At a certain point, you just have to say “fuck it.” Every year, I go through the records I picked up over the course of the previous 12 months and find a handful of albums I truly loved and a bunch of music I barely spent any time with. So I gather all the albums into a playlist and spend the last month of the year (which is usually December) furiously listening in the hopes that I will stumble upon a bevy of hidden delights that somehow remained hidden upon initial listens. And I listen to them all with clear eyes and a full heart and inevitably end up saying “fuck it” and writing down the records I liked before the end-of- year listening marathon began.
This year presented some particular difficulties because this is the year I became a dad. I don’t want to be one of those guys who becomes a dad and totally loses touch with new music, because music is still really important to me. True, I haven’t seen a band play all year. Ugh, I just wrote that and felt a little sick. But that makes sense because seeing a band means leaving the house at night when I would rather be sleeping. Listening to music, on the other hand, is something you can pretty much do during every hour of your waking life, particularly if you’re someone like me who sits in front of a computer all day and doesn’t ever need to talk to another human being. I hope for your sake you are not someone like me.
You can even listen to music with your kids, if you want. Although I also don’t want to be one of those guys who’s like, “my kids are only allowed to listen to the Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart.” Because every kid needs to have his or her crap music phase, right? Thankfully my daughter is still at the age where I can listen to adult-oriented stuff in her presence without her bothering me all the time with questions like, “what’s a gat?” and “why is the woman in the song making those horrible moaning noises?” I mean, I turn it off when her ears start bleeding. I’m a very conscientious father.
But having said that, I didn’t really have the time to sit with records as much as I would have liked this year. And very few albums really blew me away, aside from my number one album, which is one of my very favorite albums of the last several years. With all those caveats in mind, I’m just going to say “fuck it” and present the fifteen records that did the best job of breaking through the clutter.
15. Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness
There are bands you want to fuck and bands you want to cuddle. Los Campesinos! is decidedly in the latter camp. But that’s okay … the band you want to fuck will only disappoint you and leave you miserable in the end. On the Campesinos! fourth record, they cover much of the same territory they’ve explored on their previous albums: heartache, loss, sorrow, and the impossibility of finding true love. The genius of the Campesinos! is that even when they’re nursing broken hearts, they still sound like they’re having a good time. Even if you’re not bowled over by their recordings, be sure to catch them live … if you can leave that venue without feeling like you’ve had a spiritual experience, I’ll give you your money back.
That’s not true. I won’t give you your money back. But I will be like, “whaaaaat?”
14. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
What is this, performance art? Musical theater? Prog rock? I have no idea, but I like it. Three albums in, St. Vincent (nee Annie Clark) has yet to make a bad move. The most obvious comparison is Kate Bush because of her unapologetic art-rock leanings, but I might liken her more to Paul Thomas Anderson. Like PTA, Clark has an absolute mastery of her craft and the ability to make work that is artistic without being distancing. The flip side is that, as with PTA, St. Vincent’s work can sometimes seem a little cold. Is cold the same thing as distancing? Maybe I just contradicted myself. Being a music critic is hard!
13. Mister Heavenly – Out of Love
Mister Heavenly is an indie-rock supergroup composed of dudes from Man Man, Islands, Modest Mouse, and the Shins. (Can one still call it indie-rock when two of the groups on this list have released albums that have debuted in the Billboard top 10? I really miss the days when we referred to it as college rock. It’s rock! For college kids! But kinda not really because I’m 36 and I’m pretty sure all the dudes in this band are in their like 60s. Still, that’s so much better than “alternative.”) They call their music style “doom-wop” which I think we can all agree is the worst and should never be mentioned ever again. The guy from Islands sings like he’s in an ad for free credit reports. One of the songs is called “Diddy Eyes” and it’s as awful a song as has ever been recorded. But despite all of that, I really like this record. That was a great review, me! Now go out and buy it, you!
12. James Blake – James Blake
Remember when everyone was so pumped for this James Blake record? And then it came out, and everyone was like, “this is the best thing!” And then the end of the year came around, and everyone was like, “James who now?” Well, I remember, Mr. Blake, and I remember spending a good month drinking sizzurp and listening to your record nonstop and feeling like the world was full of beauty and pain and wanting to engage but not really having the motivation (on account of all the codeine) and feeling grateful that I could just participate in the world from afar through your lovely album.
11. Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full of Holes
Fountains of Wayne are dad-rock for the Park Slope generation. Being as how I am now a dad, this is the only band on the list that actually speaks to me. Sky Full of Holes doesn’t make me want to do dangerous things to my body the way some of the records on my list do, but their thoughtful, hilarious song-stories about middle-class folks trying to find a sense of dignity in their day-to-day lives are almost always catchy and heart-wrenching and nostalgic and relatable to someone like me in a way that music created by 22 year-old guys in leather pants is not. Of course, I always end up gravitating toward the 22 year-old guys in leather pants when I want to listen to something, because that’s who I secretly want to be. And so do the guys in Fountains of Wayne, so, you know, full circle, or something.
10. Delicate Steve – Wondervisions
This is the only record I’ve ever bought because of a press release. The press release was written by Chuck Klosterman. I’ve actually never read anything by him before except these dumb drawing things he used to do on the back page of Spin. I guess maybe that’s because I’m a hater and that guy seems like he’s got the life I wish I had. But I can’t hate this press release because it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever read. Man! Was that a good press release. Oh, the record’s pretty sweet, too.