When you thought the time of reminiscence was over, here’s one more for ya. After the fact again but not defying logic by releasing when the year is actually over. In a non-reversed order for your viewing pleasure, this is a non-profit non-judgmental blog anyways.
Two things to note though. 1. This wasn’t, to me at least, the most fulfilling year in music. 2. I’m not getting in any discussion about which is best. My post title is pretty self-explanatory.
Without further ado, here’s my stupid year-end list, when you least expect it.
Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
I was somewhat skeptical for Sufjan’s forthcoming electronically driven release. The man has proven himself to be the folk-rock multi-instrumentalist of epic proportions, more so after his wonderful 2010 EP, All Delighted People, with the standout title track being his magnum opus. But on The Age he manages to perfectly blend his much beloved folk influences with electronic instruments. He was able to deliver the same kind of bombast and joy that he always had and still amaze his truest fans.
I always used to play Illinois and Michigan whenever I needed to take my mind of something and be completely swept away by its ambiance and playfulness. Though not as obvious but this record is very much the same way. A spectacular over the top concept record at purpose and pure bliss at heart, conceived by true talent.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
One thing you can’t say about this album is that it’s stale and tiresome. Outright simple joyous harmonies keeps your focus on what it’s meant to do. Deliver pure innocent fun. The record jumps from sing-along anthems like “Round and Round” (most likely my favorite track of the year) to more bluesy ballads like “Can’t hear my Eyes” to exotic percussion with dreamy harmonies on “L’Estat”, where every striking guitar riff being more ecstatic than its previous. It tells a story, it’s a lot playful to where this is probably the most fun I’ve ever had listening to an album.
Beach House – Teen Dream
The more this albums stays in your music player, the more its effective aural vibe resonates, the more you’ll get attached to it. Due to its blissful electric guitar, glorious vocals, wondrous melancholy and minimal state of mind, the music becomes so incredibly moving and intimate that all it needs is time. It’s like a walk in the park free from all worries and discomfort. If you can’t do it, the music will.
Caribou – Swim
Canadian Dan Snaith isn’t as much an innovator as he is a progressor. Whether it’s his previous psych pop spectacle, Andorra, or condensed organic electronica through his Manitoba releases, he knows what works, what needs to be explored and built upon.
It all feels remarkably natural, easy-going and mellow, and before you know it the massive climax on slow-burning album closer “Jamelia” passes, ready for you to take another dive (mind the pun) into this wondrous display of elegancy, bliss and melancholy.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
You couldn’t help but love what these Canadians accomplished this year. Not only did they perfect their very distinct style, but the harmony between songcraft, ambiance and style makes The Suburbs their most fulfilling to date. It feels more focused than ever, but even though it seems a little too long, they proved that they do layered soundscapes so subtle towards almost perfection.
Four Tet – There Is Love in You
I’ve been most intrigued by his shift in style coming from his 2008 Ringer EP and Wolf Club/Moth joint with Burial. It becomes much clearer that Hebden’s BFF(?) aka Burial is a big influence, leaning closer to stretchy dubstep, gradually swelling chords and haunting progression. However, he never abandons his organic melodious roots and swift glitch style of electronic music. Furthermore, as revolutionary as Hebden was in the past, blending folk instruments with electronica on 2003′s Rounds, the more he perfects his style of altering sounds and creating an atmosphere on There is Love in You. Evocative, shimmering, yet subtle ever-mutating tracks couldn’t sound more blissful than this.
Glasser – Ring
It’s amazing how music has evolved these last few years. Mostly for the better, but you can’t deny that an over saturated market doesn’t have its defects. Most notably the need to stand out, to cross a farther reaching boundary, the so-called wow-factor. In that Cameron Mesirow aka Glasser has no desire. Her whole debut album circles around this dreamy composition that feels lighter than air, breaths warmth and produces a comforting atmosphere. The use of a sarangi, a Nepalese stringed instrument, creates a very distinct sound which is among a vast array of influences.
Balthazar – Applause
When I first heard these Belgians’ debut I wasn’t completely blown away by its songwriting, but that much more was I astonished by its sound and atmosphere. Truly unique, eccentric and through it’s consistent instrumentation and vocal arrangements the whole record feels like one long epic track that by the time you finish it, you’ve forgotten how it started. By its modest nature these Belgians will likely never receive broad appeal, but its sheer power and elegance will forever make me cherish this record.
Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here
You feel like you’re drowning in electronic haze, a sonic blast of emotional punch with ups and downs. Just as I’ve said about Fuck Buttons last year: Just let it fill a space, absorb it and witness it.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye deserves every bit of recognition he got this year, even if some went a little overboard (p4k). You just can’t deny the infectious pop hooks on “All Of The Lights” and “Blame Game”, the outright simplicity of “Runaway”, the soulful vibes of “Devil In A New Dress” or the heavy bombastic rhythms on “Monster” and “So Appalled”. It’s a pop sensation and agreed even now it’s more show-off of ego and skill than actual songwriting, but I think it shows that Kanye put his heart and soul into it. The man is overly ambitious, passionate at everything he does and always delivers his best. For that I give him lots of credit. People hating on this says more about themselves than the ones enjoying the music for what it is: a highly entertaining experience bursting with energy.
Robyn – Body Talk (in 3 parts)
Electro-pop is probably the simplest and most accurate to describe Body Talk. Sure she takes inspiration from dubstep, 90’s hiphop and rock, but to leave it at that is quite the understatement. She’s does this so well, delivering excellent songwriting and being pure delight with her bittersweet charm. I specifically enjoyed the album being released in three parts throughout the year. From the outright dance act “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” to the (deeply personal) emo downer “Dancing On My Own”, not one song feels like filler but off-the-wall infectious.
Crystal Castles – II
You could dispute that Crystal Castles follows current trends in music, but the fact is that, even on their 2008 LP, they found their sound and know how to explore and build upon that. That being the perfect combo of dark psychedelia, noise rock and well-placed 8-bit electronica. It never feels too overwhelming, too straight-forward or too complicated. A perfectly structured soundscape, it all just works so effectively well.
Vampire Weekend – Contra
This year Vampire Weekend was much praised and most acclaimed in indie rock. Writing overly joyous songs that stick, play in your mind over and over. It feels so simple and easygoing, you can’t help but smile out of pure child-like enjoyment.
Antony and the Johnsons – Swanlights
What I’ve said about last year’s The Crying Light applies full force to Swanlights (equally tremendous Thank You for the Love EP): a captivating LP with heart-struck emotion and wither, built on layers of gloominess and melancholy. Whenever I take the time to listen carefully I’m both amazed by its subtlety and struck in awe by its build up. Antony’s subtlety is tremendous.
Owen Pallett – Heartland
A deeply refined and polished play of intricate classical arrangements and majestic pop music that’s completely unique. A colorful palette of beautiful orchestration, if you will.
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
A sentimental record of raw pure rock music. You would at times want to chant along, weep and triumph at the same time, and at the end it all leaves you exhausted waiting for more.
Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me
Joanna Newsom requires time and attentive listening for its glorious harmonies to resonate. There’s just no one out there doing anything remotely close to her. For that, and her musical talent she earns respect and lots of praise.
MGMT – Congratulations
Another controversial record that many shot down. Maybe it’s too obscure for people to comprehend, too psychedelic or maybe their shift in style was too sudden for some. The psych-rock experience I got from listening to Congratulations was super relaxing. It’s inviting, rewarding and emits intense warmth.
Jónsi – Go
If not for his deep falsetto voice, you can’t help but feel his connection with much beloved Sigur Rós (big fan here). It’s nothing short of epic and dwells in the same region as Sigur Rós, but can’t be compared to “()” or “Ageatis Byrjun”. It’s a lot more joyous in short bursts (“Boy Lilikoi”), other times requires patience and needs room to grow (“Grow Till Tall”). Even though I expected too much (“()”), it has become more than satisfying to see the Sigur Rós frontman do his thing and do it well.
Sleigh Bells – Treats
An amazing concept record that blew my mind. Aggressive noise, catchy electro-rock and an in your face attitude makes its purpose more than clear.
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
This record really has a sense and feel for subtlety, not quite like 2009’s Microcastle but feels very constant and continuous. Its tender art rock style, nostalgic sense and smart songwriting makes you feel elevated above all else, ready to drift into daydreaming mode.
Chilly Gonzales – Ivory Tower
Chilly loves his piano, rapping and keeping things light, tensionless and fun. That’s Ivory Tower in one sentence. The man is a true piano virtuoso (love his Erik Satie-esque 2004 Solo Piano LP) and this becomes graciously obvious when every song brings his melodious piano hooks to the forefront. The term Chilly does him justice, in every which way.
Massive Attack – Heligoland
Massive Attack’s whole focus is on style, atmosphere and sound. Many don’t get this and shoot it down for a lack of cohesion, but ultimately succeeds in delivering a truly exceptional record that perfectly balances atmospheric depth, emotion and punch.
The Radio Dept. – Clinging To A Scheme
This is a very mellow and down to earth album, but nonetheless very joyful and instant feel good.
How to Dress Well – Love Remains
The sonic limitations of this record make it fragile, intimate but very direct. It takes some getting used to, but really it’s an immersive experience that doesn’t let you go, but rather takes you in by storm.
Salem – King Night
The More Crack and Water EP from about a year ago were like a revelation to me. Their soulless demonic darkness was overwhelming, nothing I ever heard before. They not only improved their sound, but understood what the listener liked about it. It isn’t as time resistant as I previously thought, but it sure as hell gives you the experience as intended.
El-P – Weareallgoingtoburninhell-megamixxx3
Megamixxx3 isn’t just a mixtape, it was a much obliged gift by El for the long wait (and the claims he made to be more prolific after 2007’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead). El-P always had a surprisingly effective production talent and this is no less. Filled with bass, dark undertones and aggressive percussion, this mixtape is as effective as it gets. You just can’t stop but head nod throughout this whole album. That’s all it’s meant to do, but nonetheless still looking forward to El spitting rhymes in a confirmed 2011 album.
Future Islands – In Evening Air
The perfect combination of soft rock, blazing synths and mild Tom Waits like vocals delivers an instant feel-good, instant infectious impression that only intensifies with each mesmerizing song.
Blonde Redhead – Penny Sparkle
I must say I never heard any of their previous records, but I was somewhat overwhelmed by how soft, simple and relaxing this music is. They obviously perfected their sound over the years. Acoustic instruments, hazy vocals and carefully placed electronic sounds just feel so natural and organic.