For those of you who actually have something invested in my yearly music hierarchy, my apologies for not attending to this task in more rapid fashion. For some reason, I’m just not feeling it this year. Some of that stems from the fact that, overall, I’ve experienced it as a fairly weak year music-wise. Additionally, I’ve probably just downloaded far too much music this year, creating a situation where I feel overwhelmed by the number of albums that I’ve either not gotten around to or simply failed to give the kind of attention they deserve. Regardless, there have certainly been some kickass records released in the past year and I encourage you to use the links, hop over to Amazon, and take a quick listen to some snippets from all of them. As someone who often gets located as, and sort of revels in, being enigmatic, I always prefer my end of the year list to be varied in terms of genre. This year, I have failed in that regard. But honesty trumps variety and, for better or for worse, these are the 20 best records I’ve heard this year. Folk/acoustic/americana/countrified recordings certainly dominate this years list (Black Keys, Middle Brother, Decemberists) and, in terms of past lists, there’s a whole mess of usual suspects (Destroyer, Iron & Wine, Mountain Goats). At the end of the day, what does it for me, does it for me. Here’s hoping some of it does it for you:
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
20. Cage the Elephant- Thank you, Happy Birthday
Despite the unfortunate band name, it seems quite possible that their music is representative of what a cage full of pissed off elephants might sound like. This album always makes me want to snarl and cause trouble.
19. Fleet Foxes– Helplessness Blues
I gotta say, the first album had me awfully flummoxed at what people loved so much about these guys. I was blind, but now I see.
18. Paul Simon– So Beautiful or So What
I had completely accepted that Rhythm of the Saints was the end of Paul Simon’s brilliance- nope!
17. Darwin Deez- Darwin Deez
If Beck, Fleetwood Mac and Napolean Dynamite had an orgy, I’m fairly certain that this guy is the offspring.
16. James Blunt– Some Kind of Trouble
My shame around my love of this man’s music is intense. Every cell in my music-snob body screams that I should loathe him, but damn- he makes me swoon. There, I said it!
15. The Head and The Heart- The Head and The Heart
Harmonies fit to pump serenity through every active nerve in your system.
14. TV on the Radio– Nine Types of Light
As this brilliant collections of musicians slowly let go of being esoteric and cool, their albums get better and better. Viva la middle age!
13. Bon Iver– Bon Iver
Upon first listening, with expectations built on his last album firmly implanted in my mind and heart, I found this record maddeningly disappointing. Thank goodness, I’ve learned to invest less in my knee-jerk reactions.
12. Kurt Vile– Smoke Ring for my Halo
The strange, skinny, quiet goth dude who used to spend all his time in the school parking lot, smoking cigarettes and looking tortured, finally puts his thoughts to music.
11. The Mountain Goats– All Eternals Deck
Why John Darnielle and his guitar and his endearingly, psychotic voice and his poetic lyricism keep being so awesomely fascinating album after album is one of the great mysteries of the current music scene.
10. The Weeknd– House of Balloons
http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/15264-house-of-balloons/ (link on the pitchfork review allows you to download this for free)
Dark freaky beats, foreboding lyrics, atmosphere dripping from every chord- best free treat of the year.
9. Tom Waits– Bad As Me
What can I possibly say about the coolest man on the planet’s new record? Just this: No one is as bad as him… NO ONE!!
8. Destroyer– Kaputt
I suppose, to some end, Dan Bejar, has been heading toward this record all along. To some end, I miss some of his stranger quirks- but the easy listenability of this offering is indisputable.
7. Iron & Wine– Kiss Each Other Clean
I would have bet my left foot that Sam Bean bettering The Shepherd’s Dog with his new record was an impossibility. And so I would be hobbling.
6. Middle Brother– Middle Brother
The Black Keys better not too comfortable on their young, white, blues-genius throne; cuz’ Middle Brother is number two with a bullet.
5. Adele– 21
As this album continued growing in popularity throughout the year, I so craved to start hating it. No such luck. She’s incredible.
4. Manchester Orchestra– Simple Math
These guys pulse and pound with the best loud/quiet/loud schematic since The Pixies. Manchester Orchestra. They are neither form Manchester, nor are they an orchestra: discuss.
3. Sean Rowe– Magic
I don’t know where he came from or where he’s been, but the pain-peppered baritone of this man makes my knees weak.
2. The Decemberists– The King is Dead
After their last two or three efforts, I was quite sure these guys had severely jumped the shark only to find that they had just found their stride.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
1. The Black Keys- El Camino
How, in God’s name, do these geeky little white boys keep putting out such filthy, grimy, balls-out blues gems?
HONORABLE MENTIONS (Missed the list, but well worth your time)
- Art Brut– Brilliant! Tragic!
- Architecture in Helsinki– Moment Bends
- Big K.R.I.T.– Return of 4Eva
- Blitzen Trapper– American Goldwing
- Brett Dennen– Loverboy
- Cake– Showroom of Compassion
- The Cars– Move Like This
- The Chain Gang of 1974– Wayward fire
- Charles Bradley– No Time for Dreaming
- Childish Gambino– Camp
- The Civil Wars– Barton Hollow
- Eulogies– Tear the Fence Down
- The Duke & The King– Nothing Gold Can Stay
- Foster the People– Torches
- Frank Turner-EnglandKeep my Bones
- Girls– Father, Son, Holy Ghost
- The Head and The Heart– The Head and The Heart
- Holy Ghost!– Holy Ghost
- James Blake– James Blake
- Lykke Li– Wounded Rhymes
- Noah and the Whale– Last Night on Earth
- OkkervilRiver-I am Very Far
- PJ Harvey– Let England Shake
- Portugal. The Man– In the Mountain, In the Cloud
- The Postelles– The Postelles
- The Pretty Reckless– Light Me Up
- Robbie Robertson– How to Become Clairvoyant
- Sons & Daughters– Mirror, Mirror
- The Vaccines– What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
- They Might Be Giants– Join Us
- The Airborne Toxic Event– All at Once
- The Beastie Boys– Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2
- Bright Eyes– The People’s Key
- Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah– Hysterical
- Das Racist– Relax
- Jay Z & Kanye West– Watch the Throne
- Jeffrey Lewis– A Turn in the Dream-Songs
- John Vanderslice– White Wilderness
- Kate Bush– 50 Words for Snow
- Laura Marling– A Creature I Don’t Know
- Lucinda Williams– Blessed
- Radiohead– King of Limbs
- The Strokes– Angles
- White Lies– Ritual
- Wilco– The Whole Love
- William Elliot Whitmore– Field Songs
- Alice Cooper– Welcome to my Nightmare
- Barenaked Ladies– Snacktime!
- Blink 182– Neighborhoods
- Blondie– Panic of Girls
- Duran Duran– All You Need is Now
- Bush– The Sea Memories
- Def Leppard– Mirrorball
- Duran Duran– All You Need is Now
- INXS– Original Sin
- Jane’s Addiction– The Great Escape Artist
- Journey– Eclipse
- Korn– The Path of totality
- Lenny Kravitz– Black and White America
- Limp Bizkit– Gold Cobra
- Michael Bolton– Gems: The Duets Collection
- Moby– Destroyed
- Red Hot Chili Peppers– I’m With You
- REM– Collapse Into Now
- Skinny Puppy– HanDover
- Soundgarden– Live on I-5
- Snoop Dogg– Doggumentary
- Stevie Nicks– In Your Dreams
- Steve Miller Band– Let Your hair Down
- Vanilla Ice– WTF
- Whitesnake– Forevermore
- Yes– Fly From Here
- Ziggy Marley– Wild and Free