I took an “underground rock” class at a summer camp after 9th grade. It was taught by a couple of Yale undergrads, and it was my first exposure to New Pornographers, The Decemberists, Elliott Smith, TV On The Radio, and several more indie bands. At the time it was both overwhelming and ridiculously pretentious… that experience actually turned me off to indie music for a while (thanks in no small part to Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker video that they showed us). The seed was planted though, and I would really nurture that seed later in high school, and ultimately, when I was studying in Budapest in 2009.
Some of the music really stuck with me, including TVOTR’s “Dreams.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but this album has got some soul.
TV On The Radio - “Dreams”
This was my biggest surprise album of 2010. While Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” blew this out of the water (for my taste), I’ve found Big Boi’s solo debut to be a fun album to revisit every few months. I didn’t think he had it in him without Andre 3000.
Big Boi - “Tangerine”
I was a Kanye apologist when this album came out. Yeah, I liked it, but yeah, I thought he was a little out of touch with his assertions that this was his experimental phase- his Pink Floyd phase. Considering the wave of the sometimes-autotuned rap/sung pop songs that came afterwards, and in the context of the recently-released “Yeezus,” I can’t help but think he was on to something with his “genius” theory. Let’s see how this one plays out. Count me as excited for the next 10 years of Kanye music.
It’s not hard to believe, but 808s is much easier to listen to in 2013 than it was in 2008.
Kanye West - “Paranoid”
The Mysterious Production of Eggs is my favorite Andrew Bird album, and would certainly make my top 20 of the past fifteen years, if not my top 5. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Pitchfork (and by extension, its readers) don’t give him as much credit as he deserves. He is a master craftsman; anyone who has seen him live knows this. Hell, even those who haven’t seen him live should be able to figure that out.
Also evident: his command of the English language. I think reviewers in general make a little too much of lyrics. When I was in middle school and high school, I obsessed over lyrics, memorizing all of my favorite songs. Now, I memorize songs if and only if I happen to listen to them dozens of times, and even then it’s not a sure thing. I’d argue that I’m better off this way, letting the music resonate subconsciously instead of picking through potential meanings, trying to find the one that’s just right, like a horoscope. So if someone complains that his lyrics don’t mean anything just remind them that poets don’t get criticized when their work is dense and cryptic. Why should musicians?
And have you seen what he can do with a loop pedal? I want that.
Andrew Bird - “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left”
I haven’t liked a non-rap/electronic album by an artist I’ve never heard before this much in quite a while. Usually new indie rock/folk acts take their time, creeping on up me until I am accidentally playing them on repeat to the chagrin of everyone around me. Not this one. Guess that’s someone else I have to fit into my packed Outside Lands schedule.
The Tallest Man On Earth - “A Lion’s Heart”
I prefer The Libertines’ second album, their self-titled, to “Up the Bracket,” but still: this album is one of the highlights of the early 2000’s garage-rock wave that ushered me into high school.
The Libertines - “Up The Bracket”
The fact that “Nostalgia, Ultra,” which is essentially a mixtape, founds its way onto the list speaks highly to (1) the recency effect, and (2) the strange, wonderful power that Frank Ocean has over his listeners.
Works for me.
Also, I just learned that pretty much all of the R&B I like is classified as “PBR&B,” a portmanteau of PBR and R&B, or “indie R&B.” It sounds sort of derogatory, but hey: Whatever works.
Frank Ocean - “Swim Good”