What did we learn from this past year in music? Not much, really. Except that Robin Thicke really has to stop whining about his ex; unusually large derrieres seem to be some new kind of pop currency (Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”); and that Taylor Swift survived her awkward growing-pains stage, while Justin Bieber – to date – has not. There also were a few promising surprises. Charli XCX proved that she can not only pen a monster hit (“Fancy,” with Iggy Azalea and “I Love It “ for Icona Pop) but she can croon one, too (“Boom Clap”). And British boy band One Direction composed most of its new disc, “Four,” which is great – seriously. They’re fast becoming an ABBA for the new millennium. Otherwise, the pickings were slim. Here’s the best of the lot.
10) Passenger, “Whispers”; (Nettwerk)
After winning the Ivor Novello Award for his smash single “Let Her Go,” Michael Rosenberg didn’t rest on his laurels – he returned with this knockout folk followup.
9) Bruce Springsteen, “High Hopes”; (Columbia)
Even an odds-and-sods collection from Springsteen – featuring wild card Tom Morello on squealing guitar – beat most other releases, hands down. Plus: Anthemic covers of both Suicide and The Saints.
8) Heartsrevolution, “Ride or Die”; (OWSLA)
The debut from this delightful synth-rock duo (which also once vended ice cream. no joke) has been promised for an eternity. It was well worth the wait.
7) The Strypes, “Snapshot”; (RCA)
Can four Irish teenagers time-travel back to the Standells 1960s and channel garage-gravelly blues? Easily, judging by this brilliant, Chris Thomas-produced debut.
6) Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin, “Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy”; (YepRoc)
When singer Phil Alvin nearly died recently, his guitarist brother Dave decided that it was time for these feuding Blasters siblings to reunite. The results are pure magic.
5) Royal Blood, “Royal Blood”; (Warner Bros.)
This British bass/drumming duo gave up all showbiz expectations and began making music just to please itself. And its Sabbath-meets-Rage assault is pleasing metalheads on both sides of the Atlantic.
4) Strand of Oaks, “HEAL”; (Dead Oceans)
Another near-death experience that proved crucial: After Timothy Showalter nearly bought the farm in a car collision with two semis last Christmas, he pulled out all the sonic stops on this elegiac set, which easily could have been his last.
3) AC/DC, “Rock or Bust”; (Columbia)
Once again, these Aussie masters have risen above tragedy (the recent illness of rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young and surreal legal troubles of drummer Phil Rudd) to make one hell of a triumphant comeback. Get ready to hear “Let’s Play Ball” everywhere come spring training.
2) The Gaslight Anthem, “Get Hurt”; (Universal)
This New Jersey’s recent collaboration with Springsteen producer Brendan O’Brien “Handwritten” should have worked. It didn’t. So Brian Fallon and company got back to “American Slang” basics with “Get Hurt,” a sonically-adventurous followup.
1) Eagulls, “Eagulls”; (Partisan Records)
Without a doubt, it’s the most exuberant, in-your-face rock and roll album of the year, barely containing all the kinetic energy of the first two Killing Joke recordings. Finally, a post-punk-retro outfit got the genre right. Resist these Brits at your peril.