Happy almost Turkey Day!
With the big feast nearly at hand we bring you our annual tradition -- the nominees for this year's Album of the Year. Continuing a recent trend, we have pared down the list to just five.
So, without further ado, in iTunes-alphabetical order:
Fleet Foxes -- Helplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes isn't messing around on its second full-length release, from the very opening verse on: "So now I am older, than my mother and father, when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me? Oh how could I dream of such a selfless and true love? Could I wash my hands of, just looking out for me?" Now maybe that floors me because I'm 33 with a near-marriage under my belt, but I don't think I'm alone here -- ours is a generation of extended adolescence after all. While I can see how some might argue that this highly personal approach is, in a way, a detriment to the album, perhaps that over-internalization actually says everything that needs to be said about these times of ours. At any rate, with Robin Pecknold older now that his parents were all those years ago, and with two classics under his band's belt, one can only hope Fleet Foxes' best work isn't behind it.
John Maus -- We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves
At first, it seemed little more than a novelty to me. Wouldn't it be hilarious to nominate for Album of the Year a record with an entire song that revolves around the single line, "Pussy is not a matter of fact"? And yet, John Maus, for all his Joy Division-tinged anachronism and reverb kitsch, has actually crafted a record that is indeed worthy not only of a nomination, but of strong consideration for the grand prize. There's not a song here I don't like, but a few -- Quantum Leap, Believer and Hey Moon -- are easily among the best songs of the year. And yet this album is still better than the sum of its parts, with an equal measure of I-don't-give-a-fuck and no-actually-this-shit-may-be-kind-of-important.
PJ Harvey -- Let England Shake
Who writes a rock 'n' roll epic about the effect of World War I on Great Britain? PJ Harvey does, and thank God for her. Not only that, but she positively nails it. And if songs about dead bodies crashing to the ground, complete with the soounds of cavalry horns and sing-along backing vocals from John Parish aren't enough to make her a national treasure, the sight of her performing on British chat shows in front of UK Prime Minister David Cameron certainly fulfills the requirement. Harvey won the 2011 Mercury Prize -- just another reason they have it just a bit more together across the pond.
R.E.M. -- Collapse Into Now
Say whatever the fuck you want. R.E.M. is my favorite band of all time and Collapse Into Now, while nowhere near their best work, is a more than worthy coda on 31 years of amazing music. But even anticipating the eye rolls you're giving me now, I had to put this record in my top 5 -- not just as a lifetime achievement award, or because the band signed off on its own terms, but because this record deserves it. Yes, there are several cringe-inducing, late-period Stipean lyrical gaffes here, but there are also some of the best post-Bill Berry R.E.M. songs, too: UBerlin (which, in my opinion, is enough on its own to justify their entire last decade) on the dreamier side, Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter and That Someone Is You on the rockier one. At the very least, since that is indeed Stipe waving goodbye on the album cover, you won't have to indulge me in this regard ever again.
Radiohead -- The King Of Limbs
Radiohead is so great, really good albums by the band seem so-so. Or do so-so albums by the band seem really good? Either way, The King Of Limbs might not be the first record I hand to newbies and non-believers, but it does contain a few of the band's greatest songs -- even if you have to be more patient than you'd expect to be with an album only eight songs long. I could listen to the guitar licks in Little By Little all night and Codex might be the single most beautiful thing in the Radiohead canon, if it's not eclipsed by Give Up The Ghost, the very next track.
Honorable MentionADELE - 21
Apex Manor -- The Year Of Magical Drinking
Beirut -- The Rip Tide
Bill Callahan -- Apocalypse
Bjork -- Biophilia
Bon Iver -- Bon Iver
The Decemberists -- The King Is Dead
Florence + The Machine -- Ceremonials
Garland Jeffreys -- The King Of In Between
Gillian Welch -- The Harrow & The Harvest
Girls -- Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Iron & Wine -- Kiss Each Other Clean
Julianna Barwick -- The Magic Place
Laura Marling -- A Creature I Don't Know
Lykke Li -- Wounded Rhymes
Mogwai -- Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
My Morning Jacket -- Circuital
Wye Oak -- Civilian