These lists are popping up all over the place. Figured I’d put up my own.
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
This record was called out as best of the year way back when it was released in January. It’s lived up to the title. One of my favorite memories was walking north from Penn Station to Columbus Circle through Times Square, listening to this album straight through. Normally it would be a painful, aggravating stroll. But with the melodious labyrinths of My Girls, Daily Routine, Bluish, and Brothersport as soundtrack, weaving tourists and hustlers grew cinematic, all lit from above with rainbow LEDs.
Passion Pit – Manners
Joyous, ecstatic, blissed out, danceable. And marketable. This record has probably been the accompaniment to more ads this year than the Beatles. More power to them. I could care less about the sellout label, especially for songs that possess such tightly evolved electropop DNA.
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I’d heard Phoenix before, usually piped into a whimsical Sophia Coppola film. But here they’ve upped their amps and toned down the airy flimsiness that was so…French. Hell, there are even bombs on the album art. I think they acknowledge their opus, given the composer name-dropping title. Even as Liztomania and 1901 are tightly constructed singles, the highlight of the album is the mournful drone of Rome – memories of lost civilizations and loves.
Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
In a year when the majority of musical output (both mainstream and indie) was run through ten thousand post-production tools, Sunset Rubdown was a refreshing change. Their songs aren’t lo-fi or minimalist or fuzzy (the most obvious and unfortunate backlash to the computerization of music). Instead they are crisp ballads of strange characters and mystical lands, painted with lilting keyboard, roiling drums and often angry guitar. And there’s urgency and enough human touch so the entire thing feels like it was recorded live for an audience of one.
Dan Deacon – Bromst
The volume of this record has always been too loud in my iPod. Perhaps it was intentional. Deacon’s music is like a maelstrom of cacophonous sounds (glitchy scratches, alarms, chipmunked cultists) coming together into something worshipful. If my eardrums have to suffer for that, so be it.
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight
Franz Ferdinand has constructed an alter ego of Ulysses, and like the hero of Homer’s Odyssey, he’s on a journey through dangerous waters. There are a few more Sirens in this tale. The night of revelry starts out standard enough, a few drinks and dance rock, but then it gets epically weird as the entire thing deconstructs into minimalist electronica.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
For all of Karen O’s cutesy projects this year (Wild Things, Flaming Lips – I Can Be A Frog), she needed to do something appropriately punk to maintain her cred. If the album art of It’s Blitz doesn’t count (in all its feminist irony), then her two openers “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll” will have to do.
The Decemberists – Hazards of Love
Shape-shifting animals have been Colin Meloy’s go-to image for two records now (crane, faun), spicing his historical ballads with a rich dose of magical realism. And even with all the literary fireworks, the musicianship follows. The biggest shift in sound is the quasi-doom metal guitar in “A Bower Song”. The guest vocals can be distracting as well. But then we’re right back into the saddle, fording raging rivers and confronting evil queens, all for destined love.
Metric – Fantasies
Emily Haines has quite a timid voice for all her indie rock prolificity. But it meshes perfectly with her frightened rabbit lyrics of “Help I’m Alive”. The record is a mix of toe tapping guitar pop and shadowy ambiance, but her voice blankets the whole thing in warm innocence.
Big Pink – A Brief History of Love
The catchy radio-friendly songs like Dominos and Velvet drew me in, but it was the shoegaze epic Crystal Visions that sold me. What a way to open a record – “200 naked pure gold girls” ride in on vortexes of distortion. From there its mostly pedestrian pop but its still catchy enough to deserve a nod.