1. Tame Impala - Lonerism - Modular Recordings
This album feels like a familiar coat that I want to put on day after day, no matter how many other people are sick of seeing it. It’s incredibly warm, and to me, I feel good in it every day. Lonerism is incredibly multicolored and the psychedelic wanderings let my brain go in five different directions at once, giving me the perfect distraction from everyday life, and an endless, luminous zone of hazy pleasure. It is always an escape, and although every song could have been simply contrived late Beatles shit, every song is its own. Plus, the lyric “whoopsie daisy/I thought I was happy” in “Why Won’t They Talk to Me” and the buzzy guitar line in “Elephant” are two perfect entities that I just want to hug forever.
2. Django Django - S/T - Because Music
A primal rush of what sounds like pure spontaneity but feels like meticulously, brainily planned artwork, this album came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet into the jungle. I don’t know why I suddenly feel like I joined a Native American tribe when I listen, but, oh, wait, it’s because the percussion is skittery and the vocals are poppy (not like popular, but actually, they pop – like the corn) and my body starts convulsing into something that probably resembles some traditional dance requires a full headdress and some kind of body paint. “Default” is hands down the most enjoyable song of the year.
I’ve been saying this same stupid phrase over and over again, but I’m serious: Grizzly Bear has been making languid a good thing since 2004. And I can’t get over how they get more and more interesting with every album, seeming to get more insular but also more relatable at every turn. These are gorgeous shimmering ballads and drawn-out guitar squalls that really make you listen and think and concentrate on the music. I rarely get stuck on a song that moves at the speed of quicksand, but “The Hunt” is entirely too beautiful for me to comprehend. How do you even invent choruses that convey such raw sadness that I can strangely feel the pit in my stomach growing by the second? Ugh. It hurts so good.
4. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel... - Epic
I was one of those kids who found Fiona Apple disgusting. All I knew was that music video where she crawled around the floor (Did that happen? Was it a figment of my imagination? I fear youtube will reveal another truth.) and I thought she was a terrible role model. I was, like, 13. And then came Extraordinary Machine, changing my mind. I was also in college at that point, old enough to sort of understand. Now, this brilliant album. Nobody is doing what Apple is doing. Strange chimes and even weirder chord progressions, it’s uncomfortable and oddly appealing for reasons unbeknownst to me.
5. Father John Misty - Fear Fun - Sub Pop
I want someone to mash-up “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 & 3” because they are the only two songs that makes this Jewish girl want to belt out “JEEEEESUS CHRIST.” Moving on, I was blasted right out of my car when I popped this album in my stereo (thanks Sub Pop!) and heard this collection of songs. It wasn’t til later I found out this was the man responsible for making me laugh at his silly jokes at the Fleet Foxes concert I saw a few years ago. From the ultimate cool simplicity of “Hollywood Forever” to the country twang of “Tee Pees 1-12,” every song is pretty much an experiment in another genre. The prose here is really thoughtful, too. Oh, and the haunting “This is Sally Hatchet.” Love you J.
When will Beach House mess something up? Because I just don’t understand how it is possible to make dream pop that is just its own perfect paradise, and do it at the same time as never being boring. Isn’t that an oxymoron or something? These songs are just lush pillows filled with gummy bears and velvet coats and unicorns and the scent of double chocolate brownies. Beach House is integrating more texture and interesting beat-oriented fun into their music, and it’s hitting the pleasure spots in my brain. And Victoria Legrand is the woman I want to be when I fall asleep and become a rock star.
7. Patrick Watson - Adventures In Your Own Backyard - Domino
I’m starting to sense a trend here in my top ten, and it involves lots of bedtime music. But seriously, “Morning Sheets” is one of the more perfectly composed songs I’ve heard in my day. Like, I could listen to it probably three dozen times before actually wanting to leave my bed. PEOPLE. I’m going caps lock on you because WHY DOES NOBODY EVER LISTEN TO PATRICK WATSON WHEN I TELL YOU TO? This album is incredibly adventurous (pun intended, but not really) because it goes Spanish troubadour (in a non-tacky way) with “Lighthouse” and then pitter-patters you straight to the actual definition of crescendo in “Blackwind,” and those are only the first two songs. This album is quietly epic. Yes, another hyperbole/oxymoron and I’m only at #7.
8. Alt-J - An Awesome Wave - Infectious Music
I credit my writing for Under the Radar for helping me discover a good amount of new music this year that I may have never listened to otherwise. But this is the best thing it led me to all year. Whoever thought of the name of that record label is genius, because yes. This is one of the truly stranger vocals of the year (Tom Petty’s nasal-ness, Marcus Mumford’s scrunchyness, an alien’s personality), and it’s loveable. So is the strange way in which these songs seem to tumble from start to end, with time signatures that mess with your head. So much of this album is hollow-feeling, but never empty. Oh, and I’m so pissed that they put a hidden track on the end of “Taro” because I would have put that song on every single mix I should have made this year. I have been pretending that I’m in elementary school because that’s when I used to wear belly shirts and lots of scarves to perform in an Indian dance group. And that groove is so freakin Indian dance it’s not funny.
9. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light - Double Six
I was going to ask the rhetorical question, “is this what drugs sound like?” Because if so, they need to be legalized. But it turns out that Jason Pierce was actually going through experimental chemotherapy while putting this album together, so I’m going to actually thank his incredible human spirit for putting together such a masterpiece under terrible conditions. If you were to tell me that I was about to love the shit out of something that might be considered modern gospel music, I might dunk my head in some water and wonder if I was dreaming. But yeah, this is kind of uncategorizable, a hazy work of art that stretches genre limits and goes balls out, all the time. “Hey Jane” is a chaotic piece of glory, but “Little Girl” makes me feel so insignificant as a human/writer that I really could die. He sings, “Sometimes I wish that I was dead/cuz only the living can feel the pain/Sometimes I wish that I could fly/you get so grounded, that life will pass you by.” It’s actually the best lyric I think I’ve heard all year. And when you put it together with what he must have actually been feeling when he wrote this album, ugh, I can’t even.
10. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan - Domino
When gauging my favorite music, I sometimes laugh because I put it on a ranking of just how weird my Top 40-loving sister would think it is. I don’t think dear Nicole would make it past the first twenty of seconds of this album without deeming it inappropriate. This is wholly unique and so beautiful in that sense. When I saw them live, and I heard some of the harmonies in real life, I was thankful to be alive. I mean that in the most obnoxious, cliché, life-affirming sense. Plus, the title track is just the only song I want to listen to while making pancakes on a Sunday morning. Jack Johnson, you have been banished from my kitchen.
11. Poor Moon – Illusion EP – Sub Pop
12. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa – Secretly Canadian
13. Japandroids – Celebration Rock - Polyvinyl
14. Husky – Tidal Wave – Sub Pop
15. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory – Carpark Records
16. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange – Def Jam
17. Violens – True – Slumberland
18. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now – Dead Oceans
19. Yeasayer – Fragrant World – Secretly Canadian
20. Bowerbirds – The Clearing – Dead Oceans
Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits - Merge
Metric - Synthetica – Metric Music International
Opossom – Electric Hawaii - Fire
The Shins – Port of Morrow – Columbia
Grimes - Visions - Arbutus
Lower Dens – Nootropics – Ribbon Music
Atlas Genius – Through the Glass EP – Warner Bros.
Bro. Stephen – Baptist Girls - Crossroads of America Records
Gomez Addams – Summer Viking – Self-released
Ty Segall – Twins – Self-released
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp - Jagjaguwar
Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game – Decca/Polydor
Dent May – Do Things – Paw Tracks
Woods – Bend Beyond – Woodsist