I’ll make this quick, but I’m going to get deep for a moment. I’m not one to be sentimental, I saw Up In The Air when I was 20 and I was all like “I’m gonna throw all my stuff away!” I don’t really hold on to many possessions from when I was younger, I’ve kept two things, my teddybear from when I was a lad, and the pocket knife my grandfather gave me before he died. Airport security took one of those things (Thanks Obama!), I’ll let you decide which.
Where I’m going with this is, during the holiday season we get a lot of tradition and sentimentality pushed on us, and I normally scoff at it. The truth is, sometimes tradition has its place. I’ve been making top 10 music album lists since I was like 12 years old. They started as scribbles in a notebook, then emails between friends, then facebook posts, and now First Klass Breakfast is kind enough to post my ramblings. My life constantly changes everyday. I go broke, I get my heartbroken, friends rotate out, I just get pulled in so many directions I forget who I am. The only constant is my love of music, and every year when I get to sit down and write these lists, it centers me. I get back to basics by focusing on something I love. That’s the thing about tradition that’s important. It’s not to always have something to do every year, it’s about taking a moment every year to reset, and remember who you are. That means many things for many people- [BILL COSBY JOKE EDITED OUT]. Aside from falling in love with the wrong girls, writing these lists is my only tradition, and I treasure it.
Now on to some housekeeping!
Last year on my list I had Arcade Fire’s Reflektor at #6. I predicted in the article that I would come to regret this decision, and GUESS WHAT!? I do. Boy I really know myself, now if only I could find a woman who knew me that well (I’m still holding out hope for Amy Adams).
So if I can go back and change my answers, I replace Arcade Fire’s Reflektor with Rhye’s Woman, and I just completely knock Reflektor off the list. Also, I’d like to replace my honorable mention with Disclosure’s Settle. I know I know, your thinking “But Sean! That’s so mainstream, and you’re usually such an outside of the box thinker”, well guys, sometimes you have to give respect where respect is due. Except the yankees and Derek Jeter, f you Derek Jeter.
Now on to this year’s list!
Future Islands – Singles
Best Songs – Seasons (Waiting On You), Doves, Back In Tall Grass
Learning to combine the synth sounds of the 80’s and the recent trends in indie music dubbed “chillwave”, Future Islands have constructed their best and most accessible album yet. It succeeds at making songs that have a unique and distant sound, but combine them with thumping bass and an anthem like singing style that make you want to stomp your feet and sing along. You can see the passion that went into this album if you watch their incredible Late Show with David letterman appearance. I’ll be real with y’all, cuz your my readers and I luh you, their letterman appearance is really what gets them the honorable mention.
Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – Tyranny
Best Songs – “Where No Eagles Fly,” “Mutual Assured Destruction”, “Father Electricity,” “Dare I Care”
I’m such a homer, I always find some sort of way to talk about the strokes in every article I write, but hear me out! I don’t really know if this is a great album by any means, I don’t even know if it’s good. But it’s so weird and interesting, I have to urge you to listen to it. Some moments it’s poignant and fascinating with shades of Frank Zappa, and at others, it’s utter garbage, but I think that’s the point. It flashes Strokes-like moments, and then buries them under a cavalcade of distortion, tribal beats, and computer voices. Which again I think is the point.
10) Kevin Drew – Darlings
Best Songs – “Body Butter”, “Good Sex”, “It’s Cool”, “You in Your Were”
When it comes to hipster nonsense, the band Broken Social Scene will always be the reigning champ. When I read in an interview that one of the lead singers didn’t own a cellphone, I was like “these guys are assholes”. But lucky for us Kevin Drew, a former member of BSS, has dropped all the lame hipster pretenses and written a very nice album. It’s a very relaxed and unassuming album that slowly gets stuck in your head. But just to make sure he didn’t alienate his old hipster fan base, Kevin Drew made sure to make a music video for the lead single “You In Your Were” (which makes no sense) featuring Zach Galifinakis and Feist!
9) Allah-Lah’s – Worship The Sun
Best Songs – “Ferus Gallery,” “Follow You Down,” “Better Than Mine”
Sounding like surf music that got lost in the desert, Allah Lah’s second album, Worship The Sun, is a nostalgic blast. Worship the sun isn’t just reminiscent of 60’s rock and roll, the album literally sounds like it was recorded fifty years ago, reminding me of another indie band, Foxygen. The songs are so groovy and laid back, but occasionally drift off into psychedelic guitar solos, always at the perfect time. It’s a swaggering album that deserves to be blasted with the windows down on a long road trip through the canyons.
8) Mac Demarco – Salad Days
Best Songs – “Salad Days”, “Blue Boy”, “Let Her Go”, “Treat Her Better”
I like to imagine that if Steely Dan went and recorded music on a hovercraft out on the bayou, it would sound like this. Reminiscent of the band Real Estate, Mac Demarco makes laid back groovy surf music, but it skews towards a gloomy or melancholy vibe, as if putting Real Estate’s music in front of a funhouse mirror. His lyrics often waiver between those written by a drunk hipster dufus and a heartbroken poet, and he does both well, making this album an absolute delight.
7) Jessie Ware – Tough Love
Best Songs – “Tough Love”, “Cruel”, “Want Your Feeling,” “Champagne Kisses”
OMG I am OBSESSED with Jessie Ware. Sorry I had to get that out of my system. I won’t waste too much time talking about her, as I just wrote an article about her for this site (which you can find here), but she is one of (if not) THE best singers out there today. Her second album improves much of what was wrong with her debut, but keeps the spirit. She continues to mix ambient electronic music with R&B, but this time she is able to make the songs catchier, more complex, and more textured.
6) How To Dress Well – “What Is This Heart?”
Best Songs – “What You Wanted”, “Repeat Pleasure”, “Words I Don’t Remember”
We’ve sort of hit that part in my top ten where it becomes hard to make a playlist using songs from all these albums. Jessie Ware, How To Dress Well, and the next person on this list, all might fit together, but definitely not with Mac Demarco or Spoon (Spoiler alert). Bare with me here. I also recently wrote about How To Dress Well, so I won’t waste too much time here other than to say that this is a haunting, yet beautiful album that grows the more you listen to it.
5) Caribou – Our Love
Best Songs – “Can’t Do Without You”, “Silver, Our Love”, “Your Love Will Set You Free”
See what I mean? I’m getting real trippy on y’all now, but I swear this is a great album. Following in the footsteps of their 2011 album Swim, Caribou creates another album of hypnotic dance music, but this time it trends towards a moody, R&B vibe. At first I found the album to be a little repetitive and odd, but the more I listened, the more it seemed to put me in some sort of trance. A good, loving trance though… don’t worry I’m fine.
4)The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
Best Songs – “Under The Pressure”, “Red Eyes”, “An Ocean In-between The Waves”, “Burning”
By pushing further away from their surf rock roots and more towards the sounds of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, The War on Drugs create what will mostly likely be their masterpiece. It’s soothing, but catchy, and ambient, it’s just really wonderful. I’ll admit when I saw the first track was 8 minutes I was all like “screw this” but every time I listen to “under the pressure” it flies by! (I was gonna make some weird joke about the REAL war on drugs not working, but I skipped it, YOU’RE WELCOME)
3) A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea Went Absent
Best Songs – “In Love With Useless”, “MTLOV (Minor Keys)”, “Crushin”, “The Body It Bends”
I had never heard of this band until this album, and man oh man is it good. I got excited about the band after listening to this album and went and listened to their previous work… uh, not a fan! They’re previous albums are super electronic, and ambient, and don’t even really form actual songs. It was some weird shit, but luckily this band has kept pushing themselves and injected much more traditional songwriting into their style, while keep their unique but bizarre sounds from their previous work. What this does, is it makes traditional sounding songs have so much flourish and style. It’s full of big sweeping anthems. Lots of hits in the feels!
2) Spoon – They Want My Soul
Best Songs – “Inside Out”, “Do You”, “They Want My Soul”, “New York Kiss”
I can’t think of a band that has had more consistency than Spoon. Eight albums in, and they continue to push themselves, challenge their sound, but still sound like Spoon. You may know them from their hit song “The Way We Get By” which cropped up on a lot of tv shows, or their work on the Stranger Than Fiction soundtrack. Where as 2010’s Transference talked about lead Singer Britt Daniel’s youth and struck the same chord over and over to a degree, They Want My Soul is more varied. Topics include our loss of conviction, privacy, and what makes us who we are, and the music stylings range from every previous Spoon album. “Rainy Taxi” sounds like Girls Can Tell, “Knock Knock Knock” sounds like Kill The Moonlight, and “inside out” sounds like Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.
1) Beck – Morning Phase
Best Songs: “Heart Is A Drum”, “Blue Moon”, “Unforgiven”, “Don’t Let It Go”
As I said in my review for this album (which you can find here), Morning Phase is a story of acceptance. Acceptance that the world is equally as beautiful as it is cruel, set to gorgeous melodies made of country-folk to haunting string quartets. It is easily the most complete and most beautiful album that I heard this year. It’s beautiful music is all complimented with intelligent, poetic lyrics, and the songs are arranged in a particular way to tell a story. In today’s world of buzzfeeds and reddits (which I still have never been on), where everything is chopped into clips and bits, it’s nice to know that some artists still take the time to make a real work of art. Thank you Beck!