Well, here it is folks, number 1. Genre-less earthy folk / indie / pop goodness. Every track is a winner. It was a hard decision for number 1, but not that hard. Spotify Link
Best of 2012
In December of 2012, I decided to listen to as many of that year's album releases as I could and rank them (including all of the albums I had already heard. This is what I found.
Bowerbirds- The Clearing
Titus Andronicus- Local Business
Stuck in my head for months now. The replacements minus the bullshit, springsteen with more punk. More stripped down and raw than their past albums, but no less captivating. So goddamn good. Spotify Link
Joe Pug- The Great Despiser
hopefully this guy will be a household name one day. until then, I'll keep repping him and enjoying listening to him get better and better. Spotify Link
The Mountain Goats- Transcendental Youth
No comment necessary, it's the Mountain Goats. Probably my favorite since The Sunset Tree? Spotify Link
Dr. Dog- Be The Void
This was the first album that I got into this year- the first that made me say "This could be my favorite album of the year." Seeing them live at Pickathon was a highlight, and I will always associate this album with the things that happened in 2012. Spotify Link
Strand of Oaks- Dark Shores
haunting and beautiful. this guy can sing, and play, and write. if you like this, listen to his previous albums. Spotify Link
Dan Deacon- America
Brilliant, noisy electronica with an orchestral back (especially the last 4 tracks). Love it. Spotify Link
Matthew E. White- Big Inner
Man, this album is really pleasant. I'm seeing him next Sunday, and I wouldn't be surprised if he moves up. Listen to this. Spotify Link
Tallest Man on Earth- There's No Leaving Now
I first heard of this guy this year, and maybe overplayed him, but that's not going to sour the quality of this album. Spotify Link
King Tuff- King Tuff
so much fun! snotty, classic rock and roll with hooks and heart. Spotify Link
Japandroids- Celebration Rock
This album makes me feel 16 again. Spotify Link
Sigur Ros- Valtari
This album is too good to be a letdown, but too ambient to be better than my favorite Sigur Ros albums. Still beautiful though. Spotify Link
First solo album from Nick Zammuto of the Books. One of my favorite shows of the year. Spotify Link
Langhorne Slim- The Way We Move
energetic, heartfelt, classic. hard to pin the genre down, not quite country, not quite rock and roll, but he's got a good thing going. Spotify Link
Poliça- Give You The Ghost
So groovy! In a year where a lot of people made the same kinds of music, this one feels pretty original. Spotify Link
Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Kind of noisy, kind of classic. Wilco meets david bowie (heavier on the wilco), with maybe some of yo la tengo thrown in. Spotify Link
Godspeed You! Black Emperor- Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
They're back! Two crushing 20 minute tracks each w/ a 6 min recovery. After 10 years off, as good as ever. Spotify Link
B. Fleischmann- I'm Not Ready For The Grave Yet
I don't think this has the same majesty of his masterpiece (The Humbucking Coil), but he finds such a nice balance between electronic and organic. Spotify Link
Chromatics- Kill For Love
Spacey fuzzy shoegazey goodness Spotify Link
Father John Misty- Fear Fun
Psych-folk, etc. Fun, lyrically pretentious at times but he keeps it lively. Spotify Link
Woods- Bend Beyond
lo-fi fuzz with some nice melodies Spotify Link
Fiona Apple- The Idl....(etc)
I hope my judgements aren't too dependent on the last song of the album. When the Dan Deacon album was over, I said, "Yeah!" and promptly moved it to the top. This was a very good album, and the last song was very great. I think I'm judging fairly... Spotify Link
Tame Impala- Lonerism
Fun psychedelic rock. Reminds me of a less annoying Of Montreal. Spotify Link
John K. Samson- Provincial
After crafting some great albums with/as "The Weakerthans", Samson's (second?) solo album is as good as any of them. First two tracks are standout. Spotify Link
Andrew Bird- Break It Yourself / Hands of Glory
grouping these together because it might as well just be one long album. beautiful multi-instrumental stuff Spotify Link
Passion Pit- Gossamer
Single got a little overplayed, but this is a fun hyped up dancey electrojam Spotify Link
Aaron Freeman- Marvelous Clouds
This album has a long story and a lot of context behind it, but from the outsider point of view, it's mostly just some cheesy 70's folk. Spotify Link
Justin Townes Earle- Nothin's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
country songs about heartbreak and such. the horns in the back are always a nice touch. Spotify Link
Alabama Shakes- Boys and Girls
maybe got a little sick of the hype, but hype exists for a reason, and these guys are really good. Spotify Link
Pleasant but fun, well crafted dreamy pop. Surprisingly entertaining! Spotify Link
Dinosaur Jr.- I Bet On Sky
I'm too young to care / know about old Dinosaur Jr., but this is classic enough sounding that I get that they were probably worth knowing about. Timeless and 90's at the same time. Spotify Link
Dirty Projectors- Swing Lo Magellan
almost too off kilter to really grab me, but it works a little magic. About To Die is a standout track. Spotify Link
Ty Segall- Twins
This guy shreds, and is super prolific. Will see him on Thursday and see if this moves. (not on Spotify)
Zeus- Busting Visions
These guys weren't necessarily on my radar, but this is kind of different and good! Spotify Link
The xx- Coexist
This album was one of the higher-anticipated of the year for me, and is hurt only by not being better than the last one. In fact, I can't really tell the difference. Spotify Link
Kishi Bashi- 151a
If you blended up Animal Collective, Beirut, The Shins, Fleet Foxes, etc. First song is stellar, but doesn't keep the tempo. Spotify Link
This is a really nice rock and roll album with some pleasant songs that occasionally get heated. Like a lot of other albums, but slightly better. Spotify Link
Beach House- Bloom
more dreamy synth pop. is this what everyone is into nowadays? Spotify Link
Sharon Van Etten- Tramp
This is a beautiful record. A might too melancholy for what I'm usually looking for, but if you like that sort of thing (you know who you are) check this out. Spotify Link
David Byrne and St. Vincent- Love This Giant
This one turned me off the first time I heard it, but on this listen I can see the appeal. It's no David Byrne and Brian Eno, but has some merit. Spotify Link
Grizzly Bear- Shields
very solid, as good as their last one. Spotify Link
Saw them live and liked it ok. Liked this album slightly more than ok, but not a lot more. Spotify Link
Divine Fits- A Thing Called Divine Fits
side project with the guy from spoon singing some electronic / stuff that I liked ok. Spotify Link
Swans- The Seer
Swans is a band that I want to like. This album is great at what it is, and what it is is a pretty crushing / haunting 2hr dirge of experimental drones, drums, and rocknroll. I may not listen to it again. Spotify Link
Dustin Wong- Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads
Excited guitar loops with songs that don't know how to transition from one to another. Saw him open for the Mountain Goats- pretty captivating live, especially when he starts singing. Spotify Link
AC Newman- Shut Down The Streets
I'm still just learning the ins and outs of the New Pornographers, but this was pretty good. Pretty tootheless though. Spotify Link
Wild Nothing- Nocturne
Calm and dreamy / synthy. Like Destroyer but with less saxaphone and spacier vocals. Spotify Link
Kendrick Lamar- good kid, m.A.A.d. city
I can respect the craft of this album, but can't relate to most of what he's rapping about and that takes me out of it. Glad I heard it. Spotify Link
The Oh Sees- Putrifiers II
Not as noisy as I feared, nice melodies with a surf-garage feel. Drink and play pinball or something. Spotify Link
Memory Tapes- Grace/Confusion
More dreamy synth stuff. A lot of that this year! Spotify Link
Jens Lekman- I Know What Love Isn't
sounds like morrisey singing over some smooth stuff Spotify Link
Mac Demarco- 2
Pleasant twangy pop songs, but ultimately forgettable. Spotify Link
Brutal post-punk, pretty nuts and pretty good. Spotify Link
The Shins- Port of Morrow
I think I'm maybe just not really a Shins guy. This album was totally fine, sounded like the shins. Spotify Link
Four Tet- Pink
Marcus Says: Smooth and buttery. A little bounce. With a hint of noisy and repetitive. Spotify Link
Sleigh Bells- Reign of Terror
This is kind of an interesting thing- pumped up guitar licks and chantalongs with some light singing on top. I liked it ok. Spotify Link
JEFF the Brotherhood- Hypnotic Nights
Like a fresh weezer album? Like a fresh weezer album with a cover of "Changes" by Black Sabbath. Spotify Link
Animal Collective- Centipede Hz
Bleep Bloop Blort. Too busy for me, but better than I thought the first time I heard it. Spotify Link
Blake Swarzenbach is back. Spotify Link
Glen Hansard- Rhythm and Repose
I listened to Sleigh Bells and then Metz, and I got a headache. I listened to this and it went away. Prob not good for much else, but serves a purpose. Props to Hansard, but this isn't anything new from him. Spotify Link
Cloud Nothings- Attack on Memory
Kind of like a more experimental / alt Jawbreaker. mix of heavy and poppy, but in a pretty good way.
Punch Brothers- Who's Feeling Young Now?
consistent with previous albums. interesting bluegrass song structures, pleasant melodies. hooks don't always grab me, but great Kid A cover. Spotify Link
Santigold- Master of My Make-Believe
I think this is just a bad genre choice for me. A couple jams, but didn't hook me. Spotify Link
New project from Dan Snaith (Caribou / Manitoba). I like a lot of Caribou, this doesn't do a lot for me. Spotify Link
Jeff Tweedy - Together At Last
This maybe isn't fair- it's not new material, but this collection of acoustic versions from across his impressive career is too good to ignore. Some more recognizable than others, a lot of these songs belong in the pantheon of great american songs. There's a lot more going on in Wilco than just the songwriting, but this is a good reminder of how powerful and idiosyncratic Jeff's voice is.
Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in the Alps
This is a heart on your sleeve album that is sensitive and vulnerable without being too subdued and quiet. Love the cover of Mark Kozelek's "you missed my heart". Saw her open for War on Drugs, the songs take on even more vitality when performed live.
Susanne Sundfor - Music For People In Trouble
This is a gorgeous, cinematic affair out of Sweden that isn't afraid to experiment a little. Largely piano based, but the hints of steel guitar that shine through in the background add an irresistible layer. "Reincarnation" one of my favorite songs of the year.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Luciferian Towers
With this release, GY!BE now have as many albums in the modern era as they did before their 10 year hiatus, and they continue to be laser-focused, tight as a drum and as powerful as ever. This one is built around two three-part cycles, the first being the inspirational (aspirational?) "Bosses Hang", a beautiful, building beast reminiscent of the first part of Storm from Lift Your Skinny Fists, and the second being the western showdown of "Anthem For No State". I can't speak for everyone, but I need these guys now more than ever.
Rostam - Half Light
Hearing the life that he brings to this album makes me concerned for future Vampire Weekend releases without him. This is a bubbly, daring summer fling that’s a little rough around the edges but ultimately endearing.
Gunn-Truscinski Duo - Bay Head
Occasionally atmospheric but pretty straightforward instrumental guitar and drum jams. Gets a little noisy at times, like the best things do, but keeps it's heart in the right place.
Florist - If Blue Could Be Happiness
This one came very close to escaping me entirely. It isn't necessarily demanding, but it is pretty earwormy for such a quiet conteplative folk album. Earmarking it to give more listens to in 2018.
Woods - Love Is Love
A lot of people liked City Sun Eater in the River of Light, but it didn't sink in with me. This (short!) new offering feels like the Woods I need, I just wish it was a little longer. Here's hoping for more in the coming year.
Kevin Morby - City Music
I was pretty reticent to give him the best album two years in a row, but damn it, this is what I liked the most this year. I don't think I like it quite as much as last year's "Singing Saw", but the highs on this are so incredibly high and even the songs that I didn't like as much at first jump out to me now on later listens. It's a beautiful set of songs about cities and the people who occupy them. It's music that has a dreamy vagueness to it, obviously reminiscent of the music of the 60's, but at this point it's such a defined voice that it no longer feels like homage. In a year that a lot of bands came back with big "statement" albums after years of toil, I'm much more drawn to this that just seems to be pouring effortlessly out.
In my time I'd like to stay young forever
Like a tide, the crest beneath sunny weather
May we fill these lungs with laughter
And we may shake these bones with style
And may we claim all that we're after
And may we do it wearing a smile
And may the breath we breathe be free
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound
Since his solo breakthrough a few years ago, Jason Isbell has well established his place in the americana / alt-country scene as a master songwriter, capable of both heartstring pulling ballads and ripping boot stompers. There are both on this album, but what's most pleasing to me are are the mid-up tempo ones that come from a place of contentment (see the last two tracks on this album). As capable as he has been at capturing his darkness, we need more artists who can create moving art from a place of stability.
Joan Shelley - Joan Shelley
This is a quiet, contemplative, beautiful work of folk from a true master.
Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins
This is an album of subtleties- nice chamber pop, interesting background flourish, evocative lyrics. It doesn't quite "go" anywhere, but if you have the focus you can get lost in it a bit.
Chad VanGaalen - Light Information
This has a similar appeal to me as Unknown Mortal Orchestra II (although a little more rock and a little less soul). A little trippy in production and experimental in nature, but without sacrificing the core hook of any of the songs.
Mac DeMarco - This Old Dog
I'll admit it took me a few years to fully come around to Mac's vibe. As per usual, the songs are simple and a little washed out, but they are surprisingly smooth this time around, and a little more earnest. There were times this summer when I would put this on as background music and I just let it play through a second time. It still all feels a little ironic to me, but I think that's more my fault than his, these are just some nice songs he wrote.
Fleet Foxes - Crack Up
This is the album that finally got me into these guys. Pastoral folk with an arty bent, and harmonies for days. The songs meander, but hooks and melodies pop out of nowhere and keep you on your toes.
Tift Merritt - Stitch of the World
Classic sweet and soulful Americana, a voice for the ages reminiscent of Patty Griffin or Dolly but with a little less twang. Produced with Sam Beam (Iron and Wine) who is featured on a few tracks, this really shines bright when the tempo picks up.
Valerie June - The Order of Time
Until this album, she felt kind of like a character to me. A little anachronistic in style, which I can appreciate, but you can only occupy that spot for so long before people get used to it and need something deeper. This feels like that to me- a genuine, real americana record with all of the soulful touches but without feeling like deliberate throwback.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Sketches of Brunswick East
I think I started with the wrong one (of four!) King Giz albums this year and it wasn't quite my bag, but this is a jazzy, eclectic, psychedelic romp. Much different than their other, noisier releases. It's got a clear 70's jazz vibe but also reminds me at times of some past releases by Unknown Mortal Orchestra or Tame Impala.
The Weather Station - The Weather Station
This is an intricate album of vision and voice. The high points of her past albums (see "I Mined" off of 2015's "Loyalty") were simple, beautiful things that caught and entranced me immediately. The rewards of this one are a little harder earned, but this is clearly a big step forward from both a musical and songwriting standpoint. It forces you to engage with it in a way you don't always expect to with this type of music.
Lowland Hum - Thin
Sometimes, music can just be nice. It doesn't have to be edgy or groundbreaking. This is one of the nicest albums you could ask for.
Anna St. Louis - First Songs
One of the first signings to Kevin Morby's new record Woodsist imprint, this one is a little too on the nose for me. But in the same way that Morby's Harlem River pales in comparison to where he's gone, this has the makings of something I'll be interesting to see where it goes when she finds her own voice a little more.
Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me
This is a devastating, important piece of art that I never want to listen to again but was drawn to two or three times this year as an intentional effort to remind myself of how lucky I am and how fragile life is. Unlike Sufjan's death meditation of Carrie and Lowell, this is much more raw, immediate, and challenging. Listen on a strong day and marvel at our ability to persevere.
Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent
Protomartyr offers a very specific, bleak brand of post-punk that makes them stand apart in a genre that I've traditionally always had a hard time engaging with. I don't know if it's the nonchalant, depressed barking of Joe Casey, or the roaming frenetic guitar patterns that transfix me, but they've created something very powerful and representative of the darkness of the modern era.
Barr Brothers - Queens of the Breakers
On their third album, the Montreal folk outfit strike a more even keel. The blistering blues and sleepy harp have met in the middle to create the best distillation of their sound to date.
Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
A stirring new collection of indie rap gems loosely structured around stories of the Chicago housing project he grew up visiting. His smoothest and most earnest to date. Standout tracks: Hymnal, Legendary Iron Hood
Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference
This is an excellent counterpoint to "The Epic"- a tight set of tracks (nearly an EP) that never stray too far into themselves but expand on the sounds he established in the 2015 behemoth (aside from the 13 minute long closer). Largely a smooth lull with only bursts of frenetic energy, this is great listening for any scenario.
Sampha - Process
This is the most straight up soul/R&B I was into this year, and it's a real treat of an album even if it isn't your genre of choice. Meditative and calm, this is moving introspection.
The Mountain Goats - Goths
The Mountain Goats continue a streak of singular albums with their biggest departure yet - no guitars! I found their previous effort (Beat the Champ) seem to get lost in the concept in a way that prevented me from falling in love with the album. This, to me, risks that again but stays on the right side of the line. I welcome any and all further exploration from a band that gets a lifetime pass, and look forward to giving this album many more tries while the depth of it fully reveals itself.
Michael Chapman - 50
I first heard Michael Chapman on the excellent "Parallelogram" split series put out by Three Lobed a few years ago. An elder statesman of British folk, here he provides a set of rugged finger-picked songs that dabble with darkness and reflection on a long career with help from Steve Gunn.
James Elkington - Wintres Woma
This feels like a very British type of guitar album- a little sarcastic and dry, not going for the obvious big hooky moments and impressively sure of itself. No song truly stands out to me, but I do keep coming back to it trying to diagnose why I keep coming back to it.
Waxahatchee - Out In The Storm
I've really been enjoying Waxahatchee's progression over the last few albums of angsty introspective rock and roll, and I think this is her strongest to date. Her voice is totally engrossing and the backing band matches it so well, just a great thing that keeps giving.
Leif Vollebekk - Twin Solitude
He ditches the rambling Dylan schtick for something much more soulful, sparse, and meaningful. And don't get me wrong, I really liked the Dylan schtick, but this is airier, more daring, and more in tune with his songwriting style. For the first quarter of 2017, this was my favorite album of the year. I still listen to "Rest" frequently when I need to relax.
Bonnie Prince Billy - Best Troubador
Oldham does Haggard and does it justice without just replicating. Less honky tonk and more soulful, this is a record for everyone, fans of both and neither alike.
Amber Coffman - City of No Reply
On her exit from the Dirty Projectors (and the relationship at the core of that band), Amber Coffman is alternatingly defiant and sorrowful, but always virbrant. She filters some of the best elements of that project through a lens that is distinctively more pop but still her own thing.
(Sandy) Alex G - Rocket
This is a hard one to pin down. I love everything about it, mostly, but the route the songs take seem to defy recollection to me. They are full of earworms but they stop and start abruptly and take odd turns. This is kind of americana in the vein of Radical Face or the Microphones- introspective, and heavily produced / intentionally crafted without feeling too forced. I just don't know how to listen to it yet, but once I figure that out this is going to get a lot more plays.
Hand Habits - Wildly Idle
Meg Duffy is a guitar wizard and this is a very subtle display of her talents. It's an album of cool restraint, you may not even be able to pick out the complicated work happening behind the scenes.
Four Tet - New Energy
Aptly named record from the elder statesman of glitchy indie electronica. This is among my favorite of his works, mostly due to the moments of energetic warmth amongst the chill and trance vibe you've come to expect from Four Tet. A reliable headphones listen.
Gun Outfit - Out of Range
This is a wide open country groove, an escape out of your life into a psychedelic western road trip with the sun beating down. If that doesn’t sound enticing, give it a try anyway.
Quelle Chris - Being You is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often
This is a very unique type of indie rap album that doesn't fit a lot of preconceived subgenre. Obviously, that's a good thing and this is a fun and interesting listen. No killer earworms but it has a nice thread running through it.
Bonny Doon - Bonny Doon
This was a summer bbq staple - Detroit slacker vibe with a little twang, like the Donkeys crossed with Parquet Courts. Kind of all over the map genre-wise but it's a hell of a fun time either way.
Rainer Maria - S/T
I hadn't listened to these guys since the early 2000's, and this album still captures elements of their indie-emo sound but feels like a heavier, more mature version of it. This probably works to their benefit- I've grown as well in ways that make me less receptible to some of the more saccharine elements of their sound.
Hiss Golden Messenger - Hallelujah Anyhow
MC Taylor makes soulful, meaningful, personal albums, and this one is no exception but is unique in its sense of urgency and necessity. Rather than being the product of years of writing and recording, this album willed itself into existence over a few days, less than a year after 2016’s Heart Like A Levee. It is an urgent call to arms to those who are trying to stay positive in today’s political climate.
Mogwai - Every Country's Sun
I feel like recent Mogwai efforts have been a little too detached and cold for me, but this album opens itself up beautifully and experiments with some warmer tones. I didn't think about it the first few listens, but after learning that Dave Fridmann produced it, I can't unhear his hand in the mix. This is the Flaming Lips album I've been wanting for a decade, without the stunts and distracting nonsense that has marred their last few for me. This is a stellar album of sonic intent that is one of the most headphones-worthy of the year.
Benjamin Clementine - I Tell A Fly
This is another dense, head spinning opera of an album that feels like a grander statement than his previous one, at the cost of being a little less listenable. It's still one of the more interesting things I listened to this year, and it isn't outright abrasive ever, just a little bit much to comprehend at times.
Your Old Droog - Packs
This is a throwback to the days of 90's NY hip-hop, with all of the trappings (including terrible skits). But it's also smooth, upbeat and head-noddable.
The Wild Reeds - The World We Built
This trio has always had great harmonies and dynamic instrumentation- two things that don't always come hand in hand in the americana / indie folk scene, but this album has their strongest tracks to date. If you like it, they are every bit as dynamic live.
Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett - Lotta Sea Lice
A delightful duets album between slacker rock royalty. Something whose existence was not mandatory but can’t imagine a satisfactory answer to “why not”.
Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder
The collective's latest effort is a cohesive one. At it's poppiest, reminiscent of recent albums by the New Pornographers, but to me the real strengths are in the quieter moments / open spaces.
Asgeir - Afterglow
How do you follow up the bestselling record ever for your home country? Asgeir avoids the sophomore slump with a hook-laden Icelandic pop masterpiece. He ditches some of the more organic guitar sound on this one and focuses on some more piano / electronic impulses, but his monstrous falsetto remains and the result is every bit as captivating.
Francois and the Atlas Mountains - Solide Mirage
Everyone's favorite French afrobeat indie folk band is back, this time with a more laid back, dreamy sound. At times reminiscent of a vibe put forth by Architecture In Helsinki- but mostly just some kind of zany grooving french stuff.
Jake Xerxes Fussell - What in the Natural World
A folk record that asks the big questions in the plainest way possible, achieving at once an obvious simplicity and the complexity of true mastery of an art. This is timeless in the best possible way.
Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
On first listen, this album seems to eschew the lofty ambitions of To Pimp A Butterfly for something more raw and real. On further listens, the depth is still there and it's ultimately also more listenable in a casual session. Deserves every accolade it is bound to recieve, always looking forward to see what's next.
Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound
Cloud Nothings are one of my favorite straight-up rock bands. A beautiful balance of raw power and headiness, soaring guitars and blasting beats.
Beach Fossils - Somersault
A pretty tight, jangly set of chill pop songs that have just enough little flourishes to prevent from getting lost in the sea of jangly, chill pop bands out there right now.
Bing & Ruth - No Home of the Mind
Stunning instrumental piano music that remains captivating and never abrasive or agressive. Welcomes intent listening or background listening, but definitely warrants listening in some capacity.
Chuck Johnson - Balsams
Carve some time out in your schedule to sit quietly and bask in these atmospheric steel guitar universes. Pleasant as background music, restorative when fully immersed, this album is a meditative masterpiece.
Future Islands - The Far Field
I think this is an improvement on their massively popular "Singles" from a few years back, but the things that make it an improvement also make it a less immediately gratifying listen. I like the vibe, but it got lost in the shuffle for me this year.
Torres - Three Futures
On her third album, Torres reinvents her sound (again!). Gone are the angsty guitar ballads of her first album and the sorrowful introspective tracks of her second. This is an overtly sexual electronic opus, equal parts unsettling and confident.
Delicate Steve - This is Steve
Studio guitar whiz Steve Marion gets out the fuzzbox and plays a pretty silly set of instrumental head-nodders. Lots of riffs that wouldn't be out of place on a Ween album. I kind of wish it WAS a Ween album.
The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
These guys met an impossibly high bar - it was hard to fathom anything grand enough to follow their previous album, but this is bigger, more expansive, and well... deeper.
The National - Sleep Well Beast
Me and this album kind of sailed past each other, which mostly just means I wasn't in the right place / mood for it. It's every bit as good as their last one, which I loved, and I wouldn't be surprised if I settle into this quite a bit next February and March. It's amazing how something can be so moody and still have a warmth that can fill a whole room.
Jay Som - Everybody Works
This is a drifty/dreamy partially anxious album that I liked a lot more after seeing her live this summer. The melodies are effortless, but don't let that trick you into thinking they arent' there.
Lone Bellow - Walk into A Storm
This isn't quite as original or stirring to me as their previous efforts, but I prefer growth and change over rehashing a formulaic sound. The harmonies and enthusiasm are still there, and they experiment with a few different genre sounds that I think will be interesting to see live.
Strand of Oaks - Hard Love
While this is my least favorite Strand of Oaks record to date, it's a welcome presence and I think that it's still a bridge to wherever he's going that is really going to be something incredible. You never doubt for a second the reality of the songwriting or his intention- this is a visceral, moving album that just gets a little too fuzzed out for me at times to fully embrace.
Milo - who told you to think??!!?!?!?!
Milo steps out of the art rap shadows into his own fully realized sound. As philosophical and referential as ever, but with more purpose and confidence.
Land of Talk - Life After Youth
Returning after a 7 year break (but entirely new to me), this is a kind of fuzzy pop record of wisdom and contemplation.
Colter Wall - Colter Wall
Discovered this late in the year- hard to say if it's going to be something that I regret putting so far back but we'll just have to see how it ages. This guy is young, much younger than his voice lets on, and is real-deal classic country out of northern Canada. I'm very captivated, and if this one doesn't burrow deeper into my head, I wouldn't be surprised if his next release is a top 15 for me.
Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band - Dreaming in the Non-Dream
This is a jammy, largely instrumental set of psychedelic rock. Highlight is the journey of the 11 minute album opener.
LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
I'm not mad about these guys returning- there's no point in forcing art if it isn't coming and no point in denying it if it is. This album, though frenetic and unsettling in the way they have frequently been, has gems to rival some of their best to date.
Offa Rex - The Queen of Hearts
More and more I'm learning what a soft spot I have in my heart for sorrowful traditional folk, especially if it can occasionally find just a spark of chaos or energy backing it. I never got bit by the Decemberists bug, not sure if was Colin's voice or the too-clever-by-half lyrics, but by sharing the stage with English folk singer Olivia Chaney, they create something truly moving here. The musicianship is nice, but the ones where they step back and really just let her shine send chills down my spine.
The XX - I See You
Three albums in, the XX are searching for new ways to tell the same stories. This one is a little more lush (reminiscent of Jamie XX's solo album a year or two back), but it still keeps the sparse chillness that defines them.
The Districts - Popular Manipulations
I may not be the first to think this, but these guys offer a brand of dramatic rock/pop that I always associate with the Killers. This is maybe slightly artier, and a little less polished, but I think that might still be a compliment. Their last album was a mix of loud-quiet-loud dramatic turns, and they've relaxed on that a bit but maintained the same moodiness and dynamism.
Joey Bada$$ - All Amerikkkan Bada$$
A more mature and politically motivated side of Joey Bada$$ comes through here in a super conscious boom-bap manifesto. Not a lot of "fun" on this, but it was made for this moment in time, which is not easily described as "fun".
Big Thief - Capacity
Immediately following last year's (aptly-titled) Masterpiece, this is a slightly more somber, quieter affair that manages to mellow out without pulling any punches. "Mary" is one of the songs of the year.
Laura Marling - Semper Femina
A compelling and pleasant release that fits well within her canon. I miss some of the rougher around the edges tracks from previous albums, but these songs all come from a place of maturity and I much prefer that she writes from where she is rather than trying to continuously recreate past magic that was born of a time and place.
Daniel Romano - Modern Pressure
I cannot classify this music- it's kind of western in nature, pretty experimental in backing sounds, occasionally bombastic with kind of a weird spanish flair at times. It's never unpleasant, and moments are downright beautiful, but I never know where it's going.
Japandroids - Near To The Wild Heart of Life
With this record, Japandroids prove that they can create more explosive rock masterpieces, but it comes off a little heavy-handed. The power is still there, but the energy feels slightly forced, like they are trying to replicate something they did more naturally on a previous album. Still glad to have it.
Susto - & I'm Fine Today
I'm still trying to feel these guys out- they have a pretty interesting take on surfer / stoner alt-country rock and the things I'm not sure about were mostly put to rest when I saw them live at Pickathon. They are earnest, but fun in the way that Diarrhea Planet is (lyrically), and they have some hooky songs here. These guys are young, I'm excited to see where they take it.
Allison Crutchfield - Tourist in this Town
This feels like an amalgam of sounds from the early 2000s to now but also something entirely it's own, alternating between synthy drama and sunny..well...drama. It's dramatic, but still plenty of fun.
Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors
With the separation of the two main elements of the Dirty Projectors (see Amber Coffman further ahead...), it's fascinating to be clearly able to see the influence various parties brought to the band. Kind of like hearing albums from Zammuto and Paul de Jong after the dissolution of The Books. Neither separately feel quite like a whole idea immediately. Dave Longstreth seems to have retained a lot of the characteristic Dirty Projectors sound, but it's clearly lacking some of the warmth of past records. He's always been all over the map, but I got lost a little bit more than usual in the lesser tracks. Still, this is an incredibly sonically ambitious album. Up in Hudson, as well as the contemplative closing track (shared below), will definitely be on playlists for years to come.
Son Volt - Notes of Blue
Always getting lost in the shadow of that other band that came out of Uncle Tupelos' breakup, Son Volt puts out a brand of whiskey-soaked americana that has never really called out to me, but there are some beautiful forlorn tracks on here. Reminiscent of last year's Drive By Truckers masterpiece, minus the overt political tones.
All Them Witches - Sleeping Through The War
Stoner rock is a genre I largely avoided this year, but this is an undeniably fun headbanger of a ride that embraces it's psychedelic tendencies.
Perfume Genius - No Shape
Continuning the exellent precedent set by 2014's "Too Bright", this is a an alternatingly sensitive and explosive set of anthems with top-notch production and genuine mastery of message. More sunny than the last effort, but still aching.
Sylvan Esso - What Now
This walks a perfect tightrope, elaborating on the sound established by their 2014 debut without sacrificing what made it great. A beautiful mix of digital and organic sounds, like a warm blanket that makes you dance.
Kacy & Clayton - The Siren's Song
A beautifly arranged set of songs well rooted in the sounds of 70's folk / country. Produced by Jeff Tweedy, these kids (I think early 20's?) have incredible chops and sound well beyond their years.
Shannon Lay - Living Water
This is a pretty, ethereal quiet folk record. Lands more on the maudlin side, which serves it well. Some tracks have kind of a Nico vibe.
Mount Kimbie - Love What Survives
Mount Kimbie has always been a band whose songs seem to lack a narrative / focus, and I'm ok with that as long as the sounds remain this intricate and interesting. I've never really found much purchase with frequent collaborators King Krule and James Blake, but their cameos provide interesting contrast to the looping, glitchy backbeats that make up this album.
Hurray For The Riff Raff - The Navigator
This is masterful, moving storytelling, simultaneously politically and musically ambitious. Warrants multiple listens, probably with a lyric sheet in front of you (if you're into that sort of thing). Pa'lante is a showstopper.
Happyness - Write In
I did enjoy 2015's "Weird Little Birthday", but the range of moods and off-beat humor made for a less cohesive listen. This drops a lot of that for something more subdued and intentional. It's still a little cornball but adds a necessary maturity.
Justin Townes Earle - Kids in the Street
I'm always excited for a new record from JTE- they for the most part don't occupy my mind when I'm not listening to them, but they get a lot of plays in the background while cooking or hanging out in the backyard with friends. He's got a warm tone, an interesting delivery, and keeps it between the lines. What more can you ask for?
Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White - Gentlewoman, Ruby Man
None of the Spacebomb releases have really been winning me over lately- production ain't everything. But man, this is some production. It's a set of covers from across the spectrum, all filtered through Matthew E. White's signature Richmond sound. Some hit more than others, but no matter what, this is a smooth listen.
A Giant Dog - Toy
A Giant Dog continue their relentless streak of fun, glammy garage rock. It's singalong rock that doesn't ask too much of the listener but should generally keep you in a good mood.
Teen Daze - Themes For Dying Earth
The first of two 2017 releases for Teen Daze (both excellent), this is a largely ambient, meditative adventure that stays sparse aside from a few collaborative tracks. If you're a fan of long, introspective songs with subtle changes, you can't do better than "Dream City", one of my most listened to songs this year.
Loyle Carner - Yesterday's Gone
This is a sensitive, charming British rap affair with some jazzy instrumental beats and a mostly smooth flow. Comes off kind of toothless at times, but I found myself putting it on when I needed something easy to listen to.
Wooden Wand - Clipper Ship
James Toth returns with another heady psychedelic folk masterpiece. Lyrically off-kilter and sonically on-point, this is music that isn't afraid to take risks but manages not to lose the listener on the voyage. One Can Only Love = contender for most listened song of the year.
Alvvays - Antisocialites
Beautiful, jangly dream pop with flawless execution. These guys are 2 for 2 now, but these songs are crisper and more interesting to me than the last one. Reminds me of that Hospitality album I was gaga over a few years ago, but a little less dour.
Grandaddy - Last Place
This is a sensible piece of early 2000's indie rock that I'm far enough removed from now that it seems pretty welcome. Maybe mostly for nostalgic purposes, but I think this is still a pleasnt listen.
Trevor de Brauw - Uptown
This album is 90% drone but I stuck around for the last 6 minutes or so when the guitar wakes up and does some cool stuff. Was mostly seeking a fix while waiting for the next album from his OTHER side project (non-Pelican) RLYR, who put out one of my faves of last year. The last bit of this gave me a little taste...
Do Make Say Think - Stubborn Persistent Illusions
This is my favorite post-rock album of the last decade or so. Every year, there is an instrumental album that I listen to a lot at work that inevitably works its way pretty high on my list just due to sheer familiarity. I think this is more than that. This is one of my favorite types of records - dynamic, expressive instrumental rock that doesn't feel like work to listen to. The hooks are memorable and catchy, the builds don't feel forced. There are moments of quiet contemplation and moments of cacophony, all of it with measured control. I'm not crossing my fingers for a a tour, but this would be something incredible to see live.
Hammock - Mysterium
This is beautiful, etherial, elagaic music. It might put you to sleep, but it might also wake you to a nice level you don't always get to access. I listened to this A LOT while working this year. It's moving in the way a sparse film soundtrack can be moving, but it holds its own as an artistic piece (no visuals needed). Let it wash over you.