This year, my best album list is entitled The Best Albums I Listened To for the sake of indicating that there are so many albums released every year, and even though I listen to a lot of music, and a lot of different kinds of music, there’s no way I can listen to everything worth listening unless I’m given all the time in the world.
1. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
In 2012, Frank Ocean came out with his confessional manifesto: a free-form, wide-ranging, heartfelt R&B ode to modern time, modern youth, and modern love.
Key Tracks: “Pyramids,” “Thinkin Bout You,” “Super Rich Kids”
2. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
The combination of the sharp, decidedly masculine David Byrne and the delicate (but actually quite strong), decidedly feminine St. Vincent may have seemed discordant, but the finely crafted Love This Giant proves that it was a complementary masterstroke.
Key Tracks: “Who,” “I Should Watch TV,” “Lazarus”
3. Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
Haunted, indeed. Bat for Lashes bares her spirit (and on the cover, her body) in a set of raw emotions set to music.
Key Tracks: “Oh Yeah,” “All Your Gold,” “Laura”
4. Ellie Goulding – Halcyon
Halcyon is as twitchy as the most robotic of electronica, but it is fiercely humanistic. Each note is full of feeling and clearly originating from an actual person’s vocal cords. Who is this ethereal weirdo who has stumbled her way into the pop world?
Key Tracks: “Only You,” “Anything Could Happen,” “Hanging On”
5. Ke$ha – Warrior
What Ke$ha declared would be her “cock-rock” album actually ended up delving even further into electronica than her first album, with much of it coming off as Daft Punk fronted by Ke$ha. The rock sensibility did come through somewhat, thanks especially to Iggy Pop and a drum breakdown that echoed “In the Air Tonight.”
Key Tracks: “Warrior,” “Die Young,” “Love Into the Light”
6. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Blunderbuss suggests a physical space for Jack White to have plenty of room to experiment – who’s going to complain about that?
Key Tracks: “Sixteen Saltines,” “Freedom at 21,” “Weep Themselves to Sleep”
7. Muse – The 2nd Law
If you’re not by now cool to Muse’s m.o. of unabashed ambition inspired by such phenomena as thermodynamics (the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium – the state of maximum entropy), then I guess you’re never going to be. The 2nd Law is, more than ever for Muse, the realization of epicness, yet it also takes time to cool off and go at some speeds that are unusual for the band on such notable tracks as “Madness” and “Panic Station.”
Key Tracks: “Madness,” “Panic Station,” “The 2nd Law: Isolated System”
8. Kimbra – Vows
New Zealand chanteuse Kimbra brings to the 21st century musical scene an exuberant jazz/R&B fusion. Vows is a cascade of danceable personal statements.
Key Tracks: “Settle Down,” “Come Into My Head,” “Cameo Lover”
9. Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods
Silversun Pickups’ horror album Neck of the Woods ever so lightly freaks its listeners out, poking at anxieties involving bodily invasiveness and existential hopelessness.
Key Tracks: “The Pit,” “Skin Graph,” “Busy Bees”
10. Passion Pit – Gossamer
Passion Pit is going (remaining?) crazy. In the time between their debut Manners and follow-up Gossamer, their biggest decision seems to have been to keep their normal disposition at full-to-bursting.
Key Tracks: “Take a Walk,” “I’ll Be Alright,” “Cry Like a Ghost”
I Haven’t Heard These Albums in Their Entirety, But I’ve Heard That They Are Quite Good:
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls, Gary Clark, Jr. – Blak and Blu, Dr. John – Locked Down, Bob Dylan – Tempest, Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city, Nas – Life Is Good, Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball, Tame Impala – Lonerism, Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill