I will release my list of top albums Sunday. However, here is my list of the top musical discovery albums of the year. The numbers and rankings are somewhat arbitrary and could change tomorrow.
Worth mentioning, but not on the list officially because they did not release full albums, only EPs:
Alabama Shakes- Alabama Shakes (spend $4 now)
Imagine Janis Joplin's multi-ethnic granddaughter fronting early Kings of Leon, but influenced by soul, gospel and the dirt around Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The 4 songs they have given us so far are more exciting than anything I have heard this year (and pretty uplifting).
Typhoon- A New Kind of House
4 songs that tell me they are the best young cacophonous Indie- Folk band coming out with a CD in 2012. Imagine a young Arcade Fire with even more complex orchestration.
Listen on Spotify
Just missing the cut:
The Ghost of Tom Joad, Saigon, Megafaun, Bahamas, East River Pipe, Sin Fang, Childish Gambino, Shafer James, David Wax Museum
15. Foster the People- Torches
Yes, there is a lot of hype and they could travel down the road of Maroon 5 and Coldplay. But, as of yet, this is a great young band. Pumped Up Kicks is merely the 3rd or 4th best song on the album. Houdini is one of the best songs of the year.
14. Shabazz Palaces- Black Up
For once, a Pitchfork review is spot on. Read it. Innovative, highly complex hip hop from a masterful rapper. If you've heard of math rock, think of this as Math Rap.
13. Caveman- Coco Beware
You have probably heard similar bands before, but very nice, complex, Indie Rock that is pretty to listen to while transporting you to a very pleasant field someplace is something you need. They remind me of buzz bands like Local Natives from last year.
12. The Poison tree- The Poison Tree
My friend Steve thinks this is the best album of the year. He may be right, but I haven't sat with this album as much as he has. Still, this is great music, hearkening back to eras that are long past, yet modern. I think my parents would love the tin pan alley feel while I'm interested in the moodiness.
11. The Mountaineering Club Orchestra- A Start on Such a Night is Full of Promise
The soundtrack for a movie I wish existed. This classically infused beaut is my favorite ambient album of the year (followed closely by Demdike Stare). If you are looking for something to play while working or in the background, buy it (I think it would be great for church also).
You can listen and buy it at Bandcamp and name your price.
10. Frank Ocean- Nostalgia, Ultra
Another free album, Frank is bringing back 70's soul stylings for a hip-hop generation. the lyrics are a little beyond my comfort level at times, but the music is what I imagine Al Green or Marvin Gaye would be playing if they were coming out after Jay-Z and Kanye West changed the landscape so radically.
9. Wu Lyf- Go Tell Fire on the Mountain
Hard to describe band from England that classifies itself as Heavy Pop. Messy music consisting of passionate vocals, smart lyrics, swirling guitars. Not for everyone, but I like it.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.- It's a Corporate World
Goofy, but great named project from Detroit that Paste magazine coins "indie-alt-digital-folk-garage-rock-pop." There is a kitchen sink vibe to their music which reminds me of the smoothness of Earlimart or Granddaddy.
7. Youth Lagoon- The Year of Hibernation
One kid from Idaho making the kind of music I would make if I was alone in Idaho: melancholy. This is the best of the new bands making music straddling the fence between Sigur Ros and Arcade Fire (although the mellowest example). If you like this kind of music, but want a little more oomph, I recommend Of Monsters and Men, which is not on the list because their album is not officially available in the US (or they would be in the top 3).
listen to Spotify
6. EMA- Past Life Martyred Saints
She calls it Noise Folk and I am grateful to find someone that has the edge of mid-career Hole. It is angry, raw, emotional and definitely noisy. I thought the supergroup Wild Flag would make this list, but listening to this album I realized that, while there are a couple of great songs on the Wild Flag album, I was including it on the list because I wanted to like it as much as I liked this album.
5. Diego Garcia- Laura
The most painfully gorgeous album of the year, my wife thinks I listen to it when I want to get depressed. Garcia was the lead singer of the band Elephant before deciding he would embrace his Argentinian heritage and create a masterful paean to his ex-wife full of sad flamenco touches over the kind of crooning the guys on American idol wish they were capable of. If you love Iron and Wine or Bon Iver, check him out. He is more interesting and reminds me of a young, Spanish Leonard Cohen.
4. tUnE-yArDs- WHOKILL
People are justifiably nuts over this album. Imagine the spot where Sleigh Bells meets St. Vincent... especially if the Dirty Projectors were behind it and you will see why every hipster and Indie critic thinks they have heard the musical equivalent of the Second Coming. OK, the hype is out of hand, but its a band with serious potential. If these songs were on Just Dance 3, I would be there with a Wii remote in my hand.
3. The Vaccines- What Do You Expect from the Vaccines?
My favorite album of the year when I want to rock and roll. If bands like The Hives, The Strokes and the Arctic Monkeys bore you, then stay away from this band of snotty fans of U2 and The Ramones. In a world in which people know what rock and roll is supposed to sound like, these guys would be HUGE.
2. The Head and the Heart- The Head and the Heart
For fans of Mumford and Sons, Civil Wars, The Avett Brothers and other neo-folk bands, these guys have the songwriting down. While none of their songs will blow you away with their originality, you will find yourself returning to this album continually. I expected this album to blow up like Coldplay and Mumford, and it will if people find out about them. Pitchfork hates them, which is always a good sign.
Trust me and listen on Spotify
1. The Weeknd- Echos of Silence
Echos is the 3rd of 3 free mix tapes released by this Canadian soul singer in 2011. All 3 are wonderful and free on his website. While lyrically, as a 40 year white guy dad, I can get a bit prudish when all a guy seems to talk about is sex; I have to admit he does it well. He channels Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye simultaneously, so I recommend any youth ministers that believe in the True Love Waits program should keep their kids very far away from this album. I call his music Indie Soul, so check it out. He is gonna be huge.
Listen and download