20) Cass McCombs- Big Wheel and Others
As a return to form, McCombs chose the road more travelled by harking back to the old American trail of country roots and folky singalongs- so while not breaking new ground he sure gives an entertaining ride.
19) William Tyler- The Impossible Truth
Genius often comes through fingertips (and sometimes very long fingernails) as William Tyler demonstrates through this epic collection of inspired guitar noodlings.
18) Savages- Silence Yourself
A new kind of anger has come to town, where each pounding song builds up to a climax but does not give release but only more pent-up anger to the next one, perhaps one of the best examples this year of a struggle for true expression, not just for women, but also punk and anyone attempting to make a genuine statement.
17) Forest Swords- Engravings
Well if any album cover was going to have a stab at what Forest Swords sounds like, then his own artwork probably does it best. A wisp of Orientalism that tangles you into a wide array of electronic confusion as you search for the heart of this electronic maze.
16) Kurt Vile- Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Vile seems to take cue from his previous breakthrough album Smoke Ring For My Halo and just added more space and maturity. The riffs are strong, the solos crisp and Vile’s voice has the same steady calmness but now with full assuredness of his power.
15) Deerhunter- Monomania
I think a lot of people were in the same boat when seeing the build-up to the new Deerhunter album, and seeing Bradford Cox in his whole ‘real rock star’ persona, that this was going to be one of the biggest jackass feats of the year. And then when the album came out the response was underwhelming when compared to Deerhunter’s earlier classics. However, after several listens you realise that there isn’t really anything like Monomania– the claustrophobic bedroom feat, the actually appealing songs and sheer ambition in self-reformation- thus making it a valued factor of Deerhunter’s canon.
14) Yo La Tengo- Fade
According to Neil Young, time is meant to fade away- but after nearly 30 years, Yo La Tengo has shown that talent doesn’t necessarily need to. Instead of trying to reform their look for the kids, Yo La Tengo have instead delved deep into their dreamy gold-tinted nostalgia and come out cleansed once again.
13) Julianna Barwick- Nepenthe
I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it extremely hard to find a way to rate Julianna Barwick’s music. It all has an unearthly beauty that can’t really be compared to anything else (at least within this century). But what is certain is that there’s no laziness to fall into the same comfort zone and just spew out 10 more choral songs. There is a definitive and sadder change to the album here, which takes you to an entirely different but still magical place.
12) Dirty Beaches- Drifters/ Love is the Devil
On first listen I thought this album sounded too basic. Alex Zhang Huntai would just find a lo-fi riff and then add drums halfway through, or in Love is the Devil just have a simple piano scale and play it ad infinitum. But it is the atmosphere that creeps up on you, the surrounding darkness and unbearable space which seeps in and makes you unsure of what you have heard.
11) Youth Lagoon- Wondrous Bughouse
Shit gets deep. There’s no longer the catchy riffs of Youth Lagoon’s debut Year of Hibernation, there’s just deep molasses of feeling and confusion, melted music and something to do with god. Best wear boots.
10) These New Puritans- Field of Reeds
This is my version of the Swans’ The Seer, last year. I still am not sure exactly what’s going on, there’s a sparse uncomfortable feel, which I’m not sure I even like- but its effect just bleeds through and says it should be in this list.
9) Grouper- The Man Who Died in His Boat
To think that most of these scenes were leftovers from Grouper’s previous album Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill is astounding. If this album’s incredible title doesn’t clinch you, the first few seconds of it will drag you in. There’s no ladder, just a push and then an ancient darkness with this siren-girl guiding you.
8) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- Push the Sky Away
It wasn’t until seeing the Bad Seed’s performance in Glastonbury, that the full weight of this album was felt. I was disappointed that Cave was turning back from his aggressive Grinderman stage to a seemingly softer No More Shall we Part style of himself. But this wasn’t the case, it’s just that the power is more concealed. ‘Jubilee Street’ circles round an appealing riff while Cave waxes on prostituticide, and ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ is certainly not just a road trip to Geneva…
7) Kanye West- Yeezus
Of course this had to be somewhere on the list. I think everyone’s still baffled how Yeezy managed to mix so much violence and just so much unappealing stuff to make it everyone’s favourite. I mean you all remember him wailing in the middle of ‘I Am God’ right? And then of course just having seemingly two songs playing next to each other in ‘Bound 2’. Is that legal? Well ‘Bound 2’ might not be concerning samples…but the whole experience is certainly entertaining.
6) Iceage- You’re Nothing
I was not into their first album at all. If this was punk revival then it was certainly not a fun version of it. Then on listening to the first two songs of You’re Nothing I was blown away. This must have been what they were trying to communicate. A bleeding nihilism of ‘Excess!’ And then a 2-minute horror movie drum beat to follow, not to mention caffeinated-Byrds riffs of ‘In Haze’ and sheer depression of ‘Morals’. Who would think that such nihilism would be such a great trip?
5) Bill Callahan- Dream River
Callahan’s constructed a golden formula of just getting better with age. Once again he has created a watertight record full of epic meditations on small aircraft, community with barflies and holiday jobs- and for that we are grateful and inspired.
4) Julia Holter- Loud City Song
Holter’s aim was to emulate a restaurant scene from the 1958 musical Gigi. I have not seen this film, but after listening to the album I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it’s like. She has reflected a world that is now far away it is wholly unfamiliar and seems only suitable for fabricated nostalgia trips- with upright double-bass, concert pianos, and a misty cover of the 60’s classic ‘Hello Stranger’. Slip into this world at your own risk, you might never want to come back.
3) Darkside- Psychic
I hate Nicolas Jaar: that young, handsome, talented, polite, funny prick. And his new guitarist friend Dave Harrington that he’s brought with him. Why did they have to make such an excellent album? Most of all why did they have to make it so difficult as well? Their opening song ‘Golden Arrow’ only finds any trace of a beat five minutes in, and following suit Jaar finds a jarring(!) beat and Harrington a cool riff- then seemingly out of nowhere each track develops into sheer heights of excellence.
2) Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City
I hate Ezra Koenig almost as much as I hate Nicolas Jaar (see above). But before it never bothered me because Vampire Weekend never seemed to be on my wavelength of interest. Then with their finale to their supposed trilogy, the band released a universal album. All their naysayers should have respectfully bowed down by now. I picture this album as the one album a past girlfriend and I bonded over, and then we break up…and it becomes unbearable to listen to. Because under each tone of fun, there is a deep sadness- best shown in the pun to upbeat song ‘Diane Young’. Well I’m grateful that such a hypothetical break-up never happened, but I’m sure this album will come to haunt me when such a thing does happen.
1) Parquet Courts- Light Up Gold
As a friend once said, this is a perfect album. But probably not in the ‘perfect’ that you would imagine. The songs are often too short, or too long, with misleading guitar solos and annoying riffs. But when your aim is such messy imperfection, and you achieve this, then that is approaching perfection. Parquet Courts but will never be champions, as they will always reign as underdogs because it is where they belong. We’re not talking about real gold, more the ‘light up’ kind that glows on the storefront to that shitty mall you used to frequent in your teens, or at that shitty bar you had your first gig at…