Usually when putting together a post like this, you have a jumping off point, a general consensus as to what was good. As people’s tastes in music become increasingly fragmented, it becomes considerably more difficult to put together a shortlist of the “best” albums of any given year. This year has been a particularly strange one as far as music was concerned. A lot of high profile releases that would usually end up on lists like this one failed to live up to the hype, and in some cases were just plain awful. As a result, there are no clear frontrunners.
That being said, what we’ve tried to do here is create a list of records, some of which you may have head of, some not, that we at Fresher Than particularly enjoyed this year.
Drive Soundtrack – Various Artists
Attack the Block – Basement Jaxx
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
It’s all Daft Punk’s fault. Following the huge sales and critical success of the TRON: Legacy soundtrack last year, film soundtracks written or curated by “name” artist began getting a degree of attention not seen since the 70’s when Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield and the Issac Hayes were putting out soundtrack albums. There were three exceptionally good albums in the category this year.
For whatever reason, 80’s influenced music is a big deal right now, whether it’s hipster rock bands channelling the new wave/post punk movement, or hip-hop artists embracing the lo-fi sound that started it all. The best (and by best we mean least forced/most creative) foray into this current trend is the soundtrack to Drive. Cliff Martinez made his mark this year with one of the best soundtracks of the past decade. Utilizing tracks by 80’s influenced electronic artists (Kavinsky, College, The Chromatics), and mixing it with his own subdued electronic scoring, Cliff Martinez managed to capture the sound and feeling of driving through Los Angeles at night, with all of the empty streets, hookers, and palpable isolation that that implies.
Basement Jaxx’s score for the Joe Cornish/Edgar Wright “aliens invade the projects” film, Attack the Block, is perfect. The deep driving bass lines and nuanced melodies fill the film with an urgency and darkness that works even when listening to the album outside of a theatre. A mix of electronic, hip-hop, dubstep, and orchestrated score, have put together an album that stands with the best they’ve done on a regular release.
I miss Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross‘ (The Social Network) score for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo feels and sounds like the instrumental version of a NiN album we’ll never get to hear. Gritty, intense, atmospheric, slightly sexual, and dense. If Trent Reznor needs to explore different types of music creation, I’ll be perfectly content to wait for a new album while listening to his amazing film scores.
Rome – Danger Mouse
If you’ve ever sat alone at night, brooding in the darkness then these albums should be in your playlist. EMA and Rome (Danger Mouse, Daniele Luppi, Jack White, Norah Jones), have crafted albums that will sustain you, and haunt you through many a dark night of the soul. Songs of love, life, death, sorrow, fleeting happiness carry you through these two albums. While it may not sound like the most enjoyable experience, these records are filled with so many moments of breathtaking beauty that it would be a shame if anyone missed them.
Audio, Video, Disco – Justice
Watch the Throne – Jay-Z and Kanye West
Not as good as everyone thought they were going to be, but still better than almost everything else. Either way, both of these albums are worth listening to for the sheer creativity on display from start to finish. That shit cray.
The Greatest Story Never Told – Saigon
Listening to the “The Invitation”, the first track on The Greatest Story Never Told, is akin to a blast from the past. It wouldn’t seem out of place to hear this album playing on your walkman or discman back in the day. Hailing from Brooklyn and fully representing the New York hip-hop sound of the 90’s, this album manages to call back to that golden era while simultaneously feeling current. That is an incredible achievement for a genre that generally feels crowded and either far too dependent on the past or completely ignorant of it.
No Time for Dreaming – Charles Bradley
Many artists have attempted to recreate or modernize the sound of 60’s and 70’s R&B over the past few years. Meeting with varying degrees of success, no one artist had truly managed to nail the sound of music distinct to those two eras. Charles Bradley, 52 years old released his first album this year. Sounding like the best Otis Redding/Al Green/Sam Cooke/STAX Records album you’ve never heard, Bradley’s debut is a must listen for any fan who wishes they still made R&B like they used to.
Bright Lights EP – Gary Clark Jr.
27 years old. His playing style been compared to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Considered by many to be at the forefront of the Austin rock scene, and having already played with such guitar luminaries as B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Steve Winwood, Jeff Beck, and ZZ Top, Gary Clark Jr. Is poised to become the next big thing in rock. Listening to his new EP, you feel the music pouring out of him and through his guitar. Blistering riffs and incredible solos anchor our first look at an exciting new artist.
This Is Our Science – Astronautalis
Astronautalis is one of our favorite artists here at Fresher Than. His music and it’s influences are too complex and diverse to properly explain in a few sentences. Suffice to say, if you’re interested in hip-hop, rock, classical music, political science, sociology, cats, tall blonde guys from Florida, obscure historical references, or pathos, this is an album you need to hear.
This Is Our Science is out now. If you haven’t bought it yet, buy it now.
Finest Hour – Patton Oswalt
Hilarious – Louis C.K.
My Name is Hannibal - Hannibal Buress
Comedy is a difficult thing to recommend. Sense of humor varies from person to person and what is hilarious to one person is unbelievably offensive to another. If you are easily offended, then these albums are not for you. If, however, you have a sense of humor then I would highly recommend these albums. They are all incredibly offensive for a variety of reasons, and as a result, the three funniest hours of comedy released this year (or last year, but Hannibal Buress is too funny to miss if you haven’t heard the album yet).