Don’t miss Rob Sheffield’s Top 25 Songs of the Year and “Blurred Lines”: The Worst Song of This or Any Other Year
1. Kanye West, Yeezus
Bow down before the one you serve. Even in a year absurdly overstuffed with great music, a year when there was no hope of cutting my faves down to a Top 10, Kanye still housed everybody else. Yeezus is his big goth-industrial statement, where he zooms into a space-gladiator fantasy to turn all his rage and paranoia into pure electro-geek aggression. You expect ego from Kanye – I mean, there’s ego, then there’s “bring White Jesus onstage to give you a hug” ego. Yet behind all the masks, he sounds like a scared guy who probably sits around the mansion playing his Nitzer Ebb 12-inches in the dark, lecturing Kim about why “Lightning Man” is cooler than “Join In The Chant.” Until the finale “Bound 2,” where all those sweet soul voices torture him by reminding him what it was like to have feelings. What a nightmare. What an album. All in just 10 songs. As his fan Lou Reed would say, Kanye’s week beats your year.
2. Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold
This album is so excellent, it basically ruined my life. All year long, I kept just wanting to play this thing over and over, because I am shallow and weak and I like to shout along with cataclysmically pointless hooks like “hatchback hearses” or “surf population too high to tally” or “I was walking through Ridgewood, Queens/I was flipping through magazines.” There’s the song about a cool girl, the political song, even a song that desecrates the “Billie Jean” drum intro. There’s also loads of guitar.
3. My Bloody Valentine, MBV
Back in February, My Bloody Valentine finally showed up with some new songs, and in one version of the story, that’s the happy ending. But somehow, almost a year later, the music sounds more mysterious than ever. At the band’s fall shows, the new songs were the highlights by a mile, especially the bizarro Motown throb of “New You.” That’s not how a comeback tour is supposed to work, right? I’m not sure this isn’t MBV’s best album, which is too weird to even think about.
4. Miley Cyrus, Bangerz
Miley’s Bloody Valentine. She scored the pop-sleaze orgy of the year, wrecking balls from coast to coast. Some of these songs mention “molly,” which I realize is a drug but one of the nice things about not being 19 is not having to give a fuck what drugs are called. (Free advice, sweetie: When you’re staring into your soup and it seems to be sending you secret messages like “TWERK,” the party may have gone on a little long.) I love her Future duet where they remake “Stand By Me” and decide to salvage their relationship by making a 3-D sex video (which is 100 percent guaranteed to work). And no matter how many times I hear “Wrecking Ball,” I just want to keep her on repeat and hear her crying.
5. Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana
These wiseass Massachusetts indie kids have their guitar clang down, and Sadie Dupuis handles a sarcastic kiss-off like a switchblade. (“You picked a virgin over me” – yowch.) All the songs on their debut album are funny, even the sad ones. Clincher: the slow jam “No Below,” where Sadie sings, “I once said I’d be better off just being dead/But I didn’t know you yet.”
6. Perfect Pussy, I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling
“I’m tough now, baby,” Meredith Graves snarls. “I have lost all desire for feeling, and I can’t thank you enough.” No no, Meredith – thank you! These Syracuse hardcore upstarts bring the next-school noise, drowning her urgently emotional voice in layers of toxic guitar fuzz and synth sludge. It’s a cheap four-song demo tape, and if it just sounds like a bunch of sloppy noise to you, I’m not going to claim you’re wrong, but it’s also the kind of noise that can make you feel alive inside if you like that kind of thing.
7. The So So Glos, Blowout
Punk rock – what a concept. Life is short and bands that don’t make you jump up and down are a waste of oxygen, or at least that seems to be the guiding principle behind the So So Glos. These Brooklyn brothers are the jump-up-and-down kind, even when they venture into dark places like “Wrecking Ball” and “Xanax.” Dig the new breed.
8. Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
Katie Crutchfield shoots for the heart with her folk-punk strumming as well as her breathy voice. There’s an element of Nineties rock fan-fiction here – what if Rose Melberg and Robert Pollard were in the same band? (“Blue Pt. II.”) What if Liz Phair sang like J. Mascis and J. Mascis played guitar like Liz Phair? (“Waiting.”) And if you have a problem with that it’s been nice knowing you.
9. Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time
A new wave girl with a heavy metal heart. This is essentially an Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark album with a spooky girl singing, which makes it the best Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark album ever. I always love when singers complain about the “hounds of hell” even if it usually just means they could use a nap and some potassium.
10. David Bowie, The Next Day
The man broods upon marriage, which has ended up as the grand subject of his golden years. (He had great marital songs on Earthling and Hours too, but they were buried under so much production glop, who could hear them?) The Extra version adds the essential “Like a Rocket Man,” where Bowie finally steals his vintage spacesuit back from Elton.
11. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away
I guarantee Nick Cave bitterly regretted this album title as soon as he saw the artwork for Night Time, My Time. A flawless ode to the same woman Nick’s been singing about forever – the one who comes on like “a ten-ton catastrophe on a sixty-pound chain.”
12. Disclosure, Settle
Why didn’t this Brit synth-pop duo call themselves Featuring? The Lawrence brothers are wizards at mixing a multi-vocal party tape of their own songs, and while the premise is U.K. garage house, they stretch into much-loved genres like “late Eighties shoe-store music” and “that weird 18-month period when ‘Born Slippy’ was a thing” and “the prom scene in She’s All That where Usher is the DJ and he blows everybody’s mind with ‘The Rockafeller Skank.'”
13. Pusha T, My Name Is My Name
He blames, he blames, he blames himself for his reputation. The Clipse man makes his long-awaited solo debut, while Kanye produces tracks too Kanye-like to fit the Yeezus concept. “I might sell a brick on my birthday/36 years of doing dirt like it’s Earth Day.”
14. Beyoncé, Beyoncé
We will all need three or four more years to process this opus, but it’s Queen B’s answer to the invasion of Normandy, commanding the entire planet to Monica Lewinsky on her gown. Has anyone lavished so much brilliance on a concept album about her God-given ass? Never! And the idea of B taking only 45 minutes to get dressed is hilarious in itself.
15. Roomrunner, Ideal Cities
Full disclozh: I am sometimes (and 100 percent justly) mocked at the Rolling Stone offices for how much I heart the Nineties. When MTV did a Beavis and Butt-Head reboot a couple years ago, my editors had a secret bet on whether I could write about it without mentioning Pavement. (Honestly I didn’t even get through the first graf before I was saying things like “the post-Joe E. Tata era” and “like driving a Bratmobile through a Neutral Milk Hotel.”) So I can’t front. I Love This Band Because They Sound Like the Fucking Nineties. In fact, this debut could be prime Arcwelder, though I don’t blame you for hearing Nirvana instead. Happy? Hey man, nice shot.
16. 2 Chainz, B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time
2 Chainz is the AC/DC of our time, both in his devotion to a formula (chorus = repeat title four times) and the awesomeness of said formula. This is his Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. Nobody can match him when it comes to boasting about his kitchen appliances. Best line, from “Fork”: “My stove deserve a shout-out, I’m like, What up, stove?”
17. Pet Shop Boys, Electric
What a year for U.K. synth duos. Electric, the Pet Shop Boys’ finest since Very, goes for pure rapture in “Vocal and “Inside a Dream.” They bliss out to the deep house beats, quoting William Blake to reassure you they’re still pretentious twits at heart.
18. Weekend, Jinx
A dark-wave power-goth masterwork, with postpunk grooves like “Sirens” and “Mirrors.” This got strangely slept on, probably because people expect a band called Weekend to be into things like “fun” and “sunshine” and “Hawaiian shirts” and other concepts alien to this band. But the guitars capture that moment when the shoe you’re gazing at kicks you in the forehead.
19. Deafheaven, Sunbather
I won’t lie – I spent the 4th of July seeing an excellent Deafheaven show, loved every minute of it, and not once did it occur to me they were a metal band. I thought they were shoegaze guys who just liked to wear black leather gloves. (In my defense, my friends and I had just been music-on-demanding 2 Chainz and Nicki videos for 4 solid hours. Americaaaa!) I bought their album. I play it a lot. Now I know they are metal. Learning things is the best!
20. Destruction Unit, Deep Trip
I have no idea if drugs were involved in the making this album. Well, okay – drugs probably were the making of this album. Arizona guitar reptiles from the Sonoran Desert, specializing in psych-noise blowouts like “Night Loner.” I haven’t gone a week without playing Deep Trip since it dropped back in August. White light. White heat. Bands like this are what you did to the universe, Lou Reed. Thanks.