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: