So, we've finally reached that time: the best albums of the year. Numbers 25-16 aren't in any order, just because in past years I've only done a top fifteen with honorable mentions, but those honorable mentions essentially served as numbers 16 through 25. So, why break with tradition? In any case, let's get this shit started.
The '59 Sound by The Gaslight Anthem
The Gaslight Anthem's sophomore release operates as an interesting thought experiment. What if Bruce Springsteen was brought up on Black Flag and Agent Orange instead of whatever the fuck Bruce Springsteen listened to when he was young? The similarities between this Jersey based quartet and The Boss aren't lost on anyone, and this is actually the most oft-commented upon of the band's many attributes. However, the comparisons are just as unfair as they are apt. The Gaslight Anthem may work Springsteen territory in their glorification of the...'59 Sound (sorry) and blue collar work ethic, but they never ape the Jersey giant. The tropes commonly associated with the acts to whom The Gaslight Anthem find themselves compared seem internalized, nothing about their somewhat anachronistic sound is forced. When they sing about a Cadillac it's because they actually give a shit about a Cadillac. The earnestness is genuine, and refreshing.
The 59 Sound - The Gaslight Anthem
Microcastle by Deerhunter
Bradford Cox has had a pretty busy year. In addition to tossing out the first Atlas Sound album he and the rest of Deerhunter gave us not one, but TWO new albums this year. As a testament to how cool Mr. Cox is, let us consider this simple fact: the reason that there are two full-length Deerhunter albums this year is that, upon hearing that Microcastle had leaked Cox decided to write and record another album for those fans who waited until the retail release. Pretty awesome. Also pretty awesome is Microcastle . I'm not going to lie, I don't like Microcastle as much as Deerhunter's breakthrough album, Cryptograms, but that being said there is still a lot to admire, from the Pavement-esque single, "Nothing Ever Happens," to the song about the breaking of childhood dreams, "Little Kids." With Microcastle Deerhunter take a step even further down the path of dream-pop, and it's a winning development.
Little Kids - Deerhunter
Hold On Now Youngster... by Los Campesinos!
I think that is is impossible to dislike Los Campesinos! Last year they threw two fantastic EPs our way (one of which landed on my 'best of list' last year), and this year they tossed two fantastic full-lengths our way. I think a good thanks to these Welsh folks is in order. The comparisons to Pavement fly around with reckless abandon, but I would also toss in fellow Arts & Crafts label mates Broken Social Scene and The Most Serene Republic as influences as well. They have the broad range of instrumentation of the aforementioned groups, as well as their penchant for bringing the emotional to the surface in their lyrics. Los Campesinos! aren't particularly concerned with hiding these influences, and their obvious love and enthusiasm for said influences is palpable on Hold On Now Youngster... Almost all of the appeal of the album is just how enthusiastic they are about the music they like, and the music they're making. Plus it sounds super happy, even if that sound is just a mask to hide the sad sack lyrics.
6 Knee Deep At ATP - Los Campesinos!
The Rhumb Line by Ra Ra Riot
I think by now the sad tale of Ra Ra Riot's past year has been well documented. Having a band member die must be one of the hardest things for a band to overcome, but Ra Ra Riot have managed to overcome the loss of their drummer and still make a record that is as uplifting as it is concerned with death. Don't get me wrong, there's death all over this record, but it's always with the caveat of recognizing that life is worth living to the fullest. Words to the wise. Plus, I can't help but love a rock band with a cellist.
Can You Tell - Ra Ra Riot
April by Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek's second album of original material under the moniker Sun Kil Moon is about as chilled out as one would expect from a Mark Kozelek project. But where his first two Sun Kil Moon albums were mostly acoustic/low key electric guitar affairs, there is something about April that sounds more expansive. Just a bit. And it's lovely. Kozelek has always had a way of writing songs that aren't really stories, but come across as stories or character portraits. His strength as a lyricist, and, essentially, the album's core strength, really comes from his ability to be simple and plain spoken, and yet still seem to say more in those few words than most others could say in a thousand.
Lost Verses - Sun Kil Moon
Nouns by No Age
The DIY ethic associated with Los Angeles based band No Age (and The Smell, the club from which No Age is essentially based) is a pretty spectacular throwback to 1980s hardcore, and their music tends to reflect that throwback. Except it sounds like a dozen punk bands on the same mix, thus what makes No Age's debut album so good. They take elements that one finds typically comforting, and then buries them underneath a pile of distortion, effects, and feedback. They create a sound that is just as comforting as that original element, despite the somewhat alienating effects tossed on top.
Cappo - No Age
Saturdays=Youth by M83
M83 (really just Anthony Gonzalez)again return to their favorite decade (the 1980s) to pull out old sounds and present them in an un-ironic way. It is this aspect that sets M83 apart from most of their 80's stealing contemporaries: where most use the musical tropes of the 1980s for irony's sake, M83 are almost reverent in their approach to the music of their youth. They cherry pick only the best parts of 1980s pop and craft a love letter to a barely remembered decade. From the synthetic drums of "Kim & Jessie" to "Graveyard Girl" (which sounds more like The Edge than The Edge does) Gonzalez does create an album that, given our generation's ravenous appetite for anything and everything 1980s, really does capture the sound of youth.
Graveyard Girl - M83
The Bronx III by The Bronx
The Bronx are responsible for two of the best punk albums of the decade, and their third self-titled release isn't too bad either. It doesn't have the punch-you-in-the-fucking-face aggression of their debut, nor does it have the down and dirty (and other cliches) quality of their sophomore offering. In fact its a little bit, dare I say, poppy. The second self-titled album had some pop in it, but here it is on in full force. It's sort of bizarre to think of The Bronx as having "pop" qualities, and perhaps there is a stigma that comes with using the word pop that is inappropriate. What is certainly true, though, is that with their third album The Bronx have become more melodious, and that is definitely a welcome change. However, what is not lost is the band's energy, which inevitably carries them through the album's lulls, and makes you remember nothing but the highlights.
Six Days A Week - The Bronx
Santogold by Santogold
I would be less than forthcoming if I didn't say, right up front, that when I first heard Santogold (a.k.a Santi White) I cast her aside as an M.I.A. soundalike. I was wrong. White, a mudic industry veteran who has penned songs for Ashlee Simpson, does indeed get a somewhat global sound, like M.I.A., but instead of being filtered through a hip-hop lens, this is world music as filtered through a rock lens. And it can be pretty badass at times. "We think you're a joke/Shove your hope where it don't shine," she sings on "Shove It." But for every overtly badass moment on Santogold there is an equally heartfelt one. "Light's Out" sounds like it could be equally at home on the next Tegan & Sara album. I'm sure that the M.I.A. comparisons will haunt Santogold far into the future, but it's really an unfair comparison to make, and one which she will shake, because she deserves her own spotlight, she shouldn't have to try and fight to share with someone else.
Lights Out - Santogold
Visiter by Dodos
For a two-person operation Dodos' debut album has a surprisingly full sound, and it is a consistently surprising sound. A little bit of blues, a bit of folk, a bit of rock, and a bit of west African drumming all sit alongside one another. But they never feel like they shouldn't be next to one another. I don't tend think of quality music and technical musical proficiency as being co-dependent, in fact I rarely think of technical proficiency at all when evaluating an album. But here it is hard to ignore the fact that Meric Long and Logan Kroeber are extremely talented musicians, and this comes across beautifully in the simplistic generic frameworks within which they work. I tend to doubt that Dodos will ever breakthrough into big-time indie music success, to say nothing of mainstream success, but their debut is fantastic and I'm intrigued to see where this trio (they added a member during the course of the past year) will go. Wherever it is, I'm sure it will be fascinating.
Red and Purple - The Dodos