It’s that time of year, not only for sugar cookies and eggnog, but when all music fans (large and small) weigh in on their favorite albums of the year.
I compiled a pretty serious list last year and really enjoyed reminiscing about the albums that grabbed me for obvious reasons (see #1) and others that surprised me (see #7).
Here we go.
1) The Horrible Crowes - Elsie
This should come as no surprise. Brian Fallon is one of the great songwriters of our generation and his first side-project since starting Gaslight Anthem is an absolute home run. He explores the dark side of soul music and mixes in a Tom Waits-esque growl to supreme effect.
2) Tom Waits - Bad As Me
The first new collection of Tom Wait’s songs in seven years, this one had fans salivating from the first mention of its inception. Waits absolutely KILLS IT, with slow, sombre crooners (“Last Leaf”) and barroom stompers (“Hell Broke Luce”). The beauty of Waits is how much his music has to give. It’s a banquet. I’ll be listening to his records for the rest of my life.
3) Sun Wizard - Positively 4th Avenue
I had the pleasure of interviewing Malcolm Jack and James Younger earlier this year for Discorder. I have since listened to this album dozens of times, espcially over the summer months. When it’s a warm, ass-kicking beautiful day in Vancouver, this is the album you want. Both Jack and Younger have terrific voices and the country-hazy-rock-and-roll of Sun Wizard keeps me coming back for more. I can’t wait to hear what these guys put out next.
4) Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See
I’ve been an Arctic Monkeys fan since they whiplashed the world with “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor”, but I felt somewhat guilty about it as I got older. As if they lacked a certain “badass” factor, like admitting you’re still an Underoath fan. Fuck that. I love this band and this album cemented everything they did well on their first two albums. Drum-tight songs with killer hooks. Alex Turner is funny as hell, rare to see so much wit and humour executed so damn well. They were great live, too.
5) Bry Webb - Provider
My brother and I have been waiting for this album for years. Every since we first heard Bry Webb’s solo work as Harbourcoats and his work on the soundtrack for This Beautiful City, we’ve been waiting. And waiting. Waiting for this album to drop. It’s everything you could want and exactly what you should expect. This album is the sonic equivalent to hiking outside Dawson City, watching the sun go down in a blaze behind the red hills and washing your feet in the river.
6) The High Drops - s/t
I heard the High Drops play the Biltmore this past February and it was one of the rare occasions where the band was so good they arrested my attention away from the beer and girl I was with. When they started playing “Dying On the Vine”, I lost my shit. After needling my editor to feature them, I interviewed three of the members this fall for Discorder. Their five song ep is a surreal blend of garage-rock and hazy guitar riffs. You can download the whole EP for free (no cost and no guilt).
7) The Horrors - Skying
I have to give credit to Jordan Eshpeter for turning me onto Skying and The Vaccines this year, among others. I was a Horrors fan for a long time as a younger man, when I read about this weird English band who appeared to be Edward Gorey illustrations come to life. They were nuts back in the day, spastic-organ-punk. They were okay before, but on their last two albums, they reinvented themselves to great success. Skying takes the shoegaze elements of Primary Colours and expands them into a whole soundscape. This album just works. Enjoy it with a cup of coffee first thing in the morning or just before you hit the streets.
8) The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From The Vaccines
This album has only been in my playlist for the last couple months, but it’s a gem. Killer pop-songs that draw from the best elements of the Beach Boys, Temptations and British Invasion. I mean, they are British Invasion. I actually heard these guys on the radio the first time. How often do you break your cherry with a band listening to the radio these days?
9) David Bazan - Strange Negotiations
David Bazan. He’s been a big part of my musical life, from Pedro the Lion (one of my first CD purchases) to his struggles with faith on his last LP Curse Your Branches. His latest effort was not my favorite album he’s released, but it is excellent nonetheless. Andy Whitman from Paste describes Bazan’s style well: “His beliefs may have changed, but his songwriting has always featured a remarkable honesty, a discomforting vulnerability that is equal parts hard-won wisdom and self-loathing…Strange Negotiations is a messy album chronicling a messy life. The conflict is still very much in process, superbly illuminated by wry observations, stellar writing, and raw rock ‘n’ roll.”
10) The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh
The last slot was tough to fill, mainly because there were a great many albums I enjoyed this year but….do they get slotted into the top ten? I was torn between Chuck Ragan and The Low Anthem. TLA won out because I’ve spun Smart Flesh more often. This band is bleak and dusty, perfect for road trips across America and truck-stop diner jukeboxes.
Chuck Ragan - Covering Ground
Dirty Beaches - Badlands
The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
Miracle Fortress - Was I the Wave?
Braids - Native Speaker
Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra
In Medias Res - It Was Warm and Sunny When We First Set Out
The Weeknd - House of Ballons