3. Teen Dream by Beach House
From the introductory wisp arpeggios of Zebra to the fade-to-nothing conclusion of Take Care, this album does not falter. Never does Teen Dream feel overblown. No moment comes across as slight. The album establishes an esthetic from the onset and deviates from that esthetic only as far as to reinforce it, over and over. Like everyone’s teenage years, its halcyon veneer belies the insides’ frictions and it’s way too over way too soon, and, when it’s over, you’re only choice is to revisit it, over and over.
2. Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens
The second best album of the year features one of the worst album titles of all time. Few musicians in recent memory have departed as profoundly and precipitously as Sufjan Stevens did here. Listening to Seven Swans is the listener’s equivalent of watching ice thicken on a wintertime lake while the backyard forest of your youth shakes snow from its thousand branches. Listening to Age of Adz is like standing on the surface of Venus during a sulfur dioxide storm. It’s disorienting, and sometimes painful, but, above all, it’s a decidedly particular experience. There is a quality-nadir stretching from Now that I’m Older to Bad Communication, but that’s offset entirely by the beyond compare quartet that closes out the album. The outro of I Want to Be Well isn’t a crescendo for the song but for the album entire, if not Sufjan’s whole career to that climactic, towering, indescribable point. Afterwards, Impossible Soul presents itself as the coda to all that, to everything that came before, and that’s not limited to Sufjan, that goes for everyone that ever tried something most wouldn’t dare try.