40. Mono in VCF – Mono in VCF
Various bands often attempt to sound “outdated” for stylistic effect. In most cases, when such a method is attempted, there is a thin line between substantial success and ultimate failure. In their self-titled debut album, rookie four-piece Mono in VCF have managed to incorporate their modernistic influences fluidly with past musical approaches that recall Scott Walker, David Axelrod, and The Delfonics. Basically, if you happen to be a fan of underrated musicians from the ’60s who found solace in a darkly haunting sound, Mono in VCF’s debut will likely be one of your favorite albums of the year.. Seamlessly incorporating elements of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” with several contemporary aspects of production involving synthesizers and heavily reverbed guitars, Mono in VCF is a thrilling listen from start to finish. Lead vocalist Kim Miller churns out one of the best overall vocal performances of the year on the album, turning her fervently brooding vocals into a spectacle over arrangements that are often descriptive of dark, illusive orchestral compositions. Her seductively gloomy vocals overlapped with the exotic strings in “Escape City Scrapers” makes it seem like a chilling track from a little-known ’60s spy film (Quentin Tarantino should take note), with stunners like “Spider Rotation” often resulting in the same effect. With such a stunning atmosphere implemented in the album, Mono in VCF is easily one of the most impressive debuts of the year.
39. Chromeo – Fancy Footwork
Despite an album cover that appears to intentionally promote a whole new realm of B-list cheesiness, Chromeo’s Fancy Footwork has steadily climbed the rankings as one of my favorite electro-pop albums of the year. Their sophomore album is a mixture of funk and dance, steadily interchanging keys, synths, guitars, and a variety of proficiently executed samples. The duo of P-Thugg (Patrick Gemayel) and and Dave 1 (David Macklovitch) seem intent on bringing their musical approach back about 20 or 30 years ago; considering the sheer quality of Fancy Footwork, it is hard to blame them. Songs like “Momma’s Boy” would have fit perfectly in one of those classic ’80s teen flicks, reflecting the nostalgic approaches of ’80s favorites like The Cars and Hall & Oates in its plentiful array of synth-led hooks. Even though poppy gems in the vein of “Momma’s Boy” and “Outta Sight” are enjoyable enough, the greatest moment of Fancy Footwork comes in the title track, a more modernistic sounding dance track that pulls off all the right stunts. The blaring sound of a police siren kicks off an infectious romp that sees a wholly irresistible chorus, touched by tinges of Moogs and twinkling keys, transform into the epitome of dance-funk perfection.
Chromeo – Momma’s Boy
38. Stars of the Lid – And Their Refinement of the Decline
Since their formation over 14 years ago, the Texas-based duo known as Stars of the Lid have churned out some of the most beautiful music within their unique genre of drone-based ambient music. While there are few active bands who have both the talent and patience to manipulate a style that sounds even remotely similar, the importance of composers Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride toward the scene is incalculable. On their eighth and arguably finest album, And Their Refinement of the Decline, they continue with a style that has earned them such a massive following. A massive double-album that stretches two hours in length, And Their Refinement of the Decline is a stunning listen whose atmosphere is near incomparable. Wiltzie and McBride are composers of the utmost degree, using a variety of neatly laced keys, horns, and strings over stylistic leanings of minimalism and post-classical. The lack of percussion on the album is actually rewarding, as the soundscape that the duo crafts is elegant and imperturbable in nature. Easily one of the most relaxingly enjoyable listens of the year, And Their Refinement of the Decline may very well go down as a classic in its unique genre.
Stars of the Lid – Articulate Silences, Pt. 2
37. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Few will argue against Jeff Tweedy being one of the better songwriters of the decade. Whether you personally consider his early work with Uncle Tupelo or his latter material with the Grammy-winning Wilco to be his absolute best, the frontman’s blend of alternative rock, country, and folk-rock has made him one of the most distinguishable musicians in indie-rock for nearly two decades. As Wilco’s sixth studio album, Sky Blue Sky, earns another Grammy nomination for “Best Rock Album”, one can’t help but think if Tweedy will ever drop in quality. Though the receptive Sky Blue Sky does not compare well to earlier classics like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Summerteeth in terms of stylistic depth, Wilco’s newest is certainly an accomplishment to be proud of. The stunning “Impossible Germany” is the album’s clear epic, a tour-de-force that sees Tweedy and guitarist Nels Cline at their absolute best. Though the first two minutes plays off like a conventionally enjoyable Wilco folk-rock song, the final 4 minutes are of exceptional virtue. Transforming into a guitar-led jam session (although it is excellently organized), it proves to be one of the best songs of Tweedy’s illustrious career. With other tracks like the lush “Sky Blue Sky” and the piano-led twang of “Hate it Here” being additionally impressive, Sky Blue Sky touches on more strengths than it does weaknesses.
36. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
Though The Shins are generally a household name at this point thanks to a few unnamed films of questionable quality, it is admirable that they have proven with their third album, Wincing the Night Away, that an increase in commercialization has not tarnished their ability to write instances of utterly irresistible indie-pop. Though the album has topped at #2 in both the US and UK, The Shins’ charm remains quite durable due to their reluctance to let go of their earlier approach. Though Wincing the Night Away is their most polished album to date, The Shins still sound like, well, The Shins. If one is able to wisely look past the sudden recognition they are receiving, old fans of The Shins really have no reason to change their disposition. James Mercer still sings breezy, melodically engaging melodies over quickly captivating guitars, churning out pop hooks in an impressively abundant manner. “Australia” and “Phantom Limb” will likely go down as classic Shins songs, capitalizing on the form of easy-listening indie-rock that has brought the five-piece so much success. Even the cutesy aroma of the synth-tinged “Red Rabbits” and the lack of initial instrumental involvement in “A Comet Appears” are appealing in their own right. Though it certainly will not “change your life”, Wincing the Night Away is one of The Shins’ finest efforts to date.
35. M.I.A. – Kala
After releasing the most talked-about debut of 2005 in Arular, M.I.A. could have easily sunk under the pressure and released a disappointing sophomore follow-up. It is what many other artists do, after all; many find the hype and pressure too much to handle. But coming from the outspoken, intelligent, and confident Maya Arulpragasam, it is not much of a surprise that Kala is of an equal, if not better, nature than her receptive debut. She has lived a life that just begs for a movie, making such music-related pressures seem obsolete in comparison. Kala is a continuation of the stylistic genius displayed on Arular, exchanging instances of hip-hop, world music, electro, ragga, and funk over rapidly paced lyrical deliveries that are often either political or ambiguously unidentifiable in nature. M.I.A.’s unique style is what has given her such widespread recognition, as no genre seems out of reach in her ceaselessly expanding bag of tricks. The throwback electro-dance in “Jimmy” makes it one of the album’s catchiest tracks, while the sample-oriented, unconventional hip-hop flair in “Bird Flu” is as equally enjoyable despite the comparative style being in stark contrast to “Jimmy”. Kala is an album that is impossible to describe in just a few words, as M.I.A.’s stylistic flair is too impressively widespread to attempt a concise explanation.
34. Justice – †
It would be easy to call Justice one of the most acclaimed bands of the year. Suitably enough, it is hard to find a year-end list that does not list their absolutely infectious “D.A.N.C.E.” as one of the best singles of the year. It is certainly justifiable too; the debut album from France’s latest electro-house duo is filled with moments of absolute irresistibility, with the catchy ode to Michael Jackson (“D.A.N.C.E.”) being the most immediately accessible of the impressive 12 tracks on the ambiguously titled album. Though a few fillers stop † from being a true dance classic, gems like “D.A.N.C.E.” and “Waters of Nazareth” are impossible to disregard. Regarding a prominent Daft Punk influence with a more pop-oriented flair, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay have incorporated slick production with brilliant dance-enabled hooks that result an absolute tour-de-force. Though a similar style of production is repeated throughout the album, the glorious synth-aided melodies are guaranteed to have the majority of the album’s tracks on repeat for quite awhile. From the gritty moogs in “Waters of Nazareth” to the chirpy throwback style of “Valentine” (excellent shades of Yellow Magic Orchestra), the diversity within the repeated style is reason for listen alone. Additionally, one of the greatest aspects of the release is the output of great remixes from the album; it is proof of other artists’ admiration for this infectious output. Whether you are blasting † alone in your dorm room on a Monday afternoon or if one of the album’s stellar tracks is pulsating through the dance floor on a Friday night, Justice’s † has certainly lived up to the hype. It is one of the most infectious dance albums of the year.
Justice – D.A.N.C.E.
Justice – Waters of Nazareth
33. !!! – Myth Takes
Though their unconventional name (pronounced “Chk Chk Chk”) may give off the impression of a disregard for , the musical output of !!! says otherwise. In their third release, Myth Takes, the group puts forth an exceptional effort through excitable, genre-bending songs that are virtually tireless in nature. Previously known for their pushy rock epics that simultaneously tackled topics like drugs, demons, and politics, Myth Takes marks a step forward in their stylistic ambitiousness. Funk is arguably the most prevalent, with the outstanding “A New Name” capitalizing on Justin Vandervolgin’s pulsating bass line. Between the rhythm section lies a swipe of an electric guitar every measure, all until singer Nic Offer expertly pulls off some demonic Barry Gibb impression. Though older !!! fans may listen and scratch their heads, “A New Name” is clearly one of their best songs to date. The rest of the album is very enjoyable as well, with the energetic Zappa-induced “All My Heroes Are Weirdos”, the swooning “Heart Of Hearts”, and the guitar-driven eight-minute epic “Bend Over Beethoven” being additional highlights. To make things even better, Myth Takes also encompasses some of the best, albeit appropriately apocalyptic, cover art of ’07. In the most accessible album of their careers, the enjoyably named !!! have achieved admirable success.
32. Art Brut – It’s a Bit Complicated
Witty one-liners, snappy guitars, hilarious sociological musings… yeah, Art Brut’s excellent debut, Bang Bang Rock and Roll, was all of that and more. It was one of my favorite albums of 2005, with Eddie Argos’ distinctively British vocals being in perfect contrast to the rhymes and melodic croons that he seemed at ease conveying. Set against the backdrop of catchy punk-pop and indie-rock, Argos often found himself transformed into a humorously fanatical poet, relaying hopeful tales of “drinking Hennessey with Morrissey” on some faraway beach while simultaneously lamenting frustration of NME’s ridiculous stylistic niches. Two years after their debut, It’s a Bit Complicated follows up in expectable form. Though Argos’ wittiness has appeared to decreased ever so slightly, the melodic instrumentation is as strong as ever in exciting tracks like “Direct Hit” and “People in Love”. Though it is less prevalent on several other tracks, Argos’ lyrical wit remains fully demonstrative in the album’s best track, “People in Love”. “People in love, lie around and get fat, I didn’t want us to end up like that,” he opens the song, fully confident of his band’s peculiarly delightful style. Though nothing on It’s a Bit Complicated reaches the anthemic charm of “Emily Kane”, Art Brut’s sophomore album continues the band’s uniquely engaging stylistic trend of treating listeners to a mutual appreciation of witty lyrical wordplay and infectious instrumental prowess, resulting in an experience that is nearly as excitable as its predecessor.
31. Dondolo – Dondolisme
Another French electronic artist? Indeed, but with the quality that such a demographic is putting out, there is absolutely no need to complain. Compared to native contemporaries like Justice, Air, or Daft Punk, Romain Guerret’s electro-funk project, Dondolo, is certainly on the same page, though his implementation of funk and ’80s power-pop creates cause for separable acclaim. While synths do make up the majority of his tracks, Guerret also implements funk guitar riffs, mesmeric bass lines, and ceaseless percussion mixed with variations of vocoder and spoken monologue. On his latest album, Dondolisme, Guerret features nearly-instrumental synth gems like “J’ai Deux Amours” and “Zarte Melody” along with the power-pop infused guitar-led irresistibility of “A Question of Will”, the latter being one of the catchiest tracks of the year. With its swiftly executed guitar riffs and fast-paced vocal mumblings being a full-on embrace of guiltless new-wave, the male-female vocal correspondence is executed faultlessly in a throwback style of sorts. Whether one enjoys the sensational new-wave revivalism in “A Question of Will” or the lusher, more synth-oriented atmosphere in “Fluffy Angel”, the diversely enjoyable Dondolime is both catchy and methodically variegated enough to warrant an impressionable taste. It is an impressive effort from Romain Guerret, a name that is certainly climbing the ranks of elite French electronic producers.