Retroactive Albums of the Year

In the Fall of 1991, I was at my friend Ben Kimball’s house. He said, “Hey—listen to this.” It was a song he had taped off the radio. The song, of course, was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It changed everything. Suddenly I cared—very, very passionately—about music.

That’s where this project begins. I like to track my favorite albums each year and often wonder what those charts would look like if I went back through the years I’ve been obsessed with music. Sadly, I didn’t write a blog post listing my favorite albums each year since 1991, but I do have a Last.fm account that’s been tracking everything I’ve listened to since 2007.

I took a list of the albums I’ve listened to the most and split them into their release years. For each year, I’ll list “Album of the Year Contenders” (albums I feel could have been worthy of the honor in any given year) and “Other Exceptional Albums.” Some years may not have an Album of the Year Contender while others will have several. In the cases there are none, I’ll reluctantly choose my Album of the Year from the merely exceptional albums.

Only original full-length albums are considered—no live albums, compilations, reissues, or EPs. In the event one of these releases was a big deal to me, I’ll list it under “Other Notable Releases” (as an honorable mention of sorts).

Lastly, I’ll publish this five years at a time. I’ll be sure to mention on Twitter when the next few years go up.


1991

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Nirvana wasn’t the only band to make a big splash in 1991. Pearl Jam’s Ten was a big deal, but to me it lacked both the pop sensibilities of Nevermind and the jagged edges of Vs (which would be released in 1993 and become my favorite Pearl Jam release).

Gish was a harbinger of Siamese Dream (also released in 1993… and one of the greatest albums ever recorded), but was tremendous in its own right—despite the fact that I didn’t discover it for a couple more years. Bandwagonesque was the most successful album in the U.S. by Teenage Fanclub (one of my all-time favorite bands), but happens to be one of my least favorite releases of theirs.

1991 Album of the Year

Nevermind


1992

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Nirvana shook my music world in 1991, but it took a little while for everyone to catch up. The first concert I ever went to involved the two Album of the Year contenders, with Seattle-based Flop opening for The Lemonheads at Lupo’s in Providence (although that show was in 1994).

1992 Album of the Year

Flop & The Fall of the Mopsqueezer


1993

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

What a year this was. It featured the second full-length releases by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins—and honestly, each exceeds the first (I even find myself listening to In Utero more than Nevermind these days). Come on Feel the Lemonheads was also a step up for Evan Dando. I didn’t discover Icky Mettle until almost 20 years after its release, but I’ve made up for lost time.

Dig and Pablo Honey were magnificent debuts while Last Splash was a huge breakout. Juliana Hatfield wasn’t with the Lemonheads this time around (she played bass on the It’s a Shame About Ray album), but instead released an excellent record of her own. Teenage Fanclub, meanwhile, gave us a solid record that came right before their magnificent peak. This list could have gone on with other excellent releases by Belly, Buffalo Tom, Uncle Tupelo, and Yo La Tengo. A banner year indeed.

1993 Album of the Year

Siamese Dream


1994

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Other Notable Releases

I vividly remember being at my younger brother’s fifth birthday party at Fantasyland and walking across the street to Sam Goody to pick up The Blue Album on cassette. A couple days before, I had heard “Undone” on the radio and scribbled “weezer” on a piece of paper. I kept that piece of paper in the cassette j-card for years.

I first saw Weezer in 1994 (opening for Lush and Live, who both had excellent 1994 albums themselves). 1994 also saw the debut of Oasis, the greatest album by Pavement, Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary, and Hole’s Live Through This—a great record I listen to more and more as the years go by.

1994 Album of the Year

The Blue Album


1995

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Other Notable Releases

This was another incredible year. The Bends was a perfect rock record—and I’m still mad at Radiohead for abandoning such a perfect sound. Electr-o-pura is probably Yo La Tengo’s greatest record—from a career with many great records. Grand Prix is when Teenage Fanclub really hit their stride. A.M. is Wilco’s first (and perhaps their greatest).

Beyond that, we had tremendous records by so many bands listed above but also many not on the list (Matthew Sweet, Son Volt, Hum, Archers of Loaf, and Helium—to name just a few).

1995 Album of the Year

The Bends


1996

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Yet another notable year—Pinkerton may not have been a hit right away, but it hit hard for me. I still feel Spoon’s debut (Telephono) is not only by far their greatest album, it is also one of the dozen or so best albums I’ve ever heard. Ash’s 1977 is a tremendous album from a young band who was so good so quickly. The Lemonheads and The Posies each released albums that saw them experiement with their sounds a bit—with wonderful results. Chavez, meanwhile, released my favorite math rock album.

1996 Album of the Year

Pinkerton


1997

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Other Notable Releases

For many, many years I called Teenage Fanclub my favorite band in the world. Now that they’re inactive it’s harder to say that, but they will always be incredibly special to me. Songs From Northern Britain was their masterpiece—the Beatles’ pop sense, the jangle of The Byrds, all wrapped up in a tidy power-pop package. OK Computer was where Radiohead started to lose me a bit, but I have to admit it was still a great album. Everything after that, to me, is complete garbage. Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One is also among their best in a catalog with many exceptional records. Beyond those big three, it was another deep year.

1997 Album of the Year

Songs From Northern Britain


1998

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

After a trio of stacked years, 1998 starts a stretch of very thin years (at least according to my musical taste). I didn’t discover In the Aeroplane Over the Sea until 2014, but I certainly caught myself up. There were excellent releases from Buffalo Tom and Spoon, but not much else of note.

1998 Album of the Year

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea


1999

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Again, quite a thin year. The Man Who was the first of a string of tremendous Travis albums. Clarity is Jimmy Eat World’s best—and you could argue that Summerteeth was Wilco’s peak (though I love A.M.). Come On Die Young is far from my favorite Mogwai album, but I’d call just about all of their releases exceptional.

1999 Album of the Year

The Man Who


2000

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out isn’t my favorite Yo La Tengo record, but it honestly had very little competition. The releases from Ashtray Babyhead, Idlewild, and OZMA were quite good, but songs like “Saturday” and “Cherry Chapstick” make this an easy choice.

2000 Album of the Year

And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out


2001

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Rock Action might be my favorite Mogwai album—which is saying a lot since there are so many to choose from. Travis also returned with another tremendous record (the single “Sing”, among others, was a big deal to me). 2001 is a bit deeper than the previous three years as Weezer also came back with a solid record (even if not on par with the previous two) and The Appleseed Cast released their two Low Level Owl records (which I’m counting here as one even though they were released separately).

2001 Album of the Year

Rock Action


2002

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

I didn’t listen to Yoshimi until a few years after it came out, but that was a mistake–it’s a classic. Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights and Iron & Wine’s The Creek Drank the Cradle were both incredible debuts that remain my favorite albums by the artists. The UK’s Doves and Idlewild also had impressive and memorable records.

2002 Album of the Year

Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots


2003

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Other Notable Releases

This year was also bit deeper with The Postal Service’s lone album Give Up, Mogwai’s relatively tame (but still incredible) Happy Songs for Happy People, and Mew’s dynamic Frengers leading the charge. Picking one for Album of the Year was very difficult and my choice is subject to change. Yo La Tengo released one of their better records and also put out the Today is The Day EP (with a magnificent reworking of the title track) while Arcade Fire burst onto the scene with their debut EP.

2003 Album of the Year

Give Up


2004

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

I remember when I first stumbled upon Funeral in a co-worker’s shared iTunes library. I had never heard anything like it. It remains one of the best records I’ve ever heard. Ash’s Meltdown was very underrated—lots of hooks combined with gratutious wah-wah pedals.

2004 Album of the Year

Funeral


2005

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Other Notable Releases

This is the first year I don’t believe any record was on the typical “Album of the Year” level. I’ll pick one, but it won’t be on par with many records that missed out on the honor. Despite this caveat, Idlewild’s Warnings/Promises was a brilliant record. I have a surreal connection with the track “Too Long Awake.” The debut EPs by MGMT and Silversun Pickups were early signs of great things to come. There were a few albums that nearly made this list. The National, Death Cab for Cutie, The Decemberists, El Ten Eleven, and Doves got quite a bit of airplay from me, but not quite enough for a list like this. Half the people reading this will suggest Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy, but sadly that one passed me by and I never backtracked.

2005 Album of the Year

Warnings/Promises


2006

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

There were many albums this year I listened to a lot at the time—like records from Band of Horses, The Decemberists, and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. But they didn’t quite make the cut, making this another thin year. Mogwai’s Mr. Beast is among their best and most cohesive albums from start to finish while Silversun Pickups full-length debut brought back fond memories of Siamese Dream.

2006 Album of the Year

Mr. Beast


2007

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Quite a bit to choose from here. Arcade Fire picks up another Album of the Year while MGMT’s full-length debut may have been my choice at the time. Travis and Rogue Wave resonated immediately with me while it too much longer for me to find The National and (even more so) The Apples in Stereo.

2007 Album of the Year

Neon Bible


2008

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

None

One record. I listened a lot to the Airborne Toxic Event and Death Cab for Cutie that year, but it was only Mogwai who stood the test of time (a trend for this decade). For those keeping count, this is already Mogwai’s third Album of the Year.

2008 Album of the Year

The Hawk is Howling


2009

Album of the Year Contenders

None

Other Exceptional Albums

Another year with just one record, and this one gets an Album of the Year nod by default for lack of competition. It was a great record (or about 70% of it was), but it’s not on par with the other choices here. Other highlights that didn’t quite make the cut include Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, the Wandas, Doves, and Passion Pit.

2009 Album of the Year

Mean Everything To Nothing


2010

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Other Notable Releases

Even in refreshingly deep year, Arcade Fire take their third Album of the Year. They faced competition from Iron Chic’s debut and the only album from an unknown band called Mussels (look them up—they were incredible). The year was also marked by Surfer Blood’s debut and one of the few albums that Erin (my wife) and I agree on—Passive Me, Aggressive You by The Naked and Famous. The only reason I don’t consider Mogwai’s Special Moves to the the greatest album ever recorded is the fact that I don’t think live albums should be eligible.

2010 Album of the Year

The Suburbs


2011

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Other Notable Releases

I didn’t find Mike Krol until late 2014, but his self-produced debut album was the first to grab me. Mogwai’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is the most recent Album of the Year contender from a long and fruitful career. Grouplove’s debut was also a shot in the arm.

2011 Album of the Year

I Hate Jazz


2012

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

I think I can trace my recent love of garage rock to Our House on the Hill by The Babies. Finding that album was something of a revelation to me and in many ways it steered me toward what I’m listening to today. Macklemore is not something I usually gravatate to, but The Heist was a remarkable achievement and it got a lot of airplay from me that year.

2012 Album of the Year

Our House on the Hill


2013

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

2013 was the start of a renaissance with tremendous records from Iron Chic, Mike Krol, Ovlov, Speedy Ortiz, and Surfer Blood all potential Albums of the Year. In fact, The Constant One might just be the best record since the 1990s.

2013 Album of the Year

The Constant One


2014

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Other Notable Releases

2014 was all about newcomers. PUP’s debut was the best record of the year, but Left & Right and LVL UP were also complete unknowns to me. The same can be said for every other artist in this entry. While PUP had the album of the year, it was definitely the year that Beach Slang had the most impact. EPs are not eligible for my Album of the Year nod. But if those two Beach Slang EPs were instead an 8-song record, it would be number one.

2014 Album of the Year

PUP


2015

Album of the Year Contenders

Other Exceptional Albums

Other Notable Releases

Beach Slang didn’t have to wait long to get a proper Album of the Year nod. Mike Krol barely missed out, even though Turkey might be his best record so far. War Waves is a very much unknown band from the UK who happened to follow me on Twitter one day. I listened and I was hooked. This was also a deep year with Choke Up, Jeff Rosenstock, and others producting tremendous records.

2015 Album of the Year

The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us


Playlist

This Spotify playlist includes all full-length albums mentioned in this post (except for those not on Spotify).

For completeness, here are the tracks not on Spotify (YouTube links):