One of the worst times of the year for a music journalist is the months leading up to and including December. This is when the dreaded "Best of" lists are created. You would think that slapping together a list of your favorite 20 records from any given year would be a piece of cake. But you would also be wrong. I am sure every writer has their own thoughts on these and how they approach them, and many may argue with me that it is difficult to put together. However, my experiences have proven that most music writers agonize over their lists and try to justify which album gets which spot on the list. The easiest part is from about 11-20, usually those albums could be shuffled all over the place within those limits and it wouldn't make a bit of difference. The problem comes when you hit the top 10, particularly trying to chose between what album is ranked second and which one is ranked first.
Then to top it off, you may include other sections to your list such as "Most Disappointing Albums", "Best New Band" and "Most Anticipated Releases of Next Year". There is just so much music that comes across your desk that sitting down to sift through everything seems impossible. The funny thing is that you spend hours tweaking your lists, but if you revisit that list in a year, chances are you probably won't even listen to half of those records anymore.
That being said, it is almost that time of year again, and here are three of my favorite albums that will be sure to appear somewhere on my end of the year list.
Spoon "Transference" - I have heard mixed opinions about this album. Many people seem to love it while others seem to see "Transference" as an album Spoon has already done before and are pissed the band didn't seem to move in a new direction. Personally, I think "Transference" is a great album. It is one that initially seems like "just" another Spoon album, but the songwriting is excellent and there are little details that grab my interest and keep me coming back for more. Britt Daniels is an incredible songwriter and proves it time and time again across the band's latest albums. In my opinion, one of the best American indie-rock bands today.
Highlights: "Written In Reverse", "Trouble Comes Running", "Out Go The Lights"
The National "High Violet" - The Brooklyn-based band started their career trajectory like many fledgling indie bands, releasing their own albums and quietly building a dedicated fan base. That is where the similarities end. The release of their third album "Alligator" on reputable label Beggars Banquet found the band receiving praise from virtually every media outlet and even gained the attention of Bruce Springsteen. Although they were not household names yet, this is the album that set the wheels in motion. They followed "Alligator" with "Boxer", an album with extreme focus and is filled with emotion. This album catapulted them into the limelight and "High Violet" finds them picking up right where they left off. The album is haunting and has just enough subtle changes that differentiate it from being "Boxer II". This is a band that gets better with each release and if you haven't been paying attention before "High Violet", now is the time to start.
Highlights: "Afraid of Everyone", "Bloodbuzz Ohio", "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks"
The Gaslight Anthem "American Slang" - Seeing The Gaslight Anthem break into the mainstream is something I was not expecting. Sure, they wrote great songs and everyone seemed to be in love with "The '59 Sound", but a majority of their fans were interested in punk rock and magazines and websites that covered punk rock were where they were winning most of their praise. The release of "American Slang" changed all of that. Now the band has been hearing praise even from more mainstream media outlets, they were making television appearances and playing in huge festivals. People may still criticize the band for sounding like they took too many cues from Bruce Springsteen, but the fact is "American Slang" is one of the best rock records of the year.
Highlights: "American Slang", "The Diamond Church Street Choir", "We Did It When We Were Young"