Albums of the year – 2017

Trees in Pacific Spirit Park

[note: you can see my previous editions in the Albums of the year tag – also, I’ve embedded the playlist (of a top 20, but I won’t discuss them all, below].

So, like other years, here’s the top 10, in alphabetical order by artist.

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

I really wasn’t sold on this album on first listen. It came out while we were in Germany, so got a lot of play in the car…and, well, nothing really stood out. But then I saw them in concert this fall & I got it. This is a live album. The songs, all fine in headphones, suddenly come to life in concert. Playing them loud on a good system is also rewarding as there’s a lot of depth and subtleties to the tracks. It quickly went from an also-ran to an absolute favourite this year.

Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

Perhaps the most achingly personal album of the year. Julien Baker’s songs of ache, longing and defiance as she deals with the fallout from (if I understand correctly) turning to sobriety is both sad, gut-wrenching and incredibly powerful. Weirdly, despite the material, I find it  a hopeful album. Defiance in face of terribleness that really suited 2017. It’s a turn-out-the-lights (oh, i see now!), put-on-the-headphones and just dive into this incredible world kind of album.

Beach Fossils – Somersault

This album is a departure, growth even for this band. Long a jangly-indie-pop outfit that to me always felt a bit like a poor-man’s Real Estate, this album features lusher arrangements and a growth in instrumentation. This makes for better songwriting and thoroughly enjoyable, if perhaps safe, record. This album really grew on me through the year, after my initial uncertainty.

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Kendrick’s second time on my best-of-year list, and, the second rap album since Madvillainy to end up on endless repeat for me. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t been better said elsewhere, but after the importance of To Pimp a Butterfly, how amazing to watch this artist turn inwards and produce perhaps an even better album.

Lorde – Melodrama

Pop perfection. Amazing lyrics. Stunning production. My guess is this is one of 3 albums (DAMN. & Sleep Well Beast being the others) that will remain in heavy rotation for years to come.

The National – Sleep Well Beast

I wasn’t sure what this album would be like – after their last, the band sort of dispersed and pull out side projects including producing (and contributing to) the amazing Day of the Dead Grateful Dead covers album. And it turns out that they came back refreshed, willing to experiment with new sounds and time signatures and just knock it out of the park. It’s an uneven album, but where it works, it really, really works.

Slowdive – Slowdive

Well, they’re back! and.. and it is really, really great! It should probably be noted that either you like shoegaze or you don’t, but this is both classic Slowdive and perfectly of the moment.

St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

New York is probably my favourite track of the year. I don’t know if it is about David Bowie, but it is who I think about whenever I play this song. A long time ago, I wrote about using music to find focus, and last year I got around to making a 5-song playlist that I update from time-to-time with music I want to hear over again that helps with this. That track was added this year. The rest of the album is pretty great too. She’s high on my must-see list, but somehow, never tours where I am. One day!

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

The most fun album of my set this year. So much going on. Club-ready tracks with a memoirist’s eye for detail in the lyrics, there’s something for everyone here – shut up and dance, or sit down with headphones and really focus.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

I’m not sure anyone in rock spends as much time on production as The War on Drugs. Sumptuous, lush, ephemeral, fuzzy – all words I’ve variously used to describe this album. I love to put this on and just kind of float off on the music.

 

 

 

 

Albums of the year – 2015

I used to do this regularly (see 20042005, 2006, 2008, 2009 & 2010), but apparently haven’t done it in a while. I suspect that it is no coincidence that my stopping this corresponds directly with Kellan’s arrival in my life.

But this year has felt like a particularly good year in music, and one where there’s been lots of changes in how I listen to music (good bye Rdio! hello Apple Music!). So, as in previous years, here’s an alphabetical list of albums that I liked a lot. Unlike previous years, I won’t be linking to Amazon, because who buys music anymore! Also – only a top 8 this year: If I had to think about it, it didn’t make the list. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something I really loved at some point, but these albums all stuck with me.

Sound & Color

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

A stunning mix of gospel-blues-electronica, powered, unerringly, by Brittany Howard’s unbelievable voice, this album has the distinction of being my most-played album of the year. I couldn’t get the first eponymous single out of my head

Depression Cherry

Beach House – Depression Cherry

Lush, ethereal, moody. Dark like a grey afternoon, but maybe just after the rain has cleared, this feels like a slightly rawer album than their last.

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Björk – Vulnicura

A strange, moving, personal album about painful divorce, it is cathartic, raw, and even occasionally really hard to listen to.

Roses

Coeur de Pirate – Roses

A most Canadian of albums, this was my favourite “pop” album of the year. Introspective lyrics and some well-done orchestral arrangements make this a lovely listen.

Art Angels

Grimes – Art Angels

Local-via-Montreal wunderkid Grimes can really do no wrong in my book. I’m not sure I “get” this album, but I sure can’t stop listening to it! One reason I really like this is in comparison to her last – she, as I understand, wrote, performed, produced, art-directed – the whole thing on here. Incredible craftsmanship.

In Colour

Jamie XX – In Colour

The standout techno album of the year, an amazing, astounding mix of anthemic and yet somehow really small, detailed, personal music. It also has this weird sense, from the earlier-era samples carefully paired with modern collaborators of being not really of today of being a really timeless, yet somehow immediate, album

To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

I’m not really knowledgeable hip-hop, but some albums cross over – this one crossed way over. It felt like a window into a completely different world – as Pitchfork wrote, this album is “black as fuck”. It tied together social consciousness and politics lyrically, with amazing music. This album was my intro to Kamasi Washington, who’s album The Epic should probably be on here too.

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Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Right up there with Vulnicura as perhaps the most depressing album of the year, this is also one of the most beautiful: a loving, detailed look at Sufjan’s parents. Not self-pitying, not aggrandising, but a really intense look inwards that we all get to peek at.

My Top 10 Albums of the Year, 2008

I missed out on doing this last year – I don’t recall why, but I’m sure I had a good reason. Or not. Nevertheless, it didn’t happen, and much to my surprise, people complained. So it’s back this year. If you’d like to see my previous “best of” lists, you can find them here: 2006, 2005 & 2004.

This year was a pretty good year for music that I like – a good mixture of rock, pop and techno all came out this year. I also moved, and now have more time to listen to music on my commute, so I’ve been very appreciative of it. So, without further ado, here’s my best albums of the year, in alphabetical (by artist) order:

Beck - Modern Guilt Beck – Modern Guilt

I think that this is the album that “The Information” was trying to be – introspective and serious – meditations on loss and death. With Danger Mouse producing, Beck’s tendancy to play with historical genres never overwhelms the songs themselves. An exquisite disc that rewards a close listen in headphones – both for Beck’s signature imagery as well as the music itself.

Buy it from Insound

The Bug - London Zoo The Bug – London Zoo

Welcome to dubstep, everyone! A potentially crass cashing-in on the rise in popularity of a sound he helped create, Kevin Martin ends up delivering one of the most polished techno albums in years. While clearly aimed at radio, what with clearly defined 5-minute tracks, it’s a pounding disc that I can’t get enough of. Like much of the music I liked this year, it’s simultaneously a subtle disc, with new layers of sound revealing themselves only with a careful listening. That being said, I defy you to listen to this and NOT want to dance.

Buy it from Insound

Clark - Turning Dragon Clark – Turning Dragon

Techno of a completely different variety infuses Clark’s ‘Turning Dragon’, possibly some of the most complex techno I’ve heard since Plastikman way back when. Agressively dirty in sound, there’s still seemingly endless strands of loops, clicks, whirrs, bleeps and the like fading in and out of this disc. Played loud on crappy speakers this hearkens back to 90’s industrial (that’s a good thing), but use good headphones/sound system and you’ll be rewarded not only with crunchy techno, but also wasps of much more ephemeral sounds as well, creating a fascinating, but also somewhat unsettling soundscape.

Buy it from Insound

Fleet Foxes - eponymous Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Sweet, nearly choral folk unlike anything else I’ve heard lately, this album, for all its quiet wonderment, exploded into the scene this year. Of all my picks, I suspect that this will a)show up on the most other top 10 lists and b)be the most divisive. I’ll warn you now – if you loathe CSNY or the Beach Boys, you’ll not like Fleet Foxes. That being said, they seem to sum up where a lot of more richly layered folk sounds of late (including the psych-folk types like Devendra Banhart) have been aiming for. Exquisite harmonies and rich, traditional arrangements make this album unmissable.

Buy it from Insound

Lindstrom - Where you go I go too Lindstrøm – Where you Go I Go Too

This album claims the prize for “most unexpected” this year. I was expecting a mellow, ambient album, and instead, while still in the realm of ambient, it’s got a foot firmly in the world of disco. And somehow, it works. This has quickly become a favourite of mine for when working late – it blends into the background when I need to concentrate, but when I focus on it too, there’s enough going on to reward the ears.

Buy it from Insound

Santogold - eponymous Santogold – Santogold

Apparently, Santogold comes from A&R, has written tracks for Ashlee Simpson, but Diplo is listed as a producer. Those seeminly irreconcilable worlds come together to great effect on her debut, which is something like a journey through the past – sampling a little bit of new wave, global hip-hop, dance pop and more. Through it all, Santogold holds it together with her voice and excellent songwriting. She reminds me somewhat of “Mutations”-era Beck – playing with different genres to find a wholly new one all her own.

Buy it from Insound

TV on the Radio - Sounds of Science TV on the Radio – Sounds of Science

I’m not sure I can say anything effusive about this album that hasn’t been said by critics before, but let me just say this: this is a nearly perfect indie-rock album – it’s optimistic, forward-looking, musically dense, lyrically obtuse, both catchy and somehow austere at the same time. This album might like the Pet Shop Boy’s “Very” – so good tht TV on the Radio should never make another album, as it will likely pale in comparison.

Buy it from Insound

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

This album came out early in the year and is already suffering some backlash, but I unabashedly love this album: it’s catchy, you can sing along to it, it has a new(/old) sound and is nerdy – the album contains one of my all-time favourite lines “Who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?”. This album was on repeat more than any other this year in my playlist, and despite hearing it everywhere, I still haven’t tired of it, which bodes well for its future.

Buy it from Insound

Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane Chad VanGaalen – Soft Airplane

CVG reminds me of Neil Young in all the good ways – fragile, plaintive, delicate and dark, yet somehow never depressing, but rather, uplifting. He’s also a master instrumentalist and crafts some of the more elegant soundscapes you’ll likely ever hear, mixing in seemingly a million different instruments, off-beat percussion, and then, just when you think it might overwhelm the song, he pulls it all back until you’re left with just him and his guitar.

Buy it from Insound

Walkmen - You and Me Walkmen – You & Me

The Walkmen are a band that have slowly, but surely, grown on me – I wasn’t a huge fan when I first heard them, but I’ve liked them more and more with each listen and each album. You & Me was no different. My first reaction was “Meh” – it felt a little like they were channeling The National – and I still think they are to some degree – for a band that was known for devolving (in the best sense) into noise rock on a regular basis, this is an incredibly tight, controlled album. The exquisite production on this album still makes me believe that this songs will travel well, and simply opens up new doors for the Walkmen live – keep it soft and controlled or let loose as they’re known for – this collection certainly supports both directions.

Buy it from Insound

That’s it for this year! Let me know what albums you think I’ve missed in the comments.