Okay, we’ve made it to Day #2 of this Top 50 Albums countdown. Yesterday’s opening set of ten featured some incredible records from the likes of The Walkmen, Jack White, The Smashing Pumpkins and Hot Chip, among others. Go check that out and learn more if you’re interested. As this list gets closer and closer to #1 of course, the titles only get better. This set has got a lot of really interesting genres covered, including psychedelia, folk, R&B, garage rock and even a touch of hip hop. There’s one truly weird entry on here as well, because sometimes you can’t put a genre label on something great. Anyways, there’s lots to love and even more on the way tomorrow. Slip past the jump to check out all that’s going on today though with #40-31!
40. Wild Nothing – Nocturne
Jack Tatum (aka Wild Nothing) has come a long way since his 2010 debut record Gemini. Gone are the days of super lo-fi, 80s bedroom pop. They have been replaced by an actual recording studio, live drums, strings and a general clarity that makes that last album seem a lot like some weird dream. But dreamy is also an accurate way to describe Nocturne, which sucks you in as much as it keeps you at a distance. It’s a record best experienced on headphones so you can not only take in all the detail but appreciate it’s insular nature while also succumbing to its charms. The more you listen the better it gets, and the more it becomes apparent that this is just a warm-up for Tatum and his very promising future.
39. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon
Phil Elverum is living on his own distinct plane of existence, and every now and then he releases a record that gives us a glimpse into that magical world he has created for himself. Okay, so maybe “magical” isn’t the right word to use when talking about a Mount Eerie record. It is a gorgeous folk album, in the style of many of his earlier works, but the substance here is a little outside his normal range. One of the main points behind Clear Moon and its also 2012 counterpart Ocean Roar is a great appreciation of nature and the world we’re missing simply by not looking outside our own doors. For all the positive thoughts that can go along with this, Elverum chooses to go a more ambiguous route, making lyrical statements and instrumental choices that trigger a variety of reactions both comforting and disturbing. The complexities of an anything but traditional folk record helps to make this stand out as one of the year’s finest.
38. DIIV – Oshin
DIIV are a band that is able to say a lot by saying very little. The songs on Oshin favor the instrumental, and when there are lyrics, the vocals are so often buried in reverb that it’s tough to understand what’s being said anyways. Instead, you sit back and let the guitars wash over you as they pull from surf rock and Krautrock influences that merely suggest depression and sadness. In the words you are able to make out, those hopeless thoughts become that much clearer. If it sounds like it’s difficult and unpleasant to get through this album, that actually couldn’t be further from the truth. As the saying goes, misery loves company, and in this particular case DIIV prove to be a rather inventive band with quite a bit of replay value, particularly thanks to tracks like “How Long Have You Known” and “Doused.”
37. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Whereas DIIV often use their instruments to convey emotion, Sharon Van Etten’s strengths lie in her songwriting and lyrics. She’s no slouch when it comes to arranging compelling songs – “Serpents” and “Leonard” are great evidence of that – but her words and the way that she sings them are what separate her from a large number of similar-sounding peers. Her sound does grow quite a bit on Tramp, thanks in no small part to the production work of The National’s Aaron Dessner and some studio guest musicians. While the album title was inspired by months she spent jumping from friend’s couch to friend’s couch without any real place to call home, the majority of the songs are about the pitfalls of love. It’s a very relatable topic, and Van Etten manages to avoid falling into the trap of cliche thanks to sheer specificity and a clear investment in her subject matter.
36. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
If you want to hear the weirdest record of 2012, look no further than Mature Themes. At first glance, this record seems like a kneejerk reaction by Ariel Pink after 2010’s Before Today and the song “Round and Round” took him to a new level of popularity. It’s as if he’d prefer to live on the fringes of society, and was hoping that a bunch of wacky and strange songs would scare a lot of the new fans off. The more accurate explanation though is that he doesn’t want to repeat himself, and believes his fans both new and old are more able than ever to handle his greatest of eccentricities. So don’t try to fight him – if you don’t like or appreciate what this album is doing, jump ship. Those that stay should be prepared for a wild ride. If you can get past the references to eating children and moments like stopping in the middle of a song to place a drive-thru order, there’s a lot of fun and a lot of reward to be found in this album.
35. Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes
After the avant-jazz electronica mixture that was 2010’s Cosmogramma, Flying Lotus could easily have attempted to repeat that record’s success by making a follow-up that was similar in style and tone. Instead, he chose to keep people guessing by sharply scaling back the elements in his compositions and moving in a free-form manner from minimalist jazz to a more synth-heavy retro styled video game soundtrack. He’s got more guests than ever before too, and a person like Erykah Badu steps outside of her comfort zone for a different sort of vocal on “See Thru to U,” as does Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, whose contribution is so washed out it might as well be vapor. On the whole, this is Flying Lotus’ most accessible effort, and the closer your focus on it the more emotion you can find buried beneath the seemingly simplistic surface.
34. How to Dress Well – Total Loss
After a debut full length that was essentially a collection of tracks from previously released EPs, Total Loss marked the first time Tom Krell aka How to Dress Well had a real recording studio at his disposal. He absolutely took advantage of what that had to offer, turning his vocals into something that sounds polished and present rather than rough and distant. And while those old charms worked nicely in channeling his feelings of isolation and depression, it could also leave the listener feeling left out in the cold. Now that everything is much clearer, you can hear the ache and pain in his voice, and the lyrical clarity helps you to understand those problems better. The front half of the album is remarkably accessible and easy to get into, even as it harbors some dark themes. The back half leans more experimental and dives into some post-rock instrumentals that are strikingly beautiful. All pieced together this is a masterful album that continues to make Krell one of the most compelling R&B artists making music today.
33. The Men – Open Your Heart
Normally when a band has a record that features a bunch of different styles of music on it, the results are unfocused and often have a few missteps along the way. You sort of get the impression that they’re not sure what they want to be doing and are just throwing a bunch of things at the wall to see what sticks. That’s not the case with The Men though, who have made an album that plays around with lo-fi, garage rock, punk, country, psychedelia and even touches of metal without anything ever sounding uncomfortable or out of place. In other words, they’ve proven themselves to be so diversely talented that they could well take any sonic direction they so please and do well with it. Anybody that listens to or appreciates songs using guitars can almost definitely find something to love on Open Your Heart, and that remains one of its greatest strengths. No matter what direction they choose to head in next, it’s likely to be similarly fun and complex, and that’s something to look forward to.
32. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
Based on their debut album, it’s easy to think that Sleigh Bells have a very limited shelf life. Exciting and innovative as Treats was, the overall substance of it was a bit thin. How could they follow it up with something equally compelling? By scaling back the loud and pummeling rock songs and relying more on the delicate measured aspects of their songcraft, they added a bit of nuance to their sound and largely proved they’re in it for the long haul. What this album lacks in sheer muscular force is supported instead by the graceful noise of tracks like “End of the Line” and “Road to Hell,” where Alexis Krauss’ vocals take center stage and any hip hop beat influences go out the window entirely. Of course then you still have scorchers like “Demons” and “Leader of the Pack,” which are new twists on old favorites. They’ve improved lyrically too, writing songs about winning and losing rather than A machines and B machines or crowns on the ground. Thanks to Reign of Terror, Sleigh Bells are certainly big winners this time around.
31. El-P – Cancer for Cure
Tough times have hit the hip hop genre, even as rappers continue to talk about money and expensive things. Case and point for that sort of thing is El-P, who was head of the Def Jux label and basically brought a lot of underground hip hop artists to the forefront of the genre. The key word there is WAS, because the label was forced to shut down indefinitely in 2010 due to financial reasons. But when one door closes another opens, and El-P decided to focus his time on producing other records (see: Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music) and investing in his own career. Cancer for Cure is at its heart a record aoout the current state of hip hop and a war cry in an effort to ensure its survival. The beats are futuristic and ahead of their times, and El-P’s vocals sound like he needs to get every word out or his heart will stop. It’s exciting, intense, visceral and a reinvention for a guy that was an essential part of the invention of 21st century hip hop in the first place. Few people are more equipped to save the genre.
TOMORROW: THE TOP 50 ALBUMS LIST CONTINUES WITH #30-21!