This year I listened to every bit of new music I got my hands on, and, starting in January, began this list. Over the year, I was surprised at the results, what would get crossed off, what came back, and how some of what finally made it to the list below I didn’t care for at all when I first heard it. This is, in fact, usually the case: Music that is immediately appealing offers little reason for you to go back, again and again, and listen again, and closer that next time around.
10. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
It was in 2005’s early days that Britain’s Bloc Party sailed across the Atlantic on a wave of buzz, and by spring Silent Alarm was on repeat at Urban Outfitters across the country. High-schoolers in bands (or at least their rhythm sections) everywhere rejoiced, and they were followed quickly by DJs, who went crazy over the swell companion remix album. Try as hard as anyone might to avoid the grip of Bloc Party’s swift, percussive pop, by year’s end resistance was futile—as was denying just how good they really are.
9. Low, The Great Destroyer
After all this time Low, ever-fond of one-beat-per-minute tearjerkers, chose to engage in some serious axework, some monstrous shredding… OK, so they didn’t exactly jump from slowcore to grindcore, but they did revamp a tired formula whose end had come and gone too long ago, and with The Great Destroyer we’re rewarded with the spoils—edgy, distorted, and recorded at what must have been a teeth-shattering volume.
8. The Tears, Here Come the Tears
Long-estranged former Suede band-mates Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler finally got their act back together and released an album that recaptures every inch of Suede’s past glories, and quite often eclipses it. Anderson’s lyrics are confessional, personal—and, unlike in latter-day Suede, outshine their rhyme scheme. At times, it sounds as if they’ve picked up right where they left off, as on “Apollo 13,” which could easily have been an early Suede B-side. But it never would have sounded this good—this kind of assured playing took 10 years to get right.
7. …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Worlds Apart
I believe I’m paraphrasing Henry Rollins when I say the conservatism of punk rock will bite you in the ass: Once a band decides it’s going to learn a fourth chord or invest in a sitar, its fan-base jumps ship. So when Trail of Dead didn’t release Source Tags & Codes II, the distress calls were a-plenty. Which is unfortunate, since Worlds Apart is a sprawling, ambitious work that is like nothing else you heard this year, and that’s a good thing.
6. British Sea Power, Open Season
More refined than their jaw-droppingly good 2003 debut, Open Season is also an exploration of altogether new territory. Nature itself acts as an honorary member of the band—it would seem they’ve taken the owls and tree branches from their live set and brought them into the studio. Sounds of snapping twigs and campfires abound, time signatures turn malleable, and it’s almost like a completely imagined hike in the woods. A hike with reverb.
5. Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now
Though the comparisons to Nick Drake and Nina Simone are apt, I Am a Bird Now achieves a rarity in music—beauty as honest as it is unbelievable. The spare, orchestral compositions hang, unsettling, in a tense balancing act with Antony’s vocals, which are hardly earth-bound themselves. Every track is uniquely stirring, totally unreal.
4. Animal Collective, Feels
The worst thing about experimental music is that once it’s over you feel like the one who’s been experimented on, and Animal Collective’s previous work has been no exception. That is, until Feels, a joyful thing that still has more twists and turns than the rabbit’s hole, and that transports you to a place of happy, chattering voices, pulsating drumbeats, and lushly textured songs—indeed, exactly what you’d hoped to find.
3. M83, Before the Dawn Heals Us
My Bloody Valentine’s influence has been so far-reaching and profound that 15 years after Loveless jumped out of the bag, musicians still try to infringe on MBV copyrights. But to those about to shoegaze, we salute you—for nobody does it better than M83, and never as grand as they’ve done it here. The guitars so big, the percussion so crisp, even Kevin Shields must wonder what he’s been up to lately.
2. The Decemberists, Picaresque
Not so much changing their sound as magnifying it, the Decemberists are becoming themselves, and with all the subtlety, mystery, and merriment that’s part of their own peculiar landscape. The harbinger of all this is Picaresque, and it’s a magnificent leap above and beyond everything else the band has yet attempted—and in their Astaire-esque career of zero missteps, that’s a trajectory you had better be watching.
Album of the Year: Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary
With their stripped-down instrumentation, and using little more than the strength of their own voices, Wolf Parade’s songs tingle with anticipation. These are songs that, very simply, have a physical effect—one that even on record is impossible to not get all wound up about. It’s so good you can barely stand it.
A thrilling, powerful debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary defied all expectations, improved your day every time you listened to it, and proved that truly great music can change the way we feel—because you can actually feel it.