This year was…weird. My listening habits got thrown for a loop with Caleb’s arrival, and I didn’t end up getting as much time as usual in the second half of the year to devote to seeking out new music. Even so, there were a couple albums that came out in Q4 that made their mark quickly.
There are a number of obvious choices here, a couple surprises, and at least one by a band that I kind of hate. Enjoy!
20. Susanne Sundfør – Ten Love Songs
I had not heard of Sundfør’s music until about June, but was immediately captivated by her brooding, arty synth pop. The ten minute long “Memorial” wrecks the pace, but even so, once her dark siren songs get their hooks in, they don’t let go.
19. Bring Me the Horizon – That’s the Spirit
I really, really dislike this band’s earlier stuff. I’m not even sure why I gave That’s the Spirit a try, but it surprised me quite a bit. When I needed a rock music fix in the second half of the year, this is where I turned.
18. Toundra – IV
Toundra is here, instead of Godspeed, because I never really found a way to approach Assunder, Sweet and Other Distress. IV, meanwhile, was both approachable and deep, and ended up soundtracking many a cloudy evening or rainy drive home.
17. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
It was a good year for Courtney Barnett. She had a huge song in “Pedestrian at Best” (which would been top 5 on the songs list, had the list been made in June), and even ended up scoring a Grammy nomination. A couple of listens to this album shows that all the attention was well warranted.
16. Swervedriver – I Wasn’t Born to Lose You
The cover says it all: this is warm weather music. The guitar tones, only barely removed from the band’s shoegazing past, wash over you like a warm day. I’ve been listening to Swervedriver for quite a while, but I would never have expected an album this good to come out of the reunion.
15. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
The day I bought this CD, I wasn’t looking to buy Sleater-Kinney, I was looking to buy Panda Bear vs. The Grim Reaper. Luckily, the store was out of that album, so instead of some warmed over psychedelia, I got kickass rock music. A win for me.
14. The Weeknd – The Beauty and the Madness
I don’t know if this is better than House of Balloons (an album with a much better shelf life than I could have anticipated at the time), but it is a well put together pop album in a time where not many of those seem to exist. Come for the undeniable singles, stay for the surprisingly good album cuts.
13. Doomtree – All Hands
It took a while to get into this one. The verses didn’t initially land for me, and the hooks all seemed off. Thankfully, the album does reward further listens, and now, I’d put it just under their self-titled on the list. The heavy electro-rap they utilize now is something to behold.
12. Grimes – Art Angels
I wasn’t a huge Grimes fan the last time around. “Genesis” and “Oblivion” were good, obviously, but the rest of the album felt weird for its own sake. Art Angels, on the other hands, caught me from the first listen. It’s well-crafted where Visions settled for empty quirk. Plus, it brings the TUNES. I haven’t even mentioned “Kill v. Maim” yet in these posts, and that’s just wrong, but it’s indicative of the kind of quality that Art Angels possesses.
11. Falling Up – Falling Up
In my opinion, the gradual transformation of Falling Up from “Alt CCM Also Rans” to “fascinating band with legitimate ideas” was, strangely enough, Exit>Lights. With this, their final, self-titled album, they’ve completed that transformation, and the results are stunning. I’ve only gotten to listen to this album for a little under a month, but it’s already taken ahold. Ask me to make the 2015 list this time next year, and this album could be much further up.
10. Purity Ring – another eternity
Purity Ring gets to me in a way that Chvrches never will. Both of them put out an album this year, and while Chvrches always seems to get the radio plays and ‘buzz’, Purity Ring just seems more appealing. It’s a little darker, and the sound feels a little fuller (as in “Heartsigh” and “Sea Castle”). Also, no more Pokemon-like track names.
9. Jamie xx – In Colour
A couple of undeniable high points (“Gosh” and “Loud Places”) are surrounded by some excellent UK Bass music. This was the headphone album of the year for me.
8. The Go! Team – The Scene Between
The knock on these guys anymore seems to be that they didn’t break up after their first album. That’s nonsense. They’re on a four album winning streak now. The Scene Between reorganizes the group considerably (gone are the double dutch clap-alongs, along with any traces of rapping), but with that comes a focus and a tunefulness that shines brightly through the whole album.
7. Beach House – Depression Cherry
I didn’t really get a chance to dig into the other full length album that Beach House released this year, but even so, Depression Cherry filled the void in me that was desperately searching for some chill guitars backing a lilting, dreamy Victoria Legrand. Thank Your Lucky Stars will have to wait for 2016.
6. Carpenter Brut – III EP
Okay, listen, I could listen to “Turbo Killer” on repeat all day (and Linds probably thinks I do just that), but the rest of this EP kicked a lot of ass, too. Fake 80’s neon synth vomit nostalgia is pretty much the worst thing ever, except when Carpenter Brut is concerned. Carpenter Brut gets a lifetime pass.
5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
The sound of the best rapper on earth raising the bar, then sticking the landing. Who knew that sounded like Kendrick Lamar rapping about his dick over a crazy, beatless free jazz section?
4. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
…and yet, I liked this album better. I don’t think there’s a person alive that would say that this is better than To Pimp a Butterfly, but for me, this album was simply a joy to listen to. The Lupe Fiasco that I knew and loved is back, and honestly? He’s better than ever.
3. mewithoutYou – Pale Horses
I’m a huge mewithoutYou fan, but for the last decade, that’s most been trading off the credit they earned for the front half of their discography. Pale Horses changes all that by doing what mewithoutYou does best: loud guitars, shouty vocals, and ever-more-dense lyrical analogies. All centered (obliquely) around the loss of a parent and the eventual end of the world.
2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
This is, at times, a very uncomfortable record to listen to. It’s a wrenching album for nearly its entire duration. Still, Sufjan’s talent for arrangement and ear for melody shines through all of it and imbues what could be a dour, bitter affair with a life that I’m not convinced anyone else could have given it.
1. Tame Impala – Currents
I really liked Lonerism (once I heard it, that is – it took me a while), so when I heard “Cause I’m a Man” for the first time, I was disappointed. The cheesy faux-funk that I was hearing was nothing like the direction I’d hoped they’d go in. Luckily, “Cause I’m a Man” is the second worst song on the album (and a really bad choice for a single), and not really representative of the album as a whole. Sure, the album skews a bit cheesy, but unlike in that song, it feels earned most everywhere else. The bass feels vibrant throughout, and with one unfortunate exception (really though, what in the hell is up with putting the worst and weirdest song of the year immediately after the best song of the year??), the pacing is perfect. Upon my second listen through the album, sitting on my deck, drinking a gin and tonic watching the hummingbirds buzz around the honeysuckle, I felt sure that nothing else was going to touch this album.
Nothing else did.