This is the sixth list of its kind that I’ve put together on Culture Bully, counting down the top albums of the year. Something that I’ve noticed along the way however is that the term “top” or “best” (or whatever) has apparently come to take on an entirely different definition nearly every year since starting out. Some years the list has merely showcased “what I’m listening to right now” and others it has represented the music that I’ve simply enjoyed to the most. You can throw much of the ranking process here out the window as it’s mostly arbitrary… there’s no way I can definitively say that I like Grinderman’s newest effort any less than I enjoy Neil Young’s, but the numbers are there to help assist if ever a Sophie’s Choice scenario should arise: If I have to pick between the two, the rankings represent which I’d keep. Let’s just hope it never comes to that. The list this year is simply a countdown of my personal favorites, largely based on which albums I’ve listened to and enjoyed the most during the past 12 months. Hope there’s something here we can agree on.
#22) Grinderman Grinderman 2
Be it the progressive moan of “Worm Tamer,” the downright sinister “Heathen Child,” the relentless “Evil,” or the twisting organ of “Bellringer Blues,” Grinderman 2 is emphatic answer to the question of whether or not Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos had anything left in the tank: Goddamn right they do.
#21) Belle and Sebastian Write About Love
An exemplary album that, with its effortless melodies and tracklist infested with earworms just waiting to unleash their infectiousness, is criminally easy to overlook.
#20) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Mojo
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have now released an album in five decades. FIVE! If that’s not impressive in and of itself, listen to the way the band sounds rejuvenated with Mojo, playing a dirty blues-inspired rock that is largely unheard throughout the Heartbreakers’ catalog. Unlike many groups of their same vintage, the band is seemingly as relevant now as they’ve ever been.
#19) Neil Young Le Noise
Could’ve been Daniel Lanois’ direction, could’ve been the return to performing solo; but whatever it was, I hope Neil Young is able to keep on creating music of this quality for many years to come. Does anyone abuse fuzz as well as Neil Young does?
#18) Johnny Cash American VI: Ain’t No Grave
Johnny Cash recorded the songs and Rick Rubin gave them life. I can’t think of an album that is as equally foreboding and haunting as it is enthusiastic and celebratory.
#17) Arcade Fire The Suburbs
Win Butler might not be the next-generation Springsteen that he’s made out to be, but it’s still difficult to argue that the success surrounding the band’s breakthrough release is unwarranted. The Suburbs is simply a tremendous album.
#16) Janelle Monáe The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)
Such names as Kanye and Big Boi have called Monáe one of the most unique and talents creating music right now. Considering that The ArchAndroid is merely the first full length from the eye-catching 25 year old, it’s going to be interesting to follow the singer as she continues to find her place amongst the pop music landscape.
#15) Hank Williams III Rebel Within
Back story about the notorious conflict between Williams and his (now former) label aside, with Rebel III has created a recording that lyrically touches on uncharacteristic topics such as gut-check introspection and the terrifying nature of mortality. This isn’t to say that Hank’s gone soft—it’s still full of rowdy-as-fuck hellbilly drinking anthems—but it just goes to show that there’s a little more to the man than the surface might suggest.
#14) The Black Keys Brothers
So much could be said about how Brothers is THE album that put the Black Keys “on the map,” but it’s only the latest in a string of fantastic recordings that have each helped the band broaden their fan base. Longtime fans might shrug off the accolades, noting how the album isn’t their “best” to date, but it’s definitely powerful enough to deserve the reaction it’s received this year.
#13) Lil Wayne I Am Not a Human Being
If Human Being is the result of a hastily produced marathon session, presented as an album full of leftovers, one can’t help wonder what the MC has in store for Tha Carter IV.
#12) Black Mountain Wilderness Heart
Wilderness Heart was initially suggested to be a break from Black Mountain’s unfailing reinterpretation of the chugging riffs of hard rock’s early innovators. The sparse elements of folksiness that wind throughout ultimately do little to distract from the fact that this is still a fantastic hard rock band though.
#11) Crystal Fighters Star of Love
The debut album from a group of electronic-heavy hippies whose songs are tremendously well constructed despite being overshadowed by the massive nature of their sound. Time will tell whether the group is able to duplicate their success with a follow-up, but as it stands they’ve already proven their chops.
#10) The Chemical Brothers Further
Stylistically returning to the sound that led to the duo’s breakthrough in the mid-’90s, Further is a progressive electronic album so good that it almost makes you forget about “The Salmon Dance.” Almost.
#9) Crystal Castles Crystal Castles II
The contrast between airy innocence and furious aggression is one that few musicians are able to pull off. While the music doesn’t always translate in the live arena, on the album the Toronto-based duo is able to convey an innovative spirit that few of their contemporaries even come close to.
#8) Mondo Cane Mondo Cane
If for some reason you still carry any misgivings about Mike Patton’s ability as a vocalist, Mondo Cane is here to put those feelings to rest. With this “orchestral recreation of Italian pop songs from the ’50s and ’60s,” the man further reveals the extent to which he’s willing to experiment. His range is unreal and the backing talent is able to match him step for step, each complementing one another through the wildly unpredictable and enjoyable album.
#7) The Soft Pack The Soft Pack
There is absolutely nothing flashy about the Soft Pack nor their self-titled album. Keeping that in mind, it’s still hard not to be impressed by their ability to draw such compelling songs from such lean lyrics and music.
#6) Kid Cudi The Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
The diary of an immensely talented vocalist, capturing the thoughts of a young man as learns how to live with fame, family, and most importantly: himself. Backed by a dark soundtrack, the dynamic production on the album covers any holes left by the few instances of Cudi’s lyrical inconsistency.
#5) Cee-Lo Green The Lady Killer
The Lady Killer has all the right things going for it: an indie rock cover that puts the original to shame, a viral smash, and a chameleon-like vocalist who is able to effortlessly bob and weave through genres without creating the slightest bit of aural turbulence along the way.
#4) Yeasayer Odd Blood
The personnel shift—swapping drummer Luke Fasano for Jason Trammell and Ahmed Gallab—did little to impede any flow of creativity within the band’s makeup. A diverse extension of the bountiful creativity first put on display with 2007′s All Hour Cymbals, Odd Blood conveys a glowing enthusiasm which has the power to lighten even the darkest of moods.
#3) Robyn Body Talk
Pop music is largely in a transitional state right now. One thing that remains consistent however is Robyn’s ability to interpret for herself what it means to stay fresh. As the year progressed, her Body Talk EPs increasingly revealed her to not only be the most unapologetically confident of artists in the wide-reaching genre, but also the most consistent.
#2) The Roots How I Got Over
Any reservations about how the Roots’ residency on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon might affect the band’s edge were squashed when the group dropped the long-overdue How I Got Over this summer. Lyrically thunderous and ceaselessly soulful, the group put together an effort that stood above all others… except one…
#1) Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Fantasy may or may not eventually go down as Kanye’s most highly acclaimed album, but for the time being the polarizing MC will have to settle with having simply created the most robust, flamboyant, and downright nasty recording of the year.
[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]