Just missed the list: Beach House "Teen Dream," Arcade Fire "The Suburbs," Sleigh Bells "Treats," Sufjan Stevens, "All Delighted People," Aloe Blacc "Good Things."
10. Cee-lo Green, "The Ladykiller"
Cee-lo sneaks onto my list if, for nothing else, on the basis of his ubiquitous single, “F*&k You” (or “Forget You” as the kids on “Glee” call it). And what a single it was--right up there with Outkast’s “Hey Ya” as a song to get the whole room jumping in a hurry. That said, the rest of the record is really worth a look for it’s eclectic tour through various shades of soul, hip hop, and even country music. Another major highlight here is Cee-lo’s take on Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You” where he finds a brooding (though not oppressive) side to the original song.
9. Kings Go Forth "The Outsiders are Back"
Kings Go Forth “The Outsiders are Back” meticulously captures the sound and soul of driving soul and funk performances of the late 60s and early 70s. Much of the album was recorded on vintage amplifiers, mics, and tracks, giving the record a fuzzy warmth worthy of superfly or harder-edge Marvin Gay. Even more importantly though, KGF recognize that the best parts of music of the era they so faithfully recreate were in the energy and sense of unpredictability that came with that music’s spontaneity. Consequently, the best moments of “The Outsiders are Back”-- tracks like “One Day” and “Don’t Take My Shadow”--have a loose, even messy quality.
8. Broken Bells "Broken Bells"
This much-anticipated collaboration between Danger Mouse and Shins lead singer Dan Mercer is that rare project that really synthesizes hip-hop and indie rock in a convincing way. The electronic clicks and beeps of Mouse’s slick production turns out to be the perfect balance to Mercer’s quirky sensibilities and Beatlesque vocal harmonies.
7. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings "I Learned the Hard Way"
Sharon Jones has been well known for her dedicated recreations of Motown style soul. And for good reason: In the past she’s been something like a cross between James Brown and Aretha Franklin their respective primes. This new record adds a subtlety and depth to Jones and the Dap Kings’ music that makes her sound all their own. New to Jones’ music is a tense balance between fatigue and rage in Jones’ voice. The best songs—“I Learned the Hard Way” and “Mama Don’t Like My Man” are down-tempo laments about inner-city heartache and anger. While it’s always a risky move to affect “life in the ghetto,” it feels less like schtick or mere nostalgia than an authentic appeal.
6. Vampire Weekend "Contra"
Honda ads aside, Vampire Weekend delivers a record that unabashedly pronounces its odd mixture of Ivy League privilege, African polyrhythms, a sugary pop sensibility. I think this is at its best in hard-driving tracks like “Giving Up the Gun” where Vampire Weekend meshes carnival-organ orchestration with hard-driving rock.
5. Best Coast "Crazy for You"
I would agree with just about everything that’s been said here about Best Coast’s sun-drenched pop-rock record. It’s a reliable formula and Beth Conentino & co. pull it offer really well. I think the only thing I’d like to add is that, what makes this album seem to work so well is interplay between young and old sensibilities: Consentino perpetually seems like a thirty-five-year-old remembering (and misremembering) what it was like to be a precocious, angst-y teenager.
4. Kanye West “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
In an interview Kanye West recently said, without irony, that, even though he can’t sing, dance or play an instrument well, he aspires to be the greatest entertainer of this generation. This record seems to back up that reckless kind of talk. “My Beautiful Dark Fantasy” pushes against a lot of typical hip hop conventions both in terms of its epic scope (could we call this prog-hop?) and its over-the-top arrangements. Throughout all of this, West plays with proverbial fire: He vacillates from gospel choirs to 70s cop themes to sinister imaginings of African conjurations to proclamations of himself as “Malcolm West.” Throughout, I can’t help but think that West might not be in control of his own God complex. And this element of danger is precisely what makes Kanye perpetually rewarding.
3. The National "High Violet"
This record is the refinement of the National’s subtle, brooding sound. It also seems to me that it seals Matt Birninger’s status as the successor to figures like Jeff Tweedy and Leonard Cohen who seem to a find an exhilarating sense of pleasure in self-loathing. On “Bloodbuzz Ohio” Birninger croons over his ambivalence over his disgust for Midwestern social manners while recognizing those very qualities in himself. In the meantime, songs like “Conversation 16” take self-loathing into the territory of the absurd as he admonishes his lover to stay away, fearing that he may transform into a brain-eating zombie. All this is delivered in a dead-pan that leaves us guessing whether Birninger is sincere or just burying the punchline.
2. Belle & Sebastian "Write About Love"
On “Write About Love” Stuart Murdoch returns to the twee-pop orchestration that made Belle & Sebastian a mainstay of indie music through the 1990s and 2000s. But this seems more a return to form than a rehash of old ideas. Sure, the old formulas are all there—the sparkly guitars and chirping vocals--but they’re laced with a new sense of adventurousness and a sense that the surface could fall away at any moment revealing rock and pop sensisbilities. Take for instance, the first and best track on the album, “I Didn’t See It Coming,” which opens with a slight, anonymous female voice singing over a drumbeat, building through the course of the song to a crescendo in which Murdoch crows over a moog synthesizer. Another gem is the bittersweet duet with Norah Jones on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John.”
1. Janelle Monae "The Archandroid"
“The Archandroid” is the two middle suites of a four-part story based loosely on the classic sci-fi film Metropolis. But to reduce the album to its high-flown concept would be to sell Monae short. To me, it's much more significant as a musical statement. Monae draws from a palette that stretches from James Brown to the Flaming Lips to the schmaltzy Disney films to create what seems less like an album than a full-scale theatrical experience. The result is a record in which every track pushes the musical envelope while delivering an immediate classic pop single. In this sense, it is no exaggeration to compare it to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” or The Beatles’ “Revolver.” Like these records, “The Archandroid” introduces us to (clichéd and trite as the term has become) a true “superstar.”