Here we are once again, rambling on about putting the year's albums in a specific order. Today we crack the top fifty (I felt the need to add that, because the article's title didn't make that obvious or anything)! So I guess the proper thing to do would be to get on with it, without blindly typing any more stream-of-consciousness nonsense... alright, here we go.
60. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - The Social Network
Not since 2007 have I been so enamored with a soundtrack (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis' The Assassination of Jesse James, in case you were wondering). Like Cave and Ellis' score, I heard this well before I saw the movie, and upon seeing it couldn't help feeling like "wow, they made a movie for this album!" This feels so fully realized on its own, like a more complete Ghosts, but better. From the more simplistic piano led tracks to the ambient pieces to the light throbbing beats, The Social Network never loses its dark allure or its edge. Even the rendition of In the Hall of the Mountain King fits, surprisingly enough.
Recommended track: Intriguing Possibilities
59. Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be
I keep hearing about Wavves this and Best Coast that, well what about this? It's got a hell of a lot more heart than Wavves and more diversity than Best Coast, not to mention that the production hits this perfect spot in between a sharp, crisp sound and that harsh, lo-fi element that so many bands seem to be so fond of these days. Kristin Gundred (or Dee Dee, rather) shows great skill in the songwriting department, not just because the melodies are great, but because she really manages to evoke whatever she's trying to express in the listener, particularly when she adopts that lovelorn croon of hers (Rest of Our Lives, Baby Don't Go). This album really deserves so much more credit than it gets.
Recommended track: Blank Girl
58. Max Richter - Infra
Whether you're a fan of modern classical (an admittedly silly name) or not, there's no denying the jaw-dropping beauty that Max Richter has been consistently able to bring to the proverbial table, and Infra is no different. Divided into two jumbled suites, Infra and Journey, Infra is a masterful blend of static ambiance and neo-classical compositions ranging from minimalist piano to lush, soaring strings (and sometimes a combination of all three), and in the process nails an odd combination of being both harrowing and an utter beauty.
Recommended track: Infra 5
57. Home Video - The Automatic Process
Home Video's brand of electronica has gotten more than its share of comparisons to post-Kid A Radiohead, and it's not difficult to see why: downtrodden beats, themes of alienation and disenchantment, and of course vocalist Collin Ruffino's delivery, which is rather similar to Thom Yorke's. Admittedly, their latest does little to step away from this, but it does find the duo growing more comfortable with incorporating more elements into their own sound (taking advantage of David Gross' classical training on Business Transaction, the dirty electro synth of the title track, etc.), and with as skillful as they are with making minimalist music sound intricate, that's good enough.
Recommended track: You Will Know What to Do
56. Dead Letter Circus - This Is the Warning
Forget Circa Survive (yes I know, hello bold statement). Dead Letter Circus' debut is an astounding blend of experimental rock and crowd pleasing guitar hooks and soaring vocals that blows just about everything else in this genre out of the water. You can hear the best things about bands like Muse, the Mars Volta, Dredg, and the aforementioned Circa Survive all wonderfully blended into one cohesive sound, and what's more is that the young band actually knows what to do with it. Dead Letter Circus is very much a band to watch for in the coming years.
Recommended track: Cage
55. Whitey - Canned Laughter
Whitey recently announced a hiatus from recording due to a lack of funds, and it truly baffles the mind as to how someone with such a knack for melody and creativity with instrumentation could meet such a fate. From the brilliantly laid synths of opener Dinosaur to the demented swing revival of Count Those Freaks and so on, there is so much inventiveness being veiled with poppy hooks that one can't help but wonder why this guy never really got anywhere...
Recommended track: I Had a Wonderful Night (It Just Wasn't This One)
54. Matthew Dear - Black City
Sex. This whole album reeks of sex. Even in its lighter, David Bowie referencing moments (Slowdance, the bulk of Little People (Black City)) still give off a dark, threatening sexuality that reflects the album's title all too well. Matthew Dear's low register sounds thoroughly predatory over these dirty synths, but it's ultimately the beats that give off the dark, brooding sound. Unbound creativity meets a raging libido and a tremendously tasteful array of influences, and results in one of the darkest, most successfully experimental dance records of the year.
Recommended track: You Put a Smell on Me
53. TOKiMONSTA - Midnight Menu
For anybody who misses Nujabes' brand of lightly ethnic instrumental hip-hop, TOKiMONSTA is easily the next best thing. The youngest (and only female) DJ on the Brainfeeder roster, Jennifer Lee brings a certain energy and playfulness to her music that keeps anything from sounding too heavy; psychedelic and ethereal, yes, but fun, and strangely funky as well. Clever beats, overly enjoyable hooks, and frankly everything has such personality to it that the music is almost as cute and quirky as the woman creating it.
Recommended track: Solitary Joy
52. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Talk about nailing a concept - as the magnificent We Used to Wait based project helps illustrate, the Arcade Fire has not only captured the feeling of growing up in the suburbs (hey, that's what the album's called!), but the wistful feeling of reflecting upon it. With such complex emotion, too; longing, regret, and even hope ring all throughout this sliiightly overlong album (the only reason The Suburbs isn't higher), and they come across as eloquent and genuine as ever. And of course let's not forget their towering composition skills, further embracing their Bruce Springsteen-esque roots rock in some areas and branching out in others (like the glorious synth pop of Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)).
Recommended track: Suburban War
51. Clubroot - II MMX
Perhaps the best whack at Burial's deep atmosphere-ridden brand of dubstep since... well, since Clubroot's self-titled debut from last year. Dark, enveloping, and tremendously rich in just how much there is to explore, sonically speaking. A slightly ethnic flavor can be heard throughout the album, spicing up the already somewhat harrowing soundscapes (I love how music critics get to make up words!) with enough to differentiate the album from, say, Burial.
Recommended track: Whistles & Horns
50. Pantha du Prince - Black Noise
It's very unusual for something so densely packed with layers to be so accessible. Black Noise does something that even the best electronica albums often forget to do - it doesn't repeat itself. The lack of repetition is a huge part of its appeal, but even more is how oddly warm and inviting the melodies are; they're almost earthy, something that you just don't find in an album of this style every day. Extremely surreal, but never getting lost in itself, with the music constantly evolving through each track.
Recommended track: Abglanz
49. 65daysofstatic - We Were Exploding Anyway
Maybe post-rock wasn't the most obvious choice of genre to throw electronics into (and perhaps not even the best), but 65daysofstatic nail it here with this incredibly inspired hybrid. The beats and flitting synths go unexpectedly well with the building guitars, and add quite a strong layer to each track's progression. And really, the growth of each song is as organic as any of the band's older work; while the electronics are clearly at the forefront, they really are implemented seamlessly enough to be just another layer to the complex compositions.
Recommended track: Go Complex
48. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles reminds me of the drunken philosopher; you know the one, that guy at the party who is oh so eager to explain everything to anyone who will listen, making as many unorthodox parallels as possible in expressing his point. Like comparing a bad break-up to the Civil War, for example, as this irresistible sprawl of an album so gleefully does. It works somehow, though... mostly thanks to fantastic lines like "You ain't never been no virgin, kid, you were fucked from the start." Musically speaking, it's a wonderful marriage of ambitious rock and seemingly random bursts of punk, and while it takes a few listens to warm up to, it is very much worth it.
Recommended track: To Old Friends and New
47. Edge of Dawn - Anything That Gets You Through the Night
I guess it's futurepop, but this is the best take on the genre that I've ever heard. Yeah, it's got that synth pop/industrial amalgam going on, but it's so brilliantly written and layered that it's far more charming than just about anything else carrying this tag - it really feels like what futurepop was intended to sound like, as it's free of pretense and not overly concerned with sounding dark. The melodies are incredibly captivating, the hooks are instant, and overall it strikes a marvelous balance of being cold and being emotional.
Recommended track: Lucid Dreams
46. A Guy Called Gerald - Tronic Jazz / The Berlin Sessions
It's amazing how a guy (called Gerald LOLZ) who's been in the electronica game for twenty plus years can STILL be this on top of things. Consider the fact that this is essentially just plain house music, but it's Gerald Simpson's approach that makes it special. Beats materialize unexpectedly in the midst of gorgeous ambiance (and visa versa), and there's a fashionably dated sound with unmistakably forward-thinking electronics, with the outstanding Wow Yheah being the first example that comes to mind.
Recommended track: Dirty Trix
45. Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Frightened Rabbit are a bit more uplifting this time around. ...actually, make that a LOT more uplifting. There's something to be said for a band who can make a wordless chorus (The Loneliness and the Scream) sound like one of the most honest expressions of elation you've ever heard. It's a bit more immediate than its stupendous predecessor, and perhaps more than just a little bit less deep, but leaving bitterness and regret behind was probably the best move this band could have made.
Recommended track: Nothing Like You
44. The State Lottery - When the Night Comes
Americana meets punk? Why not, especially when it's done this well. There's a distinct blue collar feel to this album, like that feeling you get when you walk into a bar after a shitty day at work and are greeted by the joyful roar of the group of friends who've been waiting for you. And yet still, the music is quite ambitious - I'm yet to hear a punk record so adventurous as to have a prominent saxophone popping in at just the right moments. Just get this. Seriously.
Recommended track: Greysers
43. Enslaved - Axioma Ethica Odini
Just about as progressive as black metal can get, without sucking its own cock in the process. Axioma Ethica Odini has got a fantastic combination of experimentation, crushing heaviness, and even a good poppy melody here and there (believe it or not; just listen to opener Ethica Odini). This thing has got some outstanding riffs and startlingly catchy melodies, but still keeps things nice, heavy, and dark, keeping that delicate balance with ease.
Recommended track: Giants
42. Klute - Music for Prophet
When you hear 'drum & bass,' chances are that you're not imagining warm synths, imaginative melodies, or any sort of visiting other ends of electronica. And you'd be right; the average drum & bass album (or mix, for that matter) seldom approaches any of those qualities. However, Klute is anything but your average DJ. His impeccable taste for things not usually included in this genre (namely the aforementioned) are presented here in fine fashion, and still with a persistent breakbeat that could please simple dance music-loving folk and dance floors filled with e-tards alike.
Recommended track: Buy More Now
41. Eminem - Recovery
If you would, please permit me the lame joke of starting this off with "Guess who's back!" While I rather liked Relapse, it's great to see that he had this up his sleeve all along, because while Relapse appealed to an admittedly small subset of Em's audience, Recovery is undeniable evidence that he's still got it. The dark sense of humor, intense flow, and ingenious wordplay he's known for is very much in tact, along with some gigantic beats (look at No Love's smart-as-hell reworking of Haddaway's What Is Love) to back him up. Em's on fire.
Recommended track: Almost Famous