i'm going to do a top three because i was really only blown away by the sheer and undeniable flawlessness of three. but i also would wholeheartedly recommend this year's releases by:
MGMT, FRIENDLY FIRES, THE MORNING BENDERS, GIRL TALK, LYKKE LI, FLEET FOXES, THE TING TINGS, SANTOGOLD, FOALS, and TOKYO POLICE CLUB.
3) YOU + ME --- THE WALKMEN. this album speaks of a place and time and incredible distance, a kind of divided nostalgia. in its ecstatic moments it is ecstatic, quick hand-clapping, this chimey, awkwardly tuned guitar, hamilton leithauser's voice uniformly joyous. on other tracks he is distant, another place and time, regretful. the drums, the bass and guitar, all are hollowed out, as if pulsebeats from the depths of a cave. this man, this voice, this music, have seen a thousand new years, and all of them have turned out to be something separate from whatever was promised. and they are still hopeful, for the kind of closeness this album's title promises and can only deliver in segments that seem like flashbacks.
2) THE RHUMB LINE --- RA RA RIOT. i saw ra ra riot three times in three months this year - july 19, august 19, october 16. the rhumb line is a sheer testament to how powerful and affecting music can be, and seeing it live reinforces this, at least for me. ra ra riot, more than any band i have ever seen live, feel their music like a physical entity, and it effects you like it effects them - watching, in the late-afternoon heat, wes miles in a button-down shirt and cutoff jeans sob "all, all, all your soaking wet dreams, you've spent them, you have gone and dreamt them dry" into a microphone wedged into the neck of his bass player mathieu santos is an image i doubt i will ever forget in all the years that i live. the shock to the rhumb line, though, is how that energy, so rooted in the visual, is carried into the music itself - the unrestrained insanity, personified and multiplied, in ghost under rocks, the glee that is saint peter's day festival (see my favorite songs list), the heavy loss and regret that is winter '05, and that devastating, pulsating organ and drums in too too too fast - that hook, "when i look in your eyes what am i supposed to do!?" you feel it. you will always feel it. you feel it in headphones, at your computer's speakers, you feel it then like you feel it when it is being played right in front of you and these six individuals writhe around, not standing still for a second, a reflection of the divisible entities of their music.
IF THIS IS A SURPRISE TO YOU, YOU DEFINITELY STUMBLED ACROSS THIS BLOG BY ACCIDENT AND DO NOT KNOW ME, BUT MY FAVORITE ALBUM OF THIS YEAR IS OBVIOUSLY
1) VAMPIRE WEEKEND --- VAMPIRE WEEKEND.
"in newport the air proclaims only the sources of money. even as the sun dapples the great lawns and the fountains plash all around, there is something in the air that has nothing to do with pleasure and nothing to do with graceful tradition, a sense not of how prettily money can be spent but of how harshly money is made, an immediate presence of the pits and the rails and the foundries..."
--- joan didion, "the seacoast of despair"
here is an image of an outsider in privilege. here is a precocious kid, handed a hefty sum of financial aid, who moves to cambridge or new haven or, maybe, morningside heights rosy-cheeked, only to find his every motion suddenly soundtracked by harpsichord and ironic afro-beat. this is a world he finds instantly difficult to understand. all he needs to be happy is to take the 79 across the park. the rich girls he hooks up with are more interested in keffiyehs and louis vuitton. his friends - bryn, without whom he is useless and loveless, joanna, who dwells on past relationships and is not mature enough to let go, blake, fake enough to present a different face to everyone - are all awkward people who have no interest in visualizing, imagining, or planning for the outcome of their lives after graudation. like didion in newport he sees not the glory of money, but the depravity with which that money is made. he sees himself sinking into this life, and knows that there is no getting out of it now. he is already lost, but for three minutes and forty-eight seconds he will beg you on his knees, with these strings behind like some kind of ghost, something chasing he cannot escape, to get out of this cape-cod illusion, to not let this take you over, to flee to whatever kind of safety not-new-england can supply. and this is his final stand before we lose him. this album's penultimate moment lies in his admitting, without doubt or denial, that he has fallen into this life where money is spent prettily and earned in secret, and that he has, without struggling, embraced it, become a part of it - "your pillow feels so soft, now." and yet this is triumphant, refined. a peaceful admission. a little death, a little life.
the shock of this album is its amalgamation of so many perfect things into one perfect thing. there is joy in it and sadness. there is privilege in it, yes, but people don't realize that this album's two longest songs are about taking the bus and fleeing cape cod. there is africana in it and ska and an echo of something like elvis costello. i still have the faith in this album i had when watching it performed, live, in stunning entirety, on the day of its release in january. i can only hope that i always have that faith.
i still have to do favorite concerts + stuff i'm excited for next year!