As Greg Kot and I gear up for this weekend’s airing of our favorite episode of Sound Opinions all year—the annual Best-Of Recap—here is part three of my look at my Top 30, starting from the bottom and working toward No. 1.
10. Low, The Invisible Way (Sub Pop)
Ten albums in to a consistently solid (if not often truly extraordinary) career as the reigning masters of slo-core, guitarist-vocalist Alan Sparhawk, drummer-vocalist Mimi Parker, and bassist Steve Garrington, working with producer Jeff Tweedy at Wilco’s North Side loft, studio, and clubhouse, produced a typically dynamic, melodic, emotional, and gripping effort that stands as their finest ever, thanks to the strength of the songwriting. Or maybe it just arrived at a time when I needed it more than ever before. Either way, it’s a winner. Here is our review on Sound Opinions.
9. Wooden Shjips, Back to Land (Thrill Jockey)
Timeless, hypnotic, swirling, psychedelic melodies from a San Francisco quartet that creates giant slabs of dark mystery built on the familiar elements of droning organ, fuzzed-out guitar, whispered vocals, and insistent, metronomic drums iin the grand tradition of the Velvet Underground to the Dream Syndicate and Spacemen 3 to the Black Angels. Here is my review for this blog.
8. Upset, She’s Gone (Don Giovanni)
Ali Koehler, the former powerhouse drummer behind the Vivian Girls and Best Coast, forms a supergroup with guitarist Jennifer Prince (La Sera) and former Hole drummer Patty Schemel and gives us the most winning album about the sheer life-affirming joys of making an awesome noise since the debut from Wild Flag. Here is my review for this blog.
7. Wire, Change Becomes Us (Pink Flag)
The long-running masters of art-punk find yet another way to acknowledge their history (and one of the most essential catalogs in rock history) but make it absolutely essential and of the moment, reimaging work left unfinished at the end of their first split with their strong new lineup. Here is my review for this blog.
6. Karl Bartos, Off the Record (Bureau B)
Recruited as an electronic percussionist to augment Kraftwerk’s founding duo of Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider as they toured the U.S. in support of their surprise hit “Autobahn,” Karl Bartos remained as a member of the brilliant and hugely influential electronic pop band throughout is most creative years, keeping an audio diary of melodic ideas inspired by his travels with and work alongside the band. Now, at age 60, he completes that work and shares it with us, with obvious nods to the past but songs that ultimately sound completely of the moment. Here is my review for this blog.
5. Lorde, Pure Heroine (Motown/Universal)
With spectacularly sexy, wonderfully insinuating, and astoundingly minimalist musical backing, this New Zealand teen critiques the submissive consumerism of her generation, longing instead for deeper connections and community, while having more than a few laughs about it all (though she never cracks a smile, so some miss that). Cadillacs in our dreams, indeed. Here is my review for this blog.
4. Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (JagJaguwar)
Thought these cheeky California bedroom auteurs spent much of the rest of the year devaluing their accomplishment with less-than-stellar live performances, vocalist Sam France and guitarist-keyboardist Jonathan Rado made a big impression when they released this charming and irresistible set of psychedelic pop early in the year, and my love for it remains undiminished. And hey, none of the Elephant 6 bands were very good onstage for a long time, either. Here is my review for this blog.
3. Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap (self-released)
Even in the midst of an epidemic of violence that’s earned Our Town the nickname of Chiraq, life on the South Side is anything but one-dimensional. In this stunning set, the alternately giddy and profound Chancelor Bennett reminds us that the mix also includes love, hope, community, and reveling in a thousand humble joys—from grilled cheese sandwiches to birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese, and from smoking weed to dissing Kobe Bryant—and that life is very much worth living, even in the most nihilistic of surroundings. Here is my review for this blog.
2. Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold (What’s Your Rupture?)
And speaking of reasons for living—or at least reasons to be a bit more cheerful—these transplanted Texas-to-Brooklyn slacker philosophers give us plenty, from roasted peanuts and Swedish Fish to the joys of sneering, “Fuggedabout it!,” but the most significant is their personal take on Feelies/Modern Lovers/Wire/Velvet Underground art-punk, delivered with such enthusiasm, in such a rich yet seemingly slapdash way, and with such potent melodies that you’re hooked from the first listen through the two- or three-hundredth. Here is my review for this blog, and here is Parquet Courts’ live performance and interview on Sound Opinions.
1. Savages, Silence Yourself (Matador)
Having written about this young, mostly English, one-quarter French quartet numerous times since first seeing it live at SXSW last March, and talked about it plenty on the radio show, too, I have almost exhausted my stock of superlatives for the (no kidding) most fully realized, most musically sophisticated, and just plain most striking debut album I’ve heard this century. What remains to be said about this spare but deep art-punk music and these bracingly angry yet somehow seductive lyrics? Perhaps only that as strong as this recording is, the band is even better live, and I note that not because it affects the appreciation of the album (the way you might think less of the aforementioned Foxygen after seeing its sloppy live show) but because it confirms my conviction that Savages is a truly important band that we will remember for quite some time to come, even if they never give us another note worth celebrating (though I certainly look forward to them trying and believe they certainly will). Here is my review for this blog, and here are Savages with a live performance and interview on Sound Opinions.