My Favorite Albums of 2013

Yes, once again, my attempt to claim to still have relevance in the world of musical critique. Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions: Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt; Trophy Wife: Trophy Wife; Pixies: EP1 +  Bagboy

15. The Knife: Shaking the Habitual I had a few albums this year where I really (I mean really) listened the hell out of it for a week or two and then haven’t found the mood to return. Shaking the Habitual is the first of those and also the only one to feature a song about fracking.

14. Sigur Ros: Kveikur I was honestly surprised how much I liked this album, but then I realized that they actually added some pop structure to their sound and, yup, that was it.

13. Franz Ferdinand: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions A band who is consistently consistent. Can’t tell if that is a good or bad thing. Fun listen, but man, how do you ever live up to a debut like theirs?

12. Charli XCX: True Romance A few songs on this (“Stay Away”, “How Can I”, “You’re the One”) are off the wall. Some of the songs are filler. However, those good songs are great (especially this live version of “Stay Away”).

11. Kanye West: Yeezus Every freaking time with Kanye, I think the album is monumental when I listen to it pretty much nonstop for a few weeks. Then I don’t touch. Then I return and wonder what I heard the first 100 times. Not to say it isn’t a good (and jarring) album, but didn’t even age well over 6 months.

10. The National: Trouble Will Find Me I think in Pitchfork’s year end list, they mention the idea that some folks really want the National to be boring. Maybe I’m one of them because I know I’ve liked almost every National album, but I never feel like I really like that band. I’ve now come to terms with the idea that the National are really good … maybe I just didn’t want to admit they have out Eitzeled Mark Eitzel.

9. The Blow: The Blow No Paper Television, but still an indie pop gem.

8. Chvrches: The Bones of What You Believe I think a theme for me in 2013 (musically) was female-fronted synth pop. Chvrches are really just this year’s version of the Purity Ring, but that didn’t stop me from liking the album.

7. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels Killer Mike and EL-P. They even released the album for free. What more could you ask?

6. Queens of the Stone Age: … Like Clockwork Maybe two years ago, I wouldn’t have given a new Queens of the Stone Age album a moment’s attention. Yet somehow, I let myself into their back catalog for reasons I can’t fully remember and I found myself enthralled. So, here I am, really digging on the new album, even if at times, it just sounds like late 90’s Urge Overkill.

5. Deltron 3030: Event II Again, another album that must exist in the shadow of its predecessor (and over a decade of hype about a sequel). Not as cohesion and captivating as the original Deltron album, but a very worthy piece in the saga.

4. Tullycraft: Lost in Light Rotation I love them dearly. What else can I say?

3. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City Kind of like the National, Vampire Weekend somehow become a really great band. I mean, you listen to their debut and think “huh, fun … but talk about influences on their sleeves”. Listen to Modern Vampires of the City and you think “huh, this is fabulous.” If I had to pick my favorite single song from 2013, it was probably “Step”.

2. Mikal Cronin: MC II Pure, wonderful, glorious power pop (in the classical Elvis Costello/Matthew Sweet sense). Rivers Cuomo is eating his heart out, likely with a spoon.

1. Arcade Fire: Reflektor The third band on this list that I’ve liked but never like liked. Of course, put them in a room recording with James Murphy and suddenly you take that band I like and turn them into some sort of post-wings Tran Zor Z. Murphy just reinvents the band in front of your ears (?) and you wonder where they’ve been hiding all these years.

There we have it! Here’s to 2014.

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My Favorite Music of 2012

Back by popular demand (ok, popular by me), here is my annual post on music I liked in 2012. It isn’t in any particular order, but there are 10-12 songs and/or albums that occupied a large slide of my musical listening for the year.

Some honorable mentions:

Bonnie “Prince” Billy – I See a Darkness

I know a lot of people didn’t like the new “upbeat” version of “I See a Darkness” (here is the original), but I love it.


Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

I wanted to like this more than I did. However, “Comeback Kid” is a great track.

Jack White – Blunderbuss

Old Mr. Reliable. Nothing shocking, yet nothing bad.

El-P – Cancer 4 Cure

I don’t know why I’m always so wary of El-P albums. I’ve liked them before on the first few listens and then never returned. “The Full Retard” is a great track, albeit very NSFW or NSFKids.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – “Can’t Hold Us”

Nothing against The Heist, but I haven’t had bought the album yet, so it seemed disingenuous to include the whole thing. However, this live version of “Can’t Hold Us” from KEXP is ridiculous. This track is probably one of my top 5 favorite songs on 2012.

The top 10 (not in any order, really)

Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal

Ubertrendy pick. Too bad. Highly listenable. Not sure about its longevity, though.

Aesop Rock – Skelethon

Drop the old producer, and suddenly Aesop Rock is free to be, well, better. Probably one of the bigger surprises of the year for me.

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Kind of like my fetish for Xiu Xiu (although I didn’t like this year’s offering nearly as much as their previous work), Dirty Projectors are a love/hate band for most people. Swing Lo Magellan had more “songs”, but still plenty of weirdness.

Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Speaking of “songs”, Celebration Rock turned the Japandroids into arena rockers and it is awesome.

Metric – Synthetica

To be honest, I haven’t particularly liked the last few Metric outings, but for whatever reason, Synthetica stuck with me. Whether that’s a mark for quality music or just catchiness, beats me.

Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze EP

If you’re looking for the highest density of great songs, the End of Daze EP is it. Blows the Dum Dum Girls first two albums out of the water — and that is only with 5 songs to boast.

Hot Chip – In Our Heads

I’ve said this before – Hot Chip are the Pet Shop Boys of the 21st century. Not that the Pet Shop Boys are gone, but, whatever. I’m right. The video for “Night and Day” is trippy as well.

Walkmen – Heaven

I tend to be of the opinion that the Walkmen are the best rock band active today. Just try to prove me wrong.

Ok, so I sort of lied. These next two might have been my two favorite songs of the year.

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

I probably don’t want to admit how many times I listened to “Breezeblocks” this year. The rest of the album is pretty solid as well, but man, they entered “Take Me Out” territory with this track.

Purity Ring – Shrines

Let me tell you, my new subwoofer loved this song. I can’t really put my finger on it, but if this is the music that people are making in Edmonton, then wow.

I hope everybody has a great 2013!

My favorite music of 2011

This year, I have clearly not have not had as much to digest all the music of 2011. So, for the first time – maybe ever – I have a unranked list of albums. Mostly, these are some things I’ve listened to over the year that I thought were especially good. You can judge for yourself.

The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday: I’m likely in the minority here as I like Thursday more than I like like House of Balloons, but the Weeknd seem to have filled that gap left by the fact that Portishead took over a decade to release the same number of albums that the Weeknd released in 2011 alone. (By the way, they’re free – along with a third new album that I haven’t even had a chance to hear.)

From Thursday – “Birds Part 2”

From House of Balloons – “High for This”

Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne: Maybe I am a sucker for Jay-Z, but I got into Watch the Throne more than any Kanye album. I still can’t get over the fact that Kanye just isn’t a good rapper, sorry.

Urge Overkill – Rock & Roll Submarine: I might have listened to this as much as I did more out of nostalgia than the quality of the music, but UO came back after 15 years and did what they do best: rock out.

“Effigy”

Boston Spaceships – Let It Beard: Speaking of rock, this might be my favorite Robert Pollard project in years.

“Make a Record for Lo-Life”

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost: A late entry, but a lot of fun. Very much in the “we love Brian Wilson” school of indie.

“Magic”

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming: Pretty much a decent album buoyed by a truly excellent song.

“Midnight City”

Alvy, Nacho and Rubin – Interpretan a Los Campos Magnéticos: Sure, it is an album of covers of Magnetic Fields songs, but whatever, they did them well.

“Sí, Oh, Sí”

TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light: Hard for me not to like an album by these guys. This one was a rebound (at least in my opinion)

“Forgotten”

Beirut – The Rip Tide: The same could be said for Beirut. I found Rip Tide a little less stuffy than The Flying Club Cup, which is a good thing for the band to not get buried in baroque.

“The Rip Tide”

Horrors – Skying: Not the sort of quantum leap that the band made between its first and second albums, but in order to do that, you’d need to be following the Radiohead trajectory.

“Still Life”

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy: My sister said it best: “she’s like Bjork, but you can actually understand a word she’s saying”.

“Chloe in the Afternoon”

Mastodon – The Hunter: I did get more into their back catalog this year, but The Hunter was a good showing.

“Black Tongue”

Jens Lekman – An Argument with Myself  EP: And honestly, what year would be complete without the inclusion of Jens Lekman on these lists?

“An Argument with Myself”

My favorite music of 2010

It is that time of year again to review the music of the year. Now, I’ll remind you of my usual disclaimer: I make no claim to know what is good music, but I know what I like, so you’ll have to live with that.

So, without much further ado, here is 2010 in Review (curious what 2008 or 2009 looked like?)

Some honorable mentions that just missed: Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; Typhoon’s Hunger and Thrist; Caribou’s Swim; Vampire Weekend’s Contra and Robyn’s Body Talk. Kanye always impresses me at first but I’ve been burned by the staying power of his stuff. Caribou released what I had hoped that Hot Chip’s One Life Stand was while Robyn’s inclusion is highly weighted by what might be my single of the year “Dancing on my Own“.

20. Dealing in Antiques by Cats on Fire – Sure, might be rarities/demos but I love this band.
19. Surf Noir EP by Beat Connection
18. Magic Chairs by Efterklang – More Scandinavians. Sorry.
17. Fur Dich Immer Noch Fanta Sie by Die Fantastichen Vier – Quickly, they’re becoming, in my mind, the most important non-English-speaking act out there.
16. Fight Softly by the Ruby Suns
15. II by Crystal Castles – Shouting and synths. I still follow that siren song.
14. Halycon Digest by Deerhunter – Many people will gasp, but dang it if Deerhunter is still uneven.
13. High Violet by the National – In a sense, the opposite of Deerhunter: too even.
12. Trans-Continental Hustle by Gogol Bordello
11. Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager by Kid Cudi – After Lupe Fiasco, probably the most daring mainstream rapper out there (Sorry, Kanye and Jay-Z)

10. Hidden by These New Puritans – Like the Horrors in 2009, These New Puritans’ sophomore album annihilates their so-so debut.

9. Transference by Spoon – This might be the first time Spoon has ever made one of my “best of” lists. I have honestly no idea what this Spoon album clicked with me while every other one hasn’t.

8. Memphis by Magic Kids – Sorry, it is sticky sweet, like XTC 2.0, but better and much much younger than they should be.

7. All Day by Girl Talk – I still can’t shake the feeling that Girl Talk doesn’t deserve to be this high, but you have to acknowledge the fact that I can’t stop listening. I still feel dirty in a postmodern way.

Check out the mashup deconstruction of All Day.

6. Grinderman II by Grinderman – I know some like the mellower side of Nick Cave, but I do appreciate the badass side, too.

5. My Best Friend is You by Kate Nash – Honestly, she should be one of the Doctor’s companions, right? Right?! (Steven Moffatt, I hope you’re listening).

4. The Suburbs by the Arcade Fire – They’re R.E.M. or something now. You might have heard of them.

3. Lisbon by the Walkmen – Sometimes I think the Walkmen are the best true rock band in existence. Maybe that is why I would have been a poor music director at a radio station and a much better petrologist.

2. Treats by Sleigh Bells – Back in the mid ’90s, I proclaimed that Atari Teenage Riot was ahead of its time. I think time has caught up.

1. This is Happening by LCD Soundsystem – I’m not 100% sure, but I think James Murphy’s albums topped my lists every year he released one. Bastard. Honestly, “Dance Yrself Clean” is absolutely monumental, like the Colossus of Rhodes but extant.

There you go … now have it.

The Best of the ’00s Part 10: #10-1

My favorite of the decade! Thanks for memories!

10 The Blow – Paper Television (2006) (left) – Maybe I’m just fond of synth pop, but when Mikhaela and Jona decided to write pop songs, the result was 10 songs of perfection. This is what happens when a band decides that all the dabbling and wandering in music noise just isn’t working, so maybe writing songs that go somewhere is the way to go.

9 The White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001) – It made the White Stripes huge, it brought the so-called “garage sound” to the forefront and still sounds as fresh as it did when it came out.

8 Ted Leo/Pharmacists – Hearts of Oak (2003) – If there is anything I am susceptible to, musically, beyond the usual synth pop, it is power pop. The ’90s was dominated by the likes of Matthew Sweet, but if anyone took the baton of power pop rock, it was Ted Leo. Hearts of Oak a few of the most epic pop songs of the decade, including “The Ballad of the Sin Eater” and “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” Every decade needs someone who knows how to (a) rock and (b) do it with style.

7 Bright Eyes – Lifted (2002) – It might not be the most polished of Conor’s efforts, it might not be the most raw of his oeuvre, but the Lifted was the the most satisfying of the bunch. I mean, Conor was really prolific over the last 10 years, with his ups and downs, but really, like Alex Rodriguez, he’s still only 29 with an amazing track record. Who knows where his career might go in the teens.

6 Jay-Z – The Black Album (2003) – OK, so he didn’t retire like he said. However, he did put the energy you might expect from someone trying to leave on top of his game into The Black Album, leaving pretty much every other rapper in the dust. However, like MJ or the Rocket, Jay-Z couldn’t stay away (to mixed results).

5 Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030 (2000) (right) – I might be just piled praise on The Black Album, but here I am ranking another hip-hop album higher. Why is that? Del the Funkee Homosapien, Dan the Automator and Damon Albarn put together what is possible the only hip-hop/electro space opera – all set in the year 3030. Is this a nerd’s dream come true? Yes, yes it is.

4 Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007) – How does a Swedish singer make the best Afro-rock-pop album of the last decade? How does he inherit the Graceland gene from Paul Simon over 20 years after the fact? Beats me. However, there is so much to enjoy on Night Falls Over Kortedala, solid through-and-through. Over the last 5 years, “Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo” might have taken over for “You are the Light” as my most played song.

3 Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (2004) – Did any debut album of the ’00s have the impact of Franz Ferdinand? If you’re looking for a candidate for the most complex and satisfying pop hit of the decade, you really don’t have to look further than “Take Me Out.” I think Pitchfork nailed it when they described it as a good Brit pop song that Franz Ferdinand found a great song inside.

2 Postal Service – Give Up (2003) – Alright, so maybe another debut had a bigger impact. Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard took synth pop to correspondence college and we ended up with the most slyly infectious album of the decade. Of course, the timing of Give Up‘s release seem to sync up with my life in the first half of the decade, leaving me turning to it for the extreme ups and downs that dominated the Corvallis/Seattle days. I’m not entirely sure how the Postal Service will be remembered – I think it is Sub Pop’s best selling album ever, beating out Nirvana’s Bleach, and we may never see another Postal Service album again, but the ’00s wouldn’t have been the same with it.

1 LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver/45:33 (2007) (left) – Really, was their any question (OK, maybe there was). James Murphy took electronic music, spun it around, dragged it kicking and screaming into the 21st century and produced what was the most nuanced and captivating album of the decade. He went from bombastic (“North American Scum”) to enthralling (“All My Friends”) to sardonic (“New York I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down”) to downright tender (“Someone Great”) – it was hard to find fault with Sound of Silver, it felt like an album that needed to be made. And we’re all better off because of it.

Here’s the iMix for #10-1.

See the rest of the Top 100.

And a happy 2010 to everyone!

The Best of the ’00s Review: #100-11

Yes, we’ve made it to the top. In all honesty, the end of the decade kind of snuck up on me. I didn’t even realize it until I started seeing articles like “team of the decade” or “the best gadgets of the ’00s”. It is a little strange to think I started the decade as a first year graduate student sleeping on a couch and finished as a assistant professor who knows a house. Go figure, eh? Anyway, this is not a post about me in review, but rather to finish off my favorite 100 albums of the decade. Lets review!

  • 100: Jarvis Cocker: Further Complications
  • 99: The Walkmen: Bows + Arrows
  • 98: Bon Savants: Post Rock Defends the Nation
  • 97: Maximo Park: A Certain Trigger
  • 96: The Shins: Oh, Inverted World
  • 95: The Knife: Deep Cuts
  • 94: Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head
  • 93: Papas Fritas: Buildings & Grounds
  • 92: Gogol Bordello: Gypsy Punks
  • 91: Tiger Saw: Sing!
  • 90: The Anniversary: Your Majesty
  • 89: Girl Talk: Feed the Animals
  • 88: Andrew WK: I Get Wet
  • 87: Beck: Sea Change
  • 86: Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
  • 85: Jose Gonzalez: Veneer
  • 84: The Walkmen: You & Me
  • 83: Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Its Blitz
  • 82: Sigur Ros: ( )
  • 81: M.I.A.: Arular
  • 80: Breeders: Title TK
  • 79: Amon Tobin: Supermodified
  • 78: Passion Pit: Manners
  • 77: Xiu Xiu: Fabulous Muscles
  • 76: The Faint: Danse Macabre
  • 75: New Pornographers: Mass Romantic
  • 74: Hot Chip: Made in the Dark
  • 73: Yacht: I Believe In You. Your Magic is Real.
  • 72: Ratatat: Remixes Vol. 1 & 2
  • 71: Tilly & the Wall: Wild Like Children
  • 70: Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
  • 69: Hot Chip: The Warning
  • 68: Patrick Wolf: The Magic Position
  • 67: Various: Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
  • 66: Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
  • 65: Konono No.1: Congotronics
  • 64: Mclusky: Do Dallas
  • 63: The Black Keys: Thickfreakness
  • 62: Bright Eyes: I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
  • 61: The Pipettes: We are the Pipettes
  • 60: Badly Drawn Boy: About a Boy
  • 59: Johnny Cash: American III
  • 58: M.I.A.: Kala
  • 57: Xiu Xiu: The Air Force
  • 56: Rhymefest: Blue Collar
  • 55: Cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More with Feeling
  • 54: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
  • 53: Peter, Bjorn & John: Writer’s Block
  • 52: Portishead: Third
  • 51: The Horrors: Primary Colours
  • 50: Suburban Kids with Biblical Names: #3
  • 49: Rilo Kiley: The Execution of All Things
  • 48: Desaparecidos: Read Music/Speak Spanish
  • 47: Cats on Fire: The Province Complains
  • 46: Los Campesinos!: Sticking Fingers into Sockets/Hold On Now, Youngster…
  • 45: Clint Mansell/Kronos Quartet: Requiem for a Dream
  • 44: Weezer: Weezer (2001)
  • 43: Arcade Fire: Funeral
  • 42: Dizzee Rascal: Maths + English
  • 41: The Thermals: The Body, the Blood, the Machine
  • 40: Death Cab for Cutie: Plans
  • 39: White Stripes: De Stijl
  • 38: Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights
  • 37: Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock and Roll
  • 36: Jens Lekman: When I Said I Wanted to be Your Dog
  • 35: Metric: Old World Underground, Where are You Now?
  • 34: White Stripes: Elephant
  • 33: Morrissey: You are the Quarry
  • 32: New Pornographers: Electric Version
  • 31: Blue Scholars: Blue Scholars
  • 30: Die Fantastischen Vier: Fornika
  • 29: The Rapture: Echoes
  • 28: Death Cab for Cutie: Transatlanticism
  • 27: Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
  • 26: The Strokes: Is This It?
  • 25: LCD Soundsystem: LCD Soundsystem
  • 24: TV on the Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
  • 23: Unicorns: Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
  • 22: Radiohead: Kid A
  • 21: Islands: Return to the Sea
  • 20: Lupe Fiasco: Food & Liquor
  • 19: Radiohead: Amnesiac
  • 18: Interpol: Antics
  • 17: Tullycraft: Disenchanted Hearts Unite
  • 16: Decemberists: Picaresque
  • 15: Modest Mouse: The Moon & Antarctica
  • 14: The Streets: A Grand Don’t Come for Free
  • 13: Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
  • 12: Beta Band: Hot Shots II
  • 11: Beirut: Gulag Orkestar

#10-1 coming soon!

The Best of the ’00s Part 8: #30-21

Almost there!

30 Die Fantastischen Vier – Fornika (2007) (left) – Yes, I did include a German hip-hop album on the list … and in the top 30 no less. And sure I maybe understand 4 words in the whole album, but Die Fantastischen Vier (the Fantastic Four) might have stumbled into the best “aging hip hop stars” album this side of The Black Album.

29 The Rapture – Echoes (2003) – Funny how a little DFA magic can take a good band and turn them into a great band. The opening half of the album is as epic as they come.

28 Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism (2003) – And on the flipside, the opening three tracks of Transatlanticism might be some of the bleakest of the decade. I really wasn’t an obsessive Death Cab fan like many of the rest of my friends, but it gnawed at me for months – all it needed was a good breakup to take over.

27 Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (2003) – There were an awful lot of “hype bands” over the decade – thank you NME – and lots didn’t come close to living up to it. However, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs might be one of the biggest exceptions. Any attempt to compile the best songs of the decade necessitates having “Maps” near the very top.

26 The Strokes – Is This It? (2001) – It is hard to remember now, but when Is This It? came out back in 2001, it was stunning. Music had become so bloated and pretentious that this album sounded like a game-changer (and it more or less was). You could almost believe that the album was recorded in a few days – a perfect pop record for a music scene in need of one.

25 LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem (2005) (right) – It was only the beginning – and between James Murphy and Kanye West, Daft Punk has become more popular than ever.

24 TV on the Radio – Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (2004) – Right about now, many people are wondering how this list made it so far without any TV on the Radio. It is not that I don’t like the other TV on the Radio albums – I do – but they never really stuck with me like Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes did. Is it unfair to compare about the ouvre of the band? Yes. Does it happen anyway? Sure.

23 Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone (2004) – It is a little hard to come up with words for this short-lived band and this album: a fantastical indie rock epic into the land of wind and ghosts? That might be close enough.

22 Radiohead – Kid A (2000) – A lot of people didn’t like it when Radiohead decided to ditch the guitars for a while and become a synth/goth band, but I wasn’t one of them. Kid A is the most twisted album in the Radiohead lexicon, and that says something.

21 Islands – Return to the Sea (2006) (left) – After the Unicorns came the Islands, and Return to the Sea was so devilishly entertaining (and catchy) that you’d wish that they’d bothered to not get lost ever since. That and Islands introduced me to Busdriver.

Here is your iMix for #30-21.

And a recap: And if you missed them, here are #100-9190-8180-7170-6160-5150-41, 30-41.