Here are ten of the best records I heard this year, in no particular order
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Man, I loved last year’s Wye Oak album and needed more this year. Luckily, Sharon Van Etten came through this year. Similarly to Wye Oak, Van Etten seemed to come from nowhere to unleash a haunting rock record that grips you from start to finish. It didn’t hurt that half of Brooklyn collaborated it behind the scenes or in the margins to help Van Etten deliver a punch to the gut. Still, it’s defining moment for a musician I hope to hear more from in the coming years.
The Walkmen – Heaven
Nothing new here. The Walkmen release a record and I love it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their records are always this good. Somehow a band known for songs about going out and drinking have eventually written one of the best albums about adulthood, having children and all that. There’s a simplicity to The Walkmen formula that allows them to adjust to their current living conditions. These are just working stiffs trying to put some food on the table and clothes on the backs of their children. I can get behind that.
Titus Andronicus – Local Business
I’m not gonna lie. I really didn’t care for this record upon the first listen. I was having buyer’s remorse as I listened to it stream on Spotify, knowing that the new local record shop was holding a copy for me. Then, I gave it another try as the record popped up on several year-end lists. It’s really a fantastic record as Titus Andronicus does what every New Jersey band does eventually: they all turn into Bruce Springsteen. There’s nothing wrong with this of course. It’s just a fact.
Cat Power – Sun
Yes, this has been a shitty year for Chan Marshall. However, that may mean she’ll have to put out more records and tour whenever she can scrounge up the dough and good health to hit the road. Cat Power has evolved from record to record. Now, after some faux-bravado, one gets the sense that Marshall is becoming comfortable with her station in life, embracing her demons, health issues, and apparent financial stresses in making what is maybe her most honest record in years.
Believers – Believers EP
Someone will surely give me a hard time for praising Believers again, but the praise is legit. Although this EP feels somewhat incomplete, it brings with it the promise of great things to come. I fully suspect several of these tracks will reappear – possibly re-recorded/remastered – on an LP via some high-profile indie label.
Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Honestly, this would be my record of the year. It’s a bit more uneven than 2009’s Post-Nothing but it still contains that raw energy that only Japandroids can bring without an ounce of irony. This band makes me want to hit the bars and dance all night before the reality of my middle-class-mortgaged-parenthood comes crashing down on my fantasies. Still, it’s nice to dream/reminisce once in a while.
Best Coast – The Only Place
On one hand, I don’t know why I like this band. On the other, I don’t know why I ask the first question. Like Japandroids, Best Coast has found a recipe that works. Unlike the “live like there’s no tomorrow” message in a Japandroids’ song, Best Coast wears their California lovin’ on their collective sleeves. I appreciate this love for one’s home state. Like Jenny Lewis and The Eagles, Best Coast won’t let you forget where they’re from and they’ll make you want to live there as well.
Dinosaur Jr – I Bet on Sky
How is it that Dinosaur Jr. is writing and recording better music after they’ve reunited? Maybe it’s that Lou Barlow has been allowed to come into his own. Maybe it’s because J Mascis has mellowed his ego. Whatever it is, I hope they never stop making loud records.
Hospitality – Hospitality
Last year, it was Eleanor Friedberger. This year, it’s Hospitality. Last year’s Friedberger joint Last Summer had me longing for some straight girl pop rock from the City. Hospitality filled that void admirably. And when you close your eyes, you think it’s Belle and Sebastian.
Dirty Projectors –Swing Lo Magellan
I really expected a letdown from Dirty Projectors, but this record – more straightforward than previous efforts – did not disappoint. I knew this as soon as I dropped the needle to reveal the opening track.
Discovered too late to form a proper assessment, but they’re pretty great: Tame Impala, Diiv, Grizzly Bear, Metz
Overall, this year wasn’t nearly as inspiring as last year’s onslaught of great records. However, most of these would rank among last year’s best. So, take that for what it’s worth, which is basically nothing.
1Ranking art just seems to be so archaic, so overdone. So, I will refrain from it this year. Instead, I’ll just tell you about ten records I liked.
2Meaning that, like Wye Oak, she hadn’t released anything of note until this latest album which is great.
3In Cat Power years, that’s maybe two records a decade.
4Let’s face it, every EP feels imcomplete. They are akin to the 20-minute set. You get a taste of the very best, maybe with one stinker. Just when you’re into it, it’s over.
I don’t know whether I read it or saw it, but Kurt Cobain once referred to the popular rock music of his time as “beer and lifestyle music”. You know, music that wasn’t serious. Bands focused on getting wasted and doing lots of chicks1. It was about fun. No one needed a serious REM or U2 to ruin the enjoyment.
That was so long ago that music has come full circle. Beer and lifestyle music is OK in serious music circles. This happened years ago, but it’s not always done well. Jon Spencer did it well for one, maybe two albums2. Bob Pollard practically made a career out of music for beer drinking. Beer and lifestyle music has come a long way since the days when Kurt Cobain despised it.
Enter Japandroids. They write serious songs about beer and lifestyle3.
I loved, loved their full-length debut, Post-Nothing. The unbridled exuberance of youth of this record is completely captivating. They make me believe again. Japandroids make me want to mosh and throw half-empties at bands again4. The music has that effect on people.
So, tonight, I saw this twosome that sounds like a five-some play a local club.
They went bat-shit-crazy. There was a mosh pit. A mosh pit.
I was so giddy, I bought my third choice of t-shirt and a 7″ I never intended on purchasing.
So, if by some chance you have the opportunity to see a Japandroids5 show, do it. And don’t do it for me. Do it for you.
1This has not changed and probably never will. The point is more that bands wrote songs about this shit. It was pretty shallow stuff, really.
2Mo Width was great, but I haven’t listened to it in years due to a cassette dub that was lost to my car stereo years ago. Orange is a classic forever.
3Or I’ve fallen for their trap of making me feel young again.
4I moshed at one time, but I never threw a half-empty.
5I never did get back to beer and lifestyle music, did I? Basically, Japandroids make it seem cool for the first time ever. I think I need to address this issue in a future post.