10. Some Rap Songs—Earl Sweatshirt
Hip-hop has seen some of its major artists make turns towards jazz in the wake of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, but no one has done it as well as Earl does here. Earl’s release output has been fairly inconsistent, but this is where he finally puts it all together, releasing an insular mission statement that more accurately reflects the title of his last album—I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside—than that one did.
9. Songs of Praise—Shame
Shame look like they were cut from a paper doll catalogue, where all the paper dolls are punk band members. You’ve got the oft-shirtless lead singer who pounds his chest and looks like he was expelled from several schools, the wild-eyed bass player who wears tiny shorts on stage, one guitarist who looks like he dropped out of art school and another who looks like he made fun of kids who went to art school, and the quiet drummer who minds his business behind the kit. All this to say they aren’t reinventing the wheel, but there was very little punk music that came out this year that got me as fired up as this one did.
8. C’Est La Vie—Phosphorescent
After the critically acclaimed Muchacho, it seemed like Phosphorescent was poised to move from the quiet, weirdo sect of indie that bubbled up in the wake of Bon Iver to actual, real success. He expanded his musical palette and made something that landed on a ton of year-end lists. Then he took 5 years off, and it’s like people forgot that he belongs at the dance. This is another meticulously-crafted indie album that runs the gamut from tropical rock to low-key synth ballads and shows off the creative muscle that gets me excited about music.
7. Daytona—Pusha T
I tweeted in the middle of the Kanye-produced run of albums that if nothing else comes of it, I hope for more shorter releases. It’s always been baffling to me how few hip-hop artists recognize that brevity is king. Beats get boring—especially with no features—and watching Pusha attack the hell out of these ones in an album that totals 21 minutes was the freshest the genre has felt in a while.
6. Sugar and Spice—Hatchie
A lot of music blogs will put EPs on a separate list, but in this day and age, an EP is an album and vice versa. I’ve listened to plenty of EPs in my life that have more interesting ideas and staying power than most long players, and Hatchie’s is one of two EPs in my top 10 and it’s just so good. So many artists try to do 90s revival and so many fail miserably. Hatchie’s combination of sticky-sweet melodies along with those trademark 90s airy vocals came together in five songs I listened to probably more than anything else this whole year. And she’s headlining shows off an EP, so hey, I can’t be wrong.
5. Lush—Snail Mail
I’m not here to explain why a 19 year-old woman put out one of the most thoughtful releases of the year, because I can’t. The fact that it was also coupled with some of the more arresting and interesting musical arrangements makes this one a clear winner. This was a 90s revival in a different way, less pop and more alternative, and it has at least 3 songs that will be as good as anything you’ll hear in the next decade. An unbelievable debut.
4. Perfect Shapes—Madeline Kenney
It seems that most years there’s just that one album I’m much higher on than everyone else, and this year, this was it. Don’t get me wrong, it was rated well, but I was shocked not to see it on more year-end lists. Produced by Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, this is art-pop with no pretension, with some of the more intriguing ideas I’ve seen put on record this year, highlighted by the song “Cut Me Off”, in which Kenney seems to be imploring a lover to let her voice be heard and is ironically ended with her being cut off mid-vocal. These types of things permeate the album, with sparkling production and it’s one of the rare albums that tries a bunch of different things and they all work. I fucking love this record.
3. boygenius—boygenius EP
Enough has been written about this record this year to launch a thousand paper-boat Viking Funerals, so yeah. Just listen to it. It’s as good as everyone says it is.
2. The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs—Wye Oak
It made sense that after the “ditching guitars” departure of Shriek that Wye Oak would want to return to guitars on their next album. What I wasn’t expecting was they would seek to marry all of their past sounds—pastoral, electric, spazzy, rock, synthpop—into something that truly feels like a band at the absolute height of its powers doing what maybe they were meant to do along. I loved Shriek a lot more than many seemed to, but even still, it felt like a waste to not hear Jenn Wasner’s virtuosic guitar playing on that record. Bringing everything around to right now and right here shows why this band has existed for over a decade and why they’ll continue to be everyone’s favourite underrated darling. And they’re still my favourite band.
1. The Horizon Just Laughed–Damien Jurado
Speaking of change, Damien Jurado wrapped up a run of 4 albums with famed producer Richard Swift, and while that prompted some of his best work, it also led him down a path of psychedelic rock that didn’t always fit his best strengths. Moving away from Swift and back to self-producing, The Horizon Just Laughed is everything you’d want in a Jurado album–haunting vocals, interesting characters, and a world-weary sense that pervades the whole album that feels lived in. The production is so quiet on “Over Rainbows and Rainier” that you can hear Jurado swallow. “Allocate” is the album’s opener and features one of the more arresting melodies Jurado’s ever employed using a constantly-near-cracking falsetto that could only be done by the man himself. It all adds up to one of the best albums of his career and what I think is one of the best of the last five, not just this one. It’s that good.