For me, the process of getting my hands on all of the records I didn‘t bother listening to, and trying to digest them, is both a much-wanted part of the end-of-the-year, and a much-dreaded part. When I first started the mad-dash effort to get all of these records, I found myself sitting on no less than 20 releases that didn’t make their way into my radar. It’s exhausting, but I almost always find uncovered gems by doing this (See: Tim Hecker’s Harmony in Ultraviolet, TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain, MIA’s Kala, etc.).
Then, of course, there are the records that I enjoyed, but not enough to write about, or in the case of a handful, not write about again. In other cases, I enjoyed them a lot, but I didn’t absorb them quite enough to really judge them fairly. The records on this list are the ones that didn’t quite make the cut, but deserved some kind of praise, regardless. It is by no means complete; There are records that I just don’t quite have the words for. These are some of the records I do have words for, though.
The Mountain Goats – All Eternal’s Deck
I’ll be honest with you: I hate writing about The Mountain Goats. I’m not on the same level of fandom as a lot of other fans (as I do not own a cassette of Hot Garden Stomp, nor do I possess the Come, Come to the Sunset Tree EP), but John Darnielle occupies a very special place in my heart. He’s (almost) always been, to me, an untouchable genius, and to bother to discuss his ins and outs is almost insulting. I even tried writing a lengthy review of this record, and found it didn’t quite work. I may still finish it: it’s a record that does deserve a full review.
All Eternal’s Deck is a strangely fulfilling record. It represents a culmination of all of the hard work he’s done with his still-newly-minted band (I say new because he was alone for 3/4 of his career). and is the best they’ve sounded so far. Darnielle’s wordplay and wit are sharp as ever here, and it’s almost awe-inspiring to listen to a musician – any musician – still in their prime after 20 years of prolific songwriting. He may never quite touch the unmistakable beauty of albums like The Sunset Tree and We Shall All Be Healed, but he’s sure going to keep trying.
Circle Takes the Square – Decompositions Vol. I, Chapter 1: Rites of Initiation
I was 13 when Circle Takes the Square’s As The Roots Undo came out. It still stands out in my memory as an unsung masterpiece of Emo, and a tipping point in my own life. Seven years later, listening to that record, it still feels freshly minted, and I start to feel pulled back in time, to a point in time where that record was my life. In the months (and years) leading up to its follow-up, it was easy to wonder: will the next one be as good? To put it mildly, yes.
Rites of Initiation is but a small offering of the bigger picture to come, but they sound as on-their-game as they did back then, as though nothing has changed for them, either. They’ve clearly grown as songwriters and musicians, which is why, once the guitars slog into the picture on “Enter By the Narrow Gate,” you stop wondering if they’ve still got it, and start pumping your fists. Make no mistake: this record is one of the few to make this list that deserves to be on my best-of list, but I’d much rather judge it with the full record (Rites is part of a larger album, which was set to be released in November, but has since been delayed). I guarantee it will be near the top of my list next year.
You might have noticed the absence of this record from my best-of, and if you know me, were wondering what I was smoking. I’ll be honest with you: since writing my review of Codes & Keys, I’ve listened to it maybe three times.
In hindsight, the lack of relationship-trouble-sticken Ben Gibbard is an absence that mars the record. Death Cab for Cutie have always been the go-to band if you want to feel better about yourself, of if you want someone to be miserable with. But, Gibbard was married – to Zooey Deschanel, no less – during the recording of this record, meaning that he was probably legitimately happy when the record was made. Don’t take this to mean that I only want Death Cab for Cutie records to be maudlin; It’s just that Gibbard hasn’t really ever made a song that wasn’t tinged with slightly bitter sadness, so he’s clearly still new to the process. It’s not a bad record, mind you, it’s just one that feels lacking. Here’s hoping now, since Gibbard has separated from his lovely wife, his band’s next record will be another bitter, splendid affair.
The Roots – Undun
The Roots have always proven to be one of the most exciting, forward-thinking hip-hop groups in the business, and most likely the hardest-working. They pulled a Kanye West this year, in that they decided to release an incredible, flawed, awe-inspiring masterpiece at the very tail end of the year, meaning that you only have so much time to absorb it before putting out the year-end list. Because of this, it missed the list entirely, but don’t take this to mean that it didn’t deserve to be up there. Undun is one of the best Roots records since Phrenology and (in my opinion) Game Theory, both of which are records of incredible depth, and striking beauty. Undun is a concept album, but to get that, you need to dig deep into the meat of it, spread out over multiple listens (a place I haven’t gotten to yet) and endless scrutiny. Most noticed in the last few years that The Roots were getting angrier by the record, and even though that fury shows its head a lot over the course of Undun, it comes off as a product of frustration, rather than anger. This record is the labor of love, and the true mark of a group that has only just gotten started.
Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
I had a chance to see Shabazz Palaces back in September opening for Seattle-hip-hopper Mackelmore, but I didn’t take it. It’s just as well; I had never heard Shabazz before then, and every report of the show said that the venue they played did nothing for their belching-bass and tribal-craziness. Since hearing Black Up for the first time, it has grown on me immensely with every single listen. It’s the anti-Undun, and the likely by-product of listening to Liars too often (spoiler: there’s no such thing as too much Liars). It’s really impossible to tell exactly where Shabazz Palaces are going to go, but it’s more than likely that Black Up will, over time, erode the fabric of what hip-hop means, and alter it forever. It’s innovative and soulful, and you never feel like Ismael Butler’s slightly-psychotic cadence is over-the-top, or missing the mark. Hats off.
Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
Nostalgia is an incredibly potent drug. We live in a culture obsessed with the art of looking back in time, to a place where we were wanted, despite all of our flaws. It’s not a surprise that the music we make reflects that nostalgia, though some do it in better ways. Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) is easily one of the best people making music that examines the past, and probably one of the most interesting people doing it. Replica is an album that, at first, sounds like Tim Hecker and John Weise teamed up for a record; it’s a quilt made out of fragments and rough sketches. It’s only once you dig deeper that you discover that those fragments are a window into the past itself, showing us a shattered vision of the world we used to know, but have since vacated for a different one. It’s not a record for the faint of heart, and be warned: it will suck you in very quickly.
The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence
The fact that I didn’t dig deep enough into the newest Roots record was my own fault. I could have put forth the effort, but was too absorbed in other things (namely, listening to The Antlers a bunch more). Echoes of Silence, however, doesn’t make the list because the mixtape is, as of this writing, three days old. Weeknd records feel like a special treat to pour over, and Echoes of Silence is by no means an exception: You can tell once “D.D.” explodes into color that this record is something different, especially when you realize the song is a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana.” Unlike Thursday and House of Balloons, two albums which were veiled by fog, this record is encased in a hard shell of swirling beats and buzzing reverb. Clams Casino’s production on the record takes Abel Tesfaye’s typically drugged-up lyricism to a new level of seedy excess, making it almost unlike anything we’ve heard from The Weeknd yet.