It’s that time of year again, when people vaguely remember enjoying winter weather, and I start in on an ill-conceived list of my favorite music of year, start agonizing about the music I didn’t hear often or early enough to include, get too stressed out about it and rush it to completion.
You know, the holidays!
I’ll be presenting my favorite 20 records, followed by ranked lists of records in various genre categories which make absolutely no sense but were the closest I could get to grouping albums that seemed somewhat worth comparing to each other.
So: Combining the futility of writing about music with the stupidity of ranking it?
LET’S DO THIS.
“Just remember if you become obsessed with something you stop making sense to other people”
20. New Pornographers – Together [Matador]
– Pop Music Poppy Pop Award, Year Two Pop One Pop.
19. Vampire Weekend – Contra [XL]
– Albums like these are the closest thing we still have to Whit Stillman movies, really. The partial shift of emphasis from guitars to cheery little synths parallels the shift from guitar to synths seen in Congolese music as the 70s turned to the 80s, it also makes them sound more like They Might Be Giants. If you happen to be someone who’s still caught up on the “Ivy League kids appropriating African styles” thing, you need to do some more reading.
19. Shugo Tokumaru – Port Entropy [P-Vine]
– Shugo is an all powerful, iron-fisted despot who rules over the world of incredibly precious chamber pop. This is music for decorating acorn houses.
17. Maria y Jose – Espiritu Invisible & Kibose [Grabaciones Amor / Cocobass / Self-release]
– Bedoom-pop raptor house? Singer-songwriter tribal guarachero? Sensitive club bangers? Tijuana’s answer to El Guincho? Ruidoson? The only artist on this list to release an album for free on archive.org?
Answer: All of the above.
These two releases are available for free, entirely legally, here and here.
16. The Radio Dept. – Clinging To A Scheme [Labrador]
– If, in the next few weeks or months, Sweden extradites Julian Assange to the United States, this album will stand as the opposite of that, in every way. Everything great about Swedish indie-pop is summarized by Second track “Heaven’s On Fire,” which begins with Thurston Moore declaring “I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist system that is destroying youth culture,” epitomizes everything wonderful about Swedish indie-pop. I pondered using words to describe it, but it is already itself a perfect summary of what it represents.
15. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me [Drag City]
– It took me all year to realize I liked this album, as a work. I knew from the beginning that I liked many of the compositions, but it was simply too long to consider as an entity. Coming back to the album, which may as well be several, I realize that these songs have taken root deep within me, unattached to this release, or this year, eerily eternal. Joanna Newsom has turned herself into a river.
14. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest [4AD]
– Bradford Cox is the spiritual nexus of blog-pop. Whether chillwave, glo-fi, or beach-rock (witch house doesn’t count) they all bob in his wake, whether approach from the realm of guitar noise or carefully constructed bedroom pop, he is where their desires meet, and it is his vision of what is gorgeous in music that they aspire to replicate more than any other. Bradford Cox’s music, solo and in group, no longer concerns itself with much of anything besides that vision.
13. Future Islands – In Evening Air + Undressed [Thrill Jockey]
– The opening seconds sound more like Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (the Radiohead of the first half of the 1980’s) than nearly anything else I’ve heard recently, certainly more so than OMD’s own disappointingly Pretty In Pink style History of Modern. Future Islands have had the phrase “New Wave” thrown at them. The Undressed EP revealed that the band’s singer Sam Herring is actually just Matt Beringer of The National, bitten by a radioactive Tom Waits, but by day the band masks this identity with 80’s indented bass lines and synth-work. It’s a comfortably familiar but unique combination.
12. Maps & Atlases – Perch Patchwork [Barsuk Records]
These guys (a truly amazing live band) released a number of math-rock EP’s successfully balanced technicality and melodic appeal. Raise your hand if you can sing along to Ted Zancha. Releasing a full length, they have decided that they are an Afro-Math band, and have decided to come clean about their love of the Apples in Stereo. I couldn’t be happier.
11. El Guincho – Pop Negro [Young Turks]
A lot of 2010’s blog-hype music vaguely replicated the feeling of being at a beach: any beach or all beaches. El Guincho’s music creates the feeling of being on an island: any island or all islands (he is originally from the Canaries.) He captures the exuberance of island music, while avoiding its downsides, such as often being sloppily made in an overwhelming style with chintzy-sounding hardware and software. A nicely layered, woozily rapturously techno-humanism perfectly expressed by the Carl Sagan-quoting best music video of the year: http://vimeo.com/15274619
10. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot [Def Jam]
– I can guarantee that this would have been in a higher berth if it weren’t for the worthless band that dares call itself “Vonnegut” (RIP) and its bland, awful rap-rock crooning singer who always come in to ruin the otherwise great track “Follow Us.”
That’s besides the point, considering that this is probably the most vibrant and fun record ever made by a rapper 16 years after his first LP.
But I’m still angry.
9. Baths – Cerulean [anticon.]
– Kte…Fuck…Take Emeralds, the Radio Dept., hell, most of the records on this list, chop them up and put the bits into the centrifuges used by Flying Lotus’ nuclear program (he’s got one and he’s going to use it to sell fissile material to the Maldives) and after several months you have this: mutated, brightly glowing synth-croon-hop. Cerulean blue…cerulean blue…
8. Darren Hanlon – I Will Love You At All [Yep Roc]
– Likely the most good-natured record on this list, and by the most good-natured person. Sustained, direct sincerity, done with humour and without being cloying, is an impressive accomplishment by itself. Filling well-written songs and perfectly-scaled accompaniment with it is another matter entirely.
7. Sam Amidon – I See the Sign [Bedroom Community]
– If Sam Amidon goes on to have a long recording career, he could be one of the great voices of recorded music, floating out in the Yorkosphere. Not only is it lovely to listen to, it reflects the nature of the music that Amidon makes. While Amidon is only 29, and looks younger than that, he gives off the impression of having spent decades eating rustic toast in a backwoods cabin when he sings the beginning of each line. Yet his voice always folds back into itself, pointing at something fragile and vulnerable. Amidon records traditional folk songs that immediately bespeak their age, performed in such a way as to have a direct emotional relevance, leaving no question of being merely an academic exercise. Like his voice, they sound young and old; questions of time and duration are further complicated when he pulls tricks like covering R. Kelly’s “Relief” (2007 saw Amidon recording a version of Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.”) Music travels back and forth across the historical point where folk music becomes pop music, falsifying the distinction between the two. Working with producer and Bedroom Community label head Valgeir Sigurðsson means ICELANDIC BONUS POINTS.
6. Kanye West – My Dark Twisted Fantasy [Def Jam]
– I’ll get straight to my thesis. My Dark Twisted Fantasy is the musical equivalent of a Charlie Kaufman film. Actually, it’s all Charlie Kaufman films wrapped up in one. Except perhaps for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, being an adaptation. (Also…I haven’t seen that one.) Charlie Kaufman writes films, often featuring characters that either seem to be based on him or NAMED AFTER HIM AND PLAYED BY NICHOLAS CAGE, that are about simple human foibles, exaggerated and then played out on increasing ridiculous and grandiose stages. The beats here resemble like the warehouse spaces that Philip Seymour Hoffman fills with the absurd, exacting theatrical replication of all the minutiae of his life, which is just what Kanye does with his soundscapes.
As an amusement, here’s a movie-by-movie look at other parallels:
a. Being John Malkovich: Man finds a tunnel to the fame he desires through a vent/Rockafella, an opportunity which he takes advantage to take his particular passions (puppetry/vocoders/e-mailing pictures of his penis) to a larger stage than anyone would expect they would receive or perhaps deserve. “Malkovich Malkovich” = “Kanye Being Kanye.”
b. Human Nature: Why should I bother, you haven’t seen it. Anyway, it’s about “civilized” people acting “uncivilized” and vice-versa, College Dropout Kanye is Rhys-Ifans upon first being trained by Tim Roth.
c. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
In which the protagonist travels back to things done by and done to him in failing romances, decides to do them all again.
d. Adaptation: A writer (Kaufman/West) creates a screenplay in which he is a struggling with his art (The Orchid Thief/808’s and Heartbreaks) casting a inexplicably huge star with a bizarre personality (Nicholas Cage/Kanye West) to play both a exaggerated version of himself and his rather different fictional twin brother (“Conscious” Kanye West / “Lady Gaga Tour” Kanye West.) The work ends with a sudden, violent change in genre (a thriller wherein Nicholas Cage dies in Nicholas Cage’s arms / a political album sampling Gil Scott-Heron) that brings the whole into question.
When approaching this album, one should look past whatever one feels about Mr. West as a cultural phenomenon or as a person and simply look at it as a work of art that features characters based on the writer(s) involved and their lives, as ugly and ridiculous as that can be. It’s an album full of men, chiefly Kanye but also Pusha T and Jay-Z, who sound sick of themselves and their interactions with other people. (There’s also Rick Ross, who condemns himself by merely existing, Nicki Minaj, who I’m not ready to talk about, and Rihanna, who may as well be a contractual obligation.) Like Kanye’s contradictions? The album is full of them. Hate Kanye? Kanye hates Kanye too, or at least he often hates “Kanye,” however much Kanye there may be in Kanye. The real point is that by presenting Kanye and Kanyesque characters and situations under a burning spotlight, the album describes and explores what is wrong with people like Kanye and the society in which he exists than does most art.
Besides, there aren’t going to be too many more albums that sell 496,000 copies in the United States in their first week of release and feature 9-minute centerpieces that start with the sound of Erik Satie in a mental institution, bring in a beat left over from the soundtrack to the first Matrix film, let Pusha T nastily self-depreciate over strings, and end with the album’s star slobbering into a vocoder in a bathtub for several minutes.
If there ARE going to be a lot more of those, pop sensations are going to be a hell of a lot of fun for a while, although I’m sure the Black Eyed Peas will find a way to ruin it.
Or, in one sentence: I’m not going to rewatch Synedoche, New York very often, but I’m damn glad it exists.
5. a. Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers [Hotflush Recordings]
b. Four Tet – There Is Love In You [Domino]
c. Caribou – Swim [Merge]
d. Luke Abbott – Holkham Drones [Border Community]
e. Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner [Ghostly International / Notown]
Making 5 albums count as one item on the list? Lame? Yes, let’s move on, as I mostly want to use the opportunity to coin the name for a movement of sorts, one that has been compiling its style for several years now, but which really made its presence known with full lengths, and my main purpose in delineating it is to proffer obnoxious puns as genre labels. It could the name like Domestic House, Housestead or Dewstep, “Organic Techno” would be another one, but much less fun. It takes the “pastorality” found in the earlier careers of Four Tet and Caribou, along with the ever-present spectre of Boards of Canada, that particular feeling of the electromagnetic wound back and forth though carbon and silicon systems and fuses it with the experimental dance forms that effervesce out of London and Brighton.
This is the sound of the spirit of the project of rural broadband.
…I just want an excuse to say Dewstep and Domestic House a lot.
4. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring [Arts & Crafts]
– Nothing expresses quite how long a year can be as this album.
3. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma [Warp]
Okay, so Kanye West blew up the sound of pop today, splattering the walls with acrid candy paint in a single screaming singularity, Kanye being Kanye being Kanye being Malkovich. Getting the now exactly right is admirable, but here’s some future business that may never be caught up to. This is SERIOUS COMPUTER JAZZ, people. This is the pinnacle of all computer jazz made so far. Have you ever seen Flying Lotus smile? He’s seen through your soul, he met with the electronic mind in another dimension and probably had sex with it, he’s had a cup of yerba mate with God, and traded a rare 7” single. He’ll never tell you what God gave him in return.
But he thinks it’s quite funny.
2. Javelin – No Mas [Luaka Bop]
Is this a greater artistic accomplishment than all the records preceding it? Perhaps not, but it means more to me than any of them, and having that power also denotes accomplishment of a sort. In their meticulous re-appropriation of old sounds, Javelin achieves everything that chillwave would like to, but falls short of.
Javelin is joy.
1. Das Racist – Sit Down, Man / Shut Up, Dude [Greedhead / Mishka / Mad Decent]
2010. The year that the people of Reykjavik, Iceland, betrayed by international financial capitalism and members of the Icelandic government and banking sector, handed the office of the Mayor to Jón Gnarr, an former punk, stand-up comic and television personality who is married to Bjork’s best friend (because everyone in Iceland knows Bjork), and handed control of the city council to Gnarr’s Best Party, composed of friends with similar backgrounds. Gnarr and the Party had the single-greatest political advertisement of all time, and they ran on a platform that included items like free towels at all swimming pools, a polar bear at the zoo, and “Effective democracy” because “Democracy is pretty good, but an effective democracy is best (That’s why we want it.)” Funny, but frivolous and silly.
Except that upon closer examination, these planks have substance. Arctic ice melt has lead polar bears to swim to Iceland, and putting them in a zoo would be an alternative to shooting them, as had previously been done. Iceland’s geothermal activity is enough that some of their swimming pools could qualify as natural spas, but the official European definition of a spa requires that spas provide free towels. Free towels at swimming pools would make them spas, and boost tourism. This is, to reverse a phrase from Victor Vasquez, “all that stupid shit that’s actually smart.” A member of the Best Party once explained to a journalist that if the Best Party wasn’t the Best, it wouldn’t be called the Best Party.
In a recent piece in the New York Times, Das Racist group was asked this question:
NYT: What separates you from other rappers?
Victor Vazquez: We’re the best rappers. Himanshu Suri: We are better at rapping than everyone else who raps.
Das Racist are the Best Party of rap. If they weren’t the best, they wouldn’t be called Das Racist. They entered the public consciousness with “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” a song first stupid, then hilarious, then stupid, again hilarious and ultimately bizarrely subversive, a trojan horse to ready your brain for the music they have released since They are the funniest artists currently active, but their humour is covering disillusionment and a biting critique of all the mediocrity, racism and stupidity they see around them. They want to make jokes, talk about smoking weed and do critical analysis at the same time, and this is what makes them both so much fun and so much more truly old-school than those “conscious” groups that repeat empty platitudes about reclaiming hip-hop culture over tired beats. Simply put, they rap about whatever they want to rap about, and they want to rap about a lot, and all of it is edifying in someway or another. Did I mention that every song is catchy to the point of corroding ones brains with months and months of repetition?
A post-modern Native Tongues crew, Das Racist is the perfect punchline to the joke of a “post-racial,” post-Bush America, and they are your new favorite rap group.
If they aren’t, maybe you don’t like rap music.
See a doctor.
Oh, and both were released as FREE MIXTAPES, and can still be found thusly, although they are currently retailing for a whopping 50 cents each on bandcamp. Sheesh, for reals.
1. The National – High Violet [4AD]
– To listen to the National’s music is to travel alone in the dark, to walk from coffee house to apartment to familiar show-space to family home, tracing routes between locations rich with memories, summoning all the regrets and reconsiderations that accompany such activities. The National hit their stride in writing these soundtracks half a decade ago, so by now they are quite good at it.
2. The Walkmen – Lisbon [Fat Possum]
– I assume the name is a shortened version of Drunken 3AM Parade Through The Streets of Lisbon Upon Visiting The City for the First Time
3. Wolf People – Tidings / Steeple [Jagjaguwar]
– Both of these albums take metal and proto-metal of the 70’s and very late 1960’s, dialing back the elements that would become metal, leaving bare the deliciously uncool folk elements that lay at it’s heart (oh yes, there are flutes here,) yet still finding time for guitar pyrotechnics. Tidings, by far the superior of the two LP’s, presents an exceedingly crisp and precise version of that style, bringing in the best of non-Eno 70’s production sounds and some tape music elements as well.
4. Tera Melos – Patagonian Rats [Sargent House]
5. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor [XL / Meroc]
– A heartland rock garage punk take on British Sea Power’s brand of soaring guitar rock full of historical allusions. For those who would like the Hold Steady more if they were less literal, more ideological and regularly stretched out their songs to 7 minutes or more. This album is a whole lotta America.
6. Suckers – Wild Smile [French Kiss]
7. Fang Island – Fang Island [Sargent House]
– Chants and guitars, changs and guitars, chants and guitars, chants and guitars…and singing drummers?
8. Pomegranates – One of Us [Afternoon Records]
9. Spoon – Transference [Matador]
10. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
– Why are there so many Scottish bands that sound like this at the moment? Anyone know?
11. Tame Impala – InnerSpeaker [Modular]
12. Good Shoes – No Hope, No Future [Brille]
13. Dungen – Skit I Allt [Mexican Summer]
14. Wolf Parade – Expo 86 [Sub Pop]
– Cokemachineglow ruined the field of saying things about Wolf Parade.
15. Marnie Stern – Marnie Stern [Kill Rock Stars]
16. Cloud Control – Bliss Release [Ivy League / Liberation]
17. White Denim – Last Day of Summer [Self-release]
Generally Rock-Derived Pop
1. Field Music – Measure [Memphis Industries]
– Alas poor Measure, you were released in February and everyone forgot about you. Beatlesque and Wilson-like orchestrated 60’s pop/rock by way of early-aughts XTC and Super Furry Animals (Apple Venus, Rings Around the World, Phantom Power.) They’re going to sit inside a piano, and they’re going to listen to it grow.
2. French Quarter – It’s Not Just Kissing [Gilgongo Records / Life’s Blood]
– Takes Stephen Steinbrink’s delicate existenial acoustic songs more in the direction of the icy, sparse funk of The Whitest Boy Alive and the weightless alt-country of Souled American. Dance music for pink slips, break-ups and funerals.
3. Foals – Total Life Forever [Sub Pop / Warner]
4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs [Merge]
– There are times that being entirely removed from a music can allow someone to see it more clearly – hence it took a friend’s mother to say that The Suburbs “sounds like ABBA on steroids,” and she is quite right. In the eponymous opening track, Win Butler sings about all the houses built in the 70s finally falling, and the ensuing album sounds as though the band is sifting through the rubble of the 1970’s musical architecture, building little a variety of different structures with what they find. The result owes as much or more to Tom Petty than David Byrne and Brian Eno, and is as much arena rock as it is chart-busting Swedish disco-pop. Half-Light II, in fact, sounds a bit like all four of those artists cutting a track in 1977 Berlin, where as Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) is absolute ABBA.
WARNING: MELODRAMA. This being the Arcade Fire, I assume you were prepared for that.
5. Owen Pallett – Heartland
6. Mice Parade – What It Means To Be Left-Handed [FatCat Records]
– A boy and a girl sing along with acoustic afro-pop gestures, celtic-folk noodling, drizzled with Bossa Nova extract and served in a giant powl of post-rock guitars. If that sounds good to you, let’s hang out.
7. Junip – Fields [Mute]
– Do you like Jose Gonzalez? Do you like instruments that aren’t acoustic guitar? I have something to tell you about…
8. Miles Kurosky – The Desert of Shallow Effects [Shout! Factory]
– If you liked Beulah’s final album Yoko, you should like this album. If you don’t like Beulah as much as I do, you may not like this album as much as I do. (The first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club.) Think of it as The Suburbs with a more certain focus and a less grandiose scale. Science and a steady hand are what you need now.
9. Hiiragi Fukuda – My Turntable Is Slow [Sloow Tapes / Self-release]
– Syrupy, loopy, lollygagging psych-folk goodness.
10. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz [Asthmatic Kitty]
– Sufjan’s electronic output has never been quite good enough to stand on its own, and his other work can at times be simply too tame and pleasant, so, even though he may dip his hand into the same bag of tricks a few too many times here, it’s still refreshing to hear him blend the two strains of music into a somewhat cohesive whole. Furthermore, he sings himself commands in the third person, and then repeatedly insists that he’s “not fucking around,” when he clearly is. I enjoy that.
11. Working For A Nuclear Free City – Jojo Burger Tempest [Melodic]
– If the concept of “post-rock” had emerged in early-90’s Manchester…
12. Stornoway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill [4AD]
– As is tradition, each year has it’s own (non-Los Campesinos!) UK-based heart-on-sleeve, uber-direct guitar-pop album. Pete & the Pirates released Little Death in 2008, and last year We Were Promised Jetpacks belted their little hearts out. On a more acoustic tip is Beachcomber’s Windowsill, from Oxford’s Stornoway, who have a lot of nice songs about love and strolling through meadows or whatever. I don’t care too much…some candy is delicious. Everybody needs the song “Zorbing” in their life.
13. Clinic – Bubblegum [Domino]
– See O(h)rtlos
14. Efterklang – Magic Chairs [4AD]
– This is some symphonic-ass pop.
15. Clem Snide – The Meat of Life [429 Records]
– Eef Barzelay also sings about Sufjan Stevens.Just…just don’t listen to the last song. Rhymes like that should simply not be heard.
16. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo [Sub Pop]
17. Connan Mockasin – Faking Jazz Together [Phantasy]
– Or: Through the Looking Glass.
18. Paleo – A View of the Sky [Partisan Records]
19. Race Horses – Goodbye Falkenberg [Fantastic Plastic]
20. Jumbling Towers – The Kanetown City Rips [Self-release]
21. Villagers – Becoming a Jackal [Domino]
22. Gigi – Maintentant [Tomlab]
23. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Let It Sway [Polyvinyl]
24. Land of Talk – Cloak and Cipher [Saddle Creek]
25. Menomena – Mines [Barsuk]
26. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor [Frenchkiss]
27. Huw M – Os Mewn Swn [Self-release]
28. Here We Go Magic – Pigeons [Secretly Canadian]
29. These New Puritans – Hidden [Domino]
– While this superficially might not sound terribly difficult or strange, I consider it to be one of the oddest records on this list. It’s a sort of MIDI post-punk chamber grime. (Decipher THAT.) Militant, possibly meaningless chanting, bassoons, gun-shot beats, quoting the way M.I.A. says “Fire.” Then again, this is the band that asked us, over and over again “What’s your favorite number? What does it mean?” the last time they came around.
30. Shrag – Life! Death! Prizes! [Where It’s At Is Where You Are]
31. Who Knew – Bits and Pieces of A Major Spectacle [Devilduck Records / 101]
– So, this is just an Iceland band who sounds exactly like Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary era, for the most part. Still, good job!
Guitars: Garage Rock, Punk, Post-Punk, Surf Rock, Indie Rock, etc.
1. Women – Public Strain [Flemish Eye / Jagjaguwar]
2. Wild Nothing – Gemini [Captured Tracks]
3. Grass Widow – Past Time [Kill Rock Stars]
4. Play Guitar – Shields and Don’t Worry About Death [Noyes Records]
5. Surf City – Kudos [Fire]
6. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding [Merge]
7. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks [Matador]
8. The Strange Boys – Be Brave [In The Red]
9. Tamaryn – The Waves [Mexican Summer]
10. Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Rush to Relax [Goner Records]
11. The Limiñanas – The Limiñanas [Trouble in Mind]
12. Best Coast – Crazy For You [Mexican Summer]
13. The Art Museums – Rough Frame [Woodsist]
14. Aias – A La Piscina [Captured Tracks]
– Singin’ in Catalan!
14. Explode Into Colors – Quilts [Kill Rock Stars]
15. Vaselines – Sex with An X [Sub Pop]
16. Love Is All – Two Thousand & Ten Injuries [Polyvinyl]
17. Beach Fossils – Beach Fossils [Captured Tracks]
– 2010 Blog Rock Award for getting straight to the point.
Folk / Acoustic Pop
1. Jack Rose – Luck in the Valley [Thrill Jockey]
– Rose’s final work splits the difference between his older purview of Faheyesque Roma-raag-Americana and his recent forays into more standard Appalachian folk and Blues. Both jaunty and mystical, infinite and intimate. An artist who will be missed.
2. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt [Dead Oceans]
– Kristian Matsson, his voice the eerie Dylan double that it is, works in a genre based entirely around writing and performing Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” again and again. Turns out there are many fruitful way to do so, and the Wild Hunt is a noteworthy improvement on 2008’s already very good Shallow Graves. Even piano balled “Kids on the Run,” reveals some beauty under its overwrought exterior if listened to often enough.
3. Mimicking Birds [Glacial Pace]
– In forming Ugly Casanova, Isaac Brock described a man who would show up at early Modest Mouse shows and eventually left a notebook full songs that would become Sharpen Your Teeth. While that songwriter is most likely an invented character, Nate Lacy of Mimicking Birds is a real person who still seems to come directly from the same invented world of Ugly Casanova.
4. Ólöf Arnalds – Innundir Skinni [One Little Indian]
This is the music one listens to the night after you’ve finished decorating Shugo Tokumaru’s acorn. Everyone in Iceland knows Bjork.
5. Mountain Man – Made the Harbour [Partisan]
5. Cheyenne Marie Mize – Before Lately [Thirty Tigers]
6. Carolina Chocolate Drops – Genuine Negro Jig [Nonesuch]
7. Cotton Jones – Tall Hours in the Glowstream [Suicide Squeeze]
8. Ô Paon – Courses [Self-release]
She’s Quebecois, and releases her albums on K Records, but I still can’t but help think about medieval French folk music, the somewhat mystical kind that can be droning or stark. There isn’t a hurdy-gurdy here as far as I could tell, but it would fit in. Earthy stuff.
9. Corpus Callosum – Corpus Callosum [Self-release]
10. Sea of Bees – Songs for the Ravens [Crossbill]
11. Pauline En La Playa – Fisica Del Equipaje [Siesta]
12. Harlan T. Bobo – Sucker [Goner Records]
13. Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang – The Wonder Show of the World [Drag City]
14. Laura Gibson and Ethan Rose – Bridge Carols [Holocene Music]
15. Horse Feathers – Thistled Spring [Kill Rock Stars]
16. Micah P. Hinson – Micah P. Hinson and the ‘Pioneer Saboteurs’ [Full Time Hobby]
17. Dark Dark Dark – Wild Go [Supply and Demand]
18. My Bubba & Mi – How it’s done in Italy [BeepBeep.nl]
19. Bronze Horse – Bronze Horse [Oakhill Records]
20. Nomen Novum – Go Primal [Self-release]
21. Peter Morén – I Sparen Av Taren [Morén Pop]
22. Phil Selway – Familial [Bella Union]
23. Kurt Weisman – Orange [Autumn Records]
24. Kath Bloom – Thin Thin Line [Caldo Verde Records]
1. Beach House – Teen Dream [Sub Pop]
2. Avey Tare – Down There [Paw Tracks]
3. Silje Nes – Opticks [FatCat]
4. Islaja – Keraaminen Paa [Fonal]
5. White Hinterland – Kairos [Dead Oceans]
6. Laetitia Sadier – The Trip [Drag City]
7. Lali Puna – Our Inventions [Morr Music]
8. Tunng – …And Then We Saw Land [Thrill Jockey]
– Every day I’m hustlin’ / Every day I’m hustlin’ / Every day I’m hustlin’
9. Fredrik – Trilogi [Kora]
– Tunng for night-time; what Under Byen should have turned into by now. It was a good year for Malmö.
10. How To Dress Well – Love Remains [Lefse]
11. Serafina Steer – Change is Good Change is Good [Static Caravan]
12. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Autumn, Again [Self-release]
13. Benoit Pioulard – Lasted [Kranky]
14. Glasser – Ring [True Panther]
15. Anni Rossi – Heavy Meadow [4AD]
16. Pop Winds – The Turquoise [Artbutus]
17. School of Seven Bells – Disconnect from Desire [Vagrant]
18. Eluvium – Similes [Temporary Residence]
Electro-Pop / Synth-Pop / Synth-Funk / Chillwave / Glo-fi
1. Hot Chip – One Life Stand [EMI / Parlophone]
2. Delorean – Subiza [True Panther]
3. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening [DFA]
– Dance Yrself Clean is one of the three best LCD Soundsystem songs, with that huge, huge, hugely inevitable drop, and top-form drunken sing-along lyrics. It’s tough to lead with that, and the rest of the album never quite catches up, but as long as you don’t find James Murphy’s persona grating (I don’t have a problem with him) there’s little denying the man knows how to engineer some sweet-sounding nouveau punk-disco. Hey, I think “You Wanted a Hit” is somewhat clever!
4. Grimes – Halifaxa [Artbutus]
5. Matthew Dear – Black City [Ghostly International]
6. ceo – White Magic [Sincerely Yours]
7. Kisses – The Heart of the Nightlife [Self-release]
8. Darkstar – North [Hyperdub]
9. Toro y Moi – Causers of This [Carpark]
10. To My Boy – The Habitable Zone [Von Braun Records]
11. Airliner – None [Self-release]
12. Twin Shadow – Forget [Terrible Records]
13. Royksopp – Senior [MB3 Records]
14. Blackbird Blackbird – Summer Heart [Self-release]
15. Kele – The Boxer [Witchita]
16. Mark Van Hoen – Where Is The Truth [City Centre Offices]
17. Rudi Zygadlo – Great Western Layman [Planet Mu]
Hip-Hop / Rap
1. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach [EMI]
– What is there to say about Damon Albarn’s project? He puts De La Soul on the charts a decade after anyone could have expected that to happen, and then brings them together with my man Gruff Rhys. This album opens with Snoop Dogg, mostly because it can. Lou Reed drops in to be vaguely silly! Mos Def shows up, as he is wont to do for these sorts of parties. This is, after all, an album from the man who keeps Tony Allen on retainer just in case he has an idea for a whimsical side-project. This qualifies as a hip-hop album mainly because hip-hop is at this moment the best space in which to throw things at each other for the fun of it…and because you’re a hugely successful musician.
2. Sleigh Bells – Treats [Mom + Pop / NEET]
Rap noise-pop from people born in the the imagined 80’s American theorized by The Go! Team’s Thunder Lightning Strike.
3. Black Milk – Album of the Year [Decon]
4. Tobacco – Maniac Meat [anticon.]
– Face-melting is a phrase bandied about to describe anything deformatively (I’m MAKING it a word) loud; Tobacco shows that to be insufficiently specific. This is what a face melting really sounds like.
5. Def Sound – Def Sound IS Alive [Self-release]
6. Baloji – Kinshasha Succursale [Kraked]
7. Teebs – Ardour [Brainfeeder]
8. Spoek Mathambo – Mishini Wam [BBE]
9. Shad – TSOL [Black Box Recodings]
10. Strong Arm Steady – In Search of Stoney Jackson [Stones Throw]
11. Black Sheep – From The Black Pool of Genius [Audible Treats / Bum Rush]
12. M.I.A. – MAYA [XL / Interscope]
– Well of course M.I.A. is full of shit…did reviewers not realize that when they were busy praising her first two albums? I hardly think that not being entirely fake was ever the point.
13. The Roots – How I Got Over [Def Jam]
– Conscious Yacht-hop from the most professional band around. They really know how to rock a fresh Joanna Newsom sample, I will give them that.
14. Uochi Toki – Cuore Amore Errore Disintegrazione [Koch]
– Difficulty, angry, avant, Italian.
15. Serengeti & Polyphonic – Bells and a Floating World [anticon.]
16. Gonjasufi – A Sufi and A Killer [Warp]
17. Shigeto – Full Circle [Ghostly International]
18. Kidz in the Hall – Land of Make Believe [Duck Down]
19. TOKiMONSTA – Midnight Menu [Art Union / Listen Up]
20. Suzi Analogue – NNXTAPE [Self-release]
Funk / Soul
1. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid [Bad Boy]
– I certainly wasn’t expecting to enjoy anything with a Georgie Fruit appearance this year.
2. Bonobo – Black Sands [Ninja Tune]
3. Teengirl Fantasy – 7AM [Merok / True Panther]
4. Velella Velella – Atlantis Massif [Self-release]
5. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – I Learned The Hard Way [Daptone]
6. Rafter – Animal Feelings [Asthmatic Kitty]
7. Aloe Blacc – Good Things [Stones Throw]
8. !!! – Strange Weather, Isn’t It? [Warp]
9. CeeLo Green – The Lady Killer [Elektra / Asylum]
10. Ratatat – LP4 [XL]
Global / Globalist
1. Sun City Girls – Funeral Mariachi [Abduction]
– A posthumous release for the group and member Charles Gocher; they now and have always put any other application of the phrase “freak folk” to utter shame.
2. Rita Indiana Y Los Misterios – El Juidero [Premium Latin Music]
– Punk Merengue? Cumbiawave?
3. Clorofila – Collective Presents: Corridos Urbanos [Nacional]
– The Nortec sound that has been brewing in Tijuana and its surrounds for at least the last decade has a bit in common with cumbia digital or nueva cumbia found in Argentina and Mexico; a lot of dubby accordions and horns grafted to danceable rhythms and big drum sounds. The Nortec Collective’s sense of humour (“Naked Ladies”) is so far a lot better, and their songwriting chops can be quite impressive. I’m tempted to call it hella guap.
4. Omar Souleyman – Jazeera Nights: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria [Sublime Frequencies]
– Technically a compilation, but whenever Sublime Frequencies puts out Omar Souleyman tracks, it’s the first time they’ve been released in the United States, and the first time I’ve heard them. It didn’t catch me quite as strongly as the label’s two previous releases of his work, but he’s still the smooth mack-daddy king of crazy-ass Dabke styles.
5. Hayvanlar Alemi – Guarana Superpower [Sublime Frequencies]
– Anatolian surf-rock
6. Konono No. 1 – Asssume Crash Position [Crammed Discs]
7. Las Balkanieras – Las Balkanieras [Germaica]
– This album can get pretty goofy, but in a fun, early 90’s way. These three women have a Balkan-New Jack Swing-Dancehall style. M.I.A. recast as TLC or Salt-n-Pepa.
8. Gogol Bordello – Trans-Continental Hustle [Columbia]
9. Burkina Electric – Paspanga [Cantaloupe Music]
Post-Rock / Post-Something / Slowcore / Kosmisch
1. PVT – Church With No Magic [Warp]
2. Nice Nice – Extra Wow [Warp]
3. The Books – The Way Out [Temporary Residence]
4. The Octopus Project – Hexadecagon [Peek-A-Boo Industries]
– The Octopus Project, they of electrical plug masks and theremins, haven’t exactly changed their formula since the early aughts. They’ve been releasing very listenable, reasonably complex, somewhat electronic, somewhat post-rock flavoured albums every few years in that time, and in the process, they’ve quietly snuck into serious Terry Riley territory, Ten-minute album centerpiece “Circling” sounds like it’s spelled, and it is gorgeous and massive. The band can now reach amazing volumes without ever having to raise its voice.
5. Julian Lynch – Mare [Olde English Spelling Bee]
6. Rhys Chatham – The Bern Project [Hinterzimmer]
– Along with Glenn Branca, the biggest figure in composing works for overwhelming numbers of guitars comes to visit his child, post-rock, smack it around a bit.
7. Stereolab – Not Music [Duophonic UHF]
8. Dosh – Tommy [anticon.]
9. Sam Prekop – Old Punch Card [Thrill Jockey]
10. Forest Swords – Dagger Paths [Olde English Spelling Bee]
11. Kyst – Cotton Touch [Gingerbread Records]
– Less post-rock, more rock-as-afterthought. Less singing with guitars, more singing to guitars.
12. Holy Fuck – Latin [Young TurksI]
13. Eris – Feast of the Appetites of Eris [Domino Sound]
– New Orleans brass group that sounds like a pack of wolves scouring Dark Ages Europe. RIYL Jeff Magnum’s Bulgarian field recordings, Orfeu Negro
14. Fond of Tigers – Continent & Western [Drip Audio]
– Fond of Tigers have managed to never be on the Arts & Crafts record label, but they play the kind of music that would be released on that label, likely as someone’s side project. Horns and strings, everything on a large scale, but in a way that says “everything going to be fine!” instead of “everything is falling down.”
15. Nels Cline Singers – Initiate [Cryptogramophone]
Electronic / Dance – Dubstep, Future Garage, House, Techno, etc.
1. Matthew Herbert – One Club [Accidental]
2. Shed – The Traveler [Ostgut Ton]
3. Jatoma – Jatoma [Kompakt[
4. Ikonika – Contact, Want, Love, Have [Hyperdub]
5. Efedmin – Chicago [Dial]
6. Superpitcher – Kilimanjaro [Kompakt]
7. Matt Shadetek – Flowers [Dutty Artz]
– Thoughtful and amped, thoughtful and amped, thoughtful and amped…and violent?
8. Oriol – Night & Day [Planet Mu]
9. Magda – From The Fallen Page [M_nus]
10. Copy – Hard Dream [Audio Dregs]
11. Chemical Brothers – Further [Astralwerks]
– The Brothers Chem do a retro-futuristic update that sounds like Neu punching French House in the head. Repeatedly! That’s when they’re not playing around in “oh yeah, we made a song with Noel Gallagher” mode, with mixed results.
12. Elektro Guzzi – Elektro Guzzi [Macro]
– Live band minimal techno means creepy trance jazz.
13. iTAL tEK – Midnight Colour [Planet Mu]
Shit Robot – From the Cradle to the Rave
– Remember when you thought that retro-futuristic Irish house records should have cool, leering anti-modern screeds from Ian Svenonious? That was a weird dream, wasn’t it? OR WAS IT
14. Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise [Rough Trade]
“Sonic House.” I still don’t know what that means. Noah Lennox floats around.
15. A Guy Called Gerald – Tronic Jazz: The Berlin Sessions [Laboratory Instinct]
16. Thomas Fehlmann – Gute Luft [Kompakt]
17. Ceephax Acid Crew – United Acid Emirates [Planet Mu]
Space Disco – Yes, Separately.
1. Ichisan & Navoka – Yugo Tempo [Nang Records]
2. diskJokke – En Fin Tid [Smalltown Supersound]
3. Acid Washed – Acid Washed [Record Makers]
4. Prins Thomas – Prins Thomas [Full Pupp]
Experimental Electronic / Home Listening / Glitch / Breakcore
1. Ous Mal – Noujuva halava [Preservation]
2. Silver Bullets – Citta Invisibili [Stunned]
3. Bramblings – Nudist Collection [Self-release]
4. Kemialliset Ystavat – Ullakkopalo
5. Igorrr – Nostril [Ad Noiseam]
6. Pye Corner Audio Transcription Services – Black Mill Tapes, Vol. 1 [Self-release]
7. The Knife, Mt. Sims & Planningtorock – Tomorrow, In A Year [Mute]
8. Frank Bretschneider – EXP [Raster-Norton]
1. Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? [Editions Mego]
– Or: Music for Spaceports. An ambient album you can rock out to? A rock album you can fall asleep to?
2. Phonophani – Kreken [Rune Grammofon]
3. Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal [Editions Mego]
4. Mark McGuire – Living With Yourself (+ Invisible World, Tidings, Amethyst Waves, Vacation Days) [Mostly Editions Mego]
5. Luis Nanook – Place [Flyrec]
6. Alva Noto – For 2 [Line]
7. Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek – Bird, Lake, Objects [Faitiche]
8. Kid606 – Songs About Fucking Steve Albini [Important]
Jazz & Classical
1. Zs – New Slaves [The Social Registry]
2. Jaga Jazzist – One-Armed Bandit [Ninja Tune]
3. Young Jazz Rebels – Slave Riot [Stones Throw]
4. Originalljudet – Originalljudet [Kalligrammofon]
5. Mulatu Astatke – Mulatu Steps Ahead [Strut]
– For being a new Mulatu Astatke album, it’s not exceptional. For being an album, it is exceptional, because it’s newly recorded master from the king of Ethiopian funk, an icon from a great moment in musical history from a country with a fascinating musical culture.
6. Wim Mertens – Zee Versus Zed [Usura]
7. Supersilent – 10
– This is the sound of zero-point energy, the product of particles randomly phasing in and out of existence in a vacuum.
8. Brooklyn Rider – Dominant Curve [In A Circle]
Historical Disco Opera
1. David Byrne & Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love [Nonesuch]
1. Laurie Anderson – Homeland [Nonesuch]
2. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here [XL Recordings]
Compilations & Reissues
1. Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers [Crammed Discs]
– Sometimes I think record labels are stalking me. How else could Crammed Discs decide to release an compilation that features “indie” artists like Andrew Bird, Animal Collective, Micachu, Deerhoof, Megafaun and others creating songs inspired by, remixing or sampling Congolese electrified-mbira trance music that has been released on Crammed, by Konono No. 1 and others of their ilk. That’s just an absurd fantasy tailored precisely to my musical tastes! COME ON!
2. Ecstatic Music of the Jemaa El Fna [Sublime Frequencies]
– Moroccan street festival music. If the cherubim guarding the Garden of Eden were accompanied flaming guitars in place of flaming swords, they would be used to play music like this.
3. Charanjit Singh – Ten Ragas to A Disco Beat [Combay Connection]
Simply put, you need to hear this album. Indian film composer orders some synthesizers and drum machines, programs some raga progressions, and ends up independently inventing acid house before the genre arises in Chicago. Again, keep in mind, this is raga acid house. Simply amazing.
4. Palenque Palenque: Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia 1975-91 [Soundway]
5. Omar Khorshid – Guitar El Chark [Sublime Frequencies]
– Khorshid is a kick-ass Egyptian guitarist, but it’s also worth noting that his work also features some of the best sci-fi vintage synth lines around.
6. HEALTH – DISCO2 [City Slang / Lovepump United]
7. Minimal Wave Tapes Vol. 1 [Stones Throw]
– While I obviously didn’t live in Europe in the Cold War, this is what I imagine being caught between the Soviet Union and the United States felt like.
8. Casiokids – Topp Stemning Pa Lokal Bar [Universal]
– A singles and remixes collection from Casiokids. Several of these songs have become some of my favorite electro-pop singles of all time: if you haven’t heard “Finn Bikkjen!” and “En Vil Hest,” you really, really need to.
9. Cumbia Beat Vol. 1 [Vampisoul]
10. Music from Saharan Cellphones, Volumes 1 and 2 [Mississippi Records]
– As much a report on a techno-anthropological phenomenon as a compilation, these are quite literally songs found in storage on cell phones in the arid desert regions of Western and Northwestern Africa, where cellular devices are often used for file sharing and storage more often than they are used for voice calls. Most of these tracks are from Niger and Mali, with some coming in from Morocco and the Ivory Coast. There’s a range in genre and quite a few interesting modern fusions, from the so-called “desert blues” with drum machine backing to Malian pop that seems to hold a distinct kuduro influence.
12. The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia In 1970s Nigeria [Soundway]
13. Excavated Shellac [Parlotone]
– Are you ready for 78 RPM?
14. Angola Soundtrack – Special Sounds From Luanda 1965-1978 [Analog Africa]
15. Saigon Rock & Roll: Vietnamese Classic Tracks 1968-1974 [Sublime Frequencies]
– As the name suggests, these are all recordings in American-supported/occupied Saigon. Remnants of an unsustainable bubble…how many of these people were both alive and in Vietnam by the end of 1975?
16. Potomac Shivers – Oh Eight To Oh Ten [Self-release] http://www.mediafire.com/?de092ndbdm6de7w
– When seen live, they struck me as delightfully Beulah-like. These recordings are more in the vein of Bradford Cox’s looping lo-fi (LO-FI) bedroom pop, with Appalachain echos. Dope.
17. Nigeria Special vol. 2 Modern Highlife, Afro Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-76 [Soundway]
18. Jahtarian Dubbers, Vol. 2 [Jahtari]
– Largely European netlabel dedicated to modern digital dub. The soundtrack to the movie Tron, if Lee Perry played Jeff Bridges’ role. Or Tron 2, if Lee Perry played Jeff Bridges’ role. Insert The Scientist joke here.
19. Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa [Honest Jon’s]
– I guess the closest thing I can compare Shangaan Electro (also called Tonga Disco) to is the juke/footwork genre originating in Chicago. It’s usually up around 160 BPM, it’s a largely cheesily-produced, repetitive dance form, and while it can be somewhat abrasive, it’s frenetic insanity is alluring. I’m more sold on tsonga than footwork, though. It’s also been around for decades.
20. Ethnic Minority Music Of Northwest Xinjiang, China [Sublime Frequencies]
– The relentless, galloping strings of Central Asian music are here rendered in absoring patterns, recorded excellently. You might be wondering if I just like everything Sublime Frequencies puts out; the answer is yes.
21. P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble – Winter Winds [Now Again]
22. Luk Thung! The Roots of Thai Pop [Zundrangma]
Dara Puspita (1966-1968) [Sublime Frequencies]
– Remastered versions of songs from Sukarno-era Indonesia’s finest (probably) all-girl garage-rock group.
23. Mount Eerie – Song Islands Vol. 2 [P.W. Elverum & Sun]
– Looks, it’s Phil Elverum. Some of this has been released before. Some not. Some of it is okay. Some of it is excellent. Thanks, Anacortes?
24. Lagos Disco Inferno [Academy LP’s]
25. The Desperate Bicycles – Singles [Nonprofit]
– 70’s post-punk-pop. Mmmhmm.
EP’s / Singles (Does it make sense to separate these? Not really!)
Keepaway – Baby Style & Kompetitor
Dirty Projectors & Bjork – Mount Wittenberg Orca
– I hope that every Dirty Projector release from here on in has “Orca” in the title.
Breton – Sharing Notes & Counter Balance
The War On Drugs – Future Weather
Javelin & 2
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – All In Two Sixty Dancehalls
James Blake – CMYK / Klavierwerke / The Bells Sketch / Limit to Your Love
Twin Sister – Colour Your Life
Tanlines – Settings
Highlife – Best Bless
The Tallest Man on Earth – Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird
Sharon Van Etten – Epic
Edan – Echo Party
Mothlight – Chrysalis
Teki Latex – Answers / Dinosaurs With Guns
El Remolon – Pangeatico
Fantastic Mr. Fox – Sketches
Future Islands – Post Office Wave Chapel
Wizards – Spinning Flowers
Girls – Broken Dreams Club
Para One – Kiwi/Toadstool
Duck Sauce – Barbra Streisand
Dreams – Simple Steps
Black Books – An Introduction To…
Debruit – Spatio-Temporel & Heart Beats For Haiti
Dimlite – Prismic Tops & My Human Wears Acedia Shreds
Tortoise – Why Waste Time?
The Clientele – Minotaur
Games – That We Can Play
Brothertiger – Vision Tunnels
Dozens – Dozens
Double Dagger – Masks
Kupa – Pairat EP
Panda Bear – Tomboy / Last Night At The Jetty
Bambounou – Animism
– He just listens to the drums, and nods his head.
GIRL UNIT – IRL
Hypno – Over the Top
Janka Nabay – Babu King
No Monster Club – Tropical Decibels Volume Two
British Sea Power – Zeus
Koala – Xibalba
Megafaun – Heretofore
Pepepiano – Babes
Headless Horseman – 5songs
DJ Zinc – Wile Out
The Suicide of Western Culture – The Suicide of Western Culture
Edu K – Flutesnoot
Harry Benson – Kudzu EP
SBTRKT – 2020
Wentworth Kersey – ((O))
The Samps – The Samps
Bert on Beats – Suomo
Padang Food Tigers – Born Music
unouomedude – Marsh
Malente & Dex – Habibi
James Pants – New Tropical
Squire of Gothos – Squire Bathing
Forro in the Dark – Perro Loco (Remixes)
Evenings – North Dorm
Claps – New Science