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BPM 5: The Top 130 Albums

By ; October 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM 


Dirty Projectors

Bitte Orca

[Domino; 2009]

Writing an impersonal reaction Dirty Projectors’ opus is as impossible as it is absurd. Finally fully blending their oft impenetrable oddities perfectly with their sense of melody and joy, the Projectors delivered that most elusive of beasts: a near perfect album. For this writer, it was a love slowly found. Upon first listen, I enjoyed it, but the precise, jagged flow of the LP as entirety didn’t reveal itself. Yet – for reasons I didn’t fully understand – I found myself drawn to return, again and again, until one day it suddenly arrived to me, fully formed, as just what (I think) it is: the best, most effortless, album of the decade. It’s what hits the spot, yeah.

Chase McMullen


Vampire Weekend

Modern Vampires Of The City

[XL; 2013]

If there’s one word that’s been used to oblivion when describing Vampire Weekend, it’s “pretentious.” When they were building whip-smart pop songs out of pristine, tightly wound hooks and heavy Afrobeat influences, they wore their wit on their sleeve (you can almost hear the band smirk and wink as Ezra Koenig yelps his way through “Oxford Comma.”) On Vampire Weekend and Contra, the band’s cleverness tended to upstage the brilliant arrangements and dense wordplay that made those records ultimately so rewarding. On Modern Vampires of the City, the band perfects their formula by dialing down the pretension and putting their songcraft at the forefront, leaving the listener to sift through the puns, historical references, and shout-outs to New York falafel shops. The result is not only Vampire Weekend’s most honest, most poignant, and most relatable record, but one of the most important records of this generation.

The title Modern Vampires of the City is not just a personal statement about the band itself; it’s a self-affirming twist on the curmudgeonly view of the Millennial generation as lazy, entitled brats who feed off their parents and off the government. With that title, the band identifies itself as part of our generation, possessing the same disillusionment as any other twenty-something wandering through the economic wreckage that previous generations left behind. Koenig spends the album searching, whether it be for the ecstasy of faith on “Unbelievers,” for the thrill of adrenaline on “Diane Young,” for his other half on “Hannah Hunt,” or for some kind of karmic retribution for his sins on “Finger Back,” before finally throwing his arms up in resignation on the bleak, funerary “Hudson.” “All you who change your stripes can wrap me in the flag,” Koenig says, no longer willing to claw at a future that always seems just out of our reach. Pessimistic though it may sound, it only reminds us that each of us needs to keep striving if we are to reach our promised land, whether it be in four years or 40 years. Otherwise, as Koenig sings on “Hannah Hunt,” “there’s no future, there’s no answer.”

Harrison Suits Baer




[Kranky / 4AD; 2008]

#38? Only!? Really, guys?

Well Microcastle actually saw a digital release on August 19th, 2008 — Kranky and 4AD’s response to the album being leaked so far in advance through frontman Bradford Cox’s Mediafire account.

Bradford had gone online to post a new Atlas Sound (his solo project) virtual 7″ on the Deerhunter blog and accidentally posted the wrong Mediafire link to his entire shared folder which contained unmastered demos of the entire new Atlas Sound album Logos, which was slated for release the next year, the entirety of Microcastle, and a surprise Deerhunter album meant to accompany the physical edition of Microcastle titled Weird Era Cont..

Anyway, Microcastle saw its official physical release on October 28th, 2008 so we decided to allow it in contention for the BPM 5 list. Unfortunately many of the voters on our list didn’t think it qualified and hence its placement at #38.

Microcastle is a weird, stewing, blissful mess of shoegaze and classic ’50s-style pop full of layers to explore on each successive listen and is easily one of the most amazing releases of the past five years. It should probably be one slot above its gorgeous successor Halcyon Digest on this list, but as Bradford can probably attest, shit happens.

Evan Kaloudis



Plastic Beach

[Parlophone; 2010]

What do you do when a joke turns serious? We got an answer with Plastic Beach, Gorillaz’ third album, when Blur’s Damon Albarn’s space-age simeon supergroup holds off on the winking knowingness and tries to get a more political point across. Backed by an impressive guest list and globally-influenced production, the album shoots ambitiously for a political pop record and ultimately ends up as their most complete album yet.

During the making of Plastic Beach, Albarn got hooked on Arabic orchestral music. So he packed his demos and headed for Damascus, recording with the National Orchestra for Arabic Music. While these sessions ultimately only resulted in the intro and outro of “White Flag,” this global influence not only informs the album’s production – but steers the Gorillaz’ narrative away from dystopian destruction and points the group’s journey towards a more hopeful and peace-seeking place.

Of course, it helps when you can pull together a guest list that looks like a Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Besides the aforementioned orchestration, Albarn also recruited Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Mos Def, Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, Little Dragon, and the Clash’s Paul Simonon and Mick Jones. Their contributions present a panopoly of pop, but each cameo is equally enthusiastic. In what may go down as one of Albarn’s greatest successes, he gets his all-star cast to absolutely commit to the idea. Hearing De La Soul go in about futuristic fast-food is worth the price of admission alone.

Ultimately, the album ends in a cautiously optimistic tone, striking a chord that seems to say, “We’re all sort of fucked, might as well have fun.” And given the current status of the Middle East, perhaps it’s a good lesson for us to remember. Turns out you can learn a lot from cartoons after all.

Brian Hodge


Andy Stott

Luxury Problems

[Modern Love; 2012]

When living in North Carolina last fall, I would take 13hr Greyhound buses up to New York – one of those trips purposefully set out to see Andy play a headcrushing, acid-leaning live set at PS1 with fellow BPM writers – and Luxury Problems was my de facto travel album of choice to soundtrack the journey. Imbuing what would otherwise have been immensely tedious night drives with a strange sense of drama, the chasms of complexity provided a welcome distraction with nothing else to focus on but endless highway lights and the occasional obese homophobe snoring on my shoulder. Simultaneously intimate but vast, the molasses-thick, druggy techno proves quietly devastating too: when the weight of folded-over loops resting atop of “Numb” becomes too heavy and tectonic shifts begin, the hairs on the back of my neck still prickle; the operatic warbling finding its way through a dense fog on “Lost and Found” is even more haunting than when The Caretaker pulls similar tricks from century-old vinyls, as it plays out seemingly in real time. Even the mid-90s Chain Reaction glory days of experimentally-minded dub techno never portrayed such a tangible warmth at the heart of the unrelenting darkness. Perhaps Stott’s greatest trick was keeping it tantalisingly out of reach; you’ll never grasp it, but gladly put yourself through the stress time and time again.

Gabriel Szatan


The Tallest Man On Earth

The Wild Hunt

[Dead Oceans; 2010]

The Wild Hunt is not a record that’s had too many artists gunning for its head, mostly since the task of trying to match Kristian Matsson’s charisma and power seems generally foolish. While the personality is heavy, Matsson’s intricate picking and open tunings are clever enough to astound in a time when great guitarists are an underwhelming, highly populated commodity. The kind of songs you’ll find on The Wild Hunt range from scrappy, playful taunting to complete emotional drainage, and while lyrical symbolism doesn’t always make immediate sense, his diction and choice of words make the journey to understanding effortless yet rewarding. To call this record a grower would be a tad dishonest; the amount of feeling is always there, but the constant shedding Matsson allows is enough to make The Wild Hunt one of the greatest, most flattering samples of modern songwriting.

Andrew Halverson


Four Tet

There Is Love In You

[Domino; 2010]

2010 didn’t bring Kieran Hebden’s most strikingly beautiful album (Rounds) nor his most insane (Everything Ecstatic), but it did bring, dare I say, his best work to date. There is Love In You is straight dancefloor killer, absolutely no filler. “Love Cry” is pure emotion, conjured from a laptop, something that Hebden’s more than familiar with at this point in his career. Rounds did it more obliquely, but directness proves an efficient method for him. Even as tracks stretch well past the five minute mark, Four Tet’s looping tapestries collapse into ecstatic brilliance. The dude has done emotion, joy, peace and longing before but he does it here with a 4/4 kick and a gleeful grin. Turn the lights low, turn it up loud, drive fast, don’t look back.

Colin Joyce


Janelle Monae

The ArchAndroid

[Bad Boy; 2010]

The ArchAndroid might be one of the most ambitious efforts in pop music, well, ever. Janelle Monae’s tale of fugitive android, Cindy Mayweather, and her mission to spread peace and love while tearing through a dark, allegorical future is a rich tableau of ideas both musical and political. Monae tackles classism, racism, and love-conquers-all togetherness while constructing a singular musical vision out of 20th-century touchstones that span old-Hollywood orchestration, show tunes, soul, folk, punk, and hip-hop. The record even moves like a mutant post-modern opera. But it’s Monae’s buoyant, youthful energy on tracks like “Tightrope” and “Come Alive” balanced with vibrant emotional powerhouses like “Cold War” and “Mushrooms & Roses” that give The ArchAndroid its indomitable life. Like the best science fiction The ArchAndroid creates a universe unto itself and it’s one that’s difficult to leave behind.

Will Ryan


Kanye West

808s & Heartbreaks

[Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam; 2008]

The biggest difference between 808s & Heartbreak and Kanye West’s other work is not the lack of rapping, but rather the lack of any overt singles. West’s foray into the world of (heavily AutoTuned) singing is best viewed as an elongated mood piece, in the vein of Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore or Beck’s Sea Change. His frustration in dealing with a bad breakup comes through most strongly in the industrial-pop hybrid “Robocop” and the haunting “Street Lights.” It ends with one of the most affecting songs ‘Ye has ever written, the Tears for Fears interpolation “Coldest Winter”: no AutoTune, no boasts of material wealth—just the biggest pop star on the planet experiencing real heartbreak for the first time through his mother’s death. AutoTune may be played-out, but much in the same way that Appetite for Destruction justified hair-metal’s existence, 808s & Heartbreak legitimizes the ubiquitous vocal-doctoring software, proving robots can have as much of a soul as any of us.

Sean Highkin



Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

[Mute; 2011]

Cinematic electro-pop band M83 has always insisted that music be a participatory affair. From their expansive debut record to 2006’s Saturdays = Youth – and on up to their masterstroke 2012 double album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – they’ve always presented their music as something to be dissected and to become wholly engulfed by. It’s most definitely not something to be put on in the background and ignored. And on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, M83 architect Anthony Gonzalez turns his vast synth-centric aesthetic inward, applying his warped pop instincts toward the exploration and deconstruction of dreams and memories. And he places the listener squarely in the middle of these ongoing experiments, giving us no choice but to become completely mired in the vibrant technicolor world that he creates.

However, our choice – or lack thereof – to become involved in the music on this record never comes across as confining or limiting. If anything, the ebullient melodies and lush instrumentation make us more likely to linger in Gonzalez’s warm and inviting synthetic embrace. Song likes “Midnight City,” with its blooming synth catharsis, and “Intro,” which has Zola Jesus singer Nika Danilova sharing vocal duty with Gonzalez, showcase the maximalist side of M83’s work, but there are also quieter moments on the album which provide a nice contrast and are capable of giving just as much emotional resonance as anything the band has recorded. Vast in scope but curiously intimate in experience, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming finds the perfect balance between communal storytelling and unrestrained creativity.

Josh Pickard


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