Firstly a couple of caveats: This is obviously a personal list and not meant to be definitive. It is simply a list of the ten albums most deserving of attention, which, like me, were not made in the USA. I also reserve the right to come back and rearrange this list in six months when I realize there were two or three amazing albums that I managed to miss hearing this year. Anyway, without further delay:
10. Joker – The Vision
So frustrating this one because it was overlong, unfocused, and something of a disappointment. But at its best, it was also absolutely brilliant. There’s two thirds of a great album here, a mix of dubstep, R&B, and hip hop. We’ll ignore the 15 or so superfluous minutes for the benefit of celebration.
9. Zomby – Dedication
I was initially thrown by the fact that this effort sounded so different from Zomby’s debut album and by the ADHD aspects of its constant shift in tone. Repeated listens revealed a restless creativity and a producer with no fear in recreating his own sound. It was the sound of Zomby looking forward, and that worked for me.
8. Radiohead – The King Of Limbs
The fairly muted response (by Radiohead standards) would suggest failure, and this album is far from it. Maybe not the Radiohead we all know and love, but instead a band totally comfortable with its own existence, trying something a little new with plenty of success.
Try: “Lotus Flower”
7. Wild Beasts – Smother
For two albums I’d sat on the fence about these guys. “Albatross” changed all that, and I was finally seduced. One of the best songs of the year, surrounded by plenty of off-kilter, cerebral, and seductive pop music. They now sound like a band capable of anything, and I suspect there’s even better to come.
6. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Fellow Swedish songstress Robyn gets plenty of “Why isn’t she more famous?” attention, but Lykke Li is equally deserving. Thoughtful, catchy, heartfelt, and modern pop music, capable of both bombast and introspection. She followed up the impressive Youth Novels with another winner and deserves more success for her efforts.
Try: “I Follow Rivers”
5. Tinariwen – Tassili
Tinariwen’s high profile despite their unlikely geographical setting (this album was recorded in southern Algeria) is both unexpected and richly deserved. With help from some friends, this was a laid back, earthy, rootsy, and mostly acoustic set, but it also managed to be soulful and funky. Effortlessly good.
4. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
She did it again. Polly Jean came back with a searing and hugely impressive album built around the madness of war. It’s her most passionate and convincing album in several years and more than deserving of the accolades being thrown in its direction.
3. Polinski – Labyrinths
Paul Wolinski left the rest of 65daysofstatic out of this solo release and unleashed dance music that was both cerebral and begged to be actually danced to. An amalgamation of ’80s movie soundtracks, old computer games, Casio nostalgia, and a bunch of other things that make boys of a certain age (mine, specifically) feel a warm glow in the belly.
2. Bjork – Biophilia
Another returning icon. Over the previous two albums, Iceland’s finest had downgraded from jaw-dropping to merely admirable. With Biophilia she came back with a renewed hunger, some new tricks, and her best album since Vespertine. And the last 60 seconds of “Crystalline” were my “wow” moment of the year.
1. Rustie – Glass Swords
A dazzling explosion of dance music filtered through various sub-genres, this was the post-dubstep album that really felt like the one we might still be listening to ten years down the line. Some of the melodies are impossible to shake. A fully formed, butt-shaking, head wobbling, genuinely psychedelic album with the capacity to alter the noises I make in my head. The Glasgow DJ has worked wonders here, making an album to rank alongside the likes of Daft Punk’s Discovery as a genre classic.
Try: “Ultra Thizz”