I'm pretty excited about my Top Ten this year. There's some legends, some givens, some surprises, and a few that unfortunately I haven't seen on anyone else's lists. There's something for everyone and I hope you all dig some new music for yourselves, because all of these albums are brilliant.
Tom Waits – Bad As Me
If you're a regular follower of TWD you're well aware that we think Tom Waits can do no wrong. After album after album of avant and experimentation Bad As Me is a nice grounding moment. While Waits' ferocity is certainly not tempered, the songwriting here is more accessible and often lovely than his more dense, conceptual material. It's nice to get a breather once in awhile from such a diverse legend.
Mina Tindle – EP
If you haven't heard Mina Tindle's debut EP be warned that it's the pleasant audio version of a parasite. The little bugger enters your eardrum and after every listen it burrows itself further into your grey matter until it's so attached to you that it becomes necessity. Tindle's songs are charming, sweet as candy, and dripping with sentiment.
Decibully – Decibully
This served as my initiation with Decibully and it's a hell of a way to introduce yourself. It also served as perhaps Decibully's final album and it's a hell of a way to go out. You won't find a better album of pure, organic indie rock anthems this year. You also won't find a band able to wrap up such heavy themes as death and the afterlife in such foot-stomping, rowdy rock songs. You'll be missed boys.
Gorilla Warfare Tactics – Premier Mixtape
Gorilla Warfare Tactics put out by far the best debut hip-hop album of the year. It's even more impressive when you find out that the GWTers are three young dudes in college. Here's what I wrote initially:
"As solid as the rhyming is on Premier, it's the bitchin' production that really draws me in. It has the best of the sample-based hip hop world – soul samples, catchy, repeating hooks, and a reluctance to rely solely on percussion to drive a track. There's a certain passion and lightness all over these tracks that really separates it from the usual college rap of today. It's the hip hop of guys who know and appreciate the history of their genre as well as other genres, and have the talent to mold classic sounds into new beats.
This is honestly one of the freshest things I've heard in awhile, and gets me excited for the direction underground hip hop could be heading."
Cults – Cults
I completely missed the sweep of Cults through the interweb universe last year when they released their first two songs. I blame it on the fact that TWD didn't exist yet. That turned out to be a positive though since hearing Cults and their unique sound was a fresh experience for me. This album kept magically finding it's way back to my speakers all year and it ended up being one of my most-listened to LPs.
Beirut – The Rip Tide
Zach Condon's crew is easily one of my favorite current groups and The Rip Tide is as solid as expected, with some welcome touches of Condon's musical past.
Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne
What she order, fish fillet?
Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Original review: "This is the sound of hip hop evolving. And not in a poor quality, gimmicky, step backwards kind of way (cough Odd Future cough). If you want to smartly alter the scope of a genre, Shabazz Palaces shows the way to do it. Shabazz Palaces' music is paradoxical in all the best ways. It's cold and digital yet catchy. It works on common ground rules, yet it's progressive. It's avant and intelligible, yet accessible."
The rap album of the year, hands down.
Radiohead – The King Of Limbs
It was so trendy to get down on The King Of Limbs, but those people are lying to themselves. You can't fault Radiohead for being so goddamn talented that they've created an aura of impossible expectation around themselves. This isn't Kid A and it's not Ok Computer, but it's stupid to expect every album they release to be game-changing. There's something to be said for pure consistency and every glitched out, tremor inducing moment on TKOL is better than 99% of the music released this year.
You Won't – Skeptic Goodbye
The amount of submissions that bloggers recieve in their inboxes has become a running joke in the blogging community. It's an unwieldy, unfocused massive mess of music. Which makes it all the more satisfying when you find solid gold in the unmanageable layers of 1's and 0's. Boston's You Won't were unfortunate to release this album in the same year as my #1, because any other year it would have been tops. As I wrote at the time: "It’s a brilliant collection of lyrically focused, indie pop tunes. Each song surprises with it’s quirks and evolution, never seeming content to stand still. Like another of my favorite albums of the year (ed. note: see #1), immersing yourself in the growth of each song rewards you each time with a huge payoff. The instrumentation is varied, the volume jumps up and down within songs, and the melodies are addictive and touching."
Chris Bathgate – Salt Year
I'll be forever indebted to Chris Bathgate for creating this masterpiece. Not only is it a beautiful work of art, it's a painfully personal album that I'm not afraid to say helped me through my own "salt year". Like I said:
"When the opening notes of "Eliza (Hue)" started up, I floated into a half-conscious, blissful state of mind – enveloped in the beautiful folk sounds of Chris Bathgate. The sound and instrumentation on Salt Year is so deep and resonant it's like swimming through a pool and with each stroke you move aside a handful of water only to grab another.
It's hard to really characterize the sound. Bathgate's clearly a folk artist, but there are tinges of sounds wider and more ambitious that that insular genre. What I do know is that every track is full of little, singular moments that resonate deep into my subconscious. Each song has a life of it's own – growing and evolving with bursts of horns, strings, drum fills, electric guitar, vocal flourishes. I've always liked songs that reward you for listening and that's one of Bathgate's greatest strengths. The payoff that comes after allowing a song like "No Silver" to develop is priceless.
I really can't appropriately convey how great this album is, despite my hyperbolic gushing."