Welcome back to the countdown. As the holiday season becomes a warm and cozy memory, we revisit last year’s absolute finest albums.
10. ZOLA JESUS — ‘Okovi’ (September)
Singer/songwriter/producer Zola Jesus turns personal turmoil into something sounding more hopeful for the future. A primarily electronic album with genuine human warmth, “Okovi” is her best collection of songs in quite some time.
9. ROGER WATERS — ‘Is This the Life We Really Want?’ (June)
Pink Floyd meets Radiohead as the legendary songwriter teams up with brilliant producer Nigel Godrich. Waters gets angry at the world and proves he will not fade away quietly like so many rock dinosaurs that were once his contemporaries.
8. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — ‘Rest’ (November)
Combining personal tragedy with dance grooves and bright pop melodies is no easy task. Gainsbourg pulls it off flawlessly, with the songs never sounding contrived or hollow. We share her pain, and we love it.
7. THE NATIONAL — ‘Sleep Well Beast’ (September)
Expansion and experimentation can go one of two ways — the music sounds confident and inspired or self-indulgent and hackneyed. “Beast” is the former, an album featuring an accomplished band unafraid to take chances. Timely now, timeless later.
6. ARCADE FIRE — ‘Everything Now’ (July)
One of the more “polarizing” albums on the list, “Now” sees the Canadian indie rockers continuing their quest for the ultimate groove. Flipping LCD Soundsystem for Daft Punk, the band builds upon “Reflektor’s” (2013) beats while alienating a few fans. Open your mind and body to it, though, and “Now” is divine.
5. TEMPLES — ‘Volcano’ (March)
Majestic pop sparkling beneath bright, unending rays of sunshine, trippy psychedelic overtones coloring Baroque rock in shades of red and blue, ear candy sweet enough to plunge you into a deep, dreamy haze — it’s heavy, man. It’s Temples’ “Volcano.”
4. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM — ‘American Dream’ (September)
Don’t call it a comeback. Yes, LCD Soundsystem broke up, but James Murphy was always here in spirit. His influence never diminished; his collaborations with others always were worthwhile. It’s nice to have the real deal back together, though. Our dull nights will be lively again. Now dance, you fools!
3. THE XX — ‘I See You’ (January)
Low-key British indie rockers the XX put their producer Jamie XX to more prominent use, and now their melancholy songs pack an even greater emotional punch. “I See You” never seeps into the background. These subtle sounds command your attention at every turn.
2. ST. VINCENT — ‘Masseduction’ (October)
Annie Clark (St. Vincent) teams up with writer/producer Jack Antonoff and flirts with more blatant pop sensibilities. Despite that shift, she’s still just as weird as ever. Smashing together bits of glam, synthpop, heavy rock, new wave and whatever else sticks, Clark keeps us guessing and enthralled.
1. OFFA REX — ‘The Queen of Hearts’ (July)
Two distinct artists manage to complement each other harmoniously without overshadowing one another. Indie rock storytellers the Decemberists and British folk singer Olivia Chaney give us a night of traditional songs with a modern twist, and keep the entire affair wholly authentic.