1. Beach House – Bloom
Beach House’s Bloom is a jewel to behold. It’s an album about love. The give and take, the beginning and end, the longing and fear. It’s even more lush and layered than the dream pop duo’s last record Teen Dream. Beach House continue to make music that is heavenly, dreamy, and magical. Victoria Legrand’s voice is incredible. It’s smoky and enchanting. Her haunting, gorgeous voice and Alex Scally’s exquisite guitar playing take each song to great heights. They capture images of love and disconnection in their lyrics that we all can relate to. I love this mesmerizing line in Wishes, “The moment when a memory aches”. They understand how precious relationships really are, “One in your life, it happens once and rarely twice” (Wishes). We also see relationships falling apart in The Hours: “Frightened eyes looking back at me/ change your mind/ don’t care about me”. We’ve all seen those frightened eyes staring back at us. When a deep connection has evaporated. It hurts us and breaks us, as fear strikes our hearts like lightning. In the majestic Myth (my favorite song of the year) Victoria sings, “What comes after this momentary bliss? Help me name it”. Isn’t that what’s so beautiful about relationships? We’re invited by another to share our lives with them. To name together, to create together, to build something new. It might fall apart but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it lasts. Whatever happens we’re told that the risk is worth it. Bloom keeps on giving each time I listen to it. All I can say is that I’m forever grateful for it.
Listen to Myth here.
2. The Shins – Port Of Morrow
This is one of the most positive albums I’ve heard. It’s refreshing to hear an album so life-affirming. Port Of Morrow is full of remarkable pop songs and James Mercer’s reflections on marriage, love, and the importance of friendship are inspiring. He speaks of how joining together and facing life’s challenges with an other is better than going at it alone. The unity and solidarity of humanity that was expressed so well through artists like Simon & Garfunkel with their song Bridge Over Troubled Water now continues in The Shins’ music. In It’s Only Life James sings, “I’ve been down the very road you’re walking now/ It doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome/ It takes a while but we can figure this thing out/ And turn it back around”. Admitting that we’re each broken and that we can learn from each other’s stories is a good step towards healing and becoming whole. In Fall Of ’82 James sings gratefully to his wife, “See you were my lifeline when the world was exploding”. Where would each of us be if someone hadn’t offered us a helping hand when everything was falling apart in our life? Simple Song may be the best feel good song of the year. It’s upbeat and extremely catchy. One of my favorite lines this year is in 40 Mark Strasse, “Every single story is a story about love, both the overflowing cup and the painful lack thereof”. This album calls us to tell good stories with our lives, to carry each other’s burdens, and to speak hope into each other’s lives.
Listen to Simple Song here.
3. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Meggilan
Swing Lo Magellan is a strange, weird, fun, and surprisingly affectionate album. Offspring Are Blank starts the album of with a rocking bang. And by the second song you’ll certainly find yourself singing along with this chorus, “I’m About to Die/ About to Die”??…Weird. Near the end of the album we come to Unto Caesar. It’s one of the most fun songs I’ve heard the entire year. It’s fun because the band is having fun while singing and playing it. I mean in the middle of the song the girls are asking when they should bust into harmony. They’re also singing things like “We’re the high custodians/ Mop it!” Hilarious! Dirty Projectors definitely have a charming weirdness about them. I might say they’re the Wes Andersons of music. Even though it’s strange Swing Lo Magellan is a very accessible album. Dirty Projectors have a very unique sound. They have some prog-rock moments on here but the majority of their songs have pop and folk influences. It’s their fantastic harmonies that really hit the sweet spot though. The lyrics can be quite philosophical at times. I like the attitude in Dance For You, “There is an answer, I haven’t found it but I will keep dancing until I do”. In About To Die we are led to consider how we each waste our lives. Amber Coffman shines with her voice solo on The Socialites in which she sings about a character who is desiring to be accepted by people through her looks. Seeming to be pushed to the brink by the end of the song she sings the haunting line, “Who knows what my spirit is worth in cold hard cash?”. There are also great love songs on here. Impregnable Question is a tender and sweet love song which will fittingly be played at many weddings for years to come. Dave Longstreth sings tenderly “Though we don’t see eye to eye/ I need you/ and you’re always on my mind”. I treasure this endearing and wonderful record.
Listen to Impregnable Question here.
4 – Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is the most empathetic record of the year. It’s cinematic and powerful. Rapper Kendrick Lamar grew up as a good kid in a mad city. His good aspirations were twisted by the dark influences of gang life. With this album he zooms in on Compton and offers the listener a ride through the darkest parts of the city. Kendrick wants us to understand the temptations of young men and women in Compton: sex, living life like rappers do, drugs, getting money, gaining power, and raising hell. Kendrick masterfully presents the mindset of the gang-life. He shows us how it’s appealing to so many young people, how they get stuck in the system, and also how it’s ultimately horrific and unfulfilling. Kendrick excessively brags on Backstreet Freestyle and presents us with an image of a completely egocentric person. In the Art of Peer Pressure Kendrick sings of the conflict in his soul, “Really I’m a peacemaker, usually I’m drug free, but I’m with the homies right now”. Kendrick shows us the stark and troubling reality of life in Compton. He wants us to see the truth in all of it’s messiness and be repulsed by it. Whether it’s his uncle Tony shot twice in the head or himself foaming at the mouth from cocaine, or the deadly egoism of youth who disregard the dignity of other people and desire to be kings of the streets he presents us with the dark system of a city that demands as Kendrick puts it, human sacrifices. Not only does Kendrick give us a powerful message he supports it with great music. His rapping is superb and the production, beats, and music are top-notch. In Swimming Pools (Drank) it actually sounds like you’re inside a bottle. There’s even a Beach House sample on Money Trees. With Good Kid Kendrick calls us to let go of our selfish dreams and to begin dreaming big like Martin Luther King did. I believe that is Kendrick’s message. He hopes that the kids in Compton will dream bigger. That they will rise above the violence and pain that surrounds them. Near the end of the album Kendrick remembers his mom’s inspiring words: “Come back a man, tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton. Let ’em know you was just like them, but you still rose from that dark place of violence, becoming a positive person. But when you do make it, give back, with your words of encouragement, and that’s the best way to give back”. Kendrick does give back with this record. He invites those who are dying of thirst to plunge into holy water and hopefully arise from it changed for the better and set free.
Listen to Sing About Me, Dying Of Thirst here.
5. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Fiona Apple poured her soul into The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. Fiona sings in Every Single Night, “I just want to feel everything”. You can tell from this album that she clearly does try to feel everything. It’s quite an experience listening to this album because Fiona is so honest and vulnerable right in front of you. She’s one of the best lyricists of this era. This record’s instrumentation is so raw and crisp. She has a very versatile and impressive voice as well. When Listening to the The Idler Wheel it’s as if you’re hearing Fiona share very personal stories with you from her diary. She shares all, the messy and the excruciatingly painful. She tells us about her struggles with anxiety in Every Single Night, “Every single night is a fight with my brain”. In many of the songs Fiona expresses the pain that she’s experienced in her relationships. She sings in Valentine, “My teardrops seasoned every plate/… while you were watching someone else/ I stared at you and cut myself”. The powerful Left Alone is an arrow straight to the heart of our isolated culture. Fiona sings, “How can I ask anyone to love me when all I do is begged is to be left alone?”. There are also very imaginative and bold images that Fiona draws with her words. She screams passionately in Daredevil, “Look at me/ I’m all the fishes in the sea!”. The sexiest love song of the year goes to Fiona Apple’s Anything We Want. She sings, “And I kept touching my neck/ To guide your eye to where I wanted you to kiss me when we find some time alone/ And then we can do anything we want”. Hot Knife even has sweet Beyoncé-esque backing vocals in the chorus. The Idler Wheel is such an impressive album because Fiona is being so real, so honest, and so open. Liberating albums like this don’t come out every year. This is a clear masterwork.
Listen to Anything We Want here.
6. Passion Pit – Gossamer
No album glistened like Passion Pit’s Gossamer this year. It’s an album that feels like it was made for summer-time and days at the beach. There are infectious pop melodies and sing along sugary choruses. There’s bombastic pop singles like “I’ll Be Alright” and flat out sexy songs like “Constant Conversations”. “Hideaway” has some of one of the most euphoric choruses that I’ve heard this year. There are meaningful lyrics on this record as well. On Gossamer lead-singer Michael Angelakos delves into his own mental illness and the complexities of love and life. Michael has heavy burdens that weigh on his shoulders: bipolar disorder, depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse. He hasn’t faced these issues alone though. He spoke recently about his fiance Kristy Mucci in an interview with Pitchfork’s Larry Fitzmaurice as being, “The one who’s saved my life so many times.” He went on to say, “I was really terrible to Kristy. I scared her a lot. I attempted to jump out the window of our apartment, and she tackled me to the floor”. That image of Kristy fiercely taking care of him, saving him, has stuck with me throughout the year. It’s beautiful. We all need someone to save us, to care for us when we’re at our lowest. “On My Way” is a beautiful song in which Michael proclaims, “Just believe in me, Kristina/ All these demons, I can beat them”. He goes on to sing, “Let’s get married, I’ll buy a ring/ And then we’ll consecrate this messy love”. As Michael shares his life struggles with us he offers us solidarity with him. We alongside him need healing in some area of our lives. Michael also gives this good advice in the Pitchfork interview, “I don’t think people talk about mental illness a lot, but they need to know it’s OK to talk about how they are feeling. I wish more people would get help when they feel like they need it– not just to look to medicine, but to the support of others”. Gossamer is a superb pop album that offers healing. Here’s some words of wisdom from Angelakos to leave you with: “We all have problems, and we all have something to say”, and remember, “everyday’s another chance”.
Listen to I’ll Be Alright here.
7. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
The Tallest Man On Earth continues to seemingly effortlessly put out some of the best singer-songwriter material around these days. This is a standout folk release from this year. I can only sit down, smile, and admire it’s beauty whenever I listen to it. I love the rawness and lo fi production of all Kristian Matsson’s releases. It makes it sound like it’s from an older time. No song this year moved me quite like “Little Brother”. There’s true pain and compassion heard clearly in Kristian’s voice and deep love in the story of an older brother who’s concerned about his younger brother’s well being. Like a prayer he sings, “If you could only lose these miles”. Similar to Bon Iver, The Tallest Man on Earth’s lyrics are mysterious and allusive, but that is what makes each listen so rewarding. Kristian speaks human truths through honest poetry. His hope-filled words, “We will end up somehow with a peaceful mind and you’re leading me now” encourage me. That’s the kind of artist Kristian is, he empowers people.
Listen to Leading Me Now here.
8. Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It
Though Mike Hadreas might sound frail he truly is strong. He is facing the darkest parts of his life and is searching for love and peace. Put Your Back N 2 It is one of the most utterly beautiful albums of the year. With the piano and his quivering voice Mike creates exquisite songs. Compassion is radiant in the song Dark Parts. Mike powerfully sings, “The love you feel is stronger”, he goes on to say, “I will take the dark part of your heart into my heart”. All Waters is one of the most moving songs ever penned for the equality of the LGBT community. Mike sings, “When I can take your hand on any crowded street/ And hold you close to me with no hesitating”. Mike is gay himself so his songs often deal with his sexuality and the discrimination he’s faced in his life. There is darkness and haunting images in this record but oh there is such beautiful light. The last song, Sister Song, is a beautiful hymn of assurance and peace. Author Robert Fulgham once said, “Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away”. Mike has fought for peace with this record. That’s what makes it so beautiful.
Listen to Dark Parts here.
9. The Walkmen – Heaven
The Walkmen have given us a sunny and optimistic record with Heaven. Hamilton Leithauser sings in Heartbreaker, “These are the good years/ ah they best we’ll ever know/ these golden light years”. Heartbreaker is one of the best beach pop songs of the year. The Walkmen simply know how to craft great songs. They combine the sounds of rock, pop, and folk brilliantly. Hamilton also brings great punk energy to many of the songs like The Love You Love in which he basically howls the chorus. They have a older, refined sound which is nice to hear these days. Their music is so warm and graceful. The lover’s plea in “Heaven” displays the courage and endurance that is required in a marriage beautifully, “Don’t leave me, Oh you’re my best friend, all my life you’ve always been / Remember, remember all we fight for”. The Walkmen are a band that impress with every release. They’re dead on when they sing, “We can’t be beat”.
Listen to Heartbreaker here.
10. Chairlift – Something
Chairlift are a synth-pop duo who bring back the sounds of 80’s in the best ways. Caroline Polacheck’s vocals have continued to impress me throughout the entire year. She has a mesmerizing, soulful voice that she stretches in many compelling directions. I Belong In Your Arms sounds like a hit straight out of the 80’s. It’s an epic love song. Wrong Opinion is an enchanting, dark, and cold pop song. I’ve never heard anything like it before, it sounds like pop music from the future. In it Caroline sings painfully about drifting apart from somebody she loved, “I laid my guts on the table and you said no/…I see the sun rising over the edge/ Did you miss it or ignore it?/ I see the beginning where you see the end”. This album presents us with a young group that have a lot of talent and promise.
Listen to I Belong In Your Arms here.
Best Of The Rest…
11. Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built
12. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
13. Taylor Swift – Red
14. Grizzly Bear – Shields
15. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light
16. Purity Ring – Shrines
17. Kathleen Edwards – Voyageur
18. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
19. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
20. Grimes – Visions
21. Cat Power – Sun
22. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
23. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
24. Jessie Ware – Devotion
25. Frankie Rose – Interstellar
26. Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man
27. Regina Spektor – What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
28. Jack White – Blunderbuss
29. The xx – Coexist
30. Beth Orton – Sugaring Season