A little late in arriving, but it’s finally here. Took me a long time to narrow it down, but these are the (roughly) 10 I had to choose.
10. Sharon van Etten – Tramp / Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel / Cat Power – Sun
Is this cheating? Probably. But I couldn’t have a top 10 list that didn’t include all of these albums, career-best work from all three women. And yes, I’m as surprised Fiona Apple made the list as you are.
9. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
Animal Collective is the only band that warps its sound from album to album. This ode to the radio (what’s that again?) is miles away from the pop brilliance of Merriweather Post Pavilion, but mesmerizing in its own way.
8. Jessie Ware – Devotion
I once read a description of her as the “female Bryan Ferry.” While that sells her creativity a little short, she does share his obsession of merging old-school crooning with state-of-the-art engineering.
7. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
I would never encourage any artist to break away from a band as terrific as Fleet Foxes. But J. Tillman proved to be a real Portland trail blazer and created one of the year’s warmest, funniest and beard-iest albums.
5. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Basically what would happen if The Hold Steady had gone back to their hardcore roots instead of flirting with country music. No album title was more accurate either: it’s grungy but uplifting.
4. Bill Fay – Life is People
Life is People is the first album the British singer-songwriter has completed in 40 years. Unlike other men his age, he is not struggling for relevancy or descending into schtick. Rather, he’s made a collection of beautiful, simple ballads that’s uplifting in the most genuine way.
3. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
No matter which aspect you look at—his age, his sexuality, his talent, his maturity (compared to his crew in Odd Future)—Frank Ocean is a game changer. Though the album probably could have used a trim (or rights to a sample as killer as “Strawberry Swing”), no other artist made as big a splash this year, and for once you could believe the hype.
2. Sarah Jaffe – The Body Wins
How is it that Sarah Jaffe has written a dozen of the best songs of the decade and she’s just getting warmed up? The Body Wins is far more adventurous than Suburban Nature, but the songwriting is no less intimate. She’s on the cusp of national stardom and no Dallas-area musician deserves it more.
1. fun. – Some Nights
Easily my most played album of the year. America’s grand introduction to the genius of Nate Reuss has been a long time coming, but at least it actually happened. The Format was one of my favorite bands and even though they didn’t survive a brutal industry, out of the ashes came this band, which has not only made it but excelled, surpassing the one-hit wonder label with the title track which Steven Hyden called it my generation’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I’d call it the year’s best song. The band is even better live, with Nate’s falsetto reaching new heights. His vocal range matches his emotional range, both of which are incredible to behold. But back to that “Don’t Stop Believin’” comparison: No other album better sums up the highs and lows of being in your 20’s. It’s like the Girls of pop music, but without all the whining.
Honorable Mentions (I’m expanding to 20 this year because there were just that many good ones): alt-J – An Awesome Wave, Beach House – Bloom, David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant, Diiv – Oshen, Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan, Bob Dylan – Tempest, The Flaming Lips – Heady Fwendz, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, Grizzly Bear – Shields, Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music, Lost Lander – DRRT, Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream, Passion Pit – Gossamer, Pond – Beard Wives Denim, David Ramirez – Apologies, Ramona Falls – Prophet, Emeli Sandé – Our Version of Events, Scissor Sisters – Magic Hour, Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light, The Walkmen – Heaven