20. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Age tends to wear and tear a group into writing lamentations on nostalgia, love, family, and life – apparently aging has the opposite effect on Foo Fighters, who have released their loudest, RAWK-iest album since The Colour and the Shape. And the songwriting in at its finest hour since One By One.
19. Gillian Welch – The Harrow & the Harvest
After years, Welch has finally returned, now a primary elder statesmen, with a new album that quiets the naysayers and gives the fans exactly what they wanted. There’s no shortage of emotion here, nor is there lacking of reserved brilliance in melody, balance in structure, and perfect respect to tradition. Best folk album of the year, no contest.
18. Givers – In Light
Simple indie pop wrapped in a blanket of wise intuition and progressive approach. In what should sound like an album full of throwaway 3-minute ditties, Givers transform an overdone sound into a borderline-epic affair full of tempo changes, wavering moods, and consistent unpredictability. And yet, it all feels like a challenging puzzle you’re putting together slowly, but surely.
17. Yuck – S/T
Fuzzy grunge and disarming melodies are the tale here. We can sense this London group loved their flannel, but so did Candlebox; the difference here is not pure derivative formula, but unique arrangement and a knack for knowing what works. We admire grunge’s finest for their abrasive, angsty mood – Yuck goes deeper to find what works not as a method of looking back, but moving forward.
16. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong
For those wondering if Pains were a one-note, twee-loving band, think again. The sound is bolder, the scope is grander, and the melodies? Worthy of some of the best written this year. Choruses stick like rubber cement, shy vocals peer out from aggressive guitars, and the ambition just keeps growing as the record plays on.
15. The Rapture – In the Grace of Your Love
Like contemporaries Cut Copy, while everyone around them struggles to meet the expectations of an overcrowded genre, the Rapture takes their time to craft an impeccable album. And that’s exactly what happened. The group’s fourth album is effortless, confident, and a reminder of what everyone else is missing.
14. Cloud Nothings – S/T
2012 may be a sharper, more mature turning point for Cloud Nothings, but until then we have this self-titled debut – a fun, noisy romp through great hooks and haphazard punk licks. Six months from now we may find this effort somewhat naive compared to the growth the band has done in future albums, but for now it’s simply charming.
13. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
No one has ever said Annie Clark wasn’t a gifted songwriter, but what she had in ambition she lacked in accessibility. That is, until now. Clark has found the missing link between her unique approach and a larger audience. Crafting some of her most memorable tunes, St. Vincent has kept that bold brilliance we’ve come to adore.
12. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
In a time full of clean, quiet indie, this Welsh group provides the fix for loud and brash. The sound of this debut disc is mighty, and the melodies accompanying the in-your-face noise loom just as large. Joyous anthems are wrapped around chaos, providing optimism amongst today’s apathy and nonchalance.
11. Neon Indian – Era Extrana
Psychic Chasms was a delightful acid trip, an introduction to one of the sharper chillwave pioneers. Era Extrana proves that pioneer has staying power, even if his original subgenre doesn’t. The aural wooziness of his debut is heightened here with dark undertones and enticing refrains. If you feel weird after listening, just know that’s the whole point, as it’s always been.