1. My Bloody Valentine: m b v — Sleeping Beauty awakes, finds a legion of pretenders vying for the throne, lays waste to all with its undiminished power.
2. Parquet Courts: Light Up Gold / Tally All the Things That You Broke — Tangled Strats and stoned musings. Brevity, levity, and verbosity. These dudes are charming and restless. High fives to some new faves.
3. Disclosure: Settle — The kids are coming up from behind.
4. (TIE) Arcade Fire: Reflektor / Kanye West: Yeezus — The should-have-been albums-of-the-year.
Arcade Fire are not one of the greatest bands in music today. Funeral was great, don’t get me wrong, but I only cared about a song or two on the second and third albums. Subjective, of course, but if you listen to the lyrics, take in the lack of humor, the fucking sanctimony, maybe you’ll come my way. The lyrics aren’t much better on Reflektor—and the humor is forced—but the music really works. Did they adopt the “cool dance moves?” Sure. But with James Murphy on the boards it’s done right. If you don’t put this band on a pedestal they’re a lot better.
Kanye produced one of the most innovative rap albums in years. The sound of Yeezus, in all its electro-Gothic glory, is phenomenal. But then he went and rapped his sloppy lyrics on top of that glorious production. I wish he would take more time with his lyrics—and cut out the fucking misogyny. Or just let someone else do it (see: My Name Is My Name). If he’s going to be a Genius he has to say something beyond himself. And if the argument is that he’s using himself as a microcosm for greater injustice, then he needs to do a much better job of conveying that. Like AF, he also needs to work on his sense of humor. Christ, man, it’s OK to laugh on your mother-in-law’s stupid show. (I take that back. I like that angry-realization-that-I’m-laughing face.)
6. Queens of the Stone Age: …Like Clockwork — Maybe people don’t give a shit about rock anymore because so many bands have forgotten what made it awesome in the first place: Danger. QotSA haven’t forgotten. They hail from the desert where death is ever-present and it guides their swaggering beast of a band. …Like Clockwork exudes all the danger (i.e., sex and violence) a rock record should.
7. Speedy Ortiz: Major Arcana — A knotty, astute album driven by cryptic lines delivered acerbically over minor chord guitar interplay that broods and bursts. A real killer.
8. Oneohtrix Point Never: R Plus Seven — This album, heavy on plundered preset 80s computer sounds slashed and molded into refurbished New Age, should not work for me. Yet it does work—really, really does—because it’s just so unerringly human.
9. Foxygen: We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic — Ridiculous band name, great tunes. What Doug Yule wished he would have done with the blasphemous Squeeze.
10. Darkside: Psychic — A sinuous and intuitive album that, despite the electronics, comes across as predominantly organic.
11. Tim Hecker: Virgins — I’m beginning to wonder if “Tim Hecker” is actually a group made up of ghosts, clouds, and static.
12. Savages: Silence Yourself — Aggressive, precise, taut, dark, and bold. Ideal post-punk. A powerful and invigorating debut.
13. Charli XCX: True Romance — As great as some of the chart-topping pop this year might be, you could randomly select a cut from True Romance and listen to it destroy the competition. This is agile, well-crafted, and ridiculously fun pop music. There’s no good reason why Charli XCX isn’t HUGE.
14. Danny Brown: Old —
15. Fuck Buttons: Slow Focus — Fucking tyrannical.
16. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories — The robots go back to move forward. Or maybe just back to go back. A stellar love letter to disco and 70s West Coast slick.
17. Iceage: You’re Nothing — Gritty, grinding, and brutal. Their heavy sophomore album shows them getting even better after a solid debut.
18. The Range: Nonfiction — Mike Powell, in his Pitchfork review of the album, says admiration for Nonfiction is most likely to grow “patiently, like a vine.” If we’re talking plant life, it was more of a Venus flytrap for me, a really graceful amalgam that clamped down immediately.
19. No Joy: Wait to Pleasure / Pastel and Pass Out — There can never be enough summer afternoons.
20. Deerhunter: Monomania — Heavily-distorted, junkyard Americana. Not a triumph like the last three records but it has some great moments—the title track, “Pensacola”—and styles I’d love to hear them explore further.
21. The Knife: Shaking the Habitual — Part screed on politics, gender, and environment (though that’s more explicit in the videos and album art than the lyrics), part alternate Eraserhead soundtrack. Like many screeds it goes on too long. Still, the good cuts remain like jagged wounds.
22. Haim: Days Are Gone — Sisters are doin’ it for themselves.
23. The Men: New Moon — Get your Neil Young & Crazy Horse on, dudes. I’m there.
24. Sky Ferreira: Night Time, My Time — Rookie Rock. Bundle this album with a copy of the latest Yearbook and give it to a teen. Or anyone.
25. Drake: Nothing Was the Same — An album that got a lot of play for me in and around this year’s ambient stuff. Stakes is soporific.
26. Julia Holter: Loud City Song — A kind of 21st century progeny of idiosyncratic, 1970s West Coast singer-songwriters and Kate Bush. Conceptual, lush, and a touch unusual.
27. A$AP Rocky: LONG.LIVE.A$AP — My better half is an education coordinator for the Children’s Aid Society in Brooklyn. She told me a story recently about how one of the young women she works with had to be sent home to change because of the t-shirt she was wearing. The front of the shirt had a picture of Mickey Mouse giving the finger while the back read, in bright-red caps, “I LOVE BAD BITCHES THAT’S MY FUCKIN’ PROBLEM.” To said young woman: You may have gotten in trouble with the school, but you got an A+ in our hearts.
28. AlunaGeorge: Body Music — The duo follows last year’s amazing singles with a promising debut of glistening R&B. Could use two to three songs trimmed off and resequencing, as it drifts, albeit sensually, in the second half.
29. Kurt Vile: Wakin on a Pretty Daze — A sprawling album of ambling, narcotized classic rock.
30. The Field: Cupid’s Head — “This is the three R’s / The three R’s: / Repetition, repetition, repetition.”
31. Milk Music: Cruise Your Illusion — Their band could be your life.
32. Miley Cyrus: Bangerz — The narrative focuses on how she doesn’t wear much and likes to party, our puritanical roots raging through to tear apart another young woman in the process of maturation. If you were 21 and didn’t want to party and get naked you are a turd. Hell, if you’re any age. This should be the focus: “Wrecking Ball.” That’s an Instant Classic. And have you seen her perform it? Even with that wide-eyed, singing kitty in space image behind her at the 2013 AMA’s, she was tearing up during her delivery. The same thing happened on SNL. Whether or not it’s an act—it’s in the video, as well—ultimately doesn’t matter when it feels real. There’s depth and talent behind the image. Also: “#GETITRIGHT” is the winter summer jam and “SMS (Bangerz)” is fun as hell. Oh, and “We Can’t Stop” ain’t bad either.
33. Pusha T: My Name Is My Name — Coke and mirrors will forever go together.
34. Boards of Canada: Tomorrow’s Harvest — Fulfilling the promise of their mysterious 12-inches on Record Store Day, which featured snippets of music, a chain of numbers, and a password-protected website, BoC’s latest is a crypic transmission of fuzzy, soundtrack-influenced, ambient jams.
35. Burial: Truant / Rough Sleeper — Not an album but a 12”, yet it’s just as intricate, if not more. The sound of finding beauty—albeit deeply haunted—in urban decay.
36. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels — Killer Mike and El-P indulge in tag-team braggadocio over futuristic beats like a duo of evil geniuses laughing their way towards world domination.
37. Lady Gaga: ARTPOP — Weird makes the world a wonderful place. The weirdness Lady Gaga brings to pop music is necessary. But we’re taking her for granted. Alright, so there aren’t as many “hits” on this album. But she wrote a song called “Swine” with a hook that goes “You’re just a pig inside a human body.” Come on! We need this.
38. Stephen Malkmus and Friends: Can’s Ege Bamyasi — Reverential and enjoyable. Casual Friday Can.
39. Cut Copy: Free Your Mind — Less dynamic than the last two records and lazy lyrically. Still, it’s a pleasant enough Screamadelica wannabe.
40. Marnie Stern: The Chronicles of Marnia — Album title of the year. Eases off on the spazz, stays POSITIVE.
AlunaGeorge: “Bad Idea” // Annie: “Invisible” // Arcade Fire: “Afterlife” // Ariel Pink / Jorge Elbrecht: “Hang On to Life” // A$AP Rocky: “Wild for the Night [ft. Skrillex & Birdy Nam Nam]” // Autre Ne Veut: “Play by Play” // The Belle Game: “River” // California X: “Spider X” // Candy Claws: "White Seal (Shell & Spine)" // Charli XCX: “So Far Away” // CHVRCHES: “Gun” // Ciara: “Body Party” // Classixx: “All You’re Waiting For [ft. Nancy Whang]” // Courtney Barnett: “Avant Gardener” // Daft Punk: “Get Lucky [ft. Pharrell & Nile Rodgers]” // Danny Brown: “Side B (Dope Song)” // Darkside: “Freak, Go Home” // David Bowie: “Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy)” // Deerhunter: “Monomania” // Disclosure: “White Noise [ft. AlunaGeorge]” // Drake: “Hold On, We’re Going Home [ft. Majid Jordan]” // Earl Sweatshirt: “Sunday [ft. Frank Ocean]” // FKA twigs: “Papi Pacify” // Foxygen: “On Blue Mountain” // Fuck Buttons: "Brainfreeze" // Haim: “The Wire” // The Haxan Cloak: “The Mirror Reflecting (Parts 1 & 2)” // Iceage: “You’re Nothing” // Jagwar Ma: “The Throw” // Janelle Monáe: “Q.U.E.E.N. [ft. Erykah Badu]” // Jenny Hval: “Mephisto in the Water” // Jon Hopkins: “Open Eye Signal” // The Juan Maclean: “Feel Like Movin’” // Justin Timberlake: “Let the Groove Get In” // Kanye West: “Black Skinhead” // Katy Perry: “Walking on Air” // The Knife: “Full of Fire” // Lady Gaga: “Swine” // Lone: “Airglow Fires” // Lxury: “J.A.W.S.” // Machinedrum: “Gunshotta” // The Men: “The Seeds” // Miley Cyrus: “Wrecking Ball” // Milk Music: “Cruising With God” // Mount Kimbie: “Made to Stray” // My Bloody Valentine: “New You” // The National: “Sea of Love” // No Joy: “Hare Tarot Lies” // Parquet Courts: “Stoned and Starving” // Perfect Pussy: “I” // Pharmakon: “Crawling on Bruised Knees” // Pissed Jeans: “Bathroom Laughter” // The Preatures: “Is This How You Feel?” // Pusha T: “Numbers On the Boards” // Queens of the Stone Age: “If I Had a Tail” // Robin Thicke: “Blurred Lines [ft. T.I. & Pharrell]” // Roosevelt: “Elliot” // Savages: “She Will” // Schoolboy Q: “Collard Greens [ft. Kendrick Lamar]” // Sky Ferreira: “You’re Not the One” // Son Lux: “Lost It to Trying” // Sophie: “Bipp” // Speedy Ortiz: “No Below” // Thee Oh Sees: “Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster” // Todd Terje: “Strandbar (disko)” // Torres: “Honey” // Yeah Yeah Yeahs: “Sacrilege” // Young Galaxy: “Pretty Boy (Peaking Lights Remix)”