5. Sleigh Bells – Treats
Sleigh Bells’ ‘Treats’ is the sound of candy floss, draped roughly over a sheet of razor wire. Alexis Krauss’s sugary, girlish vocals battle fiercely against (or is that alongside?) Derek Miller’s gnashing teeth of guitars and synths and artillery drum machines. Harsh though it may be, these are sort of pop songs. It may, in fact, be the definitive noise pop album. This must be what’s playing on the radio in Satan’s tool shed. The choruses are catchy, the hooks are memorable, so it’s a pop album, but it’s so thrillingly violent it’ll never get played on the radio. Just what indie kids like me pray for every day.
Download: Riot Rhythm
4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
The number four entry is very much the result of a perfection of a formula which this band has been alchemising for the past 5 years. LCD Soundsystem’s third radiates epic-ness. First there’s the title, ‘This Is Happening’, asserting its presence without arrogance but with huge confidence. Then there’s the lengths: only two tracks fall below the 6-minute mark. What’s more of an achievement though is that these songs, almost never outstay their welcomes. They wind up being hypnotic electro-disco-punk-funk-techno-rock epics which take their time and no prisoners. Everything that was wrong with their other albums is erased, leaving personality intact. The melodies are far stronger, more memorable, more emotional; the performance and writing is less self-conscious and more focused. Fans of rowdy party numbers are catered for by ‘Drunk Girls’ a sing-along call-and-response which half-heartedly kicks the door down and taunts the party guests with witty notices of complaints and warnings. Aside from that though there are quite literally no single-worthy tracks here. ‘One Touch’ takes the sexual frustration and romantic starvation of The Stooges’ ‘No Fun’ and pulls it kicking and screaming into the 21st century with evil-robot squelches, bleeps and grunts. ‘I Can Change’ may be one of the best unrequited love lyrics in modern pop music coupled with a Gary Numan-esque techno-pop backing. My personal favourite though has to be the staggering opener ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ which I won’t talk about because I feel like it would spoil it for you. This is the dance album of the year, no question.
Listen to: Dance Yrself Clean
3. Beach House – Teen Dream
Like Sleigh Bells and Blood Red Shoes, Beach House are a boy/girl duo, but the former two’s battle-scarred rock and hardcore couldn’t be further from the this. ‘Teen Dream’ is a record whose instrumentation and textures sound a little chilly with the sparse drum machines, icy guitars and wheezing organs, but it’s got such a reassuring human warmth about it that any coldness is housed entirely in the textures and never in the sentiment. Victoria LeGrand’s vocals have a very sultry tepid cider feel to them. As a singer she’s also quite androgynous; I genuinely thought that she was a man for the first two months of listening to ‘Teen Dream’ until I looked the band up on wikipedia. Even so, she’s brilliant, the other guy who actually is a bloke is brilliant; it’s a really solid, atmospheric record that recalls walking home at 6AM in a fog. The songs may sound all similar and samey on first listen but repeated listens reward over and over.
Download: Silver Soul
2. MGMT – Congratulations
At number two, it’s the commercial suicide of the year: MGMT’s ‘Congratulations’. There are no catchy singles on here, so naturally fans of ‘Kids’ and ‘Time To Pretend’ will disappointed but those who stick with ‘Congratulations’ will be rewarded ten-fold. This is a radio-resistant, symphonic, psychedelic pop epic. It’s literally exploding with invention, the songwriting is really strong on its own (given some time) but the amount of detail they pour into every crevice is fantastic. It often sounds like the result of David Bowie, The Beach Boys and The Jesus and Mary Chain making the soundtrack to a particularly stirring Sonic The Hedgehog cartoon. The lyrics are nearly all written about their reaction to the fame that the band are so maladjusted to and they make the whole thing seem like a plea to return to the playgrounds and the animals and the digging up worms they mentioned on ‘Time To Pretend’. The highlight for me is also probably the least accessible which is ‘Siberian Breaks’, a 12-minute trippy-surf-rock-opera that would have anyone who is hoping to raise their lighters when ‘Electric Feel’ comes on running for the hills. I bought this album the week it came out in April and I’m still returning to it and noticing new things in it. It is most definitely destined to be a cult classic.
Download: Flash Delirium
1. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
I’ve been on some vile drugs lately (prescription, promise) which restrict my extreme emotions. It’s the difference between laughing at someone, really feeling the joy fill you up, and merely acknowledging something as sufficiently humorous, without the feeling you’re supposed to get. It’s for this reason that listening to records this year has been a bit like eating a delicious meal with a heavy head cold; you know it’s good but there’s a barrier in the way of fully enjoying it. ‘Halcyon Digest’ has given me the strongest taste this year. It’s the one that’s coloured my emotional responses most when everything is black and white. At first listen I thought it was pretty average. Impressive but average. The more I worked with it though the more it got through to me and I could hardly give my vote of the greatest album of the year to anyone else. ‘Earthquake’ is a shimmering, weightless crunch that sounds like what a deaf man must feel like when he witnesses a ground-shaking natural disaster. There are exercises in intimate garage rock like ‘Don’t Cry’ which is like a comforting letter from a record to a down-trodden listener; there’s a drum-less mediation on loneliness and peace (‘Sailing’), a tear-jerking elegy for a dead Russian victim of the sex industry (‘Helicopter’) and another glorious requiem, this time for dead rock star Jay Reatard (‘He Would Have Laughed’) and an escape anthem of spiralling guitars (‘Desire Lines’). I could sing this album’s praises all day. Stupid and pathetic as it may sound, when I’m on these drugs, ‘Halcyon Digest’ makes me feel like I can be human again.