10. Release the Sunbird – Come Back to Us
Release the Sunbird is a new project from Rogue Wave frontman Zach Rogue. It was kind of strange to hear he was putting out a “solo record” when Rogue Wave is pretty much just him and a bunch of hired musicians. He perhaps felt a change of pace was needed after the last two Rogue Wave albums faltered (Asleep at Heaven’s Gate, Permalight) in my, and pretty much the world’s, opinion. He diverted from the lo-fi folk of Out of the Shadows and Descended Like Vultures by oddly attempting to gain mainstream attention with arena anthems and dance tracks. Nothing seemed natural, every sound was forced and out of place. So, is Release the Sunbird a return to “form?” From the first listen, I’ve enjoyed every sunny note and harmony. Come Back to Us is a summer record that keeps you warm all year round. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but I love it when my favorite musicians remind me why I followed their careers in the first place.
9. An Horse – Walls
An Horse is an unabashedly twee pop rock duo from Australia. Sometimes you just need power chords and “bummer, dude” lyrics. Kate Cooper’s longing comes through with needed charm and earnestness, escaping any sense of maudlin immaturity. Her apparent speech impediment is also borderline adorable/grating. Basically, this may not be everyone’s bag, but it hooks me immediately, mostly because I’m a 12-year old girl in a Pixies t-shirt.
8. Original Soundtrack – Drive
I don’t believe a soundtrack has ever made my prestigious* year-end list, but this needed to be included, based solely on the fact that it turns me into a psychopath when I listen to it. Wait, hear me out, that sounds weird. When that first song hits (“Nightcall”) and the synths kick in, you’re immediately reminded of the feel of the film — that 1980’s Skinemax look of neon colors and sexy bass. It’s not campy, though, it’s honest-to-god art at a high level. You enter the world of mute getaway drivers who fall in love with sad ingenues and crush skulls with their boots. You know, that world. The world of a psychopath. You understand that I’m not crazy now? Hope so, you guys.
7. Lisa Hannigan – Passenger
Passenger is Lisa Hannigan’s second album and it builds on the oh-so-delightful Sea Sew. I first discovered her (just like every other person alive) when she sang supportive vocals with Damien Rice. There was always this feeling that she was a hidden talent in plain sight, but I couldn’t have guessed she would surpass Rice in talent and relevance. Passenger is a complete work full of soaring melodies, quirky folk, and lovelorn ballads. She’s also the cutest human person alive, as seen in the below video. That helps a tad.
6. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne
I made last year’s list about a week before I discovered Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I still regret this, a year later, because it would have been my number one choice, guaranteed. No offense, The National, but that record is amazing. Hell, it should be at the top this year by default, because it’s had the most cumulative listens by a wide margin. So it was an easy transition to switch over to Watch the Throne. It felt like a clean continuation, since Jay-Z guested on several tracks on Fantasy. It’s not as much of a game changer, but it’s grandiose and full of hooks that won’t leave your head for days. Plus, it boasts the track of the year:
5. The Elected – Bury Me In My Rings
This album caught me by surprise — not because of how great it is, but because there was talk that The Elected were no longer making music. Blake Sennett, formerly of Rilo Kiley, had started the band as a way to showcase the songwriting that had become increasingly rare on every new RK album. Jenny Lewis was dominating every track, despite the fact that Blake was showing himself to be a strong writer. Then she put out two great solo albums (and a real shitty one with her boyfriend) and Sennett had been cast into obscurity. Luckily, someone convinced him to keep writing and now we have Bury Me In My Rings, a fantastic work full of obvious allusions to past friends and lovers. From “Go For the Throat:”
“Now you’re doing all right, and you just left the rest behind.”
Sennett, as shown in the two previous Elected albums, is incredible at crafting sunny, California pop with dark undertones. I literally jumped out of my seat when I saw this album was coming out, and it did not let me down. Here’s to more incredible music.
4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
This album never had a fair shake. My love for For Emma, Forever Ago is irrational. It’s embarrassing, actually, how much I want to make that album my lovely wife. I need congress to pass legislation that allows idiot guys to marry sounds. Let’s work on that, Boehner. So, this sophomore effort, no matter how great, was always starting behind the 8-ball. On its own merit, it’s quite the accomplishment. Justin Vernon expanded on For Emma by adding new instruments while somehow maintaining the lo-fi, hushed sound. If this were his first effort, it might have been number one based solely on “Beth/Rest,” the song Steve Winwood dreamt about writing during old man naps. Too late, a-hole.
3. Wild Beasts – Smother
Wild Beasts are a difficult band to recommend, because it’s definitely an acquired taste. They’re sometimes bombastic, other times overtly sexual, and lead singer Hayden Thorpe’s voice is part-falsetto and part-growl. It’s theatrical and at moments ridiculous. But the melodies, the layers of guitars and sounds, are undeniable. After multiple listens, you reach a level of intimacy not found before. There’s a moment on “Loop the Loop,” when the sounds build up and crash together, that never fails to give me goosebumps. I can’t promise you’ll have the same sensation, but that’s why I enjoy Wild Beasts as much as I do; it feels like a personal relationship, something not everyone can experience. I guess I’m just a selfish dickhead. The aforementioned moment can be found at 2:14 below (sorry, couldn’t find a link to embed).
2. Wye Oak – Civilian
Another girl/boy rock duo on par with An Horse, but no offense intended toward the Australians, Wye Oak is the far superior group. With Jenn Wasner’s husky and soothing vocals, her sudden distorted bursts of expert guitar work, and Andy Stack’s drums and synths, Civilian is an ethereal work that sounds like an epic crafted by a dozen people. It makes me feel feelings, in between breaking and uplifting my heart. See the titled track:
“I still keep my baby teeth in the bedside table with my jewelry. You still sleep in the bed with me, my jewelry, and my baby teeth…..I wanted to love you like my mother’s mother’s mother did.”
1. The Antlers – Burst Apart
Speaking of feeling feelings that make you feel. This album, oh, this album. Non-stop heartbreak. Moments of loss, desperation, and insecurity abound in forty-one minutes of sonic catharsis. From the moment “I Don’t Want Love” begins and “Putting the Dog to Sleep” ends, you find yourself at a loss, not sure if this epic bummer is healthy or soul-crushing. It’s the entire reason I listen to music: to stir up emotions that were previously stagnant.