This year, I’m not entirely sure I’m fit to write a “best of” list that speaks for all of society. Then again, lists like these shouldn’t be thought of as the final word on a year’s cultural output, even for the person who wrote the list. Tastes change, people discover music from years past and realized they overlooked it. No one goes around saying, “that was my 23rd favorite album of 2007.” At least, I hope not.
Yet, this year I found my musical listening habits have forced me into a bubble, one cut off from a good chunk of the big names in pop music that have talked about all year. Through a variety of reasons, I missed a lot of music. I get the feeling I would’ve liked some of it, like Big Boi’s new album. I’m still vaguely curious about other releases, like the new offerings from Janelle Monae, No Age, Joanna Newsom, The Roots and Grinderman. Even more artists simply sound foreign: I don’t know much about the Besnard Lakes, and I can’t tell what shade of pink Ariel Pink is.
Still, that didn’t stop me from discovering, listening to and enjoying a lot of music this year. They might not all be the consensus for the best albums of the year, but these records made my list:
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
A lot has been made of the Civil War concept that Titus Andronicus made liberal use of with their new album, The Monitor. But even when recalling historical motifs, Titus Andronicus can put together a mean ditty about modern restlessness, emptiness and hopelessness that’s altogether inspiring. Never has a more poetic verse been written about the Fung Wah, an infamously inexpensive bus line frequented by the young and cheap (aka today’s vagrants), and if there’s any band that can perfectly summarize the lethargy of these troubling times, it’s Titus Andronicus.
Baths – Cerulean
Nearly every bedroom-produced electronic pop act to drop an album this year got thrown under the “chillwave” bus, a term that hardly speaks to the complexity of Baths’ Cerulean. Will Wiesenfeld’s debut record is filled with weirdo-pop songs that share more aesthetic sensibilities with his Anticon labelmates than with, say, Neon Indian. Unlike many airy, weightless chilwave songs, the songs in Cerulean have real teeth, and come with a great dynamic emotional complexity that can’t be codified by the next big genre-tag.
The National – High Violet
High Violet has sharp songs from men who wear sharp suits. The National pinned down the great indie-pop sound long ago, and while they’ve lost a little bit of the sonic edge that permeated Alligator, they’ve opened up their aural tableau to an orchestra of sounds. High Violet’s strength comes in the form of frontman Matt Barninger’s baritone, which guides the album through dark corners and angelic highs.
Sleigh Bells – Treats
Lots of bands try juxtaposing noise with pop, but only a few succeed. Sleigh Bells happen to be one of those acts with the right code for a great noise pop song. The hooks on Treats are as big as the ear-shattering decibel levels are loud, and the album is, simply put, hard to resist.
Delorean – Subiza
Combining lush dance aesthetics with krautrock-like repetition and a knack for indie-rock hooks, Delorean’s Subiza is a collection of nine rapturous ditties. Not many bands know how to mold a tune that evolves, bends and pops, but Delorean has a great knack at crafting emotionally complex songs that just so happen to be danceable.
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks
Ted Leo and company have made some of the last decade’s best punk songs. So when 2007’s Living with the Living turned out to be just an OK album, it wasn’t terribly surprising: you’ve got to have a few missteps, right? And yet, the band’s newest album, The Brutalist Bricks, has some remarkable and marvelous songs that evolve Leo’s pop-punk formula into something with a broader sound and focus.
Tokyo Police Club – Champ
Here’s an unexpected album from a band that seemed lost in the pop pool. Once at the forefront of an international scene that produced Vampire Weekend, Ra Ra Riot and many saccharine quasi-punk acts, Tokyo Police Club’s previous recorded output defied the band’s potential. Good thing they dropped Champ, an album that cuts to the chase and delivers a lean, enjoyable indie-pop album.
Yeasayer – ODD BLOOD
Yeasayer ditched a lot of the weirdness of their debut album with ODD BLOOD. Or, at least, they translated it into something a little more accessible. The outsider aesthetic is still prevalent on their latest album, but with ODD BLOOD the band sounds like they’d rather be pop superstars than Brooklyn art-rock weirdos. But, who cares what they want to become, just as long as they continue produce the moving, pulsating music that fills
Das Racist – Shut Up, Dude/Sit Down, Man
The Brooklyn rhyme slayers have proven to be prolific and gifted songwriters in just a year. In just two mixtapes – Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man – Das Racist morphed naysayers into fans, and fans into some kind of super-duper fans. That’s because a remarkable number of the combined 37 songs are filled with the kind of brilliant lyrical wordplay and sharp pop bounce so many rappers spend their career trying to pin down. Most rappers would save this kind of material for their “official” releases. Which begs the question: What do the dudes in Das Racist plan to do next? They’ve set the bar high with the one-two punch of Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man, but if they come out with something half as good as either mixtape, it’ll still be worth listening to.
Everyone Everywhere – Everyone Everywhere
The 10 songs on this left-of-field album knocked me off my feet for most of the spring, and kept me there the rest of the year. I’d enjoyed the Philadelphia emo quartet’s first EP (A Lot Of Weird People Standing Around) well enough: They showed a real knack for pushing the mid-‘90s emo sound in new directions. Yet, that EP didn’t prepare me for their self-titled full-length, an unexpected, fully realized record that has some of the best carefree pop rock in recent memory. This isn’t your 13-year-old cousin’s Billboard version of emo, either: The songs on Everyone Everywhere are dynamic, powerful and downright fantastic. Though they’re a small band on a small label, there’s no reason their arena-sized songs shouldn’t be blasting out of every set of speakers across America.