10. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
This is probably the most “out-of-place” album on my list. As you look through the list, you can see the styles of music I spend most of my time focused on. But, I like the over 40 million others, just could not resist how much fun Thrift Shop was. So, when I went out on a limb and picked up their full album, I had no idea what to expect. Most internet super gods are the ultimate one hit wonders. Who here knows of another song PSY wrote? Or perhaps that awesome follow-up song Rebecca Black wrote? Yet, there was something that caught my attention with Thrift Shop that seemed to rise up above all the jokes and fucking awesomeness. It was a message. It was against consumerism and label chasing. It showed the hypocrisy of defining yourself by your clothes. It was this transcendent ideal that ultimately convinced me to purchase this album, and I could not be happier. For, behind the funny video and hilarious moments is a hip-hop artist with deeply thoughtful lyrics and a beat artist who creates some of the most clever hip-hop beats I have heard in a long time. David Bowie meets Kanye, as the lyrics exclaim is not actually that far off. If there is one part of Kanye’s music that isn’t god awful bullshit, its his beats. Now, its unfair to really give Kanye any ounce of credit for the beats that are half stolen and almost completely produced by anyone other than Kanye West, but that is another long and boring conversation we can have. Back to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. These guys are absolutely incredible. The music is so much fun, and the lyrics are extremely profound. Songs like Same Love, Make the Money and Jimmy Lovine show that Macklemore is not just out for the “fat stacks” but is a true artist and Neon Cathedral brought out so many deep thoughts and convictions. This album is exactly what I love in hip hop. Deeper lyrics and a wonderful balance of natural instrumentation and electronic fun. Seriously, Macklemore is so much more than his moment in the youtube spotlight, and this album is nothing but brilliant.
9. Balmorhea – Stranger
Sometimes post-rock gets predictable. You get so many bands out there that follow the patterns and it causes one to get bored. You get worn out by two guitar builds and swells. Then comes a band like Balmorhea to change everything up. Part classical, part ambient, part math, and all amazing. This band is just incredible. They not only create hauntingly beautiful minimal songs, but they, on the same album, will craft a toe-tapping, math arpeggio jam that includes banjo and violin, all done to the highest capacity. Their latest album, Stranger is no exception to this. It is at times a bit more upbeat than I would have expected, but that in no means discredits it. I tend to get bored of math rock, because it seems to lack emotion, due to its obsession with technical prowess. But, man does mixing mathy arpeggios with classical string arrangements and post rock emotion make for one hell of a great album. One of my favorite songs off the album (which I for the record hate to point out on this list, because a great album is not defined by individual songs) Dived is particularly amazing. This whole album is absolutely incredible from its instrumentation to its composition. It never drags or seems to repeat itself. Balmorhea has quickly become one of my all time favorite bands, and this album is proof as to why.
8. Grizzly Bear – Shields
I am going to be completely honest with you: I would have never listened to this album if it was not on Itunes as the best alternative album of the year. I would have probably never listened to Grizzly Bear if it was not for the countless lists that this album is already topping. Every year, before I write my list, I check out other lists to see if I missed anything. Most of the time it just makes me mad at pitchfork and other hipsters who cant accept that ironic value is not something that should be considered in a “best of” list. This album stuck out. Finding out that they wrote TWO WEEKS, which was featured on How I Met Your Mother helped. But, more than that Shields did something to make it rise above the other typical “Best of” indie albums. It was so much more interesting than The Shins or Beach House. I think it was the way it incorporated all of my favorite parts of bands like Fleet Foxes and Vessels while still having its own unique sonic identity. At times, it very much has a 70’s rock feel to it. At times, it has the fuzzy warmth of Vessels. But, then in the midst of all that, a rogue synth solo comes hurtling through the indie rock bliss. There is just something wonderful about this album and this band that made them stick out from all the other bands that I can compare to them. This album was just so much more interesting than the other indie album greats this year. It has that wonderful quality of reminding me of bands I love, and even bands I am not terribly fond of, yet still holding its own, and keeping my attention. Popular indie music is actually one of the hardest genres to catch and keep my attention, but this album caught mine, and that is why it is my obligatory “album that everyone will have on their lists” album on my top 10.
7. Austin Wintory – Journey OST
It is very rare that a soundtrack will be good enough to land itself on a best albums list. I love soundtracks, but they tend to only work when complimenting the art form they came from. It’s the ability to bring you back to that moment when Bruce Wayne is climbing out of the pit, or when you first hear the narrator in Bastion that makes these albums so much fun, but ultimately in almost a bondage to their original art. So, it has to be something so unbelievably incredible to get a soundtrack on to my top ten list, especially a game. But, Journey is one hell of a special game. It is the kind of artistic masterpiece that changes your very notion of what the medium is capable of doing. This game is so much more than entertainment. It is so much more than provoking story or graphical brilliance. This game is art, in a very high form. Journey would not be what it was without it soundtrack. But, with all that said, the soundtrack stands alone as absolutely incredible music. Yes, as I listen through it, I am brought back to desperation of climbing the frigid mountain. I feel the inquiry and exploration of this strange new world. The pure ecstasy of skiing down the dunes of sand. But, I think even more powerful is that these emotions are connected just as much to the music as they are to the gaming experience. Most times, the music reminds you of the moment in the movie or game, and then that moment creates the emotion. But, somehow this soundtrack brings out the emotion, which then leads me to remember the gaming experience. It is this revolutionary journey (HA!) in emotion that makes this game, and its soundtrack so deeply profound. Play the game. Listen to the soundtrack. Allow yourself to have one of the most powerful emotional experiences created by such an experimental medium.
6. Mumford and Sons – Babel
Mumford and Sons is such a good band. Sigh No More is an incredible album. But, as I heard news that this great band was going into the studio, I was worried. Worried that they would just do another Sigh No More. Worried that they would drastically change their sound and release something like 2nd law (God damn you, Muse). Because as good as Sigh No More was, if it were any longer, it would be boring. Another Sigh No More would be tiring. They did all they could with that album. But I didn’t want them to go and sell out. I didn’t want their next album to go in any of many directions I could see them going in. They could be the next Coldplay/U2 zombie. I felt like they had to release just the right album to appease my very judgmental ideals for a sophomore album. They had to keep enough of their folk roots without boring us with too much 4 to the floor, gang vocal folk. It was a tough task I was unfairly demanding of them in my mind, but man if they did not pull it off. See, I think Babel is nearly perfect. At times it is a bit more gruff, at times it has a bit more polish. It has a 6-4-1-5 emotional powerhouse song, that doesn’t seem overdone. It is fun when it needs to be and it is powerfully serious when its done being fun. But there is more that takes this album to an even higher level. As you listen to this album, you hear them cheering and hollering in the background. You can hear them having the time of their life recording it. It brings me back to listening to CSN and hearing Crosby yell out “mmmmm” to a particularly stunning harmony. Not only did they craft the perfect follow-up album, but they had fun doing it and they allowed that fun to be contained in their recordings. Bravo, guys. Bravo.