this year’s records in review: #20 – #11

Year end lists are out. I’ve spent the last two weeks crafting mine. Listening to your favorite records of the year in their entirety is really the only way to do it. [I could rant here about how listening to an album from start to finish is the only way to hear a band and understand them: listening to songs in the order presented, letting it rise and fall, and taking you a different place every spin. But I digress..]

We have the folks at NPR‘s All Songs Considered – who are full of surprises, Stereogum, who were the first to put out their top 50 list [which I was baffled by]. SPIN put out a list that seriously makes you rethink your own choices, and the classic debatable Pitchfork [who also feel the need to do an Honorable Mention list – because they’re Pitchfork and they’re here to annoy you.] And Rolling Stone manages to take the cake, as always, in endless jaw dropping I-Can’t-Believe-They-Did-That-isms all over their list.

Too many of the indie publications included Youth Lagoon while Watch The Throne managed to find itself in a lot of the Top 10’s – which I will never understand [makin’ records just for flexin‘, between what have become two hip hop giants, seems to be who can overproduce and over sample more. Boring boring boring record.] Fucked Up made some surprises at SPIN [including the cover of their magazine – nice photo]. Paul Simon crashed the party at Rolling Stone [while Bon Iver is hard to find and Radiohead claimed a spot that shouldn’t belong to them.] Yuck got left out of too many places and chillwave has become a tidal wave. We all have our complaints.

In an effort to constantly create conversation I want to remind us all that it’s important to separate the Best from your Favorite. [Chuck Klosterman taught me that at a signing of his paperback edition of Killing Yourself To Live.] When building my list I was clearly choosing my favorites [which can get tricky] and trying to keep my favorite and the best apart. But then I realized that my favorites are what I think are the best. At first I didn’t want to put them in a ranked order, but then what’s the fun in that?

20. Rave On Buddy Holly – Various Artists

It is in no way shape or form a cop out to include a various artists compilation album in a year end list. Never forget that. The fact is that this album is full of great songs – written by one of the greatest songwriters who is forgotten too often – performed by a collective of talented artists that get the big picture [and understand why they were included in the project.] You can find my full, original, review of it here.

19. Megafaun – Megafaun

Psych folk rock has certainly found its place, even if we never knew it existed. This September surprise from the North Carolina band is charming and full of sound effects [really.] Their songs rise and fall with movements of motion and the whole record gives you the feeling of undulation. Their episode of World Cafe Live from WXPN is worth a listen.

18. Stone Rollin’ – Raphael Saadiq

Raphael Saadiq is the second youngest in his family of fourteen, so he knows how to work with a large collective of people. [Including, from his 2008 release The Way I See It Jay-Z, Joss Stone and Stevie Wonder.] Movin’ is slow on soul and just as fast with R&B. The sounds on this record have come out of another time. But thank god its ours.

17. D – White Denim

This band can play. Opening your show with a twenty minute long jam in a small club can really leave an impression on someone. Knowing their instruments, they also know how to craft a record. D not only shows us that this Austin band has experience playing together live [which can make or break you] but that they know they’re way around a recording studio. Telling a story with a record  has never sounded so good.

16. Suck It And See – Arctic Monkeys

After hearing this record and dismissing it I went and back listened to their previous albums [also in an effort to make sense of their instantly sold out show at the 930 club here in DC.] It took me some time, but I realized their trick. Lyricism isn’t their best. It’s their musicianship. These lads from Sheffield know how to rock with riffs. It’s their music you get lost in and the words you can almost laugh at – in a great way. For the lucky masses who are seeing The Black Keys on their upcoming arena tour also get English rock as the Monkeys are opening.

15. Yuck – Yuck

I actually have this image on a tee shirt [which always shocks people, but the art is too good to pass up.] Saw them open for Tame Impala in May at DC’s Black Cat Main Stage. And it was then I was converted from a skeptic to a lover. They headlined the same club a few months later and shook me a second time. I look forward to hearing their sophomore record – hoping that it’s diverse while keeping that indie mod 90’s experimental sound. Until then I’ll keep listening to this album and be surprised how great it can be every time.

14. Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 – the Beastie Boys

Back on the mic is the anti-depressa. This album came at me like nothing else. It has certified The Beastie Boys catalog in my daily diet. You can stream the full album from their site, watch a short version of the 30 minute film here and laugh at the nostalgic star studded trailer every day. These three still know what makes great hip hop, in fact they always did. Have you had your Beasties today?

13. Only In Dreams – Dum Dum Girls.

Seeing them live solidified my love for this all girl rock band. But after learning about this record from their World Cafe Live episode I gained a bigger appreciation for it.  The loss of Dee Dee’s mother as inspiration to everything from the album art [that’s her on the cover] to basic song writing made me realize that these dreamy pop songs dig deeper than any other revival beach fuzz band [see Cults, Best Coast et al.]

12. Errant Charm – Vetiver

This album might not be my favorite but it sure is my favorite record to travel to. A constant in my earphones for long train rides, it’s a soundtrack to watch the countryside. Folk rock is so popular right now. And even though I have my platter to choose from, this is my favorite. Something about the humble singing, piano charm and acoustic love struck a chord.

11. Freaking Out! EP – Toro Y Moi

Nothing put me off more than this record. I couldn’t believe an artist would put out an EP the same year as a record that already did him so well. And now I can’t believe myself. This year has become the year of the EP – as you’ll see later another finds itself in my list. There’s something to say about a short record in these digital days. When an artist can deliver brevity full of A-sides it becomes something you cherish. It’s romantic even. You never want it to end. But then you realize you can listen to it again and again – happy as a clam. Yes, this record sounds like it belongs in the 1980s. But it taught me that my persistence in revisiting music to understand and challenge myself [and my listening habits] can only pay off.