Wow, just wow. I think this is the best album Nick Cave has put out so far. And that's saying a lot, since this is their 15th studio album. From the opening track, strangely titled, 'We No Who U R', with it's haunting melody and vocals to the title track, this album is a sonic treasure. Out of Australia, here is the current line-up, Nick Cave – vocals, piano, organ, harmonica, percussion, electric guitar, string arrangements; Thomas Wydler – drums, percussion, vocals; Martyn P. Casey – bass, vocals; Conway Savage – piano, organ, vocals; Jim Sclavunos – percussion, drums, organ, melodica, vocals; Warren Ellis – violin, fender mandocaster, loops, mandolin, tenor guitar, viola, bouzouki, accordion, flute, lute, piano, programming, percussion, string arrangements, vocals.
When I first heard this album, I, like the critics, thought that Vampire Weekend had lost their fire. I really expected this to go in the only listen to once pile. It did not have the immediate catchiness that the other albums had. And yet, here it is. Much more subtly infectious than their previous efforts. Now, I think I like this album far better than the first two. This shows a much more mature side to their sound and a darker vein as well. The Paul Simon-esque style is still there, they've just slowed everything way down. I really like it. It's funny that I've seen this on every top 50 list I've looked at so far. So, I think most of the critics probably had a similar experience. Never trust a critic. ;)
High Highs are Jack Milas and Oli Chang out of Sydney, Australia. They have toured with Sky Ferreria, Empire of the Sun and Vampire Weekend. They are signed to Sony, which means you will probably be hearing more out of these guys. Their sound is intimate and expansive all at the same time. They remind me of Band of Horses in their early days, only with a lot less members. The fact that only two guys produce this sound is stunning. I look forward to hearing where these guys go. This album is nothing short of incredible.
It is no secret that I absolutely love Camera Obscura, so it is no surprise to me that their new album made the list. What did surprise me is that it is so far down on the list. Out of Scotland, with close ties to Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian, this band has been cranking out the tunes since 1996. Their current line-up is Tracyanne Campbell – guitar, vocals; Carey Lander – piano, organ, vocals; Kenny McKeeve – guitar, mandolin, harmonica, vocals; Gavin Dunbar – bass; Lee Thomson – drums. They came in #35 in 2009's best of list here. It would seem that Camera Obscura have a baby now.
47. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
What a fun album. I love what these guys are doing. They are only 22. Sam France and Jonathon Rado are the brains behind this outfit. They are out of California. Apparently their live shows are insane and I'm sad I missed them play at Opolis. Their sound seems to be 60's psychedelia blended with who knows. I'm not sure how to characterize them, I just know I enjoy listening to them. Such a fun album to listen to, check it out below.
Fossil Collective rise out of the ashes of Vib Gyor. Jonny Hooker and Dave Fendick are the founders of this new project after their band disbanded in 2010. They reside in the United Kingdom. This album is just beautiful. Layered, folksy pop with lots of depth and complexity.
This is the sophomore effort of New York five piece, Caveman. Haunting vocals, big sound...think about a foggy fall evening. I haven't listened to their first album, but I love this one. A lot. It shows a lot of promise. Lots of prog rock sounds behind the folk and the harmonies between the band members are fantastic. I am really looking forward to seeing these guys live and to hear where their next album takes them. I see these guys blowing up in a couple years. Keep your eyes on them. Caveman is Jeff Berrall - bass, backing vocals, James Carbonetti - guitar, Sam Hopkins - keys, backing vocals, Matthew Iwanusa - vocals, guitar, percussion, Stefan Marolachakis - drums, backing vocals.
Washed Out is Ernest Greene out of Perry, Georgia and his new album is spectacular. If you remember, way back in 2011, this was listed in the group of albums I should have been listening to, here. This one barely made the cut, but only because I started listening to it too late in the year. I love this guy's story. Went to school to become a librarian. Couldn't find a job. Moved in with his parents. Puts out amazing music in his bedroom. He got picked up by Sub Pop and this is such a great night/stay at home and cook dinner album. Or, drive around in the summer with the windows down. You pick. Hell of a great way to kick off this list, I say. Oh, and by the way, he also wrote the opening to Portlandia.
I cannot believe it has been a year already. I had contemplated earlier doing a top 75, but after compiling all of the data and realizing the very real constraints on my time, I am going to stick with a top 50. Sorry if I got your hopes up, there were a lot of magnificent albums that came out this year, but I think my current format, top 50 followed by a top 10, more than covers what I have listened to. This has been a difficult year for several reasons. You can research my previous posts for one of those reasons, the other being, I lost a year's worth of music on my hard drive (because it crashed, big time). It has taken quite a bit of time recovering the data lost and lessened the amount of music I listened to dramatically. In addition, I got a new car, which has a CD player, so I tried to reflect that in the numbers. This list, again, is a list of what I've listened to the most. As with my radio show, I think I prefer to let my ears define what is best rather than my brain. I hope you enjoy this year's list even a fraction as much as I've enjoyed listening. The Top 50 begins now....
Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute To Fleetwood Mac
I couldn't really find a place for a compilation album dedicated to covering another band's tunes. I don't mind if a band covers an entire album and does it well...like these guys did here. However, I felt like this particular tribute album was curated very well. In fact, I just got a recent issue of Mojo with some bands covering Rumours, and it wasn't very good at all. Now, I am a huge Mac fan...The Green God, Bob Welch, I love it all. In fact, Mystery To Me is one of my favorite albums ever. While they did not cover any songs from that particular album, they did give a nod to Welch with his ever popular 'Oh Well'. Antony singing 'Landslide' is just perfection and I would have never thought of this, but it was executed extremely well. Gardens & Villa doing 'Gypsy', also perfect. Their style lends itself perfectly to this song. In fact, I think a good cover is one that doesn't rehash what the band has already done so well, but rather puts a new spin on the song, make me look at the lyrics in a different way, or feel the song differently. Play the song in your style, if I already like you as a band, then this will only make me like you more. Bottom line, there are ways to do a cover and ways not to do a cover. I think this is a compilation of ways to do a cover. Check out especially Best Coast's rendition of 'Rhiannon'. There are also appearances from Tame Impala, The Kills, MGMT, Lykke Li, The New Pornographers and Washed Out. Needless to say, this album is a keeper.
Not sure if I should post this, but, given my current circumstances, I thought it might be 'fun' to list them off. It's not really fun. Break-up albums are a very personal experience and the ones I have included are the ones that have impacted me most in my life. So, you get to see inside. Let me know in the comments section below what some of your favorite ones are. I have not even begun to scratch the surface here. The ones I like usually involve all the stages of grief. Denial, Bargaining, Sadness, Anger and Acceptance. Although, usually, Acceptance is left out and longing and despair left in its place. They are very cathartic and help one to move to the other side. Usually, for me, I will have listened to an album for a spell and then go through a break up and be like "Whoa, that's a break-up album?" I also like how 'love songs' I have acquired off some of these albums are beautiful love songs, but in the context of the album, turn into a creepy, longing. Hope you enjoy, these are in no particular order.
1. Genesis - Duke
Phil Collins is the master of sadness. No, really. He wrote this album around the same time as "Face Value" which he attributes to the divorce of his first wife. He said, "I had a wife, two children, two dogs, and the next day I didn't have anything. So a lot of these songs were written because I was going through these emotional changes." In true Genesis style, the album is musically and lyrically thematic and begins and ends with the same themes, with many of the same chord structures and melodies used throughout the album. It is an amazing piece of work and if you ever listen to classical music, you will understand why. This has been in the roster since I was sixteen and has never left. I recently purchased it on vinyl and am still amazed at the perfection of it. This video is amazing.
2. of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer
Kevin Barnes' self-immolating banter on this album is some of the most poetic musings that have ever graced my ears. It covers all the ranges mentioned above, anger, longing, sadness, denial. It's just beautiful really. It was written when he and his wife went through a temporary separation (which, I didn't know he even had a wife till now). He wrote it from an altar-ego, one that is less compassionate, more of a jerk. He really wanted to show off the ugly side of his ego. The result: a beautifully coalescent piece of art. It also marks the band's move to a more dance-funk sound. In my opinion, this is the best album the band ever put out. Much like the above, I think it has more to do with the personal nature of it. Maybe the artist has more invested in the album. Either way, it is flawless. Make sure to check out the follow-up EP "Icons, Abstract Thee".
3. Stars - Set Yourself On Fire
Unlike the follow-up album "In Our Bedroom After The War" which is an album largely of reconciliation, "Set Yourself On Fire" is a cathartic romp through the worst parts of a break-up. Maybe including parts of getting over it, finally. The first thing you hear off the album is, "When there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire", read by Torquil's dad. It opens the song, "Your ex-lover is dead", which is one of the most beautifully brutal break-up songs ever. I've never heard a song cover both ends of the spectrum and perhaps it why I love it so. Amy & Torquil answer each other perfectly in this..."There's one thing I want to say, so I'll be brave. You were what I wanted, I gave what I gave. I'm not sorry I met you, I'm not sorry it's over, I'm not sorry there's nothing to save." Whoosh. That's rough. "Live through this and you won't look back."
4. Loney Dear - Loney Noir
Loney, Dear is the pseudonym of Swedish singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Emil Svanängen. This is actually his fourth release, but his first on a major label outside of Sweden. While this album is imminently hopeful for new lovers, listening in the context of a broken relationship will crush you. I don't think he intended this as a break-up album, but the lyrics are so soul-crushingly right on...full of longing and love lost. I have a difficult time seeing it any other way. It's unfortunate, but, luckily there's a good love song or two in here that will make you smile. There is an underlying hope in it as well, but you have to want it.
5. The National - High Violet
This, The National's last album, as hard as it is to say, is my favorite. Watching him perform these songs live was enough to cause you to need therapy afterward. I don't even think the songs from the studio carry the same weight as that concert. I have often wondered how Matt Beringer can write an album of this intimacy and still stay married. It's pretty damn intense and speaks of the relationship in ways that his wife has to know there's something going on. They must have an incredible relationship and understanding. I hope to have that someday. There is such longing in this album. Hope for reconciliation that never shows itself. It's a painful album to listen to, and as amazing as it is, I still have difficulties listening to it today. "I was afraid I'd eat your brains, cause I'm evil."
6. Bears - Bears
This is an incredible good-bye album. No reconciliation. Only getting by and getting on, with a touch of longing. Beautiful, sweet lyrics and music. Simple and to the point. Again, like all the others in this collection, I think this is the best album they put out. Certainly it has to do with the emotional content of the album. Maybe the artist just became more honest, or whatever and out poured this enormous creativity and resonance. Whatever the case, I am grateful when it brings me albums like this.
7. Blind Pilot - 3 Rounds And A Sound
The title track to this album is heart-wrenching enough. While the rest of these albums can be taken as a whole, maybe telling a kind of story, in a way, I think this one is a collection of songs. It is still gut-busting from the first song to the last. These guys are from Portland, Oregon and this is their first album, and their best. Israel Nebeker is the frontman. It ends with a song of longing and hope. Darkness, free-fall. All are included here.
8. Laura Marling - Alas I Cannot Swim
When Laura wrote this she was 17 or 18 years old. I still don't understand how someone that young can write lyrics that pierce through your heart like daggers, twisting this way and that. How can someone that young understand the immense pain that one experiences when separating from another? And yet, she does. Who am I to judge her age? My favorite tear-jerker dealing with the darkness..."Shine". It's haunting and poignant and right on. Ugh. "I need shine, step away from my light, I need shine."
9. M. Ward - Post-War
I discovered M. Ward after going through a particularly painful breakup. This whole album as well as "Fuel For Fire" from 'Transistor Radio', generally make many rounds through my roster. I remember still, hearing Chinese Translation for the first time. It was like the skies opened up and someone understood what I was experiencing. I listen to M. Ward a lot now. He's probably one of my favorite artists, not only for his soulful lyrics, but the way they pierce right through the veil and shatter my misconceptions of love.
10. Mojave 3 - Excuses For Travelers
This one is difficult. Neil Halstead is my muse. Sadly. This album covers every spectrum of emotion. And does it well. It, however, ends with the kind of hope one has to hold onto. "I got my sunshine and I'll get by." Thanks Neil.
This, it turns out, is probably my favorite part of doing the Top 50. Every year, there's a smattering of albums that I think I should have listened to more, and will do so shortly or were released too late to make the top 50. There's at least ten more albums that I think you should definitely check out (actually there's more, but let's be reasonable). These, as always, are in no particular order.
1. Tame Impala - Lonerism
These Australian psych-rockers made this list two years ago here. Their album came out in October this year, which made it difficult to put in the main list, but I will get to rectify seeing them live as they are playing The Cain's on February 28, you can get your tix here.
Acid Pauli is Martin Gretschmann, who is also a member of the Notwist, Console and God & 13. Typically characterized as House, this is anything but House. Experimental ambient electronica with an afrobeat/tropicali influence is what I would put this under. It is very unique and really expressive. I love listening to this album and it makes a great background album to anything you have going on.
This is an indie super group from Austin that includes Britt Daniel of Spoon, Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, Sam Brown from New Bomb Turks and Alex Fischel. You can certainly hear the influence of both bands, but I think they combine together to form something more amazing. A disco electronic groove to Spoon's bluesy influence. It is incredibly well done and hope for their success.
Waxahatchee is former P.S. Eliot member, Katie Crutchfield. She lives in Brooklyn and recorded this album in her bedroom. This is beautiful, introspective, deep singer/songwriter stuff. Songs about broken love and love lost, sung with a guitar and wispy vocals. Nothing grabs my heart more than music like this.
This is an incredibly talented band out of Portland, Oregon. The band consists of singer Ruth Radelet, guitarist Adam Miller, drummer Nat Walker, and producer/multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel. This newest album is long, but such an incredible collection of songs. From the beginning Neil Young cover of Into The Black to the title track and on, this album takes you on a musical journey of goodness you won't forget.
I love Damien Jurado, but this recent pairing with producer Richard Swift has really brought out the songwriting capabilities of this Seattle native. This is haunting 60's Brit pop, sometimes Nick Drake inspired. Nods to psych folk and deep soulful lyrics make this my favorite album to listen to right now. He also released three EP's in conjunction with this album, titled 'Yellow', 'Blue' and 'Red', with equally captivating sounds. This is a continuation of his 2010 work, St. Bartlett. If you haven't yet, give these albums a spin.
These psych-pop Brooklyners have been making waves in the indie scene since their inception in 2007. The band consists of Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder. Part dance, part psych, all good. I have found myself pulled back to this album repeatedly.
This is the brain child of former Tunng lead, Sam Genders and a rotating collective of musicians. U.K. based, this is more electronic than his former incarnation which was classified as folktronica. I absolutely love the darkness of his voice.
Found these guys on Bandcamp. "The Townhouses is the solo project of Melbourne artist, Leigh Hannah. The sound is based on Leigh's obsession with Ethnomusicology. He wistfully mixes Tropicalia, Gamelan, African and Ambient soundscapes to create an experimental collage of breezy summer vibes." You can download a big chunk of this on Soundcloud.
This has been a nice surprise. Usually the twang in the lyrics and music would be enough to turn me away from this. However, the production quality is fantastic and the soulfulness of the lyrics and the power of her voice, as well as some blues infustion and the heavy use of organ is enough to bring me back to this album over and over. She hails from Atlanta, Georgia.
This has been the breakout band of the year. It is a group of Londoners; David Maclean (drummer and producer), Vincent Neff, (singer and guitarist), Jimmy Dixon, (bassist) and Tommy Grace (synth operator). David is the brother of John Maclean of The Beta Band. Funky, quirky, electronic, acoustic, bubbling, quixotic, this album is everything I want music to be. I love to be introduced to something new in music and these guys have done just that. Saw them in San Francisco as well and they were electric on stage and had the whole crowd dancing to their hypnotic beats. I have yet to tire of this album and since it's in the number one slot, it has been listened to incessantly all year. If you haven't listened to this album yet this year then hurry up and buy it already. It's on sale right now at Amazon for $5.00 here. I have given you ample listening opportunities below.
Father John Misty is the nom de plume of J. Tillman. He has put out a number of solo works under his own name and has also been the drummer for Fleet Foxes. His parents wanted him to be a pastor, and you can hear this influence in many of these songs. I had the good fortune of seeing him live this year and his flamboyant style took me aback, but it was a lot of fun at the show. You can check out the awesomeness on the SS Coachella video below. This album never left my rotation and I never tired of listening to it. Exceptional lyrics, tight pop songs with a hint of folk and 70's psychedelia. Father John left Fleet Foxes and quit producing his solo records because he was bored of the music and decided he wanted to write a novel. Instead, he wrote this album and you can hear meta references to that subject all through it. He is also incredibly well read and has a library of which to be extremely jealous. You can call me Nancy.
Thanks for stopping by. I listen to entirely too much music and love sharing music almost as much as I love listening to it. The purpose of this blog is to do just that and perhaps introduce you to bands you've never heard. If you happen to be one of those bands and do not like the fact that I have given a sample of your music in an effort to promote your band, please email me and I will gladly remove the link.