As a music geek I suppose it’s my duty to provide an annual Top Ten list of the year’s best albums. As a human being I suppose I should be keenly aware that the world will end on Friday, Mayan calendar and all that. The merest possibility of that eventuality adds a lot of pressure – I mean, this list may have to be one for the ages. And while we’re on the topic, Mayans are not Aztecs, so I wish websites would stop showing the Aztec Sun Stone when talking about the Mayan calendar. In any case, you’ve only got a scant few precious hours of existence left. So you better rush out to get the following as quickly as possible:
10. Grizzly Bear, “Shields”. Dreamy, awash in silvery tone.
9. Flying Lotus, “Until the Quiet Comes”. It’s one thing to sample jazz in hip hop. It’s another thing to make jazz out of hip hop. It’s well known that he’s related to Coltrane. But I think it’s really Miles who would have been proud of this album, by far the most cohesive sonic landscape by Flying Lotus to date.
8. Zani Diabate, “Tientalaw”: What is it about Mali? Oh yeah I remember: It’s the birthplace of the blues, which gives Mali’s music something instantly recognizable to an American ear, and something unrecognizably different at the same time. I’m hesitant to go all world-music when making lists, and I confess to know next to nothing about this music. I do know that it was Zani Diabate’s final recording, which means his life was cut off right at the prime of his power I imagine. This album is absolutely mesmerizing.
7. Tame Impala, “Lonerism”. I spent many months earlier this year immersed in Dad Rock. Trust me you wouldn’t have wanted to see me after a week of nonstop listening to the Doobie Brothers discography, utter madness. In any event the whole experience gave me renewed appreciation of Paul McCartney, “RAM” above all. But one also finds the occasional deep-cut on a Wings album that’s lovingly produced with an incredible ear for melody. Lonerism isn’t a rehash of Dad Rock at all. It’s contemporary, synths and beats. But throughout there’s the same attention to melody that one finds on “Let ‘Em In” or Nilsson’s “Aerial Ballet”. Am I crazy to hear that? What a fool believes?
6. The Avett Brothers, “The Carpenter”. This is the country-fried album that I put on when I’m hanging out with friends on the front porch just before sunset after a blistering hot summer day, cracking open the perfect ice cold beer. And it’s not even summer, and I don’t even have a front porch. Or friends. Beer I got.
5. Cody Chesnutt, “Landing on a Hundred”. Wonderfully conceived update of MPG-era Marvin Gaye, and catchy as hell. I can only hope that this kind of throwback trend (read: Adele, Amy Winehouse, Lana delwhatever) is now opening up to the male voice, too.
4. Fiona Apple, “The Idler Wheel…”. The songwriting has improved, the overthetop madwoman persona has intensified, and now she’s making Fiona Apple albums instead of Jon Brion albums (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
3. Dirty Projectors, “Swing Low Magellan”. That weird tricky rhythm! But gawd, those outrageous harmonies!
2. Rush, “Clockwork Angels”. This pick really surprises me. But can you think of any other 40 year-old band that still rocks this hard? Think about it, these guys came out at the same time as Kiss and Aerosmith, bands that long ago sold any shred of integrity for a dinner theater in Branson, MO. “Clockwork Angels” has it all: a sci-fi concept album, allusions to “2112” on its cover, and mad mad mad rock chops that still put any of these new hipsterpitchfork.com bands to shame. Honestly I pretty much gave up on Rush around “Grace Under Pressure” or “Power Windows”. “Clockwork Angels” has me reassessing that decision. Bow down and show some f*king reverence.
1. Sharon Van Etten, “Tramp”. Alternately lush and loud, embarrassingly intimate and distant, at once a throwback to Throwing Muses, Mazzy Star, early PJ or Nick Cave, and yet this album still sounds like it’s way out ahead of its time. I could just play this album on repeat all day long, and believe me I have. Utterly impressive from start to finish.
Spiritualized, “Sweet Heart Sweet Light”. It’s not “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space”. But he did almost die to make it, and it’s worth a mention for “Hey Jane” at the very least.
Chairlift, “Something”. This is a band that could potentially start producing some truly inventive pop-rock in the near future. Or not. I thought the same about Elk City years ago. Remember them?
Boyd Lee Dunlop, “The Lake Reflections”. If you don’t like Boyd Lee Dunlop then you don’t respect Buffalo. And if you disrespect Buffalo I don’t like you. Is that a syllogism? A broken one perhaps, but as always, my logic is impeccable. Boyd’s logic is more impeccable.