So much great music came out this year that I really had a difficult time narrowing my selection down to just my favorite 10 albums. Instead, I decided that I would go ahead and list out my top 15 albums (in my mind) of the year. I simply listed the ones that have moved me the most and found themselves housed in my CD player for the most extended periods of time.
1. Radiohead-OK Computer (Capitol)
I know that this had made almost every top ten list in the nation (and beyond), but there's definitely reason behind it's choice. Throwing classic song structure to the wind, the group has created an album of subtle beauty. Quick rises and falls, instant tempo changes, and a dead-on (if sometimes non-linear) look at today's culture make this the most interesting (and moving) listen of the year. full review
2. Bjork-Homogenic (Elektra)
Bjork has always been a wacky girl. From her teenage years as a Sugarcube to her recent whooping of a Malasian photographer, she's never been afraid to do what she wants. This album reflects that with its very interesting juxtaposition of stringed arrangements and electronic sounds. The sound sneaks up on you and sticks in your head for a long time.full review
3. Aphex Twin-Richard D James Album (Elektra)
With an EP also released this year, James marks himself as one of the more prolific electronic artists out there. In addition to this, he's probably one of the best. The album toys with several ideas (from skittered-out drum and bass to childish sing-alongs), but still manages to stay fairly cohesive. Remember the name, cos you'll hear it even more in the future. full review
4. Portishead-Portishead (London)
After releasing one of the most critically praised albums of 1994, this group took some time off and re-grouped, but their sound is as good as ever. This group still does trip-hop better than anyone out there and can create some of the most hauntingly seductive music out there. review
5. Built To Spill-Perfect From Now On (Warner Brothers)
When I first heard this album, I didn't think much of it, then I gave it a second listen, and a third, and a fourth all in the same day. The interestingly arranged, drawn-out (but never boring) songs twist through several different incarnations before finally arriving at their destination. Excellent instrumentation and catchy as hell. full review
6. u-Ziq-Lunatic Harness (Astralwerks)
Although he's only 23, Mike Paradinas has been around awhile in the electronic music scene. Releasing albums under several different monikers, he's been as prolific as any others out there. This album finds him at his prime, though. Like pals Richard D James and Luke Vibert, he knows how to weave delicate arrangements with wicked beats and somehow manages to give his electronic music a human touch. full review
7. Mike Watt-Contemplating The Engine Room (Columbia)
It's a rock album, a concept album about 3 men on a boat, and a future hit punk rock opera all rolled into one. Brought to you by the former bass player of the Minutemen and Firehose, this album is a total treat and a celebration of 3 instruments. full review
8. Squarepusher-Hard Normal Daddy (Warp)
Yet another drum and bass slice and dicer, Tom Jenkinson is also quite a virtuoso on the plain old bass guitar. As his alter ego Squarepusher, however, he tweaks beats and twists sounds into quite startling, and most times pleasing, atmospheres. These songs for the short attention spanned will have your mind going rapid-fire. full review
9. Mogwai-Young Team (Jetset)
Instrumental (for the most part), experimental rock soundscapes will prick your ears and raise the hair on the back of your neck. These 5 kids from Glasgow can make a large racket, or they can sooth you to sleep, many times within the span of one song. Big, artsy and quite nice. full review
10. High Llamas-Hawaii (V2/Alpaca Park)
Although this album was released in the UK in 1996, it finally found its way to US shores this year with another disc of bonus music. This song harks back to the glorious days of pop music with it's dreamy, light arrangements and catchy (and many times cheesy) melodies. Sean Hagan (of Stereolab) and friends have put together a winner with this one.
11. World Party-Egyptology (The Enclave)
I'm not sure why this album was so overlooked. It may have something to do with being released on a small label, but it's definitely not because of the music. 15 different songs with enough flair to keep almost anyone interested. full review
12. Promise Ring-Nothing Feels Good (Jade Tree)
This independent release caught my attention after much prodding, but then stayed on my playlist for quite some time. Tight, fast and melodic, this poppy group knows how to write a catchy tune. Colorful lyrics and spirited music will keep you humming along for days.
13. The Verve-Urban Hymns (Virgin)
For a group that called it quits after their second album, this is more than anyone would have hoped for. The album is 13 songs that loud-mouths Oasis only wish they would have written. String-touched ballads and full-out rockers fill out this well-balanced release.full review
14. Catherine Wheel-Adam and Eve (Mercury)
After releasing two amazing earlier albums, this group got bogged down a bit and perhaps became a bit infatuated with the Seattle sound in America. This album finds the group at top form, though It walks a fine line between being hard and soft, but somehow finds a peaceful harmony. Rob Dickinsons vocals are at top form and so are the musical arrangements. Some valiant songwriting that makes for an album that's good from start to finish.
15. Plug-Drum And Bass For Papa (Nothing)
More skittering, crazy electronic music from a UK bugger. This 2-CD set finds more of its roots in lounge and funk than others of its genre, but it still knows how to rock a crazy beat when necessary. full review