Another year, another 6 month delay in me posting anything on my blog. I keep thinking, I'll do it another day, and next thing you know half the year has gone by. Anyway, I have been paying attention to music at least. Here are my favorite albums of the year...
The National - High Violet - Another album packed with quietly powerful rock and roll -- it's a grower. Just like their previous albums, High Violet rewards repeated listens. The subtle musical backdrops and Matt Berninger's distinctive croon have coalesced into an easily identifiable style, but the band never become boring or formulaic. I hope they can maintain this level of consistency, because there's no one else quite like them.
Vampire Weekend - Contra - They seem to be growing into the Talking Heads of this generation. They have a nervy, nerdy frontman and an almost scholarly interest in the off-kilter rhythms of African and Caribbean music. But they are an indie-pop/rock band at their core and they write some great songs.
Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot : The Son Of Chico Dusty - This isn't just the next best thing to an OutKast comeback album, it might be even better. Big Boi finally released his long delayed solo outing, and it's brimming with soon to be classics. The songs have inventive beats and inescapable hooks coming at you from every angle. I haven't flat-out enjoyed listening to a hip-hop album this much in years.
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - It's too early to say right now whether this is going to rank with the all time hop-hop classics, but there's no doubt that it's in the conversation. Kanye has taken the introspection of 808s And Heartbreak and fused it with some of his most widescreen production ever to create an album which is self-critical, thoughtful, grandiose and powerful. It's a warts-and-all portrait of Kanye the artist and Kanye the celebrity. And even if you don't care about Kanye, his songs speak to the best and worst impulses in all of us.
Robyn - Body Talk - Three EPs of the finest danceable pop music distilled into a killer single album. As a whole it may be more consistent than any album by a dance-pop diva (e.g. Madonna, Kylie, Britney, Gaga, etc) in the last decade or two, but Robyn can't catch a break. Maybe she's too old, maybe she had her shot in the 90s and blew it. Whatever the case, she remains critically acclaimed, but commercially under-appreciated. Her songs about love and heartbreak seem so fresh and real, it feels like she's lived them all. Anyone who has even a passing interest in the dance-pop genre needs to hear this album.
The Hold Steady - Heaven Is Whenever - It's not quite as good as their last couple of albums, but it's close. Craig Finn is still writing short stories cleverly disguised as songs. He continues to reference many of same storylines, themes, and characters. "Hurricane J" appears to introduce a new character. "The Weekenders" catches us up with a couple of old ones (from "Chips Ahoy"). And the songs are packed with references to the hard partying Twin Cities club scene which has proven a fertile source of material for him in the past. With the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, though, they've lost a piece of their sound, and the music for some of the songs sounds like they're just going through the motions. But when the band is clicking, it's still rock and roll magic like no other. And that is enough to rank with the best of everything else.
The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang - Because The Gaslight Anthem broke through to a wider audience with The '59 Sound, their follow-up can sometimes sound like more of the same. While it mines many of the same influences, it's a more mature album, and ultimately equally satisfying. Some of the songs still strongly reference a single antecedent (a certain Mr. Springsteen), but there's more material that showcases another side of the band. If you like their earlier work, this is a must buy, and if you haven't checked them out this isn't a bad place to start (although The '59 Sound may still be the better introduction).
Free Energy - Stuck On Nothing - Last year's self titled EP had some fantastic songs. On the album, they are still among the highlights, but are joined by "Bang Pop", possibly the catchiest song that Cheap Trick never wrote. The classic-rock-meets-modern-indie party vibe is intact, and other than a couple of dull tracks towards the end, this is prime stuff.
Big K.R.I.T. - K.R.I.T. Wuz Here - The best rapper to come out of Mississippi and further proof that NYC and LA are no longer the prime sources of the best underground hip-hop. In addition to penning the lyrics, he produced the beats for this killer underground mixtape which got him signed to Def Jam, and was also released as an album. It's great to see real talent recognized. When you are depressed by the state of commercial hip-hop, this is a great antidote.
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs - Lots of bands have famously written songs (even albums) dedicated to cities -- London, New York, Berlin. But no one has nailed the spirit of suburbia quite like the Arcade Fire on their third album. They capture the boredom, restlessness, and miniature triumphs and tragedies of growing up in the suburbs in songs that alternately soar above, rage against, nostalgically remember, and perhaps even celebrate, suburban life. Maybe the theme is not as universal as on their first two albums, but the music is more confident and inventive. Destined to become a classic.
Spoon - Transference
Groove Armada - Black Light
The Radio Dept - Clinging To A Scheme
Band Of Horses - Infinite Arms
The Depreciation Guild - Spirit Youth
Happy Birthday - Happy Birthday
Stars - The Five Ghosts
Ra Ra Riot - The Orchard
Interpol - Interpol
Awesome list! I think Vampire weekend had a good year and acquired lost of new fans! Big Boi is also doing great with his solo career now! I'm looking forward to what's going to be out this year.