Ok, so I’m a geek that likes to compile lists. I have been putting together a Top 10 list of albums for a few years and this year it was extremely hard to narrow it down. I’ve even cheated by calling a tie for tenth place because I could not decide which one to leave off. The two main factors are: how much do I listen to the album and do I think I will still be listening to them in a few years. Here they are (drum roll please):
1. Eno: LUX
2. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan
3. Neil Young: Psychedelic Pill
4. Japandroids: Celebration Rock
5. Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth
6. Dan Deacon: America
7. Grizzly Bear: Shield
8. Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory
9. Bob Mould: Silver Age
10. (tie) Byrne/St Vincent: Love this Giant
10. (tie) Bob Dylan: Tempest
My list may appear overly eclectic with a mix of older guys and younger groups but this year, so many musicians that I grew up loving somehow managed to remember how to make great music. I seriously put Young’s Psychedelic Pill among his best albums- maybe not as good as Tonight’s the Night or Everyone Knows This is Nowhere but damn close. Bob Dylan at his best is…well…the best. His new album Tempest is no Highway 61 or Blonde on Blonde but falls somewhere in the Blood on the Tracks/Desire range. While Eno has made good music over the past 30 years, LUX is possibly his best ambient album. It’s the follow up to Thursday Afternoon that I stopped waiting for 20 years ago. Likewise, David Byrne has been hit or miss in his solo career with his best work usually being part of a soundtrack project. Here he teams with one of my favorite younger artists, St Vincent to craft a fabulous album of quirky, off-kilter songs.
Closer to my age, Bob Mould has been spotty since Husker Du broke up with nothing that I found compelling in years. Silver Age is perhaps the record every Mould fan has waited for. The playing is urgent and the sound is great. The songs may not have the bitter bite of his best Husker Du work but since I’m much older now too, it hits the sweet spot for me.
I’m generally very forward looking and there are plenty of newer bands/musicians in my Top 10. Dirty Projectors are one of the smartest, most accomplished bands out there. At first I was disappointed with Swing Low Magellan since it seems more “normal” that there last couple of albums but the songwriting is so strong as is the playing. Japandroids, a guitar/drums duo, has probably spent the most time playing in my studio this year. It's a fun, short set of great punk tunes. I’m a big fan of John Darnielle/Mountain Goats and think this is his best album to date. His band has really come together as a unit and the addition of horns to some track fills out the sound. Dan Deacon is one of the most intriguing artists out there. He studied classical composition and now drives around the country in a custom built bio-diesel bus playing crazed electronic music with a large collective group out of Baltimore. The first 5 songs are well-crafted pop/dance pieces that really aren’t very commercial and the multi-section suite, America, makes me think of what Aaron Copeland may have done with computers and synthesizers. Grizzly Bear has another album of amazingly beautiful songs constructed to allow plenty of space to breathe. The production is absolutely perfect in creating a somewhat precious atmosphere. With Steve Albini recording the Cloud Nothings album, the sound is again, perfect for this raggedy punk-ish group.
Here are a few albums that I ultimately left off of my list:
Swans: The Seer
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Beach House: Bloom
The Walkmen: Heaven
Bang on a Can: Big Beautiful Dark & Scary
Sigur Ros: Valtari
Regina Spektor: What We Saw From The Cheap Seats