Battles – Mirrored
Where the hell did this even come from? What the hell is there to say about it? It’s like super-prog, but it’s basic in the rhythm section. It’s techno with guitars everywhere. It’s instrumental with vocals. I lack the tools to sufficiently explain what’s happening with “Tij”, much less the rest of the album. As foreign as it all sounds, though, it’s all really, really good on very base levels. There’s this sense of satisfaction between the band members as the album progresses, where I felt their love for music just flow out of them, and into me. Speaking as a musician, Battles makes me excited for where music’s going, and it makes me want to get better so I can be a part of what they’re trying so hard to do. This album really opened my eyes to what music is capable of. In a field of depression and melodrama (as well executed as that can be from some of the other bands listed), Battles is this ray of sunlight, that gives me a renewed wonder for the world. No other album moved me like Mirrored, and it’ll be a long damn time before anything else can.

Radiohead – In Rainbows
I stumbled upon Radiohead last year. That sounds absolutely crazy, I know. They’ve have been around longer than I’ve been alive, and the growth and strength the band has is most assuredly strong. And one summer vacation, with nothing to do, I bought eight albums for a day of music to listen to, and one of those albums was Kid A. To say it fractured me puts it lightly. So I’ve spent the last two years listening to Radiohead, in a different context than “oh, they’re this indie band that made it, that’s cool.” In Rainbows feels, to me, like it’s paying me for finding them. It’s a culmination of everything that I liked about the other albums, without the things I didn’t like. The Bends and OK Computer were near perfect rock albums, and I wasn’t really done with that sound. I was hoping it’d come back. Kid A and Amnesiac were a perfect mix between soundscapes and a man yelling at you, commanding your attention, but it seemed like most of the band disappeared behind the music. Hail to the Thief had both, but it switched between and was unable to blend it. And suddenly, after Thom Yorke was able to squeeze out a full techno solo record, they’re able to combine everything of the last 21 years of music they’ve been making into a concise ten song package that is nearly perfect. This would be album of the year in any other year. It’s certainly the feel good story of the year in both the distribution model, and “Radiohead is back.”

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
In March of this year, I said to a friend that it is going to take a hell of a lot to be a better album than this one. While the two albums above it are those albums, neither of them sound quite like Neon Bible. If “Funeral” was wringing a tear soaked cloth dry, Neon Bible is them showing it to the world, the tears making a watery mirror. The album has a sense of urgency that is difficult to describe. The way I look at it is a nuclear bomb going off, and the atmospheric sounds at the start of Black Mirror is equal to hearing it in the distance. I can apply this theme to the rest of the album, but the metaphor is good enough to serve a general purpose. The point is that the album picks up strength as it rolls on, growing more rambunctious and critical as Win shows the world what it looks like to him. It all builds up to one specific moment: The full blast of My Body Is a Cage. In my bomb metaphor, this is the fire hitting, the pain of loss and the power of dynamics assaulting until I’m nothing but dust. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and it made me want to curl up and weep for months, clawing at myself and howling at nothing. An amazing album, start to finish.

Neurosis – Given to the Rising
Neurosis said this album was going to be their heaviest since Through Silver in Blood. This worried me. Firstly, referencing your bands best works in comparison seems to be certain doom. Secondly, the single, “Water is Not Enough”, worried me a great deal, because it almost sounded generic. I was looking forward to the album between my fingers as I pretended to cover my eyes. The title track tore the hand off my face, and subjected me to horrors and wonders the same. It’s a decadent assault, an avalanche that hits and overwhelms. The claims were true, and best yet, they were right. Given to the Rising proves just absolutely how obsolete all metal is in the face of their creativity, how useless growls are in front of Steve Von Till, how childish shredding guitars to second divisons are. For all the talk of heaviness and ugliness, and all of these things metal bands try to be, it takes a listen of “Distill (Watching the Swarm)” to realize that they have it all wrong. While it was noise record label Load Records that said “slow is the new loud” to hype up one of their bands, Neurosis shows the middle ground is the higher ground.

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
The answer to the question of “what happens to musical journeymen when they get older” is somewhere within the seven minute “All My Friends.” Zooming out from the one song for a second, LCD Soundsystem is a very odd album. It’s a solo project of sorts, but it’s named like a band. First listen to me was me noting that it sounded like a mishmash of all kinds of different electronic influences that ended up filtering through to being something unique. I wrote it off after that. After a moment of drama that birthed my interest- maybe closer to need- to write songs, music all sounded different after I found out what it means to exhume yourself into a song, I revisited the record, and it was entirely different. Sure, the music sounded like that, but the difference was James Murphy pouring everything he had out into nine songs. Which leads back to “All My Friends.” A musical exodus of what he knows the meaning of life to be, All My Friends sails by, and now that my understanding of what music is, and can be, has expanded, it means something much more than it did at first. I think that everyone has a song inside themselves, and only a few record them. This not to say Murphy’s out of song ideas, but on an album of commentaries and observances, “All My Friends” rings of a generational landmark, and it’ll be hard to top it. I can’t wait to see him try.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Some Loud Thunder
Talk about a grower. This was my first exposure to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, after hearing just a few things about them before. They were compared to Talking Heads, and that seemed unfair for a lot of different reasons, but the most profound reason now is that there’s no real comparing them to anyone. The band certainly have a lot of the same aspects, with the dance beats under rapid fire pick patterns and frantic vocals, but where Talking Heads went outwards into the world and into rhythm, it seems that CYHSY are retracting into themselves , into heritage and into base emotional templates. The album has a few problems with flow, stutter stepping with obtuse explorations like “Goodbye to the Mother and the Cove” , the rest of the album is a lot of solid rock with a twinge of backwoods raising in it, like the self titled. There’s no way to tell how long that singer Ounsworth has been in his own little world, but it applies a very strange feeling to all of the music that sets them apart. The highlight of the album, for me, is “Yankee Go Home.” My favorite part about Ounsworth is how his whole demeanor seems like a fragile mask, how his inanimate state feels like an act to hide some venomous, hideous beast. With Yankee Go Home, it almost comes out, with the bile spewing up all at once as he chants “Pa said get used to it”, after a full song’s rage over the perception of the United States Citizen. It’s this eruption that makes “Underwater (You And Me)” so effective, in serene bounce and warm tribute to his new wife. The thing I left this album wondering most is if it’s this woman that keeps the full rage of Alec in check, from spewing out violent horrors in vengeance. I almost want to see what’d happen without that, but that is truly a horrible thing to say.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Living with the Living
“No one understands me.” It’s a very base emotion, but sometimes it follows you into adulthood. It’s followed Ted Leo, that’s for damn sure. The music is modern post punk, yes, but the thing that separates the Pharmacists from the rest of that genre is Leo’s wit in lyricism. Leo uses his music to lash against his fears and his disillusionment with policy and development. The mask of post punk sits atop a very real punk face, even if what it means to be “punk” is radically different than it ever was. There are moments of hope and joy in between Leo’s musings of war and culture. Songs of love, rebirth, and sympathy permeate the sides of the album, acting as great reference points in the construction of Leo’s profile as a song writer. The back to back hit of “The Unwanted Things”, a reggae jam over crying, and “The Lost Brigade”, a howl over the decomposing landscape in front of him and the times ahead, and his resolution to keep going- “Every little memory is a song.” It’s a very impressive record, with a solid “this is how you make post punk” base on top of the truly individual songwriting voice of Ted Leo.

The National – Boxer
I withstood months of recommendations before succumbing to the album and the band, much like I did with what ended up being my favorite album last year, Isis’ “In The Absence of Truth.” Ironically, the music inspired this sense of wasting time from the start of it. Not in the sense of “I can’t wait for this album to be over”, but more in line with Fake Empire seeming to speak to how people use their time. It’s so nice to hear a low voice in indie music, especially after succumbing to Animal Collective hype and ending up staring blankly at half the internet, and The National fills that tonal void. They sound like a lot of different things, but they are uniquely themselves, taking little techniques from all over the place. The voice of Bessinger weighs down the music and brings everything within itself, as if it’s a different song all together. The most notable part of the composition to me is how well they build around that distinctive voice, and how the voice stays conservative, instead of going outside of its range or abilities. It’s a very unique case of a band being completely on the same page, and everything builds within itself to make a unique impression as well as a cant miss record.

Kanye West – Graduation
The thing that has always impressed me about Kanye West is his inability to ruin his own songs. I mean this very sincerely. While I’m still new to rap in general, West as a rapper is… uninspiring at best. Sure, he’s had a few highlights, but I never came away from College Dropout or Late Registration with the opinion that he’s MF DOOM or anything. However, as a beat maker, Kanye is impressively talented, as well as innovative. Graduation, however, is akin to a masterwork from him. For once, West’s rapping ability stands on it’s own. He’s always had writing on his side, but he’s never really had a flow that was as interesting as it was on this album. The part that amazed me most, though, were the beats. I’ve never heard a song quite like Flashing Lights, much less a rap song like it, and Big Brother is one of the more emotionally charged, introspective rap songs I’ve ever heard. Kanye is nothing if not exploratory, and it sure as hell paid off on this album.

Gogol Bordello – Super Taranta!
Gogol Bordello seems to be on their way to being the new Clutch. Tonally, they’re nothing alike, but the reputations are what I’m talking about, with killer live shows and killer, if similar, albums. However, this ends up meaning that what reviews of Gogol Bordello albums end up being are “this is a new Gogol Bordello album.” With both GB and Clutch, the upside is that even if it is standard fare, their standard fare is so much better than a lot of other bands. Gogol Bordello is the first album with new bassist Thomas Gobena, whose reggae stylings are definitely a natural fit with the rest of the band’s music. Hutz speaks highly of dub music in interviews and on his site, so it’s a very natural conclusion as well. The album has a few tremendous bright spots as well, that show very exciting frontiers for the band. Hutz’s Stooges love is exposed for all with the sneering that surfaces on “American Wedding”, and “Harem in Tuscany” is almost like a portrait of the entire band. As mentioned in quick quip form, though, the album needs knowledge of the live experience to really thrive. The album isn’t perfect, to my tastes, as it has a few points where it drags (Dub The Frequencies and Forces of Victory end up getting skipped 90% of the time), but it is totally new Gogol Bordello, and that’s totally enough.

Just Missed: Feist’s “The Reminder”, Justice’s “Cross”, Clutch’s “From Beale St. To Oblivion”, AIR’s “Pocket Symphony”, MIA’s “Kala”


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