It happens all too often that good albums do not get the recognition they deserve, and by lack of effort or possibly by the (negative) influence of the commercial music industry simply do not end up at possible enthusiasts. The focus is mainly on the single, the experience of music is often limited to the listening of individual songs. People take the step towards looking for similar songs, whether or not by the same artist, often enough. However, the step that is being skipped a lot of the time, is the one towards the album.
Writing a good, beautiful or awesome song is one thing. That’s impressive. It can make you jump for joy, choke you up, awaken your road tripping spirit or release your inner gangster. Still, it usually cannot offer what a good album does. Where a single song can be a doorway to the experience, or at least put it ajar, a good album represents the complete experience. On the one hand the album serves as a blueprint for the emotion and the story wanting to be told, on the other hand it serves as a framework in which the story plays out. Where as a single song can be viewed as a sketch of that blueprint, or perhaps as a particular part of the painting, the album is the whole work of art, frame and all.
Maybe, when it comes to music, I’m a dreamer, an idealist. Isn’t it a shame that so many grand pieces of musical art are being overlooked by a potential audience?
In 2014, inspired by online magazines like Pitchfork, Gorilla vs. Bear and RollingStone, I decided to make my own, relatively short list of my favourite albums of the year for the first time. And even tough these music platforms inspired and introduced me to a number of artists, and I could agree with a lot of their choices in their yearly lists, I also thought a lot of good albums were missing.
I don’t have the same resources as the editors of, let’s say, RollingStone, nor do I have the same amount of time to listen to music as they do, seeing as I’m not getting paid for it. I do, however, have my own perspective, and my own voice.
Besides that, I have a love for (making) lists. So why not make my own yearly lists of favourite albums?
The list of a little over ten albums, that I created in 2014 and that I sent to some friends and family together with a Christmas greeting, in the meantime has grown to 28 albums, so it offers a complete review of my favourite albums of that year. And so it goes for every year, back to 2010, and so it shall be for all musical years to come.
You can click on any image to get to my Spotify for that particular year.
“Heaven’s only wishful”Photo: Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears album cover
A lot of musical experimentation this year, not a lot of (good) Hip-Hop, but this happened for the first time: a Dutch artist made it into my top ten. This modern classical-ambient record, ‘Wandelaar’ by Haron, is nothing less than intriguing and wonderful. Together with the albums of Dedekind Cut, Anenon, Skee Mask and Kilchhofer, the genre of ambient music is exceptionally well represented in my list. These five albums guarantee not only the dreamy relaxation that is distinctive for ambient music, but also broaden the genre, that has become a lot more profound over the last few years than – it would seem – it was originally intended.
Newcomers dominate my list of this year: 24 of the 32 artists were unknown to me before I discovered their albums, six of which made it into my top ten (this is a lot, trust me). It’s not just only rookies and newbies though. This year another good record of Father John Misty came out, Kamasi Washington simply cannot disappoint and Thom Yorke impressed me as usual, with his soundtrack for the film ‘Suspiria’ (which I still have not seen, by the way).
Then I got to thinking, trying to answer the most important question: who will end up in that coveted first place? When you know how to fuse techno and meditation into one musical atmosphere, the result being a new transcendent dimension where both move in their own space, and simultaneously are continually one…Yeah, that will get you there.
Kendrick at number one. Again. The only reason why I wouldn’t put ‘DAMN.’ at number 1, is to not be that someone who always puts Kendrick Lamar’s albums above all others. Can’t be done…
The first three months of this year ‘Not Even Happiness’ by Julie Byrne was on top of my list. When on the 14th of April ‘DAMN’. came out, there was nothing else for me to do but put her wonderful, ethereal yet crisp album in second place.
Furthermore, a lot of releases this year from artists that I’ve been holding in high regard for quite a while – Brand New, The War on Drugs, Four Tet, The XX, Perfume Genius – but also a few ‘comebacks’ that I admittedly appreciate enough to put on my list, but were a bit disappointing nonetheless – Fleet Foxes, LCD Soundsystem and Broken Social Scene. Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews from (online) magazines and music platforms, especially for the new
albums of LCD Soundsystem and Fleet Foxes, I put them at the bottom of my list. Let’s hope they don’t find out… Sorry, James Murphy. If you read this, can I still be a super big fan?
The battle for first place ceased immediately after Frank Ocean’s album ‘Blonde’ appeared in August of this year. Not only did the competition end, but also the boundaries that normally on the one hand limit and on the other hand embody a genre – in this case R&B – were cast aside. This is what Frank Ocean does.
Despite the fact that he lets out his inner voice(s) and his creativity with abandon, the album unmistakably carries his signature from A to Z. It’s an album that you would want to listen to as a whole, then again, and after listening to it two times you’ll probably have a favourite song that you could listen to and enjoy on it’s own, only to end up at the opening song ‘Nikes’ and play the whole album again. Or is it just me?
A year of surprising newcomers – ‘Cardinal’ by Pinegrove ended up second place, but I also listened to the
debut albums by Whitney and Kadhja Bonet a lot – and a year of most welcome new music by the established order – Radiohead and A Tribe Called Quest.
It was also the year where two legends completed their legacy with a final album leaving their mark on the charts one last time. Both David Bowie and Leonard Cohen passed away this year. The day we lost David Bowie I was overcome by a feeling of melancholy. Obviously I left out this sentiment towards Bowie when I was making my list. ‘Blackstar’ is a good album, no doubt about it. It just wasn’t good enough for a spot near my top ten of this year. In some charts his last album appeared at number one, which, in my opinion, led to it stealing the spotlight from younger artists and better music. I let Cohen, with his dark though to my taste a bit too religious goodbye, close my list of this year.
Did I let my emotions get the better of me after all?
Apart from 2013 this is most likely my favourite year in music (not counting years before 2010). Although with 29 albums it’s not the longest list, they’re all records I’ve played over and over again during the year.
A top ten with particularly good Hip-Hop records, with Kendrick Lamar again way ahead of the game, this year
followed by one of his role models Dr. Dre. Will Kendrick ever lose his kingly status?
The only thing missing in this list is a good classical album. I would say all the other regular genres are well represented.
The biggest surprise of this year? That’s obviously the number 19 on this list, the emo-band from Connecticut, US, previously unknown to me. I needed to go through a barrier of preconceptions and prejudices concerning this particular genre, but there you have it, they made it. Emo or not – the name of the genre still gives me the heebie-jeebies – it’s just a good album. And yes, with a band name like that, you obviously get bonus points.
Do you think they mean it? Anyway, I think I’ll agree with them for now. At least that is harmless.
‘The world is a beautiful place and I am no longer afraid to die.’
‘Lost in the Dream’ by The War on Drugs has been the soundtrack of my life for the biggest part of 2014. For weeks, months, I have listened to this album. On the bus, on the bike, before work, after work, at afterparties, alone and in the company of others. Besides being my favourite of the year, it is also the best album that The War on Drugs will ever make (there, I said it).
If I were to make a list from which I could choose two number ones, then The War on Drugs will have to share this spot with Ben Frost. ‘A U R O R A’ is one of the most extraordinary albums ever made. It transcends the function of assembling (mostly industrial) sounds to translate the artist’s emotions and at the same time evoking them in his audience. He doesn’t completely ignore the rules and shapes of ‘the song’, which makes the end result very alienating, but at the same time releases deeply hidden desires. Despite the digital sounds of violence that rush past on ‘A U R O R A’,
its music has a strongly meditative effect on me.
Close your eyes, let the blinding light of a sun of your choice shine into the darkest regions of your inner being, and let Ben Frost do the rest. This music might not appeal to everyone, and although this does not apply to all music, in this case it is one of the reasons why this album is so good.
2013 is my favourite year in music of this decade. Perhaps most musicians are a lot more superstitious than I thought, and at the beginning of 2013 everyone was thinking: “Hey, we’re still here! No armageddon in 2012. Well, in that case, let’s make some damn good music.”
I’ve been struggling with placing the first five albums on my list. Actually, in a weird way, the whole top five is my combined number one. I’ve eventually made my choice, but if my numbers two, three, four or five made it to number one on your list, I’ll happily agree (and it will probably leave me reviewing my own choices again). Interesting, that on the one hand I love making lists, and on the other hand I hate to choose. I meet this challenge head on every year. Doesn’t anyone see me struggling?
There’s nothing left to say about this year, really. Just listen, especially to the albums you don’t know.
(If you already know everything, then yo, we gotta meet up!)
2012: Black Hippy Rising. This West Coast resurgence is characterized by the first instant classic by Kendrick Lamar, the second studio album by ScHoolboy Q and the debut album by Ab-Soul. All three albums are rock solid, unique and unconventional, but still ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ is without equal.
After a promising debut in 2011 (Section 80), 2012 was the year where Kendrick Lamar ascended his throne and humbly though self-assured crowned himself ‘King Kendrick’, taking his seat as spokesman for a whole new generation. The throne had been empty for many years since Tupac’s early departure in 1996.
Kendrick’s ode to Compton – the city he grew up in – was his first step towards Washington – where he, after the release of his 2015 album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, would take a seat in the Oval Office, across from his big fan and admirer Barack Obama. King Kendrick undeniably illustrates that the importance of music goes beyond merely listening to it.
Although my top ten of this year is full of awesome albums, there was no doubt about which artist would end up at number one. 2011 was all about Bon Iver for me. With his album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ and the following EP ‘Blood Bank’, Justin Vernon had already aroused suspicion that he just might come up with something unforgettably beautiful. The follow-up to his aforementioned album and EP incorporates him as an artist to such an extent, that it could not be named other than with the name of the artist himself. On ‘Bon Iver’ everything came together, it was ‘album-perfect’.
Reaching highs and lows, from roaring trumpets to fragile silences, from tempos that make you want to move and get on a train – destination unknown – to the numbers on the album for which you only have to close your eyes and let the music take over.
The album represents an atmospheric landscape that is hidden in us all – don’t you dare deny it – where there is room for all emotions you have encountered during your trip, and where, no matter which places you have visited, you can feel at home.
Do you notice? Because I do: No Hip-Hop on my list this year. From one to 32, nothing there. I’m not ashamed, but I am doubtful… Should I go back? Should I go and search for the better Hip-Hop records of 2010 – maybe I simply overlooked a bunch of good releases – and add these to my list nonetheless?
The answer is no, but I’m not going to lie. I did look for them. There certainly were well received Hip-Hop releases this year, though none of them worthy of adjusting my list. We have Tyler, the Creator and Big Boi both releasing an album this year, but also Rick Ross, and, of course, Kanye West. What Kanye sometimes manages to pull off as a producer, I think is truly phenomenal. As a rapper, writer and personality (as far as I can determine the latter) I do not think as highly of him.
A bit more on topic: How fun is it that the debut album by How to Dress Well – of which it is not only known that it has been recorded in an attic like setting, but this is also expressed shamelessly in its music – is at number one of my list?