Here's my year-end list. This year I opted to throw everything into one list rather than I put the first twenty in order, threw in ten others, and scribble a few lines about the top ten. The writing isn't particularly deep or insightful, but I felt like sharing.
Here are the top ten:
1. Ricardo Dillon Wanke : to r.s.
Wanke is a new name to me and his work (both this and his 2006 release Caves) came out nowhere and floored me. His guitar drones are so purely tonal they could easily be mistaken for sine waves and when he incorporates the acoustic or piano, his dense layers take on even more life. The closest comparison I can come up with is an extremely stripped down, exceptionally raw Oren Ambarchi. I can’t get enough of this.
2. Superchunk : Majesty Shredding
Superchunk wouldn’t rank in my top ten bands of the ‘90’s. Probably wouldn’t even crack the top twenty. I have no idea why this one stuck such a chord with me this year, but it did. Perhaps it was the timing of its release, as it definitely made for great summer driving music. With excellent songs and outstanding production throughout, it makes me wonder what some of the bands I truly loved 15 years ago would sound like in the studio now.
3. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma : Love is a Stream
Much has been said about Jefre’s shoegaze-drone monolith and the bulk of it is spot on. I don’t know if I can add a unique perspective, but more than anything else on this list, I do feel distinct relationship between Love is a Stream and my own work this year, a distant cousinship perhaps.
4. Oval : O
This is album I had the hardest time classifying and when I was still toying with doing two separate lists for pop and experimental lists, I had to include it in both. I’m still not sure where I’d file it, but it is a stunning work regardless. Equally head-bobbable and -scratchable, it’s parts combine to form a rather glorious whole.
5. Deerhunter : Halcyon Digest
Brendan Murray first turned me on to Deerhunter during our 2008 tour and I’d enjoyed everything I’d heard previous to Halcyon Digest, but it really solidified their work in my eyes. The clutter was stripped away and the scattered bits of genius were finally collected and molded into a cohesive and undeniable beast.
6. Noveller : Desert Fires
If I hadn’t seen Sarah Lipstate perform these tracks on back-to-back nights in August, I’m not sure I’d feel as strongly about this album. But I did and I do. This album is a collection of excellent composition akin to that of my favorite electronic/noise perfomers, but with the unmistakable beauty of the guitar (the Fender Jazzmaster, specifically) at the forefront.
7. Chris Abrahams : Play Scar
Another album I have a hard time describing. I guess the running theme here is that if it confounds me, it moves up the list. I’m not a fan of Abrahams’ group the Necks so I don’t have much of reference point coming into this one. I know that organs, pianos, and synths make up the bulk of Abrahams’ sound world and when he gets in the studio and starts layering/chopping, things get very interesting. It’s a little all over the map, but the skill, attention and focus are consistent throughout and matched by the outstanding production.
8. Joe Colley : Disasters of Self
I like this album. Quite a bit, obviously. That said, I don’t understand why people are so head-over-heels excited about it. As good as this album is, I don’t think it can hold its own against Psychic Stress Soundtracks or Waste of Songs. New Colley is better than new most other things, but when compared to his past accomplishments, I found this one harder to get excited about.
9. Darksmith : Total Vacuum
One thing I dislike about the bulk of music criticism is the idea that liking (A) conflicts with any attempt to like (B). That said, this Darksmith album is another reason I just couldn’t flip out over the Colley set. Combining principles of Colley (or maybe more specifically Crawl Unit) and his cohorts from the 1990’s California noise scene with hints of Schimpfluch, Alga Marghen, and Graham Lambkin’s work, this one hits all the right notes. Anyone who loved the Colley set or the Lambkin/Lescalleet collaboration, but did not hear this, needs to rectify that promptly.
10. Philip Jeck : An Ark for the Listener
I was nervous about this one prior to its release. I thought Sand was a major misstep for Jeck with some interesting concepts probably seemed good at the drafting table, but just didn’t seem to work on record. Fortunately An Ark for the Listener is a return to form, solid from start to finish. His live performances (recordings) that I’ve heard this year have been top notch as well.
And ten others...
11. Jon Mueller : The Whole
12. Joanna Newsom : Have One On Me
13. Mark Fell : Multistability
14. Kanye West : My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
15. The Fun Years : God Was Like, No
16. Gerritt : Portions of Hell
17. Emeralds : Does It Look Like I’m Here?
18. Graham Lambkin & Jason Lescalleet : Air Supply
19. Fennesz / Daniell / Buck : Knoxville
20. The National : High Violet
And ten others (alphapbetical) with some cheating :
Thomas Ankersmit : Live in Utrecht; Failing Lights : Failing Lights; Gerritt & John Wiese : Panoramic Glass and Mirror; Joseph Hammer : I Love You, Please Love Me Too; Jason Kahn & Jon Mueller : Phase; Brandon Nickell : And if You Set This Mind of Mine Afire…; Michael Pisaro : [various releases]; Rangda : False Flag; Rene Hell : [various releases]; Time & Temperature : Cream of the Low Tide