Best Albums of 2016

Posted: December 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

20. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
19. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
18. PUP – The Dream Is Over
17. Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
16. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
15. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution
14. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
13. Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like a Levee
12. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
11. Solange – A Seat at the Table

10. Conor Oberst – Ruminations
If you like sad albums, this is a very good one. Sad songs are nothing new for Oberst — plenty of the stuff he did with Bright Eyes was sad, including much of their best album (I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning) — but Ruminations is notable for being even more personal, and especially for being so sparse. Oberst wrote it after having to cancel a tour when he was hospitalized for “laryngitis, anxiety and exhaustion,” and that struggle and his loneliness is reflected in his typically great lyrics. The music is him alone on guitar, piano and harmonica, and piano-based songs like “Tachycardia,” “Gossamer Thin” and “Next of Kin” stand out as some of the best here. “A Little Uncanny,” the only song where the pace picks up a little, is also great.


9. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

Kevin Morby lists The Band, Bob Dylan and Neil Young among his favorite artists, and it’s easy to see their influence on his work. There’s a lot of Americana here and Morby shows that he’s a pretty damn good singer/songwriter himself. “I Have Been to the Mountain” and “Dorothy” (which features awesome fuzz bass and some great piano breaks) are a pair of rockers that stand out as highlights, but slower songs like opener “Cut Me Down,” “Singing Saw” (which includes an actual singing saw) and “Black Flowers” are great too, as is “Water,” which builds into a classic upbeat folk song to close the album.


8. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

Much like David Bowie’s final album wasn’t just a nostalgic goodbye (more on that shortly), neither is A Tribe Called Quest’s first studio album in 18 years, which came out nearly eight months after Phife Dawg’s death. Q-Tip, Phife and Jarobi still sound great and the songs still take on the world around them, including the presidential election, just like they did in the group’s heyday. Frequent Tribe guests Consequence and Busta Rhymes each appear on multiple tracks, while Andre 3000 on “Kids…,” Anderson .Paak on “Movin Backwards” and Kendrick Lamar on “Conrad Tokyo” all shine in feature roles as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Top 15 Albums of 2015

Posted: December 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

15. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
One of the biggest musical surprises for me this year was that neither this album nor any of its songs made much of an impact on the pop charts. It’s a really good pop album — much better start-to-finish than 2012’s Kiss — and even if none of the songs are quite as catchy as “Call Me Maybe,” there are still a lot of really good songs here. “Run Away with Me,” “Boy Problems,” “Making the Most of the Night” and “Let’s Get Lost” all sound like hits to me, but what the hell do I know.

Favorite song: “Run Away with Me”

14. Chvrches – Every Open Eye
This is another really good pop album, and one I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate a couple years ago because I didn’t care for synthpop. In fact I didn’t appreciate Chrvches’ 2013 debut, which I now realize is a really good album. Every Open Eye manages to sound both happy and sad at times, but it’s catchy throughout, and Lauren Mayberry’s voice is always great. The first four songs are especially strong, and “Empty Threat” and “Bury It” highlight the second half.

Favorite song: “Keep You on My Side”

13. Screaming Females – Rose Mountain
Rose Mountain wasn’t quite as highly acclaimed as Screaming Females’ last couple albums, and it seems like the main point of contention is that it’s cleaner and not quite as wild as their previous work. That’s true, but personally I don’t have a problem with it. I still love this album, and I think “Wishing Well” and “Hopeless” — two of the softer songs here — are actually among the highlights. Plus, there’s still plenty of great hard rock with songs like “Empty Head,” “Ripe,” “Burning Car” and “Triumph.”

Favorite song: “Triumph”

12. James McMurtry – Complicated Game
Complicated Game might have the best lyrics of any album this year. James McMurtry is a great storyteller who brings a variety of everyday characters to life — on “Copper Canteen” it’s an older couple who “turned into our parents before we were out of teens,” on the rollicking “How’m I Gonna Find You Now” it’s a trucker, “Carlisle’s Haul” a fisherman, “South Dakota” a soldier returning home, and “Long Island Sound” a hard-working New Yorker. McMurtry backs his Americana stories with classic Americana folk.

Favorite song: “Long Island Sound”

11. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
This album is about exactly what the title says, but don’t expect to hear any happy stories about hanging out on a beach. Instead you get a look into what it was like for Staples to come of age in Long Beach and how his teenage years shaped his view of the world. It doesn’t take long for Staples’ bluntness to show. “Lift Me Up” and “Norf Norf” set the tone right off the bat both lyrically and musically — the music doesn’t try to be upbeat here either. “Jump Off the Roof” and “Senorita” are other first-half highlights, while “3230,” “Get Paid” and “C.N.B.” stand out on the second half.

Favorite song: “Lift Me Up”¬† Read the rest of this entry »

Top 10 Albums of 2014

Posted: December 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

Happy holidays. Here are my favorite albums of 2014. As always, I’ve linked to my favorite song from each album to help you get a taste of anything you haven’t heard.

Honorable Mentions
Jack White – Lazaretto
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather

10. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits
Three years ago, The Men were a noise rock band. Two years ago, they were a great hard rock band. Last year, they were a hard rock/classic rock cross. On Tomorrow’s Hits, their fifth album in as many years, The Men continue what they started on 2013’s New Moon and embrace classic rock influences even more. “Dark Waltz” and “Get What You Give” are songs the next guy on this list would be proud of, “Another Night” brings horns into the mix, and the piano-centric “Sleepless” is one of their most laid-back tunes to date. And if you still want the energetic hard rock, there’s plenty of that on “Different Days,” “Pearly Gates” and “Going Down.”

Favorite song: “Dark Waltz”

9. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye
It’s probably not very cool to like new Tom Petty music in 2014, but man I really like this album. It’s Petty’s best album since 1994’s Wildflowers, and it’s one of the four best albums he’s ever made as far as I’m concerned (1979’s Damn the Torpedoes and 1989’s Full Moon Fever would be the other two in that group). This isn’t just a comfortable old rocker sticking to a familiar blueprint and making a quick buck. No, Petty sounds desperate and bitter here, and the Heartbreakers bring a dirty, aggressive garage rock sound that hasn’t really been heard this consistently on a Petty album since his very first albums. “American Dream Plan B,” “Fault Lines” and “Red River” are a stellar 1-2-3 start, and “All You Can Carry,” “Forgotten Man” and the slower “Sins of My Youth” stand out as well.

Favorite song: “American Dream Plan B”

8. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Benji isn’t the easiest listen because it’s pretty dark and depressing, but it has some of the best lyrics I’ve heard in a while. There’s a lot of death and a lot of personal stories from bandleader Mark Kozelek, and if you’re in the right mood and willing to give him your full attention, the stories become stunningly real, thanks to the fact that, 1) they are real, and 2) Kozelek is an excellent writer who uses great detail. On opener “Carissa,” he tells us that not one, but two of his relatives have died from freak accidents involving exploding aerosol cans. He sings about his love for his parents on “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” and “I Love My Dad.” And he shares his personal reactions to major events like mass shootings (“Pray for Newtown”) as well as seemingly unimportant events like watching Led Zeppelin (“I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same”).

Favorite song: “Pray for Newtown” Read the rest of this entry »

So this is it. The final entry in a five-part series on my favorite albums of each decade from the 1960s to the 2000s. I didn’t anticipate this project dragging out for two years, but real life can get kind of busy sometimes. Anyway, I’m sad it’s over because this was a lot of fun. Turns out there’s been a lot of great music made over the last 50 years.¬†Before we get started, a rules reminder: no live albums, no compilations, no more than two albums from any one artist.

If you missed any of the previous entries, check them out here: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s.

Honorable mentions
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf (2002)
Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)
The Shins – Oh, Inverted World (2001)

20. The White Stripes – Elephant (2003)
Elephant isn’t as consistent start to finish as its predecessor, White Blood Cells, but it still has enough great songs to be one of the decade’s best albums. Opener “Seven Nation Army” is overused at sporting events, but it’s still an undeniably excellent song. The epic “Ball and Biscuit” alternates between slow blues and fiery, out-of-control guitar solos. “Black Math,” “The Hardest Button to Button,” “Hypnotize,” “The Air Near My Fingers” and “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine” are all great as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Top 10 Albums of 2013

Posted: December 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

No reason for an introduction. I’ve linked to my favorite song from each album, so check them out and see if you like them. Let’s get to the list.

Honorable Mentions
Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Los Campesinos! – No Blues
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

10. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Queens of the Stone Age have been one of the biggest rock bands around for more than a decade now, and you could make the argument that …Like Clockwork is their best album yet. It’s certainly their most polished, and while that isn’t an adjective you’d usually associate with QotSA, they manage to pull it off without losing the big guitars and loud drums we’re used to. “I Sat by the Ocean,” “My God Is the Sun,” “Fairweather Friends” and “Smooth Sailing” stand out as highlights.

Favorite song: “I Sat by the Ocean”

9. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
Parquet Courts have called their music “Americana punk,” and that seems like a perfect description to me. There’s a punk rock pace to a lot of the songs on Light Up Gold, and the lyrics are either snap shots of the world around them or laments about their uncertain future. Take standout track “Borrowed Time,” where Andrew Savage sings about “waiting for something that I knew I wasn’t coming” and being “captive in this borrowed time.” Other highlights include “Master of My Craft,” “Yonder Is Closer to the Heart” and “Stoned and Starving.”

Favorite song: “Borrowed Time”

8. Lorde – Pure Heroine
How did this happen? A 16-year-old from New Zealand writes, sings and talks about all the crap filling the pop charts, and ends up conquering those charts herself. It gives me hope that there’s still a place in pop culture for good music with something real to say. Everyone knows “Royals,” an anti-celebrity anthem for the ages, but the rest of Pure Heroine is just as good. “Tennis Court” (about her generation), “Ribs” (about growing up), “Team” (about living “in cities you’ll never see on screen”) and “Glory and Gore” (about violence being glorified) are all great.

Favorite song: “Glory and Gore” Read the rest of this entry »

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while leading up to the release of Arcade Fire’s fourth album, Reflektor. Arcade Fire’s first three albums — 2004’s Funeral, 2007’s Neon Bible and 2010’s The Suburbs — have all been great. In my opinion, it’s one of the best three-album runs in pop/rock history.

What if their fourth album was also great? What kind of company would that put them in? I hadn’t really looked into it, but I figured there can’t be too many artists who have released four great albums in a row.

Well, after a Twitter discussion about this topic, I decided to finally look into it. As I suspected, there aren’t too many who have done it. I came up with seven who have definitely done it, and six more who could be argued against, but are probably still safe to put in the group. Then there are 33 more that are at least worth discussing, but ultimately don’t quite make the cut for me.

Unfortunately, Arcade Fire won’t be joining that elite group of 13 who have accomplished the feat. As much as I wish it was, Reflektor isn’t a great album. I’ve listened to it five times now, and I feel pretty confident saying that. I might eventually warm up to the shift in style enough to consider it a good album, but I can’t imagine ever calling it a great album. There are great moments for sure, but it tries to do too much and ends up being inconsistent as a result. Reminds me a lot of what The Clash fell victim to on Sandinista!

Anyway, here are the artists who have done it, and the ones who have come close.

DEFINITELY IN (7) Read the rest of this entry »

I knew hockey season would cause a bit of a delay in putting this together, but I didn’t expect to have a six-month gap between my 1980s list and this one. I don’t want to delay any longer, so let’s just review the guidelines: no live albums, no compilations, no more than two albums from any one artist. I shouldn’t really need to explain this one, but Foo Fighters and Nirvana are obviously considered separate artists. If you missed any of the first three entries in this series, here they are: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s.

Honorable Mentions
The Flaming Lips- The Soft Bulletin (1999)
Modest Mouse- The Lonesome Crowded West (1997)
Nas- Illmatic (1994)
Nirvana- In Utero (1993)
Red Hot Chili Peppers- Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)

20. Guided by Voices- Alien Lanes (1995)
The first thing you notice about Alien Lanes, before anything having to do with the music itself, is that there are 28 songs. That seems like a lot, but the album is actually just 41 minutes long; the average song is less than a minute and a half. GBV comes at you rapid-fire, knocking out one catchy snippet of lo-fi indie rock after another. There aren’t any truly great songs here, but a lot are very good. “Watch Me Jumpstart,” “As We Go Up, We Go Down,” “Motor Away,” “Blimps Go 90” and “Little Whirl” are my favorites. There’s an argument to be made for Bee Thousand being GBV’s best album, but I think Alien Lanes is more consistent start to finish.

Read the rest of this entry »