Posts tagged: the tallest man on earth

Klap 4 2012

By , December 27, 2012 5:00 pm

25. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

End of the Line” Spotify

Sleigh Bells always struck me as sort of a gimmick, a one-trick pony on their debut Treats. To be honest, that trick, which makes Nigel Tufnel’s “but these go to eleven” explanation a parody of itself, is still in full effect here—Reign of Terror is loud and brash, letting the guitar slam out chunky, primordial chords with single-minded fervor. Alexis Krauss, however, is the star of Reign of Terror, putting her former teen-pop resume to good use as the shimmery shoegaze counterpoint to Derek Miller’s bludgeoning riffs. For all its volume, Reign of Terror is nuanced and careful in its use of textures and breathy harmonies, less concerned with fist-pumping and headbanging than focusing on the gorgeous tones and dreamlike atmosphere Krauss’ layered vocals achieve. It is a less brutish and far more beautiful Sleigh Bells than I ever expected.

24. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems

“Numb” | Beatport

I wish my old piano teacher was as cool as Allison Skidmore, who really opens up a whole new dimension to Andy Stott’s realm of negative space. Luxury Problems is intensely atmospheric and intricately layered, as Stott’s brand of minimal techno has tended to be, but Skidmore’s nebulous vocals give a heretofore-unseen emotional aspect to Stott’s slow, pulsing beats. And even where Skidmore is nowhere to be found, as on the grimy “Sleepless,” Stott handles himself perfectly fine with some of the finest grooves of his career.

23. School of Seven Bells – Ghostory

“Lafaye” | Spotify

Shoegaze/dream pop with a healthy serving of goth atmospherics and the deft studio hand of ex-Secret Machine Benjamin Curtis sounds similar to other, more lackluster School of Seven Bells albums, albeit now featuring just one preternaturally talented twin sister. Strangely enough, they’ve never sounded so good. Alejandra Deheza manages to maintain the same ethereal quality by herself that Claudia used to augment with the most gorgeous, yet oftentimes empty, harmonies. Ghostory combines the narcotic drone of Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine with an amorphous concept revolving around the haunting of a girl, but it works even better when you see Ghostory as a hazy kiss-off to the old School of Seven Bells and an enchanting taste of where they could go.

22. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

“Emmylou” | Spotify

Like the best pop music, The Lion’s Roar takes the building blocks of songwriter malaise—sadness, heartbreak, nostalgia, loss—and turns it into a glorious celebration. Johanna and Klara Soderberg sing with a maturity and gravitas beyond their years (22 and 18, respectively—those numbers depress me every time), conjuring up wildernesses they’ve never seen and feelings it’s difficult to imagine they’ve experienced, or at least experienced enough to be able to sing with such depth and candor. When combined with Mike Mogis’ warmly textured production, all twang and rugged mountain air, The Lion’s Roar lends more convincing credit to the argument that whatever America does, the Swedes can probably do it better.

21. Hospitality – Hospitality

“Eighth Avenue” | Spotify

As sick as I am of Brooklyn bands on the indie scene, it’s hard to not fall in love with this insolent affair from power-pop quartet Hospitality, which flits around New York landmarks and sassy little incisions from vocalist Amber Papini. It’s twee as fuck (Belle & Sebastian is a major signpost, particularly on excellent opener “Eighth Avenue”), but it’s little imperfections and the raucous stumbling blocks, an unexpectedly ragged guitar lick or Papini’s quick wit, make it a charmingly individualistic album.

20. Jack White – Blunderbuss

“Freedom at 21″ | Spotify

For once, White sounds fully involved in the creation of a record, something that hasn’t happened since the White Stripes’ mid-2000s heyday. Blunderbuss is the predictable exploration into blues, funk, and wonderfully filthy rock-n-roll that White has made his calling card, as well as a general fascination with women and the demon sorcery they employ, but its focus and tight production make it the most accessible and pound-for-pound interesting album he’s made in a decade. Plus, the guitar shreds.

19. Chromatics – Kill For Love

“Lady” | Spotify

Ballsy move opening with not just a Neil Young song but one of the Neil Young songs, but Kill For Love is ballsy in more ways than one. It is a cinematic masterpiece that moves at a glacial pace, 16 tracks and seventy-seven 77 gorgeous, druggy minutes and pretty much the perfect encapsulation of Johnny Jewel’s overall ‘80s aesthetic/fetish. It’s not the easiest of listens, but that same sprawling, repetitive, genre-twisting nature rewards dozens and hundreds of listens, which will help the hangover between now and Jewel’s next batch of creativity in 2017.

18. Islands – A Sleep And A Forgetting

“In A Dream It Seemed Real” | Spotify

I don’t know the details of the breakup that inspired Nick Thorburn to commission that void of an album cover and write the bleakest album of his career, but I feel like I now know Nick Thorburn the person more than ever before. A Sleep And A Forgetting is Thorburn’s most personal record, one that delves deep into a shattered romance and confesses everything with nearly overwhelming amounts of shame and grief. While the understated chamber-pop that informs much of the record dials back Islands’ more manic characteristics considerably, it remains an intensely cathartic record for anybody whose been on the wrong side of a sour relationship, mainly because of Thorburn’s seemingly limitless capacity for self-flagellation. A Sleep And A Forgetting ends not with hope but with a dirge (“Same Thing”), devoid of anything but an exhausted, worn out expression of nihilism.

17. Grimes – Visions

“Genesis” | Spotify

I don’t really consider myself qualified to discuss all the influences that Visions chews up and digests and Claire Boucher as an artist even less so. Frankly, the term “post-Internet” makes me want to blow my brains out, while her story of sailing down the Mississippi on a rickety, soon-to-fail houseboat with a bounty of chickens and potatoes is so bluntly DIY as to be unbearably contrived. Yet Visions is so delightfully weird without going too far off the rails that it’s hard for me to ignore the strong pop fundamentals underlining all the outsider art clichés. It’s a fascinating combination of skittish loops, industrial beats and Martian synths married to vocals almost as alien in their articulations, an effective synthesis of the past and possible future.

16. A Fine Frenzy – Pines

“Now Is The Start” | Spotify

A bizarre concept album about a tree that has been given the “gift” of free will and accompanied by a e-book and a short animated film, Pines is Alison Sudol’s third album as A Fine Frenzy and a seismic stylistic shift from 2009’s Bomb in a Birdcage. Sudol has always had a gift for composition, and in Pines’ hour-plus run time her craftsmanship achieves hypnotic heights, turning a dangerously silly tale into a mystical set piece of mountains and lakes, rivers and maps that winds its way slowly and delicately onward, painting forests and seasons and something more elemental until exploding into woozy bubblegum pop on the sinfully catchy “Now Is The Start.” It’s hard to describe an album as rambling and ambitious as Pines with any one tag, although rustic folk is a good place to start, and Joanna Newsom and Lisa Hannigan are convenient touchstones. Pines, however, is an enigma that stands securely on its own.

15. The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth

“Cry for Judas” | Spotify

At 45, Darnielle still trudges along with his motley crew of junkies, disorders and blips in history, painting his 3-minute picture books of agoraphobics and dead R&B singers with the more expanded studio brushes he has become accustomed to filling in the edges with. While the birth of his first child may have heralded a change in demeanor, aside from the brazen optimism of opener “Amy AKA Spent Gladiator I,” this is still the same Darnielle you’ve always known, the one who can make desperately waiting for your dealer a warm and inviting proposition on “Lakeside View Apartments Suite.” “The loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you’re never going to see again,” Darnielle sings on “Harlem Roulette,” and it’s that struggle to live, for things to have meaning, that remains the central theme of the Mountain Goats and Transcendental Youth. Just, you know, with more horns.

14. Woods – Bend Beyond

“Cali in a Cup” | Spotify

Formerly tinkerers of a lo-fi sound that traversed a number of decades, Brooklyn group Woods’ steady one-LP-a-year output has led them to refine their sound into concise, accurate blasts of gravelly Americana and instrumental jam sessions that call to mind more experimental bands such as Neu! It’s easy to take a band for granted when they produce at the pace Woods has, but the focused songwriting and sharp production of Bend Beyond is another piece of evidence in the argument that the group hardly needs to change in order to grow.

13. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

“1904″ | Spotify

Give Kristian Matsson a guitar and some tape and chances are the result will lead to someone invoking the D-word, but that’s more a testament to Matsson’s incredible consistency and that abrasive, airy voice, an acquired taste but one impossible to shake. I love Matsson for his ability to write lyrics that I can relate to even when I have little to no idea what they are about—a lyric like “and when the night is young but the bridge is up / something passing by I was sure / and the only one you can tell it to / well it’s the only one that ever knows” from “1904” is hard to translate but nevertheless hits so hard, maybe because of that forlorn guitar lick, maybe because when Matsson sings it makes me feel something, nostalgia, without ever knowing why. It’s a gift.

12. How To Dress Well – Total Loss

“& It Was You” | Spotify

If Islands’ latest is a straightforward breakup record for sitting at home and staring at old photographs, Total Loss is its drunken, Ecstasy-popping cousin, shambling home from a dim club night after rain-soaked night to lose itself in someone’s anonymous bed. Tom Krell coats his loss in thick, fuzzy electronic textures and a soulful falsetto, a narcotized, dreamy landscape where it’s hard to tell where resolution is supposed to come from. What makes this a superior record to 2010’s Love Remains is it no longer loses itself in the samples and sound collages and disorienting fog, but instead makes it easy to follow Krell on a heavy yet enjoyable journey from the fevered dreams of “Cold Nites” to the almost content “Ocean Floor For Everything.”

11. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Lost Songs

“Catatonic” | Spotify

Lighting a match to all the unnecessary, indulgent refuse that burdened most of their post-Source Tags & Codes follow-ups, Trail of Dead finally began to move on from that Sisyphean weight of an album with Lost Songs. It’s brash and loud and wonderfully anthemic and goes over five minutes only once—in short, a minor miracle for a band that considered five-part suites just another way to close an album once upon a time. Without getting bogged down in their own ideas, Trail of Dead has reignited the raw passion that distinguished them in the first place.

10. John Talabot - fIN

“Destiny ft. Pional” | Beatport

I’ve never been to Ibiza, or anywhere on the western Mediterranean seaboard for that matter, but when I do go I imagine (and hope) that this is the kind of record that will be soundtracking what should be the most epic summer dance party. fIN has perfected the art of the buildup, creating a yacht’s worth of sensual, slow-burning tension and then gradually releasing it in the most exhilarating ways—the mesmerizing break in “Destiny,” the horror undertones in “Oro Y Sangre” unloading with a glammed-out scream, the deep house high that closes out the album on “So Will Be Now.” I didn’t know I wanted fIN until it was here, but now that I do it’s impossible to forget.

09. John K. Samson – Provincial

“Longitudinal Centre” | Spotify

I don’t know much about Manitoba or really anything about Canada aside from the fact that it’s really cold and the maple syrup there is pretty ace, but I know about hometowns and the people in them and the loneliness and the quiet despair that comes with wondering if you’re ever getting out. Samson has mellowed somewhat since his days in Propagandhi, but the rather gentle folk tunes here only serve to highlight Samson, who is as strong and relatable and in love with his town as ever, every broken, dark, crumpled corner of it.

08. Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs

“Golden Eyelids” | Spotify

An album about the life and suicide of Lost in the Trees’ leader Ari Picker’s mother is about as grim as it sounds, but it’s Picker’s maestro-like command of the proceedings that gives A Church That Fits Our Needs’ its epic, sweeping span. Picker’s classical chops are evident, masterfully arranging a full complement of orchestral instruments and a strong command of meter and melody to relate an overwhelming story of grief. “My song can try / but there are things that songs can’t say,” Picker’s full, measured tenor explains, yet A Church That Fits Our Needs is not only a fitting memorial for Picker’s mother but signals the proper arrival of a blossoming baroque pop artist.

07. Wild Nothing – Nocturne

“Only Heather” | Spotify

This is a dazzling record, one imbued with a careful sense of craftsmanship that distinguishes it from 2010’s occasionally more off-kilter Gemini, yet maintains that record’s starry-eyed wonder and teenage love navel-gazing. Jack Tatum is one of the best songwriters of his generation, putting the emotional connection before the exquisitely detailed production, the shimmering guitar tones and the ambient swoons that color in all the shadowy parts. A song like “Only Heather” sounds downright perfect in an aesthetic sense, sure, but that only accentuates the heart of the song, the juvenile love that makes this music such a blissed-out escape—it could be for you, for anyone, and Tatum is more than happy to facilitate that—and that is what properly earns it its dream-pop moniker.

06. Passion Pit – Gossamer

“Constant Conversations” | Spotify

There’s no album I listened to more this summer, and that’s partly because Gossamer is the neon-colored summer album to end all summer albums and also because it was far too easy to connect to Michael Angelakos’ anxious lyrics and the sense of frantic, rushing panic that lies uncomfortably around every major-key sunburst. “Constant Conversations” is all that you could ask for from pop music—honest, heartfelt, and not afraid to explore the boundaries of a band’s sound. Gossamer does much the same thing for all twelve of its impossibly peppy, slightly deranged songs.

05. Tame Impala – Lonerism

“Feels Like We Only Go Backward” | Spotify

Lonerism is an album’s album—the kind of record meant to be played from beginning to end, one long journey where the songs and emotions bleed into each other and it’s difficult to tell just where you end up, but damn is the trip worth it. What Kevin Parker has done takes all the choicest bits of psychedelia, metallic grooves and Britpop and infuses it with the remoteness of his native Perth, creating a massive collage that is impossible to place in any one time period, isolated from its contemporaries and incredibly easy to get lost in. As daunting as Lonerism seems on paper—a veritable army of effects and tracks that would turn the ghost of John Lennon green with envy—what Parker and producer Dave Fridmann (of the Flaming Lips) have accomplished is an expansive, kaleidoscopic album that is not all inspired when broken down into its component parts, but unpredictable and exquisite when combined under Parker’s unique vision. Lonerism has the very tough task of taking the sounds and clichés of decades past and making it sound inventive and exciting. That Parker not only succeeded but also created a classic to stand alongside those same influences is only the most impressive of Lonerism’s many accomplishments.

04. Menomena – Moms

“Plumage” | Spotify

Breakups are hard, but you wouldn’t know it from Menomena, who followed up a split with founding member Brent Knopf and another in a long line of critically acclaimed albums with Moms, which just might happen to be their best yet. Little of Knopf’s (amicable) split surfaces on Moms—instead, the breakups involve those of family, more specifically both Danny Seim and Justin Harris dealing with the loss of a parent and the emotional baggage that comes with it. It’s pretty heavy, heady stuff, examined under a searing lamp that renders everything in unflinching detail, from the ugly (“Pique”) to the reluctant (“Capsule”) to the implacably hostile (“Heavy Is As Heavy Does”). It’s a purging of old stories and older feelings that fit nicely in with some of the most aggressive music of Menomena’s careers, like the sweltering solo that roars in right after Harris finishes off a particularly virulent, self-loathing sermon on “Pique.” The production fits the lyrics, loud and clear and almost desperately urgent. It leads to some of their catchiest melodies, not so much thrown together as in records past but deliberately and forcefully constructed, even when, as on “Plumage,” the band seems to exhaust all of their energies, leaving them weary and resigned and petering out in amplifier feedback. By turning inward, Menomena have released an emotionally cathartic, venomous album that hits as hard as a punch to the gut and leaves its wounds open for all to see (and, perversely enough, to dance along to). It is also the most deeply satisfying record of their career.

03. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

“Give It Away” | Spotify

Maybe it’s just a function of Andrew Bird’s rather “lit’ry” approach to songwriting, all gentle plucks and crafty wordplay, but Break It Yourself begs to be described in superlative adjectives like “mellifluous” or “meticulous” or “contemplative,” although I’m partial to just “fucking beautiful.” On paper, Break It Yourself seems to check off all the boxes rather perfunctorily: it is along, twisty and rock-strewn dirt road into the heart of staticky AM folk and dusty alt-country that Bird has been steadfastly traveling for quite a while; it is an album impeccably designed and prudently arranged; it still revels in the effortless use of words commonly found in textbooks and the clever syllabic arrangements that remains Bird’s signature. Yet Bird has never written an album this emotionally direct yet still frayed around the edges, sepia postcards warped by time and the long, crushing weight of emotions experienced and discarded, one on top of the other. “We’ll dance like cancer survivors / like we’re grateful simply to be alive” needs no adorning, no phonetic wizardry from an artist who has finally connected the emotional underpinnings of his music with the nostalgia and vaguely melancholic miasma that his vast palette of looping strings, fiddles and that wistful whistle naturally conjure. Although the pop structures that inform his core aesthetic are well in evidence here, Bird is much more interested in building something up just to break it down. Melodies drift along string motifs that wind around as an ethereal counterpoint to Bird himself, who seems more grateful for the lovesick memories that haunt him then regretful, more pleased with the chances he’s received than the ones he’s squandered. The best songs here—the slow, bubbling “Lazy Projector,” the time-worn pastels of “Sifters,” the eight-minute-long crackle of “Hole in the Ocean Floor”—take their time, and when they arrive, as with “Lazy Projector’s” oddly triumphant climax or “Hole in the Ocean Floor’s” near-religious vocals and eventual disintegration, it’s a sad remembrance but also an infinitely hopeful one. An album like Break It Yourself never fails to remind you, for all the weight and heartbreak, life is still a pretty wonderful thing.

02. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

“Werewolf” | Spotify

This album doesn’t know when to quit, and I love it for it—indeed, I never want it to quit anyways. It’s debilitating, taxing, draining, any sort of word you want to use to describe the kind of bloodletting and incisive surgery that Fiona Apple deftly accomplishes, with Charley Drayton standing off to her side, handing her the scalpels. It’s also empathic to an almost extreme degree, telling you things you may not have heard before and perhaps don’t want to hear but too bad because here it is for everyone to consider, possibly with the occasional vocal jag that reminds you that Apple’s emotional walls are already long destroyed, so who are you to hide yourself? Everything is fair game on The Idler Wheel…, and what’s left is an album that speaks to the human condition directly and unequivocally, more than any other in her career.

01. The Walkmen – Heaven

“Heaven” | Spotify

It’s fitting that of all the “The” bands that stormed out of New York City in the early millennium, bands that lived fast and died young (or slid into irrelevancy), the Walkmen have ascended the slowest and the surest. Heaven is the high point of a career that seemed destined to fail years ago in a wonderful haze of Jameson or cigarette smoke, whichever burnt out Hamilton Leithauser’s seemingly ageless voice first. Bows + Arrows was all youthful piss and vinegar, the Walkmen taking their deserved chomp out of all the teenage drama TV marketing dollars that cannibalized the NYC scene, but beginning with 2008’s You & Me, the Walkmen found something more substantial and lasting in their sound. Less a flammable statement and more a smoldering collection of resonant tunes, that record and 2010’s near-perfect Lisbon marked a graceful maturation that has reached its peak with Heaven. Growing old has proved an unexpected golden age for the group, a transformation carefully considered and precisely handled (never better than in the video above): in Paul Maroon’s glowing guitar and that steady rhythm section; in the warm and confident tone maintained by Leithauser, whose gradual mellowing out over the years has only enhanced the timbres and depth of his voice; in the heartfelt, straightforward lyrics that the band finds in everyday life, still pockmarked with cynicism but realizing the comfort of settling down and the joy in families. With Heaven, the Walkmen truly can’t be beat.

“Our children will always hear

Romantic tales of distant years

Our gilded age may come and go

Our crooked dreams will always glow.”

The Tallest Man on Earth – Revelation Blues

By , June 11, 2012 10:00 am

Swedish folk artist Kristian Matsson aka The Tallest Man on Earth will be releasing this third LP tomorrow, and There’s No Leaving Now is uniformly excellent, in the “Euro Bob Dylan” mold of 2008′s Shallow Grave and 2010′s The Wild Hunt (one of my favorite albums from that year). His odd vocals take some a bit to get used to, but his skill with a guitar and is irrefutable songwriting talent hasn’t aged a bit since I last heard him. A song like “Revelation Blues,” meanwhile, adds a bit more texture to his usual bare-bones recording style, adding in electronic elements and some mild percussion that enhance his guitar playing and lyrics, rather than detract from them.

The Tallest Man on Earth – “Revelation Blues”




There's No Leaving Now, the 2012 record from Kristian Matsson's aptly titled moniker, The Tallest Man On Earth, finds the Swedish troubadour trading in the sense of urgency that fueled his first two records for a confidently relaxed approach. Drums, piano, baritone guitar, woodwinds and pedal steel layer this collection of songs that never compromise virtuosity for immediacy.
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Best of 2010

By , December 30, 2010 8:00 am

Happy holidays everyone. Below are my Top 20 of 2010, chosen using a complex statistical formula and thousands of man-hours. Anyone who wants to party with the Klap for New Year’s 2011 should come to the wonderful, wholesome city of Las Vegas. See you all in the new year.

20.

Simian Mobile Disco – Delicacies

+1 Records

Released: November 30

Outstanding food concept notwithstanding, Delicacies is a delicious tech-house treat, all weirded-out bleeps and ghostly bloops that are at times incredibly creepy and others strangely bouncy. I have no idea how this is going to translate live (probably with a healthy dose of psychedelics), but after last year’s weak pop outing, Simian is back on track here.

19.

Delta Spirit – History From Below

Rounder

Released: June 8

It’s always a pleasure to see a band grow, and combining that with one of my favorite genres in Americana makes History From Below one of the year’s most exciting releases. Much of the credit must go to singer Matthew Vasquez, whose growth into a true barroom singer is remarkable.

18.

Four Tet – There Is Love In You

Domino

Released: January 26

There’s always bound to be some repetition in an IDM release, and it’s what usually turns me off on the genre, but Four Tet has truly created a masterpiece with his seventh album, one that has a definite organic quality to it that adds a vibrant layer to the discordant loops and drum samples that make up his work. It’s dense and challenging at times, but it never ceases to be enjoyable.

17.

Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard

Barsuk

Released: August 24

Beating Vampire Weekend at their own game, Ra Ra Riot avoid the sophomore slump by slowing things down and bringing out the best in the band – Wes Miles’ brilliant vocals, the warm dimension the strings bring to their sound, and drummer Gabriel Duquette’s unheralded rhythm work that ties everything together.

16.

Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

Dead Oceans

Released: May 11

In an off year for alt-country Matt Houck stepped up to the plate and delivered a straightforward home run, all muscular slide guitar and folky twang. But the best part is Houck’s melodies, which are fleshed out and given new life with the colorful compositions offered by his expanded sound.

15.

Serena Maneesh – No. 2: Abyss in B Minor

4AD Records

Released: March 23

Criminally overlooked shoegaze out of Norway, Serena Maneesh crafted some of the strangest, most endearing music of the year. This isn’t your older brother’s shoegaze; this plain rocks, with angular riffs and thudding bass lines seemingly more suited for prog than pop. But for all its oddness, it’s an album that refuses to be ignored, and I’d gladly take this over the Ambien most shoegaze bands proffer up nowadays.

14.

Spoon – Transference

Merge Records

Released: January 19

It speaks to Spoon’s consistency that I consider a #14 finish an off year for them. Transference finds the band more comfortable with their own sound than ever before, relishing in the live environment the album was created in and even letting their ties loose a little bit, meandering about on songs like “Who Makes Your Money” and “Nobody Gets Me But You.” It’s not as consistent as previous releases, but it doesn’t have to be – Spoon like where they are, and they sound damn fine with it.

13.

Free Energy – Stuck on Nothing

Astralwerks

Released: May 4

Paul Sprangers sings about girls and summer love and absolutely nothing of higher import because, frankly, that’s all he wants to sing about. It’s unfortunate that Stuck on Nothing was released in the spring, because it’s a summer record through and through. Beach cruising, salty air and salty hair, bikinis, breezy car trips, pool parties, Slurpees that always seem too damn drippy, the smell of tanning lotion, sand that will stay in my car for way too many months, days and days of doing whatever the hell you want – Free Energy have made a soundtrack for all of these things, and made it seem effortless in the bargain.

12.

Rogue Wave – Permalight

Brushfire Records

Released: March 2

Permalight came out at just the right time for me, lifting me out of the February doldrums with passionate, high-energy indie pop that seemed all too easy and potentially canned. But there was something about Permalight that made me look past its clichéd sentiments and sometimes drab choruses – this is a record that was positively sunny, one that bared all without shame or any sense of self-consciousness, and was the better for it. If I want to be happy, I listen to this.

11.

Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

Def Jam

Released: July 11

This was a banner year for big name rappers, and Big Boi was no exception – up until November The Son of Chico Dusty was the rap record of the year, and another bit of evidence to suggest that maybe Outkast wasn’t all Andre 3000’s show (where the hell has that guy been, anyway?). Southern rap has never been this enjoyable and innovative.

10.

Steel Train – Steel Train

Ingrooves

Released: June 29

Along with Free Energy, Steel Train showed me that sometimes, good rock ‘n roll can be just that; no gimmicks, no existentialist musings, no 20-minute-plus compositions swollen with strings and harps and timpani. Steel Train put their money down on ace melodies and that simple trifecta of rock: guitar, bass, drums. They only come out with some of the best songs of the year, sugary offerings that are no less potent because they revel in their hooks and sing-a-long capabilities. Not to mention a song of the year in the heartrending “Fall Asleep.”

9.

The Black Keys – Brothers

Nonesuch

Released: May 18

Speaking of good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll, The Black Keys are back to doing what they do best on Brothers. It’s hard-hitting, bluesy rock ‘n roll; bluesy like the delta, bluesy like the Sun Studio in the early ‘60s, and Brothers is nothing if not a painstakingly well made time capsule by two of the best musicians in the business. Few bands can sound like they come from another era, but the Black Keys pull it off with ease.

8.

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Def Jam

Released: November 22

I like to use Kanye West’s own Twitter to describe My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: “”This is rock and roll life my people . . . you can’t stop the truth you can’t stop the music and I have to be strong or ‘they’ win!!!;” “I can’t be everybody’s hero and villain savior and sinner Christian and anti Christ!;” “I have decided to become the best rapper of all time! I put it on my things to do in this lifetime list!” Besides an abundance of exclamation points, Kanye’s often hilarious Twitter is everything that made his newest album such a masterpiece, from his Christ complex to his feuding with the media to his undeniable artistic brilliance. Guy might be a little crazy, but weren’t all the best a bit off?

7.

Wolf Parade – Expo 86

Sub Pop

Released: June 29

Maybe Wolf Parade will never be able to recapture that spastic one-off brilliance that was their debut, but Expo 86 proves that maybe they don’t need to. It’s the band’s most cohesive collection of tracks to date, successfully ranging from Krug’s typically obtuse offerings to Boeckner’s more pop-oriented rock tunes. Most of all, it proves that Wolf Parade are still the visionary songwriters we thought we lost with At Mount Zoomer, and that’s a relief.

6.

The National – High Violet

4AD Records

Released: May 11

My road to finally realizing High Violet was right up there with Boxer and Alligator was a long one, and it took me until a long road trip six months after its release to see it for what it was: what I initially saw as boring and uninspired was actually a more mellow National, one less prone to emotional outbursts and not quite as energetic, but a wiser National, one who had a firmer grip on life’s realities and even more questions about it. It’s a fascinating listen, built around Matt Berninger’s wry observations and Bryan Devendorf’s continually amazing drumming, and a more confident record than anything the National have done to date.

5.

Noisia – Split the Atom

Indie Europe/Zoom (Import)

Released: November 30 (USA)

Noisia’s first proper LP is a shining example of everything good that can happen when a groundbreaking trio mashes all their influences together and produces something truly original. Split the Atom has it all: breaks, electro, drum n bass, funk, house, et cetera. It’s a mishmash of styles that never seems like it’s about to collapse – the Dutch group have collected everything they admire about electronica and make it their own. Noisia are not afraid to take some risks, and Split the Atom promises to be the first in a long line of relentless, heart-stopping party starters.

4.

The Walkmen – Lisbon

Fat Possum

Released: September 14

“I am a good man by any count / and I see better things to come” Hamilton Leithauser sings on opener “Juveniles,” and if there’s a better mission statement for Lisbon I haven’t found it. This is the sound of the Walkmen settling into a sweet spot, building on the rich palette of sounds they cooked up on 2008’s You & Me and imbuing it with a sense of warmth and a pleasant glow that pervades all the material here and lies in stark contrast to the band’s earlier material, which was as fiery and tense as their hometown of New York City. The National might get all the hype for being the next great American rock band, but the Walkmen would have something to say about that.

3.

The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

Dead Oceans

Released: April 13

With a voice that only a Billy Corgan could love (at least at first), Sweden’s Kristian Matsson’s sophomore record was an unlikely album of the year contender. Built almost entirely on whispery guitar licks and Matsson’s screechy vocals was a complicated web of melodies and deeply personal lyrics. The Wild Hunt is a triumph not because it polishes everything that made Shallow Grave great but because of the mood it sets. From “You’re Going Back” to “Trouble Will Be Gone” to, most noticeably, “King of Spain,” The Wild Hunt is an unbridled expression of joy, made all the more powerful by its sparse instrumentation and Matsson’s cheerfully abrasive vocals.

2.

Jonsi – Go

XL Recordings

Released: April 6

What I love about Go is it’s like Jonsi took all those nine-minute-plus Hopelandic epics and compressed them into the perfect four-minute pop song. Like Jonsi himself, everything about Go screams outsized; from Nico Muhly’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production to the hooks, which scream rainbows and unicorns and sweet, sweet honey. But it’s Jonsi and his angelic voice that really holds everything together, connecting on an almost primal level as its own instrument of unadulterated happiness. Go is a transparent record in its gaiety, with no hidden meanings or any subtext beyond a celebration of life. That’s what makes it great.

1.

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

4AD Records

Released: September 28

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Halcyon Digest was just how warm everything sounded. Whereas Bradford Cox and company’s earlier work tended to be unwieldy messes of noise thrown loosely under the shoegaze label, Halcyon Digest continued what 2008’s Microcastle begun: transforming Deerhunter into a full-fledged rock band, feet firmly planted in pop territory and beckoning us to just relax and enjoy. When I first heard “Revival” I was astonished at just how straightforward everything was, how easy it was to connect to a band I previously had regarded as somewhat cold. But things aren’t just direct; there’s a depth to these songs that, coming from Cox, is not much of a surprise, but makes Halcyon Digest something more than just a really good rock album.

Songs like the self-destructing “Desire Lines” and the gorgeous dream of “Helicopter” seem like the new classic rock, all substance and style without a tipping of the scales one way or the other. “Coronado” is the best Strokes song since Is This It. “He Would Have Laughed” might be the most tragic song of the year, but it’s spindly buildup and cathartic ending seem positively joyful. Halcyon Digest is a record that seems destined to stand the test of time, constructed as it is out of the timeless building blocks of music: guitar, bass, vocals and drums, all done so effortlessly that it’s hard to believe Deerhunter have been doing this for years. In a way, of course, they have, but never so refined, so at ease. For Cox, someone who’s constantly fidgeting around with demos and side projects, hearing him buckle down and produce a whole album’s worth of immediately arresting music is a relief. Halcyon Digest is Deerhunter’s most deft accomplishment yet, and they’ve done it not with bells or whistles or 20-minute-plus compositions but by writing perfect rock ‘n roll, pure and simple.

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