Time once again for the list of the 10 best albums I bought this year arranged in a mostly arbitrary order. Unlike last year, I actually bought more than ten albums, and many of them were even new releases! I had to actually make decisions this time around. It was terrible.
10. The Avett Brothers - Magpie and the Dandelion
Honestly, Magpie and the Dandelion sounds like the last few Rick Rubin-produced Avett Brothers’ records. It doesn't push a lot of new territory for the giants of modern Americana, but it doesn't need to. It’s just as good as the others, and the others are something I love.
9. The Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth (2012)
I love The Mountain Goats. John Darnielle’s music is one of the few things on this planet that I don’t understand not liking. Like any tMG fan, my favorite record is the first one I heard, so this one isn't’t at the top of the list, but I still love it.
8. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
Something about the high placement of Modern Vampires on so many best of lists makes me feel like a lot of people who were in high school when Vampire Weekend’s first album came out are now music critics, and people like it when something they like from the past is awesome again. And it is awesome, it’s everything I liked about their self-titled but better in every regard.
7. Iron and Wine - Ghost on Ghost
I haven’t listened to Iron and Wine since 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days. I could have assumed that Sam Beam had grown as an artist. I had no idea how much. He’s been expanding as an artist like Violet Beuaregarde, straining against any limitations. This isn't the stripped down guitar and voice that I was expecting, and I was pleasantly surprised.
6. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady
If there’s one thing clear from this list it’s that I like neo-soul and R&B, right?
One thing I do love is weird sci-fi incursions on genres that I don’t normally associate with science fiction (despite the fact that George Clinton and company have been producing similar Afrofuturism oddities for decades). Electric Lady pulls a lot of influences and varied collaborators into a coherent tapestry and it’s mostly great. Like Modern Vampires it’s an album mostly about hope within a cynical system, though with a determined feminist touch that wouldn't be so authentic coming from Ezra Koenig. Monae’s music is as beautiful as it is empowering.
5. Listener - Time is a Machine
Speaking of empowering hope, that’s Listener’s bread and butter, and Time is a Machine continues to put the minimalist “talk-singing” Arkansawyers deep into my heart. While their latest doesn't quite do for me what Wooden Heart did (their previous album is still my goto soundtrack for introspection), Time is a Machine is over far too soon.
4. The National - Trouble will Find Me
When I first listened to Trouble will Find Me I felt like any track on it could have been a b-side from High Violet.
I listened more.
I was wrong.
3. Django Django s/t (2012)
Incredibly sorry to have missed this one last year. Django Django’s self-titled is a near perfect album of art rock earworms. The opening track invites you on adventure (and, indeed, was the starting track to my trip to Foamhenge) and the album delivers adventure. It was my most listened to album of the year, and if not for the fact that I finally found a copy of one of my all time favorite records and one of my favorite songwriters finally made a solo record it would be my number one.
2. Jim O’Rourke - Eureka (1999)
It’s an album I've loved for years that I finally ran across a physical copy of in Sound Cat Records in Pittsburgh in January. O’Rourke make a weird experimental pop record here, and it’s one that works so well for me even as he covers Burt Bacharach and Ivor Cutler. And there’s the memorable album art that I’ll let you look up on your own, but don’t do it at work.
1. Sean Nelson - Make Good Choices
I mean if there’s one thing it’s clear from this list that I actually like, I’d hope that it’s literate lyrics. That combined with the same sense of nostalgia I attribute to other people’s love of Modern Vampires of the City is why Sean Nelson’s debut solo album is my number one. While much of the world only knows Nelson’s former band Harvey Danger for it’s big 90’s-defining hit Flagpole Sitta, I've been a fan since actually listening to the rest of the that album, which I maintain was one of the best rock records of 1997, if not the whole decade. Like his work in Harvey Danger, Make Good Choices offers up a caustic wit that is pointed more often at the writer himself, or at least some approximation of himself, than at anything else. I’d be lying if I said he’s not been influential to me.