My year-end list isn't actually "best-of," but rather a list of the albums released this year that I loved the most. I listened to a ton of music this year, and a lot of it was good. The following are the albums that resonated with me, that I kept coming back to, that I told all my friends to go buy, and that I wouldn't want to live without.
Port O'Brien, Threadbare. How much do I love this album? So much that I bought it on vinyl after paying for the digital version, just so I can have a physical copy of it. So much that I can't stop listening to it, even though it breaks my heart every time. I loved last year's All We Could Do Was Sing, especially the quieter songs like "Don't Take My Advice" and "In Vino Veritas." Threadbare is basically an album full of quiet, sad songs that document the loss of singer/songwriter Cambria Goodwin's brother. It's a cohesive song cycle that gives me hope that there is still life left in the album. Beautiful, beautifully sad, and essential.
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest. I was reluctant to admit it at first, but this album is as great as everyone says it is. It is the perfect example of a lot of the music coming out this year: rooted in folk, and yet subverting the genre with odd song structures, delicately constructed songs, and gorgeous harmonies. It's not easily digestible, but each time I listen to it, I get something new out of it. Download the version of Michael McDonald singing "While You Wait For Others."
Thao and the Get Down, Stay Down, Know Better, Learn Faster. Upbeat, rocking songs about heartbreak and disappointment. Also one of the best live shows I saw this year, second only to Bon Iver.
Madlib, Tha Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6 and Oh No, Dr. No's Ethiopium. The Brothers Jackson drop two more solid hip hop instrumental albums, continuing label Stones Throw's streak as the number one label for innovative hip hop. Madlib's is a fitting eulogy to the late J Dilla, and Oh No's is a body rocking blend of hip hop and Ethiopian music. Madlib is quirkier, while Oh No plays it straight, but both are head-nodding, creative, and excellent soundtracks to whatever you're doing.
P.O.S., Never Better and Brother Ali, Us. These two albums, both on Rhymesayers, prove that hip hop still has a lot of juice left in it. P.O.S. combines rap and punk into a hybrid that manages to capture the excitement and energy of both genres. Brother Ali gets his grown man on, proving himself to be equal parts street preacher and battle rhymer over some of producer Ant's best work.
Sonic Youth, The Eternal. While I love early Sonic Youth, I had written them off in the early nineties as played out. Then their 2004 album Sonic Nurse convinced me that there was still worthwhile music left in the old farts. This year's The Eternal is not as innovative or essential as eighties masterpieces Daydream Nation or Sister, but it is full of the band's signature sound, done really, really well
Wilco, Wilco (The Album). Yet another group of old-timers proving that they can still write good songs, and have fun doing it.
Del and Tame One Parallel Uni-Verses. There were a lot of hip hop superduo albums out this year (Buckshot and KRS One! O.C. and A.G.!), but Del and Tame One's collabo has stayed in steady rotation on my speakers. It's an underachieving record: basically two old dudes talking shit, smoking weed, and rapping about back in the day. But their styles perfectly compliment one another, and Parallel Thought's beats keep it all cooking.
DOOM, Born Like This. Daniel Dumile, AKA MF DOOM, AKA DOOM, AKA King Geedorah, AKA Victor Vaughn may wear a metal mask, but he's no clown. He's always used his comic book persona to deal with real issues, and his goofy rhymes hide some deep subject matter (ok, maybe not the funny but homophobic "Batty Boyz"). He's been on hiatus for a few years, and came back full of piss and vinegar, telling everyone and their mother to go stuff themselves. "Once sold and inbred skinhead some nigga jokes," he raps on "Gazillion Ear," which sums up how he feels about a lot of his fans. Born Like This is inconsistent, but when he's on, DOOM is almost as relentless and unstoppable as his comic book namesake.
Yellow Fever, s/t. This is a seemingly slight, inconsequential album that I can't get enough of. Maybe it's Jennifer Moore's beautiful voice, or the incredibly catchy songs, or the deceptively complex songwriting. Maybe it's the fact that the stripped-down sound of the two-piece is the perfect antidote to a lot of the more lush, baroque sounds coming out of indie-land these days. Or maybe Yellow Fever are simply really good. I'm going to go with the last one.
Here are seven more albums I loved almost as much as the ones in my top ten:
Phenomenal Handclap Band, s/t
Dragon Turtle, Almanac
Adam Acuragi, I Am Become Joy
Danny!, Where's Danny?
Basement Jaxx, Scars
A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Ashes Grammar