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.