#1 Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”
Records that truly matter can stand the test of time. They don’t bow down to genres – they create their own. These records don’t just capture a current zeitgeist – they define a generation. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs captures the ennui of middle-class suburban life: The frustration and apathy, the despondency and tedium. But underlying Win Butler’s bleak lyricism is a sense of hope and optimism. It’s the deft mixture of the two aesthetics that makes The Suburbs such a pleasure. The record captures a generation lost in the chaos of recession and war and environmental meltdown; it is an instantly nostalgic snapshot of the present day. Butler’s apathetic passion chills, and The Suburbs leaves an indelible mark on your subconscious. This is a record that will endure as its own entity, a record we can proudly call a classic – a record that will not be forgotten.
#2 Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Before Today”
Before Today gives the listener a window into the nefarious and unique labyrinth that is the mind of Ariel Pink. And what a beautiful mind it is. He takes us on a surrealistic romp through a field of opiates and by the time the 45-minute record is up, I guarantee a euphoric albeit hallucinogenic reaction. Before Today is Pink’s first commercial record, but don’t take this as a sign that he has lost his original incentive and ‘sold out.’ No, Ariel Pink’s musings have room to soar and can reach new heights (and a much higher fidelity) in a studio-recording environment. As the most experimental and unique record on this list, Before Today has an unprecedented blend of past, present and post-modern sounds. With influences that range from 60s pop, 70s funk, 80s dance and 90s grunge, Before Today is undeniably eclectic. But this is not at all an album confined to history. In fact, Before Today sounds less like the actual aforesaid genres but more like the memory of these eras of music. Each track is like a forgotten, and then rediscovered Polaroid of the past. Worn, scratched, blurry and elusive; yet infinitely suggestive. In short, Before Today sounds like a warped copy of your favorite vinyl, covered in Vaseline, then played backwards.
#3 Yeasayer – “Odd Blood”
Occasionally a song will come along that is so sonically flawless, that short of the artists responsible declaring their forthright love for Hitler’s policies, committing mass murder, or worse, selling their music to Starbucks – you will forgive them for almost anything. Sometimes an artist is lucky enough to create one of these aural masterpieces in their entire career. And then there’s Yeasayer, who have produced two of these career-defining tracks (“Ambling Alp” and “O.N.E.”) in a single album. God bless ‘em. Odd Blood was the result of a massive acid trip in New Zealand; which of course explains why the record is so damn good. The album is bathed in the preternatural sunny hedonism that recalls The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds or for the more contemporary-inclined, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Dangerously addictive and lyrically deep; Odd Blood delivers on all levels.
#4 Vampire Weekend – “Contra”
Contra is grossly underappreciated. I know that Vampire Weekend’s debut was a better record, but hear me out. The hype that surrounded the groups sophomore release was suffocating – the public were expecting something extraordinary, and if Vampire Weekend did not deliver at least an equally admirable second release, they faced industry pariahdom. Most other bands would have been slightly derailed by the hype accompanying their debut and the sheer weight of expectation and pressure heaped onto their second album. But it’s quite clear that Vampire Weekend are not most other bands, and that they play by their own set of rules. Ezra Koenig and his band of educated over-achievers were certainly up to the challenge. Contra is not a better album but it shows a maturity and technical prowess absent from the first. What Mr. Koenig has strived to achieve with Contra is to gain the respect of cynics and sceptics who unfairly dismissed Vampire Weekend's eponymous debut as a over-ambitious imitation of Paul Simon's Graceland, penned by a crew of post-collegiates far too convinced they're clever and quirky, with a presumably superficial understanding of the African sounds they were stealing. But instead of trying to live it down, Vampire Weekend chose instead to live it up. With their affluence and privilege on their sleeve, the band has produced an album that is sonically beautiful and is a step and a half ahead of its younger brother. No, it does not boast the unabashed enthusiasm the former contained, but instead offers a more refined and comprehensive listening experience. There will always be haters and cynics, but based on the success, both critical and commercial, of their first two albums, there doesn't appear to be a tangible limit to what future splendour the boys of Vampire Weekend may achieve.
#5 Kanye West - “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
If you had told me in January that a Kanye West record would be among the best of the year, I would have laughed in your face. This is not to discredit Kanye, for I am well aware of his talent, or lack thereof (see last year’s awful pastiche 808s & Heartbreak), but I just thought that he had reached his peak and was now on the long road to oblivion. But then Kanye West did the unbelievable, and actually made the album nobody thought he could make. With his Thriller-challenging video, Runaway, Kanye surprised us with deft directorial skills and a collection of songs that were astoundingly beautiful. This was the perfect introduction to an album that would take the world by storm and convert even the most cynical naysayers into supporters. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is epic. There is no other word that quite captures the Herculean juggernaut that Kanye has created. Epic also extends to the critical and commercial success the record has discovered. The record sold upwards of 600,000 copies in its first week of release, and was given a 10.0 by Pitchfork – the highest rating of any album on this list. "I do have a goal in this lifetime to be the greatest artist of all time,” Kanye said in an interview earlier this year. Well humility aside Mr. West, you are certainly on the right track.
# 6 Deerhunter - “Halcyon Digest”
# 7 Gorillaz – “Plastic Beach”
# 8 Twin Shadow – “Forget”
# 9 LCD Soundsystem – “This Is Happening”
# 10 Foals – Total Life “Forever”
# 11 The Black Keys – “Brothers”
# 12 Beach House – “Teen Dream”
# 13 The National – “High Violet”
# 14 Harlem - “Hippies”
# 15 The Morning Benders – “Big Echo”
# 16 Sleigh Bells – “Treats”
# 17 Local Natives – “Gorilla Manor”
# 18 Surfer Blood - “Astro Coast”
# 19 How to Dress Well - “Love Remains”
# 20 Wavves – “King of the Beach”