Okay, we’re back. Another year, another set of music I loved (well, mostly). As in the past, I listen to tons of records every year, and any record I deem interesting or good enough to download gets a mention here, even if I only listened to it a couple of times through. The top 10 will follow sometime next week.
On an Island.
51. Kanye West—ye.
I listened to it twice. It sucks.
Sex Weirdos Keep Being Sex Weirdos.
50. The Weeknd—My Dear Melancholy,
Did anyone need a The Weeknd/Selena Gomez break-up album? Does anyone want one of the smoothest rappers/voices/drummers in the game ruining most of his songs with bizarre innuendo and terrible sex puns? It’s not like the sonics of either album are bad—quite the opposite, in fact, and especially for The Weeknd, who returns to early form here—but the lyrics drag them WAY down.
48. Arkells—Rally Cry
47. Ellevator—Ellevator EP
The Arkells have been a band I’ve loved for quite some time now, and I still love them. But the shift that’s been occurring over the last few years to “stadium band” fully grips this album, and that’s not the Arkells I fell in love with. Which is fine, bands change, and they are still one of the best touring bands you’ll ever see live. But this album didn’t do it for me. Ellevator showed some early promise with “St. Cecilia” and “New Survival” that the other three tracks do some work to build on.
Good Rock, Different Feelings.
46. illuminati hotties—Kiss Yr Frenemies
45. Antarctigo Vespucci—Love in the Time of E-mail
44. The New Respects—Before the Sun Goes Down
43. Foxing—Nearer My God
You’ve got one of the best band names in rock followed by one of the worst, and you’ve got 4 different takes on rock music represented here, from straight-ahead indie to funk rock, and they’re all good. In each case, the albums have some songs that immediately grab you and show the promise of the band, and some songs that don’t do enough.
42. Mitski—Be the Cowboy
41. Big Red Machine—Big Red Machine
In many ways, it’s shocking Big Red Machine—a collab between Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner—didn’t get more hype. Two of the most beloved men in indie rock getting together for an album didn’t seem to get as much press as it deserved, but the collection was slow and stately. On the other hand, you have an album that got a ton of hype and it’s still beyond me how we got there. Sure, the album has some good tunes, “Geyser” chief among them, but I’m not probably ever going to understand how critics have come together to decide Mitski is one of the best things we got going.
Random Run #1.
40. Dancehall—The Blaze
39. Being Human in Public—Jessie Reyez
38. KTSE—Teyana Taylor
37. Beach House—7
Sometimes, when I put together my year-end list, it really hits home just how many different types of music I enjoy, and sometimes, that happens all in one concentrated part of the list. You’ve got some electronic music from France that harkens back to the late-90s (The Blaze), two women who are doing R&B in very different ways—a little more aggressive and shit-talking from Jessie Reyez and a little more sultry and sensual from Teyana Taylor—and then you’ve got Beach House riding their chillwave sound to a 7th album of basically the same thing they’ve been doing this whole time but hey, it’s still good!
36. Get Well Soon—World’s Greatest Dad
35. Swell—Tiny Moving Parts
I mean, just keep the emo revivals coming, right? WGD is so much fun to listen to and has all the hallmarks of early emo, from the soaring choruses and heartfelt lyrics to songs about the lead singer’s dog. And TMP are doing throwback math-emo better than anyone.
Women and Songs (and Vince Staples).
34. I’ll Sing—Shannen Moser
33. abysskiss—Adrianne Lenker
32. Room 25—Noname
31. FM!—Vince Staples
30. Ella Mai—Ella Mai
A friend of mine on Twitter, Christina (@floozyesq) had a tweet that mused the trend of millenial males listening to almost exclusively musical projects by women must have some psychological rooting. If it does, I need to be examined. I’ve long preferred listening to female-fronted acts (or female solo projects), but who really knows why. And who even feels like they need to be categorized that way? I just love it all. Again, quite a mix here. We’ve got the alt-country of Shannen Moser, the soft finger-picking intimacy of Adrianne Lenker, Noname’s spoken word, and Ella Mai’s extremely slick R&B/pop chart-topper. All great albums with more highlights than low. And Vince Staples.
Some Weird Stuff.
Okay, so Khalid is the definition of un-weird, the cereal box mascot-looking and sounding man whose sounds are just too saccharine NOT to enjoy. But the other two were some of the weirder things I listened to this year. Tirzah—which means “she is my delight in Hebrew” and that mood fits—isn’t weird per se, but it’s very down-tempo compared to what I usually listen to. Sparse beats with a lot of chopped-up vocal samples combined to make a very intriguing package. And then not to be that hipster weirdo you know and hate, but Harunemuri is a Japanese artist who combined J-Pop, electro, and nu-metal into songs that are almost all 2 minutes or less and it’s one of the most interesting things I’ve heard in years.
The Hip-Hop Run.
26. Invasion of Privacy—Cardi B
24. beerbongs & bentleys—Post Malone
23. Black Panther OST—Various Artists
22. SR3MM—Rae Sremmurd
Every year, it seems like part of my list is just a giant block of hip-hop albums. I’m not sure why, but it could be because I came to hip-hop later in life and so it’s never been my #1 genre of choice. Maybe it’s because all of these albums deserve to be here. Who knows? But these records were all good for very different reasons. Cardi B’s attitude, Drake’s effortless cool (has there been a guy who tries harder in real life than him and yet still manages to sound so easy on record?), Post Malone’s trend-baiting (say what you will about Post, but this album’s ability to hit just about every crossover market you can think of is remarkable and “Rockstar” still one of the best songs you heard this year), Kendrick Lamar’s ear for talent, and Rae Sremmurd’s ability to make a triple album enticing. All damn good.
21. Sweetener—Ariana Grande
19. Us—Empress Of
Sometimes the best pop albums emerge out of jubilation, or at least a sense of one. While there were the underpinnings of Ariana Grande’s tough year on Sweetener, it largely seemed like a product of her joy over her then-engagement to Pete Davidson. The first song on Robyn’s Honey is called “Missing U”, but then again, no one has ever made sad songs sound so good as Robyn has. And Empress Of’s Us is just plain triumphant. Again, there are sad underpinnings here, but the overall mood of the album is one of finding a new relationship and the joy found within.
Random Run #2.
18. Fixed Ideals—Muncie Girls
16. Clean—Soccer Mommy
15. No Fool Like an Old Fool—Caroline Says
Okay so you’ve got some power-punk/emo in Muncie Girls, you’ve got some pop-metal in Ghost, you’ve got an indie-pop dynamo-in-the-making in Soccer Mommy, and you’ve got some extremely chillwave lo-fi in Caroline Says. There’s a lot to love in each of these releases though, as each one manages to find some freshness in these genres. Muncie Girls sounds as clean and fresh as you’d like with some truly inspired vocals about finding your way as an overweight 20-something in a hipster world. I think the Ghost album is a concept one about the Black Plague? It whips ass. Soccer Mommy started a song with a kiss-off to an ex-lover that went, “I don’t want to be your fucking dog” and it was the coolest anyone has sounded all year, and Caroline Says was audacious enough to call the best song on their record, “Sweet Home Alabama”. Music rules.
Return to Form.
13. TPC—Tokyo Police Club
12. Hope Downs—Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
11. Kids See Ghosts—Kids See Ghosts
Every year, there seems to be some records that don’t live up to their hype for whatever reason. And every year, there seems to be an equal number that, based on past expectations, maybe come in underhyped. Pinegrove was very complicated for me. A band that released my favourite album just two years ago, the lead singer followed that up by admitting to sexual coercion of someone he was in a relationship with. After shelving tour and album plans, he re-emerged with the consent of that partner and self-releasing the album so all proceeds were donated to women’s charities. I think none of us are sure how best to act in these situations, but this seemed like one of the best ways you could do it, and the record is reflective of Evan Stephens Hall’s year, a little quieter than before, and more intimate-sounding. It’s a good one.
Tokyo Police Club pulled the move of self-titling—well, basically self-titling—their fourth full-length album. After 13 years as a band, it seemed like a signal they were back to doing things for themselves, and the album holds some of the best songs the band has ever done. Rolling Blackouts don’t really fit into this narrative, but Hope Downs was my record of the summer and it’s one of those power-indie things that hit me in all the right places with my windows down and the sun out.
And hell, after ye hit 51 on this list and Kanye had all of his public meltdowns, the KSG album offered a glimpse into what Kanye is still capable of at the height of his powers—inspired samples, off-beat wordplay, and hooks for days. For me, the KSG record is the most slept-on of the entire year, though for many reasons—most of them Kanye himself—justifiably so.