No surprises, really, after I had already highlighted the 5 strongest contenders, but here they are in order, with cover art and brief reviews. And of course, links to buy. Ka-ching!
#5: Flight of the Knife
Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears
Buy Now from Amazon MP3
This is probably the most obscure of the five albums in this year’s list, which comes as no surprise to me. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth a listen. I discovered the album when iTunes was featuring it for $5 and I figured, why not?
Musically, it’s an odd mix of bits and pieces of Queen, David Bowie, Yes, Ben Folds and more, both old and new, and yet it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard. This concept album is as over-the-top as can be, and then some. But every moment of it is enjoyable, amusing, rocking, and a bit self-mocking. Apparently the band’s live show is equally overblown, in a good way, with elaborate costumes and theatrics.
Probably more entitled to the name “The Mooney Suzuki” than the band that actually goes by that name, this band’s Can influence is apparent and strong, yet they forge their own unique sound in a minimalist electronica/rock style.
The lead-off track, “Knickerbocker,” sounds the most like Can, and more problematically, nearly identical to “Ankle Injuries,” the lead-off track from their previous album, 2006’s Transparent Things. but after the opener things go in a different, but equally interesting, direction.
If you’re not already into them, I recommend this album for (if nothing else) the best finger-snapping performance ever committed to record (“Pickpocket”).
This one’s getting a lot of “best album of the year” hype. Well, from everyone except Pitchfork, but they’re pretentious douches anyway. (Oh snap! I went there! And I even listen to stuff like this.) Exhibit A: Their top 50 of the year features not one but two bands that have “Fuck” in their name. Oh, tee-hee, aren’t we rebellious and unconventional? We’ll bestow pointless accolades on bands that, by their very names, have declared total disinterest in such publicity. But I digress, even if it was worth it to rip on Pitchfork. Now where was I?
Oh yeah, My Morning Jacket has delivered a great album that I have enjoyed listening to in its entirety numerous times over the past few months, after I finally overcame my apprehension, based (regrettably) on Pitchfork’s review, and listened to the album my own damn self.
With a title like this, the John Hughes-esque high school archetypes on the cover, and the vintage early ’80s sound throughout, you’d think M83 had grown up in the age of Atari, but the number in the “band” name refers (as I understand it) to this solo artist’s year of birth.
“Kim and Jessie” is the breakout (get it?) hit here, and you might be inclined to expect the rest of the album to sound the same, but you’d be wrong. That was a bit disappointing to me at first, but I quickly grew to love the synth-heavy, neo-New Wave sounds throughout.
The dense, brooding 4-minute jam that opens the extended version of the hit single from this album, “I Will Possess Your Heart,” is my favorite musical moment of the year. (Even better than the hoedown jam in the opening track of Evil Urges.) But this album doesn’t get first place just for featuring a cool 8-minute jam track about a stalker (told from the stalker’s perspective). Everything about this album is great. The music’s great, the lyrics are great (especially “Your New Twin Sized Bed”), the flow from track to track is brilliant, it’s just a 100% enjoyable album from beginning to end, and like a satisfying meal at a good restaurant, you feel good about enjoying it. (As opposed to the bag of Doritos and White Castle sliders you metaphorically consume with every listening to certain albums.) I have no reservations whatsoever in hailing Narrow Stairs as my album of the year.
Best Album I Haven’t Actually Heard
TV on the Radio: Dear Science As the heading reveals, I haven’t actually heard this album, but I’ve meant to. And everyone else seems to think it’s the best album in, like, forever. Totally.
Best Mainstream Pop Album
Coldplay: Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends I don’t know why I’m always compelled to write out the full title, since no one else seems to do so (or even necessarily know it). Perhaps the full title and its usual truncation is part of the reason I can’t give this album more than honorable mention.
Best Musician’s Musician Album
Joe Satriani: Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock What was that I was saying about album titles? Oh yeah. Well aside from the fact that his greatest fame has probably come from the Coldplay lawsuit, I do think this is one of Satch’s best albums ever, which is to say that the soaring-melodies-and-shredding-guitar-to-cringe-inducing-cheez ratio is much higher than usual. And he doesn’t sing at all (well, not really). But his appeal is too narrow, his music more craft than art, for me to put him in a top 5 list.