Unless a serious “Dixie Bro,” a student’s college experience ceases at some point, but the killer albums that played the backdrop to those times shouldn’t.
The Album Analyzer graduates next month; thus, it’s time to look back at the best projects released during his time at Dixie State University — from fall 2011 to spring 2015.
Here’s the first of this two-part installment, counting down from 20 to 11.
20: “Visions” by Grimes (2012)
Grimes’ “Visions” highlights the possibilities of GarageBand. She recorded her third album using the software, but this collection doesn’t sound like the byproduct of keyboards, clicks and scrolling: The collection’s singles — “Oblivion” and “Genesis” — rely on Grimes’ vocals more than any other aspect with bass and drum kicks in the background. Standout Track: “Oblivion”
19: “Carrie & Lowell” by Sufjan Stevens (2015)
This list’s newest release, “Carrie & Lowell” channels Steven’s difficult mother-son relationship through his lyrics over acoustic guitars and other faint motifs. It’s not all drear, though, and a few upbeat moments underscore the complexity of human connections in general; happiness makes the grief and confusion Stevens grew up holding more confusing than constant sorrow. Standout Track: “Fourth of July”
18: “Muchacho” by Phosphorescent (2013)
Put this alt-country genius on CMT rather than today’s Nashville garbage, and the Album Analyzer might tune in. “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master),” song six, features the fiddle, pedal steel and a horn section — making down-home sounds complex and less idiotic than what poisons contemporary country radio’s airwaves. Standout Track: “Right On/Ride On”
17: “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” by Girls (2011)
The Album Analyzer (finally) went through a break-up or two during his college career, but Girls’ split in 2012 brought him closer to tears than any love gone awry. “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” is love, too; “Honey Bunny,” “Saying I Love You” and “Love Like a River” all feature heart-etched themes but avoid the corniness that usually comes with such topic. Standout Track: “Vomit”
16: “Reflektor” by Arcade Fire (2013)
Arcade Fire goes full experimentation on its fourth album, a double LP, but its transformation differs from the likes of Radiohead, an act that shifted toward dance music. “Reflektor” features reggae instrumentation, but Unlike Dylan or The Clash’s island efforts, Arcade Fire’s implementation of slaphappy bass and reggae-inspired synths isn’t forced. Standout Track: “We Exist”
15: “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” by Foxygen (2013)
Foxygen’s nine-song album takes its audience on an outer space trip that covers rock music — past and present — and its finest characteristics. From the melancholy chorus on “No Destruction” to the funk-packed, choir-backed “On Blue Mountain,” “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic’s” short length — 30 minutes — is its greatest tool. Standout Track: “San Francisco”
14: “Dream River” by Bill Callahan (2013)
“Well, the only words I said today are ‘beer’ and ‘thank you,’” Callahan whispers over strings on “Dream River’s” opener, “The Sing.” The Album Analyzer relates to this a bit (though it’s ‘wine’ and ‘now’ for him), but other than Callahan’s ability to make listeners relate, he crafts simple enough lyrics for his audience to hum longer after the album ends. Standout Track: “The Sing”
13: “channel ORANGE” by Frank Ocean (2012)
The Album Analyzer danced to “Pyramids,” a nine-minute tune tackling sin and introspection, once: That’s all that needs to be said about the appeal of Ocean’s debut. If you need more, though, it includes one of the best singles of this decade, “Thinking Bout You”; another legendary Andre 3000 verse; and “Bad Religion,” a song that looks at broad subjects — like religious identity — with a John Lennon-esque approach. Standout Track: “Pink Matter”
12: “Monomania” by Deerhunter (2013)
Here, Deerhunter captures the culmination of nearly a century of guitar music: “Pensacola” zeroes in on Southern comfort like The Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd; a modern-day Chuck Berry or Elvis may bust out “Back to the Middle” in concert. “Monomania” outdid 2013’s superb slate of releases, and Deerhunter’s ability to somehow sound groundbreaking while emphasizing old ideas makes “Monomania” memorable. Standout Track: “Back to the Middle”
11: “good kid, m.A.A.d city” by Kendrick Lamar (2012)
Lamar has released another album since “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” rapped one of the all-time great guest verses on Big Sean’s “Control,” and garnered a fan base that transcends hip-hop. You’ll still hear this project’s singles playing everywhere three years after the fact, however, and Lamar’s wordplay and novel-like approach to character development lament it as an instant rap staple. Standout Track: “Money Trees”