5. M.I.A. - Kala
I didn’t expect this. Arular was fantastic and all, but every single freaking song on this album is a gangbuster ready to make the dance floor move. Where did those beats come from? Before, the caged beats sounded futuristic and threatening, and now they sound downright earth shattering. And instead of some chanting she’s crafted some perfect songs.
I still, honestly, can’t pin down exactly what moves me about her. Her tone-deaf delivery isn’t exactly revelatory, and while her lyrics are interesting, they aren’t poetry. And her politics, like nearly everyone has mentioned, are rather disturbing. This isn’t the power-of-the-people vibe, this is radical and dangerous. I wouldn’t mess with her. Sure, it could be a huge facade that she’s put on to sound more dangerous. But I don’t buy it. I’m scared of her. Honestly, if I saw her on the street I’d walk the other way. God knows what she’d do to me. Ask for an autograph? Forget about it.
Perhaps that’s the attraction...that and the 12 or so unbelievable singles piled up here.
4. Rufus Wainwright - Release the Stars
I think I’m the only person in the world that loved this album. I know for a fact I’m the only person in Columbus, Ohio who knew the words to all the new songs. When I saw him this fall I belted every song, and everyone looked around like they had no idea what was going on. I remember seeing Rufus in New York during his Want II and just feeling completely surrounded by love. And there I sat in the midwest with a bunch of people that didn’t care.
Why did I care? Because he delivered an album of romantic gems set to completely over the top productions that swept me up in a fever of bittersweet nostalgia (the best possible kind). Why doesn’t any one else care?
I know that answer, too. The album is a little campy, bloated, and not nearly as strong as his first two albums. Sure, I’m forgiving. I gave the Smashing Pumpkins nearly four albums before I jumped ship. But I have jumped ship, and am now privy to anything Rufus wants to do. Luckily he’s not bitter or jaded, and is making romantic albums full of tortured lovers, forbidden loves, and that voice to carry it all.
3. Radiohead - In Rainbows
This is a special album, and I think we all know that. There was no where to go after Hail to the Thief, an album that saw Radiohead reaching further and further into the depths of digital hell---perhaps I’m not the right person to talk about this. I was never a fan of that album, which I saw as stripping Radiohead of all their power.
There were hints that things might change, specifically the wondrous live version of “Arpeggi”. But I could never have anticipated an album of such warmth. In fact, I was expecting more drum machines, especially after a typically glum Thom Yorke solo album. It’s certainly not a happy album, but it feels full-bodied and real, something that you can’t really say about a Radiohead album since the Bends.
But this is no retread and never have they taken their minimalist tendencies so far. If Kyle is right and this is their last album, I can’t imagine a more fitting way to go.
2. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Last New Years I spent with Austin getting mad drunk and hanging out with people I had no right to be around. It was some kind of Ivy League party and I had just drunk a bottle or two of champagne and was acting obnoxious. I spilt hot wax all over my one leg, spent 30 minutes in the bathroom trying to clean it off, and then I found the iPod. They had this meticulously sequenced playlist which I decided had to go. In a room of about 50 people I’d never met before, i started picking every song. I think i was doing well until I decided to play Spoon “I Turn My Camera On”. Everyone froze and looked at me. I got bitched out by some girl (who Abby threatened to fight), and left in a semi-disgrace. Spoon were ruined for me. I was a little embarrassed, but just mostly ashamed. I had a great time that night, but Spoon were always going to be the band that tainted the evening.
I had no interest in Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga when it came out. When I finally did get around to listening to it, I wasn’t much impressed outside of “Cherrybomb”, thinking it stale and too simplistic. I just didn’t want to be reminded every day of my idiocy. And then slowly but surely I got in. First it was “Underdog”, then “Finer Feeling”, and then “Don’t You Evah”, and before I knew it the album was on repeat for the whole summer.
But it wasn’t until I got madly obsesed with “Japanese Cigarette Case” that I realized I was on to something truly unique. Here was a song with one verse repeated occasionally, with a spanish guitar solo, and then a riff. And yet it was one of the most engaging songs I’d heard in ages. How did they do this, how can you make such simple things say so much?
So, it’s been my year of Spoon. From disgraced figures into heroes . Who knew?
1. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
One of the stranger experiences in life is when I happen to fall asleep watching a movie I’ve seen many times before. I know the plot, know the characters, but in the haze of sleep these events line up to create a completely new experience. Strange scenes that never existed before appear, and characters start breaking from the script. None of it ever makes sense, but this new world is beautiful and strange. I’m always curious to see where it goes, before I drift off again.
I’ve never heard an album as completely bewitching and dreamlike as this one, and never one that reminded me of this phenomenon. Each time I sneak in it feels like a completely new experience, one that can never be replicated. Because there are no verses, no choruses, just waves of samples looping around itself, there is no entry point except the beginning. If you drop in the middle it’s disorienting and alarming, but always beautiful and often sublime.
The album will always be about the random, the unexpected, the new turns I didn’t know existed. It will be me rambling around Brooklyn half awake with headphones through the trees back to my old apartment at a late hour. It will always be the unknown, and that’s why I can’t stop listening to it on repeat waiting for unexpected to happen.