So, the preface to this whole “list” thing is that I, unfortunately, have not listened to nearly as much new music as I’m sure most of you have. A lot less, actually. I frequently get caught in ruts where all I want to listen to for a week and a half is old Animal Collective stuff. This happens far more frequently than it should, I fully understand. For that reason, my top fifteen list is more of a list of all of the new stuff that I’ve really, really liked this year, and not so much a comparison to all the other albums that so many people raved about. Which is why I’ve also included, underneath my top fifteen, a list of twelve or so other albums which I’ve only heard partially, and therefore couldn’t really consider, or that I haven’t heard but want to, and sometimes have Ideas (note the capital “I”) about what they sound and look like. Also, take note that I’ve never written something like this before, so I’m not that practiced in writing in this style. Plus, I far too frequently use the word “awesome.” And "frequently."
So, with prefatory statement in mind, here it is:
The Big, Bad, Awesome Top 15
Justice – Waters of Nazareth EP (+ We Are Your Friends)
Is it fair to have my top album be based off of two songs from an EP and an unconnected single that's actually a remix and was, I think, actually released a few years back? Probably not, but fuck it, it's my damn list.
When I was in high school, I listened to a lot of bad metal (both nu- and not) and some better punk and hardcore. I was also very, very into trip-hop, and a lot of hip hop, and, you know, Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin. The reason I bother to mention all of this, is that I think I would have liked this in High School, because it seems like such a great amalgamation of so much of that, but, you know, better. This tops my list just from sheer amount of times listened, and obsessiveness that it inspired. One day this summer I put my headphones on and literally listened to Waters of Nazareth on repeat for three fucking hours. Even though the whole thing isn’t uniformly great, between the title track and the DJ Funk remix of Let There Be Light, this is the bee’s knees.
As a testament to how much I love this, it still tops my list, even though I went to Chicago to see them, got kicked out of the stupid bar, and waited outside in the cold for something like four hours. I thought I might resent it, that it might be soured for me, but two days later at Scholartron 1.6uster I couldn’t have been happier. Big ups, Rhino.
Man Man – Six Demon Bag
During the summer I’d listen to this album probably almost every day. I remember telling E-Harv that the first thing I thought when I first heard Man Man was that, if I had to pick a band that would best encapsulate what I love in most of the music that I listen to, this would be it—there’s humor, danceability, strange percussion, bleeding-throat screaming, gentle parts, strange imagery, and, you know, awesomeness.
Bonus points for this album also come because Brooke, my boss this summer at the Visual Resource Center at DePauw, a generally quiet, demure, country-girl from Minnesota, LOVES Man Man.
Liars – Drum’s not Dead
Most of what I could hope to say about this album has been said better than What I could hope to here. This might have been, with the exception of what’s directly below, my most anticipated album of the year, and here’s why: I had listened to They Threw Us In a Ditch, and liked it, but hadn’t heard They Were Wrong until this year, when I found a copy (actually, lots of copies) in a second hand bin at a record shop in Paris. I remembered everybody really hating it, but it was only 6 euro, so I got it. And, oh man. Oh man. So, when I heard that Liars were coming out with a new one, recorded in Berlin, I figured it would be even scarier, aggressive, nasty, and beautiful. When I first heard Drum’s Not Dead, it was those things, but didn’t sound like what I was expecting. I think I said to someone that it wasn’t nearly as aggressive as I had anticipated. But, on repeat listens, I recognized that it wasn’t that it wasn’t as aggressive, it was just aggressive in a completely different way; a subtler, more complex, infinitely scarier way. And this, my friends, is what I like to call super-duper.
Tom Waits – Orphans
Oh Tom Waits. I almost cried when I didn’t get tickets to your show in Chicago this summer. This isn’t even technically a “real” album, but a collection of songs that were just sort of lying around. Can you imagine? How sweet would it be to be friends with Tom Waits? I bet he’d never bum you cigarettes, or if he did he’d make you do something weird like make out with a fish and keep it on your head the whole time you smoked, or something like that. Although I’m a little unkeen on the idea of compartmentalizing his stuff so rigidly, the variety within each disc makes it okay, and hey, that’s what iPods are for, right?
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
This is one of those albums that I don’t remember really hearing about, as much as I remember hearing about the hype about it. Maybe I don’t read the blogs enough or something, but it seemed like most everything I read about it would preface their post by mentioning how hyped the album had been. Weird.
Anyway, the songs are haunting, I love accordions and mandolins. A lot of people talk about how weird it is that he’s nineteen, but to me it totally sounds like he’s nineteen, which is part of what the appeal of his music is. It’s filled with the kind of optimism, imagination, and over-wrought emotionality that _can_ come from people over thirty, but isn’t nearly as appealing or convincing when it does.
Ghostface – Fishscale
I’ve been a Wu-Tang head pretty much since I started listening to hip hop, and Ghostface has always been one of my top 3 MCs from the Clan (the others being RZA and yes, ODB). This album is simply Ghost doing what he does best—inventing and spitting new (and strange) slang, spinning incredibly vivid stories, using absolutely complex wordplay, and peppering his album with skits that I shouldn’t like as much as I do.
I don’t listen to as much hip hop as I used to, but this album makes me wish that I did. (And, although I’ll write more on this below, right now I think this is soooo much better than Hell Hath No Fury).
Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds
Until I was eleven years old, all I listened to was Michael Jackson tapes. JT is not Michael Jackson, and never will be, and as tired of a comparison as it is, it still makes sense. He makes unequivocally great pop music, can sing (AND dance) amazingly, and, most importantly, knows how to pick the best people in the business to work with (no, I’m not saying Timbaland=QJ, but…I mean, maybe?)
Just listen to “My Love.” Just….listen to it. And then listen to the last track on the album, “All over again (another song)”. Then do it again.
The Rapture – Pieces of the People You Love
They called one of their songs on this album “Whoo! Alright – Yeah…Uh Huh”
You should listen to that song. A lot. And watch the video, because it also is super. There’s crumping involved.
Also, you know, the rest of the album. And yes, the lyrics are really, really dumb sometimes (something about purple dragons? Really?) but fuck it. Plus, I have a soft spot for songs about cars (“Little Red Corvette”, lots of Beach Boys and Chuck Berrysongs) and “First Gear” just kills.
Joanna Newsom – Ys
When I first heard Joanna Newsom, I thought she sounded a lot like what Bjork would sound like if she grew up in Kansas instead of Iceland. That impression doesn’t really stick as much any more. With this album Newsom really seemed, to me anyways, to fully develop and flesh out things that she had wanted to in Mender but hadn’t. Before, it seemed like she was trying to fit into the paradigm of pop music, however uncomfortably that fit, probably because it was the only way she could record an album. This is not pop music. But it’s absolutely wonderful. It is, as Michael said, too much. Which is fine by me. I love too much. Especially when too much is so pretty, and well done, and the stories are so great. Is it okay that I love this album as much as I do, but still haven’t really taken the time to listen to all the lyrics? I know that they make complex, semi-cogent narratives and so on, dropping all sorts of strange references and whatever, but I’d rather just focus on when she goes “and the MEEteorITES”, and just take that for what it is.
The Knife – Silent Shout
This should be pretty self explanatory by this point. I got this from Chuckles last semester as I was writing my HoScho Thesis. At one point, I was at the library at one thirty in the morning, had gotten a total of ten hours of sleep in the past three days, and probably had a gallon and a half of coffee. And some bagels. I had this album on, and was writing, sort of ignoring it, and then I stopped and listened. I had to quit working for the night. I took the long way home, which requires a certain amount of planning, involving intentionally walking away from my house before walking towards it, and waited for the album to finish. I slept really well that night.
Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
I saw Grizzly Bear play in New York when I was there in 2005. They played the amphitheater at the East River Park, down in Lower Manhattan. It was a gorgeous day, and they were playing against a backdrop of the river and Brooklyn. I was there by myself, trying to take in the most of my last few weeks in the city. I didn’t want to like Grizzly Bear at first, because they seemed sort of hokey (the guy with the tank top and long blonde hair sitting on a blanket, playing a flute), but they really blew me away.
This album is all sorts of right. I haven’t listened to it enough times to be able to blather on about it, but it’s absolutely gorgeous.
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – The Letting Go
Ditto this. I just got this from the Pile a little bit ago, and listened to it late one night holed away in the basement of Peeler. I really like that, whenever I hear Will Oldham sing, I can’t help thinking of his ridiculous beard/moustache, and his giant, baby-like head.
Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped
When I was about 12, I bought the early tracks compendium “Screaming Fields of Sonic Trees” (or something like that—I’m writing this without Internet connection so I can’t check) from Columbia House, because I knew they had toured with Nirvana or something. I listened to it once, got confused, and put it back in my pile of CDs. Cut to eight years later. Sonic Youth were playing in a Marimbe club in Queens on top of a gym. The night before I had seen (and been sorely disappointed by) Trail of Dead. Their failure was sooo thrown in relief by how amazing Sonic Youth were. It was like I was in a trance—their set was dominated by far more groovier songs than noisier or rockier ones, and although this album is pretty straight-forward rock-y, it’s also super groove heavy. In my eyes, the Youth can do no wrong (I’ve still never listened to NYC Ghosts and Flowers—should I?).
TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
I wanted to like this more. A lot more. Don’t get me wrong, I love it (although I was fonder of it when it was in my iTunes as “Untitled (leaked new)” instead of the absurdly dumb actual title). But I thought it would be better. I still think TVOTR are doing all sorts of things that other bands aren’t—great use of loops, those Guitars!, and, of course, that voice—and doing them to make really compelling songs. And that’s why they’re awesome.
Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome
I convinced my parents to buy this album for me when they visited in September. Over the summer I had torrented all of the Boss’s albums, and listened to them with a sort of perverse fascination, tempered at times by genuine appreciation of his gentler albums (Nebraska, Tom Joad). I liked what I had heard about this album, and I really like it in real life, too, and mostly because it’s really, really fun.
Albums I’ve Listened To, But Not Enough To Feel That I Could Really Quantify Their Awesomeness Yet, But I Think They’re Swell, But They’re Not In Any Particular Order
Boris & Sun O))) – Altar
Read Jordan’s post. He’s much smarter than me.
That said, I listened to this for the first time the other day on the airplane coming to San Diego, the whole time in sort of a semi-lucid, hungry, greasy-faced, sitting next to strangers state. Awesome.
Sunset Rubdown – Shut up I am Dreaming
Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid – The Exchange Sessions
Herbert – Scale
I got these albums on an MP3 DVD E-Harv made for me. All of them sounded to me like “music I would listen to” but I just haven’t. I really liked them, though, when I did listen to them (especially The Exchange Sessions), and will try to spend more time with them.
Black Bear – The Cinnamon Phase
The way Hannah described this on her list, which was the first place I’d ever heard of this band, made me immediately Pile it (yes, I just used Pile as a verb, like Google, or Road Trip). I like that it sounds like they have no idea what they’re doing, and have probably thought about it way too much, without really coming to a resolution about it conceptually, and finally said “Fuck it, let’s just do it.” I feel like this very often.
Califone – Roots and Crowns
I heard this album last week, I think, at the ‘Prex, right after Michael got it on vinyl. We were listening to it sort of low, I think I was mostly talking with Jordan. You should read what Michael writes about it, something about it being a good whiskey-summer album. I also almost cried when I saw that it wasn’t fully on the Pile (ahem) so I wouldn’t be able to listen to it on the plane.
Hot Chip – The Warning
Everybody is heaping tons of praise on this album, and it’s really good, but I just haven’t spent any time with it. The thing I like about Hot Chip is their songs are all laced with a certain Hot Chip-ness, and I haven’t totally figured out what it is…something about the bass and drums working together or something. Anyway, it makes all of their songs and remixes sound the same without being boring or predictable. Me likey. Rest assured, I’ll be listening to this some more.
Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury
Like every thing else in this section, I really need to listen to this again. So far I’ve listened to it all the way through twice, and heard a couple of the songs (“Trill” “We Got it for Cheap”) a few more times. And I have to say—I don’t buy it. I really don’t. The beats are pretty uniformly great, but all the critical spew about Pusha T and Malice being so complex about the Coke game, and the incredibly new way in which they describe it/live it/wax a-morally about it. And I just don’t buy it. Plus, does anybody else think their voices are too high in the mix?
I dunno. I’m going to really try and give this more focused attention. Too many people I know love this album and have good, smart reasons for doing so (which doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll like it, because I still fucking hate Rubies).
Albums I Haven’t Heard At All, But Think That I’ll Think Are, You Guessed It, Awesome
Xiu Xiu – The Air Force
Cat Power – The Greatest
Espers – II
Boris – Pink
Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
There’s probably lots more, too.