Best Albums of 2018
This year’s list is a little more timely, brought to you by the Great American Shutdown of 2019. And boy, I have some thoughts. But that’s not for this post. All I’ll say is: elect incompetent people, get stupid results.
Every year is a good year for music if you cast the net wide enough. I always feel like I don’t after I read Aquarium Drunkard’s annual review (it’s amazing how broad they get), but I always feel a little validated if a couple of my picks end up on theirs (Amen Dunes, Damien Jurado, Ryley Walker, Parquet Courts, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Wye Oak, John Prine). They always have a few that I need to go back and reconsider a little more (Richard Swift, Khruangbin, Mountain Man, The Advisory Circle, Michael Nau and the Mighty Thread, Bonny Doon, Nap Eyes), some I should have known about but missed (Kurt Vile, Yo La Tengo, Big Red Machine), and a whole bunch of other stuff I would have never otherwise known about. What a treasure of a website.
Other good top lists were ones from American Songwriter, The Bitter Southerner, Paste, and The Alternative. For stuff you really won’t hear of anywhere else, check out The Quietus and GoldFlakePaint.
As always, every album has a Spotify link in the title. I picked 4 songs off each album to have an even 100-song playlist for you to shuffle through. Key tracks are all gathered in a playlist, here. Hit shuffle and enjoy the year that was.
Amen Dunes // Freedom
Key tracks: “Blue Rose,” “Miki Dora,” “Believe,” “L.A.”
Andrew Bryant // Ain’t It Like the Cosmos
Key tracks: “Robert Downey Jr.’s Scars,” “I Am Not My Father’s Son,” “The Price Was Right,” “Bittersweet”
Phil Cook // People Are My Drug
Key Tracks: “Steampowered Blues,” “Miles Away,” “Another Mother’s Son,” “Life”
The Dead Tongues // Unsung Passage
Key Tracks: “Won’t Be Long,” “Ebb and Flow,” “Pale November Dew,” “Thunder and Crash”
Father John Misty // God’s Favorite Customer
Key Tracks: “Hangout at the Gallows,” “Mr. Tillman,” “Date Night,” “Please Don’t Die”
Foxing // Nearer My God
Key Tracks: “Slapstick,” “Lich Prince,” “Gameshark,” “Bastardizer”
Foxwarren // Foxwarren
Key Tracks: “To Be,” “Lost in a Dream,” “Everthing Apart,” “Sunset Canyon”
Scott Hirsch // Lost Time Behind the Moon
Key Tracks: “When You Were Old (El Dorado),” “Rose’s Song,” “No No,” “Evening’s Wooden Drum”
Hop Along // Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Key tracks: “How Simple,” “Somewhere a Judge,” “One That Suits Me,” “Prior Things”
Damien Jurado // The Horizon Just Laughed
Key tracks: “Allocate,” “Percy Faith,” “The Last Great Washington State,” “Florence-Jean”
Lord Huron // Vide Noir
Key tracks: “Ancient Names (Part I),” “The Balancer’s Eye,” “Moonbeam,” “Vide Noir”
Loma // Loma
Key tracks: “Dark Oscillations,” “Joy,” “I Don’t Want Children,” “Black Willow”
Marie/Lepanto // Tenkiller
Key tracks: “High Desert,” “Inverness,” “Simple Scenes,” “The Rail”
Kacey Musgraves // Golden Hour
Key tracks: “Slow Burn,” “Oh, What a World,” “Space Cowboy,” “High Horse”
The Nude Party // The Nude Party
Key tracks: “Water On Mars,” “Chevrolet Van,” “Records,” “Wild Coyote”
Parquet Courts // Wide Awake!
Key tracks: “Violence,” “Before the Water Gets Too High,” “Wide Awake,” “Tenderness”
John Prine // The Tree of Forgiveness
Key tracks: “Knockin’ on Your Screen Door,” “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone),” “Lonesome Friends of Science,” “When I Get to Heaven”
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever // Hope Downs
Key tracks: “An Air Conditioned Man,” “Talking Straight,” “Bellarine,” “Exclusive Grave”
St. Paul & The Broken Bones // Young Sick Camellia
Key tracks: “Convex,” “Apollo,” “Mr. Invisible,” “LivWithoutU”
Snail Mail // Lush
Key tracks: “Pristine,” “Heat Wave,” “Full Control,” “Anytime”
Sun June // Years
Key tracks: “Discotheque,” “Young,” “Johnson City,” “I’ve Been”
Unknown Mortal Orchestra // Sex & Food
Key tracks: “Ministry of Alienation,” “Hunnybee,” “American Guilt,” “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays”
Ryley Walker // Deafman Glance
Key tracks: “22 Days,” “Can’t Ask Why,” “Telluride Speed,” “Spoil with the Rest”
Wild Pink // Yolk in the Fur
Key tracks: “Lake Erie,” “Yolk in the Fur,” “There is a Ledger,” “John Mosby Hollow Drive”
Wye Oak // The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs
Key tracks: “The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs,” “It Was Not Natural,” “Symmetry,” “You of All People”
Best Albums of 2017
I’ve let this one sit a little long, I know. The good thing is, these have had time to marinate and age.
Just kidding, I’ve had writer’s block and have been in a general creative slump since November 2016 and only now feel like I’m coming out of it. Hard to be creative and joyful about much when you’re depressed about most things going on around you.
Anyway, go vote. But not if you suck or have an inclination to elect someone who does.
As always, every album has a Spotify link in the title. I picked 4 songs off each album (except that Mount Eerie album - shit man you can only be so down) to have an even 96-song playlist for you to shuffle through. Key tracks are all gathered in a playlist at the bottom of the post. Hit shuffle and enjoy the year that was.
Ben Sollee // Ben Sollee and Kentucky Native
Perennial favorite, but I have basically skipped over his last album, Infowars (no relation to Alex Jones, quite the opposite). This one sees Sollee and a band of friends bunking up in a Kentucky cabin and quickly and simply putting a record together. They attempt a few style blends (what if mariachi music was made with Appalachian instruments? for example), mostly successful.
Key tracks: “Carrie Bell,” “Mechanical Advantage,” “Moon Miner,” “The Wires”
Brand New // Science Fiction
This one was longed for, anticipated, cheered, and then shunned due to past sins of the band’s lead singer, Jesse Lacey. However, the album itself is a work. I haven’t been a longtime fan of Brand New - I first got into them when I needed something angsty to listen to while doing design studios in grad school - but I do enjoy this one, and it’s good enough to be considered apart from a band member’s actions.
Key tracks: “Can’t Get It Out,” “Waste,” “Same Logic/Teeth,” “Out of Mana”
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah // Ruler Rebel
Not usually a jazz fusion kind of guy, but this has such a cool mood. He released three albums in 2017, and I need to check out the rest.
Key Tracks: “New Orleanian Love Song,” “New Orleanian Love Song II,” “Phases,” “Encryption”
David Bazan // Care
If Bazan makes an album, it’s going to end up here. That’s how it goes. Care is Bazan going back to a Headphones arrangement - pretty much everything is synths. But! I would like to see an artist who wrings as much emotion and sets as much mood with as few pieces as Dave does on this record. It’s an intimate view of relationships, and hits as close to home as any meditations on spirituality he’s done in the past.
Key Tracks: “Care,” “Disappearing Ink,” “Make Music,” “The Ballad of Pedro Y Blanco”
Everything Everything // A Fever Dream
Everything Everything - the band with the largest gap between the audience they have and the audience they deserve. And also my favorite band I don’t own a record of, because they’re from the UK and they’re all expensive to get over here. Unbelievably talented and incredibly smart - the music is complex and fund to dive into, and the lyrics are political and biting.
Key Tracks: “Night of The Long Knives,” “Desire,” “Run The Numbers,” “A Fever Dream”
Fleet Foxes // Crack-Up
Albums like these are why it’s good to live with your picks (but a whole year probably isn’t necessary). Didn’t love it at first, but now I can’t pick only 4 songs. It’s timeless, it’s complex, it has references you’d need a doctorate in Greek literature to understand, it’s beautiful and fully realized. Glad I stuck with this one.
Key Tracks: “If You Need To, Keep Time On Me,” “Third of May / Odaigahara,” “Mearcstapa,” “On Another Ocean (January / June)”
Hiss Golden Messenger // Hallelujah Anyhow
Hiss Golden Messenger has become one of my favorite bands. The horns, the groove, the space - they keep getting better. I love listening to the music, reading MC Taylor’s writing, watching the band comb through an Ameoba record store - whatever it is, give it to me. As part of the Durham, NC scene, they’re also part of one of my favorite band ecosystems. Saw them in Tallahassee at the Club Downunder with maybe 30 other people - put on a great show in spite of that. Even came back a year later! Class act, these guys.
Key Tracks: “Harder Rain,” “John the Gun,” “Domino (Time Will Tell),” “When the Wall Comes Down”
Jake Xerxes Fussell // What in the Natural World
Saw Jake Fussell in Savannah a coupe of years ago with Mount Moriah, and was not sure what to expect. I knew who he was, but hadn’t listened to his first record. It was just him, his guitar, and a stool, but he won me over. Basically what you’re getting here is a professor of Southern Studies who is an exceptional musician, reworking old folk songs in his style.
Key Tracks: “Have You Ever Seen Peaches Growing On A Sweet Potato Vine?,” “Furniture Man,” “Canyoneers,” “St. Brendan’s Isle”
James Holden and the Inheritors // The Animal Spirits
Sounds like a wild synthesizer-led occult ceremony, which means it’s great to work to. I love it when someone takes something wholly electronic and somehow turns it into sounds organic enough to feel like they dug it out of the ground.
Key tracks: “Spinning Dance,” “Pass Through the Fire,” “Thunder Moon Gathering,” “Go Gladly Into the Earth”
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit // The Nashville Sound
Of course this is on here. Greatest songwriter of our generation. All hits, no misses.
Key tracks: “Tupelo,” “If We Were Vampires,” “Chaos and Clothes,” “Hope the High Road”
Jay Som // Everybody Works
Lots of noise, lots of hooks, lots of woozy, baked guitars. Great all the way through.
Key tracks: “The Bus Song,” “One More Time, Please,” “Baybee,” “Take It”
John Moreland // Big Bad Luv
Moreland’s been developing a sound for a while now, and he keeps working himself over into the Hiss Golden Messenger realm, which will win me over every time. He keeps getting better at bringing together the music, the stories, and the tone together to make something we’ll be listening to for years.
Key tracks: “Sallisaw Blue,” “Love Is Not an Answer,” “Amen, So Be It,” “Slow Down Easy”
Kevin Morby // City Music
I feel like all Kevin Morby’s albums are future classics, and this one is no exception. He’s branching out a bit here - or, if not branching out, at least tweaking the sound a bit. The title track is a wonderful example of dynamics and how to wring momentum out of playing the same riff over and over. A great driving song.
Key tracks: “Come to Me Now,” “City Music,” “Tin Cup,” “Tin Cup”
Lo Tom // Lo Tom
Big dumb rock by way of Pedro the Lion and Starflyer 59. Love everything about this, and it sounds exactly like it should.
Key tracks: “Covered Wagon,” “Overboard,” “Bad Luck Charm,” “Lower Down”
Michael Nau // Some Twist
This one snuck up on me. I had seen other musicians I like mention Nau, but I hadn’t ever really listened to him until this year. I bought the album because it was on special for $10 at Suicide Squeeze, and it’s now one I reach to fairly often. Homage to the 60s is paid, but in Nau’s own way - it’s very much inspired-by, not impersonating.
Key tracks: “How You’re So For Real,” “Oh, You Wanna Bet?,” “Scatter,” “Light That Ever”
Mount Eerie // A Crow Looked At Me
There’s no best songs on here, and I’m not pulling any singles of out context for the playlist. This might be saddest record I’ve ever listened to - I’ve only listened to it once and it’s stuck with me for a year and a half. Maybe one of those things having young kids will do to you. I should go back and listen to it now that he’s engaged to actress Michelle Williams - not a bad place to land after this mess. Might not affect me as much knowing where he and his daughter ended up.
Mutemath // Play Dead
Likely Mutemath’s last proper album. While it’s not as good as previous work, there are still some gems on here. I think it’s also notable that this album was really trying to meld their different sounds; some worked really well, some worked less well, but nothing’s bad here.
Key tracks: “Stroll On,” “Break The Fever,” “Everything’s New,” “Achilles Heel”
The National // Sleep Well Beast
It’s been a little while, and man, what a return. After the wasn’t-as-good-as-it-sounded-like-it-would-be collaboration with members of Menomena (El Vy), The National returns with an expanded sound. Guitar solos! Electronica! Rockin’ out! Drunken piano ballads! They couldn’t abandon what got ’em here, right? Great example of a band pushing their boundaries without losing themselves.
Key tracks: “Nobody Else Will Be There,” “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” “Guilty Party,” “Carin at the Liquor Store”
Pheobe Bridgers // Stranger in the Alps
My first impression of Bridgers was a Julien Baker imposter, and I still don’t think that’s totally off base. But she pulls off the Ben Gibbard songwriting trick here - songs so specific they’re somehow universal.
Key tracks: “Smoke Signals,” “Motion Sickness,” “Scott Street,” “Would You Rather”
Ryan Adams // Prisoner
Adams is one of my favorite songwriters, but we can all say it’s been a little bit since he was on his A-game. I also feel bad for noting this, because this record was the product of much personal sadness. But it’s his best in a long time.
Key tracks: “Do You Still Love Me?,” “Prisoner,” “Doomsday,” “To Be Without You”
Slowdive // Slowdive
I appreciate Slowdive for taking me on a shoegaze journey - not every day a band takes 20 years off then comes back and kills it like this. Going back and listening to their old albums and their contemporaries that don’t have a comeback in them is highly recommended.
Key tracks: “Star Roving,” “Sugar for the Pill,” “No Longer Making Time,” “Go Get It”
Sorority Noise // You’re Not as ___ as You Think
Been a minute since I’ve gotten into an album that makes me play air drums as much as this one. Catchy as hell while pounding your face in.
Key tracks: “No Halo,” “A Portrait Of,” “Disappeared,” “Second Letter From St. Julian”
Special Explosion // To Infinity
Another Ian Cohen twitter-find. This is a beautifully-produced and recorded album, packed with mood and emotion. It could be emo, I suppose - I’ve been welcoming the emo revival of the last couple years. I can’t listen to “Fire” loud enough, and the bass on many of these songs sounds like it was chiseled out of stone.
Key tracks: “Wet Dream,” “Your Bed,” “Fire,” “So Long”
TW Walsh // Terrible Freedom
It’s a TW Walsh record. This should be all you need to know. I don’t think it’s as good as 2016’s Fruitless Research, but that was an all-timer and you can’t expect a one man band to be in his basement pumping out all-timers on a yearly basis while mastering hundreds of other projects and also being in another band (Lo Tom). Just be happy with what you get, right?
Key tracks: “High Numbers,” “Dead Landmines,” “Terrible Freedom,” “Fake Disease”
War on Drugs // A Deeper Understanding
The knocks on this album are 1) it is dense and the songs are long and 2) War on Drugs definitely has a “sound.” So brushing through it, it can all blur together. This album needs attention to bloom. There’s so much packed into each one of these songs that it’s worth digging in to find the moments and hooks and layers that make it something special.
Key tracks: “Up All Night,” “Strangest Thing,” “In Chains,” “Clean Living”
Best Albums of 2016
Since getting a record player last year, I haven’t been as interested in keeping up with everything new. I’d do a year-end rush and listen to a ton of different things from a ton of different lists and come up with mine. I did it this year too, of course - it’s a blast to discover a flood of new music. But I wasn’t feeling any pressure to include the releases on everyone else’s lists. If I didn’t really listen to it, it didn’t get on here. This one feels a little more completely me than past ones might have.
Every album has a Spotify link in the title. I picked 4 songs off each album, to have an even 100-song playlist for you to shuffle through. Key tracks are all gathered in a playlist at the bottom of the post. Hit shuffle and enjoy the year that was.
Andrew Bird // Are You Serious
Andrew Bird strikes this weird balance between being very pretentious and very fun to listen to. A world-class musician, he’s also incredible to see live. I got to see him at the Wilma in Missoula, MT this summer, and it’s so fun to watch someone that could mail it in and know that everyone would leave happy, but doesn’t. He was engaged with the songs, playing around with the instrumentation and experimenting with whistles and loops and whatever else he had on stage. This one is his most direct effort lyrically, and comes on the heels of having a son, getting married, and suffering through his wife’s cancer scare. “Puma” goes into detail about that struggle, while “Valleys of the Young” delivers some of the most affecting and relevant young dad lines I’ve heard put to music.
Key tracks: “Roma Fade,” “Truth Lies Low,” “Puma”, “Valleys of the Young”
Andy Shauf // The Party
I just found out about Andy Shauf last year, when his Bearer of Bad News made my list. What I didn’t know was that that album was orginally released in 2012, so I was surprised and excited to see him come back with another strong effort so soon. Conceptually taking place at a party and writing songs from different attendees’ perspectives, this one gets better and better with every listen.
Key tracks: “The Magician,” “Twist Your Ankle,” “Quite Like You”, “Alexander All Alone”
Angel Olson // MY WOMAN
Burn Your Fire for No Witness was a major oversight on my 2014 list, and this one predictably made nearly everyone’s list this year. Her amazing voice is front and center throughout the album, mixing sloppy, shouty garage rock vibes with hints of 50s doo-wop and alt-country.
Key Tracks: “Never Be Mine,” “Shut Up Kiss Me,” “Not Gonna Kill You,” “Woman”
Bon Iver // 22, A Million
I was beginning to wonder if Justin Vernon would ever release another Bon Iver album. He seemed visibly frustrated by the box (cabin?) his classic first album put him in, and he pretty much maxed out the direction he was headed with Bon Iver, Bon Iver. After a few years of cameoing on Kanye albums, putting out one-offs like Gayngs and The Shouting Matches, it seems like all along he was experimenting with his new sounds the most in Volcano Choir. This is a beautiful album that keeps giving the more you listen - even the distortions of voice emote. It’s a drastic depature from previous work, but it still somehow manages to sound like Bon Iver. The full album package has some incredible art direction, as a bonus.
Key Tracks: “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” “715 - CR∑∑KS,” “33”GOD”“,”___ 45 ____” (<-can’t quite format this one right)
Car Seat Headrest // Teens of Denial
For some reason I slept on this one for most of the year. His Teens of Style compliation last year barely fell off my list, but for whatever reason I never checked on this one. Too bad, because it’s awesome. He certainly wears his influences on his sleeve (Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Nada Surf and Neutral Milk Hotel, among many others), but the fun thing is that they’ll all show up in the same (7+ minute) song.
Key Tracks: “Vincent,” “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” “1937 State Park”, “Cosmic Hero”
Chris Staples // Golden Age
Chris Staples is one of those songwriters that kind of lurk in the background of your life, popping up occasionally to deliver a knock-out album, only to fade away again. He’s been around for me since undergrad, traveling to Tuscaloosa to see him perform as Discover America, then solo. A fellow early-life Pensacolian, Staples’ new one is the poppiest he’s been since Discover America and hits that perfect laid-back-but-still-attention-grabbing vibe.
Key Tracks: “Golden Age,” “Missionary,” “Cheap Shades”, “Always on My Mind”
Damien Jurado // Visions of Us on the Land
The final somewhat weird, somewhat psychadelic album in a trilogy he’s done with producer Richard Swift. If Swift is involved, odds are good I will enjoy it. Often feels like it’s being piped in from speakers from another dimension, in a very good way.
Key Tracks: “QACHINA,” “TAQOMA,” “Exit 353”, “Queen Anne”
David Bazan // Blanco
Bazan’s Blanco is something of a “greatest hits” of the Bazan Monthly collections he’s put out over the last couple of years. He selected 10 songs from that output and re-recorded them with Yuuki Matthews (of The Shins and others). Some are just slightly cleaned up, while others are way more fleshed out than their Monthly versions. Regardless, I love it. He’s moving farther and farther away from his identity as “former Pedro the Lion singer who said fuck at Cornerstone and left the church,” and I can’t wait for his new one this year. I’ll be seeing him in Gainesville next week, and hopefully he’ll have some copies available. It’s coming out next month (and produced by Richard Swift, in a match made in my heaven).
As a bonus, check out the Christmas album he put out this year, Dark Sacred Night. As someone who really doesn’t like much Christmas music, it’s a welcome departure.
Key Tracks; “Both Hands”, “Kept Secrets,” “With You”, “Someone Else’s Bet”
Drive By Truckers // American Band
A very important and deeply political album that has surely lost this Athens, GA band fans. It’s also gained them a few, including me, who thinks this is their best album since Jason Isbell left. “Guns of Umpqua” and “What It Means” in particular capture how many of us feel about politics nowadays, especially in the South. It was The Bitter Southerner’s and Dave O’Brien’s (sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) album of the year, and rightfully so.
Key Tracks: “Surrender Under Protest,” “Ramon Casiano,” “Guns of Umpqua,” “What It Means”
Everything, Everything // Get to Heaven
This album actually came out last year in the UK, but it only made it to the US this year. I loved Arc, and this improves and stretches the band’s sound in every direction. It was really hard to pick only four songs from this one. The backstory is that the lead singer binged on cable news and wrote it to try and capture the political environment in the Uk during the past year, with the rise of UKIP and the Brexit referendum. By extension, it captures the confusion, anger, and disorientation of our society as well. It moves from the strong cold rock open of “To the Blade” to dance, electronica, reggae, math rock, pop and most points in between. Their drummer, Michael Spearman, is one of my favorites.
Key Tracks: “To the Blade”, “Get to Heaven,” “The Wheel (Is Turning Now),” “No Reptiles”
Hiss Golden Messenger // Heart Like a Levee
It’s hard to express how much I love this band. Their music hits some kind of resonance within me - I never get tired of listening to it. MC Taylor is part of that Durham, NC group that continues to release some of my favorite music, and Phil Cook, who’s Southland Mission made my favorite list last year, is a major part of the sound. I had the key tracks queued up for this one a while ago, but then I saw them at Club Downunder a couple weeks ago (with like 30 other people - come on, Tallahassee!) and had to change that around.
Key Tracks: “Heart Like a Levee,” “Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer,” “As the Crow Flies”, “Highland Grace”
Jeff Rosenstock // WORRY.
This was a late year listening rush discovery, I’ll admit. I hadn’t ever listened to Rosenstock before, but I immediately latched onto it. He gleefully makes music I would have loved in high school, but pairs it with lyrics I love right now. Massive hooks, group sing-a-longs, screaming, marriage, ska (!), crappy drum loops, numbers in the song titles, gentrification, digital surveillance - I’m there.
Key Tracks: “We Begged 2 Explode,” “Festival Song,” “Staring Out the Window at Your Old Apartment”, “HELLLLHOOOOLE”
Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster // Constant Stranger
Despite putting Andrew Bryant’s This is the Life on my list last year, I didn’t realize his main gig was the drummer for Water Valley, Mississippi’s Water Liars. I discovered them while I was out in Montana this summer and immediately acquired all three of their albums. JPKS is the other half of the Water Liars, singing and playing guitar. This effort is more paired down than the full band, but his voice and lyrics are still outstanding.
Key Tracks: “Headed South,” “Laid Low,” “Brake Dust”, “The Dirt, The Bells and I”
Kevin Morby // Singing Saw
Morby was previously the bassist for Woods, whose album also made my list this year. Seems like the parting was mutually beneficial. This is an exceptional album from start to finish. It’s folky, but not in the traditional sense - it feels like something new, something more sophisticated, but still easy. Even his vocals feel like you can’t really pin down where they’re from. “I Have Been to the Mountain” is one of the best songs of the year.
Key Tracks: “Cut Me Down,” “I Have Been to the Mountain,” “Destroyer,” “Black Flowers”
Local Natives // Sunlit Youth
I’ve loved Local Natives since their first album, but this one was a grower. Hummingbird was a darker affair, but this one is full on bright lights, with a purposefully more positive vibe throughout. Another one of my favorite drummers here, and their vocal harmonies are a sound you can’t find just anywhere.
Key Tracks: “Past Lives,” “Fountain of Youth,” “Masters,” “Coins”
Mandolin Orange // Blindfaller
A simply beautiful bluegrass album. These songs feel like they were just breathed out of the band, especially “Wildfire.” This song captures the modern-day small-town Southern experience like few others do:
Civil war came, civil war went / Brother fought brother, the south was spent / But its true demise was hatred, passed down through the years
It should have been different, it could have been easy / But pride has a way of holding too firm to history / And it burns like wildfire
Key Tracks: “Hey Stranger,” “Wildfire,” “Lonesome Whistle”, “Gospel Shoes”
Mitski // Puberty 2
This one moved on and off my list more than any other, but ultimately I couldn’t around how freaking great the good songs were. “Your Best American Girl” has one of the highest emotionally-crushing lyrics/sonically-crushing chorus drop pairings in recorded music history.
Key Tracks: “Happy,” “Your Best American Girl,” “Crack Baby”, “A Burning Hill”
Mount Moriah // How to Dance
Once again, bands from Durham keep hooking my ears. Heather McEntire’s voice is what brings me into this album, almost like a young Dolly Parton. The spare, angular guitar lines and simple drumming separate them from similar-sounding bands, and stems from the members’ backgrounds in punk, metal and experimental jazz. Saw them in Savannah a few months ago, and look forward to seeing them again in about a month at the Word of South Festival here in Tallahassee.
Key Tracks: “Light Up,” “Stratosphere,” “Used To,” “Best Of Intentions”
Pinegrove // Cardinal
These guys came out of nowhere, New Jersey to make what might be my most-played album of the year. All the songs just sort of shamble along, with the guitar, bass, drums, pedal steel and banjo weaving in and out of each other behind Evan Stephens Hall’s wordy lyrics and spot-on vocals. Haven’t gotten tired of it yet.
Key Tracks: “Old Friends,” “Cadmium,” “Aphasia”, “Waveform”
Radiohead // A Moon Shaped Pool
I haven’t really liked a full Radiohead album since There, There, if we’re being honest. In Rainbows had some great songs, but there was nothing for me in King of Limbs. This one, however, is truly great. It’s quiet and subtle, and rewards close listening with new details on every track. An extremely welcome change of pace.
Key Tracks: “1922,” “Great Tide,” “Belong,” “Anybody Else”
Shearwater // Jet Plane and Oxbow
The last one to make the cut - I just couldn’t shake the hugeness of some of these songs. They’ve been lodged in my head since I first heard the album earlier this year. They sound monumental, if that’s a thing. The band’s resigned to the current state of the world, but hopeful at the same time.
Key Tracks: “Quiet Americans,” “Backchannels,” “Filaments”, “Glass Bones”
Sturgill Simpson // A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Took them long enough, but Sturgill finally got some mainstream acknowledgment with a Grammy a few weeks ago. He should have gotten one for Metamodern Sounds in Country Music too, but we all know the Grammys run about 3 years behind. Written to his young son, the lyrics obviously strike a chord with me, but it’s the Dap-Kings horns and decidedly un-country groove that keeps you coming back.
Key Tracks: “Keep It Between the Lines,” “In Bloom,” “Brace for Impact (Live a Little),” “All Around You”
TW Walsh // Fruitless Research
The drummer for Pedro the Lion in a previous life, immortalized in the lyrics “I trust T William Walsh / And I’m not afraid to die”, he makes a solo breakthrough on this group of songs. If I had to pick an album of the year, this would be it, without question. It’s a perfect record, like a techno-folk Neil Young with a better voice, impossible to pick only 4 songs from. Every single song is strong as hell, and listenable an infinite number of times. I love everything about it, and I can’t recommend it enough. Check out the solo album previous to this, Songs of Pain and Leisure, and his band after Pedro broken up, The Soft Drugs. While your at it, go contribute to the Kickstarter for his new album coming this year too.
Key Tracks: “Young Rebels,” “Fundamental Ground,” “Counting Cards”, “The Glow”
Whitney // Light Upon the Lake
If anyone made a truly timeless album this year, it’s these folks. Everything is perfect, catchy and warm. Was probably my go-to summer album, driving around Flathead Lake on my way to Kalispell or Glacier. Great places come to mind when listening to this one.
Key Tracks: “No Woman,” “Golden Days,” No Matter Where We Go“,”Polly”
Woods // City Sun Eater in the River of Light
The horns, the bass, the guitar lines - I kept coming back to this album more and more throughout the year. This band hadn’t really interested me that much in the past, but this effort sets them apart. More reggae and dub influences wear really well here.s
Key Tracks: “Sun City Creeps,” “Morning Light,” “Can’t See at All”, “I See in the Dark”
Hello, Summer 2016
Seeing as the leaves are about to start changing here in western Montana, I should probably go ahead and post this. Thoroughly road-tested and approved for good times.
Ugly Cherries // PWR BTTM
The Mansion // John Vanderslice
I Have Been To The Mountain // Kevin Morby
Wow // Beck
Young Rebels // TW Walsh
King Of The World // Weezer
Spin // Bad Bad Hats
White Sheet // Bellows
Old Friends // Pinegrove
Same Drugs // Chance The Rapper
Street Trash // Tobacco
Ain’t No Man // The Avett Brothers
Julep // Punch Brothers
Future People // Alabama Shakes
Nothin’ No // David Vandervelde
Hello Sunshine // Relatively Clean Rivers
No Matter Where We Go // Whitney
Past Lives // Local Natives
Belly Of The Beat // Grimes
Colours // The Avalanches
Everything // Megafaun
Listen on Spotify
Best Songs of 2015
Ok, yeah, so this has been ready for like months, but I haven’t posted it because I’m lazy. Anyway, best 50 from the past year.
California // Grimes, from Art Angels
Nausea // Jeff Rosenstock, from We Cool?
The Knower // Youth Lagoon, from Savage Hills Ballroom
Satellites // Bill Ryder-Jones, from West Kirby County Primary
Used To // Mutemath, from Vitals
’Cause I’m A Man - HAIM Remix // Tame Impala, from Currents
She Takes Me There // Promised Land Sound, from For Use And Delight
Running Late // Flyying Colours, from EPX2
Boys Life // Small Black, from Boys Life
Dream Lover // Destroyer, from Poison Season
Cheap Shades // Chris Staples, from Cheap Shades EP
Anybody Else // Phil Cook, from Southland Mission
Getting Ready To Get Down // Josh Ritter, from Sermon On The Rocks
Before The World Was Big // Girlpool, from Before The World Was Big
Depreston // Courtney Barnett, from Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Think…
Leave A Trace // CHVRCHES, from Every Open Eye
I Want You Final // Andrew Bryant, from This Is The Life
Compound Fracture // My Morning Jacket, from The Waterfall
To The Top // Twin Shadow, from Eclipse
Good Help (Is So Hard To Find) // Death Cab For Cutie, from Kintsugi
A New Wave // Sleater-Kinney, from No Cities To Love
City On The Hill // Desaparecidos, from Payola
I’m Ready // Geographer, from Ghost Modern
Stoic Resemblance // The Helio Sequence, from The Helio Sequence
Baby Blue // Action Bronson feat. Chance The Rapper, from Mr. Wonderful
Don’t Wanna Fight // Alabama Shakes, from Sound & Color
The Best Room // Modest Mouse, from Strangers To Ourselves
Competition // The Dodos, from Individ
begin again // Purity Ring, from begin again
Style // Ryan Adams, from 1989
Multi-Love // Unknown Mortal Orchestra, from Multi-Love
Bored In The USA // Father John Misty, from I Love You, Honeybear
Snakeskin // Deerhunter, from Fading Frontier
24 Frames // Jason Isbell, from Something More Than Free
Pretty Pimpin // Kurt Vile, from b’lieve i’m goin down…
Half Dome // Toro y Moi, from What For?
Can’t Deny My Love // Brandon Flowers, from The Desired Effect
Where Are U Now // Jack U with Justin Bieber, from Skrillex and Diplo present Jack U
Run Away With Me // Carly Rae Jepsen, from Emotion
Desire // DILLY DALLY, from Sore
Dreams // Beck, from Dreams
Pray For Rain // Pure Bathing Culture, from Pray For Rain
This Is Not A Party // The Wombats, from Glitterbug
Texas Funeral // Hop Along, from Painted Shut
Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo) // EL VY, from Return To The Moon
The Gift Of Sound // Little Comets, from Hope Is Just A State Of Mind
Summer Dress // Ryley Walker, from Primrose Green
Hometown Hero // Andy Shauf, from The Bearer Of Bad News
Alright // Kendrick Lamar, from To Pimp A Butterfly
Mostly // repeat repeat, from Mostly
Listen on Spotify
Best Albums of 2015
Here it is, my long-anticipated, eagerly-awaited yearly take on the best music of the year. Every album has a Spotify link in the title. Best 50 songs coming soon. Key tracks are all gathered in a playlist at the bottom of the post. Hit shuffle and enjoy the year that was.
Alabama Shakes // Sound & Color
The thing I love about the Alabama Shakes is they take the Muscle Shoals sound and expand on it, instead of just trying to emulate it. Some of the popular releases this year, like Leon Bridges, were enjoyable to listen to, but too on the nostalgia nose for me.
Key tracks: “Don’t Wanna Fight,” “Future People,” “Miss You”
Andrew Bryant // This Is The Life
Was turned onto this by The Bitter Southerner, one of my favorite web magazines. A singer-songwriter from Water Valley, MS (just outside of Oxford), this album is just comfortable.
Key tracks: “Keep It Together,” “I Want You Final”
Andy Shauf // The Bearer Of Bad News
Found out about this one from a tweet by David Bazan. Wonderful atmosphere and story-telling, and certainly makes the case for more clarinet. “Wendell Walker” is one of the more visceral songs I’ve ever heard.
Key Tracks: “Hometown Hero,” “I’m Not Falling Asleep,” ’Wendell Walker,” “Jesus, She’s A Good Girl”
CHVRCHES // Every Open Eye
Not much of a departure from their debut, but that’s a-ok with me. They do what they do incredibly well.
Key Tracks: “Never Ending Circles,” “Leave A Trace,” “Make Them Gold”
Courtney Barnett // Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
The universal praise is well-deserved. The music is great, the lyrics are smart, and the whole thing is consistently entertaining. Check our her older EPs.
Key Tracks: “Pedestrian At Best,” “Depreston,” “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party”
David Bazan // Bazan Monthly, Vol. 2 (Soundcloud Link)
Not really an album, but a set of singles released over the first 5 months of the year. Doesn’t matter - I’m a sucker for anything Bazan is involved with. One artist I consistently and deeply relate to. You can listen to the whole thing on Soundcloud (which you should). Can’t wait for his new one coming this year.
Key Tracks: “Oblivion,” “Someone Else’s Bet,” “Over My Eyes”
Death Cab for Cutie // Kintsugi
Not really sure why this one was passed over by everyone. I think it’s a great album, a nice return to the earlier, stripped-down Death Cab. Maybe people didn’t like the idea of a revenge album about Zooey Deschanel.
Key Tracks: “No Room In Frame,” “The Ghosts Of Beverly Drive,” “Good Help (Is So Hard To Find)”
Deerhunter // Fading Frontier
I had heard “Snakeskin” earlier and loved it, but didn’t get into the rest of album until later in the year. Just high-quality, chill indie rock.
Key Tracks; “Living My Life”, “Duplex Planet,” “Snakeskin”
Desaparecidos // Payola
Emo-punk protest song Conor Oberst might be my favorite Conor Oberst.
Key Tracks: “The Left Is Right,” “City On A Hill,” “Radicalized,” “Te Amo Camila Vallejo”
Father John Misty // I Love You, Honeybear
What a combo - beautiful music, deeply cynical yet hilarious lyrics, a bizarre aesthetic. Love every bit of this.
Key Tracks: “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”, “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.,” “Strange Encounter,” “Bored In The USA”
Flyying Colours // EPX2
Australian shoegaze! You should be sold by now and I should not have to write this blurb. Recommended for floating off somewhere.
Key Tracks: “Wavygravy,” “Running Late,” “Not Today”
Jason Isbell // Something More Than Free
Did not hit me like Southeastern did, but still fantastic. Not too many better songwriters out there.
Key Tracks: “24 Frames,” “Children of Children,” “Something More Than Free”
Josh Ritter // Sermon On The Rocks
Really good change of pace for Ritter, and a lot of fun to listen to. Fades a little towards the end - probably could have been 10 tracks. Regardless, it’s Josh Ritter, and it’s solid.
Key Tracks: “Young Moses,” “Henrietta, Indiana,” “Getting Ready to Get Down,” “Cumberland”
Kendrick Lamar // To Pimp A Butterfly
Can’t say I listened to this a ton, and can’t say I identify with a whole lot of it, but I can’t deny it’s impressive and important.
Key Tracks: “King Kunta,” “Alright,” “How Much A Dollar Cost,” “The Blacker the Berry”
Kurt Vile // b’lieve i’m goin’ down…
Could put this on at any time and enjoy it. An amazing guitarist + trippy lyrics. Good vibes with this one.
Key Tracks: “Pretty Pimpin’,” “Life Like This,” “Lost my Head there”
Martin Courtney // Many Moons
The soundtrack to the fall we never had this year. Since he’s the frontman for Real Estate, it sounds…familiar, with a little more Nick Drake mixed in.
Key Tracks: “Vestiges,” “Northern Highway,” “Airport Bar”
Mutemath // Vitals
I feel like I’ve grown up with Mutemath. First concert with my then-future wife, friends that helped manage them, first experience with a truly great live band. This is their first album in a while, and they change up their style yet again. I think it’s more successful than Odd Soul, though I would have liked a little more Darren King on the drums. “Used To” in particular is like the summation of every album - the electronics of their self-titled, the brooding atmosphere of Armistice, the New Orleans soul and sway of Odd Soul. Can’t wait to see this live.
Key Tracks: “Light Up,” “Stratosphere,” “Used To,” “Best Of Intentions”
My Morning Jacket // The Waterfall
MMJ never disappoints. Some say this one doesn’t hit the heights of their previous releases, and it does sort of fade out towards the end. But the first three tracks rank up there with their best.
Key Tracks: “Believe (Nobody Knows),” “Compound Fracture,” “Like A River”
Phil Cook // Southland Mission
A Wisconsin transplant who’s found a home in the places and music of the south, Phil Cook and his group of friends in Durham, NC are making some of the best music out there right now. When you surround yourself with folks like Sylvan Esso, Justin Vernon, and Hiss Golden Messenger, you can’t help but make good music (not that he doesn’t have experience - his old band Megafaun, for example). One of my most played albums of the year.
Key Tracks: “1922,” “Great Tide,” “Belong,” “Anybody Else”
Promised Land Sound // For Use And Delight
Hadn’t heard of these Nashville folks before this year, but I’m glad I did. Had a chance to see them in Chicago back in November, and I should have done it.
Key Tracks: “Push And Pull (All The Time),” “She Takes Me There,” “Within Sight”
Ryley Walker // Primrose Green
This could undermine my critique of Leon Bridges - Isn’t this just a revisiting of Nick Drake? Nope. Listen closer - this is way more jazzy and experimental than Drake ever was, with just as much skill on the guitar. Beautiful album.
Key Tracks: “Primrose Green,” “Summer Dress,” “Sweet Satisfaction,” “All Kinds of You”
Sleater-Kinney // No Cities To Love
Has a band ever come back from so long a break to make an album this tight? How does Carrie Brownstein make so much of her time? Are there really only three people in this band?
Key Tracks: “No Cities To Love,” “A New Wave,” “Bury Our Friends”
Sufjan Stevens // Carrie & Lowell
It takes a certain mood to listen to this album and enjoy it. It’s somber, dark, honest stuff. As much as we all enjoy orchestrated Sufjan, this turn back to Seven Swans-style songwriting is tremendously affecting.
Key Tracks: “Should Have Known Better,” “Fourth of July,” No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”
Tame Impala // Currents
It’s so fun to watch a band just get better and better. Not sure how they top this one, but I’m excited to see them try. I’d like to see them turn back to a more stripped-back rock sound for the next one, but this one will do just fine.
Key Tracks: “Let It Happen,” “Eventually,” “’Cause I’m A Man”
Toro y Moi // What For?
Went out to California this past spring, and this album captures what that place was like to me. Takes me back to driving down the Pacific Coast every time I listen. No need to go back to South Carolina chillwave, Chaz.
Key Tracks: “Empty Nesters,” “Half Dome,” “Run Baby Run”