It was another outstanding year for music. Below are my ten favorite records that came out this year. Some are expected, some are surprising all of them have an internal cohesion that carries the goal of performers through from beginning to end. Check out the full playlist here.
LCD Soundsystem – american dream
When James Murphy and company announced their reunion early last year, I don’t think anyone expect them to also record an album as excellent as american dream for their first effort back. There are shades of Talking Heads, Bowie and Eno all throughout this record. Murphy’s voice is outstanding and his lyrical observations are both wry and emotional without being cliche. The beats are complex and textured. It’s a fantastic piece all around. Check out the video for “tonite” below.
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
For his third record as Father John Misty, Josh Tillman has channeled all of the cynicism of his character into a wonderfully sparse examination of our contemporary cultural moment. The first four tracks on this record are a perfect comment on where we are and where we can go as a society. Papa is just about flawless here. Check out the title track below.
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Precision dominates this record. For his fourth record Kendrick Lamar has given us a piece of storytelling that is epic in scale. The album is fiercely experimental and yet entirely unified in its vision. There is so much going on here that it overwhelms at first blush before settling into a richly dense sonic experience. Lamar’s work is the very definition of flow. Check out the video for “DNA.” below.
Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator
After the indie folk success of Small Town Heroes, New Orleans based Alynda Segarra could have settled into a very comfortable pattern of Americana. That record was a master class in contemporary folk. For The Navigator Segarra decided to break that model and develop a concept record that draws from her Nuyorican roots and deftly brings the sounds of Puerto Rico into the space of Americana. This record is a triumph. Segarra’s voice is masterful and her story resonates through each track. Check out the video for “Hungry Ghost” below.
The Shins – Heartworms
It’s been five years since The Shins last put out a record. With Heartworms we see James Mercer return to the style that marked Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow. There is a lot to love here with a large pop playfulness that is infectious. Check out the very clever video for “Half a Million” below.
Sinkane – Life and Livin’ It
Coming of of his success as the band leader for the Atomic Bomb! Band, Sinkane was able keep the amazing team of musicians assembled for this record. I loved his last release Mean Love and this is a huge step forward. Everything on Life and Livin’ It compels the listener forward. From the harmonies to the horns each element is in its right place. Check out the video for “U’Huh” below.
Four Tet – New Energy
Kieran Hebden who is better know as Four Tet has released a startlingly excellent string of post-rock experiments of the past few years. With New Energy he has found an outstanding groove that pulls together these sonic explorations in exciting and interesting ways. I think “Two Thousand and Seventeen” is one of the most beautiful tracks I have heard in quite some time. Check it out below.
Sylvan Esso – What Now
I have made no secret of my love for Sylvan Esso over the past few years. On What Now Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn return with a more complex sound and another generous collection of hooks. This is an album that fulfills the promises of their debut while extending the the skill and scope of their compositions. Importantly the songs remain catchy as hell. Check out “Radio” below.
Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
On her new record Julie Byrne give us a collection of songs that sound like quiet contemplation. This is folk of the Nick Drake school which takes simple little moments and examines their wonder in ever more grand terms. This record stays with you long after you stop listening and beckons you back for another taste of the peace it contains. Check out “Natural Blue” below.
Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
It seems like Katie Crutchfield is always in the process of becoming something else. Her sound is constantly in motion—constantly evolving. Here we have Crutchfield and company in a real studio with the space to fully develop their sound. This record skates effortlessly between punk and power pop without yielding fully to either category. Check out the video for “Silver” below.
Bully at Tips
Just a reminder that Bully will be at Gasa Gasa on Sunday night. Alicia Bognanno and company have released an excellent new record this year (that I will be talking about next week in my alt-ten list). You’ll want to catch this show.
To Do This Week
Tomorrow check out Talib Kweli at the Joy. Saturday Dragon Smoke is at Tips and Giraffe is at Republic. Sunday the incomparable Bully will be at Gasa Gasa while Pokey Lafarge takes the stage at Tips.