This year wasn’t really filled with an abundance of new albums that I really loved. A lot of albums had great parts, but didn’t really impress me overall. I also listened to a lot of older music, trying to catch up on years of musical history to which I am largely ignorant of. With that these are the ten albums I liked the most and as someone who is probably not fit to judge music (I like/dislike this is really what it comes down to) I will do my best to explain why.
Most of the albums here seem split between two fairly broad categories: stripped down and raw rock. The louder things I listened to are mostly guitar driven, simple, loud songs (I was really into early punk this year, so I guess this makes sense). The quieter things are acoustic guitar driven or haunting ballad-like songs. This isn’t the case with some of them (as you will soon see), but if I were to say there was some sort of trend in the music I listened to, this is certainly where I find it.
10. Of Monsters and Men “My Head is An Animal”
“Little Talks” has been a constant on radio worldwide this year, it is now reached the level of being overplayed, but still remains one of the year’s best songs. While the rest of the album sounds similar to its hit, “My Head is An Animal” reaches beyond “Little Talks” with mythical tales sung over the vocals of singers Nanna and Ragnar. They follow in the footsteps of the upbeat folk-pop of Mumford & Sons with a more broad creative edge of someone like an Arcade Fire. The songs fit perfectly with the adventurous lyrics and really the whole thing makes you want to explore an Icelandic Forest.
9. Grizzly Bear “Shields”
“Shields” is the first time I’ve ever been able to get into a Grizzly Bear album, which means it likely their most accessible record to date. I have a difficult time describing what is so interesting about them, I guess it is in their powerful vocals laid out before their technical and almost epic guitar parts. At times, it almost reminds me of a metal record minus any sort of heaviness, with intricate haunting parts, at others it fits nicely into the indie rock scene.
8. The Chariot “One Wing”
The Chariot remains the most prevalently listened to band of my high school years (they were the headliner of the first small show that I ever went to). I believe that “One Wing” may be their best album yet, representing everything that the band is about: loud chaotic noise that sweeps the audience up with southern tinged guitars, faith-based lyrics, and a touch of humor. The band chooses to include more random noises and musical interludes throughout the album leading to a break in the chaos that only amps it up in new and interesting ways (not to mention the Charlie Chaplin quote that closes the album in a powerful manner).
7. Sufjan Stevens “Silver & Gold”
Sufjan released his second multi-disc Christmas album this year and though it has been largely ignored on year-end lists, I think it is the sort of album that deserves recognition. With “Silver & Gold”, Sufjan seems to be creating a massive concept album around Christmas. The songs range from classics (done regularly and in messy fashions) to beautiful (and strange) originals. With it, he tackles all the different forms that Christmas can come to mean in the life of different individuals. The album is at times messy, it is cheesy,ugly, joyful, warm, and beautiful, everything that Christmas is. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to an album that so fittingly matches it subject like this one does.
6. The Tallest Man on Earth “There’s No Leaving Now”
Kristian Mattsson shows progression with his latest singer-songwriting venture. It remains just him and his guitar for the majority of the time, but he continues to make things sound lively and fresh despite this simple formula. The songs are well written and his voice remains unique, but also improved. Definitely my favorite of his 3 albums.
5. Japandroids “Celebration Rock”
One of the year’s breakout groups, Japandroids released the raw, loud, no holds barred “Celebration Rock” this year. Despite only having two members, “Celebration” is one of the most energetic albums I listened to all year. The album opens and closes (quite appropriately) with fireworks, giving you a taste of the explosion of sound that is to come. Filled with “oh oh ohs” and drums that are easy to clap along with, “Celebration Rock” might be the best blast these songs from a car album of the year. It’s fast and noisy and messy, and it is a lot of fun to listen to.
4. The Avett Brothers “The Carpenter”
I wasn’t so hot on the The Avett Brothers new folk-rock album at first, but after multiple listens it became one of my favorites, just as every subsequent album seems to do. They approach their songs with a sort of Southern simplicity with a touch of punkish progressiveness. Although on this album, the punk influence has certainly decreased, one can still feel its energy in the more upbeat tracks. Their lyrics remain well thought out as always, keeping up there with the best of them as they explore life, love, and faith.
3. Right Away, Great Captain “The Church of the Good Thief”
Andy Hull (Manchester Orchestra) finished up the trilogy of his side project with “The Church of the Good Thief” and it was another great record. Filled mostly with just Hull’s vocals and a guitar, Hull crafts haunting songs as he explores this character for the now third time. Hull’s vocals are the real draw to these songs with his unique at-times whispering, at-times whiny singing; if you’re into it, you’ll be into this record, if not it might not be for you. Hull fully absorbs the character once again offering up painful, regret tinged songs that grip the listener with each poetic note sung.
2. Howler “America Give Up”
Howler is what I would imagine The Ramones to sound like if they were just coming out today. They are the brainchild of singer/guitarist Jordan Gatesmith who does his best Joey Ramone impression while creating fast and fun garage rock that would fit perfect on any trip to the beach. This record was probably the most fun that I had all year with its laid back, raw feel. While Gatesmith’s vocals may grate on some and the music may not be overtly technically crafted, Howler stuck with me. Lyrically the songs are about youth and girls, but are written in a clever enough fashion in order to get by. The free flowing songs with Gatesmith’s vocal inflections give the band the boost it needs to stick around despite some perceived shallowness.
1. Lost in the Trees “A Church That Fits Our Needs”
Lost in the Trees sophomore record deals with singer Ari Picker’s loss of his mother to suicide after suffering from mental illness. Through sweeping violins and other haunting sounds, he explores his relationship with his mother, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is all poetic and doesn’t border on the voyeurism that it has the potential for. Instead Picker and company craft beautiful songs that pay tribute to the loss, the difficulties, and the sadness that must come with such a tragedy. While their debut consisted of haunting folk songs that leaned toward an indie feel, “A Church That Fits Our Needs” evolves them into full fledged anthemic folk with classical stylings dispersed throughout quiet reflective moments. This album got a little bit of attention, but didn’t seem to have the staying power that it had with me.
Honorable mentions: mewithoutYou “Ten Stories”, The Walkmen “Heaven”, Branches “Thou Art the Dream”, The Seeking “Yours Forever”, David Crowder Band “Give Us Rest”, Father John Misty “Fear Fun”, Derek Webb “ctl”