All told, this was a rather good year for music. I enjoyed a lot of what came out from new and established artists. There’s still some albums I need to get caught up on, and as always, I’m welcome to suggestions from people. Here’s what I consider my favorites…
Arcade Fire, Reflektor: Amazing that possibly my least favorite AF album could still stand alongside a year’s best albums in general. The back half of Reflektor is too inconsistent and maudlin for my tastes, but it also contains my favorite track from that album, “Afterlife.” The first half of the album, however, is classic. I’m impressed with what AF is able to accomplish by getting a little more groove-heavy, even if the results are a little scattered by their usual standards.
David Bowie, The Next Day: Excellent album that honestly stands along the better albums of Bowie’s career. Lots of highlights from this one, but “Where Are We Now?” is a personal favorite. I’ve always loved Bowie’s ballads.
The National, Trouble Will Find Me: I’ve been a fan of The National since I first heard “Fake Empire” years ago. That song, like pretty much every album of theirs I’ve listened to, always puts me in a very particular state of mind: mellow, clear-headed, maybe a little melancholy. They’ve inevitably become an important part of my internal soundtrack, and Trouble Will Find Me is no exception.
CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe: Possibly my favorite album of the year, and one of the year’s best surprises for me in music. One of the best overall debuts I’ve heard as well. This one is responsible for a handful of my favorite songs of the year too: “The Mother We Share,” “Gun,” “Lies,” and “Recover.”
Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city: I know, technically this is a 2012 album, but I didn’t get to listen to it until this year. I’m glad I did, because this is the best rap album I’ve listened to in a long time, since Kanye West’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy. “Swimming Pools (Drank)” is on constant repeat on my iPod, but really, the album as a whole is fantastic. It has a strong sense of narrative and pushes the boundaries and expectations of not just rap, but music as a whole, and in a necessary way.
Drake, Nothing Was Ever The Same: Between this album and his last one (Take Care), I got into Drake big time this year. He has a lot in common with other musicians with a strong sense of narrative and mood, like Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is an amazing single and, surprisingly, reminds me of Sade. Another personal favorite is “Furthest Thing,” mainly because of how the song winds down at the 2/3 point, only to make a total musical and lyrical U-turn. I love it when something can surprise me.
Disclosure, Settle: This album totally snuck up on me toward the end of the year, but it made my radar thanks to suggestions from a few friends. I’m not a fan of mainstream electronic music in general, but I think this album demonstrates the genre’s potential when placed in the hands of meticulous, thoughtful practitioners. Also, the vast majority of the album is purely catchy and addictive.
Boards of Canada, Tomorrow’s Harvest: Three straight electronic-based albums? Hell yes. Also, this is Boards of Canada we’re talking about here. This album in particular should be considered as a straight-up album, which shouldn’t be listened to on a solo track-sampling basis. It sounds like a soundtrack to a lost John Carpenter movie, from the period when he was making classic movies (think The Thing or Escape From New York). I want to write the story that goes with this album.
My Bloody Valentine, m b v: This one’s not on Spotify, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this was one of the best albums of the year, and an excellent comeback album in a year full of great (and not-so-great) comebacks. I feel comfortable saying this album matches up splendidly with MBV’s classic Loveless.
Foals, Holy Fire: This one is getting hardly any year-end press, probably because it was released at the start of the year. It’s excellent, though, and a great follow-up to Total Life Forever. It’s also more consistent than that album, making this a wonderful step forward in quality for Foals.
The Joy Formidable, Wolf’s Law: The most epic album of the year, hands down. Loud, dynamic, dramatic rock music meant to be played at full volume, preferably while base jumping or something. I wish Muse’s last album (2nd Law) had been even half as good as this one (it wasn’t, sadly).
Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork: Speaking of great comeback albums! This one is possible QOTSA’s best album overall since their early work. Ten songs, all killer, no filler. Personal favorite tracks include “My God is the Sun,” “I Sat By The Ocean,” “If I Had A Tail” and the surprisingly funky “Smooth Sailing.”
Sigur Ros, Kveikur: So, Sigur Ros went dark on this one, and it sounds fantastic. Another album for the writing soundtrack playlist, preferably for stories with tons of internal struggle and storminess. At times this year when I felt particularly troubled or conflicted, this was almost a perfect musical interpretation of what I was feeling, much in the same way Bat For Lashes’s The Haunted Man did for me last year.
The Knife, Shaking the Habitual: Another great comeback album! This one is pretty massive, and to be honest it took me a few tries to get all the way through it. The album as a whole is rather exhausting, and rather daring too. The one-two punch of “A Tooth for an Eye” and “Full of Fire” at the very beginning is hard to beat too.
Haim, Days Are Gone: Haim actually visited Lawrence a few months ago to play at the Granada. I had no idea who the band was at the time, but I was assured of their quality afterwards by a coworker. Upon listening to the album, I immediately regretted not seeing the band in person. They’re quality musicians and songwriters. Also, “The Wire” is the best song of the year.
As an added bonus, in case anyone wants to check out my favorite songs of the year, here’s a link to my Spotify playlist. I’m not going to list it out here, but it’s safe to assume that there’s some good jams included.