So, the holidays were a little busier than I expected but here, finally and just before the New Year, are my top 5 records of the year. This Ain’t No Magazoin!!!!
#5: Grizzly Bear – Shields
Shields is Grizzly Bear’s most accessible record to date and their most sonically interesting. They’ve always had prog leanings, but on Shields those leanings are truly on display; so, this may be their most accessible from a sonic and songwriting point of view, but if you’re not into prog, this may be the dividing line. Still, Grizzy Bear always create beautiful atmospheres and Shields is their best so far.
#4: Tame Impala – Lonerism
From its opening percussive mantra, “Gotta be above it, gotta be above it, gotta be above it,” Kevin Parker knows he has something to prove after Tame Impala’s astounding debut Innerspeaker. And prove it he does, time and again, on Lonerism. It is a more ambitious and daring record than its predecessor but perhaps most pleasing of all are Parker’s weird pop sensibilities, the way melodies slide around each other. It truly is amazing that any of it works at all.
#3: Of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks
After several records as his alt ego Georgie Fruit, Kevin Barnes is back and sounds like old Of Montreal. Sort of. Skeletal Lamping and False Priest were full of the spastic and bombastic quirks Of Montreal is known for, but not like that of The Gay Parade or Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies; the later records have a less organic weirdness. Paralytic Stalks then is more a meshing of the two eras of Of Montreal, organic and robotic. It’s also Barnes’s first record with session musicians. It is a dark record: the melodies come up from the bottom of a river, the music behind the melodies contains sinister qualities. This is Barnes at his most vulnerable, perhaps even more so than on Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer.
#2: Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Service You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Idler Wheel… was a long time coming. It was worth the wait: Apple’s quirks have never sounded fresher. This is a sparse record, musically and lyrically; every note is perfectly clear and as perfectly important as the last or the next. It is such an astounding listening experience, I hesitate to call it the second best record of the year. Closer “Hot Knife” alone is better than most songs in the last decade: it is gospelesque, satisfying, disquieting. And so is The Idler Wheel…
#1: Beach House – Bloom
Like Woods (#9 on this list), Beach House have been making consistently good records since 2006. Sonically speaking, each Beach House record shares a similar aesthetic and ambience; yet, they have mastered the mysterious trick of sounding fresh and still somehow familiar with each release, finding other hidden paths or caves on the same mountain. Bloom then is not a new phase for the band, but the continued building-on of these wonderful moments, forming and reforming them, showing us something we haven’t seen before from the same rock we thought we knew so well.