So it was really tough to pick ten albums from a year so full of fascinating new music–and even tougher to rank them in some kind of order. Some albums I listened to a lot ended up being left off the list (ceo, Kid Cudi, Coco Rosie, Arcade Fire), while other artists only released EPs this year (oOoOO, Active Child, Keep Shelly in Athens) and I had to draw the line somewhere. And of course, this is only my list (Anna) and completely, utterly subjective…hopefully co-blogger and extrawack! founder Bob will chime in with some rankings of his own.
10. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles II
Dark and jagged-edged, songs like “Baptism” are still upbeat enough to soundtrack your morning cardio. Bonus points for amazing collaborations with other artists, from the Sigur Ros sample on “Year of Silence” to the amazing Robert Smith version of “I’m Not in Love” (below).
9. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – I Speak Fula
Though built around West African traditional instruments and melodies, this complex, fast-paced, sometimes haunting album doesn’t really fall into any single genre. Songs like “Musow” and “Falani” shift and change even as they unfold.
Listen: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – “Saro”
Download: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – “Musow”
7. M.I.A. – MAYA
Sure, her persona is a little over-the-top these days, truffle fries and all. But musically this might be my favorite M.I.A. album yet: twitchy, sinuous, brash, and addictive.
8. Spoek Mathambo – Mshini Wam
Glitchy, moody electronic music from the South African producer/graphic designer–as bleak yet catchy as Burial or the Knife, enlivened by shifts into R&B and techno beats. A truly contemporary hybrid that will change any preconceptions of what “African music” sounds like.
Download: Spoek Mathambo, “Mshini Wam”
5. SALEM - King Night
Rich from fourfour wasn’t far off when he compared King Night to Portishead’s Dummy. Both turn appropriation of past genres into something strikingly original, and both (in their own ways) balance their sound right on the line between beautiful and disturbing. Also, both albums have spawned tons of imitators, most of which don’t even come close.
Download: SALEM – “Asia” (oOoOO Remix)
6. Perfume Genius - Learning
Brief, devastating piano-driven songs, anchored by Mike Hadreas’ unflinching lyrics, make this some of the most emotionally powerful music I’ve heard this year.
Download: Perfume Genius – “Learning”
4. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
Another stellar album of cinematic shoegaze from the Montreal band, featuring flawless male/female vocals and melodies that will break your heart. Spies skulking in the ruins of crumbling cities never sounded so good. Plus, they are awesome live.
Download: The Besnard Lakes – “Albatross”
3. Beach House - Teen Dream
Beach House’s swirling, fuzzy-edged beauty just gets better and better. Teen Dream is sort of like the progress of a single day: “Zebra” dawns like a red-hued sunrise, while “Take Care” closes out the evening with bleary-eyed joy.
Download: Beach House, “Zebra” (UK edit)
2. Glasser – Ring
Glasser had one of my favorite releases last year with the Apply EP, and their full length is equally beautiful. Tribal percussion and sweeping, orchestral melodies buoy female vocals on a wave of reckless emotion. Glasser are inventing something new even as they’re channeling forebears like Kate Bush and Bjork. They also get my award for prettiest album cover (above).
Listen: Glasser – “Mirrorage”
1. jj – jj no. 3
There’s a simplicity about the sound of jj no.3: Swedish-beachy beats, gentle washes of guitar, Elin Kastlander’s angelic voice, a few samples here and there. But simplicity can conceal a lot of depth, and more than any other album this year, this is the one that I kept coming back to over and over. Somehow jj can capture both the weightless feeling of embarking on a journey and the comforting weariness of returning home.
Listen: jj – “I know”
Download: jj – “Let Go”
— Anna K