Today our "Word Economist" steps up to the plate to let you know what he's been putting in his earholes over the course of the year. I'm not gonna lie, we've had e-fights over some of his picks that generally result in me telling him to GTFO my lawn, but at the end of the day, the man knows his shit and has gotten me to listen to more music that I probably wouldn't have otherwise than any contributor this year. Now if he could help me unhear half of it, we'd really be getting somewhere! (I kid, I kid).
#10 Buke and Gass – Riposte
It is just short of incredible how much sonic variety the two members of Buke and Gass (Aron Sanchez and Arone Dwyer) can coax from the plethora of instruments (including the experimental instruments from which the band takes its name) that they play on their debut LP. But, while such experimentation could (and often does) descend into unlistenable navel gazing, Aron and Arone use their innovations (and Arone’s amazing voice) in the service of some truly excellent songs.
Best Tracks: Bundletuck, Medulla Oblongata
#9 Wild Flag – Wild Flag
Honestly, if Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss’s new band had just performed Sleater Kinney covers and/or new SK-style songs, they would have probably sold out shows across the country, made a boatload of money, and had some fun. Instead, they made the harder (and more rewarding) decision to form Wild Flag with Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole and forge an entirely new path. And make no mistake, Wild Flag is a fully realized rock band, synthesizing the unique backgrounds and sensibilities of all four members to create some of the most powerful and enjoyable rock songs of the year. They also put on a kick ass live show.
Best Tracks: Future Crimes, Something Came Over Me, Romance
#8 James Blake – James Blake
A minimalist masterpiece. With his debut album, Blake moves past his earlier dubstep work and into an entirely new and fascinating musical space. His sonic manipulations (which, to my ear are frequently reminiscent of the experimental work of William Basinski) explore the negative space within his tracks as much as the actual beats he uses. Within the tracks themselves, Blake shifts smoothly from heartbreaking immediacy to almost alien aloofness with the deft touch of a master manipulator of both sound and emotion.
Best Tracks: Limit to Your Love, The Wilhelm Scream, I Never Learnt to Share
#7 The Decemberists – The King is Dead
Eschews the baroque anthems and story songs of the band’s prior releases in favor of a fantastic collection of straight ahead, Americana heavy pop-rockers. The result is the best Tom Petty album that Tom Petty never released.
Best Tracks: Don’t Carry it All, This is Why We Fight, January Hymn
#6 TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
TVOTR has always trafficked in the anthemic, dating back to the brain melting single that introduced the group back in 2003 (“Staring at the Sun”), but NTOL represents the fullest embodiment of this element of their style. While this focus on big themes and even bigger sounds represents a stylistic departure from the paranoid musings of Dear Science, in many ways NTOL acts as a complementary piece to that exemplary effort. It is as though TVOTR still thinks the world is going to end but, at this point, they’ve chosen to spend their last days pursuing their passions rather than obsessing over the inevitable apocalypse.
Best Tracks: Keep Your Heart, Will Do
#5 Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams
With Only in Dreams, the Dum Dum Girls transcended their prior (excellent) album and EP by applying their updated girl group style to the very real pathos of lead singer Dee Dee’s life. Each song finds her struggling with her mom’s passing and/or her lengthy separations from her husband, suffusing the tight, soulful arrangements with a compelling mix of longing and melancholy.
Best Tracks: Coming Down, Wasted Away, Bedroom Eyes
#4 Lydia Loveless – Indestructible Machine
This album of raucous, raw cowpunk anthems was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me. I heard Lydia for the first time when her music was featured on Baseball Prospectus’s “Up and In” Podcast (Props to KG and Professor Parks for the great pull) and, from that point on Indestructible Machine was in heavy rotation. I honestly don’t know if I should be insanely jealous of this 21-year old’s talent or completely frightened that someone so young can sing so knowingly about booze soaked dives, obsessive relationships, and broken hearts. Probably both.
Best Tracks: Crazy, Steve Earle, More Like Them
#3 St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
Annie Clark has made a career out of subverting her audience’s expectations. On Strange Mercy, she takes these efforts to another level, filling the album with fevered bursts of squall and noise to complement (and occasionally compete with) her unique vocal stylings. The alternately cacophonous and melodic soundscapes perfectly complement her dark lyrics on standout tracks like “Surgeon” and “Cruel,” lending the album a cinematic cohesiveness that St. Vincent’s prior efforts have lacked.
Best Tracks: Cruel, Surgeon, Cheerleader
#2 Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
This shouldn’t work. A sprawling punk/post-hardcore opera that tries to encompass the cycle of a relationship, loss, death and rebirth in a 78-minute double album format should be a disaster or, at best, some kind of sick joke. But sometimes ridiculous ambition yields great art and David Comes to Life is as ambitious – and about as great – as albums get.
Best Tracks: Queen of Hearts, Turn the Season, The Other Shoe, A Little Death
#1 tUnE-yArDs – Whokill
What can I say that Kevin hasn’t said about this album already? Despite the flood of excellent releases that have followed in its wake, nothing has emerged to topple Merrill Garbus’s opus from its rightful place atop my list of the year’s best albums.
Best Tracks: Gangsta, Bizness, Powa
There you have it folks. The year is almost up and so are we. So tune in tomorrow to see our final top 10 (mine) and find out if I stuck with the pack this year, went down an entirely different road, or ignored the laws of time and space and filled my top 10 with nothing but Hall and Oates and Boston (stranger things have happened). Until then...