Hello! It’s early 2013 which means lots of best of lists. The master post, with lots of excuses, can be found here.
This year there were three best albums – the Fiona Apple, the Frank Ocean, and the Kendrick Lamar. Pretty much every best of list I looked at had those as the top three; the only question was the order. Someone has to be number one, and the other two just fall in naturally. This says maybe more about our current “music press” than about the year in music, but also, those are three really, really good albums! They are my top three, too! I just had to pick the order, and even that wasn’t hard at all.
I only did ten albums this year. I, just, there weren’t that many albums I felt super strongly about this year, and it seemed better to have ten that I really have strong feelings about than try to rank all the others I don’t even really care about enough to have opinions on? I don’t know, sorry, guys, 2012 was a singles year for me! Anyway here they are.
10. Jens Lenkman – I Know What Love Isn’t
Jens Lenkman writes these gorgeous little pop songs, like little bubbles of sunshine that float up and pop in the most delicious ways. This is a breakup album, though, and a fairly devastating one. The tension between his natural buoyancy and how sad this stuff is doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s really wonderful. Also, I just love him.
9. Cat Power – Sun
I’ve always wanted to really like Cat Power, but she was just so…dour, and her songs were so slow and disjointed. Great lyrics and I love her voice and her singing, but, couldn’t she speed them up? Put a bit more melody and rhythm in it? Turns out, she can, and the results are fantastic. This is also my favorite album cover of the year, no question.
8. Project X soundtrack
Is this cheating? Absolutely. But track for track, I don’t know that there’s a collection of songs that has brought me more enjoyment in ages. Here they all were, in one place! If you have huge party and invite Pusha T, Kid Cudi, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Far East Movement, and Eminem its pretty much guaranteed to be great, right?
7. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
This one kind of snuck up on me. The first few times I just heard songs and that quavery voice, guitar lines and drums, something like folk songs, something like dude-indie-rock, the kind that if it didn’t have a girl singer I wouldn’t have bothered with. But this album is…really good. There’s a depth to it, something vaguely creepy in the back, something she’s not telling us. Like St. Vincent. I like my girl singer/guitarists unnerved and fierce.
6. Hot Chip – In Our Heads
I had a moment this summer where I realized that I listen to Hot Chip more than almost any other band. Do other people do this too? Are we just not talking about it? If not, why not? Hot Chip is 80’s style bleeps and bloops and super catchy melodies and falsettos and harmonies, and also achingly perfect gorgeous songs about trying to find love in the world and about stability and about existence. I mean, the emotional payoff here is, whoa. Who doesn’t want that? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe Hot Chip is just Made For Me. In which case I will keep taking it, because it’s fantastic. This album is slightly smoother than some of the others and less dancey. It’s still perfect.
5. Grimes – Visions
Grimes seems so easy to hate, on paper. She’s like 100 pounds with those pigtails and she sings exclusively in the uppermost possible register, like someone joking about girl singers (in case you haven’t noticed, I quite like girl singers. And high voices). Every thing she does seems like its layered in so much irony and in-jokiness and art school meta that it’s hard to see where it even starts. But what if it’s…not? What if she’s just making music that sounds good? Because it does. Against all reason, in a woolly, abstract, way, this whole album is just, it’s just good. It doesn’t make sense, but it is.
4. Jessie Ware – Devotion
This album, god. I cannot stop listening to it. Smoky and sensual, and that VOICE. At first I thought Sade (of course) + The-Dream, but after the concert I figured it out – she’s Dusty Springfield + The-Dream, which is to say, everything I have ever wanted. A sweet British girl with that huge aching voice, equally capable of doing wronged and of doing devotion. Matched up with these big electronic sounds, these blips and samples and beats, that make everything sound dramatic and huge and important, like you’re floating away on a wave of her voice, like the whole world is this song right now.
3. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
Ach, this album. There’s not much I can say because everyone else has already said everything, and much better than me. Of the top three, this one connects with me the least emotionally. I kind of wanted to hate it because everyone else liked it so much because I’m terrible. But you can’t. It’s so good. Technically, emotionally, the lyrics and the production, the story it tells, as an album and as singles. Fine, Kendrick! You’ve won.
2. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
Every time I listen to this album I have a new favorite song. It is stuffed – no, overstuffed – with hooks and gorgeous lines and clever little lyrics and vocal adorableness and that Earl rap. I would have happily listened a full song version of that 40 second “fertiliiizer” bit. It’s an hour long, I wanted 800 more hours. I want all the songs to be ten minute two part epics. This song is like being wrapped in something cool and creamy and sweet and smiling, and then it rips your heart out (nothing but a one-man cult) and puts it back together, grinning, just kidding, here look I made you this, too, isn’t it fun? Whatever you like, whatever feels good, whatever takes your mind tonight, the starshine always kept you warm.
1. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw & Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Guys, it was so hard to choose between Frank and Fiona. Most of the time it’s taken me to write this has been just that, trying to figure out which is 1 and which is 2. And, finally…channel ORANGE might be sweeter, it might actually be happier and also more pleasant, but Idler Wheel is in my bones. It’s snarled and twisted into me, it’s my thoughts before I think them, it’s angry and mean and blood and it’s constantly surprising me. Right now, as I write this, I’m listening to “Valentine” and there’s a heartbeat in my headphones, under and above her vocals, that I had never noticed before, in the many, many, many times I’ve listened to this album. This thing is constructed, it’s built, it’s grown, like some sort of alien spaceship, pulsing and tendrils and bubbling underneath, looking at me. I just want to feel everything.
And yet, for all the angry mean stuff, it’s not a sad album. It’s not a downer. It’s moving forward, it’s wondering and hoping and questioning and regrets, sure, but also excitement and feeling and a cinemascope screen showing a dancing bird of paradise. It’s alive.