I guess way back in the hey-day of Myspace I began posting blogs of my favorite top ten records of the year, and the tradition still continues today! It’s been an interesting year for sure, but these records really resonated with me. Remember, not the best… just my favorites…
10. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy
Under the pseudonym St. Vincent, Annie Clark releases her third full length LP Strange Mercy and expands upon a witty and cheeky songcraft that permeated her first record Marry Me, as well as focuses and harnesses the lush orchestral vaudevillian indulgences of 2009’s Actor. With no song cracking the 4:30 mark, each song is a concise statement packed with more synths this time around with Clark’s distinguished guitar work patiently waiting its cue. Standout track “Surgeon” offers up one of the most chaotic and freakiest synth solos in recent memory.
9. Panda Bear, Tomboy
Let’s be honest here. Panda Bear’s last record – the brilliant 2007 offering Person Pitch is undoubtedly one of the most influential records (and maybe just the freaking best) of the last ten years. It must have been a daunting challenge to step out of that shadow,and I’m pretty sure everyone (Panda, his contemporaries, and his audience) kept their expectations in check with a proper follow-up.
Ditching samples for the most part, Panda Bear (Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox) went back to the roots of guitar and drums, topping it all off with his angelic and soaring voicethrough walls of reverb and multi-tracking. Many similar themes of Person Pitch such as family and unconditional love are explored here again through a different but familiar approach. “You Can Count on Me”, “Slow Motion”, and “Surfer’s Hymn” are all crowd-pleasers, even if the album lacks in its inability to branch out and explore different territory from song to song. While Tomboy doesn’t feel nearly as ambitious as Person Pitch, it is still a great listen.
8. Gauntlet Hair, Self Titled
I really know next to nothing about this band. But all YOU need to know is Gauntlet Hair is just two guys from Denver making some wonderful noise. There is plenty of “stomp and chant” to go around with beautiful harmonies and incoherent lyrics. The drums echo like they sit in the bottom of a deep chasm, while the guitars shimmer with the shine of the sun. Put it on and lose yourself… and don’t forget to check their 2010 single “…I Was Wondering“ that somehow didn’t make this record.
7. Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne
In many ways, this album feels like Kanye West’s My Dark Beautiful Fantasy Pt. 2, with Jay-Z guesting on most of the tracks-which is great news to me. With Kanye and Hova sharing the spotlight, every song is a celebration of wealth, power, and world domination. All-star attractions like this can be off-putting displays of masturbation, but Watch the Throne is executed with top notch production, over the top boasting and grade A rhymes. Don’t miss “Otis” and “Niggas in Paris”. If Kanye and Jay-Z are going to have more fun than anyone else on the planet,then why sit back and not take a look?
6. Washed Out, Within and Without
Another artist I know very little about…but is seemingly a project of just man and machine. In a crowded genre these days, this record rises above most with mechanical 80’s synths and drumbeats pulsing and pounding, with a lonely but familiar voice inviting us to another dimension through generous reverb. While the songs themselves are great, the actual production of the record is captivating, thanks to the same man who produced Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion as well as a few Notorious B.I.G. hits back in the day. Relaxed, focused, and flat out dreamy.
5. Cults, Self Titled
Don’t be scared by the name, there is no preaching or religion here (aside from some tastefully embedded samples) – just a smooth and sweet pill of reminiscent 60’s girl group pop. In an album where every 3 minute song could be a single, the catchiest of all, “Bumper” was one of my favorite tracks of the year. If you can get past the helium vocals, you’ll be rewarded with a vibrant mix of samples, jangly guitar and an ominous wall of sound.
4. Bon Iver, Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Back in the summer of 2009, Bon Iver made me a believer with a sweaty and soulful mid-afternoon set at Bonnaroo. While the prior record For Emma is a truly timeless gem – I don’t think anyone, including the band could have foreseen such an explosive breakthrough to the mainstream (you know, with those Grammy nominations and collaborations with Kanye West) like this album #2.
With main man Justin Vernon’s towering falsetto topping each song, intricate guitar and triumphant horns bring songs like “Holocene” and “Perth” to majestic heights. There’s even the throwback “Beth/Rest” which could have been a big hit for Bruce Hornsby back in the mid-80’s. Undoubtedly one of the strongest releases of the year. Needless to say, Bon Iver is on the precipice of global stardom-and for good reason.
3. Destroyer, Kaputt
In all honesty, I never really “got” a Destroyer record before this one. I’d put it on, wonder why it was so highly acclaimed and then toss it aside. I’ve still not gotten around to giving those records another chance, even after I completely fell in love with Kaputt over the course of this year.
Basically the solo project of Dan Bejar, Kaputt finds Bejar crooning with the bravado of Tony Clifton throughout a collection of songs with their feet securely cemented in smooth pop of the 1980’s, all through the haze of looking through the bottom of a martini glass. With aroused saxophone permeating throughout, tales of debauchery looking for cocaine and romancing women are approached from a nostalgic and wistful hindsight. While the orchestrations and production may come off ironic and dated, Bejar delivers it all with an impenetrable poker face. Kaputt is simply suave, sexy, and self assured.
2. Cut Copy – Zonoscope
I might be biased here because Cut Copy easily put on the best show I saw all year at the Pitchfork Festival. I enjoyed this record through its first few listens, but hearing “Where I’m Going” and “Need You Now” really brought the songs to life in my ears. I hear many similarities to Tears for Fears (in the best way possible), maybe because Cut Copy is very steeped in synths that sound plucked from the 80’s. Regardless, if this isn’t the best album I heard all year, its at least the most fun. Guaranteed dance marathon.
1. Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost
After much reflection, this must be my favorite album of the year. Rarely in recent memory have simple feelings of love, longing and pain been portrayed with such brute honesty and wonderful hooks. Undoubtedly influenced by frontman Christopher Owens’ upbringing in an extremist cult (which also led to the untimely death of his brother), there is a sense of deep desire for healing through love and acceptance that rings throughout every song.
While opening track “Honeybunny” is infectiously self deprecating with a chorus of “they don’t like my bony body, they don’t like my dirty hair, or the stuff that I say… or the stuff that I’m on”, it quickly changes gears into the driving, dramatic and demure “Alex” before going apeshit with the prog-metal “Die”. With songs like “Vomit” and “Ma” that build and explode with wailing guitar solos and Owens’ fragile vocals, there is a rewarding moment waiting around the corner at any point in the album. You need this record in your life.
And that’s that! Happy new year everybody!!!!