It’s the time of year when folks post their “Best of” lists, and MiG is no exception. So without further ado, here are the Top 20 albums (and some others that deserve recognition) according to Craig McManus:
1. Purity Ring – Shrines: 2011 introduced us to Purity Ring through the singles “Ungirthed”, “Lofticries”, and “Belispeak”, and each of these songs could have made my best of list. Accordingly, I was highly anticipating the release of the band’s debut full length. When news broke that each of these songs would be included on Shrines, however, I grew concerned that Purity Ring didn’t have the depth of quality for a full LP. Obviously, Shrines’ placement on this list demonstrates that my concern was unfounded. With tracks like “Obedear”, “Fineshrine”, and “Crawlersout” added to the early singles, Purity Ring created a dark synth pop gem. The only real negative to the album is the inclusion of the frankly dreadful, “Grandloves”.
2. The Men – Open Your Heart: I’m incredibly hesitant to even make the comparison, but The Men remind me strongly of Hüsker Dü. Both bands came on the scene with a burst of noise rock, but the early material of each demonstrated true pop sensibilities. Over the years, Hüsker Dü allowed more of those sensibilities to emerge, and with Open Your Heart, The Men are following the same script. The album opens with tracks reminiscent of Leave Home and the band’s earlier work, but those soon give way to pop hooks and even an experiment with alt country. The experiment is the album’s lone misstep, but even as a failure it further proves that The Men are going to take chances even at the risk of alienating their audience, and that’s a Hüsker Dü move if ever there was one.
3. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange: So much ink has already been used on Channel Orange, I’m not sure there is any ground left to cover. From Ocean’s preemptive announcement regarding his first love, and the importance of such a confession from a hip hop/r&b star; to the release of the phenomenal “Pyramids”; and finally to the release of the album itself, Ocean has shown he not only can write a massively enjoyable and critically acclaimed album, but that he can play the fame game as well. The last few weeks have begun to see a bit of backlash against the album, but with tracks like “Thinkin Bout You”, “Sweet Life”, “Pyramids”, “Lost”, and especially “Bad Religion”, Channel Orange has earned its place in the canon and isn’t going anywhere.
4. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan: Bitte Orca was my favorite album of 2009 and I still love to listen to it today. That said, even I can admit it gets awfully pretentious at times. On Swing Lo Magellan, David Longstreth does an excellent job of toning down the pretension by reigning in his vocal yips, writing more straight pop hooks, and even poking some fun at himself on “Unto Caesar” by leaving in Amber Coffman’s teasing studio chatter. In doing so, Longstreth allows the band’s best attributes to shine through. The gorgeous harmonies of Coffman and co., syncopated beats, and use of space are given room to breathe and create a wonderful album of weird indie pop.
5. Beach House – Bloom: Beach House is a band that knows who they are and does not mess with the formula. Fortunately for them, that formula of shoegazey dream pop is an absolute winner. Before even pressing play on my first listen to Bloom I knew exactly what it would sound like, but that fact didn’t make it any less captivating. The superb “Myth” sets the mood much as “Zebra” did for 2010’s Teen Dream, and what follows is an hour’s worth of lush, contemplative, layered pop, highlighted by “Wild”, “Lazuli”, and “New Year”, that is perfect for both lying in the park on a sunny day or huddling inside while the snow flies.
6. Japandroids – Celebration Rock: The fact that two guys from Vancouver can make a racket as fantastic as that found on Celebration Rock is remarkable. The fact they can do it while admitting to hating the recording process, and only doing it so they can continue touring, is mind blowing. Celebration Rock starts strong with “The Nights of Wine and Roses” and doesn’t let up until reaching a massive crescendo with the album’s closing two tracks. Those two tracks, “The House that Heaven Built” and “Continuous Thunder”, are without doubt the best one, two punch released this year, and cap off a truly great album in the way it deserves.
7. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory: Cloud Nothings started as the solo bedroom project of Dylan Baldi that fit in well with all the lo-fi indie pop coming out in 2009-2010. So it came as a bit of a surprise to hear that the now four-piece band was recording an album with Steve Albini. Turns out, the band knew what they were doing. While Baldi’s earlier work had a bit of a punk feel there was still a sweetness to his songs. With Attack on Memory, however, the band has fully abandoned that sweetness for a sharper, noisier, and most of all harder sound. In fact, I’ve seen Attack on Memory described as “post-hardcore”, and while I’ve never liked that particular genre tag, I can certainly hear post-hardcore kings Fugazi all over Attack on Memory.
8. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music: It seems like Killer Mike has been around forever. He made his debut in 2000 on Outkast’s Stankonia, and has been a fixture of the ATL hip hop scene ever since. His southern growl has brought his particular brand of political rap (attacking politics as a whole, while making sure to share his venom in a bipartisan manner) to solo work, guest appearances, and even television and movies. Somehow, though, he’s never quite had a breakthrough album until R.A.P. Music. With R.A.P. Music, however, he has released an absolute classic of political hip hop, highlighted by “Anywhere But Here” and “Reagan”, and finally broken through to a truly national audience.
9. Poliça – Give You the Ghost: I previously discussed Poliça in Dispatches from Funkytown #3, but Give You the Ghost has been released since that time, and it lived up to the hype. The band’s dark synth pop, supported by two drum kits, is at the same time both alluring and somewhat disturbing, and while the autotune on Channy Leaneagh’s vocals can come on strong, its use is understandable in the context of the band. In fact, the album is so impressive the band was signed to, and Give You the Ghost rereleased by, the highly respected indie label Mom & Pop this summer. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to listen to the album, do so now.
10. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city: good kid, m.A.A.d. city is an album that has already been dissected ad nauseum, has rightfully topped countless year end lists, and likely is the instant classic those lists claim. There’s nothing for me to add to what others have said.
11. Brother Ali – Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color: It’s unfortunate that Brother Ali does his best work when life is at its hardest, but with Mourning in America he has certainly turned his pain into our gain.
15. Joey Bada$$ – 1999: I wrote about this brilliant mixtape earlier here.
Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical Order)
Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
Dan Deacon – America
Dylan Ettinger – Lifetime of Romance
Frankie Rose – Interstellar
godspeed you! black emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Hospitality – Hospitality
John Talabot – fIN
Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth
Santigold – Master of My Make-Believe
An author and editor at MiG, Craig lives in Minnesota with his wife and son and is an attorney in his real life. Once upon a time Craig played the trumpet and spent four years in the Hawkeye Marching Band and pep band. These days Craig finds himself most often listening to experimental rock, hip hop, and post punk, but you can see everything he's listening to at: www.last.fm/user/cafreema Craig is not ashamed to admit the first concert he ever attended was New Kids on the Block.
All posts by Craig McManus | Subscribe to Entries (RSS)