40. Re:Piano by Chad Lawson
Chad Lawson re-imagines piano composition.
39. Disease by the Beartooth
With an interesting mix of hardcore, pop punk, and hard rock, Beartooth provided the most intriguing heavy music for my listening palate.
38. Black Panther: The Album by Kendrick Lamar and Various Artists
I haven’t seen the movie. Hopefully someday. But, the soundtrack is out of this world. Kendrick Lamar’s verse in “King’s Dead,” is probably the rap highlight of my year.
37. Lost Friends by Middle Kids
This debut shows the songwriting chops of this Australian band. I expect even better as this group matures.
36. Just for Us by Francis and the Lights
Francis masterfully blends electronic soundscapes with a soft, Peter Gabriel vibe. The syncopation in the eponymous track really grooves.
35. Noonday Dream by Ben Howard
Noonday Dream is perhaps the most textured album of the year. Howard eschews catchy melodies for sonic viscosity, mostly successfully.
34. Bruises by Cary Brothers
Cary Brothers hasn’t changed much since I saw him singing, “Blue Eyes,” during his cameo on Scrubs. But, I’m down with his chill, sing-songwriter vibe. So, never change, Cary?
33. OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES by SOPHIE
OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES glitches from song to song to create pop music that’s about as inaccessible as pop music could be while still classified as pop.
32. MxPx by MxPx
At this point, MxPx is a pure nostalgia play. That said, I’m down with Bremerton’s finest punk band. They can deliver to me the nostalgia any day.
31. Offerings by Typhoon
Typhoon’s blend of indie rock and guitar riffs was a refreshing find in the late winter. Its moods kept the February chill at bay.
30. so sad so sexy by Lykke Li
Lykke Li’s so sad so sexy has just enough melancholy to elevate a pop record to a more introspective and creative place.
29. Hell-On by Neko Case
Some might find Neko Case’s brand of eco-feminism to be a bit blunt, but I find Hell-On to be current, important, and enjoyable on the ears.
28. Fight the Good Fight by The Interrupters
The Interrupters are fighting the good fight of keeping ska-punk halfway relevant. Fight the Good Fight is a bundle of energy with a particular focus on the downbeat.
27. Brighter Wounds by Son Lux
I had the privilege of seeing Son Lux live this year. Their set was so tight, every cut, syncopated beat, and harmony properly in its place. Yelling the chorus of “Dream State” with the crowd was an out-of-body experience.
26. Providence Canyon by Brent Cobb
Brent Cobb takes this year’s Chris Stapleton award for “real” country artist making “real” country music. You know, authentic AF, etc.
25. DROGAS WAVES by Lupe Fiasco
Lupe’s Food & Liquor was the first hip-hop album I listened to front-to-back. DROGAS WAVE is almost 2 hours long, but Lupe is woke as ever.
24. Baby Teeth by Dizzy
Dizzy is what would happen if CHVRCHES went downtempo and added a reverb-soaked guitar.
23. Cocoa Sugar by Young Fathers
Cocoa Sugar is one of those albums that requires repeat, attention-to-detail listens to find the treasure in its verses. At my life stage, that kind of listening is hard to do, but Cocoa Sugar has all the elements of an all-timer. I have a feeling this album will keep climbing this list in the years to come.
22. Cheyenne by Conner Youngblood
Youngblood’s dispatches from his world travels hold layers of folk impressionism. The Yale-educated singer-songwriter hasn’t met an instrument he’s been unable to master and Cheyenne does nothing to dissuade the Bon Iver comparisons.
21. Nearer My God by Foxing
This Missouri band is proving that emo doesn’t have to be dead. Also, give Foxing bonus points for recording the “Nearer My God” single in five different languages.
20. Please Don’t Be Dead by Fantastic Negrito
Please Don’t Be Dead has bombastic guitar riffs and soulful melodies. Fantastic Negrito’s back story provides a bountiful source for the blues.
19. Palms by Thrice
Take a quick look at Dustin Kensrue’s reading materials during the creation of Palms and you’ll see a journey toward an inclusive, progressive theology. Much respect for Dustin’s continued pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Also, kudos for the Stranger Things synth in “All of Us.”
18. K. Roosevelt by K. Roosevelt
K. Roosevelt’s self-titled album is so smooth. I get a Frank-Ocean-meets-synth-pop vibe out of it. Good for the soul.
17. boygenius ep by boygenius
Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers win super group of the year. With boygenius, the trio spins gold out of lo-fi yarn. My only complaint is that I missed the vinyl pre-order, and now it’s expensive.
16. Between Two Shores by Glen Hansard
Glen Hansard still has the songwriting chops that helped him win an Oscar. In this installation, Hansard adds horns to his backing band and Between Two Shores sounds strikingly similar to any of The Band’s best work.
15. I’ll Be Your Girl by The Decemberists
In college during a class on American folk music, a fellow student asked the professor if The Decemberists counted as American folk music. After a moment, the professor, said of all the modern music, The Decemberists would count. I’ll Be Your Girl isn’t the high watermark of The Decemberists catalog, but hopefully it still counts as American folk music.
14. Bambi by Hippo Campus
This fall, I was spinning Bambi for a friend and made an off-hand comment about how good the singing was, considering the genre. He noted that they have good choirs in the Midwest. Perhaps Hippo Campus benefited from its St. Paul, Minnesota roots?
13. Delta by Mumford & Sons
The latest from Mumford & Sons might not please many. Fans of the banjo don’t get much banjo. Fans of the last record wont get the same energy from Delta. But, I actually quite like this record. It’s reserved where it needs to be. But it also packs a punch at certain waypoints along the record’s journey. For those patient enough to make it to the syncopated ending of “Delta,” the last song, they’ll receive the reward of an anthemic end.
12. Village by Jacob Banks
Jacob Banks has a voice that gives you all the feels. Nobody had soul this year like Jacob Banks and Village.
11. Evening Machines by Gregory Alan Isakov
When all you have is a guitar and a voice, there’s no place to hide your imperfections. On stage, your music must command the room. The singer-songwriter possesses a difficult task, and with Evening Machines, I await every word from Gregory Alan Isakov with rapt attention.
10. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer might be the most ambitious album of the year. All respect paid to Prince for laying the groundwork for this album, but Monáe owns every note.
9. Dying Star by Ruston Kelly
Sticking with his bad boy bona fides, Dying Star is soaked in all the vices. It’s also super catchy. The guitar riff in the bridge of “Mockingbird” might be one of my favorite musical moments of the year.
8. Earthtones by Bahamas
Earthtones exhibits the two signature elements of Afie Jurvanen’s sound. 1. The laid-back surfer vocal laziness of Jack Johnson. And, 2. The smooth guitar riffs reminiscent of John Mayer. “Way with Words” is my favorite tune from Earthtones.
7. Be More Kind by Frank Turner
“Let’s make America great again by making racists ashamed again. Let’s make compassion in fashion again. Let’s make America great again.”
6. Thank You for Today by Death Cab for Cutie
Thank You for Today feels like a return to form for Death Cab for Cutie. The contrapuntal guitars dance with Ben Gibbard’s evocative lyrics in a similar fashion to times long passed.
5. Love Is Hell by CHVRCHES
Love Is Hell has been the soundtrack to our household, largely because my oldest is a big fan of these synth-pop tunes.
4. By the Way, I Forgive You by Brandi Carlile
There’s something about parenthood that re-scrambles your wires and gets you all emotional. Brandi Carlile’s By the Way, I Forgive You has some awesome tunes like “Hold Out Your Hand” and “The Joke,” but the observational lyricism on parenthood in “The Mother” resonates deeply.
3. Hundred Acres by S. Carey
Bon Iver’s drummer has always flown close to the nest, especially when it comes to a falsetto timbre. But, previous offerings have exhibited S. Carey’s more challenging, avant-garde side. With Hundred Acres, there’s a tighter focus on melody with beautiful results.
2. Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
Countless times this year, as I’ve discussed my favorite albums, I’ve received an odd look when mentioning Kacey Musgraves. Usually, the look implies that I’ve gone a little crazy to give a country artist this much acclaim. She is a pop-country artist after all. While, yes, she is has her fair share of country songs, dismiss Golden Hour at your own peril. Musgraves dabbles in disco, synth-pop, and even a vocoder in “Oh, What A World.” There should be more country artists like Kacey Musgraves.