Since year-end lists are all the rage on music site after music site — authored by any skinny white kid with a 32GB or higher iPod — it struck me as a surprise that there had been zero of these type of posts on the WMFO blog page. Although this may be a bit late, I’ve decided to post an obligatory year end top-ten list; hopefully at least one person may pick up an album they otherwise would’ve missed from a year of music that was superb.
#10- The Monitor – Titus Andronicus: Titus Andronicus decided to follow up their chaotic and inspired debut album with this civil-war themed concept album. Much less of the production is in the red compared to their first album, a welcome addition because quite honestly a sane being can only take so many minutes of Patrick Stickles wailing into a broken microphone. There are more hooks here and catchy guitar riffs for the crossover fan of punk and hardcore to enjoy- not to say that this would ever be something you throw on with mom in the car for a long trip. It’s all relative.
#9- Swim – Caribou: If you want to feel inadequate as a human being, look up Daniel Victor Snaith’s doctorate thesis entitled “Overconvergent Siegel Modular Symbols.” It’s 55 pages of mind-bending horror, mathematics taken to the limit. Then check out his fantastic album produced last April. Snaith creates chill vibes and ambient noodlings that are catchy as hell and trippy to listen to. “Odessa” has the phattest bassline of the year, and the rest of the album is a remarkable hybrid of MIDI keyboard experimentation and pop structures.
#8-This is Happening – LCD Soundsystem: James Murphy seems to defy all logic: in a world in which sophomore slumps reign supreme- and then only go downhill from there- he makes each of his new albums better and better. This is Happening takes all of the influences apparent in Murphy’s life (Depeche Mode, Devo, Talking Heads) and makes them into a masterpiece that is in no way ironic, just genuine. “Dance Yrself Clean,” the epic opener, sets the pace for the rest of the outrageously fun dance-a-thon that never lets up. I went to the concert at the Orpheum in September, and it was one of the most energizing performances I’ve ever seen.
#7- The Suburbs – The Arcade Fire: After the exponentially increasing success of Funeral and Neon Bible, the Arcade Fire had a bunch to live up to. For their third album, the Montreal-based outfit started to stray away from their deeply emotional, often morbid themes and wrote this concept-y album about the normalcy and inferiority complexes that come with an unremarkable life in the suburbs. The music itself sounds like it owes a lot to Springsteen, yet everything that comes out of Win Butler’s mouth always has a depressing undertone. It’s an album that has an ambiguous outlook on its subject matter that makes an intriguing listen.
#6- Contra – Vampire Weekend: There’ll always be the haters. Vampire Weekend were steeped in upper-middle class values on their self-titled debut, and alienated a lot of their listeners because of it. They don’t make it any easier out of the gates on Contra, rhyming “balaclava,” “horchata,” and “Aranciata” in the first two minutes. It doesn’t matter. Vampire Weekend do an exquisite job of blending the afro-pop they’re rooted in with atmospheric keyboards and hideously catchy/beautiful vocals from Ezra. Because of the cohesion between all of its tracks, the album stands head and shoulders above its predecessor and’ll keep the liberal arts students ecstatic until the next album rolls around.
#5- Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter: I’ll be the first to admit that Deerhunter was barely on my radar leading up to the release of this album. I thought it was mostly filler with occasional, but rare, flashes of greatness. On Digest, they cut out virtually all of the feedback-filled instrumental hoopla that usually takes up too much of their time, and put out what probably is the best record to ever come out of the shoe-gazing genre. Bradford Cox was always known to be the resident genius in the band, but this album is Lockett Pundt’s coming out party. He shows he can pop out songs with the best of ‘em, and contributes a ton to this hazy and chaotic opus that is easily Deerhunter’s best ever.
#4- Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens: Sufjan Stevens was well on his way to becoming the Dave Chappelle of indie music. After the huge bonanza surrounding his 2005 Illinois, Sufjan did a number of projects that never really constituted an LP follow-up, went through a physical and mental health crisis, and admitted the 50 states project was all an elaborate commercial hoax. Who could’ve guessed that his next proper album would be a glitchy, immensely sonically layered, and 26-minute-song-closing oeuvre that could’ve been foreshadowed only by 2001’s Enjoy Your Rabbit. The Detroit-born, softly-spoken Stevens ambles through 75 minutes of compositional brilliance, each piece of electric doodling fitting perfectly into place throughout each of his songs that are ostensibly about his developing musical schizophrenia (by the way, this show in November was incredible as well).
#3- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West: I think it would be ridiculous to argue with the fact that what we have on our hands with Yeezy is this generation’s best example of a tortured genius. Although Kanye is self-aware of his public animosity, he still can’t stop himself from creating more of it. After a mostly misguided foray into Auto-tune with his last album, Kanye dives into his contact book on MBDTF and makes what will surely go down as one of hip-hop’s most ambitious and incredible albums of the last 20 years. Each song could be hit on its own; there isn’t a guest act that seems forced or out of place (Save for maybe Justin Vernon on “Monster”), and West himself tears each of his verses apart, parodying himself while maintaining the hedonism that has defined him these past few years. It’s an unbelievable accomplishment that single-handedly saves him from a public black-listing. For now.
#2- High Violet – The National: You can either love or hate the powerful and space-filling baritone of Matt Berninger, but you’d simply be wrong if you chose the latter. The singer could make commercial jingles seem as though they’re as important as the State of the Union. Instead he opts to go with dense, melancholic lyrics that are emotionally wrenching no matter how many listens. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is certainly near the top of my favorite tracks of the year, a type of moving, spacious beat that recalls “No Cars Go” by Arcade Fire a number of years ago. Each one of the tracks may take a number of listens to distinguish themselves as their own, but they are hauntingly beautiful and just have this sense of importance and weight that make it the National’s best album yet.
#1- Treats – Sleigh Bells: I’m in love with Alexis Krauss (for a number of reasons). The ex-kindergarten teacher (so she has to be nice) met up by chance with Derek Miller a few years back and threw some rough, hyper-energized demos together that eventually caught the attention of MIA, who then immediately signed them to her own Mom + Pop label. They went into the studio soon-after and created what to me challenges the word genre itself. Miller’s guitars screech and sustain; thick, electric, hip hop beats pound in the background, and Krauss’ jubilant voice ranges from cat-calling to gentle caroling (she has a beautiful voice). The chaos in the instruments are often contained by the consistency of Krauss’ overwhelming presence in each song. It all makes for what is quite possibly the most original album I’ve heard in the 21st Century and easily my album of the year (she’s creative too).