40. Every Valley by Public Service Broadcasting
Post-rock with layered public radio announcements. Perfect for studying.
39. Wild Alee by the Talos
Everyone is trying to rip off the Bon Iver thing this year. Of the imitators, I think Talos did it best.
38. Saint or Sinner by Sir the Baptist
An absolutely infectious single and honest commentary on the lived experience of marginalized communities.
37. Colors by Beck
After a critically acclaimed turn toward singer-songwriter introspection, party-Beck is back.
36. Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works by Max Richter
Ever since Max Richter’s melodic touch scored The Leftovers’ theme, I’m now game for any of his compositions.
35. Drool by Nnamdi Ogbonnaya
Drool provides a window into Nnamdi Ogbonnaya’s unique rapping style.
34. Mercury & Lightning by John Mark McMillan
With this album, the crooner continues his attempt to redeem contemporary Christian music.
33. Melodrama by Lorde
Lorde teams up with Jack Antonoff for spectacular results.
32. Process by Sampha
Sampha’s stripped down R&B evokes sadness and longing.
31. MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent
Angular guitar riffs and measured art-pop make MASSEDUCTION St. Vincent’s best work yet.
30. VOIDS by Minus the Bear
Minus the Bear returns to its guitar-tapping roots.
29. Pleasure by Feist
Leslie Feist embraces oxymoronic production with sparse arrangements full of attack.
28. Hug of Thunder by Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene returns the full super group including contributions from Leslie Feist and Emily Haines.
27. Choir of the Mind by Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton
Where previous efforts from her solo projects haven’t struck a chord, Emily Haines’ latest feels deeply resonant.
26. My Spirit Sister by Joshua James
Joshua James is pure distillation of Americana.
25. We All Want the Same Thing by Craig Finn
Craig Finn mastered the art of storytelling. I would read his novel, were he ever to pen it.
24. Zombies on Broadway by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Accessible pop from the former frontman of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin.
23. Something to Tell You by Haim
Haim would be the biggest band in the world had not Clear Channel conquered it first through its mindless bubblegum pop. Haim is this generation’s answer to Fleetwood Mac.
22. Ghosts by Jeremy Enigk
The legendary frontman of Sunny Day Real Estate and the originator of emo is back for another solo album. When Jeremy Enigk sings, you must listen.
21. Rationale by Rationale
A confident debut from a soulful voice. Listening to Rationale is rational. #DadJoke
20. Fingers Crossed by Derek Webb
Derek Webb broke up with God. Fingers Crossed is a devastating album and “The Spirit Bears the Curse” offers quite a punchline. Webb’s podcast, The Airing of Grief on spiritual de- and re-construction is required listening.
19. Rainbow by Kesha
Given the rise of the #metoo movement, Kesha’s latest album might be one of the most important releases of the year. It doesn’t hurt that Rainbow feels triumphant, powerful, and musically engaging.
18. Rennen by Sohn
I don’t feel hip to the music these days. But when I listen to Sohn, I like to believe I am hip to the music these days.
17. True Care by James Vincent McMorrow
True Care releases less than a year after the brilliant We Move. And honestly, you can tell. The album feels rougher around the edges. But who am I kidding? It’s JVM.
16. Planetarium by Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and James McAlister
Technically, this album has journeyed through the deep galaxies of underground music services (AKA file sharing the live bootleg). I’m just glad I can spin it on vinyl now.
15. Everything Now by Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire aims for the nose-bleed seats with this collection of anthemic tunes.
14. Heartworms by the Shins
With each new entry into the Shins canon, James Mercer cements himself as one of the best songwriters in his generation. “Mildenhall” is a classic.
13. Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset by Richard Edwards
The ghosts of Jeff Buckley haunt the voice of Richard Edwards. What a beautiful falsetto.
12. Afterglow by Ásgeir
What is in the water in Iceland? (I know government funding of the arts is in the water in Iceland.) What a stunning work of artistic pop.
11. Near the Wild Heart of Life by Japandroids
Near the Wild Heart of Life wins the award for best guitar tone of the year. Somehow, the production captures every string while providing fuzzy, overdriven bliss.
10. Gone Now by Bleachers
Jack Antonoff is a king-maker, or more accurately queen-maker in modern music, but I prefer to go straight to the source with his own band.
9. Sleep Well Beast by the National
The rich and evocative storytelling in Sleep Well Beast feels at home in a literary journal.
8. Run the Jewels 3 by Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels pairs socially conscious commentary with danceable beats and decisive bars.
7. Dive Deep by Andrew Belle
Deep Dive is probably the catchiest album to which I listened this year. Andrew Belle has a keen sense of melody and the production values of Deep Dive reinforce the power of the songwriting.
6. A Black Mile to the Surface by Manchester Orchestra
For its last release, Manchester Orchestra went full-electric rock-n-roll on Cope. But to me, the more interesting take was Hope, the same songs recorded acoustically. With A Black Mile to the Surface, Manchester Orchestra splits the difference brilliantly.
5. The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell crafts pure country with an emotional pulse. The Nashville Sound returns Isbell’s backing band, the 400 Unit, and Isbell’s lyrical themes consider white privilege and the frailty of life.
4. Prisoner by Ryan Adams
The best Ryan Adams is broken-hearted Ryan Adams and boy is his heart broken. Be well, Ryan.
3. Turn Out the Lights by Julien Baker
The New Yorker called Julien Baker a modern-day Julian of Norwich and it’s a stunning comparison. With Turn Out the Lights, Baker continues to grapple with the paradox of her life, an openly gay Christian trying to understand how and if she can believe what she believes while being who she is. An emotionally raw album.
2. DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
One of the most lyrically complex artists out there, DAMN. is less ambitious than To Pimp a Butterfly but just as rich in its narratives and motifs.