Top 5 singles so far
1. Gorillaz – “On Melancholy Hill”
It’s melancholy all right. In fact, this is one of the most depressing songs Damon Albarn has written, even when he was with Blur. But this is also the most beautiful club jam of the year, filled with immense pain but an irresistible beat. Think of it as the equivalent of a Pixar single.
2. Kanye West feat. Dwele – “Power”
What a difference a year makes. After his meltdown at the VMAs (granted, he did have a point) and nearly crying on The Jay Leno Show, he’s returned as arrogant and talented as ever. But “Power” doesn’t sound like anything he’s done before, using African choirs and a King Crimson sample. If this doesn’t get you excited, few things will.
3. She & Him – “In the Sun”
After a solid but ultimately forgettable debut, M. Ward and the incomparable Zooey Deschanel took a little more time to write some new songs for this effort. The results are only slightly more memorable, except for this stand-out track. While the previous album focused on world-weary tavern torch songs, this track carries a more modern sense of pain while still sounding timeless.
4. The Gaslight Anthem – “American Slang”
Watch your back, Hold Steady. You may have some competition for the world’s best bar band. The Jersey band has the earnestness of Bruce Springsteen with a country twang that will hopefully give them crossover appeal. The lead track from their latest album is a sharply written lamentation for the old days, even though they might not have been so wonderful. On that note, it’s a kindred spirit to another American classic.
5. LCD Soundsystem – “Drunk Girls”
Had it been anyone else singing this song, you’d mistake for an appreciation for inebriated twentysomethings. But since James Murphy is electronica’s Randy Newman, anyone with half a brain would realize how much he’s railing against them (and not in a disgustingly, equally drunken way). Please keep writing songs, Mr. Murphy. People who like Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” would do well to take a listen to your song.
Erykah Badu – “Window Seat”
Top 5 albums so far
1. The National – High Violet
Do you ever get the feeling that life has passed you by? Do you ever feel like you could re-live the days of your youth but are simply too tired to go out most nights? Then the National is your band. These tracks are like a diary (I guess blog is more appropriate in this day and age) of millions of middle-aged men who woke up one day and wondered what happened to their lives of excitement. I doubt any album will feel as real this year.
2. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
This might be James Murphy’s final album in this capacity, but if we learned anything from Seinfeld it’s better to go on top. Immensely more fun than 2007’s Sound of Silver, Murphy may a bit more excited about the future but his wit and sarcasm certainly haven’t taken a hit, thus completing a trilogy of dance albums for people with brains AND hips.
3. Drake – Thank Me Later
Just go ahead and thank him now. No rap album in recent memory is so simultaneously cocky yet unsure, and that’s because of Drake’s unusual life. There’s no up-from-the-gutter/dealing-with-racist-cops story arc here. The former child star has known fame most of his life and a No. 1 album is just icing on the cake. While Drake’s still interested in picking up ladies, he also wants to stay up late and discuss whether or not love is possible when the divorce rate hovers around 50 percent. This kid’s going places.
4. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
This is probably the only place you’ll hear this album defended so voraciously. But Craig Finn is still one of the best songwriters working today and the band is tighter than ever. I fail to see how those are drawbacks. Tracks like “The Weekenders” and “We Can Get Together” prove he can mellow out with the best of them but then get a second wind and cause you to raise your fist in the air with his hymns (“sing-a-long songs”). Oh, and they rock live.
5. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
While this quasi-tribute/concept album based on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is overstuffed, I can’t fault it for ambition, especially in the barren wasteland of contemporary R&B. Monáe is a star of the first order and could command No. 1 hits produced by Swizz Beatz and Kanye West. Yet she’s far more interested in collaborating with of Montreal (whom she’ll perform with in Dallas this fall). It’s a lot to take in at 18 tracks, but it’s so refreshing to see an artist so young push the boundaries of a genre this far. I imagine this will move up on my year-end list.
Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty