Friday, July 30, 2010

Top 10 Albums of the Year 2009

So I guess this is the last one. Even though I just did this list like 8 months ago, things have changed and even since I made this top 10, things might have changed a little bit more. Whatever, this is what I'm going with - it's what I'm satisfied with. Sometime after this, I might do like an overall top 10 without the reviews, perhaps. Probably not though. Hey, blog time.

10. Ryan Leslie - Ryan Leslie / Transistion
(Universal Motown)
Rank in 2009: 24

Ryan Leslie's debut albums are two of those few pop albums that with every subsequent album seems to reveal more to me than the previous listen. They are not a particular deep duo, sure - lyrically, they are definitely straight-forward - even if you DO try to decipher "Gibberish". But his production, taking cues from all the big name producers of hip hop and r&b of the last 5-10 years seems to grow constantly. His singing has grown on me, and his hooks have revealed themselves to be just outrageously addicting. I can't count the number of times I've started singing "Diamond Girl" or "You're Not My Girl" out of the blue - and these aren't songs still on the radio. I can't really decide between the self-titled record and "Transition" - they both have high points, they both have low points - the production is always top notch and reminds us of things we have heard before, while still retaining a unique "Leslie" sound - a sound of now. Ryan Leslie succeeds as an r&b singer and performer for exactly these reasons. There is no doubt the man is talented, but he's not trying to completely change the game, he's not trying to innovate too much - he's using his skills to finely tune the genre. We can hear his influences all over the place - but more than any other singer out there right now - Ryan Leslie reminds me of what made much of the r&b of the 90s so damn exciting.

9. Hudson Mohawke - Butter
Rank in 2009: N/A

I gave this album a lot of chances in 2009. I would download, delete and repeat over the course of a couple months. I tried to find something interesting, but couldn't. I didn't get the little hype the record received and thought that the record was just too incoherent to work. Then I heard "FUSE" outside of the context of the record and became obsessed. Without trying to connect it to the rest of the record, I noticed what a monster of a track that was - I then followed up by listening to "Rising 5" and becoming obsessed with that and before long, along with my current fascination with the LA-based Brainfeeder-esqu electronic music scene, I turned around on "Butter" - and it has become one of the most listened to records in both in my headphones and in my car over the last 6 months. And somehow I'm understanding the album. I still understand how I could view it as a mess, but what a fun and funky mess it is. The album goes all over the place - but if you don't get it, don't understand people who enjoy it - the odds are you aren't playing it loud enough. This album bumps like few albums can and like few albums will. Incredibly fun and dense record, I'm glad I gave it the chances I did.

8. The Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Rank in 2009: 7

It's still hard for me to reconcile the fact that I enjoy a Dirty Projectors album so much. I mean for the two releases that I knew of them, they might have very well been my most hated band that regular people actually enjoyed. I didn't understand their different time signatures, the bullshit that Lonsgtreth was putting into songs, the singing - nothing. Somehow it all changed with "Bitte Orca". Sure it's cleaner, louder, prettier. But it is still the Dirty Projectors. The album is great, with some of the most inventive pop songs I can think of. The obvious highlight is "Stillness is the Move", which was likely the best song of 2009 and one of the coolest pop songs of the entire decade. Listening to it now, it hasn't worn thin and still grooves super hard. My most listened to track is the almost-too-hilarious "Two Doves" which is achingly beautiful yet warrants the game of making up nonsensical lyrics to accompany it. I don't love all 9 tracks, but I do enjoy and appreciate them all. If nothing else, the band is a success for turning my opinion on them around and for leaving me for something to look forward to in the future - something that should be very special.

7. Junior Boys - Begone Dull Care
Rank in 2009: 16

What was initially a disappointment from one of my favorite music acts of the 00's, has since turned into a record that keeps growing on me and has become one of my favorites of 2009. It's not quite as immediate as "Last Exit" or "So This Is Goodbye" and the songwriting might not quite be up to par, so this album alienated a lot of fans, but the groove, the dance factor and the beauty of Greenspan's work is still there and it's still really good. You can't listen to this and think "hey this song would be great as a single" or just point out the one that would work in the club. If nothing else - this album blends together almost too well. It's like one really good song upon first listen, but repeated listens, under the right atmosphere reveal an album that is just about the equal of their previous releases. However you slice it, if you slagged the record when it came out - give it another spin - it keeps getting better.

6. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Rank in 2009: 8

At this point, one thing is certain about the state of pop music. Any year in which Phoenix is set to release a new record, we can be absolutely sure that said record will contain at least two of the best and catchiest songs of that year. Opening "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" with the behemoths that are "Lisztomania" and "1901" was a dangerous thing for the band to do do you follow up pop perfection? Sure the rest of the record doesn't hold a candle to those two tracks, but they are all exceptional. Even the five-and-a-half minute long instrumental is invigorating. The album blends and moves along better than any of their previous albums, a complete vision of how to make excellent pop music in this decade. It's a joy to listen to, almost impossible to dislike and a true vision in a stale landscape of music that contains little sounding like it. Here's to hoping Phoenix stick around for a long time - they might very well be our most important band. Serious.

5. Mos Def - The Ecstatic
Rank in 2009: 4

Let me say this flat out: I may very well like this album better than "Black On Both Sides". Furthermore, I probably would consider this in the top 10 hip hop releases of the decade. No one expected a record this fucking awesome from Mos Def in 2009. Everyone just wants to write him off as a singing goofball. On "The Ecstatic" Mos has proved that he in fact one of the best rappers there is, he knows the best producers and he can do a simple, no-frills album and make it good. What do you need to know about this record? Spacey, vintage sounding samples. Mos just spitting all sorts of nonsense. Short songs, minimal guests who come correct when they actually appear. The best record to play in your car. This is the album lots of people have been wanting Mos Def to create from day one. It's unfortunate that some of those very same people still don't consider this album great. It's everything good about hip hop, too hard to criticize.

4. Mountains - Choral
(Thrill Jockey)
Rank in 2009: 2

Mountains have been one of my favorite ambient acts of the last few years primarily because the music they create straddles the line between organic and inorganic sounds better than anyone. Sure there is lots of electronic distortion inherent in their compositions, but the way it is executed somehow seems like it would be appropriate soundtracking a rainy day in a cold cabin. It's warm, almost human. "Choral" is their best album yet, and far and away the best experimental / drone / ambient album of 2009. Sounding like a mixture of Eluvium's earlier ambient soundscape work with the guitar work found on some of Robert Fripp's ambient recordings, Mountains have created something special. It's not entirely new, but it is done with precision. They don't build huge crescendos or create loops of the sort that will make you weep, but they do relax you, and they do make you marvel in their beauty. There is acoustic instruments, washes of synths, darkness, lightness, and everything sounds clean without being overproduced or going on for too long. A beautiful record from beginning to end and almost the very best record of the year.

3. The-Dream - Love Vs. Money
(Def Jam)
Rank in 2009: 3

The-Dream has written and produced some of the biggest songs of the last 3 years. Most notably he is the man behind the powerhouses of "Umbrella", "Single Ladies" and "Touch My Body". The dude can write a song. Apparently he can write an album too, because his second full length "Love Vs. Money" is the best r&b/pop record of the last 10 years. I can understand that The-Dream hasn't really blown up as a solo artist. He's not a good looking dude, he doesn't really have a good voice, his songs are somewhat bizarre, and to be honest most songs on this album don't really sound like they should be singles. However, the 2-3-4 punch of "Rockin That Shit", "Walkin on the Moon" and "My Love" should have occupied the top 3 spots on the Billboard charts. "Love Vs. Money" is easily my most listened to record of the 2009. It's silly, it's weird to like male r&b, but The-Dream is making music in a genre that hasn't had anything remotely this good in a long long time. Also, let's be truthful: this is an ALBUM. This isn't a typical r&b album, this is really thought out. It builds, it has song cycles, it fades, it's basically perfect.

2. A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Ashes Grammar
(Mis Ojos)
Rank in 2009: 5

Anyone who doesn't hear the sonic brilliance in this record is just deaf. That's the only explanation I can come up with. It's all over the place, it's loud as fuck, it's dreamy, it rocks, it grooves. This is the sound of a band picking up the pieces after sort of falling apart and making a record that collects and these different sounds and influences and somehow makes a fucking near masterpiece. I can barely contain my love for this record and the band members and what they are trying to accomplish - pushing and blurring the limits of shoegaze, dream pop, psychedelic and nearly venturing into trip hop. Just a band that is the right amounts of a lot of different styles and one of the best bands going right now. And they're young, they're still nearly rookies. I'm prepared for something truly special next.

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Rank in 2009: 1

"Merriweather Post Pavilion" is Animal Collective's best record.

"Merriweather Post Pavilion" is the best record of 2009.

"Merriweather Post Pavilion" is the best record of the 2000's.

I didn't think I was going to say that. I didn't think there was going to be a record better than "Kid A" or even "The Blueprint" - but MPP is the record to defeat other records. All hype aside, all backlash put away - the album is a masterpiece and every time I start to feel I overrated this record, all I have to do is put it on. A masterpiece. A masterpiece. Take that.

K, Have fun!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Top 10 Albums of the Year 2008

Getting closer to the end. Let's just keep it moving.

10. The Tallest Man On Earth - Shallow Grave
Rank in 2008: 21-50

I have this weird love/hate relationship with Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man On Earth. On one hand, I love that he is doing bare bones, heart on the sleeve folk music with his rasp and swedish accent and just fucking put himself out there, no frills, just hooks. On the other hand, I sometimes get pissed off or embarrassed that I even listen to him in the first place. Some of the lyrics are truly atrocious (not TOO BAD), and the general sound is something that I don't want people around me knowing I listen to...loudly. But there lies the conundrum. I've found that the best place to listen to TMOE's music is in my car, volume turned all the way up so that I can sing those very same lyrics at the top of my lung, pretend I'm a folksinger and tell the world my story. Do I do it with the windows up or down? He's fun - sort of. Take it in small doses and it's the best thing there is, in large doses - well...I probably don't want to know you.

9. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Rank in 2008: N/A

At this point it's probably ok to freely admit just how fucking fun this record is and always has been. Back when Ezra and co. jumped/splashed on the scene and were the biggest thing since the Arctic Monkeys, I was a bit hesitant to reveal how much I liked them, my mistake. Perfectly fun, capably, pop music. The whole thing about NPR saying it's world music is a joke, sure they have African rhythms, sure much of the albums sounds like it wants to be a "Graceland" b-side, but guess what? "Graceland" is one of the best albums ever - and this is just really fuckin fun. It's sunny, its hot, you're with people, put on Vampire Weekend, open some beers, stop being pretentious and just fucking move around, have a conversation, sing along. Good chillout music, good beach music, good driving music. A really fun band and here I'll say it: a landmark record.

8. Small Sur - We Live In Houses Made Of Wood
(Tender Loving Empire)
Rank in 2008: 8

Since I've ceased listening to music when going to bed, I've listened to Small Sur a whole lot less. Due to an obsession and almost a "need" to listen to this album before/while falling asleep, it became one of the most played albums in my entire collection. The lushness of it all, always close, but never quite bubbling up over the calm. It's eerie, it's pretty, it's dark. It's one of my very favorite folk records in a decade filled with weird, slow folk music. It's a shame this release didn't get more press or positive reactions, because just about everyone I've introduced it to has enjoyed it a great deal. It's not something to listen to during the day time, unless you find yourself constantly surrounded by overwhelming trees or perhaps intense desert, but it is a great nighttime record, perfect for the comedown, or relaxing, drinking, reading. One of those albums where you don't want to admit quite how much you truly love it, but know that it's going to stick around in your rotation for a very, very long time.

7. Juana Molina - Un Dia
Rank in 2008: N/A

One of the most overused words that amateur music critics like myself employ is "ethereal". Due to a lack of ability to accurately describe music that is so unlike anything else out there, yet gives the listener a sense of calm, we use this word. Other-worldly, beautiful, extravagant, dream-like. All of these things describe Juana Molina, an artist who should be among our most important and critically acclaimed, yet somehow remains the status of being looked over when all boils down. Her songs often revolve around her spanish-sung vocal loops, using her voice as percussion, filling the spectrum of sound with seemingly dozens of vocal tracks playing off of each other. There is always a groove, there is always hints of instruments that keep the music rooted in the real world. It doesn't sound bizarre or futuristic, it doesn't sound archaic either, despite the chanting. It seems to be the sound of now, a constant experiment in sound and a true joy to listen to.

6. Flying Lotus - Los Angeles
Rank in 2008: 21-50

In which, in 43 minutes Flying Lotus creates the most exciting subgenre currently in electronic music. Various dj's had been experimenting around LA for a couple years, mixing 70s funk and jazz with truly abstract rhythms, cranking up the drums, maxing out the synths, giving us a new wave of psychedelic music that we can groove to. But Flying Lotus is the master, a role he well deserves. It took me a while to get into this album when it first came out, due primarily to its density, just how hard it hits - but that's the greatness of it. It's far out, it's a trip and it's just terribly exciting. Upon first listen, many of the tracks can sound repetitive, but once you start to learn the album, learn what to look for - where the songs are going, where the interludes are - it really reveals itself as a complete work. Just a very exciting direction for electronic music that has since spawned dozens of other great dj's mixing techno, dubstep, broken beat, jazz, hip hop, trip hop, etc.

5. Fennesz - Black Sea
Rank in 2008: 3

There is something about much of the music that Christian Fennesz is a part of that really makes my ears prick up. "Endless Summer" was a legendary album, "Venice" was comforting, I just underplay it and "Black Sea", since it's release has become some sort of "safety blanket" record for me. I mean this in two ways: back when it came out, I foolishly, though truthfully claimed that the sounds on this album were some of the first that I truly felt a blanket effect with. It's droning ambient soundscapes, some cold, some warm - but somehow the compositions on this record just were so right for me, they just warmed me - they sounded like the best thing I could possibly hear. The other way this record effect me stems from this - it has slowly become a near comfort record. One that is almost always on my Ipod for those times when I need to drown out everything - work, the day, the hustle and bustle of people on a train, whatever and just zone out - listen to something I can compare with my breath. Somehow, one of Fennesz's darkest records has become a record that comforts me. I still love it.

4. Q-Tip - The Renaissance
(Universal Motown)
Rank in 2008: 2

The reason this record succeeds as one of my favorite hip hop records of the past decade is in fact due to it nearly reaching a plateau of too much of a feel good record. It sounds hopelessly out of place among hip hop music in the 2000s, both underground and mainstream - everything considered. It's jazzy, but not too much, it's smooth, but not too much. It's positive - it's not very political, it has r&b hooks. It's Q-Tip doing hip hop that could almost find its way to adult contemporary radio - and I say this all as praise. This is a hip hop record I can just throw on it's dope - but it doesn't require a lot. Obviously Tip's voice is one of a kind, so smooth (and funny), and the beats on this record are just smooth enough. Jack Johnson rap? I don't know - terrible description. The fact remains that this is a hip hop album that doesn't belong to 2008, it's just out of place. It also happens to be the best hip hop record of 2008 and one of the very best of the entire decade. Smooth.

3. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Pt. 1 (4th World War)
(Universal Motown)
Rank in 2008: 10

I've said many times that just about everything Erykah Badu puts out is amazing. She is unquestionably one of the rawest, most inventive and most important female musicians of the last two decades, becoming someone who is looked at with an almost diety-like awe. She is a queen, the only true superstar in soul music since soul music was a real genre. And with only a few albums officially released, she has nevertheless remained important, untouchable and always pushed the envelope. "New Amerykah Pt. 1" definitely pushes the envelope, and the reason why this isn't an album I wouldn't immediatly consider among the very best of the entire past decade is because it often pushes it a little too far, veering into the same awkwardly abstract territories that make records by Georgia-Anne Muldrow "almost good". But let's be frank here: most of this album is on another plane. When New Amerykah was released, it was such a breath of fresh air into the whole "neo-soul" scene, sounding unlike anything else before it. It's out there, it's influenced by many of our best acts and its political. It's a daunting listen, and it's almost pure genius. But not quite.

2. Shed - Shedding The Past
(Ostgut Ton)
Rank in 2008: 6

When I try to review techno albums I really enjoy, I start to speak in a level of hyperbole that really only makes sense to me. Without the skills and knowledge to be able to describe the music accurately, I basically judge dance music on a scale of "I like it a lot" to "This sucks." "Shedding the Past" by Shed, for the most part happens to be the best full length techno album in my collection. Without an appreciation for the art of dancing in a club, not taking drugs, not being versed in even having many LPs, there is not really anything in my entire techno collection that has revealed itself time and time again like Shed has on this album. Mixing some far out dub and ambient techno with some hard hitting drums (I mean, the drums really hit) and just straight up coasting through what seems like all the essential techno albums that I have, Shed has created an album that works as just that. In a genre where it seems like LPs are often a collection of individual tracks or are so centered around a theme that the music gets lost, "Shedding the Past" works the same way that all great albums work. It has it's quiet moments, it has great tracks that built to epic tracks, it mixes a lot of different influences, resulting in tracks that sound unique from one another but the album is still held together. Every track is sequenced in its proper place. It's a masterful album, one that keeps growing on me.

1. Sam Amidon - All Is Well
(Bedroom Community)
Rank in 2008: 1

"All Is Well" might very well be the prettiest record I've ever heard. The songs aren't Sam Amidon's, the arrangements are only partially his, but his voice, his renditions of these classic American folk songs just take my breath away every single time. It's ridiculous, it's a ridiculous concept, but it is just so good. There is no doubt in my mind that "All is Well" is one of my favorite records of the past decade, one of the most personal records I have in my collection, it just conjures up images in my head - whether they are memories of mine or memories I wish were mine. Strikingly beautiful and heartbreaking. I've probably listened to "Saro" close to 200 times and "Wedding Dress" about the same. I've thought about playing his rendition of "O Death" at my fantasy funeral. I just love everything about this record and I don't see my opinion changing on that ever. It's one of those records where I just know it's mine. It may not be for you, but it's definitely for me.

Bonus Comparison For Laughs: Top 20 of 2008
1. Sam Amidon - All Is Well
2. Q-Tip - The Renaissance
3. Fennesz - The Black Sea
4. Ulaan Kohl - I and II
5. Cadence Weapon - Afterparty Babies
6. Shed - Shedding the Past
7. Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It
8. Small Sur - We Live in Houses Made of Wood
9. Posessed By Paul James - Cold & Blind
10. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Pt. 1
11. Esbjorn Svensson Trio - Leucocyte
12. Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna
13. Ellen Allien - Sool
14. The Dodos - Visiter
15. Charlie Haden - Family & Friends: Rambling Boy
16. Marilyn Mazur & Jan Garabek - Elixir
17. Nico Muhly - Mothertongue
18. Gentleman Jesse & His Men - Gentleman Jesse & His Men
19. Blueprint - Blueprint Vs. Funkadelic
20. Paavoharju - Laulu Laakson Kukista

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Top 10 Albums of the Year 2007

Been busy, haven't wanted to do this. I like to finish things though. So here is 2007, about 3 weeks after the last one. My bad. Btw, if you want - you can go into my archives and look at the first posts ever made on this blogger account - they are my original 2007 list.

10. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Rank in 2007: 22

According to Metacritic, Spoon is the best (or most consistent) band of the past decade. I certainly don't agree with that assessment, but there is definitely truth in there somewhere that Spoon is at least a notch above most of the indie rock crowd. Though many of their early albums blend together for me and don't remain very memorable, something about the songs on GaGa, etc. just stick out from their accomplished discography. For a band that already sounded like they knew what they were doing, everything seems event tighter on this one. Listening to hit single "The Underdog" is a revelation to me every time. Every intricacy, instrument, every piece of the song seems placed so perfectly, it just astounds me, and is a song I consider to be among the best of the entire decade. Elsewhere on the record, "Rhythm & Soul", "Eddie's Raga" and "Finer Feelings" have this great underlying funk groove behind them. This funk is accompanied forays into great powerpop, some more experimental, arty stuff and just great hooks throughout. For my money, it's the best Spoon record thus far.

9. Jay-Z - American Gangster
Rank in 2007: 12

I'll come out and say that I think "American Gangster" is an unfairly overlooked album by perhaps the best rapper to ever hold a microphone in his hand. After retiring, coming back, putting out a bullshit album, Jay then got inspired by the movie/story of the same name and released this album - a loose concept featuring some of the fiercest rhyming of his career. Filled to the brim with top-notch production and samples (the Little Beaver sample on "Party Life" is one of the smoothest fucking things in hip hop), Jay comes out the doors and just exudes why he is one of the best. Rapping about the streets, gloating, proving that he is more dynamic that he is sometimes given credit for, this is Jay-Z at his most confident, an album I can imagine that he is truly impressed with. Listen, the dude is one of the absolute biggest names in the history of music, let alone hip hop - a true mogul. But he has put out a lot of terrible things in his long career. "American Gangster" was the album where he says, "I still got this." Killer.

8. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Rank in 2007: 13

A lot has been said about this record in the past few years. LCD Soundsystem is the ultimate critics band. James Murphy writes tongue-in-cheek, clever lyrics, produces songs that are incredibly danceable, references sounds from throughout the history of cutting edge pop music and ultimately creates music that only he can, stuff that is uniquely his. That being said, while I like every full-length LCD has put out, I've always preferred Murphy's lighter, slower songs rather than the really intense dance workouts that fill most of his records. "Sound of Silver" happens to have perhaps the two best songs of the entire decade stuck right in the middle of the record, surrounded by intense workout songs. I don't need to say anything other than if you haven't heard and fallen in love with the brilliance of "Someone Great" and "All My Friends" almost 4 years after they originally came out, then you have missed out entirely on two of the most essential tracks of the past 10 years. I'm barely being sarcastic when I say this record could be surrounded Toto and Styx covers, but still have these two tracks and remain one of the very best records of 2007. Anthems.

7. Uncle Earl - Waterloo, Tennessee
Rank in 2007: 3

If my listening habits of 2007 could be categorized into any one overarching genre, it would've been what some call "Americana." I'd always been a big fan of the twangy country, lots of the modern folk coming about and was slowing developing an obsession with bluegrass, new-grass and old-time revival music. I made a really impressive 2-disc mix of the best of the stuff from 2007, a year that seem ripe with great bands in these various subgenres. One of my very favorite records from then (and still today) is the second album by accomplished solo folk musicians coming together as Uncle Earl. Banjo, guitar, fiddle, tapshoes, everything you want. The songs on here go all over the place, there is some Mandarin language song via Abigail Washburn, there are covers of classic old-timey songs, there are more modern sounding originals, instrumentals, the album is an exercise in everything that folk music has been and should be and it's a masterful record. It's one of my all-time most listened to albums and though I still appreciate it a great deal, much of the appeal it once had on me is slowly diminishing. Maybe I have to get out of the city and back to the rural counties, because musicians as good as these 4 lovely women deserve all the praise I can give.

6. A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Scribble Mural Comic Journal
Rank in 2007: 9

I've listened to A Sunny Day in Glasgow a lot since I first heard this album. Singles, videos, albums, remixes, live. My friend is in the band now, but I still don't understand how the sounds that come out on their records get to sound the way they do. How they can simultaneously make songs that sound some amazingly pretty and surreal also seem to paranoid and well...loud. Sure a lot of the best 80s and 90s bands did similar things, but A Sunny Day in Glasgow has a sound that is all their own. I want to dance to it. Strike that, I want to convulse to it. It's perfect convulsion music and I love it. One of the most creative and overall best bands in existence right now, I can't wait to see where A Sunny Day in Glasgow continues to grow, because with every single thing they are putting out (which isn't a whole lot), they improve greatly. Just a truly impressive band.

5. M.I.A. - Kala
Rank in 2007: 19

Some records are just so much fun when played loud that you just can't help but love them. I've had this love/hate relationship with M.I.A. since she started hitting blogs back and her mixtape came out. The thought of "what the fuck is this" is usually the first thing that pops in my head, followed by the most ass-shaking this side of a 2 Live Crew track. MIA is fun, I don't pay attention to her lyrics, I pay attention to the bass, the beats, the chanting, the rhythm. I barely pay attention to her and the controversy and praise that surrounds her. I liked the debut, I love Kala. The production is kicked up a notch, everything is louder, hits harder, but still has this nice worldbeat groove to it. "Boyz" is a workout, "Jimmy" is a great comedown, "Paper Planes" deserves the anthem status it has achieved, "XR2" is one of the dopest dance tracks I've heard and even the ridiculously out of place Timbaland track is tight. She won't top this record, it pushed the limits of her musicianship to their brink without overdoing it and because of that she made a incredibly fun record.

4. Feist - The Reminder
Rank in 2007: 23

We all have albums in our collections that we turn to when nothing else seems to sound good. When we have those days where we try to find the perfect record to put on, or something we should listen to - but everything just sounds grating and annoying. When this happens, I've put on "The Reminder" on a number of occasions and it has done the trick perfectly. The light, breezy sounds that Feist puts out on this album, without being cheesy is to me, truly transcendent. Big words, I know - but there are few pop vocal records that are executed as well as this. Catchy songs (you've obviously heard many of them on tv), mixed with slower ballads, all accompanied by Feist's breathy voice - it's just a great mix. I can't front - this album actually probably deserves to be higher than #4 on this list, but I somehow get slightly embarrassed expressing how much I enjoy this record. It does similar things to me that records like "Rumours" or "Abandoned Luncheonette" do - it's forward thinking pop music that doesn't stray too far from what is popular at the time, just expertly crafted and the perfect crossover.

3. The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
Rank in 2007: 1

Considering the obsession I once had with this album, the fact that I haven't completely burnt out on it is a feat in and of itself. I know every word to every song on this album, I scream when the brothers scream, I sing along, I mock playing the banjo or stand-up bass, I love this record. That being said, I realize now that not all the songs are brilliant, some are just ok, some are actually sort of grating at this point. Still though, the opening 3 songs for my money, rival the opening of any record in history. So much fun. I like these guys, hell, I love these guys and even though they are pretty huge now, I'll continue to support them if they continue to make good music. I didn't enjoy their followup very much, but "Emotionalism" will always have a special place in my heart and list of formidable albums from my early days as an adult. Great playing, amazing singing, great songwriting. I think the Avett Brothers are going to continue to grow in popularity, and more power to them. They should be one of the biggest bands on the planet.

2. Kanye West - Graduation
Rank in 2007: 4

LIKE WE ALWAYS DO IT THIS TIME, I GO FOR MINE, I GOT TO SHINE, NOW THROW YOUR HANDS UP IN THE SKY. With "Graduation" Kanye officially made the transition from a dude trying to bridge the mainstream with the backpack and became a bonafide "turn that shit up" superstar. Kanye goes electro, creates hilarious party rap songs, samples Daft Punk and Michael Jackson, gets rid of all the skits, keeps the record short and includes guest appearances from some of the biggest country's biggest pop stars. Along with the upbeat stuff, Kanye also released tracks like "Everything I Am" and "Can't Tell Me Nothing" (which might be the very best Kanye song and one of the single best hip hop songs of the new decade), which go a little deeper like vintage Kanye. The album just slaps hard, it's a blast. Not everything is great and it doesn't really show the artistic vision of his first two albums, but this is Kanye saying, "Ok, I've made it, you haven't" - and it is a joyous listen.

1. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
Rank in 2007: 2

I'll admit right now that I'm in that ever increasing group of people around the world that consider just about everything that Animal Collective touches to be brilliant. I find myself undoubtedly considering them the best and most important band of the past decade and perhaps the only true innovator in music this entire decade. I like just about all shades of Animal Collective, but I really gravitate towards their more overtly pop records, which is why "Strawberry Jam" is one of my very favorites. Brilliantly catchy songs, audible lyrics, incredibly fun music. Many longtime fans scoffed at this record when it first came out because it was accessible, or not challenging enough. "Fireworks" is a legitimate pop song (one of the best of the past decade), but nothing that Animal Collective does here sounds like anything else around it. And even though their popularity towards the end of the decade resulted in hundreds of bands trying to incorporate their sound into their music, no one yet has been able to distill the pure joy and...brilliance with which Animal Collective has. I won't say they CAN'T do no wrong, some side projects have been terrible, but I'll go ahead and say that they are in fact the best band in the world right now - with no other band even in sight.

Bonus Comparison for Laughs: Top 20 of 2007 in 2007
1. The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
2. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
3. Uncle Earl - Waterloo, Tennessee
4. Kanye West - Graduation
5. Miranda Lambert - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
6. Lucky Soul - The Great Unwanted
7. Wolves in the Throne Room - Two Hunters
8. Six Organs of Admittance - Shelter From The Ash
9. A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Scribble Mural Comic Journal
10. The North Sea - Various releases
11. Dungen - Tio Bitar
12. Jay-Z - American Gangster
13. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
14. A Broken Consort - Box of Birch
15. Huckleberry Flint - Good Night Darling
16. The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
17. Erik Friedlander - Block Ice And Propane
18. Rachel Unthank and the Winterset - The Bairns
19. MIA - Kala
20. Levon Helm - Dirt Farmer

Friday, July 2, 2010

Top 10 Albums of the Year 2006

Slogging through this at this point. Thanks Scott for being the only person reading/commenting as usual. 2006 was an interesting year. I remember my list heavily leaning on pop/indie pop. My top 2 records of that year aren't in this list, as you'll see. In fact, only 3 of my top 20 are going to be in this list and while I know that there are other records from this year that I deeply respect and enjoy, as with the other lists, this is based primarily on whether or not I've listened to these records a lot since they came out and how they have affected me in different ways. In retrospect, it was a decent year, not my favorite, not my least favorite.

10. Asobi Seksu - Citrus
(Friendly Fire)
Rank in 2006: 30

You can basically point to one thing and one thing only that makes "Citrus" an awesome album: the guitar. Sure Yuki's high-pitched, dreamily poppy, Japanese singing is a lot of fun, but the guitar sounds that James Hanna concocts on this album are incredible. Think of it as a sound that is about dense as your favorite shoegaze records, but twice as rooted in pop music. This is one of those albums where I remember the guitar crescendos more than the vocal hooks, anticipating the freakouts and washes with every listen. It's not overly complicated - but Hanna just does it RIGHT here. He makes me want to get a guitar, effects pedals and just bathe in distortion all afternoon. It's a very fun and accomplished record from a band that otherwise seems to never quite live up to their abilities. "Citrus" though may just go down in history as a landmark album in the all-time shoegaze list. Great stuff.

9. Spank Rock - YoYoYoYoYo
(Big Dada)
Rank in 2006: N/A

Back when Spank Rock was making waves in 2006, I had this tremendous love/hate relationship with them. I re-downloaded and re-deleted the album upwards of at least 6 separate times throughout the year, trying to figure out why I didn't figure out why the album wasn't as fun as my peers were claiming. Then I realized I went much of 2006 without a car stereo. Once that was remedied, my opinion on the album was remedied and now we have the album that is responsible blowing 3 of my 4 car speakers over the years and yet remains one of my very favorite records to listen to on blast in the car. The bass is about as heavy as you can get, the misogyny disallows the album from being playable in just about any sort of public setting, and overall the album just keeps you awake, keeps you dancing and is just one of those "holy shit" fun albums. Listen to loud with a big subwoofer, or you're not doing it justice.

8. J Dilla - Donuts
(Stones Throw)
Rank in 2006: N/A

I've had this weird relationship with "Donuts" since it's release in 2006. Surely the music world lost a true pioneer and legend when Dilla tragically passed away right before his true vision as an artist was evolving to even more radical extremes than the rest of his already fantastic career. "Donuts" was his send off, one of the most praised and namedropped albums of the past decade. "J Dilla saved my life"...yea yeah, I know. Here's how I truly see "Donuts": I don't love it. I think overall - that it is a bit overrated and has become the singlular album that people who "aren't into" hip hop can point to and say "I wish hip hop was more like this". That's great, you do that. My appreciation of it? It doesn't run deep. I think the beats are dope, I think as a beat tape made into a complete album, there are not really any other that can compete with it (though I wouldn't necessarily call it my favorite instrumental hip-hop album), but sometimes throughout the album I find myself looking at my watch and being like "ok only 15 more tracks until it's over." I know it has to be taken as a whole, that's how it works. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I honestly don't think I am. I think it's a dope album, it's definitely one of my very favorite albums of 2006, but in my endless crusade to tell everyone I know about the music they find, I have to admit that I do not think it quite as dope as the world has made it seem. But don't get me wrong, I still have a positive view on it. After all, J Dilla changed my life.

7. The Format - Dog Problems
(The Vanity Label)
Rank in 2006: 46

If you can get past the coy vocals, the visions of Laguna Beach or The Hills or any other teenage-based MTV or CW reality show, and the heart-on-the-sleeve nearly uncomfortable lyrics, "Dog Problems" by The Format reveals itself to be one of the best (and most polished) pure guitar-based pop albums in a very long time. This is just an album that I can't deny. I was into the band back before they had released a full length, following some singles here and there and seeing the duo grow as songwriters and producers, but when "Dog Problems" came out in 2006, I just could not stop playing it. Ultimately catchy, almost to the point of annoyance. I can't think of another band that was writing more memorable hooks, or more poignant one-liners. Listening to The Format is like letting it all go, freeing all your grown-uppedness and just remembering what it is like to be a teenager with ranging emotions again. Broken hearts, angry breakups, putting yourself out there and ultimately not accomplishing what you want. It all sounds melodramatic, ridiculous and can be arresting upon first listen - I mean this sounds like real fun, out of control pop music. But it's not dumbed down, it's brilliantly arranged, and masterly composed. Shame they broke up.

6. Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
(Sub Pop)
Rank in 2006: N/A

It was no shock when "The Funeral" wound up in a car commercial. Listening to "Everything All The Time", you get this feeling at every song's climax that the entire album is one giant promotional tool for various different hip big-name products. It's cool music, with airy vocals and really loud guitars and quiet moments that build to huge choruses. Songs like "Part One" seem like they could accompany some scene in the early morning, "The Great Salt Lake" is played during some season finale of a teenage drama, one character happy and about to enjoy their sumer while the other is hopelessly miserable, wallowing alone in their bedroom. I enjoy Band Of Horses, I think that this is a very good album, it's inoffensive but not boring. Loud and quiet, it goes all over the place and tries to play at all our emotions without ever actually being emotional. Just something to enjoy, to accompany your life as you experience the scenes that we see so often in ads and television. Soundtrack to a generic life for the every person, and darn good.

5. Nicolas Makelberge - Dying In Africa
Rank in 2006: 13

It's a shame this album wasn't bigger. Even within the context of the huge Swedish pop revival of the mid-2000's, Nicolas Makelberge's debut was but a blip on the indie-landscape, when it should have been among the top-tier records. For my money, it might be my single favorite album from this new wave of amazing pop music. All amazing synthesizers and beats, hooks that go for days, three of the best songs of the entire decade "Too Young", "South America", and "Dying in Africa" and some good instrumental passages to connect them. It has this slight sleazy vibe as illustrated by the incredible (and c'mon this should be ICONIC) album cover. This album sounds like one of the best album that would've come from the whole new-romantic era of new wave when synth was taking over, and it would've been legendary then. It's an immensely enjoyable album where the charm of it only seems to grow on me.

4. Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
Rank in 2006: 4

For "So This Is Goodbye", the Junior Boys updated their sound, added more of an underlying dance groove to their tracks and while the tempo was still slow and screaming of night overall, tracks like "The Equalizer" and "In The Morning" were born to be dancefloor screamers. The album still sounds little like anything else that was out at the time, all sort of cold synths and distant drumbeats, Greenspan's vocals all forelorn and cute. Perhaps more than anything, the updated and slightly expanded sound really harkens back to more popular synth-pop bands of the past, songs like "Caught In A Wave" are utterly beautiful, but the vocal delivery reminds me of many songs I've heard over the years. While some people argue that "So This Is Goodbye" was the Junior Boys harnessing their artistic potential into something more neat than "Last Exit", I must say I disagree. It's a good, if not great, album but doesn't quite live up to the legendary status that "Last Exit" achieved.

3. Brand New - The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me
Rank in 2006: Somewhere in the 30s

In high school, I had a couple of really good friends who obsessed over Brand New and were promptly made fun of by me. I thought it was a silly band name, I thought they were a silly band that didn't have anything new to offer that the hundreds of other pop-emo bands popping up at the beginning of the decade were already offering. I liked a couple songs here or there, but was nowhere near taking the band seriously. So imagine my surprise in 2006, when 2+ years after high school and conversations about this band I claimed to hate, they release an album that might very well be my very favorite record you can attach an "emo" tag to. The album shows a mastery of the genre by blending some traditional pop-emo lyrics and choruses with instrumental passages and song structures that allows the band to truly stick out from their peers. It's akin to what Radiohead did when they broke apart from the rest of the alternative rock crowd in the 90s, what Refused did by fusing nu-metal and pop-punk on "The Shape Of Punk to Come" and creating something better than anything else in those genres. Brand New just did something very correct with this album, it hits huge when it needs to, it has strings and quiet moments, it wears its heart on the outside, but god damn the album just WORKS. Maybe it requires repeat listenings, but it shouldn't - it's one of the best records of 2006 and one of the best of all-time for this "emo" based genre, and that should be apparent upon first listen.

2. The Radio Dept. - Pet Grief
Rank in 2006: Somewhere in the 20s.

Some albums just know how to perfectly capture a mood. They present an album that sounds unique from everything else and so cohesive that this one particular album is associated with one particular emotion/memory/season/event. For it's 37 minute running time, The Radio Dept's "Pet Grief" is the only album I know of that is made almost exclusively for a rainy day, yet wouldn't be considered downtrodden or sad. In essence, it's a pop record, and a glorious one at that. But the haze and dream-laden sound that permeates in, around, and through each song on this record makes it work best on those overcast days. It's one of those few albums where with every listen, you just sit back and say "yeah, this is exactly what I need right now." You put it on and you know it's good, you know it's great and it just keeps getting better. Nothign is going to blow your mind, it's subtle for the most part, but it is just unbelievably perfect in the right setting. A truly masterful record and one of the finest pop records of the 2000s.

1. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
(Star Trak)
Rank in 2006: 3

"Hell Hath No Fury" will go down in history as the 2nd best hip hop album of the 2000's. After a long hiatus with their label, a string of absurdly good mixtapes and guest spots, the brothers returned in 2006 with "Hell Hath No Fury", one of those rare albums that actually delivered on offering everything fans could have hoped for. Pharrell and the Neptunes are in top form here, with some of their best productions to date. I have this theory that while The Neptunes sound started to grow stale over time, they always saved their very best beats for Clipse, and this album proves that (c'mon - listen to "Trill" and tell me that isn't one of the most killer things you've ever heard). Minimal other than that, with hard pounding drums and synths, able guest spots, and the brothers spitting as good as they have ever spit. This is one of those albums that I can sing (rap) along to from front to back. One of the all time best car albums, the apex of the coke rap scene, everything in between. Just put simply: one of my very favorite hip hop albums ever. Period.

Bonus Comparison For Laughs: Top 20 Albums of 2006 in 2006:
1. Wolves In The Throne Room - Diadem Of 12 Stars
2. Math & Physics Club - Math & Physics Club
3. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
4. Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
5. The Brother Kite - Waiting For The Time To Be Right
6. The Wailin' Jennys - Firecracker
7. William Elliott Whitmore - Song Of The Blackbird
8. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
9. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - The Letting Go
10. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
11. Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk
12. Chris Smither - Leave The Light On
13. Nicholas Makelberge - Dying In Africa
14. The Elected - Sun Sun Sun
15. Amel Larrieux - Morning
16. Yasushi Yoshida - Secret Figure
17. The Roots - Game Theory
18. Ramblin' Jack Elliot - I Stand Alone
19. Arborea - Wayfaring Summer
20. Comets on Fire - Avatar

Dang there are some really great albums in there I never listen to anymore.