My Top 10 Albums 2014

Unlike previous years, there was no clear winner this year. Many good albums that I listened to a lot, but no clear winner. At various times, all the top five could have shuffled around.

  1. About Last Night, Sleeper Agent
    Fun. A big step up from their first album, which I also enjoyed.
  2. Before the Waves, Magic Man
    Not my usual style of music, but man, some of the songs are super catchy.
  3. The Both, The Both
    I had no idea whether the pairing of Ted Leo and Aimee Mann would work. It does. And how can you not like a song (“Milwaukee”) that mentions The Fonz?
  4. Seeds, TV on The Radio
    The first half of this album is up there with their best stuff. Gets mushier in the second half though. Still very good.
  5. Distraction, Bear Hands
    The only real “debut” on the list is this one. A band to watch.
  6. After the Disco, Broken Bells
    Not as good as the first album, but nearly every track is a gem.
  7. They Want My Soul, Spoon
    Not many bands make one of their best albums 20 years into their careers, but Spoon did.
  8. Liberation!, Peter Matthew Bauer
    The first album on the list from a band musician doing a solo album, this time the bassist from The Walkmen stepping out on his own. Liberation! is a great rock record, combining some mellower, Indian-tinged numbers with some rock out songs. Spiritual without being overbearing. Uplifting.
  9. Weatherhouse, Philip Selway
    Radiohead’s drummer’s second album is atmospheric, bitter at times, and resigned. Perfect for rainy days and reflection. “It Will End in Tears” is such a brilliant song.
  10. Morning Phase, Beck
    Beck at his Sea Change melancholy best. Heartbreaking. I don’t know who could fail to be moved by “Say Goodbye.” As always, Beck can do anything, drifting through genres (rock, folk, country, etc.) like a smoke through a forest.

See also my picks for:

My Top 10 Albums 2013

This year, I realized that aside from my usual criteria (repeat playability, no/few skipped tracks), one other subjective characteristic had to be there: I had to imagine at some point walking down a street and having this album be the soundtrack behind me.

10. Muchacho, Phosphorescent

9. Wonderful Glorious, Eels

8. If You Wait, London Grammar

7. Yes It’s True, Polyphonic Spree

6. Reflektor, Arcade Fire

5. When It Was Now, Atlas Genius

4. The Silver Gymnasium, Okkervil River

3. Trouble Will Find Me, The National

2. We The Common, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

1. Modern Vampires of The City, Vampire Weekend

See also my picks for:

My Top 10 Albums 2012

It’s been a great year for music. I had a hard time putting this list together because (unlike, say, last year) I had a lot of great music to choose from, thus the massive list of honorable mentions at the bottom. All links go to Spotify.

10. Earlimart, System Preferences
Subtle, folky, melodic.

9. Sleeping Bag, Women of Your Life
Slacker power pop.

8. Guided by Voices, Class Clown Spots A UFO
If you’d told me a few years ago I’d have a GBV album on a best-of list in 2012, I’d have been really puzzled. But this is a great GBV album, right up there with some of their best like Under The Bushes, Under The Stars. Filled with pop gems and weirdness.

7. The xx, Coexist
In September, I said I doubted I’d hear a better album than this one all year. But after repeated listens, turns out it I might have overstated the case. It’s still a good album—the sound of late-night longing for a relationship long gone—but not as good as their debut a few years ago.

6. The Mountain Goats, Transcendental Youth
When I first heard this album, I was sure The Weakerthans had put out another album, but no, it was The Mountain Goats.

5. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra, Theatre is Evil
The indie P!nk, this albums contains some of the best pop songs of the year. “Do It With a Rock Star” has the best sarcasm of the year (“Do you really want to go back home/check your messages and charge your phone?”).

4. David Byrne & St. Vincent, Love This Giant
David Byrne and horns. Pretty much says it all. Another experiment that works.

3. Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits
Catchy, almost-danceable, slinky. Like the best of Spoon.

2. Regina Spektor, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
While everyone was talking about Fiona Apple (the other weird girl with a piano), whose album left me cold, I was enjoying this album’s tuneful songs.

1. Sharon Van Etten, Tramp
She had me at the lyric, “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city…or why I’ll have to leave.” This was the album I kept putting on all year, and I assume many years to come. Personal, heartbreaking, tough.

Honorable Mentions: Princeton, “Remembrance of Things to Come;” Yukon Blonde, “Tiger Talk;” Beach House, “Bloom;” Japandroids, “Celebration Rock;” Yellow Ostrich, “Strange Land;” Andrew Bird, “Break It Yourself;” The Ting Tings, “Sounds From Nowheresville;” Jaill, “Traps;” Bob Mould, “Silver Age;” Tilly And The Wall, “Heavy Mood;” Little Comets, “Life is Elsewhere;” Firewater, “International Orange!” Lord Huron, “Lonesome Dreams;” The Shins, “Port of Morrow;” and The Crookes, “Hold Fast.”

Super-special honorable mention to Beck for Song Reader. I can’t really put it on the best albums list because it’s only sheet music, but I’m loving the interpretations I’m hearing from it. And it’s just such a brilliant idea. An album for the Age of YouTube. It’s definitely the most daring idea of the year, and I expect when the songs are all in, it’ll make an appearance on my best of the decade wrap-up in 2019, seven years hence.

See also my picks for:

My Top Ten Albums 2011

As with previous years, my criteria for the Best Albums of the Year are replayability (I still listen to this album, and years from now, I predict I’ll still be listening to this album) and non-skipability (I don’t skip over many tracks). Your mileage may vary.

10. Move Like This, The Cars. Like 1986 preserved in amber.

9. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. A pure slab of 1990s BritPop.

8. We Are The Tide, Blind Pilot. Not as good as their first album, but melodic and thoughtful. Music for a Sunday afternoon.

7. Burst Apart, The Antlers. If Radiohead still made rock albums, they might sound like Burst Apart.

6. Celabrasion, Sleeper Agent. This album is like the bouillon cube of indie pop music from the last 25 years. Echoes of everything from the Pixies to The White Stripes is in here.

5. The Head and The Heart. Soulful, singable. “Rivers and Roads” kills me every time.

4. Torches, Foster The People. Leave aside the ubiquitous and overplayed “Pumped Up Kicks,” and you’ll find a record filled with hooky songs worth your time like “Houdini” and “Don’t Stop.” A party album.

3. The King is Dead, The Decemberists. The Decemberists return to form by taking an alt-country tack. Harmonica does them good.

2. The Mistress, Yellow Ostrich. The first time I listened to this album, I was like, What are they doing? Yodeling? Throat singing? But then, wow, you get it. Distinctive sound, great hooks. I defy you to listen to “Hahahaohhoho” twice without yodeling yourself.

1. Um, Uh, Oh, Say Hi. This is the album I always knew Say Hi would make one day. Every song is a gem. Singable, memorable, alternately uplifting and heartbreaking. “Take Ya Dancin'” should have been a huge hit. A real keeper. Sad this hasn’t gotten the recognition it deserves.

Disappointments: Let England Shake, PJ Harvey; The Whole Love, Wilco; The King of LImbs, Radiohead; Bon Iver, Bon Iver; Mountaintops, Mates of State. And yes, I know all these albums are on various Best Of lists. They just didn’t do it for me.

Related: My Top Ten Albums of 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2000-2009, 1990-1999.

My Top 25 Albums 1990-1999

25. Odelay, Beck (1996)

24. Nevermind, Nirvana (1991)

23. OK Computer, Radiohead (1997)

22. 69 Love Songs, The Magnetic Fields (1999)

21. Little Earthquakes, Tori Amos (1991)

20. Urban Hymns, The Verve (1997)

19. What’s The Story Morning Glory?, Oasis (1995)

18. Keep It Like a Secret, Built to Spill (1999)

17. Whatever & Ever Amen, Ben Folds Five (1997)

16. All This Useless Beauty, Elvis Costello (1996)

15. Garbage, Garbage (1995)

14. Elastica, Elastica (1995)

13. Zooropa, U2 (1993)

12. Doubt, Jesus Jones (1991)

11. 14 Songs, Paul Westerberg (1993)

10. Together Alone, Crowded House (1993)

9. Never Loved Elvis, The Wonder Stuff (1991)

8. Goodbye Jumbo, World Party (1990)

7. Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair (1993)

6. Electro-shock Blues, Eels (1998)

5. Nirvana Unplugged, Nirvana (1994)

4. Celebrity Skin, Hole (1998)

3. The Bends, Radiohead (1995)

2. Achtung Baby, U2 (1991)

1. Different Class, Pulp (1995)

My Top Ten Albums of 2010

My criteria this year, as every year, is the same: no or few skipped tracks and the amount of times I find myself listening to the album over the course of the year.

10. Freelance Whales, Weathervanes. One of the few albums I can stand banjos on.

9. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening. Witty dance music. Plus, James Murphy looks like he could be my brother.

8. The Limousines, Get Sharp. Catchy as all hell. “Very Busy People” is one of the singles of the year.

7. Girl Talk, All Day. Every 30 seconds, something that astounds and amuses. A carnival of samples, and a RIAA nightmare.

6. Yeasayer, Odd Blood. New New Wave.

5. The Bird and The Bee, Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. What could have been a gimmick…well, kind of still is, but in a great way. I can go for this.

4. Broken Bells, Broken Bells. I don’t like The Shins or Danger Mouse, but I do like this album from Shin’s James Mercer and Danger Mouse. A great, unexpected pairing.

3. The National, High Violet. The best album yet from this band. Melancholy, thoughtful, expansive.

2. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs. A really great album, from start to finish. “We Used to Wait” and “Suburban War” are as good, if not better, than anything on Funeral.

1. Eels, End Times. One of the bleakest records of the year is also my favorite. If “Little Bird” doesn’t break your heart, you don’t have one.

My picks for last year and my Top 25 albums of 2000-2009.

Albums of the Year 2009

10. Passion Pit, Manners

9. Rhett Miller, Rhett Miller

8. Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson, Break Up

7. Metric, Fantasies

6. Eels, Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire

5. Bishop Allen, Grrr…

4. Harlem Shakes, Technicolor Health

3. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Pains of Being Pure at Heart

2. XX, XX

1. The Thermals, Now We Can See

Songs of the Year: Phoenix, “1901,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Zero,” The Sounds, “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake,” Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard, “One Fast Move or I’m Gone,” Cracker, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out with Me,” Lady GaGa, “Pokerface.”

Previous years’ lists: 2008, 2007.

Top 25 Albums of The Decade 2000-2009

Some of the best lists are idiosyncratic, as is this one. My two pieces of criteria were: 1. Are most, if not all, of the songs on the album very good (non-skippable); and 2. how often I went back to listen to the album, months or years after I first heard it. In all of these cases, these albums met those criteria. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

25. Blind Pilot, 3 Rounds and a Sound

24. The Ting Tings, We Started Nothing (2008)

23. Shout Out Louds, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (2005)

22. Bishop Allen, Charm School (2003)

21. Ben Folds, Rockin’ the Suburbs (2001)

20. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (2008)

19. Moby, 18 (2002)

18. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)

17. Sea Wolf, Leaves in the River (2007)

16. Mates of State, Re-Arrange Us (2008)

15. Ryan Adams, Rock N Roll (2003)

14. The Weakerthans, Left and Leaving (2000)

13. U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)

12. Josh Ritter, Animal Years (2006)

11. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Rising (2002)

10. Liz Phair, Liz Phair
(2003). Hipsters hated this album, but its really a pop gem, filled with some seriously catchy songs.

9. Beck, Sea Change
(2002). Beck at his warmest, saddest, most human and without flash.

8. Cat Power, The Greatest
(2007). Achingly beautiful.

7. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois
(2005). This album should be a gimmick, but it isn’t. A real song cycle, and by god, a song that makes you empathize with serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

6. The Thermals, Now We Can See
(2009). The most recent album on the list. This album rocks. With heart.

5. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head
(2002). Yes, I know, Coldplay sucks. Now. This album is now weirdly underrated, but it’s gorgeous, powerful, and insanely influential.

4. Eels, Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
(2005). Really a masterpiece. Free ranging in its ruminations, but personal. Atmospheric, but not in a grandiose way.

3. PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

2. Arcade Fire, Funeral

1. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Brendan Benson, Lapalco (2002); Carla Bruni, Quelqu’un M’a Dit (2003); Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers (2003); Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight (2008); Green Day, American Idiot (2004); Jack’s Mannequin, Everything in Transit (2005); The Submarines, Declare a New State! (2006); XX, XX (2009).

Best Music of the Year 2008

10. saturdays=youth, m83. The 80s are back, baby. This is the soundtrack to the best movie John Hughes never made.

9. The Midnight Organ Fight, Frightened Rabbit. I’ll admit I can’t understand half of what these Scots are saying, but I like the way they say it.

8. Furr, Blitzen Trapper. They had me with the song about the werewolf.

7. Hold On Now Youngster, Los Campesinos!. Great debut album from these indie hipsters.

6. XOXO, Her Space Holiday. Catchy, and with some unusual instrumentation.

5. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend. I give. The hype is right.

4. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, David Byrne and Brian Eno. As Josh Damon Williams rightly described it: “Comfort Food Music.” Although with disquieting lyrics (“I saw my neighbor’s car explode.”)

3. Oracular Spectacular, MGMT. From out of nowhere, this piece of musical crack. “Kids” is the single of the year.

2. We Started Nothing, The Ting Tings. A trifle, but sometimes baubles are what is needed, and this album was the sound of summer before everything went to hell. Listen and remember.

1. Re-arrange Us, Mates of State. Relentlessly tuneful, indie pop of the best kind. I loved this album from the first listen.

Honorable Mentions: Dear Science, TV on the Radio; The Stand Ins, Okkervil River; Day & Age, The Killers; Santogold, Santogold; Dig Out Your Soul, Oasis; Do You Like Rock Music?, British Sea Power; In Ghost Colours, Cut Copy; Feed the Animals, Girl Talk.


“I Kissed a Girl,” Katy Perry; “Pork and Beans,” Weezer; “Kids,” MGMT; “Dog’s Life,” Eels; “All Summer Long,” Kid Rock. Yes, Kid Rock. You got a problem with that?

Favorite Album for Every Year You’ve Been Alive Meme

1970 The Beatles, Let It Be

1971 T Rex, Electric Warrior

1972 The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street

1973 Wings, Band on the Run

1974 Big Star, Radio City

1975 Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here

1976 Eagles, Hotel California

1977 Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

1978 Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model

1979 The Clash, London Calling

1980 Elvis Costello, Get Happy!!

1981 The Police, Ghost in The Machine

1982 Duran Duran, Rio

1983 U2, War

1984 The Replacements, Let It Be

1985 Talking Heads, Little Creatures

1986 Crowded House, Crowded House

1987 U2, The Joshua Tree

1988 Billy Bragg, Workers Playtime

1989 The Pixies, Doolittle

1990 Sinead O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got

1991 U2, Achtung Baby

1992 REM, Automatic for The People

1993 Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville

1994 Nirvana, Unplugged in New York

1995 Pulp, Different Class

1996 Beck, Odelay

1997 Radiohead, OK Computer

1998 Hole, Celebrity Skin

1999 Built to Spill, Keep It Like a Secret

2000 PJ Harvey, Stories from The City, Stories from The Sea

2001 Old 97s, Satellite Rides

2002 Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

2003 The Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site

2004 Arcade Fire, Funeral

2005 Eels, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

2006 Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope

2007 Sea Wolf, Leaves in the River

2008 Shout Out Louds, Our Ill Wills