5. Real Estate - Atlas
Real Estate's third album Atlas is mouth-wateringly sweet. These are songs from the soul of the suburbs, where sunny melodies mesh with hushed bucolic vocals, creating a sound that is both wistful and buoyant. Occasionally this breezy lightness can bring foreboding clouds in, where the New Jersey natives find angst in the pastoral, and a need to escape the safety of the humdrum for something else. However, at these points it gets intimate rather than maudlin.
4. Beck - Morning Phase
Beck has been pioneering great music for over two decades now. However, his last three albums saw flashes of brilliance, rather than broad strokes, the artist seemingly unable to channel his diverse talents into a truly great record.
This year's Morning Phase is the nearest he's come to brilliance since 2002's Sea Change -- an album it harks back to in its acoustic emphasis, melancholy tone, and creeping, drawn out strings. Mining his past glories produces some gems; "Say Goodbye" is luscious and sparse, "Wave" foreboding and cinematic, and "Morning" is perhaps his strongest vocal yet.
3. Aphex Twin - Syro
The lesser lords and gimmicky court jesters that have been keeping the throne of electronica warm for the 13 years since Richard D. James released anything under the Aphex Twin moniker, can now shuffle off into oblivion.
His new album, Syro, is at times as uncompromising and varied as its decade old predecessor Drukqs, however, it is way more cohesive, less introverted, and essentially more fun.
Even in the midst of middle age, Richard D. James is still capable of an impish ability to surprise, delight, and be playfully sinister. Tracks like "CIRCLONT14 (Shrymoming Mix)" hurtle along with familiar hypersonic pace, a whirr of blips and beeps and brittle bass lines, however, occasionally he'll throw funky drums into the mix, as on "produk 29 (101)", or a deluge of upbeat synths ("PAPAT4 (155) (pineal mix)"), and even a rather sweet, slightly ominous piano solo on album closer "Aisatana." It's quirky, weird, exciting, and so good to have him back.