My favorite* albums
Friendly reminder that “favorite” is subjective. This is just a list of the albums I enjoyed most over the past year — it doesn’t necessarily mean I think they were the best albums.
You should listen to —
Green Light
Surprise! Lorde is on my list this year! Well at least, it was a surprise to me since I’d never really listened to Lorde much before. I mean, I heard songs on the radio and knew of her awkward dancing and stage presence, but never spent the time to dig into the rest of it. This time around, first single “Green Light” really caught my attention — it’s hard not to be excited by that battle-cry-esque chorus. I was pleasantly surprised by Melodrama and by Lorde’s originality. While I guess you could consider this a pop album, I don’t think that does it enough service. Melodrama is not just an enjoyable listen, but it’s mysterious and keeps you guessing, song after song. Take smokey, passionate vocals, add some intense beats and synth work, throw in a couple piano ballads, and Lorde has crafted quite the musical journey.
Something to Tell You
You should listen to —
Something to Tell You
It’s been four years since HAIM released their debut album, Days Are Gone, and it’s obvious they spent that time continuing to hone their unique, yet incredibly catchy sound. While Something to Tell You isn’t a huge departure from Days Are Gone, it’s slightly more complex in all the right ways. It’s smooth, funky, full of effortless harmonies, and at many times throughout, you’d swear you were listening to a modern Fleetwood Mac. While a comparison to Fleetwood Mac is plenty reason to be a fan, it’s actually the intricate drumming and percussion that really draw me in. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that all Haim sisters started as drummers, and it definitely shows. Those who know me well understand that I tend to air-drum all the time, but this album definitely takes it to another level — I may even have bruises on my thighs from where the imaginary snare should be…
You should listen to —
I Still Wanna Know (ft. Rivers Cuomo)
There are several “fun” albums on my list this year, but RAC’s EGO has definitely been the go-to when looking for something upbeat, lighthearted, and, as mentioned, just downright fun. Per usual, RAC has invited many guest artists to collaborate. In fact, there’s a different one on every track! Yet the man behind RAC, Andre Allen Anjos, finds a way to craft songs in varying styles that play to each guests’ strengths. While EGO touches all edges of the electro-pop spectrum, Anjos never loses control of the reigns. Each song has its place and everything comes together to create a fantastic collection that is both enjoyable and accessible, while also uniquely RAC. So, imagine a care-free roadtrip down the coast with your closest friends, sun’s out and windows are down — you could do a lot worse than to put EGO on, full blast.
Fleet Foxes
You should listen to —
Third of May / Odaigahara
Well it was about time! It’s been over 6 years since Helplessness Blues came out, and since that album is one of my favorites of all time, it’s safe to say the anticipation had been killing me. I won’t lie, upon first listen, I thought I was slighty disappointed by Crack-Up. It wasn’t that I disliked it — I just didn’t connect with it as quickly as I had hoped. However, that hesitation faded pretty quickly as I let myself dive in to the lush soundscapes and fascinating songwriting that us Fleet Foxes fans have become acustommed to. Frontman, Robin Pecknold, has one of my favorite voices in music and he sounds better than ever here. His lyricism also continues to shine as his words paint vivid pictures, dotted with historical references and natural imagery that makes you wish you could physically place yourself within each song so you could witness the storytelling firsthand.
Noah Gundersen
You should listen to —
If there was such a thing as a new oldie but goodie, I think WHITE NOISE might be one of them. It’s an album that not only pays tribute to rock’s many pioneers from the past several decades, but also paves a new road ahead for Gundersen and his own musical stylings. While it used to be all about Noah and his guitar, he has now grealy expanded his musical arsenal and it’s obvious he isn’t afraid to use it. There’s more synth, more vocal distortion, and really more everything. WHITE NOISE brings a new sense of complexity that enhances, rather than replaces, what we’ve known from Gundersen, and it’s executed flawlessly. And I don’t want it to sound like this album is just a barrage of sound. It’s actually beautifully constrained and there are enough of the slower, delicate moments to go along with the bolder, livelier parts. Regardless, it’s safe to say that no matter the style, we know we’re in for something special with Gundersen at the helm.
Phoebe Bridgers
Strangers in the Alps
You should listen to —
Motion Sickness
If this was the Grammy’s, Phoebe Bridgers would definitely be my pick for Best New Artist. I say this because she managed to grab my attention as a female singer-songwriter in a year that Julien Baker also released an album. (If you continue through my list, you’ll see that it’s kind of a big deal.) The song, “Motion Sickness,” appeared on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist, and that was enough for me to dive in to the rest of Stranger in the Alps. I’m glad I did, because it’s an incredible collection of personal and emotionally revealing songs. If you take a moment to imagine what being a “stranger in the alps” might feel like, you might start to get an idea of what I mean. Many of the songs feel cold, unnerving, and at times, even a bit uncomfortable. It may be heavy, but Bridgers helps us traverse her pain and uncertainty with her fluttering voice and relaxed tone. And it’s this relaxed tone that tells us she may be learning how to deal with her trials and tribulations.
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Zombies on Broadway
You should listen to —
Shot Out of a Cannon
Andrew McMahon is definitely up there on my list of “artists who can do no wrong,” and he continues his streak of consistently enjoyable albums with Zombies on Broadway. I’ve always appreciated how McMahon is able to make incredibly fun, pop-rock albums without them ever feeling repetitive or boring. It’s actually really fun to look back and trace his evolution from Something Corporate, to Jack’s Mannequin, and now to his time “in the Wilderness.” Over the years, he’s definitely found his sound, and while it would be very easy to get stuck in this comfort zone, he’s been able to innovate just enough to keep things interesting, release after release. McMahon has become a master at crafting vibrant and exciting songs that not only sound great on the record, but also translate into fantastic live shows. I’ve seen him live multiple times now, and there’s no doubt he’s having the time of his life creating and sharing these songs with us.
A Moment Apart
You should listen to —
Line of Sight (ft. WYNNE & Mansionair)
In just a few years, Odesza has truly carved out their own place in the electronic dance music scene. I’ll admit, it would be easy to throw out the adjective, “chill,” a bit willy-nilly when describing Odesza, but their music is (and has become) much more than that. I think one of the reason’s they’ve been so successful in creating their unique “chill” sound is because of how they manage to portray a sense of intensity within a certain calmness. The use of the album’s title song in the latest GoPro commercial perfectly describes what I mean. Sure, epic footage of nature and extreme sports in slow-motion is pretty awesome by itself, but with Odesza providing the soundtrack, we get a whole new sense of emotion to accompany the imagery. If that wasn’t enough, they put on one of my favorite live shows of the year, complete with their own choreographed drumline, so you know it’s good.
Manchester Orchestra
A Black Mile to the Surface
You should listen to —
The Gold
Manchester Orchestra has always been one of my go-to artists, and their 2007 album, Like a Virgin Losing a Child, was one of my first favorite albums. It was different than all the other “emo” stuff I was listening to at the time — deep, thought-provoking, and an overall interesting listen. Ten years later, A Black Mile to the Surface is yet another impressive addition to the catalog. It’s one of those albums that is full of intensity without ever feeling too heavy. Layer upon layer of sound create a deep and almost cinematic quality that perfectly accompanies lead singer Andy Hull’s unique vocals and intriguing storytelling. It’s a captivating album that deserves your undivided attention, so grab a comfy chair, a solid set of headphones, and immerse yourself.
Julien Baker
Turn Out the Lights
You should listen to —
Everything to Help You Sleep
I didn’t make a Favorite Albums list in 2015 when Ms. Baker released her debut album, Sprained Ankle, but it’s safe to say she would’ve grabbed the top spot back then too. It’s been awhile since I discovered an artist that hooked me as strongly as Julien Baker has for the past few years, but it’s hard not to be absolutely engulfed by the raw emotion that she exudes in her songs. And it’s weird, because I can’t relate to her struggles with addiction, crippling depression, or profound heartache, but her lyrics provide us with an open invitation to try to understand. While it may be difficult to ever understand completely, it’s impossible not to feel something. When I first saw her perform a couple years ago, I found myself surrounded by open mouths and teary eyes — It’s almost like you can hear her heart working to mend itself with each note she sings, and I think we’re pretty lucky to be a part of this process.