#10: Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
The drawled, confident ‘Forget about it’ immediately draws you in, and Parquet Courts keep you there for the album’s duration. It’s straight-up, uber-cool garage punk rock from the Brooklynites. It’s effortlessly catchy and instantly enjoyable, and the stoner lyrics suit the laid-back vibes perfectly. ‘Borrowed Time’ is the clear standout, encapsulating everything that’s good about Parquet Courts, while the rest of the album kinda blends together in a brilliant, carefree mess.
#9: Local Natives – Hummingbird
Following up their stunning debut was always going to be tricky, but Local Natives did it just right. They virtually disappeared for ages, took their time, and wrote a mature and refined followup that kept all the good bits and introduced many more. ‘Heavy Feet’ and ‘Black Balloons’ are just as catchy and infectious as anything off the debut, while the heart-wrenching ‘Columbia’ is by far the most emotional song the band have written, surrounding the death of a band member’s mother.
#8: Born Ruffians – Birthmarks
Born Ruffians finally grew up. After two (brilliant) albums filled with teen angst and the highly relatable troubles of growing up, Birthmarks sees frontman Luke Lalonde actually dealing with having grown up. On ‘Needle’ he bemoans: “When I was a boy / I wished that I was older / Wished that I was taller, tall enough to see / See the things I see today / Now I wish they’d go away / Now they’ve led me far astray / Stray from what I need”, and is almost directly addressing much of the lyrical content on their debut, Red, Yellow & Blue. Along with this newfound maturity, there’s some damn good songs. ‘Rage Flows’ is impossible to not play on full volume, ‘6-5000’ is a little gem, and ‘Permanent Hesitation’ is the most experimental and interesting song the band have ever created.
#7: Los Campesinos! – No Blues
Another stellar release from the Brits, filled with their trademark raw, vocal, and catchy sounds. There’s no weak link throughout it, and the likes of ‘For Flotsam’, ‘Selling Rope’, and ‘Avocado, Baby’ rank easily among some of the band’s best work. The latter also contains one of the lyrics of the year: “A heart of stone / Rind so tough it’s crazy / That’s why they call me the avocado, baby”.
#6: Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze
Never has an album title described its contents as well as Kurt Vile’s latest offering. Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze is a laid-back, hazy, and relaxed jaunt that you wish would never end. It’s perfect to fall asleep too, and that’s not an insult, it’s just so damn nice. There isn’t really a better way to sum it up.
#5: Cloud Control – Dream Cave
Following in the footsteps of Local Natives, this is how you follow up a hugely successful debut. The Blue Mountains four-piece relocated to the UK for Dream Cave, and produced a unique, polished and highly addictive record that shows the band’s full potential. ‘Dojo Rising’ is a vintage Cloud Control song, filled with Alister Wright’s intimate and personal lyrics, while ‘Promises’ deserves all the praise it is getting right now.
#4: Arctic Monkeys – AM
An Arctic Monkeys album is always divisive. There’s those that will never go past their youthful, hyperactive debut, those that settle on the more refined Favourite Worst Nightmare, or those weirdos who thought their long-haired, QOTSA-esque Humbug was their best work. AM was as divisive as ever, with some lauding it as what the band has been working towards for their whole careers, and others saying that it’s flat out boring. Well, AM is pretty darn good. ‘Do I Wanna Know’ and ‘R U Mine’ provide the strongest start to any album of the year, while ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ delivers the biggest shock of the record, not living up to its name at all but definitely providing an enjoyable alternative. ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ follows in the same vein as the openers, while ‘Knee Socks’ sees a much appreciated intervention from none other than Josh Homme.
#3: The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The National are just one of those bands that will never, ever let you down. They’re absurdly consistent while also reinventing and adding to their sound, and Trouble Will Find Me is no exception. There’s a bit more edge to the sound, with more heavier moments than seen on previous efforts, typified on ‘Sea Of Love’ which builds heavily before quickly stripping it all away for the refrain of ‘If I stay here / Trouble will find me”. ‘I Need My Girl’ displays the Dessner brother’s envious talents, and like every other National album, there isn’t a bad song on it.
#2: Arcade Fire – Reflektor
It was with great trepidation that many listened to the eccentric Canadian’s fourth album. You never know what to expect with a new Arcade Fire album, with each drastically different from the last. Reflektor is just an hour and a half of extremely talented musicians jamming and messing around, and it’s brilliant. The title track sets the tone early, a jolly and highly danceable anthem with backing vocals from Bowie, while ‘Here Comes The Night Time’ is by far the catchiest song of the year. It’s one of those albums that needs to be listened to from cover to cover and, frankly, it’s records like these that keep the album format going.
#1: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
It’s pretty rare for the best album of the year to be released way back in February, but the New Zealand-come-American’s second effort is impossible to look past. On II Ruban Nielson consolidates on the fuzzy goodness of his debut and builds on it to create a swirly, melodic and hugely complex record that is as addictive as it is layered. The lyrical content is heavy-hitting and relatable, focusing on the period of time Nielson and co spent touring their debut, where he claims they were “killing themselves”, and focusing on this separation from his wife and young child. There’s hardly anyone that could say they haven’t felt like Nielson does when he sings: “I wish that I could swim and sleep like a shark does / I’d fall to the bottom and I’d hide til the end of time” and “It’s a strange old state of mind / Memories they mess with my mind”. The production is just perfect for what it needs to be, made even more impressive by the fact it was all completed in Nielson’s basement home studio. The guitar work stands out across every track, with the catchiness of ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’ or the Beatles-esque rock of ‘One At A Time’. Unknown Mortal Orchestra made something truly special on II, and it’s one that you find yourself always going back to over the whole year. A brave, interesting and complex release from one of the most talented musicians going round at the moment.