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BPM 5: The Top 130 Albums

By ; October 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM 


Arctic Monkeys


[Domino; 2009]

In 2009 Arctic Monkeys were riding high on the wave of their success. Within three short years and two albums they had gone from British up and comers to a world wide brand. All they had to do was put out a third album of danceable songs chronicling the lives of British youth and they would continue dominating the charts. But they weren’t content with that. So they brought in Josh Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age fame, to be their producer and the resulting album is a psychedelic romp that on first glance could hardly be further from their debut. But once the initial backlash died down and you were able to digest the album properly you were left with what is possibly their best album so far. It kept the sardonic, conversational lyrics of Alex Turner but added a whole new layer of depth in the music. This was a message to everyone that they were not your average flavor of the week, destined to ride into obscurity once their hits dried up. Deep, brooding, psychedelic. Humbug is the result of a band willing to sacrifice popularity for their artistic integrity.

Leslie Fernandez


Mount Eerie

Clear Moon

[P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.; 2012]

One of The Microphones’ most poignant songs climaxes with the triumphant shout of two words: I’m small. Looking back over the arc of Anacortes, Wa. native Phil Elverum’s illustrious career, this little phrase proves an important moment–a mission statement of sorts nestled amongst the blown out production on “I Felt My Size.” 2012’s Clear Moon featured similar sorts of existential revelations, though these moments were clearer, more direct, and more human. In the midst of pastoral guitar work and chiming bells, Elverum sings of the tiny details that make you feel insignificant. It’s in the way headlights catch in the fog, or the distant sounds of the night, or the trees that swell and surround you. Clear Moon looks around and it looks inside and it knocks you down a peg or two. We are all so small.

Colin Joyce




[True Panther Sounds; 2009]

We in the “indie music” reviewing world sometimes have a tendency to assume that new music has to push boundaries or sound revelatory in order to qualify as good. But on their debut album, Girls—really Christopher Owens and producer/bassist Chet “J.R.” White—built a modern masterpiece using the tools of yesteryear, resulting in a sun-dappled pastiche of bygone styles that still manages to sound fresh in the 21st century. The guitar on opener “Lust For Life” seems like it’s beamed straight from the salty ’60s surf pop of Beach Boys vinyl records and even the 70s garage-rock punchiness of the Stooges. “Hellhole Ratrace” is its opposite in almost every respect—length instead of brief, balladry instead of bopping pop, smeared and slow instead of quick and uptempo, shielding its eyes from the sun by gazing at its shoes instead of throwing on a pair of shades—but it’s similarly languorous and definitely as catchy. And all the songs on this album take the timeless lessons of classic rock to heart; a guitar can indeed gently weep, but it can also sing with radiance, stew with resentment, or simply provide the perfect harmonic backdrop for the lead singer’s hilariously brief wish list of “a pizza and a bottle of wine.”

Josh Becker


Oneohtrix Point Never


[Mexican Summer; 2011]

Apparently, the cover of this album depicts a vampire looking at his own reflection, but it looks to me like a skeleton with spaghetti hair giving itself a last-minute check in its makeup mirror before a first date. Or at least I’d like to think that’s what going on. The best part of this mesmerizing, subdued album—sourced from clips of television commercial music—isn’t how weird it sounds or how awesome it is that Lopatin can splice together these disparate bits of pop culture detritus in order to make songs with surprising emotional heft. Those are both true, but the best thing about Replica is the way that it at once reflects its creator’s singularly abstract vision (this couldn’t be anything but a Oneohtrix Point Never record) and leaves itself open to a seemingly infinite number of interpretations. That’s a tricky balancing act—an artist’s uncompromising aesthetic ideal dovetailing with whatever nostalgic history a particular listener brings forth—but Daniel Lopatin makes it look as easy as dropping off a rented VHS tape at your local Blockbuster. I imagine that this album resonates with each listener in a different way, speaking to the specific part of our individual subconscious that depends on just which after-school specials we got home in time to enjoy and/or laugh at, or which unrated B movies we stayed up late to catch on whichever TV channel our parents wouldn’t let us watch. Television commercials are perhaps some of the most ubiquitous cultural signifiers in American culture, and this album taps into our collective reservoir of barely-remembered slogans and jingles better than any vaporwave effort could ever hope to.

Josh Becker


Fuck Buttons

Tarot Sport

[ATP Recordings; 2009]

Tarot Sport is probably one of the best album’s to have sex to. No, really; consider it. When you’re getting busy in the bedroom, it’s always good to have a soundtrack to distract from all those awkward noises, like the sound of neighbours cupping glasses against their walls, or of your flatmate coming home unexpectedly. But you don’t want anything too specific; stuff with lyrics is distracting, and you can only play Hot Chip’s “Over and Over” so many time before it loses it charm (and meaning).

Huzzah for Fuck Buttons’ stellar second album, full of brilliant, drones that feel both unspecific to time or place but also full of prospectful energy. Once “Surf Solar” finds a beat amidst the crackling distortion, things should be well underway, with clothes being ripped off; the galloping drums on “The Lisbon Maru” channel towards a glorious climax of blissful, sharp drones; the joyous Dan Deacon-like bursts of energy on “Olympians” are fuel in themselves to keep going; and the slippery, erratic gurgles of “Rough Steez” and “Phantom Limb” are perfectly matched to those icky, sweaty moments we all inevitably face. All this without even mentioning the final duo of tracks (“Space Mountain,” which is exactly how you’d imagine a distorted soundtrack to the famous Disney ride to be like, and the feverishly paced “Flight of the Feathered Serpent,” which captures the entire album’s preceding energy and brings it to one place for a glorious closing mile). I can’t say I’ve tried playing it while having sex myself (or by myself even), but it’s worth a shot if you get the chance. If not, it’s still a breathtaking album, full of scope, vision, and some of the most invitingly harsh drones you’re likely to ever hear.

Ray Finlayson


A$AP Rocky


[Self-released; 2011]

Although a pushback resulted in this album seeing release before it, A$AP Rocky’s second release, LiveLoveA$AP, could be best seen as a rebirth: gangsta rap’s response to Take Care. While the growing dominance of hash tag rap confused many veterans a few years ago, resulting in miscarriages from several legends, the younger generation of G’s better understood the implications. Rather than the ‘if ya can’t beat em, join em’ attitude popularized by Recovery and Lasers, the new guys hungered for a path towards both self-fulfillment and popularity. LiveLoveA$AP plays something like a grime-influenced Ready to Die on acid. Tracks like opener “Palace” burst with the creative Clams sound, while cuts such as “Trilla” bounce with something nearing a Boom Bap influence, tailor-made for the new school.

Chase McMullen



w h o k i l l

[4AD; 2011]

As tricky as the name tUnE-yArDs is to type out, it’s just about as tricky to pin down multi-instrumentalist Merrill Garbus. Beyond her powerful voice – which is all soul – Garbus relies on vocal loops, clanging percussion, afro-beats, horn sections and a wide-range of influences to form a wholly unique project.

w h o k i l l is a wonderful record that will make you dance, shout, sing, and even think as it buries its way into your memory.

After earning acclaim with the promising, largely self-produced debut BiRd-BrAiNs, Garbus was able to secure a bigger budget which is immediately apparent with more polished production and additional accompaniment in the form of bassist Nate Brenner, who drops smooth grooves that help coalesce the beats behind Garbus’ large, looping vocals.

Topically, Garbus touches on notions of nationalism and privilege (“My Country”), authenticity and violence (“Gangsta”) and gender and self identity (the album was originally slated to be titled “w o m e n w h o k i l l”). Sonically, the album is even more varied. The end result is a record with variety, soul, substance and ultimately, supreme staying power.

Brian Hodge


Fucked Up

David Comes To Life

[Matador; 2011]

A concept album with an impossibly complex and confusing story? Lengthy running time? Shoegazey guitars and the occasional lilting female vocal? None of this would jibe with the aesthetics of 99 percent of hardcore punk bands, but Fucked Up have made a career out of subverting and twisting the expectations thrust on their genre, which would be impossibly precious and contrived if the songs weren’t so damned good. “Queen of Hearts” and “Under My Nose” practically shimmer with crisp cheer, and the snaky-serpentine guitar lines of “The Recursive Girl” only serve to underscore the ugly beauty of Pink Eyes’ barks, snarls and growls. Canada’s best punk band takes on prog? Almost. More like, ‘Canada’s best punk band only continues to get better with time.’

Zach Corsa




[4AD; 2012]

Although she had already had a few well-received releases beforehand, it probably wasn’t until her breakthrough album Visions hit in early 2012 that most people realised that the name Grimes that they’d seen buzzed about on blogs didn’t belong to a rapper or beatmaker, but rather the pixie-like Claire Boucher. Though the name may not at first seem suited to a white girl electronic musician from Toronto, her music says otherwise, particularly on Visions. The beats that she builds up with the use of her looping pedals are admirable works of production, and although she may be singing in a sweet-sounding voice the lyrics can be dark, as on “Oblivion”’s tale of assault on a dark night. And while the majority of the other songs deal with the more expected topic of love and intimacy, it’s never without doubts, drawbacks or ramifications. It’s easy to take Visions for its surface audible delights, and you couldn’t be blamed for doing so – there’s ear candy aplenty here – but Boucher has also laid bare her fragile psyche here, and is daring you to dive in.

Rob Hakimian


Sunset Rubdown


[Jagjaguwar; 2009]

After Spencer Krug’s dalliance with indie stardom on Wolf Parade’s Apologies To The Queen Mary, his heart was very clearly elsewhere. Though his songs on Wolf Parade’s followups were of serviceable quality, the work he did as Sunset Rubdown showed the same bottled lightning as those magical cuts. Dragonslayer, released in 2009, was Krug’s last LP under that name and the most honest and direct. Despite the high minded prog-pop and classical references, songs like “Idiot Heart” represented the best of Krug’s work to date. Sentimental, heartbreaking, memorable and immediate–it’s one of the highest points in the career of one of our active greats.

Colin Joyce


PJ Harvey

Let England Shake

[Island; 2011]

Polly Jean Harvey, at this point, is finer than she’s ever been. She’s over her riot grrl days of the 90s, transitioning from the raw, disturbingly awesome music of her early career into a matured sound on Let England Shake that’s even stronger than 2007′s piano-driven balladry of White Chalk. On England, Harvey moves into a wide range of political and social commentary, which, while this decade has had plenty of, Harvey makes it her own and delivers with an enormous amount of intensity and clarity. The heavy use of piano on White Chalk led to a more mixed sound on England, as guitar, brass, and even autoharp feature heavily. The songwriting is as catchy as ever, as Harvey’s higher register of vocals (a staple on White Chalk) return even stronger here. The melodies are among the strongest she’s written in her career, as are the songs. There’s plenty of singles here, in the bouncy title track, the vicious “Words That Maketh Murder” and the Sufjan-ish “Written on the Forehead” all ranking among her catchiest songs. It’s not uncommon for esteemed songwriters (such as her peers Björk and Kate Bush) to deliver fantastic albums late in their career, but it is rare for them to release their best work. Leave it to PJ to do so.

Ryan Nichols


Kanye West


[Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam; 2013]

On a frigid night in downtown San Francisco, the face of Kanye West loomed large on the front of the W Hotel. “New Slaves” blasted from speakers rigged together on the back of a pickup truck. Passersby stopped cold in their tracks. West’s mammoth projection recited lyrics. As they grew in intensity, so did West’s cadence. The camera increasingly closed in on his face. By the end of the track, the amount of witnesses had increased threefold. And then it was over. The pickup truck vanished as quickly as it had appeared – two black-clad individuals ripped apart their equipment and sped off, not saying a word. They were on to another target within the city, where West would again plaster his presence on a beacon of wealth. A bank or a boutique or some corporate headquarters. For a little over four minutes, Kanye West had taken over the world. For an event so seismic, Yeezus needed to be a record equally commanding in stature. For an artist like Kanye West, whose persona has been larger than life for quite some time now, this was a tall order. And yet, somehow, West managed to unleash a record that has struck an artistic chord in a way none of his previous albums have. Yeezus is huge – a dominating, powerful, chaotic piece of artistry that hits its listener with such force it’s often overwhelming. Nothing else in 2013 has felt as visceral, operatic, or definitive. From the industrial anarchy of opener “On Site” to the unexpectedly gentle coda of “Bound 2,” Yeezus is the work of an artist in complete command of his craft – transcendent, epic, and an absolute joy to experience.

Cole Zercoe


The Roots

How I Got Over

[Def Jam; 2010]

By 2010 Eminem may have sold a billion records, and ‘Ye may have made the best album of his career, but when it comes to hip-hop plain and simple, you had to look no further than Black Thought and crew. The group simultaneously crafts an album that is perhaps their most musically ambitious to date while still delivering a record as genuine as something they would have released in ’95. House band? Nay–rap gods. In a game home to egos that seem incapable of cooperating past a few records (*cough*: Fugees, Slum Village, Little Brother – heck, even OutKast has been dormant) The Roots have kept on chugging, and this uncompromising, Joanna Newsom-featuring, vibrant record is what we have to show for it. One can only hope the egos stay in check for a long, long run.

Chase McMullen


How To Dress Well

Total Loss

[Acéphale; 2012]

Total Loss is the perfect name for Tom Krell’s second full-length album under the name How To Dress Well. On “Set It Right,” he declaims a list of names of those departed, missing each one of them in turn, and his sense of loss is palpable and moving. Still, rather than morbid or dour, this album is an uplifting triumph of hope through grief, coupled with gleaming production that leaves behind the blown-out aesthetics of Krell’s past work with barely a glance over the shoulder. Krell’s take on ’90s R&B mixed with subtle ambient touches is in fine form here, to say the least, from the smooth rhythmic churn of “Cold Nites” to the mournful lament of “How Many.” Total Loss is a cathartic work that should firmly dismiss any notions of slow jam novelty still lingering for Tom Krell, once and for all.

Zach Corsa


Purity Ring


[4AD; 2012]

Purity Ring has made for one of the more compelling will they/won’t they? narratives of the past few years. With Shrines, the Edmonton duo proved that they could multiply the success of “Ungirthed” with panache to spare, and quickly hushed up those who equated that 18-month gap between the two with a dearth of ideas. Megan James brings a gruesome delicacy to the proceedings in a dazzling lyrical effort, while Corin Roddick’s hiccoughing production whirls around the drain in perpetuity. The whole thing borders on fantastical at times, which is perhaps best captured in the observation that (closing track “Shuck” excepting) none of the song titles here are actual words. Even with all of its outlandish habits in tow, it’s an oddly magnificent structure.

Brendan Frank


Killer Mike

R.A.P. Music

[Williams Street; 2012]

Killer Mike’s career has, up until this point, been defined mostly by his high recognition guest spots and association with Atlanta’s Dungeon Family rap collective, which includes hip-hop gurus OutKast. But that all changed when Mike teamed with ex-Def Jux producer El-P for the release of his 2012 album, R.A.P. Music. With El-P providing the majority of the beats and Mike the lyrics, R.A.P. Music felt about as insular a musical statement as you were likely hear that year. Tossing vicious verbal jabs at Ronald Reagan and the commercial nature of the music industry, the tracks provided a dense, dark landscape for Mike to inhabit – a place where his musical guerilla warfare could be easily doled out and spread among the ranks. And while he does take a serious and quite venomous look at some of the problems that he saw growing up, the record isn’t without its lighter moments, though they more often than not take on the appearance of sarcastic jokes and stories. But R.A.P. Music isn’t full of novelty sounds and musical detours; it’s a pointed beat-driven narrative with Mike placed front and center. The stage and studio are his pulpits, and R.A.P. Music is his gospel.

Josh Pickard


James Blake

James Blake

[ATLAS; 2011]

The work on James Blake’s self-titled record these days feels like a daily walk–the sounds he has created feel familiar but the story was much different between 2010 and 2011. Blake was already pushing himself and his pure and wild production with two fantastic EPs (CMYK and Klavierwerke) and a full length LP on its way, only to be previewed with something completely unexpected: his voice. The following album takes what feels comfortable to the average James Blake listener and turns it into a cold, powerful electro-soul record. Nothing sounded quite like it, but James Blake is still considered a pioneer in his field. He is a master decision-maker, but his way around a piano and surprisingly gorgeous voice gets him further than your average dubstep producer. James Blake is a record that takes what he had learned over the years through producing and delights with ultra-human innards.

Andrew Halverson


Death Grips

The Money Store

[Epic; 2012]

Perhaps no band in the internet age has managed to integrate the all-encompassing, information-overloaded, chaotic nature of the web into their being the way Death Grips did in 2012. The best example of this is their debut record, The Money Store, which consists of pulverizing synths, inventive live drumming, and hyper-aggressive (though often indecipherable) spitting from MC Ride. In a way, it’s almost like hip hop’s answer to Sleigh Bells; a combination of things that don’t sound like they’d work together, but they do by taking cheap, lo-fi instrumentation and kicking it so far into overdrive that the results are totally unique. And this isn’t even to speak of what’s going on beneath the surface. One look at the lyrics to opener “Get Got” reveals a darker undercurrent to what could otherwise be seen as catchy, if intense, party music, and this holds true for most of the record. It’s unsettling in the best way. The Money Store is an album that would have sounded great any year, but seemed especially informed in a paranoia-tinged 2012.

David Wolfson



Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

[V2; 2009]

Since the release of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix four years ago, I’ve come to one conclusion: Everybody likes this album. Okay, yeah, not everyone likes this album (that’s the nature of subjectivity and music), but certainly everyone I’ve ever introduced this album to has become fond of it some way. My brothers and I came together for a rare moment and all went to see them play out the the ups and downs of the the intricate, dense, and huge “Love Like A Sunset Parts I & II.” Staying up to the sunrise, long after everyone else had left the party, I danced about in a small kitchen with a friend to the glorious buzz of “1901.” I put “Girlfriend” on a mix CD for work, and a colleague gave her approval.

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is just one of those albums that can unite people. It’s a near perfect execution of inventive indie-pop, full of chorus and verses that stick in your mind like the best superglue you’ll ever find. It’s appealing “from the mess to the masses” and even now, one slightly disappointing album on, it still shines like a beacon. The album already has created so many moments of joy for me, but what’s great is that I know that years from now, people will still stick on “Lasso,” “Fences,” or any other of the album’s tracks and be hooked.

Ray Finlayson


Jens Lekman

I Know What Love Isn’t

[Secretly Canadian; 2012]

After a five year break since his last full length album Night Falls Over Kortedala, there was a lot of expectation for Jens Lekman’s I Know What Love Isn’t. Rather than continue down the route of using classic and abstract samples to pepper his music with bursts of surprise, he delivered an album that is simpler, more demure and essentially a break up album. He turned his razor-sharp wit to tearing apart the ideas of love and romance apart through songs like “The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love,” “The World Moves On” and “She Just Don’t Want To Be With You Anymore.” He also mastered the art of taking a single idea and running with it, like in “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name” where he starts with the thought “every cell in this body has been changed since I saw you,” following it through into a complete song; wanting a pair of cowboy boots to walk “the straightest and most narrow route anywhere but back to you”; or the joy in lust and physical attraction in “I Know What Love Isn’t.” Although most of the songs deal with the souring of relationships and love, there’s still an abundance of joy to be found on I Know What Love Isn’t in the way that Lekman finds wry quips and incisive comments to bring about the stories, while the music itself is comprised of simple guitars and pianos, graceful saxophones, and a dabbling of strings to tie it all together.

Rob Hakimian


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