1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
In the wake of the poorly received, Auto-Tune-laden 808s & Heartbreak, West originally claimed that this album would be a follow-up to College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation. But, born of recent controversies, what he delivered was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a self-aware but not self-loathing journey into the mind and ego of West himself. The rhymes are West’s best and the production is his finest. And if that weren’t enough, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy features every prominent hip-hop artist at the moment, plus a few from left field, like Elton John and Bon Iver.
2. This Is Happening
“And so you wanted a hit/well, this is how we do hits/you wanted a hit/but that’s not what we do,” James Murphy proclaims in his signature speaking/singing voice on “You Wanted a Hit.” This defines LCD Soundsystem’s third album, This Is Happening. The album is a collection of hits for LCD Soundsystem, who are admittedly quite different from how the music industry would define them. The album kicks off with “Dance Yrself Clean,” a slow build with a chorus of triumphant “oh’s” that is later reiterated near the album’s conclusion on “Home.” Murphy’s lyrics are full of irony and tongue-in-cheek humor—even more so than before—and the beats are still the dance rhythms that characterize the band. This is Happening proves that LCD don’t take themselves too seriously, but can still turn out top-of-the-line musicianship.
3. The Suburbs
Few bands can construct ambitious, concept-driven albums and consistently produce superb results. But for Arcade Fire, whose previous albums tackled the themes of death and religion with few shortcomings, it seemed that making a statement on suburban living was naturally the next move. The Suburbs is grand in its scope: Over the course of its 16 songs, the album delves into the problem of appearance versus reality that exists in both suburban and urban living. It is easy to say the album portrays a naïve longing for urban life and casts doubt on the validity of suburban lifestyles, but this isn’t the case. A sense of nostalgia permeates the album. Arcade Fire manages to construct a thesis on suburban living that is as sonically wonderful as it is thought-provoking.
4. High Violet
High Violet, not unlike The National’s previous album Boxer, isn’t one whose brilliance is immediately evident. High Violet requires a few listens before the listener can appreciate the album’s dense soundscape. Every song is vast and layered, and it takes time to adequately digest each track. Singer Matt Berninger’s vocals are lush and rich, and for a first-time listener, often off-putting. The album opener, “Terrible Love,” builds and builds until a chaotic conclusion. On High Violet, it seems that every word and every note is intentional, and upon each subsequent listen, this is more and more evident.
5. Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest is an autumnal album. It sounds crisp and evokes an eerie sensation of nostalgia, and the songs are as textured and variable as changing leaves. On the album closer “He Would Have Laughed,” a song dedicated to the deceased Jay Reatard, the initially playful melody provides a sharp contrast to the somber conclusion of the work. The entirety of the album dwells on the theme of solitude and isolation but is never trite. Its sounds are experimental and sprawling, but Halcyon Digest is striking for its approachability. It is forthright yet full of contrast, sonically gorgeous yet its lyrics are anything but.