Coming up with a list of 10 great albums was certainly a challenge this year, which was filled with a lot of great songs on decent/average albums. My top 7 was a breeze because the albums that I fell in love with stuck with me day after day. This seems to be a trend of the last few years so either the music is becoming more and more average and copycat (see the whole lo-fi garage punk, shoegaze and electronic movements) or the latest trends just don’t stick with me. I am listing my top 10 but will only be doing longer writeups for the top 5 and quick blurbs for the 6-10
Real Estate – Days
Real Estate showed moments of greatness but their sound was really underserved by their low production quality. You had to dig a little deeper for the hooks and the singing was largely bland and lacking dynamics. On Days they invested the extra time and Domino Records recording budget to turn their 60’s inspired pop in to a polished delight. The opener “Easy” is a great example of the expanded vocal depth and larger music landscapes without adding a bunch of overdubs to muck up the straight forward writing. You don’t feel a let down from song to song, even when they throw an instrumental like “Kinder Bluman” in because the songs are just the right length and are just warm enough to be stuck in your head for months.
Score – 9.5/10
Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
This was certainly my “grower” record of the year and the most unique hip hop record that I have heard in several years. My first few listens left me slightly confused and some what put off by the spurratic beats, hazy layers and pulsating seizures that were assaulting my ears. I only really dug 3 tracks “Swerve….”, “The Kings New Clothes…” and “Are You….Were You…Can you?” because they most represented the hip hop that I was familiar with. My enjoyment of those 3 tracks kept me coming back to the record time after time and the persistence really payed off as the other tracks enveloped me as I slowly gave in to the random beats and samples. Without the clean delivery of Palaceer Lazaro I would have never given this record another listen because his voice is that smooth and that interesting. Black Up is such a rewarding listen for those willing to put in the time and dig through the layers.
Score – 9.5/10
The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond The World
A year of disappointing full length albums was at least covered with some rare gems that gave new artistic life to music. This album was carefully constructed with samples of old records, with the original record hiss left in which eases you to a whole different dimension in life. A waltzing piano, or a sullen horn line transport you to a time many, many years ago. A feeling of simplicity as you can close your eyes and peer into someone elses imagination or remove your mind from you body and let it play among the stars. This isn’t a record that will hit everyone the same way and it might be tossed aside by many but it is a surprisingly haunting and vividly constructed piece of work. You will feel like you have heard these songs before but also feel refreshingly new at the same time. This album fittingly hummed in the background as I waited at night in the cell phone lot, for my father’s plane to arrive. Airplanes taking off and landing in darkness with the runway lights seemingly dancing to the sounds.
Score – 9.0/10
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
A band that could have just as easily crumbled under the pressure of their sophomore release gave us a superior album instead. With the vocal harmonies still oozing from each track, they seem to be more carefully placed this time around instead of using the spamming approach. Another change is a more dramatic shift during songs such as the title track and “The Shrine/An Argument” which show cohesive and innovative shifts in the song while retaining the original theme. The album isn’t massively different but it is the subtle shifts that make this a superior record to the first. The vocals for instance take a little bit more personal and engaging route, you can’t help but be wrapped up in it when front man Robin Pecknold sings “So now I am older, than my mother and father, when they had their daughter………now what does that say about me” during the beginning of Montezuma. A refreshing honesty, a beautiful album.
Score – 8.5/10
Julia Holter – Tragedy
Much like The Caretaker album, this is another strangely infectious record piled with samples and vocal over dubs. The first song aptly named “Introduction” begins with a few blips then the startling ship horn thunders you awake, only to calm you with some opera singing. You will feel like you have been transported to a different time and dimension all together. Even on the more synth driven tunes “Goddess Eyes” and “So Lillies” you feel like you are traveling slowly, spinning around in a slow circle and viewing the world in black and white. After the 50 minute album length you glance at your watch and wonder where you have been, then you start all over again at track one.
Score – 8.0/10
The Best of The Rest
White Denim – D
Adding a fourth member gave White Denim the extra boost that they were missing on previous records. A great rock record with a 70’s feel through and through.
Glenn Jones – The Wanting
The John Fahey influence is obvious but the song writing is refreshing and his oddly tuned, finger picking guitar style lends to some amazing songs.
Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
Songs built around piano, beats and vocals but stays away from sounding pretentious. “Cannons” with its calming guitar overdubs and much of the record opts for a soft builder into louder close, once you get over the strangely juvenile vocals you will discover the great hooks.
Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
Songs on the saxophone………..doesn’t sound interesting does it? But Colin Stetson plays a bass saxophone like no other. Imploring circular breathing and percussive hand techniques, he makes his one man show sound like a full band. Great stuff.
Tennis – Cape Dory
This was a very fun light-hearted album with a beachy breezy feel. Great to drive around with the windows down and sunglasses on. The lack of sonic variation is what kept this album from being any higher on the list but doesn’t take away from the sheer fun.