4. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
Don't let its smooth aesthetic fool you: Channel Orange is an incredibly complex record, both a highly personal chronicle and a series of vignettes about a disparate group of individuals in Southern California. Ocean has made a wholly satisfying work that rewards repeat listens, if only for songs like "Sweet Life" and "Thinkin Bout You" that feel timeless and current at once without really trying.
3. Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra, Theatre is Evil
Theatre is Evil could be seen as one of the year's most important, and most notable, albums for the way Palmer's raising $1.2 million dollars via Kickstarter to fund the record kindled a fervent discussion about the future of the music industry and the meaning of artistry in general. But such a title wouldn’t mean a thing if she didn’t have the songs to back it up. Running the gamut from the blissful pop of "Melody Dean" and "Want It Back" to the intimacy of "Trout Heart Replica" and "The Bed Song", Theatre is Evil is so unabashedly emotional that it's a wonder it doesn't burst open at the seams. Palmer and her Grant Theft Orchestra compatriots Michael McQuilkin, Chad Raines and Jherek Bischoff create a album full of thrilling twists and turns anchored by impeccable musicianship. If there ever was a 'feel-everything' record, it's this one.
2. David Byrne & St. Vincent, Love This Giant
The first thing one notices about Love This Giant is how unpretentious and fun it sounds. The second thing one notices is how intricate and intellectual its lyrics and arrangements are. The album takes its title from a Walt Whitman poem of the same name, and the album resonates with many of Whitman’s themes – the power of nature, the complexity of relationships, and the constant presence of humanity. Byrne and Clark walk a delicate tightrope between accessible and avant-garde, and while the care they put into Love This Giant alongside the sheer joy of collaborating may not be wholly apparent at first, the more one listens to the record, the more one takes away from it, and the more one falls in love.
1. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Idler Wheel sounds like nothing else I listened to this year - and, at the risk of making a broad statement - nothing else I've ever heard, from the hiss of steam pipes that propels “Jonathan” to the incisive metaphors of "Werewolf" and the delirious bliss of album closer "Hot Knife." Apple has created a singular and visceral work of genius that drags the listener into its emotionally uncompromising world, making one feel as if they're witnessing the act of the album's creation every time they press repeat.