We’ve given a numerical order, but there’s no particular REALLY because everyone are winners–or some bullshit like that. These were albums that the writers at SFCritc had on repeat, will repeat, will love, and do love. We hope you feel the same.
10. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
In a year when indie rock albums were cycled through like town bicycles, Gorilla Manor was one of the few albums everyone continued to play. There are many indie bands that premiered this year which I believe will be forgotten next year (*cough* Twin Shadow), but Local Natives are primed to rise like Passion Pit, Vampire Weekend, or The XX. Gorilla Manors shined with vocal harmonies, and remained fresh with alternative percussion styles. There is such a range of emotive styles that moves from the sweetness of “Who Knows Who Cares,” the thrill of “Wide Eyes,” and to the melancholy of “Airplanes.” All and all–this was just a very balanced and promising record.
Local Natives: “Sun Hands” DL
Somehow Wavves combine the unmistakable sneer of punk rock with DYI’s lo-fi fuzzy, jangling guitars and an airy vibe of Cali bros straight chilling out. There is this ineffable and relaxed cool that emerges over the course of this record. We’ve seen a wave of groups with a similar modus operandi appear on the indie music scene over the past couple of years and many of them are talented but I think King of the Beach is the best of the lot.
8. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Titus Andronicus actually sound like the kind of band I would probably be in if I was a good musician and cooler than I actually am. They happen to also be from New Jersey like I am but that coincidence is immaterial. The Monitor is a far smarter record than most people realize. Despite the potential trap of messing around with something like Civil War history, references to Shakespeare and old grizzled standbys like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Bragg, Titus Andronicus produced a pretty accessible record. There are undertones of the bands diverse influences and intellectual chops but they are complementary without distracting from the raw, rocked out version of Conor Oberst-like ballads that are the band’s bread and butter.
Sharon Jones is the modern long lost daughter of Tina Turner and James Brown. As other critics have noted her voice seems to get stronger with age and while The Dap Kings are a damn good band, Jones is the real force behind this record. I could be a bit biased because I saw her live and was absolutely blown away but given how bad lots of bands are in person these days I think it matters even more when you come across a group whose live show actually exceeds what is already a really good record. Live, some of the songs lose a bit of the sadness that animates them on the record but the fact that Jones and the Dap Kings can switch registers with ostensibly the same music so readily is a sign of rare and impressive virtuosity.
6. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Angela Bacca wrote a fabulous review, which we can’t hardly top in such a synopsis. Ignoring the star studded feature list, this album was full of great beats–and serious lyrics. It’s no wonder it took so long for a follow up–and we’re glad we waited.
5. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
Sure many will say this isn’t Pink’s best album, that it only gained popularity because of Pitchfork’s rating. They might be right. So what. As Andrew Wyatt (of Miike Snow) put it, Pink started a whole sound that was mimicked by so many other artists. This was just the album that everyone took notice.
4. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
Consider me a late comer to BSS and forgive me for that. I know the die hard fans don’t love this album, but it’s hard to disagree that tracks like “Sweetest Kill,” and “All to All” are not exceptional. This album came out early this year, but stayed in my rotation for months, something that doesn’t happen often for someone like me who receives albums every day. There is so many styles from track to track that for those that aren’t familiar with BSS, you’ll wonder if you’re listening to the same group if you just listen to the album from front to back.
Broken Social Scene: “World Sick” DL
3. Toro Y Moi – Causers of This
Chillwave became a “thing” (though I’d argue this is a branch of glitch pop *semantics*) this year that will likely be forgotten next year. Many of the artists sounded the same and for the most part–that was a bad thing. Then along came Toro Y Moi with this irresistible album that was both bubbly and haunting. Sudden glitches, muffled lyrics, and momentary shrills intermittently placed throughout each song made otherwise pop songs just a little edgy. On “Thanks Vision” the synthesizer stalls as though something is wrong in the recording, always drawing listeners back in. Then “Low Shoulder” begins like this 80s pop song before these crashing drum kits make the song heavy, almost unbalanced. This constant edge made Causers Of This always interesting and worth another repeat.
2. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
Janelle Monae is one of the more interesting female singers to come along in recent years. There is an underlying sense of bittersweet intellectualism to her music and a kind of subtle melancholy builds throughout The ArchAndroid. Her most immediate predecessor talent-wise is Lauryn Hill, whose Miseducation remains a modern classic. Like Hill, Monae seems almost too smart for the music industry. Despite being gorgeous she scarcely uses her beauty as currency in an industry where its always been its own kind of talent. When I saw her perform on FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance last summer she wore a tuxedo and her dancing was more reminiscent of James Brown than Beyonce. More than anything else Monae wants to be appraised by her music. On the strength of The ArchAndroid’s consistent excellence, Monae shouldn’t have that problem for a long time.
1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF ) was probably the most hyped album not by Bieber of the past several years and it actually exceeded my expectations. I don’t think Kanye has made a bad album yet. Part of this is because unlike most rappers he doesn’t depend on his talents as lyricist first and foremost. Unlike Nas, for instance, a Kanye album will never have middling production and prosaic arrangements. MBDTF is a bombastic declaration of artistic intent. It’s Kanye’s Avatar. Like the phoenix from the “Runaway” video, Kanye’s star is ever rising. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t pull a Prometheus and burn up prematurely.
Kanye West (Ft. Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z & Bon Iver) – “Monster” DL
Five Albums That Almost Made Our List
1. Beach House – Teen Dream
Beach House: “I Do Not Care For The Winter Sun” DL
2. The National – High Violet
3. Arcade Fire – Suburbs
Arcade Fire: “We Used To Wait For Her” DL
4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
5. Deerhunter – Halycon Digest