When I set out to make this list, every year it’s a tough prospect to cull it down to 20, and hell it’s damn near impossible to list just 10. But every year I try and gut it out because we owe it to our favorites to give them some love for all the hard work it takes to actually create these records.
My ears trended towards the indie rock / pop music this year, and boy there were tons of them to choose from.
Coast Modern – Coast Modern
I listened to this record a stupid amount of times. This LA duo has had my ear for over a year, because of their breezy west coast electro-pop sounds that feel like a stoner daydream. This coast-y feeling lends to a record that you can put on in about any situation. Laid back chilling, uptempo, dance-y … whatever you feel, the songs hit the right spot if you need to scratch your pop itch.
Rostam – Half Light
If the name is even vaguely familiar, Rostam Batmanglij first earned his acclaim with his work with Vampire Weekend as percussionist, keyboardist, and producing their self title, Contra, and Modern Vampires of the City, not to mention his producing credits with HAIM, Carly Rae Jepsen, Ra Ra Riot or Frank Ocean. On Half-Light Rostam lends his normally pop-infused sound and turns it inside out. He lends his vocals as a much more intimate hushed sound that explores his past through this carefully crafted record that’s finally let’s someone that is usually in the background into the limelight, and you can see just how much effect he’s had on the music he’s helped produce over the years.
JD McPherson – UNDIVIDED HEART & SOUL
The entire songset from Oklahoma’s JD McPherson is beset with capital letters. That describes the record pretty quickly and gives you a good idea of what you’ll be getting from the rocker. His 40’s R&B/Blues and 50’s Rock & Roll aura came through this year on his latest joint as he pushes his rockabilly elements with a jolt of soulful rock that can not be ignored. The record is a fine-tuning of what he’s done in the past, proving he’s not just a revivalist, but he’s able to push the genre’s without alienating his past.
Vulfpeck – Mr. Finish Line
As a foray from some of the funkier stuff they’ve put out in the past (last year’s The Beautiful Game) Vulfpeck’s extremely talented musicians tickled my ear with Mr. Finish Line, and exposed their soul and r&b influences. There’s so much joy on this record, from the piano driven Baby I Don’t Know, to the bouncy Business Casual, I’ve had so much fun listening to it and it’s cast of characters. I’ll keep going back even when the new year ends.
Beck – Colors
What’s to say about Beck that hasn’t already been said? This was Beck’s switch-hitting album after winning awards for Morning Phase, Colors, tickles the pop-sensibility and creativity deep within him. It’s a record you can turn on and dance to, and that’s a deep difference from most everything he’s done before. Though he’s made a living surprising us, we should probably just get used to it.
St. Vincent – Masseduction
I deeply enjoyed what Annie Clark did on Masseduction. From the first second you press play you’re taken on a ride. It’s obvious throughout the entire record Annie Clark is making some of the most fascinating music out there. It’s so varied, the songs can be heartbreaking, and hedonistic and within minutes of each other. They can be wild tales of drugs and sex, and intimate songs of heartbreak and suicide, and every second is worth listening.
Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam – I Had a Dream that You Were Mine
Featured earlier, Rostam double dips into my favorite albums with The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser on the vocals for a record that turned out to be one of my absolute favorites from this past year. Despite the wholly different musical styles of Leithauser and Rostam, this record just works so damn well. I’m not even sure how to qualify the music, but Leithauser’s crooning, punk-screams and balladry press up against the complex arrangements that can be jarring, but it’s like brutalist music, it’s ugly and beautiful and it works damn fine.
Sylvan Esso – What Now
Sylvan Esso’s followup to their breakout record is aptly named “What Now,” gives them the space to seemingly do whatever they want. They settled into an avant garde electro-pop world full of bangers. Three songs in a row like Die Young, Radio and Kick Jump Twist will seal the deal for you. This record is spirited, sweet, and a wonderful second at bat for the duo.
Nikki Lane – Highway Queen
The Highway Queen, Nikki Lane, is a bona fide badass, and her third full record was a treat. Whether she’s singing about rednecks, casino hopping, or a terrible breakup, Nikki Lane does so while carrying the torch of greats like Emmylou Harris, while continuing to carve a path of rollicking country music with sass and grit.
Margo Price – All American Made
Quite possibly the finest country music record this year, Price’s All American Made soaks velvety smooth vocals and a honed-in band explore topics from booze and drugs, to wage inequality. Price does this with a smile on her face and her wry wit and especially hits true on the title track where she is either positing that all of our problems are all american made. Enjoy enjoy enjoy this beautiful record.
The Shins – Heartworms
Long Live Indie Rock! As a dismantled band reconstructed with only James Mercer left atop the rubble, Heartworms proves there’s still great music coming out of the indie rock persuasion. Mercer’s pop sensibilities shine in his life history in Mildenhall, the deep tones explored underwater on Fantasy Island, or the pulsing, driving, Half a Million. It seems as though Mercer’s Shins are more confident than ever.