5. Sufjan Stevens – Age Of Adz
If I were Sufjan Stevens I would be fucking pissed that Age Of Adz wasn’t at the top of every single top albums list. Not just this year, but like ever. Like next year, everybody should just be like, “Fuck whatever came out this year, I still think Age of Adz is better, therefore it’s the best album of this year also, even though it came out last year.” It had choirs, strings, electronics, acoustic guitars – you name it, Adz had it. It’s the kind of album that people will point to 20 years from now and be like, “So, that’s what you could do in 2010 if you were like a super genius. It paved the way for the music of today.” The songs didn’t even need to be good, Sufjan could’ve just been like, “Look, I had a lot to do, songwriting wasn’t a priority,” and we still would’ve applauded him. But the songs are good. And the production is beyond anything pretty much ever (suck it Dark Side of the Moon! I’m just kidding, that album’s also amazing). And at the bottom of it all is a broken heart, and that’s cute. Why only #5 on my list? I guess I’m just not smart enough to realize how great it truly is yet.
4. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
There was a point when a lot of people really didn’t like Bradford Cox or anything he was doing. Where’d you guys go? Oh, not so cool now are you now that everyone seems to agree that Deerhunter is one of coolest bands making music these days.
Halcyon Digest was an album that nobody really seemed all that worried about. If Deerhunter could bust out two kick-ass discs last time, then put out a killer five song EP a couple months later, followed by Cox‘s incredible solo album Logos and Lockett Pundt‘s underrated Lotus Plaza album The Floodlight Collective, surely they could put out another badass LP this year. And they did.
Halcyon Digest was a logical next step for Deerhunter, though there were a couple logical next steps they could’ve taken. The production was dreamier, the band sounded more confident, songwriting sounded even more comfortable with pop structures than ever before. They’re still experimenting, whether with weird percussion sounds or that nice little vocal copy+paste bit on “He Would Have Laughed”. Cox‘s not-often-talked-about ability to make an acoustic guitar sound like nothing else resulted in the watery “Helicopter”, which I thought was a sampler-based song for sure. And he may even be right when he says that the sick saxophone on “Coronado” is going to become a big thing next year (heard Destroyer‘s Kaputt yet?).
You would think that an album like this would be enough to satiate the public for a while, but just incase, Cox gave us four albums worth of demos a couple weeks ago to keep us busy.
3. Wolf Parade – Expo 86
I’m slowly getting to the point where I wonder if Expo 86 rivals Wolf Parade‘s 2005 masterpiece Apologies To The Queen Mary for the title of best ‘Wolf Parade Album’. The problem with ’08′s At Mount Zoomer was its weak production which not only deprived the band of its rocking power, but it was so production-light that it felt boring in comparison to the Isaac Brock-induced madness that was the sound of Apologies. Montreal man-about-the-scene Howard Bilerman stepped in with Expo 86 and made Wolf Parade sound more badass than ever, capturing them in prime condition live in the studio. And whoever mixed the thing did a kick-ass job rendering that sound in all its glory: finally our existential nausea in the modern world sounds like fucking rock!
2. Owen Pallett – Heartland
We all knew Owen Pallett was a genius but dayyyym, he really outdid himself on Heartland. Half the album is made up of the kind of brain-shattering songs that most albums would be lucky to have one of: “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”, “The Great Elsewhere”, “Oh Heartland, Up Yours!”, “Lewis Takes Action”, “Flare Gun”, “Midnight Directives”. Each track is a propulsive maelstrom of electronics, orchestration and Pallett‘s choirboy tenor mixed to perfection. Supposedly he almost had a nervous breakdown getting everything together, and I’m not even really surprised, this shit is daunting. But when I’m walking along listening to Heartland, pretending I’m Mr. Orchestra Conductor, flailing my arms around to signify the entrance of the cello, the intrusion of a high-pitched violin – it’s bliss.
1. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
Pitchfork gave the album an 8.3 and Best New Music and then didn’t even give it honourable mention this year on their year end list: not cool guys. Not cool. But as the album title implies, we must forgive. Pitchfork is only human (and a little pretentious) and they make mistakes as well. So let’s not talk about them, let’s talk about the album.
Forgiveness Rock Record was the first BSS album in five years. The anticipation for it was monumental. Expectations were beyond sky-high – they were like Mars high or something. And BSS fucking fucked them all. They delivered an album at least on par with their best work, while becoming stronger as a band of even more incredible songwriters. Though they traded in Dave Newfeld‘s crazy collage of sounds and songs, they received McEntire‘s clean craftsmanship, and that’s good its own, different way.
The main reason Forgiveness Rock Records succeeds is of course its songs, and it was clear that the set BSS delivered was cherrypicked from a wealth of demos (see Lo-Fi For The Dividing Nights EP, which probably includes 1% of what they wrote and didn’t use). And then, not only were the songs they chose beautifully written, they were clearly polished to perfection, some of them allegedly for years. “Forced To Love”, “World Sick”, “All To All”, “Sweetest Kill”, “Romance To The Grave”, “Sentimental X’s” – classics. I could go into detail about why every single one of these songs were not merely enjoyable, but songs that truly spoke to me, songs that really reached out to me and my friends.
To top it off, BSS‘s live show this year was something else. I saw them twice and both shows felt special, like they were more than just a band playing it’s songs. BSS looked like they were having such a great time onstage and seemed so happy to be back home. They brought out Feist, Emily Haines and Amy Milan and there were people crying in the audience (not me of course, cuz I’m super manly and all). Andrew Whiteman was goofing around onstage, Brendan Canning was doing his scissor kicks, Kevin Drew was lovingly ringleading everything: and I thought to myself, “these are our boys.” And we love them. And we forgive them for taking so long to make this album – because it was well worth the wait.