings about being unconfident. Hissing Fauna is a breakup album full of anxiety, but it doesn't revel in sadness despite Barnes baring his soul about relying on antidepressants, unabashed anger towards his ex, and the inability to flee his frustrations. The melodies are so bouncy and catchy, it almost makes getting your heart broken sound fun. Almost.
Must Listen - “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal”
3. Radiohead - In Rainbows
I’ve always been a sucker for all things hauntingly beautiful, so obviously I’m a big Radiohead fan. Four years after their last album, they gave the world just over a week to guess what their next move was. More isolated? More ominous? More electronic? Radiohead’s answer to all of these was a resounding NO. It’s there most melodic album since OK Computer and their most personal since The Bends. I can’t help but get goose bumps when Jonny Greenwood’s guitar takes center stage 40 seconds into “15 Step.” Everything I love about Radiohead (Thom’s moody lyrics and vocals, Phil’s creative percussion, Jonny’s delicate guitar, Ed’s angelic backing vocals, Colin’s efficient bass, and just the right amount of piano and strings) is summed up in the five-minute “Reckoner.”
Must Listen - “Reckoner”
2. M.I.A. - Kala
When I was younger I couldn’t stand samples, but I grew to realize the resulting songs could live separately without detracting from the originals. What’s wrong with using a great riff to create an entirely different piece of art? Here, M.I.A. samples beats from New Order to cash registers while spitting lyrics from The Modern Lovers to Bollywood disco hits. All of it blends into vibrant scenes of a hungry and dangerous third-world where gunshots provide the rhythm. For me it doesn’t make a bit of difference whether M.I.A. is truly being political or just cultivating an image. With lyrics this creative and beats this good, she could sing about gum drops and puppy dogs and still make it interesting.
Must Listen - “Paper Planes”
1. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
With so many anticipated albums coming out this year, I was probably most nervous about Sound of Silver. I played James Murphy's first album repeatedly for about a month after I bought it, but with the dance-rock revolution seemingly in comfortable territory, I didn't quite know where he could go from there. Who knew all it took was making the music a little more personal. The snark is still there in “North American Scum” and “Get Innocuous,” but my favorite one-two punch of the year comes in “Someone Great” and “All My Friends.” These songs perfectly capture the struggles of young adulthood: maturely coping with loss, discovering your priorities, and becoming someone you might not want to be. Listening to “New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down” while riding the subway home from my temp job gave me a feeling Murphy's experienced some of the same lows I have. He makes fusing catchy dance beats with truthful, unpretentious lyrics seam effortless.
Must Listen - “All My Friends”