I have a theory, even if it is slightly unfounded, that when Arcade Fire took the Grammy win for Album of the Year a while back, the entire music industry changed. Suddenly loner acts and those without a record label signing them became viable artists doing more than just breaking even. I tried to limit my choices to a mere ten, but couldn’t do it. There’s a lot of good music out there.
So, here are my top twenty for the year. Every day the order changes, but this is where I’m at now.
20. Lady Gaga — Artpop
I have always loved Lady Gaga. Her performances border on depraved artistry, wearing meat coats and the like. Nevertheless, her music is a constant call to great lyricism and echo the glory days of the eighties.
19. London Grammar — If you wait
If you wait was proclaimed as shortlisted for the UK’s Mercury Prize before it was even released. Vocalist Hannah Reid proclaims great emotional urgency with every syllable uttered. My only complaint is that If you wait just seems a bit too tidy. Every track is similar, but oh-so-good.
18. Phosphorescent — Muchacho
The thematic material of redemption runs throughout Muchacho. With sounds like those from Joshua Tree and Bon Iver, this is a surprising album.
17. Haim — Days Are Gone
Simply overflowing with pop hooks, this album is a liturgy of everything right with the pop world.
16. Vampire Weekend — Modern Vampires of the City
This was hard for me to admit. I never liked Vampire Weekend until this album came out. I found their sound to be contrived and overdone. But, Modern Vampires of the City is a wonderful listen.
15. Daft Punk — Random Access Memories
To quote my colleague, Donovan Richards ,”Daft Punk finds a way to take us back in time and forward to the future of music, simultaneously. The band limns retro future rhythms throughout with funky guitar, four-on-the-floor drums, and a tendency toward their patented aluminum vocals.”
14. Rhye — Woman
Composed of Los Angeles-based duo Robin Hannibal and Mike Milosh, that latter is responsible for the ethereal vocals weaved within each track on Woman. Through gossamer vocals, Woman tells us that love is simply beautiful.
13. The National— Trouble Will Find Me
The National found their way to the top of my list last year. While I love Trouble Will Find Me, it has been harder for me to access. While the album has amazing lyrical depth, it’s not an instant success as their last album was for me.
12. Janelle Monáe — The Electric Lady
I’m frankly not cool enough to have this album on my top twenty. This has groove and soul throughout.
11. Justin Timberlake — The 20/20 Experience
Only Justin Timberlake is allowed to open an album with an eight minute track, and then follow up the album months later with a part two. This album is quintessential Timberlake, and just like his legacy has shown, quintessential Timberlake is a good thing. Sure, two albums is too long, but who cares?
10. James Blake — Overgrown
James Blake’s sophomore release somehow got overlooked by many this year. But it shouldn’t have been. It’s similar to his last album, but is still something to listen to. Overgrown is a great winter album.
9. Deerhunter —Monomania
Deerhunter is one of those bands you can either love or hate. I love them. Monomania represents Deerhunter’s attempt to move beyond their normal schtick. The departure from the norm is refreshing.
8. Waxahatchee — Cerulean Salt
Katie Crutchfield’s second album is surprisingly good. Crutchfiled sings some hard lyrics, and if she were a lesser singer, it would seem contrived. She’s not a lesser singer.
7. Torres — Torres
Deeply personal themes run through the entirety of the album. The emotional bond that Mackenzie Scott has with every single lyric is what make it so powerful to listen to.
6. Volcano Choir — Repave
Justin Vernon’s music is always a must. His music comes with strong imagery, with small bits of sound exploding like a, well, volcano until the sound is gigantic. The music is almost entirely written by Chris Rosenau, and with the lyrics by Vernon, a true sonic experience takes place.
5. Arcade Fire — Reflektor
This Grammy-award-winning band departs from the norm in an attempt to prove that music evolves, and it evolves well.
4. Foxygen — We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
There’s nothing wrong with 60’s rock. Foxygen knows it.
3. Sting —The Last Ship
The rejects from Sting’s broadway musical of the same name comprise the tracks of this album, and if these are the rejects, I’m for once in my life excited to see a musical.
2. Laura Marling — Once I Was An Eagle
Folk rock meets pop. Laura Marling does what Bob Dylan does, but her voice sounds a trillion times better. The weird rhythms, weird instruments, and strange melodic structures make the music nerd inside of me chuckle with glee. The difficulty of the form and content within would be a true obstacle for a lesser musician. Marling isn’t a lesser musician.
1. Elton John — The Diving Board
I am probably the only twenty something year old that believes Elton John is still cool. What I love is that Elton John has absolutely nothing left to prove, and yet, here he is. The fate of the aging rock star is that he makes amazing sounds, but tops no chart—except for this one. Songs like “My Quicksand” and “Oceans Away” prove that those young guns out there have something to learn. By pairing up with noted lyricist Bernie Taupin, Elton has come out with one of his best albums in a long time. That’s saying something.