I’m not completely happy with this list. I’ve been agonizing over it for about a month now, and no matter how I work it, it doesn’t seem to come out right. I listened to about 250 albums this year, a paltry percentage of the number of total releases. Even out of those, I only listened to maybe 40 of them multiple times. I believe in order to really understand an album, you have to listen to it upwards of 30 times, and you can only have so many albums like that in your life at one time. Making a list of albums, then, seems to be so pointless and somehow dishonest. All but eight of these artists already had songs on my Favorites Songs list. Moreover, the whole list seems sort of mainstream/Pitchforky to me. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t fulfill the purpose of this list: to help readers discover new things they may have missed over the year. Maybe this is actually an indication that the good music really makes it through, and we can have faith in the indie rock portion of the music industry. Maybe it just means I have boring taste.
I tried to strictly stick to my favorite albums, but that didn’t quite work. I listen to that Bishop Allen album all the time, but really feel that it doesn’t deserve to be on a year-end list. I rarely listen to Circulatory System, but I find that album continually exciting when I do listen to it. The album I picked as number one probably isn’t my favorite favorite album of the year, strictly speaking, but I wanted it to be number one for many different reasons. So, in the end, I’m not really sure what this list is. A list of albums that I really enjoyed, in a vague order, that I also feel are somewhat important to this year. I hope someone finds something new from this list. All of these albums are very good, if not great. Yes, there were better albums that came out this year, but this is the list I made.
I’ve included my favorite song from each album, unless it was on my Favorite Songs list, in which case I’ve included a different favorite.
25) Signal Morning – Circulatory System Before I heard this album, I knew nothing about Circulatory System. I didn’t know that they’ve been around for ten years now, and I didn’t know that Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) is occasionally involved in the project. All I knew was that I was astounded by how different and how good so many tracks on this album were. A few tracks are nearly regular rock songs (“Round Again”), a few are noisy experiments (“Blasting Through”), and few are psychedelic masterpieces (“overjoyed”). Nearly every song on here is a strange gem in one way or another. It’s an invigorating listen, and a good introduction some more out-there music if you’re usually tentative about these sorts of things.
24) Monster Head Room – Ganglians This album is almost dull at times. There’s only so much 60s-garage warbly vocals layered over alternately strummy and twangy guitars that can stay interesting. But I find Ganglians’ musical project as a whole to be very, very good. It’s not so much the individual songs on Monster Head Room, but rather the idea of the album, that I find intriguing. I like that the songs “Candy Girl” and “Modern African Queen” make sense together on the same album. All of the tracks are vaguely unpolished, but with such nice background “oohs and aahs” and extra psych guitar parts scattered throughout, that they’re just as well-thought out as they ought to be. Just like the album as a whole.
23) Embryonic – The Flaming Lips Embryonic is terrifying. The album cover is unsettling. The first words you hear are “She submits as she dominates.” There are 18 tracks and the album is over an hour long. The sounds throughout are as thick and alien as everything that’s always come from the cracked head of Wayne Coyne, but are now all dark and frightening, instead of fun and pleasantly existential. I’ve never liked such an upsetting album so much before. Once again, Mr. Coyne and his merry band of musicians have created something that sounds like nothing else, and absolutely stands out because of its own insanity.
22) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart I did not intend or want to include this album on my list. I think this album is overrated. However, back in February, there was one night when I was really sick with a fever. I almost never listen to music when I fall asleep, but I felt so strange that night that I decided to put this album on. As I was drifting off, I came to this feverish realization where I really “got” this album. That sounds really stupid, but it’s had a secret soft spot for me ever since then. The songs are very well-constructed and compact. It’s all just a tad too glossy, but I can’t deny that at least a third of the songs on TPOBPAH are going to be classics.
21) Gather, Form & Fly – Megafaun This album likes to trick you. At first glance, it seems like another good, sleepy folk album. But then they started dropping songs like “The Process” and “Darkest Hour.” There are few albums that have such a wonderful, subtle sense of humor right alongside the folksiest of songs. Plus, all of this is accomplished in an incredibly listenable way. I feel about Gather, Form & Fly much the same way I do about Signal Morning. If this type of folk-noise album usually scares you off, this is a great entry point into the genre.
20) Rejoicer – Grooms Grooms used to be called Muggabears. When they were Muggabears, they played a particular brand of noisy rock. I always thought that the band was good, but felt that if you chose to play that kind of noise music it couldn’t just be good. It had to be really, really good. Then, Muggabears (wisely) changed their name to Grooms and put out this incredible album that got weirdly little notice from the bigger blogs. The twisting melodies and bass lines on this record are endlessly fascinating. They remind me so much of a young, updated Sonic Youth, and their live show is just as killer as a young Thurston and Kim must have been. Travis Johnson’s voice is both gloriously strong and mercurial- even paced and then breaking into a falsetto fitting of the screechy guitar parts. One of the most impressive up-and-coming acts of the year.
19) Watch Me Fall – Jay Reatard This slot was either going to go to Harlem’s Free Drugs or Jay Reatard. Ultimately, I had to give it to Reatard. Forgetting entirely about the persona that Jay Reatard has cultivated, especially this year, this is a wonderful, fun album. I don’t understand why the suburban kids of American aren’t listening to this instead of all that pop-punk nonsense on the radio. Reatard truly is one of punk’s finest songwriters. He understands the original 70s ethos of playing delightfully optimistic songs about terrible things, and he brings enough originality to the table that it’s all still applicable to a post-modern, more current angst. Coming back to his ethos, it’s also fascinating to hear this tough figure unraveling throughout the album. Listen to “Can’t Do It Anymore.” What a great pop song about trying to hold it together.
18) Con Law – Generationals If Generationals have one problem, it’s that they haven’t quite figured out how to make a song build yet. But, they have perfectly, utterly, mastered the art of the hook. The number of songs with perfect hooks on this album is astounding. “Nobody Could Change Your Mind,” “Angry Charlie,” “Faces in the Dark,” “When They Fight, They Fight,” and “Bobby Beale” all have great hooks that get in your head. Chances are, if you are a living person who likes rock music, you will adore this album.
17) Why There Are Mountains – Cymbals Eat Guitars This album deserves recognition based on “And the Hazy Sea” alone, but the rest of the album is also very solid dude rock. I think Pitchfork actually said this in their original review of the album, but Why There Are Mountains is great suburban driving music, and I only wish that I’d had this album in high school.
16) Born Again Revisited – Times New Viking The noise! The glorious noise! It’s no secret that Times New Viking is one of the best noisy bands out there. This latest effort is just more confirmation that this is a very important band. First of all, I love that these guys are from Ohio. It’s nice they’re not from Brooklyn for some reason. As for the actual album, it just sounds so pleasing to my ears. Maybe scuzzy pop songs are the theme to my list this year, but I love finding the buried gems of melody in these songs. It takes just enough work that it’s an incredibly satisfying but fun listen.
15) Album – Girls I was very, very resistant to this album at first. I knew it was fun and I knew that every single person I knew liked it. To me, this signaled that maybe the album was a little too easy to be great. Despite my desire to keep listening to it, I buried my adoration of Girls in the bottom of my hype-hating heart. Then, they put out a music video with microphone penises. The tide was turned, and I was officially won over. Yes, most of the songs on this album are fun and easy. But they’re also brilliant. It’s very difficult to write such well-constructed, upbeat songs, and the half-joking half-pleading vocals give the album a wonderful sarcastic edge. This is the album I’ll be giving my nephews when they’re teenagers, hoping that it’ll influence them enough to get into indie rock from the 2000s. I have full confidence that it will.
14) Face Control – Handsome Furs This album has been criminally overlooked. I don’t know how Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade) comes up with so many good songs, but there are really some astounding tracks on this album. I’m not normally a fan of the whole dancey rock with synths thing, but these songs are actually just very, very good. I think that’s why the general public who typically likes this dancey rock sort of thing that’s been so popular this year (I’m particularly thinking of Florence and the Machine and Phoenix, for example), hasn’t taken hold of this album in the same way- because the songs are good and a little more challenging than we usually expect from this genre. I don’t know. Maybe I watched the “I’m Confused” zombie music video one too many times, but I will defend this album’s awesomeness (without much coherent argument) to the bitter end.
MP3: “I’m Confused” – Handsome Furs
13) Bromst – Dan Deacon This album builds so slowly that the first audible sound doesn’t even begin until forty seconds have already passed. And, as said in my “Snookered” write-up, build is what this album is about. I think I like this album so very much because I’m so surprised how much Deacon has matured. His Santa Claus-like physique and jolly nature make him a figure to root for, but his wacky tunes and fun live show didn’t exactly make me think he’d ever produce such a stunning piece of art. But I’m so glad he proved me wrong, and it feel so good to love this album. Darker, more complex, grander, Bromst is incredible.
12) Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors Yeah, it’s good. It’s really, really good. This is, in my estimation, the “best” album to come out this year (maybe MPP, but probably Bitte Orca). There’s not much I can really say about this that hasn’t been said. But, my favorite reason why this album is so innovative and important, is its amazing incorporation of female hip-hop vocal styles into Longstreth’s weird brand of guitar rock. It’s incredibly fitting that Beyonce was at their pool party show this summer. I hear Beyonce all over this album.
11) Power Move – Screaming Females I listened to this album a whole lot this year. It’s good. It’s definitely good. But looking back, I think the reason I’ve enjoyed it so much is because it’s really inspiring to hear such a good female lead guitar player. Not just a female guitar player, but a true female front-man, who really kicks serious ass, without being generally labeled as a “girl band.” Maybe that shouldn’t be a reason to pick this as my number eleven album of the year, but also, maybe it should be. Plus, these are some serious kick-ass harder rock songs no matter which way you slice it.