|Sufjan Stevens: Come On Feel The Illinoise, 2005|
The summer after I graduated from Highland View Academy, Sufjan Stevens invited me to Come On Feel The Illinoise. I remember driving to the Hagerstown Borders and being pretty excited that they still had the illicit albums with Superman on the cover. I bought two. One is still in its wrapping.
Illinoise was one of the first albums I listened to straight through multiple times in quick succession. This wasn't because I loved the album on first listen, it was because I was reorganizing the entire HVA library for Mrs. Payne that summer. It took me a little while to warm up to Illinoise. I hadn't been exposed to much Sufjan before, and so it was unlike anything I had heard before. The predatory wasp finally got me, I guess.
|Sigur Ros: Takk, 2005|
When Takk arrived in Argentina in a package from Jen, it was a welcome respite from the old-style gaucho music that was usually playing in our room. My roommate Güenche didn't really appreciate it, so I only got to play it when he was gone. Takk fit my mood in Argentina remarkably well. It is at times lonely yet leaves you feeling energized and optimistic. I can remember sipping mate while listening to Glosoli and working on grammar homework. The arpeggiated piano chords that open Hoppipolla and its ensuing crescendo represent one of the best years of my life. The final track of the album, Heysatan, is exactly how I was feeling when I left Argentina.
|Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca, 2009|
Evan introduced me to the Dirty Projectors during my first year at The Estate. I can't remember what albums I was listening to at the same time, but I remember liking them more than Bitte Orca. This feeling didn't last particularly long. When I listen to the first chords of Cannibal Resource, I am taken back to Phil and my road trip to Angwin for Thanksgiving, 2009. It was the same time Fantastic Mr. Fox arrived in theaters. This is not especially important, but I associate the two events for some reason.
It was during that trip that I realized that Bitte Orca manages to be interesting in every category: melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and lyrical. And yet, it remains grounded enough to be both danceable and singable. This unique characteristic is represented throughout the album, but the behemoth of a track, Useful Chamber, perhaps demonstrates it best. It was soon after the Thanksgiving trip that I started to realize The Dirty Projectors was my favorite band. This was later confirmed when I saw them play live at the 9:30 club. Twice.
|Arcade Fire: The Suburbs, 2010|
When the first single from The Suburbs, Month of May, dropped in early 2010, I was underwhelmed. By the time Osheaga 2012 rolled around on July 31st, we had only heard three songs from the new album: Month of May, The Suburbs, and Ready To Start, but my attitude had changed dramatically. That Arcade Fire show was the first time that I had heard songs by one of my favorite artists live before hearing them at home. I heard Empty Room, Rococo, Deep Blue, We Used To Wait, Half Light II, and Sprawl II for the first time in Montreal. Three of those songs had never been performed before. It was one of the best concerts I have ever been to, and its inseparable connection with The Suburbs only adds to the album's sacrosanct status.
|M83: Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, 2011|
M83's massive double album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, dropped on October 18 last year. For me, it was the best album of 2011. On Sunday the 21st, I went to Takoma Academy and worked for about ten hours, which allowed me to listen to the 74 minute album eight times.
It was around the same time that I realized I could beat the "First Year Teacher" level. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming reminds me of that feeling - the feeling of facing incredible stress square in the face and beating it, just barely. Here are some of the apropos lyrics from Intro:
Carry on, carry on, carry on!
And after us the flood.
Carry on, carry on, carry on!
Our silver horn it leads the way.
Banners of gold shine,
In the cold, in the cold, in the cold.
Midnight City was Pitchfork's track of 2011 for good reason. Raconte-moi une histoire is one of the best feel-good crescendo tracks in existence. Claudia Lewis has the sexiest intro I have ever heard. When Will You Come Home? showcases Anthony Gonzalez's ability to write ethereal interludes.
Are we still talking about the first of two albums?
|Beach House: Bloom, 2012|
It is often the case that the first singles released from new albums are intriguing, while the album itself turns out to be mediocre. Not the case with Bloom, which was introduced by the release of Myth and Lazuli. After hearing these songs, I remember wondering if the rest of the album could hold up. In truth, I was such a blind supporter of Beach House by this past May that I really had no doubts at all.
My faith was rewarded. It's impossible for me to pick a track on Bloom that I don't thoroughly enjoy listening to. And while New Year's celestial melody and hypnotic beat probably gives it the best shot at being my favorite track, it could easily be challenged by about five others.
The xx: xx, 2009 (xx reminds me of quiet evenings at The Estate with the best people and hits me with nostalgia like a waterfall to the face. Sounds lame, but it's accurate.)
The National: High Violet, 2010 (I'm still not sure this should have only been an honorable mention. It was the perfect commuting music this year.)
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues, 2011 (Robyn Pecknold's hauntingly piercing voice represents Walla Walla wheat fields, and a great senior year with TP and JE.)
Purity Ring: Shrines, 2012 (This electronic beauty is the absolute best late-night driving music.)