5. Garry Schyman - Bioshock 2: Sounds From the Lighthouse
As most of you who read this blog know, the Bioshock series contains some of my absolute favorite games ever, and part of the reason they work tremendously well is because of this man. Schyman's score for Bioshock 2 weaves through heart-wrenching themes, incredibly spooky undertones and horror intensity like no other game soundtrack I've heard. The integration between music and game may very well be the best in any game I've played so far. However, the real reason this soundtrack makes the list is for one reason: the main theme from the game, entitled "Pairbond". A beautiful sparse string arrangement backs up one of the most emotionally stirring solo violin pieces I've heard, and it's had an incredibly profound effect on my writing as of late. For Schyman's ability to influence my writing in a huge, huge way, his recent score earns a spot on my list.
4. Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness
By far the skull-fuckingly heaviest thing on the planet named after the first openly gay politician, Harvey Milk's latest album is slow, soul crushing and requires an incredible sense of will to listen to. Going back to the formula of Harvey Milk's earliest albums, A Small Turn of Human Kindness contains 7 tracks that all flow into each other to form one 40 minute piece. The compositions are what we've come to expect from the group; sludge-doom masterpieces with the wailing, hopeless vocals of Creston Spiers over the top. This time around though, the group takes cues from more minimalist practitioners and draws out their riffs even longer. Perhaps the best moment on the album is the final track, where, after being bombarded by a nonstop barrage of despair and crunch, the mood switches to uplifting and the light at the end of the tunnel appears. It's paced perfectly and succeeds in a big way. If you like your doom heavy, filthy and absolutely depressing, you can't find much better than Harvey Milk.
3. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
After the last track on The ArchAndroid finished during my first listen, I sat in my computer chair with a "What the fucking fuck?" attitude. The scope of this album is incredible, incredulous and at times bordering on utter absurdity. In the hands of anyone else, The ArchAndroid would have crashed and burned, because the ideas here are so fucking ridiculous that they're destined for failure. Neo-motown music mixed with rap and sampling. Stray Cats-style strut. An intro ripped straight from Tchaikovsky's repertoire. A FUCKING BEATLES SONG WITH A BIG BEAT BEHIND IT. More stunning is the fact that it all works, and not only works, but sounds completely normal as well. Monae's voice is always on point and her melodies and arrangements are expertly crafted, so well it hurts. Want a song? Pick one. Even throughout 18 tracks, there's only one misstep: "Make The Bus". And it's only a misstep because Of Montreal shows up and sound completely out of place. Absolutely one of the best complete works this year.
2. Amy Macdonald - A Curious Thing
I picked this up on a whim without knowing anything about the artist, and it's quickly become one of my favorite singer-songwriter albums. A Curious Thing doesn't do anything terribly innovative like The ArchAndroid does, but the attention to detail and quality of compositions found here is wonderful. Lush, full arrangements back up Macdonald's Scottish accent and sweet strumming, letting her voice take front and center but always supporting her. Highlights include "Don't Tell Me That It's Over", "An Ordinary Life" and "This Pretty Face". I know it seems like this album shouldn't be this high on my list, but I realized the genius when, a week later, I was still humming melodies from it. After one listen. Sign of a fantastic songwriter? I'd fucking say so.
1. Trophy Scars - Darkness, Oh Hell
It was hard choosing between this album and A Curious Thing for my favorite out of the year. In the end, though, Darkness, Oh Hell won out, mainly because it's like nothing I've heard before. It's classified as post-hardcore music. Not post-hardcore in an Underoath "let's add whiny vocals and keyboards to really bad pop-metal" vibe; the album has more of a "fuck you, this is what we play, if you don't like it fuck off" sound to it. If anything, it borrows heavily from psychobilly and blues music, but with a flair all its own. Growled-sung vocals, extensive horn arrangements, layered guitars full of distortion, and, again, that ever-present depressing atmosphere I love in my music make up the core of this album, and it's delectable. I could go on and on trying to describe this album, but honestly, just listen for yourself. It'll do a much better job than I could ever do. If you only get one album from the list I compiled, make it this one.
Thanks for humoring my list. I'll see you all in a couple of days, this time with ACTUAL MUSIC I'VE WROTE. Exciting.