15. Bjork – Vulnicura
Bjork’s Vulnicura is, yes, a grueling break-up album but it’s also much more. She expands the heartbreaking moment of her life into a much broader timeline, writing on the dissolution before a split and the hardships after a divorce. “History of Touches” recounts a once-passionate relationship crumbling into nothing. And then she deals with the repercussion of sharing a life together in “Family,” most poignantly, sharing custody of their daughter. Though she puts her partner on trial for his shortcomings, she ultimately swallows her pride to take the experience in stride. “If I regret us/ I’m denying my soul to grow/ don’t remove my pain/ it is my chance to heal,” she sings in “Notget,” and the opportunity to hear such wise, headstrong words in a time of emotional crisis is why Vulnicura is an essential listen.
14. Mac Demarco – Another One
As gifted as he is, Mac Demarco will likely be remembered for Salad Days. Another One’s significance is true to its title: it’s a stopgap, meant to give people who discovered Mac’s genius for writing warbly hooks and memorable lyrics through Salad Days something else to buy while they wait for a full length. But damn if it isn’t good. The mini-album format has proven to be successful for comparable acts like Best Coast, whose Fade Away release is probably the most concise, complete representation of their sound to date. And similarly, Another One is over before it has any time to falter. The title track, “No Other Heart,” “I’ve Been Waiting For Her,” “Without Me,” they’re all great pop tunes with buckets of personality. The lyrics run a bit bland, brushing themes of infidelity and commitment within relationships, and ultimately fall short of the finesse that gave songs like “Passing Out Pieces” their depth. But DeMarco has earned the right to just have fun whilst producing music, and that’s exactly what it appears he’s doing with this batch of whimsical, insanely listenable tunes. Even Mac in between phases is a Mac I’d take any day.
13. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
Seldom does a band release a profound followup to a masterpiece record. That’s exactly what Hot Cip did with Why Make Sense? this year to proceed 2012’s In Our Heads. It’s a continuation of their consistently excellent catalogue that offers accessible, yet sophisticated, pop songs. The English seven-piece doesn’t venture far from their comfort zone, but that’s not to say the album’s not adventurous. In “Huarache Lights” and “Need You Now” vocals from 1980s R&B songs are uniquely sampled and some tracks even feature viola hooks. It’s a record that’s ideal for house parties that can be played from start to finish.
12. Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
After a five year hiatus, Belle and Sebastian made a triumphant return this year with an unexpected leap into electronic music with Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance: a hybrid record split between melancholy love ballads and heavy-hitting dance anthems. Tracks like “Nobody’s Empire” and “Cat with the Cream” capitalize from the more traditional Belle and Sebastian sound that will satisfy long-time fans, whereas “The Party Line” and “Enter Sylvia Plath” will surprise listeners and might spark some nostalgia for the 1980s.
11. Wavves – V
Flowing in the same anxiety-ridden, self-loathing, dirtbag vein of all Wavves albums, this year’s release V feels familiar, but sounds like it went through the car wash. The songs, who’s topics range from things like drinking too much, loosing your job, and trying and failing, take these downer ideas and wrap them in shiny, pop punk bow. The cleanest, clearest and even the most surprisingly optimistic at times album from Wavves thus far, V is perfect for that depressed alcoholic who comes dangerously close to completely loosing it at the Holiday party, but miraculously pulls it together, in all of us.
10. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
Not one to shy away from wearing his heart on his sleeve, Ruben Nielson documents a complicated polyamorous relationship in Multi-Love. Nielson has always been a gifted songwriter but this is his best work yet. The emotional lyrics are strong in their storytelling, detailing heartache and confusion. The album’s catchy musicality is outstanding, ranging from the disco groove of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” to the dark “Necessary Evil” and recalling influences from classical to R&B. For any aspiring songwriter, this is a must have album.
9. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Death and emptiness never sounded so gorgeous; 11 songs so delicate and bare, Carrie & Lowell tugs at the heart strings, dragging you into an emotional bliss. There is nothing quite like it, an album that is almost too difficult to digest, but you start to crave it.
8. Grimes – Art Angels
Last year Claire Boucher was ready to release her fourth album. Prior to the release she put out a single entitled “Go”, that was initially written for Rihanna to perform. The dubstep-heavy single didn’t resonate well with fans and many took to social media to ridicule Boucher for “pandering to the radio.” In response, Boucher abruptly discarded the entire album and returned to the soundboard to start fresh. Whether or not the tracks on that mystery record would suffice for a Grimes record, the postponed result, Art Angeles was undoubtedly worth the wait. From an initial listen Art Angels is a challenge. The fourteen-track record experiments with an array of genres ranging from classical music to hip-hop, all structured within the framework of a pop narrative. The first third of the album is obscure, inconsistent, and will likely leave listeners with a wrong impression, but hang in there because it eventually blossoms into a sassy, colorful, and tangible pop masterpiece.
7. Jamie XX – In Colour
Along with Todd Terje’s ‘It’s album time” Jamie xx’s ‘in colour’ is one of the few predominantly electronic driven albums I’ve heard recently that pairs a palpable sense of drive and purpose along with artistic freedom of choice. Because it’s not every day you stumble on party anthems like these. You don’t wake up with a Persuasions tune in your head and find yourself burning a Glastonbury stage to the ground a few months later. This album required experience, craftsmanship, inspiration and time to make possible. But in colour’ vibe is so earnest and well-meaning that there’s no need to get mired in the details in the mind of the creator. Just turn it up.
6. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
What made I Love You Honeybear so great? Pure lyrical honesty. No, wait, that can’t be. Everything Josh Tillman says is liable to be buried waist deep in irony. Perhaps it was the cohesion of the record’s overall sound, with each instrument dipped in the romantic hue of Tillman and producer Jonathan Wilson’s sonic vision. Sure, but that’s not everything. Perhaps it’s Tillman’s growing vocal presence and ability to morph narrative perspectives without batting an eye. The answer, of course, is D- all of the above. I didn’t revisit any record as consistently or obsessively as I did Honeybear this year, and I remain overwhelmed by its power. Its biting social commentary and sheer musical extravagance give the listener everything Fleet Foxes can’t offer from high up on their mountain of pristine harmonic wonder. It even tops Fear Fun’s already staggering diversity. Coupled with the transcendent experience of seeing these songs live, I can say with confidence that I Love You Honeybear is a modern day classic from a man who, to my eye, looks like an icon already.
5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
In an interview with Billboard, Kendrick Lamar advised if African Americans wanted to gain respect from the police, they got to start not just from rallies but more importantly from within. And he tries his best to lead by example in To Pimp a Butterfly, a daunting yet rewarding exercise by the Compton rapper to foster self-respect and self-love. His cracked mirror reflects back generations of Afrocentric music: the Isley Brothers, George Clinton, Killer Mike, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, to name a few. But ultimately he stares solely at his own reflection and every flaw he sees in the figure staring back. “Loving you is complicated,” he barks at himself time and time again. Kendrick concludes the album open-ended but with him proudly proclaiming “I love myself!” before signing off, it’s best to assume things are going to be alright.
3 & 4. Beach House – Depression Cherry And Thank your Lucky Stars
2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
To describe Courtney Barnett in some derivative form, like Kimya Dawson plus Kurt Cobain or a garage-rock Cheryl Crow, seems limiting and cuts short the overall essence of the Australian songwriter’s powerhouse of a second EP- which can’t easily be described in words not her own. Between keenly self-conscious lyrics like “I wanna go out but I wanna stay home” and “Tell me when you’re getting bored and I’ll leave”, Barnett and her band weave just enough playful melody and guitar feedback to keep the vocals front and center. That’s not to say the music isn’t catchy, because it is. Songs like “Aqua Profunda” and “Debbie Downer” would feel right at home in an indie movie montage, and “Pedestrian at Best” would play during the protagonist’s big fight with his/her parents or lover. But it’s the words that keep drawing the listener back for seconds, as if somewhere, hidden mid-track, is the sage advice we know she possesses. In Barnett’s own words- “Don’t ask me what I really mean, I am just a reflection of what you really wanna see, so take what you want from me.”
1. Tame Impala – Currents