Thanks to modern technology (read: easily found, freely available tunes), I’ve surely heard more music recorded during the past five years than from the previous 15 combined. To whittle it down, I relied on my heart as much as my head, letting my peculiar tastes guide me to 10 albums that wouldn’t make me popular at bring-your-iPod parties.
1. Boston Spaceships, Let It Beard (2011) Those who know me or follow my writing won’t be surprised to see a Robert Pollard project claim the top spot, but I’ll go a step further and proclaim this behemoth—teaming him with bassist/producer Chris Slusarenko and (Decemberists) drummer John Moen for the last of five Spaceships full-lengths—my favorite rock record of the past 20 years.
2. Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me (2010) Kate Bush, Sandy Denny and Joni Mitchell, meet Miss Newsom. With this dizzyingly emotive, wildly consistent three-disc set, she achieved singer/songwriter nirvana for me.
3. Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972 (2011) When I need to wipe all thought and simply be, this slab of harsh-but-beautiful crashing ambience helps me focus every time.
4. Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze (2013) That rare summery record you can play all year ’round. The title(ish) cut still owns my soul.
5. Barn Owl, Lost in the Glare (2011) If the dusty desert waited till dawn, then snarled to life and struck, it might sound like this moody music from guitar manipulators Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras.
6. White Fence, For the Recently Found Innocent (2014) With an assist from his producer Ty Segall, Brit-rock worshipper Tim Presley ratchets up the sonic intensity and delivers his most indelible batch of tunes yet.
7. Liars, WIXIW (2012) The most unfailingly interesting band of the 2000s shape-shifts yet again, this time into an icy electronic force.
8. Zs, New Slaves (2010) An assault on the senses, all-instrumental and totally unrelenting, equal parts jazz, noise and WTF.
9. Women, Public Strain (2010) Every time I hear it, my heart aches over the death of Chris Reimer, whose stately guitar work turned the Canadians’ last album (especially final song “Eyesore”) into an indie all-timer.
10. Wugazi, 13 Chambers (2011) Mashups rarely connect with me, so this Fugazi-meets-Wu Tang splice-job (from Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy) making my list says it all: It’s so much more than a novelty.
I’m so over these summary lists. Not only do I despise ranking one beloved piece of work over another, the tallies will eventually contradict one another anyway. To wit: No less than four of my go-to albums of the past half-decade failed to place on my respective year-end top 10 lists. But you readers love lists. And I love these 10 records—for now.
1. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening (2010) A great concluding effort by a seminal indie act, This Is Happening is yet another inspired merging of melody, rhythm and composition by that great merger of subgenres, James Murphy.
2. Arcade Fire, Reflektor (2013) One of the albums I left off my year-end list for that year, my three or four experiences with it having left me a little cold. Some 20 or 30 spins later, I might just adore the disco/post-punk/Caribbean opus as much as its creators’ revered debut, Funeral.
3. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange (2012) Not since Prince’s 1987 epic Sign o’ the Times have I connected with an R&B record like I have with Ocean’s assured breakthrough second release.
4. Foals, Total Life Forever (2010) The Brit quintet eased off a tad on the math and funk of its debut, Antidotes, and infused some space, (often tropical) flavor and maturity into its second longplayer.
5. Explosions in the Sky, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011) I received 11 records last Christmas, and the one that made me the happiest upon its unwrapping was the Austin, Texas instrumental/post-rock act’s sixth release, which never fails to offer me solace when I need it.
6. The Field, Looping State of Mind (2011) Swedish producer Axel Willner’s meditative but escapist third album keeps growing on me, especially during long LA car trips.
7. Jon Hopkins, Immunity (2013) The ambient/electronic producer proves beautiful music doesn’t have to be front-loaded with sentiment, major chords or climaxes.
8. Robyn, Body Talk (2010) Hands down the best dance pop album—technically compiled from the three Body Talk EPs the Swedish veteran released in 2010—of the decade so far.
9. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) Sorry, not sorry. Kanye’s monster—his most consistent and ambitious release—transcends both his own hubris and hip-hop in general.
10. The War on Drugs, Lost in a Dream (2014) Just when I think I’m going to kick this addictive rocker, I press play again for another fix. Can I re-rank last year’s list?