At this year’s Record Store Day – the April one, not the November shindig – I felt something that hadn’t occurred to me in probably 10 years. I felt excited to hold a record. Standing in line, clutching the inside of my far-too-thin hoodie (thanks, Chicago wind), I paced back and forth in my mind, thinking, God, I hope I get this album. The item in question? Big Star’s unreleased Third.
Of course, I didn’t get it. Nobody did. The store didn’t even receive a copy. So, instead, I spent a couple bucks on some singles, bit my lip, and went home somewhat satiated. But, for the 45 minutes prior to that moment, it was something slightly alien, but moreover familiar. There used to be a time when you couldn’t get an album.
Not everyone can remember that feeling, but they should. Prior to the digital revolution, music was somewhat of a privilege. As a child, you might spend weeks saving up money for something that takes less than two clicks to grab now. Don’t get me wrong — it’s liberating. But value gets partly tossed aside now. It really shouldn’t.
The album is by far the most integral facet of the music industry. People throw out EPs, toss in singles, but albums really mean something. If it’s even halfway decent, it’s essentially then a collection of perfected thoughts, emotions, and creations that are meant to be consumed, examined, and experienced. This year, we had far too many experiences – seemingly overloaded by an open-door policy of music thanks to Spotify.
That didn’t stop us, however, from finding 50 albums we thoroughly enjoyed.
50. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
In 2011, a record like this with precise craft, honest and bare songwriting, and gorgeous, subtle polish seldom gets made. Ashes & Fire is a mainstay because of its demeanor: authentic, exposed, and sublime. It’s a departure from the soaring years with the Cardinals and the rowdy solo work of yesteryear. Instead, Ryan Adams is mellow and content; his voice gleams from artfully sparse production (see: “Dirty Rain”). A tightly focused survey of the remaining ashes of his past, the album subtly questions what to do with all that history in light of a different self and becomes a modern classic in the process. -Liz Lane
49. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
The Joy Formidable may very well be the most appropriately named band to make their full-length debut this year. On The Big Roar, the Welsh trio’s brand of hook-laden guitar pop is a delight to behold as Ritzy Bryan’s urgent delivery transforms song after song into something anthemic. Their swirling layers of guitars and rapid-fire percussion pack enough of a forceful punch to live up to the other half of the band’s name. Full of catchy choruses and relentlessly energetic guitar crunches, The Big Roar is a stadium-sized album amidst a sea of clubs. -Frank Mojica
48. Astronautalis – This Is Our Science
On This Is Our Science, Astronautalis, aka Charles Andrew Bothwell, sounds as convincing singing about a turbulent relationship on “Secrets on Our Lips” as he does spitting verses on cryogenic experimenter Robert Nelson on “Midday Moon”. But it’s not just for intellectuals: Bothwell duets with Tegan Quinn on “Contrails” and features rapper P.O.S. on the album’s title track, gaining both indie and hip-hop street cred. This diversity catapulted Astronautalis’ fourth album into the iTunes top 10 downloads when it was released. In addition, producer John Congleton’s signature desperate, moody arrangements add emotional depth to This Is Our Science’s largely intellectual material. -Harley Brown