Another year for some stellar albums. In my listening sphere, there were a few artists coming back after brief hiatuses with LCD Soundsystem and The xx. A few promising newbies with Sampha and Maggie Rogers. And a few fantastic rap albums with Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar. Some other old favorites dropped off my radar a little bit with Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire. And a number of other old favorites put out good but not great albums that landed on the honorable mentions list. Here's what I listened to and enjoyed the most this year. Happy listening all.
Sidebar: I made a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite tracks from the year. Lots of cross over with my top 10 list (and HMs) but not exclusively. Here's the link.
Ten years ago, I was loving Manchester Orchestra's I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child album. I was moderately into their follow-up but then dropped off with the band in the subsequent years, mostly due to a harder sound that I'm not into as much. When A Black Mile to the Surface released to very positive reviews, I checked out the album and was taken back to my 2007 self. They don't sound stale, they sound like what they're best at. Emotional rock. Soft lyrics followed by crashing guitars and drums. I'm in.
Ok, I'm not really into bands "retiring" to then return shortly later. That's just a long space between albums. Otherwise, I'm into the new music for the most part. I skip a few tracks but tonite, how do you sleep?, and emotional haircut are stellar. I was also able to see them live in Philly and they did not disappoint.
These guys know how to create a mood. Driving in the car or turned up while making dinner, The War on Drugs make you feel comfortable. I'm into it. I'll keep listening to it. A few more keyboards this time around but same reliable atmosphere created for me.
This dude has produced for Drake, Solange, and Kanye. He rolls with some big names. But then, on his first album, he does his own thing sans features. Some incredible beats throughout the album. Then (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano is a contender for best ballad of the year. I listened to this album a lot this year.
This album was a long time coming. I was such a sucker for the Wow single released in 2016 and anxiously awaited more of the same with the album release. While the remainder of the album is unique from the standout off-kilter single, there are a bunch of great, feel good pop jams.
High expectations for this one. Their debut s/t album was my favorite album of 2014 and it wasn't certain they were continuing with the project. So last year when rumors of a new album and the following singles popped up, I was very pleased. While the single Radio is a little on the head (still very catchy), The Glow and Die Young are fantastic pop singles. Overall these two are stellar at creating pop songs that have more depth than pure bubble gum.
Big Fish Theory is more to the point than the debut double album. From my standpoint, that was a good move as it's pretty great front to back. Standout tracks Big Fish, 745, and BagBak are all fantastic. Caught him live at the 9:30 Club in D.C. and the show was lit. Love it. Keep 'em coming, Vince.
Post second album Coexist, I thought I might retire the band as finely tuned electronic song writers who I could live without. But then I See You opens with a bang and doesn't let go. Happy to have them back and being alright with going upbeat now and again.
Maggie made music news when in an NYU music course with visitor Pharrell, her track Alaska brought tears to his eyes. The video is online. So that was when I first heard of Maggie Rogers. But then I listened to the EP and was into it. And then I kept listening to it. Over and over. Though short with but five tracks, they are sweet.
The day this album dropped, I was traveling for most of the day via car and plane. I think I listened to the album five times. It's hard hitting. It has a few slow jams. It's got some great features. It's Kendrick at his best. To Pimp a Butterfly may be an album for the ages but DAMN. is Kendrick firing on all cylinders. DNA. and HUMBLE. reflect the hard hitting. LOVE. is so smooth. Literally all the songs do their thing. Thanks for doing your thing, Kendrick.
Honorable Mentions (10 more, listed alphabetically)
Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder
Dirty Projectors - s/t
A Ghost Story (Original Soundtrack)
Haim - Something to Tell You
Ibeyi - Ash
The National - Sleep Well Beast
The New Pornographers - Whiteout Conditions
Phoenix - Ti Amo
Spoon - Hot Thoughts
Taylor Swift - Reputation