First, an alphabetized list of honorable mentions. Records I listened to and liked, but didn’t stick or didn’t feel complete to me. The top 10 (actually 11 as you’ll see) I simply liked better, which is how this thing works.
The Avett Brothers “Magpie and the Dandelion”, Daughter “If You Leave”, Holograms “Forever”, Justin Timberlake “The 2o/20 Experience Pt. 1”, Kanye West “Yeezus”, Neko Case “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You”, Phosphorescent “Muchacho”, Rapsody “She Got Game”
And now the top 1o:
London Grammar “If You Wait”- At number 10 we have a tie. London Grammar was a late bloomer for me, but the songs stuck with Hannah Reid’s deep vocals drawing me in. They are reminiscent of Florence Welch, but London Grammar chooses the melancholic calm over the robust songs of Florence + the Machine. Listen to album closer “If You Wait” to get a sense of both the melancholy and the power of Reid’s vocals.
The National “Trouble Will Find Me” – The second spot for the tie, The National is one of my favorite bands, but the latest album was one that I had planned on leaving out of the top 10. However, on a late listen I discovered that there were too many songs that I adored on this record to leave out of the top 10. It is one of those albums that doesn’t excite me when I think about listening to it, but when I actually do, I remember how great it is.
9. Potty Mouth “Hell Bent” – A four piece female garage/punk rock band that brings raw energy. There’s no other album I want to see be played in a crowded, sweaty garage. They’re so much fun and right up my alley.
8. Volcano Choir “Repave” – The first few sounds of the album let you know that this is not just a Justin Vernon side project, but something that fits alongside his greatest works and could easily be called the third Bon Iver album. Its melancholic, atmospheric, and soul uplifting all at once.
7. Janelle Monáe “The Electric Lady” – Monáe’s last album was good, but never caught my attention track after track like “The Electric Lady” does. She continues her theme here of an android fighting for rights in a society that discriminates against them. The concept is woven throughout the album, with radio interludes every few tracks, but overall each song stands on its own. The way she is able to mix together so many genre influences is flawless: pop, funk, R&B, hip-hop, rock, soul; they’re all there.
6. Parquet Courts “Light Up Gold” – While at times they have a raw and fast punk sound, what really elevates Parquet Courts is their willingness to slow things down, making laid back songs that drip with wit. Andrew Savage sings with irony on his lips, which makes this band especially fun to listen to.
5. Chance the Rapper “Acid Rap” – My favorite hip-hop album of the year – though I’m certainly no expert in that regard. This was one that I kept coming back to, particularly in the summer. It’s a really fun listen and what made me love it is this fun, fresh feel. His ability to touch on subjects like life in Chicago, his mom, love, drug use – all of which are all hip-hop staples – without feeling stale is what won me over.
4. Arcade Fire “Reflektor” – Some loved it, others hated it, I certainly stood with the prior. I got sucked into it easily, the best rock band of our time writing songs influenced by a Kierkegaard essay, while critiquing colonialism both in religious and cultural form was right up my alley. The songs are big and loud, showcasing their ever evolving sound; the lyrics as insightful as ever.
3. CHVRCHES “The Bones of What You Believe” – If all electronic pop music was as catchy as CHVRCHES’ debut, I would probably listen to it on a more regular basis. Not that this record was particularly groundbreaking for electronic music, but my personal tastes tend to be more grounded in guitars, bass, and drums. CHVRCHES made the best pop record of the year in my opinion, one that will barely see the sights of top 40 radio, but is most deserving of it.
2. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper “Ripely Pine” – An album that I absolutely loved that got little love elsewhere. Aly Spaltro makes acoustic folk songs that occasionally sound like the whimsy, wide-horned glasses wearing, ukelele sporting women that have become somewhat prevalent. However, in an instant she can throw all that cutesy out the window. Her songs are occasionally sweet, mostly sad and at times downright angry.
1. Vampire Weekend “Modern Vampires of the City” – From the moment that I heard “Ya Hey” I knew that every other album had better watch out for this one. Vampire Weekend’s third album is probably my favorite of the last five years. Musically their songs are at the top of their game, the infectious Buddy Holly-ness of “Diane Young”, the upbeat “Unbelievers”, the chanting “Ya Hey”, they did an incredible job putting all of these together. Even more than this, where the album truly becomes a master work in my opinion is in its lyrics. Ezra Koenig maintains the same wit and charm he’s always had (which some hate and others love) but reflects on death and religion. I was moved by his thoughts, doubts, hopes, and struggles. It is such a surprisingly mature step forward for Koenig and company, one that is certainly welcome and one that I believe will make its mark in music.