Arcade Fire made the best album of the year and Savages released the top debut I heard. Mikal Cronin recorded pure pop bliss, while the new Deerhunter album reminded me how lucky we are to have Bradford Cox churning out intriguing music. See the full list for the year’s top 10 albums below.
1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor. The latest from Arcade Fire is far more diverse and imaginative than the Grammy-winning album The Suburbs. Produced by James Murphy, Reflektor mixes disco, Caribbean, dub and other styles. There is more than a nod to the Clash’s Sandinista!
2. Savages – Silence Yourself. This is an aggressive debut from a U.K. female quartet that pays homage to earlier post-punk bands. Think of Siouxsie and the Banshees only tougher.
3. Mikal Cronin – MCII. Cronin makes great music, but he really over achieved on this hook-laden record. Irresistible pop from Ty Segall’s collaborator.
4. Deerhunter – Monomania. Even by Deerhunter standards, this album is pretty edgy and raw. It’s one of the more overlooked albums this year.
5. The National – Trouble Will Find Me. The latest from the National doesn’t hit you in the face. But the depth of the songs will pay off after repeated listens.
6. Bill Callahan – Dream River. Callahan more often resembles a poet than a singer, speaking through his songs in his deep, impassive voice.
7. Kurt Vile – Walkin on a Pretty Daze. As meditative as this album sounds at points, Vile lays down some serious guitar licks. An original musician with a distinctive sound, he sometimes reminds me of mid-70s Neil Young.
8. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt. This is a personal-sounding album from Katie Crutchfield, who performs as Waxahatchee. The songs and music are reminiscent of the very best parts of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville.
9. The Men – New Moon. While New Moon explores a hodgepodge of styles, the new love for country rock stands out. Maybe because the album was recorded in a cabin?
10. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin. Some day, I expect Thee Oh Sees will make the No. 1 album of the year (at least on my list). Frenetic, infectious rock ‘n’ roll. Sheer enjoyment.
Rounding out the top 20:
11. Superchunk – I Hate Music. Elder indie rock statesmen make a record to keep your head nodding and feet moving. A strong offering from a band who has been going for almost a quarter century.
12. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. This has to be one of the most fun albums of the year from guys who take a real tongue-in-cheek approach to ’60s and ’70s genres.
13. Cass McCombs – Big Wheel and Others. Here is an excellent collection of songs from a great singer-songwriter. If you pare it down to the very best tracks, this would be a top 10 album.
14. Polvo – Siberia. What a great comeback for these ’90s noise warriors. Essentially, they stick to the same formula but it sounds fresh today.
15. Ty Segall / Fuzz – Sleeper / Fuzz. We again see the two sides of the prolific Bay-area rocker. With its slow to mid-tempo acoustic and electric numbers, Sleeper is similar to Segall’s 2011 release Goodbye Bread, while his new band Fuzz pays tribute to stoner rock from four decades ago.
16. King Khan & the Shrines – Idle No More. If you listen to just the upbeat, soulful music, you’ve got a great dance party. Underneath, Khan wants to make a statement about the wretched world we live in after battling his personal demons.
17. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork. I really didn’t think Josh Homme had another good album in him (at least not as Queens), but Like Clockwork is a rollicking good time.
18. The Love Language – Ruby Red. Listening to the full sound of Ruby Red, you wouldn’t know the Love Language originally started as a guy making bedroom recordings. Stuart McLamb created a powerful pop album that’s also a blast.
19. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II. The second album from Unknown Mortal Orchestra is quirky, funky and sometimes breezy like its predecessor but I like the songs better on this one.
20. Wavves – Afraid of Heights. The latest album from Nathan Williams doesn’t stray far from King of the Beach (2011). Afraid of Heights is tighter and rocks harder.
Honorable mention. Here are some other albums you should check out: Majical Cloudz, Impersonator; Swearin’, Surfing Strange; Crocodiles, Crimes of Passion; Iceage, You’re Nothing; Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven; No Age, An Object; Yo La Tengo, Fade; Fidlar, Fidlar; Suuns, Images Du Futur; and Charles Bradley, Victim of Love.
HEY THERE! All the Young punks has a new home. Read this article and others at alltheyoungpunks.com.
Having crossed the midway point of the year, it’s time for a look at the best albums of 2013 (so far). And since it’s too early to give anyone the crown, I’ve listed my top 10 in alphabetical order by artist.
Mikal Cronin – MCII: This is great power pop from Ty Segall’s buddy.
Deerhunter – Monomania: Bradford Cox teased this album before its release by calling it a “mystery disc of nocturnal garage.” Cox is one of the most interesting musicians out there today.
Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic: First of all, I’m a sucker for bands who can work a clever foxy reference into their band names. These guys bring a light-hearted approach to ’60s and early ’70s music worship.
The Men – New Moon: The rockers go a little more country than their last album. But this is a record full of multiple genres, punk, classic rock, post punk and more. This has to be one of the most under appreciated albums of ’13.
The National – Trouble Will Find Me: I’ll be honest. As much as I love the National, I had to warm up to this one. But patience pays off. This is good stuff and it’s potentially another classic from one of our national treasures.
Savages – Silence Yourself: It begins with a snippet from a John Cassavetes movie and then explodes into an old-school post-punk beast. As I said in a previous review, this is a brutally good album.
Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin. Do Thee Oh Sees make new albums or do they just record the same one over and over. I would argue that the band branched out a bit on its last two or three releases. Floating Coffin even includes a ballad. And who cares if each album is so freaking awesome?
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II: Like Mikal Cronin, the band didn’t spend a lot of time on a creative album name, but this is highly original music from a band you should get to know.
Kurt Vile – Walkin on a Pretty Day: Kurt Vile is Mr. Reliable as he always delivers great albums. As mellow as this one seems at points, it ranks among his best.
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt: Katie Crutchfield, who performs as Waxahatchee, reminds me of the best parts of Liz Phair’s debut Exile in Guyville. That’s not to say she’s aping Phair, who flamed out quickly. This is great, honest music.
You can catch some of these acts in Chicago over the next week. Mikal Cronin, Foxygen, Savages and Waxahatchee play Pitchfork fest this weekend. Savages also plays Lincoln Hall Friday. Schubas hosts Foxygen Friday and Waxahatchee Saturday.
Kurt Vile is that rare artist who is so confident and focused that he consistently puts out great albums by simply sticking to his knitting. His voice and guitar are unmistakably identifiable yet each new album sounds unique and fresh. His latest album, Walkin on a Pretty Daze, is no exception.
Kurt and his band, the Violators, play a sold out show at Lincoln Hall Tuesday night. Steve Gunn opens.
A good rule of thumb for making a year-end list: Ask yourself will you still play this album in a year or two? That thinking has me rating Thee Oh Sees much higher than Tune-Yards on this year’s best albums list. Even though WHOKILL is a really interesting album, Thee Oh Sees are just a whole lot more fun.
Click here for the rest of the list, Nos. 21-40. Here’s my top 20 of 2011:
20. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread: A much more refined offering than last year’s scorcher Melted.
19. Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams: It’s maybe better than the band’s first album — great old-school, girl group rock.
18. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake: Framing war through images of World War I’s toll on England, this is one of the greatest albums she’s made in years.
17. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong: These guys bring the rock for their second album. No, really.
16. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life: Forget that it’s a concept album — or a punk rock opera. It’s just as hard as the older stuff.
It’s been a good week for new releases, highlighted by Atlas Sound’s Parallax and Cass McCombs’ Humor Risk. McCombs’ album is his second of the year and a more uptempo follow to the somber Wit’s End. For Bradford Cox, it’s his first official Atlas Sound album since the awesome Logos in 2009. A year ago, you may recall, he released a ton of free music, the Bedroom Databank songs.
Also out this week: Kurt Vile’s EP, So Outta Reach. The release features five songs from the recording sessions for the excellent Smoke Ring for My Halo and a Bruce Springsteen cover. (In addition to making one of the best albums of the year, Vile was one of my noted highlights from Pitchfork fest.) As I posted earlier this week, Summer Camp released its debut, a fun, synth pop album that pays homage to the ’80s.
Tuesday marks the beginning of the fall schedule for new albums. Indie super group Wild Flag, St. Vincentand Neon Indian are among those releasing tomorrow. In two weeks, Wilco puts out its new album.
But before we get to those, here’s an overdue look at five of the most interesting albums of 2011 (mostly releases from the first half of the year). I’m not sure if they’re the best but they have a good shot at being on my year-end top 10. Don’t read too much into the order.
New Brigade — Iceage
They didn’t remake the genre, but these kids from Copenhagen made one of the most compelling punk albums in years. Clocking in at about 24 minutes, New Brigade proves less is still more.
Tomboy — Panda Bear
Noah Lennox couldn’t simply remake Person Pitch. He didn’t attempt to with Tomboy, the follow to his remarkable 2007 release. The album certainly has the signature Lennox/Animal Collective feel yet holds it own as a fresh, original piece of work.
Sun and Shade — Woods
Woods layers one breezy, psychedelic song on top of another. Amid the concise nuggets, Sun and Shade features a couple long players, including the trippy Sol Y Sombra and the Kraut rocker Out of the Eye.
WHOKILL — Tune-Yards
It’s abrasive and often times uncomfortable but Merrill Garbus makes some interesting music. It’s noisy and hard to categorize and that’s what’s best about it.
Yuck — Yuck
Derivative of indie bands from the past two decades or so, I think I like these guys because of the nods to Dinosaur Jr. But, overall, it’s just a really enjoyable rock album.
Read my next five picks after the jump.
There was no shortage of ironic T-shirts, hats or moustaches at Pitchfork. The cups of Heineken stayed cold for about 45 seconds and the smell of weed hung in the humid, 90-plus degree air.
Here’s more of what I liked about this year’s Pitchfork:
Woods made the most of its 45-minute set. It was one of the early shows Saturday. The band has a cool psychedelic-kraut-jam sort of thing going on. Woods’ Sun and Shade is one of my favorite albums this year.
Off! was better than I thought it would be. While No Age does a respectable job paying homage to early punk, Off! lead singer Keith Morris helped pioneer American hardcore in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Morris was the original singer for Black Flag and founded Circle Jerks. Playing the small stage Saturday, Morris told the audience that Off! brought a different and “odd flavor” to Pitchfork. I’m glad he did. (No Age played a good set Saturday as well.)
Damn if Kurt Vile doesn’t sound a whole lot gnarlier live. Playing a mix of new and old stuff on Sunday afternoon, Vile drew a sizable crowd. But I was struck that he and his band, the Violators, just seem to play it harder live.
Yuck played an early set on Sunday. This band is one of my favorite discoveries this year. The show lived up to my expectations.
Finally, two sure-bets, Deerhunter and Superchunk, played smoking shows on Sunday. The members of Superchunk are in their 40s but they played as energetic a set as you could ask for. For its last song, the band pulled out one of its earliest songs: Slack Motherfucker.