5. Cut Copy, Zonoscope
Picking my number five was my hardest choice because I could have put a lot of albums here. This is my favorite five- not a “best of”- so I chose to settle the score with total play count, and none of my honorable mentions came close to Aussie indie/dance band Cut Copy. I’ve never been to Oz, but if this album is any indicator of what life is like down under, it must be one huge dance party. From the infectious slow build into full out boogie of “Need You Now” to the Beach Boys-esque sing-along “When I’m Going”, this was the album most likely to get me bopping.
4. The Antlers- Burst Apart
The Antlers are the perfect indie band. They have clever lyrics, angst-y vocals that aren’t whiney, perfectly mussed sideways hair, and- most importantly- incredible jams. It rare to hear guitars and synths work so harmoniously such that neither takes center stage nor disappears in the background. Thrown together with a solid rhythm section, The Antlers have perfected the sound long sought by the skinny jean wearing community.
My personal favorite track on the album is “Putting the Dog to Sleep”. I tried to convince my fiancée that it should be our first dance at our wedding, but somehow she didn’t find the line “My trust in you is a dog with a broken leg” as romantic as I did.
3. James Blake, James Blake
Dub step is one of those things that I pretended to like in order to be cool, but I don’t think I actually enjoyed it until I heard James Blake. With Blake’s soulful vocals, thoughtful song writing, and immaculate production, it’s hard not to like. Blake somehow has the audacity to call a song “The Wilhelm Scream” without so much as a sample of its namesake and enough main stream appeal to cover Feist. In all, Blake’s self-titled debut is an incredibly mature album. I expect great things to come.
2. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues
I bought this album without having heard a track. When I first played “Montezuma” and heard Robin Pecknold croon “So now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me.” I was floored. Much like Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs called the entire American middle class into question last year, Fleet Foxes has written a startling polemic, only this time the finger is pointed at the mirror. But between the Yeats allusions and agrarian imagery, there’s also an incredibly listenable folk/americana album. It’s hard to be catchy and deep at the same time, but Fleet Foxes does it, and does it well.
1. Bon Iver- Bon Iver
When I saw Bon Iver play in Louisville in support of For Emma, Forever Ago I was a little disappointed. I went expecting to see a grizzled mountain man pour out his cryptically vague heart over a furiously strummed acoustic guitar. With the exception of “Skinny Love”, Justin Vernon and company oscillated between a proggy experimental sort of sound and an 1980s soft rock cover band. It wasn’t the direction I wanted Bon Iver to go, but after listening to their self titled second album, I sure am glad they did.
Other than Vernon’s haunting falsetto, the greatest continuity between For Emma and Bon Iver is the elusive, fragmented lyrics. Vernon doesn’t tell stories so much as shares snapshots, like pictures from a stranger’s photo album. The listener is left to construct her own narrative, or to just embrace the ambiguity and get caught up in the sound.
Sonically the the album shifts in and out of reality. From the ethereal pads on “Calgary” to the coked-out sax of “Minnesota, WI” or the chorus-drenched vintage keys on “Beth/Rest”, the album sounds like a half-forgotten dream. Stand out track “Holocene” is practically a transcendental experience. When Vernon sings “And at once I knew I was not magnificent”, it’s not false humility but an emotive response to to the majestic. For Vernon it’s the sprawling landscape, for the listener the seraphic sound the he’s created.
Hands down, Bon Iver is my album of the year.
M83 – Hurry Up We’re All Dreaming
Son Lux – We Are Rising
Beirut – The Rip Tide