• Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
• Pusha T – My Name is My Name
• Haim – Days Are Gone
• Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
• Bill Callahan – Dream River
• James Blake – Overgrown
• Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
10. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
9. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
8. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
7. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
6. Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
5. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Modern Vampires is a hyper-kinetic and wildly engaging listen all the way through. Ezra Koenig establishes early and often that he’s used to being the smartest person in the room with an array of dizzying references and insane word associations. Vampire Weekend’s previous two albums had diminishing returns on repeated listens, but Modern Vampires is going to hold up for a long, long time.
4. San Fermin – San Fermin
A project from 24-year-old Brooklynite Ellis Ludwig-Leone, San Fermin is one of the year’s most determined albums. It’s a 17-track concept album in which Ludwig-Leone employs the singers from Lucius to play the female parts, so you’ve probably already stopped reading this. But in case you haven’t, this living, breathing ode to ambition pays off entirely. It’s a heartfelt, earnest piece of work that takes cues from Sufjan Stevens and The National, while avoiding the self-seriousness of a band like The Decemberists.
3. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
Chance the Rapper couldn’t have come up with a more appropriate name for the album that launched him into the public consciousness. There’s confusion at every corner – he combines the energy you’d expect from a 20-year-old Chicago kid with a nostalgia and world-weariness far beyond his years. He frequently yelps and barks throughout the album, but throws in a drowsy sigh every now and then for good measure. He’s in complete control, but it sounds like a total meltdown.
2. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Though Reflektor fared pretty well with critics, there was an undeniable backlash against Arcade Fire from a portion of the band’s fans. Maybe it was the months-long teasing and promotion of the album. Maybe it was the fact that the former indie darlings are now Grammy-winning, stadium-playing, rock heroes. Whatever the reason for the backlash, very little of it seems to have to do with Reflektor itself, which is the band’s best album since Funeral.
The members of Arcade Fire don’t go for subtlety. They attack big themes with big ideas and, yes, that leads to the occasional clunker (see: “Porno”). But they are more than willing to sacrifice their indie-cred to make something real, whatever “real” means to them in the moment. For Reflektor, it meant something more rhythmic than they’ve ever done – an album that’s as much for the dance floor as it is for solo walks through the city.
As has become the band’s custom, they use Reflektor to call out the modern era of advanced technology and decreased human interaction. As Win Butler opines on the title track, “We’re still connected / but are we even friends?” Maybe the backlash from fans has something to do with being forced to look into a mirror and not liking what they see.
1.Neko Case – The Worse Things Get…
No other artist this year worked in a realm of such poignancy and made it seem so effortless. The Worse Things Get is Neko Case’s best album, which is saying something for an artist with a nearly flawless back catalogue. Here, Case paints pictures with her songs that are amazingly vivid, despite the sparse nature of some of the tunes themselves. In a couple of places, including highlight “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”, Case puts everything else aside to let her best feature – that stunning, undeniable voice – carry the story. That song, followed by the flawless “Calling Cards”, is the best musical sequence of the year.
Nothing is out of scope for Case – the album rolls through topics like gender roles, isolation, motherhood, nostalgia, the unassailability of nature – but she balances everything with a knowing sense of humour. As much as some of this stuff hurts, we’re not going to solve everything. Case is walking you through the traces of a burned out city, only she can’t help but point out fertile land.