This is the last of my lists, hand on my heart. My favourite albums of the year, which sadly barely covers the number of amazing records my ears have had the pleasure of hearing. Let us begin…
10. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Gorillaz transformed this year from being a cartoon band to a full fledged live experience, and Plastic Beach was the perfect record for this to occur. Drenched with star cameos, it was a concept album that became so much more. Musically diverse, with brass ensembles and Syrian orchestras to spare, it should have been a sprawling mess of a record. Yet somehow, be it under the steady hand of Damon Albarn and the conjoined vision of Jamie Hewlett, or the existence of a real Gorillaz band with Paul Simonon and Mick Jones on board, it produced some of the most beautiful pop music of the year, with tongue in cheek imagery to match.
Must listen: On Melancholy Hill, Some Kind Of Nature, To Binge, Rhinestone Eyes
9. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
The title says so much alone. The end of LCD as a live band; the end of James Murphy’s marriage that lended itself so beautifully to the previous Sound Of Silver record, a lot is happening with LCD Soundsystem. This, their so called final record, is a different beast to the 2007 showstopper, it’s practically muted in comparison. But there’s heart to be found in the lyrics that shed light so cautiously on a man falling apart in songs like I Can Change and Home. You can even accept the cheap novelty of Drunk Girls and groove gently in your bedroom to their synth imaginarium.
Must listen: I Can Change, You Wanted A Hit, Pow Pow, All I Want
8. Four Tet – There Is Love In You
Four Tet, aka Kieran Hebden, gets compared to a lot of people. A lot of whom are in fact his contemporaries, like Dan Snaith of Caribou and Manitoba fame. Both released impeccable electronic music records this year, and There Is Love In You is teaming with siren songs, clever nuances, shrugs and scratches that appear so very simple but hide monumental complexities. The disembodied, contorted voice that spreads itself across many of the tracks traces the humanity the title of the record sheds light on. The feeling conjured is somewhere between hollowness and wholeness.
Must listen: Angel Echoes, Love Cry, Sing
7. Caribou – Swim
The opening beats of Odessa are enough to get you hooked on Swim. It’s house music without the irritatingly mundane lyrics or repetitive tricks. Dan Snaith makes music that can be performed by a band just as easily as it can be reconstructed with electronics, and it’s even more evident on this record where sounds are bigger, complexly weaving percussive instruments with voice. There are sonic surprises dotted throughout songs, a stray harp or sharp cowbell clang. It never ceases to amaze me how Snaith took what he was hearing in his head and put it on record, and this is what came out.
Must listen: Odessa, Kaili, Bowls
6. Warpaint – The Fool
Imagine having your heart crushed. Perhaps you don’t need to imagine – Emily Kokal clearly doesn’t. She wrote The Fool instead. It’s lyrically crushing but musically hypnotic, and the best part is, it doesn’t fade into whispery, breathy oblivion. There’s strength in lines like ‘Don’t you call anyone else baby, ‘cause I’m your baby still’, but read a little deeper and it delivers a pang of pain into your heart. This is the album you can cry to; it can console and empower in equal measure.
Must listen: Undertow, Baby, Lissie’s Heart Murmur, Majesty
5. Mark Ronson & The Business Intl – Record Collection
Mark Ronson is the man from the 60s, born in the 70s, making music that sounds like the 80s. The jack of all trades pulled together an astounding number of collaborators straight from the decade and all over indie-town to create an undeniably fun record. From the steadfast vocal support of longtime partner in crime Alex Greenwald, to the signature tones of one Simon Le Bon, it’s been a while since someone made such an unashamedly entertaining pop record. Add to that one of the year’s finest songs with Somebody To Love as Boy George croons ‘I want somebody nice, see the boy I once was in my eyes’, it feels like a homecoming for some and a shot through the stratosphere for Ronson.
Must listen: Somebody To Love, Record Collection, Last Night, The Bike Song
4. Kyu – Kyu
Sydney experimental pop duo Kyu really came out firing on all cylinders. They’ve seemingly won every competition that has come their way, supported international bands like Yeasayer and Xiu Xiu, and then created this masterful electronic pop record. Forget the silly umlaut, forget any face painting costume gimmicks, the music speaks for itself. The gorgeous harmonies conjured by Freya Berkhout and Alyx Dennison are otherworldly and it’s the blissful union of vocals, classical training and enough world influences to make it just that little bit different, that can lead to the claim that Kyu are one of the best bands out of our town yet.
Must listen: Pixophony, Sunny In Splodges, Sistar
3. Menomena – Mines
Menomena are totally underestimated by listeners. Mines is undoubtedly one of the finest records released this year, but you’ll be hardpressed to find it at the top of many lists. Maybe it’s because Menomena seem like a musician’s band, a little geeky even, with their ridiculous multi instrumental talents scoring song after song. Mines isn’t an easy first listen but if you like a sonic challenge with a splash of lyrical metaphor, you will find it with Mines. They leap from psychedelic rock to straight out cock rock in a song, with intimate portraits painted from childhood through to lewd adulthood.
Must listen: TAOS, Killemall, Dirty Cartoons, Tithe, Five Little Rooms
2. The National – High Violet
What can I say about this record that hasn’t already been said? I’ll give you my honest experience with it. I had no interest in The National before this year. I ignored the hubbub surrounding this record for a month or so, before I heard Bloodbuzz Ohio. Then I bought the album. And didn’t listen to any other song except the aforementioned. Yet somehow, and I still don’t remember how, I ended up obsessing over this record. Multiple listens don’t fade the lyrical impact, the bourbon smoothness of Matt Berninger’s voice or the beautifully tempered music that never overpowers or lies still. You don’t even need to understand the lyrics, if you have felt anything for anyone ever, High Violet will make sense to you. And you will cry with it, sing with it, yell with it. It will be your record.
Must listen: Anyone’s Ghost, Little Faith, Bloodbuzz Ohio, Conversation 16
1. Foals – Total Life Forever
Oh Foals, none of us expected this from you. So vibrantly brilliant, perfect in its entirety or singularly, the songs that make Total Life Forever take up all aspects of the spectrum. Depending on your mood this record can be uplifiting, emotionally resonant or a draining reflection of your own sadness. The jagged guitars, cleverly placed echoes, timidly racing bass, it all colours the canvas so magnificently. Yannis Philipakis’ voice is so much braver and stronger than in their previous work, it flits from falsettos to depths unknown to express his words that are marred in metaphor but completely relatable. Is he in love? Is he mourning the loss of someone? Is it about more than a person, is it about our world, our colossal universe? Does it even matter when there is a song like Spanish Sahara.
Must listen: Spanish Sahara, Blue Blood, Total Life Forever, What Remains, 2 Trees, After Glow – THE WHOLE DAMN ALBUM.