It hasn’t been an amazing year for music, but surely an entertaining one. Lots of new acts jockeying for position amongst the wily veterans, and plenty of debate even as early as June over love ‘em-or hate ‘em titles such as King of Limbs and James Blake’s eponymous debut and where they belong in the year’s final canonization of greats. Honestly, I can’t remember a year in recent memory when I’ve found so many hyped records I’ve disliked or been entirely disinterested in so many times. Cults? Pass. Tyler, The Creator? Garbage. Even Sub Pop’s universally-praised debut for Shabazz Palaces bored me. The saviors from my musical banality have consistently been experienced groups who know what they’re doing and get praised for their music and not being arrested in LA and starting riots. Sounds curmudgeonly, sure, but we do listen to music for the music, right?
11. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (LL)
One of the best break-up albums I’ve heard in years. Stinging thematic content mixed with Li’s Swed-pop is a potent combination.
10. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light (Interscope)
On the surface, a laid-back, almost unassuming record, but TVOTR are good at layering depth, and the album delivers something new after every listen.
9. My Morning Jacket – Circuital (ATO)
As close as a band can be to returning to form without abandoning lessons learned from previous experimentation. Another classic MMJ recording.
8. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Bella Union)
Following up a masterful debut with another masterpiece. These guys made it look easy.
7. Panda Bear – Tomboy (Paw Tracks)
A derivation from earlier work; more electronic, ethereal. But no less beautiful and no less moving.
6. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead (Rough Trade)
You’ll be hard-pressed to find another quality collection of alt-rock songs like this all year. The antithesis of their sprawling rock opera, with abounding singles.
5. The Black Lips – Arabia Mountain (Vice Records)
With nods to everyone from The Rolling Stones to the Ramones, working with Mark Ronson turned out to the be the best thing to ever happen to The Black Lips.
4. Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge)
Dan Bejar is a mad genius. His music teeters between layers of irony and sincerity and where it ultimately ends up doesn’t matter because it’s all so good.
3. Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong (ATO)
It’s a slide guitar away from being an outright country album, at least back when country music meant fantastic songwriting instead of lowest common denominator pandering and a colossal drawl. A nearly flawless album.
2. White Denim – D (Downtown Records)
The album clocks in at just over 35 minutes but it packs an unreal punch. Energy and hooks to spare, one of the biggest surprises of the year so far.
1. tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L (4AD)
Addicting is the best way to describe Merrill Garbus’ music. Her distinctive voice and arrangements get in your head like nothing else will.