20. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam)It seems appropriate here to begin with a bit of an apology. (Before this record dropped, Yeezy was making a lot of them, but now that MBDTF has already achieved "classic" status, it seems unlikely that we'll be seeing a humble Ye any time soon.) How could I place this at the very bottom of my list, considering its mass appeal, its artistic sophistication, flawless production, etc? I've been blathering about it for the past week, making sure that "Monster" (and Nicki Minaj!) makes its rounds. If this was a list of songs, rather than albums, I'm sure it'd look quite different. Beginning with "Power," you're not likely to find a better three track sequence anywhere. So, Yeezy, while I must agree with most everyone else about the all-around awesomeness of your record (even your incredible list of collaborators seem aware that they're involved in a project bigger than their collective egos), I must also confess that I don't really know how to place it. Congratulations.
A word of warning: I've posted the most explicit song on the album. Headphones up!
19. Baths - Cerulean (Anticon)On Cerulean, Will Wiesenfeld (aka Baths) switches easily between the sentimental ("Hall," for example) and bedroom-spun chill-wave ("Animal"), electronic and otherwise. In all cases the music is immediate and undeniable. Baths' occasionally freakish mix of vocal layers brings to mind the grating sounds of Passion Pit, but its Wiesenfeld's nack for sunny jams that makes Cerulean worthwhile.
18. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (Last Gang)To be honest, I don't much care for Crystal Castles. But after hearing "Empathy" and "Year of Silence" I was more or less hooked. More of a pop record than their first self-titled effort, Crystal Castles (II) offers plenty of accessible songs without sacrificing the group's signature style. Their Atari-inspired electronica still features harsh moments of screaming and distortion, but the warmth of songs like "Celestia" and "Baptism" showoff a group that's willing to adapt.
17. Villagers - Becoming a Jackal (Domino)Irish folk troubadour Connor O'Brien (aka Villagers) was a finalist for this year's Mercury Prize. This being his debut, there's little doubt he'll have another go at the award. Becoming a Jackal is unpretentious and sincere, if at times a bit heavy-handed. Regardless of his weak spots, however, the guy is incredibly likeable. Then again, Becoming a Jackal finally works because O'Brien allows his material to take the lead. I think it's time for Bright Eyes to step aside: there's a new Connor in town. Snap!
16. These New Puritans - Hidden (Domino)On their third album, These New Puritans blend together a mix of influences (and samples) from classical music, trip-hop, garage, etc. The result is music that feels confrontational to its very core. In the spirit of post-punk outfits like The Fall and The Wire, TNP put large emphasis on cut and paste electronic samples and angular rhythmic shifts. I like to think of most of these tracks as perverse Christmas carols.
15. Tara Jane O'Neil - A Ways Away (K Records)A Ways Away is comprised of 36 minutes of introspective haze. How could it not be good? Even if you don't share my fondness for reverb, you won't be able to deny O'Neil's crystal clear vocals and her songwriting ability. Another quickly forgotten album from an incredibly gifted artist, A Ways Away came out early in the year and I was instantly absorbed by it. It's been impossible to shake ever since.
14. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (Virgin)Damon Albarn is a genius. This, dear reader, is not up for debate. So what if he hates Glee? Most reviews of this record don't even bother to mention Albarn's incredible work with Blur over the last two decades. With every release Gorillaz seem to up their game. "Stylo" was an interesting first single. I, for one, was expecting another "Feel Good Inc.," but instead we got an undanceable car chase sequence featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def. Among the many other guest spots on Plastic Beach (Snoop Dogg, Ruff Grys, De La Soul, to name a few), it was Lou Reed's bone-chilling contribution to "Some Kind of Nature" that I found most compelling. Creepy? Sure. Catchy? Always.
13. Warpaint - The Fool (Rough Trade)I'm always happy when I discover a nineties throwback. Enter Warpaint. Even The Fool'spacing seems like it belongs to a bygone era. Stylistically, this was a near favourite of the year. The bass lines dance, the guitars rarely veer away from tremolo, and the vocal harmonies are delicately balanced. Shame about that hideous album cover.
12. Wild Nothing - Gemini (Captured Tracks)It's hard to believe that Gemini is the product of one guy. Clearly a gifted songwriter, Jack Tatum mines the 80s for inspiration and finds it in the work of dreampop legends like Slowdive, the Cure, and the Cocteau Twins. Heavy on the reverb, lazy with the vocals, Gemini allowed me to pretend that summer didn't end when the temperature dropped. "Summer Holiday," where were you when I needed you?
11. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast (Kanine)As the boys in Surfer Blood well know, on a ten song album, there's no room for filler, nor is there any reason to hold back. Along with the Morning Benders' Big Echo, this was one of the best (and most straightforward) indie rock records of the year. No flashy tricks; just power-pop with big hooks and radio-ready choruses that'll channel your inner teenager. Check out "Anchorage" (below); you'll know what I mean.