What a year for music. There were gatherings with old friends, dalliances with new acquaintances, and some serious quality time with familiar faces. This batch is as good as any I can remember, with a whole host of albums that are consistently excellent from start to finish.
I’m actually still getting to know the playlist. I did my best to push a strong sequence of the best songs to the front, but, as ever, it’s probably best just to put it on shuffle. If I take the linear approach, I don’t get to some of the better stuff in the back, where you may just find some quality tunes to your liking.
Let me know what’s working for you, what I missed, and happy listening do those who decided to dip a toe in.
Most of my favorites come first, and it’s loosely organized by style and genre. But there are a ton of songs, so I’d recommend putting it on shuffle to get a good mix.
>> Listen on Spotify
1. Lateness of Dancers by Hiss Golden Messenger
Songs: Lucia, Saturday’s Song, Mahogany Dread
Hiss Golden Messenger is essentially M.C. Taylor and a loosely composed group of great musicians, in this case Phil and Brad Cook from Megafaun. Taylor has an academic background in folklore, an interest that drew him back to North Carolina, all of which clearly inspires his music. And though you’ll hear steel guitars and a Wurlitzer, among other instruments on this record, it’s more alt rock than backroad country, or at least some mashup of the two. Taylor is a master lyricist, and his family life figures prominently in his songs. His first-person narratives create a down-home feel to his well-crafted songs.
2. Wild Animals by Trampled by Turtles
Songs: Hollow, Are You Behind the Rising Star, Silver Light
Reviewers like to talk about how TBT is not your father’s bluegrass band, etc, but is that simply because they pick the ever-lovin’ stuff out of a banjo? That’s going to compel some of you, but for those that are inclined to move on, just give this one a try. There is just a ton going on here, indie-folk virtuosity at its finest. If you like finely honed compositions with a rootsy sound, you will dig this record.
3. From Scotland with Love by King Creosote
Songs: Something to Believe In, Largs, For One Night Only
Kenny Anderson is King Creosote, a proud Scot who has churned out 50 plus records. That made him the ideal person to create an album for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, a recording commissioned by the BBC. Imagine the pressure, how do you create what is essentially a soundtrack for your country? Anderson went hyper-local, feigning grand sweeping epics for snapshots of Scottish life. These are views into the every-day of his countrymen, close up, with all of the pride, small joy, and rough edges that comes with it. Many songs can stand on their own, but this is best enjoyed as a whole.
4. Lost in the Dream by The War On Drugs
Songs: Under the Pressure, Red Eyes, Eyes to the Wind
A true breakthrough album, Lost in the Dream topped many music lists this year. Parts of their first two records hinted of better things to come, with this third album delivering as a fully realized masterpiece, start to finish. It has quite a few rocking songs mixed in, though the title is apropos, as a strong, consistent ethereal aesthetic runs throughout.
5. Divisionary by Ages and Ages
Songs: Light Goes Out, No Pressure, Big Idea
Ages formed in Portland with the explicit goal of making music that will move you, and they have succeeded. Divisionary is full of sophisticated pop songs, with bright sounds playing over somber lyrics. You’ll want to sing along, clap your hands as cheerful melodies and infectious hooks betray the darker nature of the words underneath.
6. Brightly Painted One by Tiny Ruins
Songs: Me at the Museum You in the Wintergardens, Carriages, Chainmail Maker
An unknown New Zealand band breaks through. This is a slow burn, an album perfectly suited to set and forget on a rainy afternoon. Ten gorgeous, minimal tunes with outstanding lyrics and subtle musical complexities. Hollie Fullbrook will, in turns, sound a little like Portishead, Jolie Holland, Joni Mitchell, or Vasti Bunyan depending on your mood.
7. Held in Spendor by Quilt
Songs: Saturday Bride, Eye of the Pearl
So this is one of those bands that borrows heavily from 60s pop. You can’t help but think of Jefferson Airplane or the Mamas and the Papas when listening to any given tune on this album. But they are one of the few bands of that ilk to own the sound, make it their own. You’ll hear some of that great psychedelic guitar, dreamy harmonies, some tambourines thrown in, but their act isn’t kitschy. While they could slide comfortably into a former era, they bring enough quality and innovation to appeal to today’s sensibilities.
8. Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son by Damien Jurado
Songs: Silver Timothy, Silver Donna
Jurado continues his foray into psychedelica, now thoroughly owning a style he delved into on his last record, Maraqopa. This is a concept album concerned with creating a haunting, spacey aesthetic, and it really delivers on that aspect. Everything Jurado has done with producer Richard Swift has been amazing, but just as impressive is his ability to venture into new territory with each album.
9. Best of Boiler Room Classics by Mike Adams at His Honest Weight
Songs: Findings of Feeling Findings of Fact, The Bright Line, The Fingers You Know
Pure alt pop-rock here, a set of musically heavy, melancholy songs from a guy who hosts a talk show from his basement in Bloomington, Indiana. Adams churns out earnest tunes of a quality that is somehow refined at its core and fuzzy around the edges, giving his music an accessibility that retains its smarts.
10. Sukierae by Tweedy
Songs: Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood, Low Key
This is the best thing I’ve heard out of Jeff Tweedy since A Ghost is Born. I won’t lie, he could have easily cut out three or four songs to make it a tighter production, but I’m not going to complain given the return in quality. Tweedy made this album with his son Spencer on drums, who is becoming an accomplished musician in his own right. Mind you, the music here is stripped down considerably compared to Ghost or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it displays infinitely more virtuosity, however understated, than anything that has come since. Honestly, I had just about given up on Wilco. Maybe Tweedy just needed an injection of youth.
IN THE ARGUMENT
- Apache Relay by The Apache Relay
- Beneath the Brine by The Family Crest
- Divide and Exit by Sleaford Mods
- Lighght by Kishi Bashi
- After The Disco by Broken Bells
- This Is All Yours by Alt-J
- Singles by Future Islands
Mahogany Dread by Hiss Golden Messenger
Silver Light by Trampled by Turtles
Red Eyes by The War on Drugs
Carriages by Tiny Ruins
Katie Queen of Tennessee by Apache Relay
The 84 by Black Prairie
Big Idea by Ages and Ages
Tied Up in Nottz by The Sleaford Mods
Shelter Song by Temples
June by Laura Jean
Turtles All the Way Down by Sturgill Simpson
Eye of the Pearl by Quilt
Good Intentions by Robert Ellis
For One Night Only by King Creosote
Never Work for Free by Tennis