I listened to more new music this year than I have in a long while. Not sure why. A new phase. Obama. End of the World. But even so, music made by people under 40 (or for that matter, living people) still constituted only about 15% of the music in my life. Most of it was still crackly old jazz and soul albums. I only supply this Top Six list out of some misguided need to tell people I still care about social conventions and hierarchies and 20th Century magazine year-end roundups and, generally speaking, other human beings. I'll supply mp3 downloads if requested, but you can easily find any of this stuff at elbo.ws.
1. Dirty Projectors "Bitte Orca" - I could just as easily put the Bill Callahan or Girls album here, but in the tussle between supreme ambition and uncanny intimacy, I'm tilting slightly toward the former. This sounds like what would happen if Yes came from Senegal, were born in 1990 and tried making music that a girl might like. This record surprises again and again and manages to just avoid feeling suffocatingly indie and rockist. I shook my head in disbelief through the entire thing and, crucially, still do. It's a huge achievement, especially for people who love listening to entire records on headphones.
2. Bill Callahan "Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle" - Completely strange and original, yet as warm and comforting as a Navajo blanket sewn by Neil Young. The lyrics are as like abstract poetry held in a glass of water in the sunlight; sounds like: Gen-X getting serious as a heart attack. And it's recorded so beautifully, with such depth and dimension and breadth, it makes other "folk" albums feel 2D. How about this: It's the "Avatar" of indie folk. Go find "Too Many Birds" and see what I mean.
3. Girls "Album" - I try really hard not to get caught up in Pitchfork's buzz making, but if the shoe fits, wear it. This album is extraordinarily beautiful and lushly emotional. Sounds like: a bisexual skateboarder runaway who's never heard anything but quivery 50s doo wop ballads. Imagine if Jonathan Richman and Antony were smashed together in a particle collider and then outfitted by American Apparel. I'm STILL obsessing on it. Go find "Hellhole Ratrace" and sit and listen to it.
4. Flaming Lips "Embroyonic" - I'll always have a soft spot for psychedelic music, especially raw, garage-y, Nugget-y, Floyd-y primitive freakouts that seek to shock your stoned mind with vision maps and vortex revelations and revealed mind hearts. It's as old as the hills, this stuff, but much harder to do than it appears, and most people fail. Like some epic Stan Brakhage film, this record just expands and and ripples and curves and confounds and implodes just right. It felt like the last two albums were cotton candy meant to lure the new generation into a sweat lodge. Ka-POW! Again, headphone heaven.
5. The Clientele "Bonfires on the Heath" - My fascination with this band may be peculiar to me, but I love their smooth-as-silk, wispy-as-Monet, airy-as-autumn 60s sound so. The well-tempered drums and deceptively plangent, interwoven guitars, the whispered poetry of it all. The best word I can use to describe everything about the Clientele is "leafy." If ferns had audio, they'd sound like the Clientele.
6. Sunn O))) "Monoliths & Dimensions" - Saying you love this record is like saying you love a forbidding mountain off in a cold distance. It's utterly abstract, but the fascination is so profound and lingering, like you're being shown an unexplored valley full of ghosts and ledges that leads, circuitously, to everything Alex Ross wants you to like, like modern classical and Mahler. I kept listening and listening, simultaneously amused by how boneheaded the whole thing really is, and awed by how wonderful it is that boneheadedness can actually take you to interesting places like this. Isn't that what Sabbath taught us?