25) Lonely Avenue by Ben Folds & Nick Hornby The songwriting duo of Nick Hornby (‘About a Boy’, ‘High Fidelity’) and Ben Folds is really pretty genius. Nick writes the lyrics and Ben writes the music / speaks the truth. The results are some of the best Ben Folds music in ages. Their talents really seem meant for one another.
24) Contra by Vampire Weekend
” Vampire Weekend’s music is too likable to make the band as divisive as it’s become”. Sometimes Pitchfork gets it right on the head.
23) I Learned The Hard Way by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
When other artists do old school soul and funk music, it sounds like they are doing some sort of imitation or cover. But Miss Jones and company really live this stuff and you can feel it. Not to mention, Sharon Jones is a powerhouse and has the presence and energy of ten lesser front (wo)men.
22) Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi
As unique, smooth and cool a flow as anyone in the business. This is some high production level hip-hop with just the right amount of funk.
21) Body Talk by Robyn The lack of Robyn radio time is one of the most puzzling phenomena in music. This whole album is filled with radio friendly, dance floor ready, synthy pop songs. It’s not that far off from the likes of La Roux or Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” and a whole slew of similar songs that have been guaranteed play time at any large scale social function for the last 5-6 years, yet the only attention Robyn seems to get is from internet reviewers and bloggers…go figure.
20) The Brutalist Bricks by Ted Leo and The Pharmacists
Brutalist Bricks is just a straight forward, easy to ‘get’ rock album. Basically, the type of thing that Ted Leo has made a career off of. If there is one thing Leo knows how to do it is to write songs that have the perfect balance of testosterone level and pop aesthetic. Not to mention, the man can straight tare up a guitar. Ted Leo is a bros bro.
19) Messenger by Joe Pug
Plain and simple, Joe Pug is the most poetic song writer out there today. If any modern artist deserves the praise/burden of being compared to Dylan, it’s Pug. The lyrics in “Messenger” stay with you, they make you think and Pug delivers them with the stripped down emotion and soul that they deserve.
18) The Soft Pack by The Soft Pack
The Soft Pack employs ‘The Ramones’ formula to song writing throughout their debut. That is, a couple minutes of relatively gritty, super accessible rock n’ roll with fast paced lyrics and a hook. Not only is this method time tested, but it also makes any slower songs really stand out and thus improves their overall effect dramatically (See “Mexico).
17) Summer House by Gold Motel
This whole album is full of nothing but really fun yet classy summer jams. It seems hard to make an album this innocent and ‘boppy’ without being sort of tacky, but Gold Motel more than manages.
Most shockingly amazing album of the year? Without a doubt. After ‘Taco Bell / Pizza Hut’ how could anyone expect a legitimate record from these guys? As it turns out, Das Racist actually have some really intelligent creative offbeat lyrics that they spit over some of the best beats I have heard in a while. This is a really terrific hip hop album that happens to be presented under the guise of the funniest album of the year. If one Das Racist line had to be used to sum up the whole record, it would have to be, “White people, play this for your black friends. Black people, smack them”.
15) Brothers by The Black Keys
I feel like making blues rock accessible and exciting to main stream pop culture is no easy feat, especially while still trying to maintain your credibility as blues artists. But with this record I think The Black Keys have done just that and they might even win a few Grammys for their trouble.
14)The Winter Of Mixed Drinks by Frightened Rabbit
This is as big as ‘folk’ music can possibly be. Scott Hutchison seems incapable of expressing emotions in subtle manner. When he sings he sounds as if he’s had something pent up forever and he’s finally letting it all out. The end result is a sort of out of control freight train of raw emotions and Scottish accent.
13)The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man On Earth
No one out there gets more out of an acoustic guitar and a pair of lungs. All of TMOE’s songs are so pretty it’s really easy to start to take them for granted. When I listen to him it’s as if I know what the song is about even if I don’t pay attention to the lyrics. Even the piano track “Kids on the Run” was a great surprise.
12) Harlem River Blues by Justin Townes Earle
If the genre of ‘Americana’ music has a face it has to be that of JTE. Part musical historian and part modern innovator, Justin Townes Earle uses ‘Harlem River Blues’ to take you on a musical tour of the South over the past 80 years or so, but he does it with enough of a modern twist to keep it from sounding tired. For 11 tracks Earle bounces between rockabilly, country, Guthriesque folk, blues and even soul, and he never misses a beat.
11) This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem
This was just a ballsy confident record. It’s only 9 songs long, and most of them are epics of the ‘over 5 minute’ variety. I just think it takes a lot of guts an execution to push each track to it’s limit like LCD did on ‘This is Happening’. I mean to start off with “Dance Yrself Clean” which doesn’t even get going until like the three minute mark seems pretty nuts. A lesser band would have lost my interest right from the get go, but not James Murphy and company. “This is Happening” is as sharp, clean, and well balanced an album as LCD has ever produced.
10) Sidewalks by Matt & Kim
If ever there was a band poised for a Passion Pit / MGMT style breakout year it has to be Matt & Kim. ‘Sidewalks’ is a clinic in snappy synths, drum machines and all things ‘indie pop’. I feel like the non-internet blog reading community will probably take wind of this album in a few months via Kia commercials and Forever 21 in store playlists. Luckily, I don’t think I will be sick of it yet.
9) Treats by Sleigh Bells
The loudest non-death metal album of the year? Ever? Probably. This one definitely turns it up to 11. There is something great about an album that you’re blaring without even really blaring. It’s also always nice to here a genre of music that is completely new. And really there are no previous comparisons that can be made to Sleigh Bells. It’s like part 80’s power chords, part Britney Spears and it somehow feels like hip-hop. I know on paper that sounds HORRIBLE, but everything about it works. Not to mention all the noise and chaos of the album helps encase what was one of the chillest/sexiest summer jamz in recent memory in “Rill Rill”.
8 ) Crazy For You by Best Coast
Sure she is a little off key and out of tune sometimes, sure she rhymes the words ‘crazy’ and ‘lazy’ like 10 times on the album but it never seems to matter. In fact, it might actually just add to the overall effect of ‘Crazy For You’. The whole album seems to me to just capture all those irrational, ill conceived, thoughts that run through our head during the various stages of a relationship:
“Nothing makes me happy. Not even TV or a bunch of weed.” We have all been there.
Aside from the surfy guitars and warm summer feel of the album, Best Coast’s most charming quality is her relatability.
7) High Violet by The National
My initial impression of “High Violet” was that it was just much more depressing than “Boxer”, but I don’t think that any album has ever grown on me like this one has. No one does ‘sad’ as beautifully and powerfully as these guys. I think it’d be hard to take this album if it just featured one note of whiny ‘breakup driven’ music. But you know how the Inuit have like a million different words for ‘snow’ , well The National have a million different songs for ‘sad’. And justifiably so. Even though the whole album is heavy, it never gets tiresome because each song is so complex and because no one song truly has the same tone as the next. It’s really a sprawling symphony for the depressed and broken hearted.
6) Stuck On Nothing by Free Energy
I have never heard an album that made me think more of a movie that it is in no way associated with than “Stuck On Nothing” makes me think of the movie “Dazed and Confused”. Am I wrong? Maybe just because its so youthful and it sounds like it was plucked right out of that era. Anyways, “Stuck On Nothing” is just pretty much an exuberant romping pop-rock album with a late 70’s feel. Infectiously catchy shit. I guess you could make the argument that it is border line repetitive. But I’ve been jamming out too hard to notice/care.
5) The Pep Rally Mixtape by Hoodie Allen
Pep Rally is filled with a number of the most clever hip-hop samples in recent memory. Hoodie is clearly a well versed music fan and it shows in the eclectic mix of less than main stream songs that he samples. But anyone could just pick a great song to rap over, Hoodie does a lot more. He really raised the stakes with this album. The way he can contort almost any song into a hip-pop gem is arguably more impressive then just creating his own beat. Not to mention the kid can really rap. Each song is cholk full of pop culture references and word play that take your brain all over the place just trying to keep up. Not really a wasted line on the whole mixtape. Pep Rally is an instant party classic. So legit.
4) So Runs the World Away by Josh Ritter
As elaborate and grandiose an album as any folk rock singer song writer has the right to be able to make, “So Runs the World Away” is almost more than a collection of songs. Each track takes you somewhere completely different, whether it be the pyramids in Egypt, the Arctic Ocean, or the Wild West, Josh sets the scene perfectly almost as if it’s a movie. Combine this ability with his voice and the fact that he can play the hell out of a guitar and you have, in my opinion, the best singer song writer of this generation.
3) Astro Coast by Surfer Blood
This album pretty much consumed me for a couple months early on this year. Imagine if Weezer washed up on a South Florida shore then grew some balls, then you could start to understand what Astro Coast sounds like. Don’t know wht else to say accept that it’s just a sound that I eat up. Shout along choruses transitioning directly into bohemian style bridges = perfection in my book.
2) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West
It’s albums like this that give Kanye the right to be as ignant and cocky as he damn pleases. Twisted fantasy is filled with pulsing electronic beats layered over orchestral samples with the precision and meticulousness that only someone who is borderline crazy could pull off, or even envision. It’s the Sistine Chapel of rap albums. On top of that it’s the most brutally honest, emotionally charged, unabashedly ‘Kanye’ album that he could possibly make, and he made the shit out of it.
“You know what? I gotta thank Yeezy. And when I see that nigga I’m gonna thank him. I’ma buy his album. I’ma download that muthafucka. I’ma shoot a bootlegger. That’s how good I feel about this nigga”.
1) The Suburbs by Arcade Fire
Just about every song on “The Suburbs” is layered, complex and designed to evoke intense emotions. This is Baroque rock. The subject matter of most of the songs on “The Suburbs” is so ridiculously intense and heavy that it’d be easy for a band to sound really cliche while making this record. Like some high school English student who just read “Fahrenheit 451” and “Metamorphosis” for the first time and now thinks they really ‘understand’ the world. Somehow though Arcade Fire avoids that on ‘The Suburbs’. Maybe because it’s such a damn good rock record. It is probably the opposite of ‘easy listening’. I feel like it’s an album that you need to be fully committed to. The type of music that demands your full undivided attention. Probably the opposite of ‘chill-wave’. Maybe ‘chill-inducing-wave’?