Here’s my list – I decided to narrow it down to 5 albums. It was hard to do as this year was a very good year for music, the influential rise of Witch House & Dubstep alone could populate a top 10 list with fantastic albums. This year though the more i’ve thought about it, the more i want to highlight the albums that have really resonated with me emotionally. So many arguments can be made the anthropological or technical value of an album like the universally loved Cosmogramma – but what matters for me is how it works as a soundtrack to my daily life, and though i’m sure there are no hard feelings, Flylo ain’t got nothing for me. These albums however do.
5. Salem – King Night
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that feels like shooting a big bag of heroin after listening to this gargantuan sludge beast of an album. If Kanye’s latest is the emotional 8ball (complete with moments of hysterical crying), King Night is the massive dose of Ketamine and heroin that finally brings me down. Wayyy down. To the point where blood red subbass rolling it’s uglies all over the screaming face of Oh Holy Night or lyrics like
“It’s like people say, we all gonna die
But me is different Im not tryin to be alive
I just try to get high
Baby I just I just I
pull the sheet over my face before I die”
Slurred and menacing over molasses-slow dirty south beats held under water by an industrial freezer synth bass and punctuated by samples of cars crashing. These are just what the good doctor ordered. It’s a sound that always feels like it’s on the verge of it’s eyes rolling back up into it’s own head and passing out with a Malborough 120 in its hand, but somehow manages to be not only the soul transcendent offering from the whole Witch House scene to date, but one of the best albums of the year.
(See also Balam Acab, OOooOo, White Ring, etc)
4. Zola Jesus – Stridulum II
Zola Jesus’s Nika Roza Danilova is the voice of the over-mother. Cold, powerful, emotionally and physically all encompassing – her drums pound like a determined heart and her synths continually rise and wrap round with thick blankets of cold, stifling love. (What? Me?Mother issues? Nah…) I’m just saying, Stridulum II is the best sequenced, mixed and mastered version of Zola Jesus to come out yet. When Zola finally uncovered her voice and melodies from behind the wall of noise she showed us she was ready to take it all on, and showed us what was really there – angst, sure, but anger and violence turned out to be love, strong determined love – A woman hell bent to shield her lover from harm, to offer protection, to assure them of the end of suffering.
Stridulum II soars with leaden inevitability, there’s a deep core of strength, and even when she sings “You gotta help me out” on Manifest Destiny, you know she’s gonna make it regardless, and on the way she’ll rescue you, the kids, and anyone else she sets her love to.
(see also Zola Jesus)
3. Twin Shadow – Forget
This album was so close to being my number one, and depending on my mood, how much I’ve had to drink, how sentimental I let myself get – it can quickly run up the charts and stay on the top of my playlist for days. Tight, melodically dazzling songs about romantic young love, dancing, ghosts, a voice that takes me back to everything that’s great about Morrissey but minus some of the whine and none of the falsetto yelping, shimmering synth lines, lean, choppy guitars, funky bass lines, swinging drum machines – everything in it’s right place. A true gem of an album that on every listen gives you a new favorite track, new favorite lyric ( “As if it wasn’t enough to hear you speak, they had to give you lips like that.”), and new favorite reason to let this one just roll on repeat.
(see also Wild Nothing, The xx)
2. The National – High Violet
The National are my boys – I wanna sit in the back of a bar in a button-up shirt and jacket, tie askew, hair-line receding (faster and faster) – Whiskey in hand and listening to this album on repeat with these guys. They’d pick it and each other apart, laugh at it, downplay it, there would be quiet moments and deep draws, we’d go out and smoke cigarettes even though we shouldn’t – we’re getting older and there are fewer of us around these days…
Some have argued that it’s the same album they’ve been making for the last 3 or so, but that’d be ignoring the subtleties, the small but important changes, new skills learned, melodies refined – much like the common person’s life, when viewed from afar, seems the same, unchanging, monotonous – but we all know that upclose and person, we’re all constantly in flux, growing and straining.
The National are the soundtrack to my everyday, while the rest of the albums on my list are part of my escape from it, High Violet is the sound of the working week, driving to the doctor, the grey skies, late to bed, late to rise weekdays that bleed into weekends, domestic disagreements, quiet insignificant resentments, things we forget to do, things we wish we’d never done.
It’s an album about the cold, uncertain world and its uncertain people making uncertain decisions and its little, wiry special power is that it makes it all feel ok. In fact, The National’s music lifts up all those moments in our mundane lives and drinks a sad toast to the secret drama and magic we give them.
(see also The Walkmen)
1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
If anyone would have told me in February of this year that by December I’d be praising the genius of Kanye West I’d have said they should all put their money where their mouth is and started planning my new life as an international boy of leisure. And if that had happened, I’d be broke as hell now. Broke, leisure-less, but rich in decade defining music (and stretched to the breaking point overstatements…)
Twisted Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt this year’s greatest musical achievement, it’s also without a doubt this years greatest artistic, personal, and commercial success. I will fight anyone who says otherwise (With scathing words). Track after track Yeezy (that’s what his friends call him) lays bare his confusion, paranoia, megalomania, deepest fears, and greatest hopes in a kaleidoscope of style, beats and samples, stretching, bending and breaking the rules of hip hop while maintaining a firm hand on the rudder the whole time. I can’ t think of of an album that has left me feeling as emotionally unstable by the end. (This is a compliment.) Through out it’s some-odd 70 minutes my emotional state oscillates between fist pumping stupid-ass grinning, head nodding solemnity, to head shaking embarrassment – not for the track, but the man himself. Kanye is losing his mind it seems, at the very least he’s losing track of what matters to him (or maybe not…) – but that’s ok… cause this time he’s in on it, he’s shaking his own head at himself, as he says on “Power” [he’s] on [his] own dick.
I’ve never experienced an album with such a conflicted personality, somehow both wildly inconsistent and golden throughout. Guitar solos, instrumental breaks, lines about Steve Urkle, his black balls, strangulation during sex, running trains, “No more drugs for me, pussy and religion is all I need.” Self aware or not – he’s an all to human curiosity and in the world of hip hop where everyone is larger than life and plays everything so close to script – I kind of appreciate that whether or not he realizes it, kanye’s more often than not showing us his hand while he thinks he’s got his poker face on.
(See also, Michael Jackson, Syd Barrett, Led Zeppelin, Beethoven.)