20) Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
Of all the albums on this list, I probably know this one the least but I had to include it here for the sheer scope and size of it. Coming in at a whopping 18 tracks that go over an hour, this album spans more genres than any other album should have the right to do so. Mostly a fusion of hip-hop, soul, R&B, rock, rockabilly, metal, and classical, Monae is all over the place here and although I don’t quite grasp this album fully, I can tell it is something special.
19) Jonsi – Go
It is hard for me to not like just about everything this Icelandic artist does. Known mainly for his work with his band Sigur Ros, Go represents Jonsi’s first solo album and it is just as beautiful as most of Sigur Ros’s work. He is getting more upbeat with a lot of his newer music, and although I do like the slower and more somber stuff of earlier albums more, this still packs a number of great songs that infuse a lot of electronic instruments and orchestras surrounding Jonsi’s hauntingly beautiful falsetto.
18) Vampire Weekend – Contra
Critics like this band more than I do and I think they’re kinda overrated but that still doesn’t take anything away from their second album which while more adventurous than their first, does not quite best their debut album released a few years ago. They continue to carry on their afro/Caribbean pop styles (which is kind of odd for four rich mostly white kids from New York) making them one of the more unique bands out there.
17) Yeasayer – Odd Blood
I’m still trying to grasp this album more as I slept on it for a number of months and only recently got a copy. There are a lot of sounds and styles going on here which can get funky and experimental in some places but at the end of the day, it represents what I mostly look for in music; a great pop album.
16) The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
This quartet from New Jersey just may be the best straight up rock n’ roll band I have heard in some time. I fell in love with their debut album The ’59 Sound which was released two years ago and then saw them at Bonnaroo this past year and witnessed a great set. They continue on with this very solid album that reminds me that no matter how many different sounds modern musicians can come up with in the studio, there is no substitute for a straight ahead great rock album.
15) The Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years
Tucker’s first effort after the disbandment of one of my favorite female acts ever, Sleater-Kinney, is a surprisingly mellow one. The former SK leader decided to slow things down a bit and produced a great album in doing so. I wasn’t sure what to think at first and although I do prefer the edgier and louder sounds of SK, I very much appreciated and enjoyed this album which when listened to carefully seems to be a large understatement of her traditional styles. There are a few rocking tracks on here which are probably the best but it’s nice to see her try something new as well.
14) The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards
My least favorite Jack White band is still great. Especially since they improved so much since their first album, Horehound, released last year. This is certainly his most experimental and crazy project which takes the normal blues style he follows and flips it on its head trying to make it as aggressive and bizarre as he can. This is a much more consistent effort for the band and I hope they continue to get better, for I see something pretty cool developing here.
13) Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
One of my favorite new bands I’ve “discovered” this year is this quintet from L.A. that focuses its sound on a lot of great percussion which sometimes includes two drummers. It was one of those albums for me that took me some time to get into but got better and better with each listen. They are a really talented band that includes several multi-instrumentalists who infuse melodic harmonies in just about every song and also has a gift for building the songs up to a crescendo at the end which is always a plus for me.
12) Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday
Surprised by this inclusion? Yeah, so am I. Especially since I’ve only heard it a few times. But for some reason this fusion of hip-hop, R&B, pop, and soul just grabs me. It’s catchy, aggressive, fun, dirty, expansive, and yet, simple.
11) The Black Keys – Brothers
The most produced album by this duo from Akron, Ohio may not be their best, but it certainly is their most creative. Normally restricted to just a guitar and drums, the Keys have really branched out here including more instruments, vocals, and production techniques that has them changing their sound, but not their awesomeness.
10) Spoon – Transference
I’ve let this band slip by me for so many years and I finally got the stones to just go out and get an album and I’m so glad I did. A lot of their music is very staccato and is not very fluid which can be a difficult thing to pull off successfully. But they do a great job here producing one of the more interesting rock releases of the year.
9) My Chemical Romance – Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
What can I say? I really like this band (or at least their last two albums). Even though they came out along with a bunch of “emo” bands which were mostly generic crap, MCR are actually good and do an amazing job of writing some great pop-punk songs. (I also just realized they share my initials. Sweet!) Granted, they are pretentious and ridiculous and while this effort is not as good as The Black Parade it is still chock full of songs that just put a smile on my face.
8) Warpaint – The Fool
The most obscure selection on my list came to me just recently but I loved this mellow album with Radioheadesque tendencies so much and had to include it on here. It might seem high, but I actually had to fight from putting it higher. The band is a four piece of women from L.A. and they’ve put together a great experimental rock album that is fairly tranquil and atmospheric.
7) The National – High Violet
Originally it took me a while to get into the National but if this had been the first album I heard by them, I don’t think it would have taken me that long at all. Their style doesn’t deviate much from previous efforts as it’s pretty chill, but for me the quality of songs is much more consistent than on their previous album. They do an excellent job of starting from nowhere and building to a boisterous crescendo that when you really think about it, isn’t really boisterous at all. Yet somehow, they make you feel that way
6) Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I first listened to this album in my car on the way to the airport for Thanksgiving break. And I wasn’t feeling it. At all. I’m not sure why because after about three listens later, I felt totally different about it. Like everyone else, I think Kanye is a jerk. But I’ll be damned if this guy cannot create one hell of a song. I don’t know much about production and hip-hop in general, but even I know that this is something special.
5) Wolf Parade – Expo 86
The third album by this indie band from Montreal is another gem. Though not as good as their previous album, At Mount Zoomer, Expo 86 shows that these guys can create some of the best indie music around today. I was really amped to find that they hadn’t lost anything with this album and was sure there was more to come in the next few years. However, it seems the band may have broken up recently and I really hope that’s not true.
4) Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
One of my favorite bands of the past few years is this group from Seattle who create some of the most beautiful pop alt-country I have ever heard. They expand their sound a little more on this record but still hold true to great songwriting, at the core of which is lead singer Ben Bidwell’s superb voice. There are great songs that rock out here as well as ones that slow down and nearly bring you to tears they’re so pretty.
3) Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More
This band has started to blow up recently and I couldn’t be happier for them. For they have made one hell of an album that just about anyone can get down to. They blend folk, country, rock, and a kind of Irish trad musical style and usually start off slow and then build to what becomes a near all-out hoedown. They seem to have taken the formula from the Avett Brothers and made it into something even more palatable, if that is even possible.
2) Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
It took a few listens to this album but I eventually came around to see how freaking great it is. If ever there were such a thing as a prog-punk band, it would be these guys. Many of their songs go well over the five minute mark and include up to three different sections that seem to have nothing to do with each other yet somehow fit in together. It’s pretty raw and unpolished and there is kind of an Irish punk overtone to most of their tunes. It’s powerful, creative, fun, and amazingly crazy.
1) Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Maybe this is a little too obvious, but seriously, Arcade Fire came out with their strongest release with this sprawling and adventurous album that I liked immediately. They have really put themselves out there on this one with a lot of songs (16) yet it never gets dull. They try a number of styles including lo-fi rockers, experimental rock, and even synth-pop. Are they trying too hard? Getting too full of themselves? Pretentious? Perhaps. But they are oh so good.