There were so many assclowns in music this year that it was almost exhausting. Miley got naked and stuck her tongue out, Robin Thicke got his thunder stolen, and Kanye said…I don’t actually know what he said because I didn’t understand any of it. I presume some shitty Pop-Country crossover tunes were made and some rappers rapped….but none of that tomfoolery is on this list.
Each year, I post my favorite 10 albums of the year. This year, I’m expanding that list to 20 and splitting it in half, starting with 11-20 in descending order. As I usually disclaim, my top picks are a mix between my personal faves, critically well-received albums I enjoyed, and albums that excel in the art of badassery. I love all genres equally, so I like to have a list that is representative and eclectic – that includes Rock, Indie, EDM, Singer-songwriter, Pop, you name it. As always, please leave me comments and let me know what YOUR favorites were! We can chat and argue and debate and have gay ol’ times.
20. Paramore – Self-titled
In my defense: I realize that I’m no longer 16 and that Pop-Punk is mostly terrible, but I love watching a young band morph, grow (up), and mature. The band underwent a line-up change this year, successfully segueing to soul-infused pop (“Ain’t It Fun?”) with some backbone, gusto and heart behind it (“Proof”, “Last Hope”) while still keeping a Pop-Rock core. They’ve got a lot of positive, youthful energy and if they keep reinventing themselves like they did on this record, they could be in it for the long haul.
19. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Elephant in the room: this album was not what I wanted, but after dealing with that initial disappointment, aren’t we better off having artists that surprise us? The masked robots gave us the year’s best song (“Get Lucky”) while storming through the industry the only way they know how: by doing, or not doing, whatever the fuck they wanted. No tour, minimal appearances and promo. The art stands on its own. And having Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers on deck didn’t hurt (“Lose Yourself to Dance”). “Give Life Back to Music” might not give life back to your New Year’s rager, but the album definitely serves up some solid pre-party jams.
18. Wild Belle – Isles
Siblings Elliot and Natalie Bergman, aka Wild Belle, make me long for a warm summery day as I write this in a frigid, snow-laden December. Their debut album Isles is one of the most fun records of the year, fusing jazz, reggae and soul with indie rock. Toss in some sexy sax and a couple steel drums and I’m beyond sold. It’s a light album that’s easy listening on the surface, but carries more weight when digging deeper into its lyrical content. Don’t miss this one.
17. Palma Violets – 180
Sad to say, I felt Rock slightly lacked this year. Maybe that’s why this British foursome’s “Best of Friends” was such a relief to grasp onto. Their album 180 is mostly garage-y, with some psychedelic undertones attached to it. It’s not overproduced, which Rock suffers from far too often, but it’s not super low-fi either. It’s just dirty enough. An all-around consistent effort from one of this year’s more interesting up-and-comers.
16. Lady Gaga – ARTPOP
Everyone should quit their whining. Though Gaga didn’t reinvent pop music as much as the lynch-mobbing blogosphere was expecting, ARTPOP still produced some of the year’s best pop (“Gypsy”, “Do What You Want”). Though I liked her before, I gravitated to ARTPOP thanks to its synth-heavy foundation and experimentation with EDM (I mean, did you even hear “Swine”!? And “Aura”? Hotness.) Style aside, her fearlessness is admirable. Love her or hate her, she doesn’t really give a fuck.
15. Grouplove – Spreading Rumours
Grouplove is another band having fun with synths and beats, and this experimentation makes their sophomore release that much more appealing. Having survived a sophomore slump, Grouplove stays true to themselves (no style of music is disregarded!), while straying outside their comfort zone for tracks like “Bitin’ the Bullet” and “Hippy Hill.” Those tracks are fresh and probably unfold nicely live, but “Borderlines and Aliens” is really the standout. Ari-ari-ari-gato! Gato!
14. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
From the very first measures of “In the Darkness,” Foxygen’s penchant for classic rock is on their sleeves. We Are the 21st Century is contemporary psychedelia at its best. What’s old is always new again, and that’s especially true for music. Foxygen is just one of the latest and greatest examples of that.
13. The Virginmarys – King of Conflict
Proof, yet again, that most of the great Rock this year (the last few years?) came from England. This trio’s King of Conflict makes me oh, so happy. It’s loud, edgy, angst-ridden and everything you’d want in a balls-out, straight up Rock ‘n’ Roll record. No frills, no gimmicks. Just Rock.
12. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito
Yeah Yeah Yeahs fourth album Mosquito is a complicated beast. It still has that weirdo, I’m-from-Brooklyn Post-Punk vibe going on, but the energy flow is off. In some ways, it feels more like a collection of one-offs, as opposed to a comprehensive album. But then again, it’s the fucking Yeah Yeah Yeahs and they don’t give a shit. From the little-searing riffs and full-blown choir on “Sacrilege” to the bizarre and blood-thirsty “Mosquito” to a rap by Dr. Octogon/Kool Keith to…a subway car? This album is off the wall, man. And then there’s that song about aliens? Yeah Yeah Yeahs have never been weirder. I hope they never change.
11. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
I have never, ever been an Arcade Fire fan. I’ve tried and failed many times, but Reflektor really snuck up on me. From start to finish, the album takes you on a journey and the flow is so money you can just really get in the zone with it. What can be said about this band that hasn’t already been covered a bazillion times? Their multi-instrumental combined powers pave the way for horns, accordions, harps, cellos, xylophones and more, and all that awesome musicality shines in the title track, “Porno,” “We Exist,” “Here Comes the Night Time” and more. Guess they’re back on my radar because I fucking love this album. An aside: I went back to Funeral the other day and still thought it was pretentious as shit. Oh, well. But what they accomplish on this album is very impressive.
Sound off, gang! 1-10, coming soon.