My Top Ten Albums of the Year 6-4

No intro needed. Let’s get moving.

6. Pine Grove –Cardinal

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With Cardinal, singer Evan Stephens Hall and his bandmates in Pine Grove have created a dusty, textured, and infinitely melancholy record about failures in communication. Hall shuffles through opening track “Old Friends,”  grieving for his recently departed friend and bemoaning the times he didn’t tell his loved ones how much he cared. “Cadmium” wrestles with the vocabulary of budding relationships. The group even title a song “Aphasia” after the clinical condition that weakens the brain’s associations between ideas and words.  Hall works as the perfect narrator for these tales of missed connections. His sandy, syrupy voice is often several steps behind the beat, as if to imply a fundamental misunderstanding between himself and the rest of the group. It’s tempting to call Cardinal a “country” record because of its multiple instances of slide guitars and finger-picked banjo, I suppose it’s equally tempting to call this an “emo” record, but that’s not quite right either. Pine Grove taps into something more universal than either of those limiting genres; the narrator of “New Friends” resolves, after the breakup of a serious relationship, to nurture all the other human connections that have fallen by the wayside. It’s never too late to open up the channels of communication.

5. Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker

Even if Leonard Cohen hadn’t passed away earlier this year at the unsurprising age of 82, You Want it Darker would still be his best album since 1987’s I’m Your Man. Kind of a lot has changed in almost 30 years. For one thing, Cohen has moved away from the synths and female backing vocals that would define his 80’s work. Lyrically, he’s shifted from psychosexual politics toward thoughts of mortality and religion. Looking back, this was 100% a swan song album, even more so than Bowie’s Blackstar ( more on that later). Cohen makes multiple references to being “out of the game,” and an unseen subject (God?) as card dealer. It’s difficult to see this album outside of the context of death, but that’s probably at least in part because it is filled with constant references to “quitting,” “moving on” and loaded with references to angels and devils. In spite of all this introspection, Cohen still manages to write an amazing line like “They oughta give my heart a medal/For letting go of you” (“On the Level”) that makes you rediscover his talent all over again. You Want it Darker is a pitch-black, mostly stone-cold sober (I try but I just don’t get high with you) endeavor that still manages to be whimsical and light at times. A master lyricist and poet like Cohen isn’t going to exit this earth without a bit of wry, sardonic humor, and there’s just enough here to remind you of the brilliant and unique mind that ultimately dies with this final work. Man, this year sucked ass.

4. Martha – Blisters in the Pit of My Heart

Like my favorite group last year, Johanna Gruesome, Martha hail from the U.K, feature a prominent female vocalist, and specialize in utterly precious twee-pop. Of the two, England’s Martha is a little more grown-up. This year’s Blisters in the Pit of My Heart may not be my absolute favorite album of the year, but it’s hard to match the levels of joy and exuberance displayed on this record. Whether they’re tackling literary-themed body horror in “Chekhov’s Hangnail” or navigating a romantic connection in a super market in “Precarious (Supermarket Song), Martha delivers ’em fast, loud and catchy, and Blisters may win the prize for most enjoyable listen of the year, which can sometimes be a totally different ballgame than “best album of the year.” Try to listen to this one while sitting still. Provided, of course, that you have a soul.

See you for the final chapter!

Photo credit: By Takahiro Kyono [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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