David Holmes

Top 10 Albums

Born Like This

You know it’s a rough year for hip-hop’s most prominent figures when Ghostface goes R&B, Lil’ Wayne picks up a guitar, and Jay-Z makes a song with this dude. But while Born Like This is no Madvillainy or Vaudeville Villain (and the homophobic “Batty Boyz” is still reprehensible regardless of DOOM’s half-hearted “You’re supposed to hate me because I’m a villain” defense), Daniel Dumile’s return to the mic after a three-year hiatus was one of the few highly anticipated hip-hop releases that didn’t disappoint. Featuring production from J. Dilla, Madlib and DOOM himself, Born Like This is yet another jazz-damaged journey into the mind of one of hip-hop’s most talented weirdoes.

Times New Viking
Born Again Revisited

The Columbus trio’s done it once again with 15 frenzied alternate-universe pop hits that unwillingly occupy your headspace, then refuse to leave long after the record stops spinning. Songs like “Move to California,” “No Hope, No Time,” and “2/11 Don’t Forget” smuggle wildly catchy melodies in vessels of furious noise. The result is a rock album too abrasive for easy consumption, but too poppy to be pretentious.

Bat for Lashes
Two Suns

On Two Suns, Natasha Khan easily shifts between jaded realism (“Siren Song”) and airy romanticism (“Daniel”). But even at her most optimistic, there’s always a sense of sadness and an anticipation of loss that pervades every track. Khan’s intimate knowledge of both the euphoria and the devastation associated with true love lends real poignancy to her sometimes quaint, antiquated lyrics, thus separating her from other old-fashioned troubadours like Colin Meloy and Patrick Wolf.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The proudly worn ’80s college rock influences of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart initially make the band seem like little more than lucky upstarts who happened to pick a tragically hip genre to imitate. But underneath the album’s stylistic underpinnings is some of the best songwriting you were likely to hear all year. They sing about sex and relationships with the kind of energy that befits their youth, but also with a subtle sense of longing and sadness far beyond their years.

The Flaming Lips
Warner Bros.

There are few things more satisfying for music fans than when well-established artists make bold artistic statements more than a decade into their career. After the lackluster At War with the Mystics, there was a feeling that the Flaming Lips’ days of risk-taking were over. But we should’ve known that the band behind a quadruple album designed to be played simultaneously on four stereos would never stop making crazy, commercially unsound decisions. Embyronic strings 15 fluid, acid-fueled jams across 70 sprawling minutes. On songs like “See the Leaves” and “Watching the Planets,” the band cultivates a wholly unique sound that’s at once grandiose, creepy and otherworldly.

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Three years ago, you couldn’t read an article about Phoenix that didn’t brand them “the French Strokes.” And even in positive critiques, there was an air of denigration whenever that phrase was used, as if the band was too clean-cut and benign to join the American garage-rock revolution. Now, with “garage rock” effectively rendered into a punchline by bands like Jet and the Vines, and with the Strokes fresh off a crash course toward self-destruction, no one’s talking smack about Phoenix anymore. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a tight yet sonically adventurous record that mines an effortlessly cool vibe without the leather jacket posturing of some of their American counterparts. If the international success of their new record proves anything, it’s that nice guys don’t always finish last.

Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca

On Bitte Orca, the Dirty Projectors by no means temper the musical indulgences of their past work. But by avoiding the high-concept pitfalls of earlier releases (like an opera about Don Henley and remaking a Black Flag album), the band is free to roam whatever artistic landscape they choose instead of forcing the content to fit some predetermined form. The result is a thrilling synthesis of the band’s greatest strengths (African polyrhythms, head-spinning vocal melodies, and shameless guitar riffage) into a loose yet intricate, record that’s as groovy as it is cerebral.

The Antlers

Following a traumatic break-up and the death of someone close to him, Peter Silberman decided to write a concept album about a hospice worker caring for a woman dying of bone cancer. The result is a terrific and terrifying record that couples the rich storytelling and heart-wrenching poignancy of great fiction with unsettlingly infectious sound collages that recall the Microphones and Neutral Milk Hotel. Hospice possesses the high drama and sincerity of bands like Arcade Fire, but imbues that dynamic, emotional landscape with a harsher, less polished DIY aesthetic that makes the record sound just as full but with none of the bombast. A thrilling and disturbing tale of grief and redemption, Hospice is a monumental achievement.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II

Empire Strikes Back. The Dark Knight. Cuban Linx II. I don’t think anyone expected the sequel to Raekwon’s landmark Only Built 4 Cuban Linx to match the quality of the original, let alone exceed it. But with the help of Ghostface and Method Man, Raekwon has created one of the great Wu-Tang solo records, staking its claim alongside Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele and GZA’s Liquid Swords. From songs as epic as the instantly classic banger “House of Flying Daggers” to the economically short coke how-to “Pyrex Vision,” every track is meticulously detailed in terms of both production and performance.

Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion

When Animal Collective played at Columbus’ Wexner Center in 2007, they debuted a batch of songs that were catchier and more intensely joyous than anything they’d recorded before. So it was somewhat surprising when the band released Strawberry Jam, a convoluted record of occasionally delightful absurdities that was a relative disappointment by the standards they set. Luckily, the songs from that tour would not be relegated to B-sides or EPs. Instead, they became the basis for Merriweather Post Pavilion, the band’s finest record yet. From the insane electronic squall of opener “In the Flowers” to the vocal histrionics of “Brothersport,” there isn’t a weak link to be found on the album. It’s not only my favorite album of the year, but also one of the best of the decade.

Favorite Songs Not on Any of My Top 10 Albums

10. Das Racist, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell (Wallpaper Remix)”
Good clean fun or Dadaist statement about commercialism? Both? Who Cares?

9. Volcano Choir, “Islands, IS”
Bon Iver meets the Books.

8. Real Estate, “Snow Days”
Despite the fact that the band can’t get their mind off the beach, this is their best song.

7. Big Boi (featuring Gucci Mane), “Shine Blockaz”
Can you believe it’s been six years since Speakerboxxx? The man is due for a great record.

6. Girls, “Lust For Life”
A haunting, yet exhilarating, combination of desperate lyrics and joyous music.

5. Animal Collective, “What Would I Want? Sky”
A track off the recent Fall Be Kind EP that proves the band has no intention of slowing down.

4. YACHT, “Psychic City”
A deliriously inane, yet perfect, summer song that puts most of the glo-fiers to shame.

3. Grizzly Bear, “Two Weeks”
The most overplayed song of the year this side of Lady Gaga, but for good reason.

2. Neon Indian, “Deadbeat Summer”
Sounding as if played through a boombox submerged in a kiddie pool, the song offers hazy recollections of summers past as a warm anodyne to winter’s frigid vise-grip.

1. Atlas Sound (featuring Noah Lennox), “Walkabout”
Underneath Noah Lennox’s breezy vocals, Bradford Cox juggles shards of processed organ, a bouncing bassline, hand-claps, tambourine and a strong current of machine fuzz, sounding like a band from 2050 covering a Zombies song.

Honorable Mentions:
Eat Skull, “Do the Formula”
Jay-Z with Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”
Yo La Tengo, “Nothing to Hide”
Major Lazer, “Pon de Floor”
Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”
Annie, “Songs Remind Me of You”
Fuck Buttons, “Surf Solar”
Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”
Discovery, “Orange Shirt”
Miley Cyrus, “Party in the USA”

Favorite Concerts

5. Phoenix, Newport Music Hall, Columbus
The band played nearly every song off their excellent new record, along with a flawless selection of old favorites.

4. King Khan and the Shrines, Wexner Center, Columbus
The man billed as “the Indian Elvis” did not disappoint.

3. Dirty Projectors, Wexner Center, Columbus
Yes, they can pull off those harmonies live.

2. Los Campesinos, Wexner Center, Columbus
The most energetic performance of the year.

1. Dan Deacon, Deerhunter and No Age, Southgate House, Newport
Loudest show—ever.