With the exploded music industry the way that it is (no money, lots of bands...exploded), the truth of it is, there were hundreds of thousands of albums and millions of songs released this year. On that scale, I have only heard a meager portion of what was released. My top nine albums list is coming shortly, but before that, here are my nine favorite songs from albums that did not make that list, but in a surprise twist, ordered randomly (The top nine albums list WILL NOT be ordered randomly).
9. Björk -- Family
Björk's Vulnicura, an exploration of her emotional turmoil in the midst of the dissolution of her long-term relationship with the father of her child, is an excellent, but tough listen. Everything good about the album can be distilled into the stunning "Family": the shell-shocked disbelief, the confusion, and finally, the resolve to build something from the ashes, in this case, a magnificent, cocooning pillar of sound. It's a tear-jerking, emotional juggernaut.
8. Tom Holkenborg --Brothers In Arms
Mad Max: Fury Road is such a great movie, and Tom Holkenbourg's symphonic/electronic (and guitar-shredding) hybrid soundtrack fits it like a blood-soaked glove. On its own, though, the entirety of the soundtrack isn't quite as engaging...except for "Brothers In Arms," a track that couples sledgehammer synthesizers and percussion with something akin to Vivaldi on steroids (meaning strings like falling leaves made of metal). These elements are forged together into a piece of music that makes me feel like I could drive an 18-wheeler through a volcano, but the joining of these disparate elements also creates a feeling of teamwork and camaraderie. The latter is fitting, considering this work soundtracks the moment the film finally allies its two heroes...by throwing at them a swarm of grenade tossing mountain-bikers.
7./6. Josh Garrels -- A Long Way/Leviathan
I am not an award-winning artist whose work has appeared in The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of the year before or anything, but it's probably not wise to put the climax of your album a third of the way in. Judging by Josh Garrels' Home's third track, "A Long Way," a powerful, emotional track, Home wil be about a prodigal's difficult, but affirming journey home. The next track, the atmospheric "Leviathan" seems to introduce the trials the prodigal will face. But then suddenly everything is inexplicably sunny for the next seven tracks to the end, and Home sadly proves it won't be showing up on The Nicsperiment's top nine like its predecessor did. Still, "A Long Way" and "Leviathan" are so good, that for seven minutes, they can make me forget that what follows them is so disappointing.
5. Sufjan Stevens -- No Shade In the Shadow of the Cross
For an album about having an existential crisis after the death of a parent he had a very complicated relationship with (that was a very complicated opening preposition), Sufjan Stevens Carrie and Lowell sure is quiet. While I won't debate Carrie and Lowell's greatness (it's very, very good), I will say that after 20 or 30 minutes of hushed whispers, my attention starts to waver just a little bit (another idiosyncratic artist and his band released a more dynamic album about the death of a parent this year, and that one is on Thursday's list). What generally snaps me out of thinking about what I want to eat for dinner near the end of Carrie and Lowell is "No Shade In the Shadow of the Cross," an urgent, dark, transfixing confession about Stevens letting his demons get the better of him.
4. Kurt Vile -- Wheelhouse
Kurt Vile's b'lieve I'm goin down was on what I thought was my final draft of my top nine albums' list, but then an album that was released two weeks ago bumped it out. I love Vile's album, full of contemplative, late night Western wanderings, Vile, his guitar, and a laid-back band, but it does tend to drag just a little bit near the 3/4 mark. For me, the high-point before that is "Wheelhouse," a dreamy meditation on finding a little slice of peace and illumination.
3. TesseracT -- Hexes
I'll make a sure-to-be unpopular comment here: I like Skyharbor's spacey, bright and atmospheric jams more than TesseracT's mathematically precise grooves. I feel like Skyharbor's songs are filled with so much more emotion, and I was very sad when vocalist Dan Tompkins jumped ship from Skyharbor back to TesseracT (his original band). "Hexes" is the closest TesseracT's new album, Polaris, comes to reaching the angelic heights of a Skyharbor song, and compared to the rest of Polaris, I've worn it out.
2. Rosetta -- (Untitled VI)
After the misstep of The Anaesthete, Rosetta's Quintessential Ephemera is a huge step back in the right direction. More melody injected into the band's spaced-out metal chaos is a great idea, and the album concept, which bemoans the mainstream's fixation on online cultural fads that will soon fade, is cohesive and magnetic. For me, the highlight comes near the end of the album (climaxes near the end, who would've thought?), in the tragic "Untitled VI," where vocalist, Michael Armine, sounds like a voice crying out in the wilderness, his band fittingly brooding and explosive behind him.
1. Five Iron Frenzy -- Between the Pavement and the Stars
Five Iron Frenzy's incredible comeback album, Engine of a Million Pilots, ended on a note of uncertainty, which I think was a perfect touch. However, a more positive ending closes out a B-Sides EP the band released this year, Beneath the Pavement and the Stars. The EP title-track closer is the kind of energetic, cathartic goodbye song the band are known for, incorporating the well-honed maturity in horn and traditional rock instrumentation interplay the band showcased on Engine of a Million Pilots. It's a triumphant finale those who were unhappy with Engine's closer can seamlessly slip into the last slot when they need a happy ending.