1. Japandroids, Celebration Rock
“We don’t cry for those nights to arrive/We yell like hell to the heavens” is a fun thing to yell, the kind of line that reminds you why yelling is fun. All over Celebration Rock, Japandroids stand firm in their belief that every “oh yeah” must have an equal and opposite “all right.” Guitarist Brian King and drummer Dave Prowse do for indie rock what the Pet Shop Boys did for disco, going for effects so broad and cheap and obvious, so blatantly manipulative, at first you might suspect they’re kidding. But they’re not – they’re just funny, which adds to the emotional impact. They race from “The Nights Of Wine and Roses” (the one that goes “whoa-oooh”) to “The House That Heaven Built (the one that goes “whoa-oh-whoa-oh-oh-oh”) to “Continuous Thunder” (the one that goes “yeah yeah yeah yeah”). And through it all, they yell like hell until the heavens yell back.
2. Taylor Swift, Red
Taylor decides to embrace her love of pop bombast, not that anybody noticed her holding back before. Result? The gaudiest mega-pop manifesto in forever. The disco-plus-banjos groove Shania Twain only dreamed about. The best color-of-romance song since Prince gave up on the purple rain. The Liz Phair/Ace of Base collabo that never happened. I love her meltdown-a-minute love songs, and how she’s always shocked to meet dudes who can match her trouble-having game. (Hey, the guy who almost ran a red light because he was staring at you – he turned out to be immature? How the hell did that happen?) I love her song about how exotic it is to hang out with 22-year-olds. I love how she says the word “refrigerator.” I love how she says the word “drown-i-i-i-ing.” I love basically any five-second stretch of this album.
3. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill
These feedback rambles are the man’s strongest songs since his mid-Nineties surge of Mirror Ball and Broken Arrow. Also his longest – “Driftin’ Back” goes on longer than Everybody’s Rockin’. But it’s like a guitar-freak version of Thomas Pynchon’s thousand-pager Against The Day – a long-winded hippie fable where long-windedness is part of the adventure.
4. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city
It’s always a tough job being the next-school future of hip-hop. But K-Dot finds new ways to use the album format to tell a sad story – you can hear the sorrow in his voice when he says, “I can feel your energy from two planets away.”
5. The Young, Dub Egg
Austin guitar dudes with their heads in the clouds and a comically un-Googleable band name. Not an album that demands or even wants your full attention, just one you can put on and play all day, for weeks at a time, from the Crazy Horse rumble of “Livin’ Free” to the Spacemen 3 glimmer of “Plunging Rollers.” You think it’s easy, but you’re wrong, because if it were easy there’d be a dozen guitar records this great every summer. It sure does sound easy, though.
6. Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music
Or as Leonard Cohen would say: Songs of Love and Hate. The veteran Atlanta MC is full of emotion going off on what he hates (dead Presidents, living Presidents, dirty cops, etc.) or doesn’t (his grandmother, his wife, his ex-cop dad, etc.) But hip-hop is the love of his life: “This is jazz, this is funk, this is soul, this is gospel/This is sanctified sex, this is playa pentecostal.”
7. White Lung, Sorry
Vancouver kids bang through ten bursts of female punk fury in 19 minutes, with Mish Way’s hungry yowl leading the charge. Nothing fancy here – you get thrashed, you get bashed, you notice strange bruises all over your shins, then as soon as it’s over you press play again.
8. Future, Pluto
Is the auto in “AutoTune” the same as the auto in “autoerotic asphyxiation”? Let’s just say Future’s windpipe is a very special place, full of synthesized saliva and glitch-gargles, and his album does for AutoTune what “Green Onions” did for the Hammond B-3. The sex-droid vocals suit his R&B astronaut-status fantasy: If everybody else wants to keep remaking Goodfellas, Future would rather do Spaceballs.
9. Ceremony, Zoo
These scrappy Bay Area hardcore troopers have been raging on the road for years, though they’re still young, but this is where they really get playa pentecostal. The savage guitars of “Hysteria” and “Adult” flesh out their brotherly wisdom: “We go for a ride, we slow down and die, we have to give up on things we love.”
10. Cloud Nothings, Attack On Memory
Dylan Baldi yelps, “I’m never gonna learn to be aloooone,” but I’m guessing he’ll get lots of chances to re-take the course, and he’ll write a song for each one. Killer band, too: rhythm-guitar jitters, a drummer who obviously loves the Buzzcocks, and a producer named Steve Albini, who gives these guys the same crackle he gave the Wedding Present back in the day. The year’s funniest, most honest songs about being a self-absorbed twenty-something basket case that aren’t by Taylor Swift or Future.