What is the best?
I usually try to get my list out before the experts but his year I could not chose a top album. I kept going back and forth on what I mean when I say the best. Am I talking about purely qualitatively or simply what I enjoy the most. Should my "best of" or favorite album of the year be the one I listen to the most. If that is the case, it would have to be Thao and the Get Down Stay Down's A Man Alive or maybe Car Seat Headrest's Teens of Denial. On the other hand, should I consider what I believe I will still be wowed by in 5, 10, 20 years. On a qualitative, how will it stand the test of time level, the award goes to Nick Cave's The Skeleton Tree.
The year my favorite musicians made great albums
I've been a fan of Nick Cave since the 1980s Birthday Party days. I find him very compelling and his bands are amazing whether its the rauchous power of Junkyard, the off-kilter country-blues of First Born is Dead or any more straighthead rock of Let Love In. My big issue with Nick Cave is the glorified, gratuitous violence and since this is such a big part of his ouvre, you wouldn't think I could actually like his work. The Skeleton Tree is quite simply the best thing he has ever done. There are no "six inch gold blade" murder ballads that may make for a good story but have nothing to do with the world I live in. The songs are raw and deal with real everyday feeling in a sort of Nick Cave kind of way.
I spent most of the Friday and Saturday after David Bowie's Blackstar came out listening to and raving about the album only to wake up on Sunday to the news of his passing. Suddenly, the intense video for the title cut made sense. I still play this one a lot.
Brain Eno's The Ship was an unexpected "vocal" album. The title cut is wonderful and the cover of Velvet's classic, I'm Set Free is an odd but ultimately satisfying version.
I can't stop listening to A Man Alive from Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. Produced by Merle Grabus, this is full of great writing and the same varied pallette Nicki Nack and like the Tune Yards album, the pieces all fall together beautifully.
Car Seat Headrest turns in the best straight up rock album. I generally like the more meadering songs which seem to point to a Steven Malkmus influence.
Bon Iver's bizzare new album is also very compelling. Filled with three things I typically hate (Autotune, glitchy electronics and falsetto), I still love this album. I think there is something about Justin Vernon that fits my aesthetics perfectly.
I am fascinated with two remix albums from very unlikely sources- Michael Gordon's piece for 2 x 4s, Timber and Max Richter's 8 hour musical ambien, Sleep. The original works are great but these remixes have are worth the effort.
New To Me
Emma Ruth Rundle! Wow I was knocked out by her album Marked for Death. It is dark but there is some glimmers of hope in their. She is an interesting guitarist and luckily I found she has an instrumental album for those times I don't want the weight of lyrics.
Hard to Classify Albums
Do we call Henry Threadgill's Old Locks and Irregular Vebs jazz? Is Nels Cline's Lovers straight ahead jazz? Both these guys have lived on the margins but flirted with mainstream enough to get some attention. Sure, Nels Cline is in Wilco now.
I'm in love with the first song of Nico Muhly/Teitur's Confessions. Its a song about trying to describe someone and goes off on tangents that these types of mundane discussions often do.
Tim Hecker's Love Streams adds vocals into his rich sonic mix. As a working electronic musician, I will say Hecker is the bomb. I don't know how he can be so consistantly great.
The debut but the French group Bonjour is deceptively breezy but there is some great minimalism going on.
Are These Classical?
The Kronos Quartet's repackaging of their Terry Riley recordings Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector is worth mentioning because it includes a number of excellent new recording too
David Lang's The National Anthems is beautiful take on the idea of national anthems which seems especially poignant these days
Maya Bieser's TranceClassical merges "traditional' classical with works by contemporary composers and some deep delta blues.
A Moon Shape Pool suffers from sounding like the Radiohead album people think they want. Like Hail to the Thief, it pulls together the more straightofrward aspects of what they had been doing to make a solid album most bands would kill to be able to make. Unfortunately, Radiohead is at their best when they surprise us (Kid A, In Rainbows). That said, this is still really, really good and this version of True Love Waits is...well, I don't even have the right words.
Good Albums That Suffer From Just Not Being as Good as Their Others
A lot of bands released good solid albums this year that I just don't find myself listening to because, if i am going to listen to them, I'm going to put on one of their older albums. These include: Patch the Sky (Bob Mould), Will (Julianna Barwick), Human Performance (Parquet Court), The Wilderness (Explosions in the Sky), Interventions (Horse Lords), The Glowing Man (Swans), Kamikaze (So So Glos), Pretty Years (Cymbals Eat Guitars) and False Readings On (Eluvium).