My favorite albums of 2017 so far

I’m not 100-percent sure, but I’m fairly certain that I’ve listened to more new music in 2017 than I have in any other year.

My New Year’s resolution was to listen to at least one album I had not heard before per week. I’m cruising along and already past 40 albums, so barring a monumental collapse I should hit my target.

About 90 percent of my first-time listens this year have been new music.

In no particular order, these are the releases from this year that I’ve enjoyed the most.

White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band

Truly, this is good, uh, rock’n’roll music. The second album from Louisville-based power-poppers, White Reaper, is one of the year’s most fun releases so far. It’s unabashed, straight-forward rock influenced by The Ramones, Cheap Trick, Big Star, The Replacements and The Exploding Hearts. There’s genuine guitar heroics, and the hooks are plentiful.

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

Vince Staples released his second consecutive instant classic LP this year. He continues to rap about depressing realities over severe-sounding beats in a way that’s fun, mostly thanks to gallows humor punchlines and a rapid pace. Not a single song surpasses the five-minute mark and most are shorter than three minutes.

Jay-Z – 4:44

I expected this corporate partnership release to be as uninspired as Magna Carter Holy Grail or Kingdom Come or The Blueprint 3, and was floored to hear an album that can comfortable mingle in the upper echelon of Shawn Carter’s discography. Certainly not better than Reasonable Doubt or The Blueprint , but it compares favorably to The Black Album and American Gangster. The No I.D. production sounds amazing. It is warm, slightly opulent and gives the album a cohesion lacking from some of Jay’s lesser works. The tabloid-fodder infidelity confessions are what’s drawn the most coverage, which makes sense because I can’t recall Jay-Z ever sharing this much of his personal life, but equally interesting are Jay-Z’s thoughts on race and black unity, which I don’t recall ever before being quite so explicitly dissected on an album by HOV. Strictly speaking, these aren’t Jay’s best bars. His flow sounds off, and the rhymes aren’t always particularly clever. But, it is some of his most interesting and personal work ever.

Kendrick Lamar – Damn. 

Kendrick Lamar continues his streak of dominating the rap game. His flow continues to be a dense labyrinth of internal rhyme and references, but in a way that’s more approachable than To Pimp a Butterfly. The album is a little less focused than some of Kdot’s other releases (I can’t picture a U2 feature on any of his other albums), but not every album needs to be a Statement.

Ty Segall – Ty Segall

Ty isn’t reinventing the wheel here in any sense. He’s even done a self-titled release before. But this might strike the best balance among the prolific garage-rockers prodigious-but-disparate strengths. There’s straight-ahead rockers, Sid Barrett-esque psyche-pop and a really sweet love song. Unlike some past releases (looking at you Manipulator) this album is a tight collection. This really is a virtuosic display of everything one of rock music’s best working songwriters does right.

(Sandy) Alex G – Rocket

This album is equal parts hummable alt-country and industrial freakout. I prefer the warmer, mellow first half of the album. “Bobby”, “Poison Root” and “Proud” are fine, extremely pleasant and slightly weird pop songs with warm twang. That may sound like faint praise, but it’s meant as a rousing endorsement. That basically describes most of my favorite Wilco songs, after all. The string-filled melodies are made all the more remarkable because they share an album with “Brick”, which has more in common with Death Grips than a lot of songs on Rocket.

Charly Bliss – Guppy

Guppy is an entirely transparent attempt to replicate the soaring buzz of ’90s alternative-rock, and it accomplishes that modest goal with aplomb. Lead singer Eva Hendricks sounds downright effervescent, but her high, perky voice fits in with songs that are all forward momentum and chugging guitar. “DQ” is on my shortlist for songs of the year, and one that I’m sure will be in my rotation for years to come.

Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes

The hyper-literate twee punks I’ve loved for a full decade now have grown into a wonderfully dependable, mature indie rock band. As always, these songs are lyrically captivating. Gareth never stops being Gareth whether that means setting an almost literary scene, capturing a particular brand of malaise, whip-smart punchlines or super-specific sports references. Musically, this album includes some of the most energetic songs LC! has put out since the absolutely transcendent Romance is Boring. There’s also “The Fall of Home” which is just heart-achingly gorgeous. All snark is set aside to explore the sensation of seeing the places we come from crumble after moving on to some place ostensibly better.

Smidley – Smidley

 

 

I’m not a huge fan of Foxing, but Conor Murphy’s side project was unexpectedly winning. Lightly psychedelic indie rock will always be in my wheelhouse. “Hell” is one of the year’s better side one track ones. It sounds both dark and jaunty in a way that recalls The National, has group vocals that make me think of Local Natives (which isn’t something I’ve done often since 2012} and there’s some trumpet that somehow sounds perfectly in place. “No One Likes You” and “Pink Gallo” make good use of Murphy’s unique voice and are very good and just slightly odd. “Milk Shake” is an interesting, bare bones acoustic take that surprises with its vulnerability, but really shouldn’t considering singing in an emo band is Murphy’s main hustle. For me, the standout track is “Fuck This”, and it’s really what pushes Smidley’s eponymous debut onto this list. It’s essentially a perfect instant classic. A springy, midtempo number with a seesaw melody and shouted chorus that features multiple lengthy crescendoing chants of “Fuck this, fuck this” will always, and I mean always, have a spot in my heart.

The Sadies – Northern Passages

The Sadies are absolutely crackerjack musicians, and that shines through on every track on Northern Passages. They sound equally comfortably on the rave up “Another Season Again” and the sleepy, Kurt Vile-assisted “It’s Easy (Like Walking)” and both songs are positively delightful. Not since The Band have Canadians so effectively mined American to thoroughly winning effect. I think this album has largely gone overlooked, and it might be because The Sadies have served as a backing band for the likes of John Doe and Neko Case in the past. If you’ve got a soft spot for countrified rock, you owe it to yourself to listen to this album.

 

My favorite albums of 2016

There was an awful lot of music I liked this year, but not a lot of complete albums that I loved.

Even as someone who is totally nonplussed by Raidohead and can’t seem to find the appeal of Queen Bey, this was a great year for music.It seemed like there were always several good albums to parse through every month, and it was easy to do because the music was quality and there weren’t many totally transcendent albums taking up my time with repeat listens.

It took a lot of thought and pointless delineation for me to figure out which albums I would name as my favorite of the year, but the cream and the chafe must be separated, and I want to crank this list out while it’s still 2016, dammit.  So, here they are in descending order. I know it takes away some drama, but why bury the lead? If you want to stop reading by No.6 or so, it’s fine, I understand.

1. Car Seat Headrest-Teens of Denial

This was one of the few albums I got hung up on this year, and  I can’t tell if it’s because I’m a sucker for hooks and derivative guitar rock, or if it’s because it was such a sprawling statement of disaffection that it took me a while to digest it all, but I do love it. The lyrics are funny without being totally detached, Will Toledo sounds like the exact middle ground between Ray Davies and Julian Casablancas and every version of guitar-driven indie rock is represented on this sprawling album.

2. Angel Olsen-My Woman

The interesting folkie from Asheville, N.C. with the distinctive voice made a truly great album. “Shut Up and Kiss Me” alone justifies the album’s existence, but it’s joined by eight other excellent songs(“Intern” is fine, but vestigial. On a hip-hop album it’d be “Intern (Intro)”). I’d even argue “Give It Up” and “Not Gonna Kill You” are event better than “Shut Up…”. While I’m particularly keen on the album’s tighter, rocking first half, but the more ethereal, ambient second half is great too, and it includes the album’s emotional center, “Sister”, which clocks in at seven minutes and change

3. Kanye West- “The Life of Pablo”

West’s slightest and sloppiest offering since 2007’s Graduation is excellent. Production, as always, was immaculate, and “Real Friends” and “Wolves” are some of the most emotionally stirring work Kanye has done. TLOP wasn’t a grand statement like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it contained a variety of sounds that kept in from having the cohesion granted by Yeezus’ uniformly abrasive texture. This album has been accused of feeling like a greatest hits compilation because of that lack of a through line. But in the same way you can be conditioned by a mix tape to sequentially connect two totally unrelated songs, eventually the album’s structure feels surprisingly comfortable. It easily stands among the year’s best releases.

4.G.L.O.S.S-Day of Trans Revenge

An absolutely furious onslaught of frenzied hardcore couldn’t be more topical. It’s scant run time barely exceeds seven minutes, but that’s just the right amount of profane rage to take in at one time. This is as loud, fast and vicious as you could ever want punk to be.

5.Martha-Blisters in the Pit of My Heart

I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone be as high on this album or heard someone gush about it the way I’m about to. This is without a doubt the catchiest collection of songs I heard all year. It is absolute bubblegum power pop, and that’s OK because it’s executed to perfection. Every song has at least one hook that burrows deep into your brain before re-emerging as a half-hummed melody days later.

(Tie)6. Chance the Rapper- Coloring Book/ Noname-Telefone

Gypsy first popped up on my radar during her excellent verse on Chance’s Acid Rap track “Lost”, so it felt right to have them tie for this spot. The classic backpack-sounding beats on Noname’s album are intensely comforting and perfectly compliment the dense, monotone and slightly cerebral rhymes that Telefone has in spades. Coloring Book is the sort of joyous explosion that only Chance could pull off. Both are tremendous works. It was a big of a letdown after Acid Rap, but “No Problems” is  a hell of a song, and if it leads to a joyful, vaguely psychedelic movement in hip-hop, I’d be pretty happy.

8.Mitski-Puberty 2

This is a quarter life crisis captured in a recording studio. In the same way Coloring Book could only come from Chano, I couldn’t imagine anyone else making dour expressions of self-doubt and existentialism seem so funny and fun. For me, this album is at its best when Mitski bangs out slightly abrasive pop-rockers. “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” and “A Loving Feeling” are two of my favorite songs from this year.

9.Kaytranada-99.9%

This is everything I loved about Settle by Disclosure, including an AlunaGeorge feature. This album is a little stranger and much funkier. I can only listen to it in the car if the speed limit is 55 MPH or higher.

(Tie) 10. Bon Iver- 22, A Million/ Katie Dey-Flood Network

Both of these albums are deeply weird, spacey works by interesting and supremely talented singer songwriters, both of them include songs with inscrutable titles and both are among this year’s absolute best music releases.

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite albums of 2016 so far

The year is about halfway over, and there’s been the requisite wave of blockbuster releases over the last couple of months ramping up toward summer, so it’s time for the customary roundup of my favorite releases from this year.

These are going to be presented in no particular order, because I want to give the albums time to organically grow in my estimation and jockey for sweet, sweet supremacy in my end of the year list.

  • Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest

OK, so the no particular order caveat was a bit of a fib. This is my favorite album of the year so far. It contains some of my favorite songs of 2016 and those songs boast a ton of simple but insightful acerbic couplets. Will Toledo and Co.’s first major label album also draws from a ton of interesting inspirations without being totally beholden to its influences. It’s a wonderfully arch, well-thought-out rock album with plenty of roughness around the edges.

  • Life of Pablo by Kanye West

At this point, I think there’s three or four versions of this album lurking on my iPod. It’s not Kanye’s best album, but it continues in the wonderfully weird vein of Yeezus, and anytime a major pop star wants to advance the cause of weirdness, I’m on board. It’s also chock-full of interesting sounds and good ideas. Even the de facto bonus track , “30 Hours” is an interesting examination of a disintegrating long-distance relationship with frigging Andre 3000 providing  guest vocals. Plus, it presaged some of the year’s best and worst biggest hits by featuring Chance the Rapper and Desiigner doing what they do. Sort of feels indespinsible to this year’s pop culture landscape.

  • Lost Time by Tacocat

I was lukewarm about this album at first, but it’s grown on me. It’s a collection of hooky punk willing to take on some weighty topics with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Sure there are songs like my beloved “Horse Grrls”and the fantastically buoyant “I Hate the Weekend” but wanton internet misogyny, controversial next-day contraception and the literal end of the world all feature prominently in this album. I’m not sure if it’s as good as NVM, but it’s some of Tacocat’s catchiest work.

  • Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

I just realized that this will be my third consecutive entry, where I kick things off by pointing out an album is inferior to one of its predecessors, but it bears saying, Coloring Book is no Acid Rap. It’s still a very fun, vibrant, positive statement from a singular, captivating artist, but it suffers from some bloat, and for someone whose stage name includes the title “the Rapper”, his virtuosic bar-spitting prowess really isn’t on display. Even if it isn’t necessarily the album I want it to be, I think it’s the exact album Chance wanted to make and it’s a blast of free-wheeling gospel-tinged positivity all the same.

  • ★ by David Bowie

When this album came out, it was the middle of a dreary, gray and cold winter. It was my first full winter in the Midwest in five years, and ★’s aural pallet seemed to use the same colors as my surroundings. I thought it was an extremely interesting, sort of haunting piece of spooky art. It was nice to see old man Bowie really going for it with a tight jazz-influenced backing band. Then Bowie died, and the dread, finality and transcendence packed into the songs became that much more profound. Honestly, it’s almost unlistenable now because of how much heaviness was retroactively added to the swan song of one of popular culture’s greatest innovators.

  • Down in Heaven by Twin Peaks

This album is a shambolic, delightful throwback to ’60s music. There’s lyrical allusions to the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” but somehow, the Rolling Stones song it seems to evoke the most is “Beast of Burden”. The shuffling album-closer “Have You Ever?” is a particularly glorious drunk-sounding shout-along.

  • Nice as Fuck by Nice as Fuck

    It hasn’t been out very long, but the debut from Jenny Lewis’ profane new band might be my favorite effort in her oeuvre. On albums The Voyager and Acid Tongue the lyrics suggested Lewis had a thoroughly spacey side, but it didn’t really come through in the music. Nice as Fuck changes that. It is a nine-song collection of artsy dance rock with driving drums and bouncy bass. I didn’t know I wanted Jenny Lewis, Gang of Four, Joy Division and Franz Ferdinand in a blender so badly, but here it is, and it rules.

 Honorable mentions: The Hotelier, Woods, PUP, Whitney, White Lung and A Giant Dog.

Holiday-sized rundown of my favorite albums of 2015

This year saw an incredible slate of releases from a ton of different genres.

So, instead of a typical five or 10 item list, I’m naming an album of the year, and then giving some shine to the glut of great tunes from this year.

My anticlimactic pick for album of the year is:

I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty.

I gushed about this album when it came out, and I sung its praises when I did my half-year roundup. Unsurprisingly, I still hold this album in high regards. It’s a collection of excellent ’70s troubadour love songs performed  with a bitingly sarcastic viewpoint. The acerbic observation often turns inward, as Josh Tillman demonstrates he’s not above a world he largely sees as vapid and ridiculous.

 

 

 

Despite all the vitriol and bile evident on songs such as “Ideal Husband” and “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartmet” the album’s hardly bleak, as the title track, gentle closing ballad and super funny “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Cow” underscore the central theme of the album, which is Tillman’s incredulity that a thoroughly modern jackass could find a classically happy love.

On to the other albums I loved this year:

Rose Mountain by Screaming Females

Sore by Dilly Dally

Painted Shut by Hop Along

Feels Like by Bully

Art Angels by Grimes

Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars by Beach House.

This year was an awesome year for female-fronted rock bands, and that’s without  mentioning  the Waxahatchee album or  the Sleater-Kinney release. I liked both albums, but didn’t particularly love either one.

Also, I know Claire Boucher is sort of a genre-hopping, singer-songwriter-producer, but listen to “Scream” and tell me Deafheaven wouldn’t be proud to have provided the instrumentation for that beat. Therefore, based on that stylistic choice and attitude, I’m lumping her in with the rockers.

I recommend just making one really long Beach House playlist using both their albums from this year, getting real cozy, maybe a little drunk, or maybe just taking some over the counter sleep aids and sitting in the undulating, shimmering swells of this music.

Bully, Screaming Females and Dilly Dally all mined similar ’90s alternative rock veins. If you like Hole, you’ll like Bully. If you like The Pixies’ Kim Deal songs you’ll like Dilly Dally and if you like The Smashing Pumpkins but wish anyone but Billy Corgan was in charge, so you didn’t have to hear his voice and songs would be less meandering, Screaming Females are the platonic ideal. Dilly Dally absolutely have a loud-quiet-loud dynamic going on, and their music tends to move in surprising direction.  Alicia Bognanno’s vocals pretty much ensured every review of Bully’s great album included a comp to Hole,but Hole never released an album quite this even, and Screaming Females branched out to some new sonic territory without abandoning punchy, crunchy guitar noises on a characteristically strong album.

Painted Shut came damn close to getting my album of the year nod. The incredible third album by Hop Along is the simple, jangle rock music I love, and Frances Quinlan’s singing is unlike anything else released this year or really any other year. Painted Shut and Art Angels  remind me of each other because both feature wildly fluctuating points of view, focus and scope presented by gutsy singers using their voices in almost every imaginable way.

Courtney Barnett’s debut album paints detailed scenes with lyrics and rocks in a very straight-forward way that belies the sophistication of Barnett’s insightful, funny songwriting. It’s a great paring and an incredibly confident first LP.

The Agent Intellect by Protomartyr

The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus

Know America by Obnox

b’lieve i’m going down by Kurt Vile

Teens of Style by Car Seat Headrest

Protomartyr continue to make post-punk music that sounds vital and interesting, which is no easy feat. The Agent Intellect also contains the super personal, super sad “Why Does it Shake?” which derives its name from a real question about tremors caused by aging.

Titus Andronicus swung for the fences with a sprawling double-album and mostly connected. The Most Lamentable Tragedy contained some of the best songs in the band’s oeuvre and some really fascinating takes on what it’s like to battle mental afflictions.

I haven’t seen a ton of love for Obnox’s newest album, but it’s weird blend of hip-hop, blues and scuzzy rock with commentary on race relations made it sort of a lofi To Pimp a Butterfly and a totally captivating listen.

Kurt Vile scaled back from his last effort, but Vile is thoroughly hilarious when pontificates on a largely mundane existence and “Pretty Pimpin'” might be his best single ever.

If you like Julian Casablancas, you’ll love Car seat Headrest, who make a fun brand of garage rock I can’t not endorse.

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside by Earl Sweatshirt

Mr.Wonderful by Action Bronson

Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples

To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

For me, this was a year that saw a lot of rap releases I liked, but not a ton I loved. Donnie Trumpet was interesting, but really didn’t do much for me. Drake sold a million albums and still, as always, sucked.

Earl Sweatshirt got even darker and more insular, and it really worked. If you want to feel super bleak, look no further than his album from this year.

Action Bronson revealed he apparently listens to more blues and Billy Joel than I would have expected on a super fun, well-made album.

Vince Staples continues to be almost uncomfortably real about his upbringing and proximity to gang violence, but he’s always clever and fairly catchy.

Kendrick Lamar turned out what most people consider to be the album of the year with his politically minded, not particularly commercial release. I actually liked it more than his last album, but I’m still not a huge fan of the re-heated G-funk and Flying Louts aping. Still, the album was pleasantly weird and grappled with some big-picture topics and is definitely worth a spin.

Some albums that just missed the cut: Before the World Was Big by Girlpool, Ratchet by Shamir, Untethered Moon by Built to Spill, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper by Panda Bear, The Things We Do to Find People Like Us by Beach Slang and StarWars by Wilco.

 

 

 

 

My favorite albums of 2015 so far

As always, best means Ben’s favorite, because the two phrases are synonymous. This has actually been an incredibly strong year of new releases, so this was challenging.  Also, I wasn’t crazy about Kendrick Lamar’s reheated G-funk and Flying Lotus hybrid album, so that made my Top 5 even more volatile.

There’s a good chance a few more prominent releases and time for newer releases to grow on me could really shake things up by December. I’m convinced Girlpool’s album can only sound excellent in warm weather. It just barely missed this list, but we’ll see if it’s still kicking around my main rotation in November. The Most Lamentable Tragedy, which is essentially 90 minutes of Patrick Stickles braindrippings is the other near miss. Technically, it won’t be released until the end of July, and it’s so dense I really don’t have a definitive stance on more than five of the album’s songs.

Since this is a mid-year round up, these are presented in no particular order, but I will start with albums I’ve already covered:

This album is a collection of solid tunes performed on varied instruments that perfectly capture Father John Misty’s appeal. This is a portrait a sardonic jackass, who is fully aware he’s a cad, reconciling the idea he can still be his petty self while experiencing transcendent love. I circled back to this album earlier this week to make sure it’s still great, and it’s staying power seems legitimate.

This is an awesome twangy rock album that I would thoroughly enjoy with just about any singer slotted in on vocals. However, Frances Quinlan delivers one of the most outstanding vocal performances in recent memory. Every emotion she expresses has palpable urgency and registers on a visceral level. The intensity is enjoyably offset by fairly bouncy tunes.

  • Ratchet by Shamir

I can’t believe every review of this album doesn’t start off with a Prince comparison. It’s painfully obvious and might set the bar high, but it’s appropriate. This is a party album that identifies the vapid nature of it’s scene before strapping on a studded collar and wallowing in surface pleasures.

Shamir’s falsetto tag-teams with gorgeous electronic beats, which draw  from every decade’s dance music and hip-hop to deliver my favorite pure pop thrills of the year.

  • Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

This album, which has the most unwieldy title since Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, is full of funny, rowdy rock music with a distinctly Australian flavor. Barnett is clearly a songwriter with a sharp eye for detail with a talent and a wit to match, which mingle excellently with a bar-room rock sound.

  • I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside by Earl Sweatshirt

This is my favorite rap release of the year. It’s grim, sparse and intelligent. I think sometimes its bleakness is somewhat overplayed, because while there aren’t many outright jokes on I Don’t Like Shit… there is a cleverness to wordplay and chemistry with Vince Staples that hint at both a sense of humor and a joy in the catharsis of creativity. It’s a short album and well-worth the scant time investment.

Honestly, this year’s rap releases could probably fill an extensive list of recommendations. Off the top of my head, check out: Kendrick Lamar’s effort, A$AP Rocky’s release, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s breezy rap collective harmonies, Action Bronson’s aural ’80s action movie and Joey Bada$$ most recent LP.

Those are my five must-listen albums for 2015 so far, although as stated up top, this has been a strong year for new music so go listen to FFS, The Most Lamentable Tragedy, No Cities to Love, Rose Mountain or some other great release I just overlooked.

My 10 favorite albums of 2014

Happy holidays, I come bearing good tidings. After much soul searching, I’ve compiled a list of my 10 favorite albums of this year. Of course, this is an entirely subjective process, totally based on my taste. As always, this is not a cheer-ocracy.  In order of excellence, here are the 10 best albums 2014 had to offer.

10. Tacocat- NVM

It’s sort of brazen for a Seattle-area punk band to christen an album with an abbreviation of the phrase never mind, but with songs about teenage drug trips, menstruation and skewering suburban anarchy, Tacocat are kind of a brazen band. Like a slightly more well-known album called Nevermind by a slightly more popular Seattle-based band, NVM is packed with slick, catchy rock music. NVM is such an incredibly fun record, it can feel slight. However, the tunes are great, the songs have a unique perspective and the lyrics are wildly entertaining.

9. Vince Staples- Hell Can Wait

Hell Can Wait is an exceptional Hip-Hop album. It’s an uncompromising look at a life of knowingly doing wrong to survive. The lyrics are angry, socially charged, introspective and occasionally sad. There is even a pinch of broader social commentary on “Hands Up”. Production is crisp and interesting. Unfortunately, Vince Staples released this album the same year a pair of releases(see No.8 and No.2 on this list) used similar premises to greater effect. If you have a soft spot for West Coast gangsta rap, this is still a must listen.

8. Schoolboy Q- Oxymoron

This is another California gangsta rap album that displays complete awareness of its deplorable moral vacuum. However, Schoolboy Q has a magnetic charisma and sense of humor that make the bleakness of his subject matter both more palatable and more interesting. This is a rapper who has single handedly revived the bucket hatOxymoron is Q’s major label debut, and “Collard Greens” is the best possible result a studio mandate for a Schoolboy Q hit single could possibly have. Deep self-examinations of what it means to be an opiate-addict, drug-pushing gangsta and a dad mingle with oddball dance tracks, and despite some bloat, it totally works.

7 and 6.(tie) White Lung- Deep Fantasy and Perfect Pussy- Say Yes to Love

If you have a taste for noise rock made by angry women and can stomach some absolutely acrid lyrics, 2014 was a great year. It’s hard for me to talk about Deep Fantasy or Say Yest to Love without referencing each other. Perfect Pussy’s album features more fuzz and screeching, while White Lung’s album is more in-focus and aggressive, but these are two sides of the same exhilarating rock coin.

6. Protomartyr- Under Color of Official Light

Protomartyr’s sophomore effort, Under Color of Official Light is an amazing, offbeat piece of art. The album is the exact sonic intersection of KYUSS and Joy Division. Heavy, murky guitar riffs with post-punk drum beats and angular, brooding vocals. Somehow sludgy and energetic, it’s one of the year’s most original releases and definitely worth a few spins.

5. Cloud Nothings- Here and Nowhere Else

Cloud Nothings found the perfect balance between Attack on Memory‘s raw aggression and the bubblegum hooks of Dylan Baldi’s earlier work. These are hummable melodies created by a full-fledged rock band absolutely pummeling their instruments. In modern rock music, there are few things capable of eliciting as much involuntary body movement as the spastic head nods caused by the moment on any given track on Here and Nowhere Else when Baldi and Co. decide to kick things into the next gear.

4. St. Vincent- St. Vincent

St. Vincent’s eponymous release is a perfect encapsulation of everything Annie Clark does extraordinarily well. There’s angular robo-rock, spacey dance tunes, oddball lyrics and, of course, exquisite guitar work. If there is room in your heart for interesting art-rock, you’ll love this album.

3. Ex Hex – Rips

This is a power pop album ripped straight from ’70s AM radio in the best possible way. Everything slightly derivative, but it’s impossible to listen to without a dumb grin plastered across my face. At any given moment, Rips is never more than 20 seconds from the next near-perfect guitar lick. Everything is driving, catchy and instantly familiar in a wonderful, comfrotable way. Because it already sounds classic, Rips is probably this year’s most re-listenable album, and the fantastic, catchy melodies make those repeat listens downright compulsive.

2. Run the Jewels- Run the Jewels 2

RTJ2 is maybe the most intense release of the year. It tackles large social concerns–race relations, police brutality, poverty, etc– while also hurling some of the most colorful, hilarious insults of the year toward anyone, usually deemed a “fuck boy” who dares to oppose Killer Mike and El-P. The chemistry between Mike and Jaime is jaw-dropping as the two MC’s fluidly drop tag-team rhymes. Once again, El-P’s production is spot on, and the beats sound like no one else in rap music. This album is positively visceral. Run the Jewels made the perfect soundtrack for an often tumultuous year and committed fully to filling the airwaves with their own angry truth.

1. Strand of Oaks- Heal

From the opening moments of “Goshen ’97” I strongly suspected Heal would be my favorite album of the year, and I was 100 percent correct. It’s a snapshot of a man’s head space as he moves past addiction, isolation and marital issues. It explores a variety of a sonic terrain ranging from ’90s alt-rock radio to shimmering synthesizer rock to piano balladry. The common through lines are giant choruses and an unapologetic love for musics. References to artists, media formats and respected musicians dot the entirety of Heal, and the album’s first five songs form an incredibly satisfying emotional arc. It combines the “beer commerfcial” guitar of a War on Drugs album with the weightier meditations of Sun Kil Moon in a year, when it was decided those two qualities were dichotomous. Heal is a deeply personal statement made in the most broadly appealing way, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Honorable mentions(in no particular order): War on Drugs- Lost in the Dream; Sun Kil Moon- Benji; Sturgill Simpson- Metamodern Sounds in Country Music; D’Angelo-Black Messiah; First Aid Kit-Stay Gold; Perfume Genius-Too Bright; and Jenny Lewis-The Voyager

My favorite albums of 2014 so far

It’s roughly halfway through 2014, which means it’s a convenient time to take a look at my favorite musical releases from the past 6 months.

As Steven Hyden pointed out, in his Mid-Year Music Report, there has not been a universally adored blockbuster release this year.  On one hand this means the music released so far this year can seem inconsequential. This years biggest commercial success is the soundtrack to a movie released during the 2013 holiday season. Of course, a year’s critically acclaimed or influential music can be just as important to a year’s perceived legacy as which songs received the most airplay. For example, last year Yeezus seemed ubiquitous despite not actually being one of the 10 best-selling albums of the year. As of June 14, 2014, the vast majority of albums generating critical reverence are reissues. Still, this makes 2014 a year perfectly emblematic of its time. Niche markets, streaming services and the ability to generally listen to any music at any time mean the release of Fucked Up’s Glass Boys can be as momentous as the release of Jack White’s second solo album, Lazaretto, for listeners who seek out hardcore rock while eschewing folk-tinged tunes.

Without critical or commercial behemoths to rank and reckon with, this means everyone’s musical experience in 2014 is going to be different and extremely personal. This is definitely freeing, because it means I can feel better about any omissions or oversights. In no particular order, these are the five albums, which I have enjoyed the most during the first six months of 2014.

 

1. St. Vincent- St. Vincent

Annie Clark is having an awesome year. She got to perform with the surviving members of Nirvana at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. She also put out an incredible, self-titled album chock-full of humor, rocking hooks and interesting arrangements. St. Vincent is one of the most vibrant, self-assured releases of the year even when it deals with the minutiae of Clark’s modern neurosis. This album is a must-listen for fans of everything from straightforward rock to more avant-garde Brian Eno-inspired dream pop.

2.Schoolboy Q- Oxymoron

Without a doubt, Oxymoron, is my favorite rap album of 2014. This album combines hooks and wordplay with heartbreaking voice overs from Schoolboy Q’s daughter and lurid personal details from the Californian rapper’s gang-involved youth. It also contains the monstrous single, “Collard Greens”. When listening to Oxymoron, it becomes clear Kendrick Lamar’s ex-hype man is ready for and deserving of the spotlight.

3.The Men- Tomorrow’s Hits

The Men first captured attention by releasing incredibly earnest rock songs with a healthy dose of garage rock fuzz and punk attitude. Over the course of their discography The Men’s sound has matured. The coyly titled Tomorrow’s Hits is a collection of gorgeous songs, which pay homage to classic rock’s golden age. The songwriting is solid, and the rootsy throwback vibe never seems like a gimmick. This is one of 2014’s most purely enjoyable albums.

4.Cloud Nothings- Here And Nowhere Else

Cloud Nothings continue to grow and improve. The hooks and energy of Dylan Baldi and company’s earlier works are approached with the intensity and relative polish on display on 2012’s Attack on Memory. The blending of old and new is fitting, because Here And Nowhere Else is an album full of contradictions. It blends sweet tunes with sick sentiments. The lyrics proudly display Baldi’s insecurities. It’s a tough balancing act to pull off, but Cloud Nothings do it incredibly well.

5. The Both- The Both

Ted Leo and Aimee Mann teamed up to make an incredibly pleasant pop-rock record. The Both is not a grand artistic statement, but it is a collection of well-crafted,, mostly good-natured pop songs. With its guy-girl lead vocals and  anthemic chrouses, The Both is the best New Pornohraphers’ record since Twin Cinema. It isn’t ground breaking, but it is ridiculously listenable indie rock.