It’s already time for a halfway through the year music ranking. This hasn’t been a great year so far. On the other hand, I’ve had way more things I’ve been looking forward to than in recent years. Lots of my favorite artists have been releasing things constantly, and several more are still on my list of things to get. I also have spent a lot of time with things I’ve missed in the past. Lightspeed Champion came out with something last year that I missed which was really, really great. I also have been listening to Iceburn from the mid 90′s which is a great band. I’ve been listening to Arvo Part which might be the best composer of our time. I’ve also been listening to Nik Bartch’s Ronin which is an amazing band combining Jazz and sort of Philp Glass style minimalism. Overall, I’ve been listening to and fascinated with lots of things from the past and not sticking with a lot of stuff from this year. I’ll list this year’s stuff in order of how much I like it with a brief description of it.
1) James Blake: James Blake – At first I didn’t know whether this album was made by horrible musicians or so good of ones that my puny brain couldn’t comprehend the complexity. It turns out that after many, many listens the album revealed itself to be an incredibly complex and beautifully subtle work of art. Unlike everyone else on this list, James Blake is actually a composer rather than songwriter. This probably confuses people. I even saw people commenting on youtube that he needs a new drummer. No. The drumming is amazing. It is just polyrhythm more complicated than standard 2 against 3 and often long hemiolas. The average listener will probably be discouraged with this album.
2) The Dodos: No Color – This is a really great album. It is exciting, moving, and technically impressive album. I’m continually amazed at how good of musicians these guys are. They write creative songs that involve what sounds almost like a modernized bach fugue or something. They have fascinating arrangements of acoustic vs electric sounds. The excitment never lets down on this album. The melodies are beautiful. The lyrics are often moving. I can’t get enough of it.
3) Death Cab for Cutie: Codes and Keys – I swore off DCFC after their last album, but as with other bands I swore off for some reason this year I broke my promise. I’m glad I did. This is actually really good. I won’t say it is a return to anything, since it is fairly different from any of their previous albums. There are a few songs that don’t live up to the rest of the album, but throwing those out I absolutely love this album. To me it is what they tried to do their last album, but they did it properly this time.
4) Son Lux: We Are Rising – This is a very good album with many of the same qualities of my number one album by James Blake. It has lots of cool tempo changes and mixed meters and polyrhythms. I think the fact that it was completely written and recorded in a month shows. Possibly if more time had been spent on it this would be my number one album so far. It is still well worth getting.
5) Bright Eyes: The People’s Key – I said that I’d never ever get a Bright Eyes album again after Connor Oberst disappointed me repeatedly the past several albums. The problem is one of my favorite albums of my entire life is a Bright Eyes album (I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning). So I just can’t resist when one comes out. My first Bright Eyes album was Fevers and Mirrors. This reminds me of that a lot. The first thing that happens is just speaking. It is ultra pretentious nonsense that really turned me off of the album at first (just like F&M). Overall I’ve come to really enjoy this album once I got over the horrible speaking aspects. Really it is quite fantastic. It is a return to classic Bright Eyes.
6) Elbow: Build a Rocket Boys! – There absolutely beautiful songs that I adore on this album, but overall it is hard to motivate myself to actually listen to it due to the number of songs I don’t really care for as well.
7) Adele: 21 – She really excels at power-pop with the gospel twist. They are really fun and enjoyable to listen to. Unfortunately, it seems that when she tries to get “emotional” it really falls flat. Sometimes when someone sings a song or acts in a movie or play it is possible for the person to really do it passionately, but without really feeling it. The end result is this awkward moment. That is how I feel when she doesn’t do her awesome poppy stuff. It is sort of passionate yell-singing that really works well with her great voice for the power pop, but falls flat on the subtler songs.
8. The Decemberists: The King is Dead – It is nice. That’s all about I can say. Not boring. Not exciting. Very forgetable, but at least it isn’t bad. If I want non-distracting background music while typing up some math or something I’ll put this on. I have to say that it is really fun for the most part. This is sort of classic Decemberists harkening back to Castaways and Cutouts or Picaresque.
9) Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues – Yet another one where the songs I like I very much love, but I can’t get over how bored I am by the songs I don’t like. Chop the first half of this album off and you have an absolutely excellent EP. Seriously, I’d rather people release a short album of great stuff rather than fill it out with boring stuff. The Shine/An Argument is certainly the best song this band has ever produced.
Not So Good:
10) Iron and Wine: Kiss Yourself Clean – I really like the direction of Iron and Wine for this album, but overall it just doesn’t do it for me. I’m bored by most of it. Next time keep in this direction, just do it a little more and I’ll be happy. I have to say that Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me is one of my favorite songs of the year. I could listen to it forever.
11) The Antlers: Burst Apart – The Antlers went from my number 1 album a few years ago to one of my least favorite of this year. Just like the previous one, this one is sort of tedious and boring to listen to at first. Unlike the last one after many, many repeated listens in an attempt to get it to reveal itself as a beautiful moving album it just never did. This is a huge disappointment.
12) Wye Oak: Civilian – I was told this would be like Neko Case. It wasn’t. I don’t really like it. There are a few songs I like, but not much.
13) Radiohead: The King of Limbs – Um. I think Radiohead really messed up here. It is very blah. Nothing very interesting. I’ve given a ton of listens hoping to change my mind, but I guess this goes down in history as the only Radiohead album I don’t like.
14) Cold War Kids: Mine Is Yours – I think this is a horrible album. It is just ordinary boring rock. Nothing makes it stand out. These guys used to be amazing back when they were doing original stuff like Hang Me Up To Dry with their awesome dirty loose sound and passionate vocals. They dared to do a guitar solo on that song that consisted of playing tritones over and over. Bring that back please. Admittedly there were a few good songs on here, but not enough to make it worth it.