2006: Incubus – Light Grenades
After a weird album like A Crow Left Of The Murder, which in many aspects sounds like ‘Incubus Goes South, Y’all!’, Light Grenades was a wonderful concussion to the eardrums. The album was explosive out of the gate with some great singles in the first half (‘Dig’, ‘Anna Molly’), some mellow, reflective tracks in the back end (‘Oil and Water’, ‘Diamonds and Coal’) and the whiz-bang, action-packed title track to bridge them. The ‘Earth to Bella’ interludes were a little weird, but this disc honestly stands as their best, serving a great tonal balance that they would later forget to replicate in If Not Now, When?.
2007: Radiohead – In Rainbows
I paid zero dollars for this album. I’d heard of Radiohead, even heard a little of their music, but their ultra-mellow, esoteric work to that point just didn’t reel me in. I suppose that if you’re going to have an experiment where you allow people pick their own price to acquire your album, it might as well be the most catchy disc in your repertoire. Critics had long ragged on the group for kinda just… going out there and creating… whatever musically, but this was instantly hailed as their best work in years. Everything here feels raw, from Phil’s machine-precise drumming, Thom’s soaring lyrics (‘I’m an animal / trapped in your hot car’), and nothing shy of four guitars at most times, I honestly wish they’d come back to this style so I could work up an appetite for their music again after their dour follow-up.
2008: Shiny Toy Guns – Season of Poison
That this album sold poorly is a tragedy, it’s one of the best synthrock discs of the past few years. After the bright and squeaky-clean We Are Pilots, the group switched vocalists and went down a dark, rocky path for Season of Poison. Instead of soaring ballads like ‘Rainy Monday’, we were given rock anthems like ‘Ghost Town’. (I take that back, ‘Frozen Oceans’ is a great ballad on this disc.) That the group went out on a limb and experimented with a more textured, mature sound is appreciable, but they’ve decided to return to a more worn for their next disc, III (whenever that’s coming). I’m just glad they tried; those who got into this disc, free of any radio-friendly hit songs, are greatly rewarded.
2009: Mew – No More Stories…
“Muse?” “No, Mew!” That both bands released discs around the same time made expressing my joy for Danish dream-rockers Mew that much more difficult. I dig these guys because they’re off-kilter and somehow Jonas Bjerre’s childlike falsetto endears rather than irritates. No More Stories… was a long time coming and it shows: the first song on the disc, ‘New Terrain’, was actually engineered forwards and backwards, creating two singles at the same time. If Coldplay were infinitely more creative and much less interested in selling millions of albums and winning Grammys, this is what we’d be hearing. My favorite track, ‘Cartoons and Macrame Wounds’, is something you could score a movie to, with lyrics straight out of the coolest illustrated book you’ve never read (‘put your hand in mine, we will go skating / on the thinnest ice / that we can find’).
2010: Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Have you ever heard a more beautiful aural portrait of the suburbs, painted as some post-apocalyptic nightmare wasteland by an eight piece indie folk-rock band from Montreal? No? Well, that’s why it was the best album of 2010. When the humbly-attired group rushed the stage at last year’s Grammys to receive Album of the Year (because obviously), Twitter spontaneously combusted with short, snarky, idiotic messages from people were probably expecting Eminem’s Relapse to win something. The album is a sprawl of desperate hope, silver linings, and neighborhoods that have become dark places, prisons even. Honestly, I love my suburbian life, but if one must rag on it, this is the best way to go.
So what’s the best album of 2011? Why, that would have to be…