It has been, I must say, an absolutely phenomenal year for great albums this year. Really, really great.
Even before February was over I had some records I knew would end up being favourites. Yo La Tengo were back Nick Cave was brewing something, and there had already been some fantastic surprises.
So that’s a good thing, but the other good thing is that I seem to come across as less of an anti-big-label snob this year. Last year the biggest labels represented in my top twenty were Fatcat and Chemikal Underground, and the rest were tiny labels or self-releases.
Those tiny releases are still here, of course, but despite the disappointments of The National and Kurt Vile, the bigger labels are a little better represented this year. We have Nick Cave and Yo La Tengo, and might have had The Flaming Lips too, had I spent more time listening to their album, which I really like the sound of so far.
There are also some of the bigger indies represented as well, and in general the whole list just looks a lot more balanced than last year. Not that I have changed my mind about last year, but it did look a bit like I was being intentionally obscure, which I wasn’t.
Anyhow, without further ado, here is the first half of this year’s top twenty, below the jump to stop all the embedded song players from slowing the whole page down completely.
Lady Lazarus’ previous album had a wonderful sound, but this one is just a wonderful album from start to finish. Without being wild there is great variation, and a gloriously ghostly, mysterious sound which is as warm and comforting as it is elusive.
I dearly wish someone would invest in a vinyl run of this!
Brown Brogues are basically just ace. Really nice guys, a clear sense of not giving a fuck about the industry, but not in a posturing, adolescent manner, just the down to earth indifference of Northerners who are not all that easy to impress.
This is their second album, and it’s as tune-packed as their first, and although the signature analogue recording sound, distorted guitar and spanked drums are all there, so too are all sorts of other things including what sounds sort of like utterly inebriated ghost of doo-wop.
This is big, smooth Americana, and I have to confess I never thought I’d end up liking an album like this ever again, particularly after I got so into the charms of lo-fi, wonky home recordings.
There’s just something about it, however, that I can’t quite put my finger on. Somehow the sadness cuts through the gloss of the production, and there’s a somewhat contradictory feeling of low-key grandiosity to The Graceless Age.
There’s a real joyfulness to this album which is just plain infectious and makes it just so bloody likeable.
It’s a playful, full throttle rattle through a mish-mish of retro-tinged guitar pop, which is intense, loud and a shitload of fun. The vocals are so buried in the mix that it’s hard to have any idea what they’re on about most of the time, but you will be humming pretty much every single song on here pretty much immediately, and that’s all you need from an album like this.
This is a big, sprawling mess of an album which somehow never feels overlong. It’s really rather self-indulgent as well, but somehow manages to carry that off with aplomb as well.
A double album of meandering tunes which stumble from psychedelia to folk to pop and outright noodling, I have no idea what it is which distinguishes this from the countless overblown, tedious attempts at something similar by other bands, but something about it is just eminently listenable from start to finish.
This is one of those albums which took me weeks to get into properly. I listened, kept listening, kept listening and somehow never managed to quite twig about how much I was enjoying it.
It has a similar feel to the Bill Baird record above, in that there are krauty rhythmic wig outs and tight, more concise pop songs, but where Spring Break of the Soul has a psychedelic West Coast pop feel to it, this is more flavoured by dusty Americana and prog chug.
Quite how this has ended up being one of the hipster albums of choice this year is a little bit beyond me, I have to confess.
Hookworms, like Joanna Gruesome, are a band I have been aware of since their first self-released EP made an appearance, so to see their massive, krauty drone-fest make such an impact was really nice to witness, and at the same time rather odd.
Suuns are one of those bands whose existence was news to me when the email introducing this album first arrived.
I fell in love with the moody electronic sound when I first heard it, but then saw the band at SXSW and realised their music was far more guitar-based than I had quite realised. Moody, atmospheric and hypnotic tunes, not entirely unlike compatriots Majical Cloudz, but nothing like as morose.
This is a messy, cobbled together approximation of an album, but one which so revels in its rough recordings and gravelly sounds that it comes across as being intended that way, rather than just being sloppy.
In amongst the fuzz and the hiss there are some cracking pop tunes here, and some others which just rumble along without ever seeming to go anywhere, and that sense of not quite knowing what on earth you’re listening to is a large part of what makes it so good.
So long in coming it’s almost impossible to joke about it anymore, but it is finally here.
This Silent Year is perfectly judged, gloomy and downbeat but with moments of great release, like in the epic, awesome Too Late in the Day. I look forward to their sophomore effort arriving sometime in my mid-forties.