Hey everyone! Here's my top 25 albums of the year! 25. The Sword
- Warp Riders
Maybe these dudes should have renamed themselves "The Lightsaber" for this one. Moving away from the high fantasy lyrical stylings of old into the realm of straight up sci-fi, Warp Riders is, nonetheless, easily identifiable as a Sword album, and a severely excellent one at that. Yeah, it's a concept album, but that is ultimately far less consequential when you consider how fucking hard this thing rocks. Some of the strongest, most assaultive riffs and blistering solos of this band's career exist on this record. And while the Asimov over Tolkien storylines might be off-putting to some, in the end, you're still getting high the same way you normally would to listen to this album as you wound any of their others, so why split hairs? I frankly enjoyed the shit out of all the spacial craziness on display here.
Key Tracks: Tres Brujas, Lawless Lands, The Warp Riders
24. Spirit Kid -
Spirit Kid is entirely the work of one Emeen Zarookian. Emeen writes, sings, and plays pretty much all the instruments on this record (though he does employ other musicians during live gigs), and hot damn if he hasn't put together one of the most delightful pop records of the year. Admittedly I do have a slight bias, as I worked with Emeen at Harmonix (he's part of the audio team there), but believe me when I say my love of this twee-pop-meets-indie-rock confection goes well beyond just knowing the dude. This is truly great stuff.
Key Tracks: You Lit Up for Me, Flytrap, Assumed By You
23. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
- Beat the Devil's Tattoo
Pretty much what you've come to expect from this band: great riffs, tight grooves, and an excellent mix of tracks that cover both the hard rocking and mellower side of the band's palette. It maybe runs a tad long, but the vast bulk of the material here is extremely strong. I think Shadow's Keeper
got more plays on my iPod than any other song this year.
Key Tracks: Conscience Killer, Sweet Feeling, Shadow's Keeper 22. Ghostface Killah
- Apollo Kids
Shock of shocks, I didn't think Kanye West's latest album was even the best rap album of 2010, let alone the best album of the year. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's awesome, but I was honestly way more impressed with the kinetic energy and focused intensity of Ghostface's new record. Pretty Toney hasn't sounded this determined since Fishscale, and the quality of the production and the guest rhymes are nearly on par with that phenomenal album. It's just really nice to see him get back to form after the lapse into R&B hell that was his last record. Yeesh.
Key Tracks: Purified Thoughts (feat. GZA & Killah Priest), Black Tequila (feat. Cappadonna & Trife), Ghetto (feat. Raekwon, Cappadonna & U-God) 21. Hayaino Daisuki
- Invincible Gate Mind of the Infernal Fire Hell, or Did You Mean Hawaii Daisuki?
Got 13 minutes? Then I've got some of the most blisteringly loud, insanely fast, and mindfuckingly awesome grindcore music ever recorded to offer you. Daisuki is one of the many post-Discordance Axis projects of lead singer (screamer, rather) Jon Chang, and of those projects, it's also my favorite. Maybe it's because the songs are a bit longer than your average grindcore fare (some even top three minutes!), maybe it's because the guitar work is so incredibly nuanced for being something like a bajilliondy miles an hour at all fucking times, or maybe it's because the album titles always end up being some kind of increasingly, creatively mangled form of MegaEngrish, but hot damn if I don't just love the shit out of what these guys do.
Key Tracks: Ghosts of Purgatory, Shibito, Blood 20. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
- Before Today
One of the absolute weirdest albums I've come across in a good long while, Before Today is almost indescribably enjoyable...but I'll try anyway. At times this thing sounds like the chintzy soundtrack to some French approximation of a 1970s crime flick, and at others, it offers up more soul and catchy songwriting than almost anything else I've heard this year. Totally had no idea what to expect from this when I downloaded it on a whim, but I loved the shit out of it from the get-go.
Key Tracks: L'Estat (Acc. to the Widow's Maid), Round and Round, Can't Hear My Eyes 19. Girl Talk
- All Day
Where the hell have I been with this whole Girl Talk thing? It's like, one day, nothing, then all of the sudden everybody's treating this mashup maestro's latest release like it's a new Dethklok album (I'm sure someone understands the reference, and inferred level of weight that comes from it). Initially, I resisted, as my natural tendency is to believe that everyone is wrong about everything. But once I finally caved and gave this thing a proper listen, I was hooked. This is some of the cleverest, flashiest, and most painstaking mashup work I've ever encountered, and the way the samples flow from one to another with such effortlessness, it's just staggering. Again, I don't know where I've been all this time, but I'm stoked to be on the train now.
Key Tracks: I don't even know where to start with this one, so I'm just going to pick three at random (you really need to just listen to the whole thing): Oh No, That's Right, Make Me Wanna 18. The Black Keys
I don't think I've disliked a single album made by The Black Keys, but Brothers feels like something special amongst the band's catalog. There is a maturity to the songwriting, a nuance to the music that goes well beyond the band's early Detroit garage rock leanings. Brothers is chock full of dyed-in-the-wool, hooky-as-hell pop songs, each containing just enough of that trashy blues sound to let you know that, yes, you did buy the right record. A superb album all around.
Key Tracks: Tighten Up, Howlin' For You, Too Afraid to Love You 17. Deftones
- Diamond Eyes
Simultaneously the hardest album the Deftones have released since Around the Fur, and the most intriguingly experimental since White Pony, Diamond Eyes feels like it covers a lot of ground, both musically and emotionally. Unsurprising, since it effectively replaced nearly an entire other album's worth of work that was scrapped when bassist Chi Cheng was injured in a car accident. The anguish of that tragedy is most certainly apparent in the songwriting and energy of Diamond Eyes, but this doesn't feel like a band wallowing in self-pity and woe. Instead, it feels like they took all that depression and hurt and turned it into a determination to evolve and refine their sound beyond what they'd offered over the last couple of albums. They did, and it worked brilliantly.
Key Tracks: Diamond Eyes, CMND/CTRL, You've Seen the Butcher 16. The Gaslight Anthem
- American Slang
2008's The '59 Sound let us know that The Gaslight Anthem were, at the very least, totally sincere in their desire to combine anthemic punk energy with Americana-fueled, Springsteen-esque songwriting. American Slang not only reassures of us this fact, but shows us a level of maturity and craftsmanship that feels like it should have been one or two more albums off. Where Against Me! has, of late, come off feeling a bit trite and hokey, Gaslight Anthem shows us with this album that they're anything but. Can these guys just be big now, please? These songs were meant to be sung along to in a giant arena.
Key Tracks: American Slang, Bring It On, The Queen of Lower Chelsea, Old Haunts 15. Cancer Bats
- Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones
Straight up hardcore punk mixed with a bit of metal flavor, Canada's Cancer Bats are my favorite Rock Band Network find of the year. This is sloppy, grimy, nasty stuff, filled with the exact kind of angry lyrics, thrashing riffs and trashy drumming you want from a great hardcore band. They're kind of like Gallows, if you want a direct comparison, but somehow several measures better.
Key Tracks: Dead Wrong, We Are the Undead, Raised Right
14. Janelle Monae
- The Archandroid
I think Janelle Monae might just be the coolest girl on the planet. For one thing, she's the first vocalist in YEARS to actually make modern R&B palatable to me, but more than that, this chick is like the best elements of Bowie, Beyonce, and Beck all rolled into one wholly unique concoction. The production on this thing is unreal, and Monae's vocals can handle crazy talk-rapping and soulful singing with equally deft measure. She's simultaneously one of the best things to happen to her chosen genre in years, and also something so crazy and awesome that she practically defies genre. Bad. Fucking. Ass.
Key Tracks: Faster, Cold War, Oh, Maker 13. Holy Fuck
Ah, sweet, crazy as hell Holy Fuck. No band makes more ludicrously danceable, yet simultaneously intricate electronic music than you. Latin is easily my favorite record by these guys to date. It is, from beginning to end, completely, aggressively batshit, like something from a future where neon-tinted punk rockers are constantly getting into punch fights with robots. I want to live in the future this album exists in, and trust me, so do you.
Key Tracks: Red Lights, Stay Lit, P.I.G.S. 12. Murder By Death -
Good Morning, Magpie
Good Morning, Magpie is not quite the revelation that 2008's Red of Tooth and Claw. That album was like indie punk fused with Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. This one downgrades a touch to True Grit level. A small drop, but a drop all the same. Still, this album is chock full of haunting melodies and great southwestern drinking anthems, anchored by the gravelly voice and apocalyptic lyrics of singer Adam Turla. If you loved Red of Tooth and Claw, you'll most certainly love this record too.
Key Tracks: As Long as There is Whiskey in the World, Good Morning, Magpie, The Day
- Marrow of the Spirit
My favorite metal album of the year, and one of the most diverse and melodic examples of what black metal can be that I've ever heard, Agalloch's latest is a transcendental listening experience. Its six songs (which is really just five 8 minute-plus tracks, with a three minute string intro) run the gamut from blast-beat and shriek-heavy straight up assaults, to mellower, more harmonic and subtle songs that go far past what you'd expect from your average black metal album. This thing is heavy as hell, but with so many different layers and sounds to pick through, it's safe to say that anyone who gives this a listen will discover something new and enthralling with each additional playthrough.
Key Tracks: Into the Painted Grey, Black Lake Nidstang, Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires 10. Spoon
Despite my girlfriend's unhealthy crush on lead singer Britt Daniel, this is still one of my favorite albums of the year, and possibly my favorite Spoon album, period. Still sussing that little detail out, as I really
loved Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but while I think that record had better singles, I also think Transference is a stronger overall, start-to-finish work. The progression from the languid drums and raspy vocals of the opener, "Before Destruction," to the disco-infused grooves of closer "Nobody Gets Me But You," is perfectly realized. When I started writing this, I just wanted to write the words "sick fucking grooves" over and over again. That probably sums this album up just as well as anything else I wrote.
Key Tracks: Is Love Forever?, The Mystery Zone, Written in Reverse, Got Nuffi
n 9. LCD Soundsystem
- This Is Happening
You wanted another LCD Soundsystem album, right? Cool, check it out: This is totally an LCD Soundystem album. James Murphy has basically taken the formula that made LCD system such an indie dance sensation and...employed it again. Not complaining! This Is Happening contains some of the grooviest, danciest, and sickest fucking jams that the dude has ever produced, and while I might ultimately prefer Sounds of Silver by a hair, I can pretty reliably throw this album on any time I need to cheer up and dance around my apartment like a total asshole. It makes my cat completely insane when I do that.
Key Tracks: Dance Yrself Clean, Drunk Girls, I Can Change, Home 8. Yeasayer
- Odd Blood
I feel like this album is what would happen if the dudes from Animal Collective and Paul Simon got together, dropped a gang of acid, and were handed a drum machine and some keyboards. This album is, to put it inadequately, all over the place, but what comes from that manic, tribal energy is something strangely, inexplicably, eminently listenable. Lyrically this is, comparatively, pretty standard dance pop, but the arrangements, the instrumentations, and the completely gonzo rhythms, are just otherworldly. Took a bit of time for this to grow on me, but grow on me it did.
Key Tracks: Madder Red, O.N.E., Love Me Girl, Rome 7. Foals
- Total Life Forever
While I liked Foals' last album, Antidotes, a good bit, Total Life Forever feels infinitely more full of, well, life, than anything the band has done previously. That last album was perhaps a bit more energetic, but there is a greater heft to the songwriting here, something that feels a more full-blooded concoction. Combining what boils down to basic modern British indie rock with some of the freewheeling weirdness of the Talking Heads, Foals have created a record that at once feels incredibly dancey and also incredibly deep. One of the few great surprises of the year for me.
Key Tracks: Blue Blood, Miami, Total Life Forever, Spanish Sahara 6. The National
- High Violet
I don't know if this is The National's best album, but it's probably their most complete and consistent record. This thing flows in a way that their previous efforts haven't, like an effortless wash of downtrodden beauty that hits you with wave after wave. Songs like Sorrow and Conversation 16, in particular, blend the band's best musical qualities together with some of the strongest, most affecting lyrics Matt Berninger has ever constructed. This album, despite being kind of a downer, actually helped me get through a few particularly rough months earlier last year. SAD MUSIC IS SAD, BUT ALSO MAKES ME HAPPY. WAT.
Key Tracks: Sorrow, Afraid of Everyone, Conversation 16, Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks 5. The Hotrats
- Turn Ons
Wait, a covers album? Hear me out, people! This isn't just some random collection of crappy covers. The Hotrats are a side project from former Supergrass members Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey, and holy hell did they throw the energy and masterful song craft of that long underrated band into this setlist of classic rock favorites. Everything from David Bowie's "Queen Bitch" and Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" to The Doors' "Crystal Ship" and the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right (to Party)" are covered here, and like any great covers record, these guys make the songs their own, retaining just enough of the original flavor to make them instantly recognizable, but adjusting the arrangements, the vibe, and the soul of each song just enough to feel like something wholly original. There ain't a dud on this disc.
Key Tracks: (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party), Love is the Drug, Queen Bitch, E.M.I. 4. Titus Andronicus
- The Monitor
No album surprised me more than Titus Andronicus' latest, mostly because I had scarcely caught wind of this New Jersey indie/punk quintet prior to hearing The Monitor. This album knocked me on my coal mining ass from the first playthrough, but on subsequent listens, has gotten further and further under my skin. A big part of it is guitarist/lead vocalist Patrick Stickles and his biting, scathing lyrics, which are less a direct, hateful assault and more a snide, sardonic aftertaste you don't immediately realize is there. The Battle of Hampton Roads is my favorite closing track of any album this year--a 14 minute, rage-fueled opus filled with frayed guitars, inexplicable horns, oddly more explicable bagpipes, and lines like "Some days wanna give a little less than it'll take/Is there a girl at this college who hasn't been raped?/Is there a boy in this town that's not exploding with hate?" Goddammit I love this album.
Key Tracks: Titus Andronicus Forever, Richard II, Theme from "Cheers," The Battle of Hampton Roads 3. Wolf Parade
- Expo 86
While I have always enjoyed Wolf Parade, I have often preferred the side projects of vocalists Dan Boekner and Spencer Krug to Wolf Parade proper (especially the transcendentally weird Sunset Rubdown). Glory day, then, that we finally have a Wolf Parade album that feels like it marries the best aspects of those myriad side projects, while still retaining the basic feel of older Wolf Parade material. This album feels like a high-energy blast, played with wildly exaggerated movements, and yet there is also a darker, more measured underbelly to it that makes it one of those perfect rainy day listens. Totally didn't expect to be blown away by this album, but I most definitely was.
Key Tracks: What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way), Little Golden Age, In the Direction of the Moon, Ghost Pressure 2. The Arcade Fire
- The Suburbs
As the poster boy for middle-class white boy raised in the suburbs under a heavy atmosphere of aimless boredom and teenage angst, I think this album was pretty much written specifically for me. By every imaginable standard, this is Arcade Fire's strongest work, a heart-on-their-collective-sleeve nostalgia piece aimed squarely at the hearts and minds of anyone who ever hung out in a random parking lot just because they could, and went for long drives around town with their idiot friends in lieu of doing anything remotely productive with their time. At 16 tracks, it also somehow manages to avoid feeling over-stuffed or overblown, making each and every note, beat and moment necessary
. Top to bottom gorgeous, and an album that demands multiple listens.
Key Tracks: Ready to Start, Rococo, We Used to Wait, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) 1. Midlake
- The Courage of Others
I imagine most people will look at this pick and be, like, "Uh, who?" While Midlake's latest record might be a bit of a forgotten footnote amid 2011's many high profile releases (it released all the way back in early February, to boot). this album stuck with me for the entirety of the year. And not just individual songs either, but the entirety of the record. No album has been played by me from start to finish, in order, more often than this one. Part of that is the consistently dreamy, melancholic tone each of the songs take on here. Midlake's sound has always been a mix of Fleet Foxes-like low-key indie folk with a sort of warm '70s soft rock songwriting mentality, and The Courage of Others feels like the ultimate realization of that aesthetic. I adored their last album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, but The Courage of Others is by far their best work, and easily my favorite album of the year.
Key Tracks: Winter Dies, Core of Nature, Children of the Grounds, The Courage of Others, In the Ground