In a year that might well be remembered for one of the worlds largest bands giving their album away for free – much to the chagrin of many music listeners, there’s was plenty of great music to get excited about.
Albums from Ryan Adams, U2, Taylor Swift, Beck, Foo Fighters and many others made the rounds on airwaves, speakers and ear buds in 2014. Still, some albums, some songs were more resilient, more beautiful, catchier and more…”top” than the others,
That’s what this list is for.
A list showcasing the Top 5 albums I heard this year, like I write every year. Here were the albums I played relentlessly. Are any of your favourites on it?
Biff Bam Pop has been sharing Top 5 Album lists each year for five years now. It’s a bit of crazy thought that we’ve ben doing it for so long, but we do love our music and we do love to share it with our friends.
The great thing about coming up with these sorts of catalogues is the discussion it stimulates with other music lovers. Andy Burns, BBP’s Editor-in-Chief, generally has a distinctly different compilation than what I put together at the end of every year. 2012 was no exception. You can read his thoroughly rockin’ list here.
When listening to music, and deeming it “best of” – I have one criteria that rates above all others: it’s got to be music that stays with me, an album that plays on repeat all throughout the year. It’s got to be something that stands the test of a sound bite as well as a second single: a musicianship that lasts a full album, a sound that entices, surprises and elicits emotion.
Here then, are my top 5 albums of 2012.
Another year rapidly draws to a close and, over the past twelve months, a plethora of amazing artists have released brilliant music for our thirsty ears.
We here at Biff Bam Pop! are big fans of music. Huge. Our lives, probably like yours, revolve around it at every moment: those uplifting tunes in our ear buds when we’re walking the west end with a swagger in our step, those melancholy sounds that keep us company during the downswing of a failing romance, the excessive beats per minute that make us raise our hands high in the air, our fists clenched in joy or even the sweet melodies that we hum while in the shower on a lazy Sunday morning.
Since 2008, we’re been giving you short lists of what we think the best albums of the past year have been. My mathematical criteria for picking “best albums” is pretty straightforward: a musical and lyrical artistry inherent in the songs, an emotional resonance that colours my moods and, of course, the number of times I actually listened to a particular album (multiplied by how often I think I’ll be listening to it in the future).
Without further ado, then, here’s what I hear as the Top 5 albums of 2011:
Halloween is still my favourite holiday of the year by far. Candy, costumes, horror films and no family obligations? Awesome. And call it nostalgia or die hard loyalty, but The Simpsons is still my favourite source of Halloween-themed entertainment. So, in celebration of my favourite holiday and my favourite show, I’m happy to bring you my Top 5 Simpsons Halloween episodes.
This list of my top albums of2010 has literally been in the making for 365 days. I know that sounds obvious, but I love writing this year-end column and I’ve been consciously “bumping” albums in favor of others all year long. Recently, I’ve had friends ask me what my top albums of the year are. After being slightly taken aback – and flattered – that they even had an interest in my opinion on the matter, I gave teasers to one or two of them, gave my entire list to one particular close friend (who was buying them all on Boxing Day) and told a few others to read this column. (Sorry to make you wait a bit!)
For the rest of you, I just hope to keep you mildly entertained for a couple of minutes and, perhaps, make you think about what the best albums you heard this year are. Feel free to tell me yours in the comments section below. With all the music that’s out there, I’m keen to know if there are any I might have missed.
The last few months has seen Andy B and I debating the merits of our favorite pieces of music with a true fan’s exuberance. You can read about his choices for the top 5 albums of 2010 here. Although we’ve discussed our faves, I think even our esteemed Editor-In-Chief will find one or two surprises on this particular list. They were surprises for me, too.
Without further ado, then…the top 5 albums of 2010 are:
5. The National – High Violet
I’m not a huge The National fan. Normally, I hear them somewhere in the background while my brother is playing one of their records either at his condo or in his car. Still, there was something about the sounds in High Violet that perked my ears – and those ears stayed perked for the better part of the year. Melancholy, serene, sometimes sultry but always affecting, High Violet, the bands fifth offering, always remained an engaging listen despite its rainy day sound.
In-between the staple morose sounds of The National, there were joyous moments to be found here. Bloodbuzz Ohio soars to new musical heights for the band with its haunting piano chimes and bursting drum loops, all coupled with lead singer, Matt Berninger, crooning, “I still owe money to the money I owe”. The song is made all the more haunting by his deep, baritone voice, a trait that runs, as it should, throughout the entirety of the record.
The slow build of England containing the lyric “You must be somewhere in London, you must be loving your life in the rain” picks up where the uplifiting Bloodbuzz Ohio stops, culminating in a stadium-sized sing-along that would end the album if not for the tender bedtime finale of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.
Slow, mainly quiet and respectful, yet still brimming with artistic desire, The National have created a sensitive album that submits and embraces human emotion. It might be raining outside but High Violet will bring a little sunshine to any grey day.
4. Vampire Weekend – Contra
Who wouldn’t want to be drinking Horchata in December?
That tasty, ground almond beverage is the title of the first track in Vampire Weekend’s second album, Contra – and it kicks the record off with quite a bang: deftly struck xylophone planks, rushing drum and bass grooves mixing effortlessly with programmed sound effects and sweeping strings. The song sounds marvelously like playfully bursting bathtub bubbles.
And that image is what makes Contra so brilliant. Amidst the sweet Paul Simon-esque vocals of singer Ezra Koenig is an album full of comforting, childlike fun and springtime noise. These are musicians enjoying their art and that joy is infectious. Contra is world beat in its sounds mixing indie art rock with ska, ambient electronica, rap and rave together into alchemist gold. Run will have you singing in your car while Diplomat’s Son will have you bopping your head when doing the laundry or vacuuming. The album closer, I Think Ur A Contra, on the other hand, will tuck you into bed on an early summer evening.
Lawsuits over album cover artwork aside, Contra is Vampire Weekend’s first number one in the charts, selling over 4000,000 in the United States alone. It should be in your collection as well. Heard whilst drinking horchata, of course.
3. Bran Van 3000 – The Garden
The city of Montreal gets represented in one of my year-end Top 5 lists again. There’s been some pretty special music coming out of that town the past decade and Bran Van 3000’s fourth album, The Garden, is a testament to that magic.
This 15 track recording, featuring guest appearances from musical artists normally found in circles I don’t generally gravitate towards – Jamaican rap, R & B, soul and modern, big box dance clubs, is an absolute delight from start to finish.
The Bran Van 3000 collective, Canada’s own Gorillaz, takes the listener on a journey seemingly through the length of a day. Utilizing string arrangements and acoustic guitar, we start with sounds and rhythms seemingly found in the early morning in songs like Oui Got Now and then move to hazy dub-based music in the afternoon, heard in You Too. Later, as daylight turns to starlight, the album picks itself up with party and dance floor beats. First single, Grace (Love On The Block), is amped up energy with its chorus of “la la la la la la la” – something that all the club kids will love. Jahrusalem ups the ante, harkening heavy house music comingled with flourishes of electronica and rap. World Party keeps the good times rolling with a syrupy bass groove, plucky guitar and soulful vocals while the seven minute long Stillwater Cats completes your aural adventure with a return to strings and electronic samples amidst a world beat sound.
Bran Van 3000’s latest is musical genius, their best offering yet, daring the listener to ever turn the music off. Putting it on your record player or iPod is akin to having your own personal DJ, someone who only plays the songs you’ve been dying to hear all of your life.
The Garden wins every time and listening to it, you will too.
2. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Working with Snoop Dog, Mos Def, Lou Reed and Bobby Womack on a new album? Having punk rock legends Paul Simonon and Mick Jones of The Clash back you up on bass and guitar respectively? That’s just not fair! It must be some kind of crazy dream – that’s the only explanation, right?
Well, something like that could only happen in the fictional, cartoon world of Gorillaz.
It’s a testament to Damon Albarn’s musical chops, ringleader of the virtual band, that he was able to assemble this all-star cast of musicians for the third offering from Gorillaz, the amazing Plastic Beach. With this band, a collective that changes from album to album, Albarn can move in any musical style that he wants and with the concept album Plastic Beach, it was funk, soul, hip-hop, electronica and rap – all rolled up in a pop-flavoured shell that interested him.
Perhaps not as affecting as the group’s last album, Demon Days, Plastic Beach still contains a number of top tunes running throughout it’s politically aware narrative of consumerism amidst natural resource shortage. Stylo is a kick ass, bass driven tour de force while On Melancholy Hill is a breezy and contented come down from the trappings of this digital age. Empire Ants and To Binge are beautiful songs, delicately presented by the sweet, quiet but powerful vocals of Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon – live favourites to be sure. But it’s the Mos Def fronted poetry of Sweepstakes that demands to be heard here, a rolling drum-fuelled celebration of lower class culture rising above its station in life. An amazing piece of songwriting.
Plastic Beach by Gorillaz has something for everyone, always exuding a musical braveness that elevates it beyond the status quo, cartoon or not.
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Remember what I said about Montreal? Magic, I tell you, sheer magic.
It’s only their third album, but with The Suburbs, Arcade Fire seem to be older, wiser, perhaps slightly more melancholy, as they look back on a youth spent outside of the city limits. The album is a story of what those neighbourhoods are like, the people that live within them and the kinds of fiction (and non-fiction) that permeate through them.
It’s not story time, however. No, this is an album of truth, about the need to break away from the mundane, to seek out one’s path and find a place in this world. The glow of the big city lights, of course, relentlessly beckons.
Arcade Fire are still singing to the kids here. Rocking songs like Ready To Start and Month of May prove that hypothesis. Not entirely grown up just yet, however, the band still appeals to the older adult, found in that sense of understanding that only comes with experience. Why else would we get the guitar-driven, REM-feeling Modern Man or the Blondie inspired Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)? Arcade Fire are both masters and students of their art.
Still, it’s the lynchpin song, We Used To Wait, upon which the album revolves. This is the coda to a brilliant recording: that there was a time when information wasn’t so instant and that those bygone days were a better time, that there was more meaning to relationships back then. “Hope that something pure can last” wails singer Win Butler, a testament to instant gratification and the setting aside of the just received for the brand new about to arrive. Everything these days: records, homes, people, love – is disposable.
The Suburbs is a glorious rock album – both musically and thematically. It rises far above the mundane, kicking and screaming the entire way, orbiting a place in the musical landscape as something that all musicians should aspire: an instant, relevant and timeless classic that occupies it’s own place, set aside from all others.
Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs shines its own bright light, a triumph over so many things.
I love creating these lists but they do stress me out. It’s inevitable that I’ll miss listening to or completely forgetting about certain albums but that’s not necessarily something than can be avoided. The fun in the “best of” lists is that one can be drastically different from another. With the exception of one album below, witness Andy B’s list here and see how different his is from mine. Yes, we debate the accuracy of our lists. And really, that’s the point. My “best of” list is different than his. It will probably be different than yours. And that is the beauty of music.
I found that 2009 was not as prodigious a musical year as 2008. It was difficult placing albums namely because I found that many left less of a mark on my consciousness this year. 2009 had some pretty big expectations following 2008 and in many regards, didn’t quite live up to them. That isn’t to say there wasn’t great music released.
Witness, then, the Top 5 Albums of 2009:
5. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
Moody church organs, fat guitar riffs, bold, upright bass rumblings and a driven drum track. A lyrical narrative wherein multiple singers play multiple characters in multiple character arcs.
The Hazards of Love is the story of a stag by day turned, by the Queen of Nature, into a man by night in order for him to lie with the human woman whom he loves. The Decemberists turn a fable of adoration and avarice into a concept album that is truly meant to be played on the stage with actors, a choir and a full orchestra.
Won’t Want for Love is a bold introduction to Margaret, the female love interest as she audaciously declares her love for the stag/man and how nothing will quell this emotion. A barely audible guitar string, heightening in intensity as the song progresses, warns the listener of the follies of desire. A standout track, The Rake’s Song naturally alludes to the sordid history of the antagonist of the nearly sixty minute tale. Here, we learn of this character’s murder of his own children as he was so “shamefully saddled with three little pests.” It’s a three-minute epic of drum-fuelled depravity that begs the listener to sing along. A strange attraction, no?
The Hazards of Love is a wonder marriage of music and story and, given its seventeen tracks, feels too short. There are probably 3 or 4 songs missing before perfection can be obtained, each absent track shedding light on a particular character or situation. Still, meant to be heard from beginning to end, the album is a wonderful thrust forward by a band with a propensity for stage drama. Perhaps more of a wonder was the concern fans had when the Decemberists moved from an independent label to Capital Records a few years ago.
The band has not lost any of their ambition or integrity. If anything, that decision, as heard in The Hazards of Love, has seen them grow as both artists and musicians.
4. Muse – The Resistance
Leave it to Matthew Bellamy, lead architect of Muse, to write fascinating operatic prog-rock songs about dying alien races sent into deep space to repopulate the species and still have said songs allude to relevant, current world events. Yes, in The Resistance, the band’s fifth album, he’s talking about the human race amidst a time of war, dissolving political borders, pandemic and global warming.
Recoded in the northern lake district of Italy, The Resistance undeniably has a distinctly European flavour. Whether it’s the piano-driven, French-infused language of I Belong To You (Mon Coeur S’Ouvre A Ta Voix) or the previously mentioned space opera of Exogenesis: Symphony (parts1 through 3), the band never lose their rock roots. Even with the audacity of employing groovy slap base on Undisclosed Desires, The Resistance is always inviting to the ear, getting stronger with each subsequent listen.
With a song included in the latest Twilight movie and a heavy hitting, guitar, bass and drum live show which penetrates North America in the new year, Muse are set to be a household name. Once half-heartedly shrugged off as Radiohead and Pink Floyd knock-offs, Muse are entrenched in being no more than that which they always wanted: themselves in a perfectly fitted, conspiratorial musical niche wherein they can do whatever it is they want.
3. U2 – No Line on the Horizon
Somewhere in the mid nineteen nineties, I either lost U2 or they lost me. I blame Pop, an album I disliked so much, I simply gave it away to a friend. Of course, the band and their music were always heard – there’s no escaping U2. Still, I hadn’t bought any U2 music since then. I’m not entirely sure why I rushed out to purchase No Line On The Horizon. I can only say that, knowing the band had stalwart producers Eno and Lanois in the camp, it was simply a feeling I had that this album would be different – that I would enjoy it.
That feeling was spot on.
Not their highest selling or most accessible album, here, Bono has found his musical-poet self, seen only fleetingly since 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire. Musically, the album is a mix between the experimental folk-rock of that recording and the seminal, dance-floor inspired, 1991’s Achtung Baby. Bad is the introduction to Unknown Caller while Even Better Than The Real Thing promises Magnificent; Moment of Surrender is the sequel to So Cruel while I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight completes Pride (In The Name of Love). The musical colours that make up the album are echoed incessantly as one song leads to another: the sounds of a plucked guitar string are echoed in a subsequent song, a bass groove resonates later in the record. The whole is more important than the pieces, the band professes.
Along with The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby, No Line On The Horizon completes a trilogy three decades in the making.
What an amazing musical journey it has been.
2. Manic Street Preachers – Journal for Plague Lovers
Journal was advertised as the lyrical return of troubled Richey Edwards, the poet-songwriter (and soul) of the band, after having disappeared in 1995 by probably committing suicide. Declared officially dead late last year, his body has yet to be found.
Instead, with Edwards journal of half-formed lyrics and poems in hand, given to his band mates on the eve of his disappearance, the Manics have found their old raison d’être: gritty, political, nihilist, twenty-first century life-picking swagger embraced by stadium-sized rock riffs. Produced by Steve Albini, the album sounds deliciously like Nirvana on one song and Rush on another but thoroughly like Manic Street Preachers throughout. This is the evolution of their magnum opus, The Holy Bible, a grown up, sophisticated and, often, introverted look at human existence.
At once, it’s softer – with a childlike naivety inherent in the lyric “Oh mommy, what’s a sex pistol?” in Jackie Collins Existential Question Time but the cut is far deeper in All is Vanity which promises that “It’s not what’s wrong, it’s what’s right, it’s a fact of life sunshine” suspiciously sung with enough vitriol to sound like “it’s a fucked up life sunshine.” Make no mistake. Edwards, ever the player with words and sounds knew this when he wrote the poem/lyric.
And those big electric guitars are absolutely amazing. Journal For Plague Lovers is the Manic Street Preachers return to post-punk, anthem-rock glory.
1. Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
The first time I heard anything from this album was when the band, on a late winter promotional tour, played a riveting live version of first single Ulysses on MTV Canada. That one song got my blood pumping, my head nodding and my foot stomping and, nearly twelve months later, those body parts haven’t stopped.
I’m not sure what else there is to say since I said so much about how that song and then the rest of the album made me feel here. Actually, the rest of the album is just as hot as that single. It’s music to listen to before and after a night out at the club. Not to mention while writing or vacuuming or just puttering around the house.
Songs from Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, the band’s third album, were heard en masse in movie trailers and Apple iPod commercials everywhere during 2009. They even hit the niche markets. No one else on this Top 5 list released a dub version of their album this year. Franz Ferdinand did and it sounded pretty good too.
Still, the musical maturity of the band, their confidence and the successful dance-pop/synth experimentation found in this album boils down to simple communicable infection.
And doctor, I don’t want the cure.