Top 12 Albums 2016

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Here’s my Favorite 12 Albums of 2016.

12 because 10 isn’t ever enough, and “favorite” (as opposed to “best”) because objectivity in art is impossible.

There are a lot of albums from 2016 that I didn’t listen to, and a lot of other albums that I heard once but never spent time with, so expect plenty of 2016 music to trickle out here in the next several months. I don’t make definitive lists because I change my mind too much, but this is stuff I have listened to the most over the last year.

(presented in alphabetical order)

The Avalanches – Wildflower (Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 11 July 2016) This is only their second proper album but so far I love it, from the Biz Markie song The Noisy Eater to some of the quieter interlude bits. It’s heavy-sampled and heavily tropical with that same perfect nostalgia/sadness feeling that Pet Sounds really perfectly handles. This was the band I discovered when I first got into new music after high school and they remain one of my favorites of all time.

Beyonce – Lemonade (iTunes (for purchase)Tidal)
A ton of amazing music was released this year. When it comes to Tidal-exclusives from legendary artists, Beyonce has Kanye beat, hands down. It’s packed with perfect tracks that push the boundaries of pop music into new and exciting places. It’s pretty inescapable and that’s for good reason.

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (DatPiff, Apple Music, Spotify)
I mentioned Kanye above, and Chance had a crucial role in the single best Kanye song from this year, but then his 3rd mixtape (album? I get that it’s…not, but maybe we should just call them albums at this point?) blew The Life of Pablo out of the water. Chance stretches his style in this mixtape, trying different styles and cadences while he matches with his guests. His voice is versatile, both as a rapper and singer as well as his voice as a writer. His exuberance is infectious, and this mixtape gets better with each listen.

clipping. – Splendor & Misery (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks 14 September 2016) This is a hell of an incredible album. It’s a dark afrofuturist science fiction story, told by insanely precise, heavily rhythmic raps over avant-noise soundscapes. It’s unquestionably the evolution of noise-hop, and a clear next step from the noisy Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein, and afrofuturist scifi rap of Deltron 3030.

DM Stith – Pigeonheart (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 1 August 2016) This is, without question, a headphones album. I tried listening to it a few times this week in the car with kids and playing out of the speaker of my phone and I was not moved. Then, after the kids were all asleep, I donned my preferred listening headphones (Sony MDRZX110 – less than $15 on Amazon) and this album exploded before me into sound-shapes and mind-colors or something. Stith’s trademark haunting ghost vocals are there, backed by a dazzling array of sounds both organic and synthetic. This album is deep, unfolding with multiple listens, and it somehow stays unpredictable, like some sort of weird audio fractal. Highly recommended.

Eola – Dang (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 12 October 2016) This is absolutely my favorite album that I’ve stumbled upon recently. I saw it described on twitter as “lo-fi droney gospel” and I flipped out–I am the exact target market for that. It’s gorgeous and meditative at times, and playful and honestly pretty dorky at other times. But I’m in love hardcore with this record. I will be listening to this for a while.

Helado Negro – Private Energy (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 12 October 2016) I have a confession: I love Helado Negro’s music. I mean, I guess it’s not much of a confession, but every single thing that Roberto Lange has released as Helado Negro has gripped me and I am a buy-every-album fan for life at this point. This album, his fifth full-length (there are also several EPs), really exhibits his growth in songcraft. There’s still the dense electro-acoustic production, and the psychedelic interludes, but everything (even the songs en Español) are so much more singalongable this time around.

Jamila Woods – HEAVN (only on Soundcloud)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 18 July 2016) If, like me, you’re into Chance The Rapper, you probably will recognize Jamila Woods’ voice. She is the driving force of Sunday Candy and Blessings (I) and her solo album is incredible even given the high expectations I had going into it. It turns out that she is a poet and playwright in her spare time, and that’s hardly a surprise after listening to the album. It’s a free download from soundcloud and you should absolutely not sleep on this.

Justice – Woman (Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks 23 November 2016) Justice is one of my favorite French electronic music duos (along with Daft Punk and Air), and I think they’ve gotten better with each album. Though they have mostly abandoned the dirty, noisy version of French Touch house music that made them huge, their focus on combining 70s rock and disco continues to pay off. A perfect steering wheel tapper for LA traffic.

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (free download on runthejewels.com, Apple Music, Spotify)
With this third album, Mike and El have cemented themselves in the list of greatest rap duos of all time. They’re still angry and they drop more knowledge in a verse than most rappers do in a whole album. El-P’s production is still singularly top-notch and neck-snapping, too. It’s the kind of album that you put on when you need to feel like you can throw refrigerators through walls.

Sound of Ceres – Nostalgia for Infinity (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
It’s weird how sometimes you find a band who make music just for you. Sound of Ceres hits that sweet spot for me that’s right between tiki-bar-era tropical exotica, shoegaze with whispery feminine vocals, warm ambient noise, and perfect-chorus pop songwriting. The music is so inviting, and it reaches right into my heart like little else. I want to live inside of their songs.

TW Walsh – Fruitless Research (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
TW Walsh is a hell of a songwriter, and I’ve been a big fan of his work with Pedro the Lion, with David Bazan, with The Soft Drugs, and on his solo albums. But this time, he’s augmented his sound with some noisy synths and other experimental elements, and it really makes a big difference to me. The sonic textures on this album really highlight his songwriting skills and production knowledge. I bought this on tape and couldn’t stop listening for months.

Ryan’s Music Picks: 7 November 2016

It’s election week this week, and I am stressed. I’m not going to bring politics into this email list, but if you’re curious, you can take a look at my twitter. So, with stress comes plenty of beautiful, mostly instrumental music for me. Check it out:

Delicate Steve – Positive Force (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This album is therapy. This is the album I reach for when I need comfort, when I am stressed. Delicate Steve’s lyrical guitar playing taps into some sort of emotional lock down in my lizard brain, and it allows me to just stop freaking out better than any other musical force I’ve found. Seriously, it’s one of the most aptly named albums on earth.

Casino Versus Japan – Frozen Geometry (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This guy has been making quiet, extremely relaxed albums for 15+ years now, but it’s been a while since the last one. So he’s given us 80 tracks of hazy perfection, with some synthesizers in places, some guitars in others, but pure space heart distributed throughout. This is a “wrap you up in a blanket with sound” kind of album, which is exactly what you need sometimes.

Pogo – Wonderland (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This little EP has been around for a while. It’s four little dubstep tracks built entirely of samples from Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland (1951). It’s tiny and charming and surprisingly transportative for only 4 tracks constructed from a children’s film. It’s pay-what-you-want on bandcamp!

Douglas Holmquist – PinOut OST (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I recently discovered PinOut through a friend on twitter. It’s a supremely-addicting combination of pinball and an endless runner-type game, with great Tron aesthetics. The most important element of that Tron feel is the synth-tastic soundtrack from Douglas Holmquist. He absolutely gives Daft Punk a run for their atmospheric money in this gem of a soundtrack.

Geotic – Mend (ONLY ON BANDCAMP)
Geotic is an ambient side project from the guy behind the band Baths, mostly consisting of guitar loops and reverb. It is the most relaxing, put-your-kids-to-bed music the world has ever produced, and I have successfully used it on the iPod in my kids’ room for the last 6 years. It’s pay-what-you-want on bandcamp, and your life should not be complete without listening to this album.

Mesarthim – .- -… … . -. -.-. . (ONLY ON BANDCAMP)
Another total gem from these atmospheric ambient metal dudes. It’s equal parts brutal and beautiful, partially depending how loud it is, and partially based on how well you deal with screaming. I deal well with screaming. Only $1 on bandcamp!

Ryan’s Music Picks: 24 October 2016

Halloween’s approaching. I think I’m working on a mix. In fact, don’t be surprised if a lot of stuff you’ve heard here pops into that mix, if I’m able to pull it together in time. Other than that, I’m reveling in the earlier sunsets and the little bits of rain we’re having in So Cal.

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Moon Cities – Golden Ghost Forest (stream/download or subscribe on iTunes)
(Moon Cities is me.) This is a mix I made about 3 years ago for fall-oween times. I think it gets closer to my feelings about the autumn season better than any words can.

John Carpenter – Big Trouble in Little China OST (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
I’m putting this here mostly just because I want to talk about this movie. I first watched it a couple of years ago for my podcast and I was blown away by just how excellent and totally weird it was. I was kinda put off by it at first, but with each subsequent viewing of the movie, I fall more and more in love. It’s got a perfect synths-n-guitars 80s soundtrack, something John Carpenter (who also directed the movie) excels at. Also the theme (aka Pork Chop Express) is just perfect.

Infinity Shred – Long Distance (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
Speaking of synths-n-guitars, Infinity Shred take that classic formula and tweak it a bit by adding a Commodore 64 and focusing heavily on the atmospheric post-rock (think Explosions in the Sky, but on a space station). They’re also bros with Anamanaguchi, which explains how bits of pure/glitch pop find their way into these devastating, spacey epics. (It looks like this is pay-what-you-want on bandcamp right now! I don’t know how long that will last!)

NxWorries – Yes Lawd! (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
Leave it to two very right now music makers (singer Anderson .Paak and beatmaker/rapper Knxwledge) to put together an album that follows up the perfect glitchy improvised R&B of Jamie Lidell’s first album better than he or anyone else has ever been able to. The beats here hit hard but migrate and stutter just enough to feel alive and a little unpredictable, and each track contain more vocal hooks and innovation than 5 or 6 Drake tracks. This is totally not appropriate for kids, and that bums me out because these grooves are unstoppable otherwise.

The Growlers – City Club (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
They call their genre “beach goth” and, sure. I mean, that works, I guess. It’s buzzy and jangly and kinda hubby rock and roll that’s catchy as all hell. It’s dark but not, like, menacing. It’s kinda gothy, I guess, but in a laid back, ‘we made tiki drinks with black rum’ kind of way. This is basically the musical equivalent of Gravity Falls.

Equip – I Dreamed of a Palace in the Sky (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
It’s weird how there’s an entire genre of music in 2016 that can be described as “soundtrack to imaginary JRPG that sounds like you downloaded over Limewire”. Maybe the weird part is that I have an entire collection of albums that hit that sweet spot but each of them do it differently and all of them are perfect. Anyway you could get lost in this album and end up on some kind of airship with a mage and a paladin or something, so be careful.

Earthly – Days (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
Speaking (as I was) about albums that are spiritual sequels of other, completely unrelated albums (see the NxWorries album above), plunderphonics albums like this one didn’t exist before The Avalanches showed up in 2001 with Since I Left You. This one really takes things a step beyond The Avalanches or even Animal Collective have done with its sampledelica: the songs are constructed using the in between sounds of samples. Like, we’re not hearing the actual samples, but the bits you trim off each side of the sample to tighten it up. Earthly have taken audio trimmings, the chaff of samples, and constructed incredible tunes out of it. I’m mesmerized.

The Radio Dept. – Running Out of Love (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
These guys have been making perfectly constructed political synth pop for ages. It’s upbeat but mostly very seriously built, with just the right tones and pads and beats. It’s got precisely what each song needs, like The Radio Dept. have songwriting down to a beautiful science.

Julia Kent – Asperities (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
Speaking of beautiful science, composer and cellist Julia Kent’s music is a perfect mixture of looped cello, and other both organic and electronic sounds, combined to be gorgeous and affecting and a little bit dangerous. If you think modern classical music is either all weird noises or movie soundtracks, you owe it to your finer sensibilities to check this out.

The Pipettes – We Are The Pipettes (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
How on earth is this album 10 years old?! I felt old as hell when I realized that. The Pipettes were an only-kind-of-ironic revival of classic 50s close-harmony girl group pop with some real earworm songs that even now, ten years later, I can’t get them out of my head. This might make you break out in song or dance, or both. Be careful.

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TINY EP CORNER
Tiny EPs are little three to six song albums that don’t usually last more than 10-20 minutes but are just so immaculate that I can’t stop listening to them. I’ve written about some before (Leno Lovecraft, Qrion) but now I’m giving them their own corner.

In Love With A Ghost – Let’s Go (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
Four songs that combine beats and piano with vocal sounds and ASMR sounds like rain and pages turning. It’s just so cozy and pretty–this is literally perfect headphone music. (pay-what-you-want on bandcamp!)

Vapor Lanes – Hieratic Teen (Bandcamp only)
Sweeping noise that lives and burrows deep inside you. But it’s not menacing as it takes over your body, the noise just knows that your heart is its only true home. Once inside, you feel it slowly replacing your neurons but you can’t fight it. The noise is part of you now, and you corrupt it just as it purifies you, never equalling out but finding a weird type of balance, leading to a whole new type of being.

Moon Racer – Moon Racer (Bandcamp only)
One way to hear this is as some direct-to-tape keyboard demos, but please please don’t listen to it that way. This is the heart of a child, fed through the noise-being who lives in your heart, dreaming of rainbows and glitter and Aladdin and Gremlins on VHS.

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PS: I should hopefully be giving you another of these Sunday night (30 October), chock full of Halloween music and maybe even with a new mixtape from yours truly.

Prestige Format Guide to Upcoming Releases, Early 2015

Lots of music that’s coming out that I am excited about!

January

1/13

  • Panda Bearvs. The Grim Reaper — I loved Person Pitch and was less enthused by Tomboy. The prerelease mix and EP have skewed pretty beat-heavy, so I’m excited.
  • Teen DazeA World Away EP — The two tracks released are the two sides of classic Teen Daze; one is nicely dancey and the other is coolly ambient. Preorder here.

1/20

  • The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World — New Decemberists yay! They have a just-odd-enough video (with Nick Offerman) that points to a more 70s-influenced sound.
  • Sleater-KinneyNo Cities to Love — You have to be excited about this. It’s required if you like “indie rock”.

1/27

  • Bjørn TorskeNedi Myra/Trøbbel Reissues — This dude is a predecessor to Lindstrom and Todd Terje and it’s exciting to see these hard to find albums reissued.
  • Mark RonsonUptown Special — Mark Ronson making pop music is a sign that the world is still not completely garbage. [[update: out now on iTunes]]

February

2/10

  • Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear — I’m pretty sick of Tillman’s schtick at this point, but I’m definitely not at all sick of his songwriting or music. It’s a weird place to be.

2/24

March

3/3

  • HeemsEat Pray Thug — I really like listening to Heems rapping. His flow drifts easily between hyper-articulate, swagger, and hazy silliness in a way that I just can’t get enough of.
  • Purity RingAnother Eternity — Just announced! Heavy electronics with gorgeous lilting vocals. Check out a new song here.

3/17

  • Twin ShadowEclipse — His last album, Confess, is one of my all-time favorite albums. I can’t wait to hear more from Twin Shadow.

3/23

  • The Go! TeamThe Scene Between — The Go! Team hits this perfect joyful/nostalgic balance that you can’t stop listening to. If their first single is any indication, this new album (the first in a while) is refocused but still exuberant.

3/31

  • Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell — The press line on this new Sufjan release is that it’s a return to folkier, quieter sounds. It’s a welcome announcement.

No Date

  • Anamanaguchi — There’s a hint of something on the video for the PC Music-influenced single Pop It that appeared mysteriously last year. My soul is prepared.

Free Music Roundup

I love free music! Especially free music that is being handed out legally and with love. A ton of good stuff has come out recently! Check it out:

2014 was a great year for (free) label compilations. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Ghostly International x Adult Swim presents Ghostly Swim 2 — Mostly ambient electronic noise with beats.
  • Noumenal Loom Compilation 1 — Georgia underground label specializing in haunted electronic tones and quiet guitar compositions.
  • Secret Songs shh#ffb6c1 — This was one of my favorite albums of 2014. I said A compilation from Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs netlabel, these songs all feel like the future to me.
  • Asthmatic Kitty Digital Sampler, Autumn 2014 — AK consistently put out some of my favorite music. Label run by Sufjan Stevens.
  • Flannelgraph Records Winter Sampler 2014-2015 — I was not prepared for the quiet greatness in this group of tunes.
  • DFA Records Holiday Remix EP — When some of my favorites (Sinkane) are remixed by some of my other favorites (Busy P, CFCF), everyone wins.

Towards the end of 2014, while I was still in my Christmas music hole, I found that a few cool free EPs came out, too:

  • SpineePretty Green — From PC Music, this is over the top electronic glory with a remix from Anamanaguchi!
  • Leno Love CraftPlatinum Planet EP — From Secret Songs, this gets that PC Music vibe and adds a 90s R&B/Sega Game Soundtrack feel.
  • Chindamohere+there EP — Charming and chiming, this self-released debut EP should warm your chill heart.
  • Via VegrandisJil Sent Me/Birds To Me — A cover of a forgotten song (by Mortal) and a new romantic standout.

There some good stuff out that you can pay for, too. Here’s some recent good stuff you might have missed:

  • GeoticSunset Mountain (Eon Isle) — Part of Baths’ ambient Geotic project, the Eon Isle series of albums focuses on a single instrument. The Sunset Mountain installment is all voices, and sounds, according to a twitter friend, “like the music they must have in Rivendell”. $7
  • Vapor LanesA Thin Film — Violent noise coalesces into beautiful melodies and gives you feelings. $7
  • Solid Mas/Jim GuthrieOne Of These Days I’ll Get It Right — Beatmaker Solid Mas takes Jim Guthrie’s music from the Swords & Sworcery Soundtrack, the Indie Game: The Movie Soundtrack, among others, and gives them the blender treatment. Fans of Jim Guthrie will obviously be into it, as will fans of sample-masters like Prefuse 73 and The Avalanches, but anyone who likes good things will dig this. $5.99 CAD

 

 

Top Ten 2009 Albums to Play for Your Parents

The last of the Super Secret Space Base posts. Links were to dead streaming site lala.

There comes a time in your life where you run out of time to pay attention to all of the different things that were so interesting in your youth. Very often, this time comes right around the time you have children. Thus, most parents have tastes in music frozen in time around the arrival of their bundles of joy. They’re often, but not always, unwilling to appreciate any new developments in music. Unfortunately, the new developments in music that they are receptive to are the most unchallenging (this is why American Idol is popular–it’s basically mass participation karaoke).

For my baby boomer parents, while some touchstones include early Zeppelin, early the Who, mid-period Beatles (specifically the McCartney songs), most of their go-to tunes can be graciously described as “easy listening”. My dad likes classic rock but doesn’t like that it now includes early U2 and Van Halen. For my mom, it’s either schlocky R&B/Motown with any edge carefully buffed out or Billy Joel and his ilk. I have some of their old records and can testify that they used to have good taste in music (Mom’s Steely Dan got sold before my time, but Dad handed down some ELP and Jethro Tull). Your parents are probably similar–the most recent cds they own are probably an American Idol alum like Kelly Clarkson or a soundtrack for a movie targeted directly at their demographic. Now, while not all parents are in this boat (Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon’s kid is the luckiest alive in this regard), most of them probably have similar touchstones of their frozen music taste. Here are ten albums released in 2009 which will pass through their Music Defense Shield and might have them open their mind a bit.


Richard Swift – Atlantic Ocean

This album is best if your parents ever liked seventies high-art pop songwriters like Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, and ELO. It’s got some synth, but it’s mostly played the way synth was played in the seventies: as a funky keyboard. There’s a lot of perfect pop songwriting, with piano and falsetto. Come to think of it, this album might work really well during a late party where a board game is being played with some intensity, but everyone has had a bit to drink. Also, watch out–there’s some swears–nothing severe but you might want to know.

Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
There’s a lot going on in this album. It features the frontmen of My Morning Jacket (Jim James, who released an album of hushed George Harrison covers as Yim Yames this year–Parent Approved) and Bright Eyes (warbly-voiced Conor Oberst) as well as singer-songwriter (and Zooey Deschanel collaborator) M. Ward (who also released a Parent Approved album this year called Hold Time) and Bright Eyes producer/guitarist Mike Mogis. The best approximation is southern rock like CCR and the Allman Brothers (without the all the guitar fireworks), though there’s some Neil Young and some Prince thrown in for good measure. There are a couple of clunkers on this album (thanks, Conor!) but it’s mostly hushed folk mixed with nice rocking songs complete with guitar solos, and a couple of funky butt-rock songs. Monsters of Folk will work best in a loud setting, either a talkative car or a boisterous party.

The Decemberists – Hazards of Love
This is a slightly risky inclusion on the list, but I think it is a worthwhile one. What we have here is a full-on rock opera, with a specific story and structure and everything. The Decemberists have finally taken that literary nerd rock they love and fully integrated with the Led Zeppelin sound. (Don’t think they go together? What about Misty Mountain Hop? The song’s about hobbitses, precious.) Your dad will love the monster Zep (or Sabbath or Rush, whatever his touchstone is) riffs, your mom will love the quiet duets about love. If your mom’s like mine and was a singer in a past life and is always complaining that all the lady singing she hears you listen to is all whispery and not nearly strong enough, then Shara Worden (as the Forest Queen–see what I mean about rock opera?–and also from the band My Brightest Diamond, which is quite a bit more challenging than this) will knock her off her feet. This is probably best as car trip music, provided you’re driving. Plus you can mention their lighthearted feud with Stephen Colbert as either serious or joking depending on their political leanings.

Music Go Music – Expressions
Everybody likes Abba. Everybody likes the Top Gun soundtrack. Everyone likes a little bit of Yes. Especially your parents. Rock on!

Kings of Convenience – Declaration of Dependence
Every baby boomer has a soft spot for Simon and Garfunkel. Some might prefer Paul Simon’s solo work, but the duo have a classic pop-folk sound which is still relevant and popular. Great for quiet evenings, it boasts syncopated acoustic finger-picking and great singing in harmony, featuring Erlend Øye’s butter-smooth vocals. Just, uh, maybe don’t mention that they’re Swedish?

Cotton Jones – Paranoid Cocoon
A blues- (but not blooz-) soaked folk album, this might remind your parents of their hippie days, before it was commodified and sold back to them in a high-priced special edition. It’s got a great hazy Sixties feel, with warm organ and lazily strummed vintage guitar. It’s sure to warm an afternoon and it’ll go just as well with tea as with wine.

Helado Negro – Awe Owe
This is perfect music to play for your abuela and your tias while they whip up their famous batch of tamales (make sure to save me some). Sure to be a hit with anyone who owns an album by someone named Gilberto, Roberto Carlos Lange takes the traditional Latin touchstones and mixes in some ambient atmospherics. This works perfectly as background music–the more “challenging” sounds fade into the background, but the samba and other elements jump out when the time is right.

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Have your parents ventured into the wasteland that is country music? My dad spent a morning at a country station talking up one of his clients, and later mentioned to me that country music is great! I assured him that most of the time, country music is actually the opposite of great. Neko Case is one of the fantastic exceptions. She writes incredibly solid, twangy pop songs with singable choruses and vital lyrics which tell vivid stories. They’re often sad, even, keeping in line with the classic country stereotype.

Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics – Inspiration Information 3
Do your parents like jazz and funk music? Do they listen to jazz and funk music that is antiseptic and overproduced to the point that it’s practically elevator music? Here is their antidote. This is another great quiet evening soundtrack, perfect for listening while your yearly game of Monopoly rages ever onward.

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Okay, let’s be honest. This album, while definitely one of the best of the year, is pretty difficult. But it’s worth it. Your parents may be unsure at first, so why not start with the single version of While You Wait for the Others featuring every baby boomers’ favorite crooner, Michael McDonald? They use mostly conventional instruments, and write gorgeous pop songs. Don’t call them experimental, just call them a pop rock band. This album might be the most difficult connection to make, with little to connect to Approved music. But just let the songs sink in over dinner and hope for the best. The payoff will be worth it.


For best exposure, play these subtly in the background while driving with them or enjoying a meal. Don’t jump on your parents when they ask who it is. Give the name, and maybe mention them in conjunction to an artist on their Approved List. For best results, shuffle with a complementary Approved album or two–you’ll likely get a “sounds like you finally have good taste in music” backhanded compliment. Let it slide.

Favorite Albums of 2010

It’s my birthday, so I’d like discuss the albums I liked last year, no matter that it’s been 2011 for over a month.

1. Beach House – Teen Dream
Slow and soothing sometimes, rocking other times. Brilliant the whole way through. I have trouble talking about this record without using words like “perfect” or “absolutely perfect” or “best album ever”. It’s woozy and melancholy, uplifting and sonorous. I can’t listen to it enough. Sounds perfect on vinyl.

2. Sleigh Bells – Treats
Whereas Beach House is made for being played on vinyl, Sleigh Bells’ debut album, Treats, sounds perfect being played from an iPod. It’s constructed specifically to be lossy–it’s a noisy, violent mess. It’s all the best parts of metal and pop rolled into one. See my previous post about them to learn more of my obsession.

3. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
James Murphy is nothing if not consistent. When this album first leaked, there was a lot of disappointment floating around the internets. A lot of people pointed out the obvious Berlin-Bowie reference point of a couple of songs, and the album was basically written off. But a strange thing happened: as time progressed, the internet’s (and my) attitude towards the album changed. I warmed up to the songs in a big way (seeing them live at the Hollywood Bowl helped immensely–some LCD sounds you just need to hear live) and found some of my favorite tracks of 2010 (Home, anyone?).

4. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
Experimental pop sounds like such a joke genre. “We just take pop songs and play ’em weird, you know?” sounds like something some ‘experimental pop’ dude would say in a half-drunken interview. Well, the dudes from Yeasayer don’t mess around like that–even though you could describe their music like that and you wouldn’t be necessarily wrong. The guys from Yeasayer write fantastic, catchy-as-hell songs and then find the perfect off the wall sounds for them.

5. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
Local Natives were my first big surprise of the year. Their name makes them sound like some pothead rap-rock band, and they went to middle school with my sister in Mission Viejo, the center of boring white suburban Orange County. But these harmonizers have been listening to a lot of Brooklyn bands like Grizzly Bear (a personal favorite) and combining an East coast-chamber pop aesthetic with a West coast sunniness that really gets me moving.

6. Chris Schlarb – Psychic Temple
“It’s sorta this ambient jazz thing…” is a terrible way to describe such a beautiful album. Chris Schlarb knows how to take disparate elements and layer them in a way that’s practically transcendent. This album works for folkies, jazz guys, ambient music nerds and plain ol’ indie fans in a way that’s honestly surprising. Please, give it a listen and you will be surprised with how much you like this album.

7. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
Oh man. This guy. He takes a break from writing albums full of gorgeous, swelling orchestral folk-pop songs. Writes a Steve Reich-by-way-of-Warp records symphony to a much-hated highway in New York City. And then this album. It’s as if you took his Illinois album, combined the electronic leanings of his first couple of albums, and then replaced any self-editing tendencies with raw ambition. How else can you explain the 25-minute pop opus track that closes the album and encompasses everything from autotune to raw acoustic guitar (more to come about this later…)

And now we come to the cop-out portion of the list:

8. Baths – Cerulean / Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
I had two very different halves of this year. I started this year with an office job that made living comfortable, I ended up with a very different job that I greatly prefer but that makes life a bit more difficult. And here are the respective soundtracks. Both beat- and sample-heavy, Baths is floating and light in a way that FlyLo is deep and heavy. Both take different touchstones from which to produce serious beats (Baths: pop and R&B/soul, FlyLo: psych and jazz) and both are fantastic.

9. Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett / The Mynabirds – What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood
These two albums are easy to lump together because they share Richard Swift as their producer. He brings such a similar vibe to both albums: he scrapes open a doorway to a more raw past for both artists. Jurado’s sad, truthful vignettes and laments never sounded so hopeful and nostalgic, and Laura Burhenn (the only mynabird in The Mynabirds) sounds churchier and southern-ier than she ever did as part of Georgie James.

10. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast / Best Coast – Crazy For You
One’s a group of Floridian dudes, the other is an LA girl. Both of them like fuzzy summer pop rock and getting high. Weezer (early Weez, obviously) is a touchstone for Surfer Blood; Best Coast is more of a 60’s pop fan. Both of them clearly prefer sunny days and the beach.

Runners Up (in no particular order) after the jump:
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Albums of the Year 2008 Followup

Looking back at my several-days-old 2008 AOTY list, I screwed up. A bunch of really good albums failed to place on my list. Not because I didn’t like them as much, but because I forgot about them. Lame.

So, without further ado:

2008 Albums that Should Have Been on My List

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Albums of the Year 2008

Top 20-ish, in order from the Top:
(links take you to lala.com full album streams, mostly. In absence of lala streams, links go to other streams or a DRM-free mp3 store)

  1. Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes / Sun Giant EP
  2. TV on the RadioDear Science
  3. WalkmenYou & Me
  4. Cut CopyIn Ghost Colours
  5. School of Seven BellsAlpinism

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