A lot of thought went into creating a top ten list of the year’s best music. But obviously not everyone agrees. So, for the next week, NOW will be posting top ten lists from all our individual music writers – all the different opinions that went into creating that master list. Watch NOW Daily for a new list every day.
1. HOW TO DRESS WELL Love Remains (Lefse)
Philosophy student Tom Krell’s bedroom experiments filter ghostly traces of 90s R&B vocals through ultra-lo-fi IDM to create a haunting investigation of memory and sound. At first, Love Remains can be a challenging, even jarring listen, one of the reasons it’s so good. Repeated listens reveal beautiful moments in the short, oddly structured songs, as well as recurring lyrical and sonic motifs. These layers of thought – steeped in emotion – are cleverly disguised by the intentionally choppy, blown-out production. This record makes you work, and rewards you handsomely.
2. PARALLELS Visionaries (Marigold)
These darkwave synth-poppers won my heart in the summer of 2009, but because their debut, Visionaries, didn’t drop until February of this year, I had to bank my year-end praise. Every track on Visionaries showcases Cam Findlay’s talent for crafting sinister-sounding dance tracks that are propulsive and intensely catchy. Vocalist Holly Dodson adds an irresistible Stevie Nicks-meets-Madonna presence that seals the deal on this masterful pop workout.
3. FOALS Total Life Forever (Transgressive)
When I talked to head Foal Yannis Philippakis back in September, he sounded down on this record simply because it had failed to make his math-rock-inspired band a stadium- sized act. Dramatic frontman aside, TLF is a big step forward for Foals and packed with meticulously crafted songs (like Blue Blood and 2trees) for the punky art-rock set. While there isn’t a crazy-marketable mainstream single, there are strong guitar-driven hooks and memorable lyrics on This Orient, Black Gold and What Remains.
4. SUN AIRWAY Nocturne Of Exploded Crystal Chandelier (Dead Oceans)
This album has a train wreck of a title, which might explain why it’s flown under the radar since its October release. The music, on the other hand, is fantastic. Reverb-drenched guitars, rich, tropical-inflected electronic textures and vocals that throw back to early 2000s NYC all conspire to make this a solid collection of emotional, wistful indie rock anthems.
5. CRYSTAL CASTLES Crystal Castles (Fiction)
While this follow-up lacked the WTF-punch-in-the-face quality of CC’s early mind-melting experimental dance music, it does feature super-catchy moments like the staccato keys in Baptism and the synth hook in Year Of Silence. Featuring solid, creative production, the album undercuts the argument that the infamous local duo had nowhere to take its oddball sound. And that’s to say nothing of Not In Love, the infectious resurrection of Platinum Blonde’s 80s hair anthem, which already had my vote for single of the year before Robert Smith lent his vocals to an even better (single-only) version currently rocketing up the charts.
6. BISHOP MOROCCO Bishop Morocco (Hand Drawn Dracula)
This dreamy indie rock collab between James Sayce (ex-Tangiers) and noted techno producer/DJ Jake Fairley (ex-Uncut) was a pleasant surprise given that few Toronto buzz-band survivors move on to make music this good. Anchored by Pixies-meets-shoegazer single Last Year’s Disco Guitars and the Joy Divisiony Our Time, the album makes us hope Bishop Morocco continue this promising side project.
7. THE HUNDRED IN THE HANDS This Desert (Warp)
This year was supposed to be all about this elusive Brooklyn electro-rock duo’s self-titled debut full-length. And while floor-filling pop jams fill that record, it was this early summer teaser EP that quietly holds their most interesting and genius work to date.
From the breezy and tropical Into It to the unsettling, eerie strokes of Ghosts to the gleeful oddball thumps of Tom Tom, these sonic explorations are as creative as they are listenable. It’s a shame that Sleepwalkers – a fuzzed-out rocker with amazing, Sleater
Kinneyesque vocals – is the only track from this collection they play live.
8. SNOWDEN Slow Soft Syrup (independent)
This long-awaited follow-up to 2006’s Anti-Anti delivers on a much different register than Snowden’s immediate, pop-leaning predecessor. On SSS, Snowden prefer to creep up slowly on dark hooks spread out over rich, expansive soundscapes. Sounding like a laid-back Interpol (with better lyrics), slow-building standouts Don’t Really Know Me, So Red and No Words No More make for a perfect late-night, post-party, post-punk comedown.
9. ALTAR EAGLE Mechanical Gardens (Type)
While I initially had minor quibbles with Altar Eagle’s coldwave effort, Eden Hemming and Brad Rose’s cute boy/girl vocals, haunting lyrics and creative synth parts have grown on me. Hyperactive standout Spy Movie and the powerful shout-along final chorus to Pour Your Dark Heart Out are geared to rock your bedroom, while the sweet, mid-tempo of Honey takes me back to the halcyon days of autumn.
10. THE COAST Queen Cities (Aporia)
Despite being a clear step up from the Coast’s 2008 debut, Queen Cities never got the same level of promotion or hype that landed this Toronto quartet on indie rock’s radar. Filled with epic, singalong choruses (Heartbreak City, White Season), heartfelt lyrics (Mohawk) and their signature catchy- and reverb-heavy guitar work (Lovers Go), the album might be the best Toronto indie rock record you’ll never hear – the Coast play their final show December 29 at the Garrison.