It’s time to copy the same idea everybody had in the middle of last year! Why bother chatting about the past 5 years? I like lists. I know: they’re everywhere already. I don’t care. Most of my music-observation happens on Twitter lately, and this is a better way to share things in a considered manner (more than “just #watch this YouTube video”). Plus it’s a fun time capsule of my opinions right now. Who knows what music I’ll enjoy down the road!
We’ll start out with Albums #20-11 because that seems fun. Think these picks are crap? Go yell at me on Twitter, or drop a comment!
Thanks for reading!
20. RTJ2 by Run the Jewels (2014)
It’s impossible to separate the social and societal messaging behind RTJ2 from the music. Luckily, the commentary doesn’t come across as preachy because the sound, the rhythm, and the lyricism are so strong. The incredible chemistry between El-P and Killer Mike makes this better than what either could offer alone. They bounce off each other, building the kind of rapidfire storytelling and anger that makes RTJ2 exhilarating.
19. Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors (2012)
This is the streamlined version of Dirty Projectors. That doesn’t mean they’ve lost the quirky charm that made previous releases so special. Instead, it means first-time listeners will have an easier time latching onto melodies, remembering songs. And when you give it a chance, you’ll find the real reason to listen to Swing Lo: swelling, beating emotion. “Dance for You” is an absolute classic.
18. Epic by Sharon Van Etten (2010)
Van Etten’s well-travelled voice gives gravity to the songs presented here. They’re songs about decaying love, distrust, personal discovery, and suicide, all heavy topics to be sure. The singing makes everything hit with the weight deserved. At the same time, the instrumentation pulls you in closer. Sometimes that’s a trance, sometimes your head bops along to the tempo. Oh, there’s also the best song of the half-decade. That’s a good trait, I’d say.
17. The Bones of What You Believe by Chvrches (2013)
I’m learning to enjoy synth noises more and more, which is useful given their ubiquity lately. This task is easier when the package is so catchy, and Chvrches nails that perfectly (silly spelling and all). The rev’d up start of “We Sink” and the glam-esque strut of “Lies” are a testament to the taste and skill of the band. Putting them over the top? Lead singer Lauren Mayberry, who coos and belts and everything between, giving emotional power to the performances.
16. Allelujah, Don’t Bend Ascend by Godspeed You Black Emperor (2012)
You don’t realize how much you need instrumental post-rock in your life until you meet it head-on for the first time. Or, more accurately, you don’t know until you meet Allelujah. It’s a harrowing ride. Opener “Mladic” guides you in slowly, finally deciding that 5 minutes is enough build time to drop you face-first into roiling guitars. Then you’re transported to semi dance music, through drones, into atonal dirges, and stunning beauty from bells. It’s dense, and well worth the journey.
15. Brill Bruisers by The New Pornographers (2014)
This is mostly Carl (AC) Newman’s record, and that’s meant as a compliment. For as great as Neko Case and Dan Bejar have been, Newman is the songsmith I love most in the group. His high points are the best on Bruisers. The title track, “Dancehall Domine,” and “Fantasy Fools” all burst with pop hooks, leaving your poor (lucky) ears playing the songs on repeat over and over. Add in expected soaring brilliance from Case (“Champions of Red Wine”) and delightful off-kilter showing from Bejar (“Spidyr”), and you’ve got a winner.
14. Attack on Memory by Cloud Nothings (2012)
Attack on Memory is focused and furious, the stuff that makes punk rock click. The best example is “Wasted Days,” the 8-minute monster 2nd track. Instead of getting lost, Cloud Nothings pull off Sonic Youth’s “Silver Rocket” on a grander scale. A wall of sound in the middle section threatens to fall apart, only to pull out into a reprise of Dylan Baldi’s triumphant scream. And right after that? You also get the brisk blasts of “Fall In” and “Stay Useless.” Rock is awesome.
13. Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls (2011)
I missed Father, Son, Holy Ghost the first time around and I feel foolish for it. This is incredible rock, snarling and snapping to life right away. Most songs show off a tight interplay between everyone involved, bass and drums creating a propelling rhythm, guitars fuzzing and causing a (tasteful) involuntary headbang. The centerpiece is the emotional “Vomit,” a track that feels far shorter than its 6-minute playtime. Singer Christopher Owens sounds at his most vulnerable as he begs, “Come into my heart.”
12. Atlas by Real Estate (2014)
Atlas is easy to like out of sheer beauty. A chiming web of guitars, pleasant singing, and balanced sound give off such warmth. Atlas is one to adore and remember after it pulls your ears, and starts to gnaw at heartstrings. Inside the songs are messages of regretful sorrow, lyrics that are personal without sounding cheesy or exploitive. The line “I don’t want to die lonely and uptight” is followed by a direct plea: “Stay with me.” It’s this balance between the melodic guitars and lyrical honesty that makes Atlas so rewarding with each listen.
11. Contra by Vampire Weekend (2010)
Vampire Weekend avoids the supposed sophomore slump by shooting off in a different direction than the college-pop of their debut.. Now there’s rhythmic complexity, successful use of electronics (with enjoyable autotune!), and greater focus on varied storytelling (not just Cape Cod campus tales). Every track sounds distinct, each a little experiment in kicking out the edges of the Vampire Weekend sound. The best part: every path works, leaving the band walking away from “A Punk” and stronger for doing so.