Top 20 time, with a couple of radical Scandinavians, some burning garage rock, some glittering cold post-punk, and a stunning ambient debut. Did I mention that you should buy my book? Did I mention that you can get it right here and it only costs $3?
#20: The Knife – “Shaking The Habitual”
Silent Shout was a glittering example of how effecting pop could be forged out of Eurotrance cheese. Shaking The Habitual is an example of how to advance social justice through pure dark noise. Less a darkwave/pop album than it is a black ambient record, the Foucault-referencing, hyper-radical tracks found on here seem at times to eat light. The perfect soundtrack for when your radical gender studies study group starts to get druggy.
#19: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Push The Sky Away”
If Dig Lazarus Dig!!! was the raucous, garage-blasting record that rejuvenated the Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away is the contemplative record that digs through the ashes of that barnburner and finds peace, serenity, and further reasons to remain unsettled. There is a core of strength at the heart of all of these songs that sustains the listeners for long after the last notes of the hymn-like title track fade out.
#18: Oblivians – “Desperation”
Sixteen years after their last record, the legendary Memphis garage punks have put out an album that sounds like a direct evolution of the point that they left off at. The band slashes along with more verve and energy than a thousand younger bands. It’s funny, though, in an existential way, that the band couldn’t drop this album until well after the death of super-fan Jay Reatard; it sounds pretty much like an album that late juggernaut would have recorded, had he matured slightly before killing himself with coke.
#17: Savages – “Silence Yourself”
The hot buzz band to watch for the year, Savages take a, uh, savage look at the modern rock scene and ask you to despair. They then cobble together a mix of post-punk, electro-pop, and krautrock and ask you to drink of it. When you complain, meekly, that it tastes bitter, they tell you that the taste is merely your own tears. And you weep again.
#16: Var – “No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers”
The Copenhagen band does pretty much everything I just said about Savages, but does it slightly better. Also, can I take a moment here to express my undying love for whomever designs the LP covers for Sacred Bones? The unity of design makes me want to die of sheer happiness.
#15: Thee Oh Sees – “Floating Coffin”
The veteran garage band rolls on, crafting an album that is at once heavier and more cohesive than anything that they’ve released before. Don’t be fooled, though: the San Fransisco band still throws out moments of sheer psychedelic bliss , a skill with which they have no equal today.
#14: Kurt Vile – “Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze”
Kurt Vile makes gorgeous, sprawled-out stoner pop seem absolutely effortless. Even when the tracks stretch to the nine minute mark (as on the opener, for example) they don’t lose their way; the maintenance of cohesion is nothing short of amazing.
#13: Grouper – “The Man Who Died In His Boat”
Liz Harris’ newest album is, at it’s heart, merely tracks that were recorded during the sessions for 2008’s Dragging A Dead Deer Up The Hill. The trick, however, is that the album never once sounds like a collection of cast-offs or b-sides; it is a strong, shimmering, beautiful collection all on its own.
#12: Pissed Jeans – “Honeys”
Honeys is a motherfucker of an album, in a way that their previous effort, King Of Jeans, came close to but never quite achieved. I first caught this band on a Sub Pop sampler in 2009, and Honeys fulfills the sheer weight of smashing ambition that leapt out of that disc and tried to strangle me. Not for the faint of heart, or for anyone who dislikes crushingly heavy hardcore riffs.
#11: Jon Hopkins – “Immunity”
My wife keeps asking me why I’m listening to house music. Like the terrible music snob I am, I have to tell her two things: first, it’s ambient electronic, and second, it’s jaw-dropping. Jon Hopkins has been kicking around for a while; he’s collaborated with Imogen Heap, hooked up with Brian Eno, co-produced Viva La Vida (Or Death And All His Friends), and most recently teamed up with Scottish singer-songwriter King Creosote for 2010’s diamond-in-the-rough Diamond Mine, which is where he first caught my attention. Immunity is possibly the best ambient album released in a decade, without hyperbole. I literally cannot stop listening to it. Someone help me. Please?