Top 10 Albums 2020

December 28, 2020

From 2011 – March of 2020, I’ve worked 3 jobs, but they’ve all had this in common: A small team of 2-4 people sitting in an open office environment, working on computers all day. Due to a combination of my own obnoxiousness and others’ apathy, I normally end up determining what music everyone listens to all day. This is great (for me, at least) but it also comes with some responsibility to make sure people aren’t miserable. So, I listen to a lot things that everyone that I work with, who is generally within 10 years of my age one way or the other, find tolerable. For me this means a lot of 2000s era rap & indie-ish rock. Kanye West, Outkast, Girl Talk, The Strokes, The White Stripes, etc. And then I also listen to new things coming out that I think other people might be able to tolerate, to mixed results.

But what if I had the majority of the year to pick music just for me, without feeling the need to moderate my selections to please others? Thanks to a flexible job & a global pandemic, 2020 is the year we find out! If I want to listen to the same mopey album on repeat for 8 hours in a row, there’s no one to stop me. I know, because I did that a lot.

What a great year to be stuck at home picking your own music. 7 artists on this year’s list are new to my top 10 (2006-Present). This was an incredibly tough year to whittle down to 10. One of my favorite artists (The Mountain Goats) released two great albums this year, and neither made my Top 10. Another one of my my favorite artists (Sufjan Stevens) released two albums this year that I couldn’t get into, and it didn’t even bum me out.

You can get a general feel for what I was listening to on my Mix that features songs from 20-ish of my favorite releases this year. But let’s just move into the Top 10 (playlist link, but the albums are in no particular order):

10. Long Neck – World’s Strongest Dog

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Don’t know who this is or how they came into my life. Maybe it was a Spotify Release Radar. Maybe it was an artist I follow on Twitter. But, they have a cool name, and a great sound. 10 songs, 29 minutes. Short, catchy good rock songs.

9. Christian Lee Hutson – Beginners

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I know exactly how I got into Christian Lee Hutson. He’s apart of the Phoebe Bridgers Expanded Universe, which is where I spend a lot of time these days. He was involved in some way w/ both of Bridgers’ side-projects Boygenius & Better Oblivion Community Center, and also did work on her 2020 release Punisher. Bridgers produced this album.

Anyway, this album is noticeable on this list because it’s the only one with a guy who sings & plays guitar. Quiet songs about relationships & stuff. Kind of got some Carrie & Lowell vibes, but I don’t think it’s about his parents or Jesus. There’s also a real banger called “Get the Old Band Back Together”

8. Beach Bunny – Honeymoon

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California pop rock, via a Chicago band. Short songs (7/9 less than 3 minutes), short album, big hooks. Fun summer music for everyone. This band has released a lot of great EPs but this is their full length debut.

7. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

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A lot of people I know LOVED this album, and I just think it’s great. Waxahatchee has been around & critically acclaimed for awhile, and has been appearing frequently on Spotify’s infinite playlists for years, but this is the first album I was able to get into. Great voice, melodies, guitars, etc.

6. HAIM – Women in Music Part III

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Of the ~6 people who read this list every year, I’m on a group chat w/ two of them who love HAIM (Hi, Joel & Collin) but for some reason I hadn’t found a way to really connect with their first two albums (Sorry, everyone). This one really got me though, from the first listen. Bops from the first track to the last. (Aside: Albums that release, at launch with only one version that includes “Bonus Tracks” are confusing/annoying to me, because I don’t actually know where this album ends, but the bonus tracks are also bops, so I will allow it.)

5. Frances Quinlan – Likewise

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Frances Quinlan released two worthwhile projects this year: This one, her first (On Spotify at least) titular release and “Freshman Year” a re-release of her first album using the “Hop Along” name that would bring her to indie darling status. Hop Along’s “Bark Your Head Off, Dog” was my favorite album of 2018 and remains in heavy rotation as one of 2 CDs in my car.

Likewise is a much sparser project than Bark Your Head Off, Dog, which means it highlights her voice & songwriting, both of which are delightful. The first track, Piltdown Man, is an exemplary example of Quinlan’s strengths as a songwriter. A simple childhood memory, vivid & relatable, perhaps framing a larger issue, perhaps not. Other favorites of mine are “Went to LA” (the last minute, that voice, my goodness) and the closer “Carry the Zero” a great take on a Built to Spill classic.

4. Liza Anne – Bad Vacation

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My top 3 albums on this list are pretty widely regarded as some of the best of the year (#6, #1, #4 according to MetaCritic) but this one which almost cracked the top 3 really flew under the radar. Another mystery on how they showed up on my radar, but it was probably a recommendation someone in the Phoebe Bridgers Expanded Universe, as three of them (Phoebe, Lucy & Christian) follow her on Twitter. A catchy upbeat album about depression, substance abuse, etc. My jam! Big Saint Vincent-esque guitars at times.

3. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

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Miller Mike & El-P are back, and they aren’t disappointing because they are heroes & masters of their craft. This isn’t my favorite Run the Jewels album (RTJ2) but, it probably takes the #2 spot. Best beat: Oh La La. Best lyrics, maybe song of the year: Walking in Snow.

2. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

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In April, a couple weeks after this album came out, if you had told me it wouldn’t be my favorite album of the year, I would have said you were crazy. Perhaps too much has already been said about the nature of this art made by someone who had more or less locked themselves in their home for years, coming out as we were slowly realizing we’d be more or less locked in our homes for a year. This album has an incredible energy to it that I think will prove to be timeless and came out at the time it was most needed.

1. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

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So, what could be better than that? Phoebe Fucking Bridgers, who has had a prolific and nearly perfect three year run, with 4 releases with 3 different groups: 2 solo albums, 1 perfect supergroup EP (Boygenius) and a full-length with one of her childhood idols, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes with Better Oblivion Community Center. Punisher (the song) is about a different one of her childhood idols, Elliot Smith, who I have never gotten into (sorry!).

Her debut album, Stranger in the Alps might have been my favorite album of 2017… but I didn’t listen to it until 2018, so it didn’t make my list. Punisher is bigger and better in every way. Bridgers musical palette expands wildly here, and her lyricism grows with it. So many beautiful songs about so many different kinds of sadness. She also is really funny & self-aware, in her music and especially on Twitter.

Stuff I really liked that didn’t make the cut:

Ohmme – Fantasize Your Ghost
Sad13 – Haunted Painting
Bright Eyes – Down in the Weeds Where the World Once Was
The Mountain Goats – Songs for Pierre Chauvin
The Mountain Goats – Getting Into Knives
The Magnetic Fields – Quickies
Wolf Parade – Thin Mind

Cool Re-issues & Live Albums & EPs & Other Stuff:

Rilo Kiley – Rilo Kiley
Hop Along, Queen Anslies – Freshman Year
The Mountain Goats – Jordan Lake Sessions
Belle & Sebastian – What to Look For In Summer
Phoebe Bridgers – Copycat Killer EP
Nick Lutsko – Songs On The Computer


Top 10 Albums 2019

December 27, 2019

Happy 10 Year Anniversary to my top 10 list being hosted here at mangosquash.com. It’s been a journey. Maybe I’ll write a thing about my decade of musical consumption but for now it’s all I can do to get this top 10 list out the door for the 5 people who read it, and also for myself.

Last year’s list was very strong in the top 5, many/all of which would make my top 25 releases of the decade probably. This year’s list is much less strong in the top 5. I don’t think any of them would make a decade top 25, but it was very difficult for me to cut the list down to 10.

According to my poorly kept “2019 Albums I’ve Listened To” playlist, I listened to over 40 new releases this year. Trends in things listened to:

  • Still lots of women
  • more punk-leaning rock than in the recent past
  • less rap
  • A couple big disappointments from reliable top 10 appearers (New Pornographers, Chance the Rapper).
  • My most anticipated release of the year was not quite everything I was hoping it would be, but it still ended up I think still narrowly being my favorite release of the year.

But let’s take it from 10 and work our way down:

10. The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons

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This album came with its own podcast, and both were enjoyable. In fact, if it were not for the podcast, I probably would have ignored this album even more than I did. Thank you, John Darnielle, for your work. Come to St. Louis more so the Becker Family doesn’t have to plan our family vacations around Mountain Goats concerts.

9. Pup – Morbid Stuff

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I don’t know much about this band that apparently has been making music for awhile. I started listening to them because I bought tickets to go see the Illuminati Hotties open for them at Delmar Hall. And then I got really into it. Maybe the hardest thing to happen to this list in ever, or at least since the last Japandroids album came out.

8. Oso Oso – basking in the glow

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Like Pup, Oso Oso scratches a lot of nostalgic rock itches. This one is more early Weezer/Ozma vibes.

7. Jenny Lewis – On The Line

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“I wanna listen to Jenny Lewis” is something my 2-year old says a lot. I try to talk to her about what we’re listening to in the car or in the home, and I don’t know if the name “Jenny Lewis” stuck in her head, or if she has a genuine preference for her, but I’m proud of her none the less.

This isn’t my favorite Jenny Lewis solo project (#TeamVoyager) but it’s got a lot of great tracks on it and I like it more every time I listen. Go see this lady in concert. Her voice will destroy you.

6. Big Thief – Two Hands

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Sometime in 2018 Spotify started playing Big Thief’s “Masterpiece” really heavily in all my playlists. And I loved it. What an amazing song. I kept trying to get into Big Thief albums and generally coming up short. Fortunately they released two albums this year! I liked the first one a lot, but Two Hands really hit hard for me.

So here it is. This is Big Thief’s 4th album in as many years, which is pretty wild.

5. Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center

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Phoebe Bridgers was robbed from a top 5 appearance on my 2018 top 10 list when I found out her brilliant debut album Stranger in the Alps cam out in 2017. Tough break. But here she in 2019 with longtime favorite Conor Oberst with a strong collaborative effort.

If you like Conor Oberst, and you like Phoebe Bridgers, you’ll probably like this. I love both, and while this is neither of their best work, it feels like it was made just for me… so, thanks!

4. Bon Iver, i,i

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Bon Iver’s prior release, 22, A Million hit #6 on my 2016 list, but I think that was a bit generous. 3 years later, I don’t think I ever really got that deeply into it. i,i is profoundly difficult to type but otherwise better in every way. It does a good job combining the more interesting sonic ideas in 22, A Million with the more conventional songwriting of his first two albums.

3. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience – The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

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Baseball is my favorite sport. The Lonely Island are my favorite rap comedy group. Mark McGuire defined my baseball fandom in my childhood. A Lemonade-style concept album/movie by the Lonely Island about Mark McGuire & Jose Canseco’s steroid-fueled 1989 season with the Oakland Athletics is more than I could have ever asked for.

The concept delivers in every imaginable way, both visually and as a stand-alone album. All of these jokes feel like they are written just for me. I also have learned a lot about the earlier parts of Mark McGuire’s career, which I hadn’t previously delved into. Everything from here below was a legitimate contender for #1

2. Rosie Tucker – Never Not Never Not Never Not

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Heartfelt jams, clever lyrics, chill vibes, great guitars. Rosie Tucker’s debut hit me hard when it came out early in 2019 and it’s stuck with me the rest of the year through. It’s warm and welcoming and delightful.

1. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

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Just some things that happened in the Vampire Weekend Universe between 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City and 2019’s Father of the Bride: Rostam Batmanglij left the band, Bassist Chris Baio released 2 solo albums, lead singer Ezra Koenig started hosting a show on Beats 1 and released 2 seasons of an Anime TV show called Neo Yokio on Netflix. Also he had a kid with Rashida Jones. And during most of these events, the Vampire Weekend album was perpetually almost done.

Modern Vampires of the City remains my favorite Vampire Weekend album by a long shot, and Father of the Bride may be my least favorite. But the album reflects the time & the diverse interests pursued in that time. It’s the most varied and least cohesive album of their catalog, but still holds together alright. Lead single, Harmony Hall is one of the most joyous songs this joyous band has ever released. It was also great to see them live in St. Louis while the Blues were winning the Stanley Cup. That was a joyous evening.

Thanks for reading. Maybe I’ll be back with a decade retrospective or something.

In the meantime, here’s my two 2019 Spotify Playlists:


Top 10 Albums 2018

December 27, 2018

I don’t know what happened (OK, I have some guesses: parenthood, losing control of the music played while I work 100% of the time, trying to please a group of 3 people with my workday music selections when I do have them), but I didn’t listen a ton of new stuff this year. But I did listen to some GREAT stuff. Four of the releases on this list would probably have topped my list in 2017.

Another thing is that my list is pretty much full of women. Eight releases of the 10 on this list are fronted by one or multiple women. The previous high over the last 13 years was 3.5 (.5 is for artists like The New Pornographers that split their lead singer duties between men and women).

I hesitate to mention this, because as many women who are on this list have pointed out “women who make music” is not a genre of music, nor is it the most notable thing about their music. But, it is a statistic I’ve been keeping track of for four years now, and it is a fact that for me, women made the vast majority of my favorite music in 2018.

There are a couple other notable things about this list. There’s an EP on it for the first time. I put it in the middle of the list, because I might rank it #2 or #3 in terms of quality but this is a list for full length albums and I didn’t feel comfortable with that. So there it is as #5.

Another thing is that there’s no rap music on this list for the first time since 2011. A few albums (Pusha T, Cardi B, Lil W) almost made the cut, but here we are. Also I considered including Chance’s 6(?) singles as an entry, because they are incredible, but they weren’t all released at the same time and were never presented as a single collection, so I opted out.

Here’s a Spotify playlist with 1 song from each of my top 10 entries.

Here’s all of my top 10s since 2006 in a spreadsheet with some charts and stuff

And, here’s a list.

10. CHVRCHES – Love is Dead

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Is this the worst of CHVRCHES 3 albums? It certainly is. Is it still pretty good? Yeah. There are some good tracks on here. This is the most electronic/dancy this list gets.

9. Moonface – This One’s For The Dancer & This One’s For Fhe Dancer’s Bouquet

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I have stated on numerous occasions that Spencer Krug is my favorite musician doing work. I saw him TWICE this year, both times with the band Wolf Parade (the first and second times I’ve seen them in my 12 years of being a fan).

This CD came out after those tours. It is too much. It is very long, and there are artistic choices made that make it fairly difficult to digest. But there are gems, and there is a lot of marimba which is just a gorgeous sounding instrument.

8. Snail Mail – Lush

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Got most of our legacy acts out of the way all the way in the lower spots of the list. Including this one, 6/8 of the remaining spots on this list are female fronted acts that I had never heard of before this year. Neat.

This album feels like a lazy summer day where it’s a little too hot to do anything. The songs, even the uptempo ones like standout track “Pristine” kind of melt over you. There’s also a song called heat wave that really sounds like a heat wave makes you feel.

I just learned while writing the paragraph above this one that Snail Mail (Lindsey Johnson) is 19! She was born in 1999. That means we’re only a year or two away from someone born in the 2000s making their debut on this list.

7. Natalie Prass – The Future And The Past

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Natalie Prass, releaser of my 2nd favorite album of 2015 is back with a completely different amazing sound. While 2015’s self titled debut had a breathy Joanna-Newsom-ness about it, 2018’s The Future and the Past is filled with funky anthems & protest songs for 2018.

Apparently she had a whole album recorded and then the 2016 election happened and she said “Nah, I’m not feeling this” and started over. So here are some jams. Jams for women, jams for not giving up, jams for love. Track 2, Short Court Style is one of my favorite jams of the year.

6. The Beths – Future Me Hates Me

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There is only 1 person named Beth in this band, as far as I know, and according to her Twitter handles she goes by Liz. Also, according to their Wikipedia page they are from New Zealand, which may be a geographical first for this list? That doesn’t sound true but I can’t think of any counterexamples and I’m not going to look it up at this time.

This album is full of punchy one liners delivered with beautiful clarity by Liz/Beth and her mail band members. Great harmonies, with still an approachable rawness that makes you want to sing along. Who doesn’t want to yell “I will go out tonight, I’m gonna drink the whole town dry”?

5. boygenius – boygenius

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This is the first EP I think I’ve ever included in the history of this list! BoyGenius is a 3 woman supergroup consisting of Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker (Listed in ascending order of popularity and loosely descending order of how much I’ve enjoyed their independent output so far to-date, though my lack of appreciation for Julien Baker I think is just due to me not spending enough time with her!)

This 21 minute EP packs in an incredible showcase of all three musicians unique talents. The way their distinct voices harmonize is a true joy. First track, Bite the Hand is a great example of that. Second track, Me & My Dog which features Phoebe Bridgers on vocals, is probably my favorite song of the year.

Finally, I just want to say that this show was the most moving musical experience I had in 2018. Can’t wait to hear more from all 3 boygeniuses, both separately and if we’re lucky, together!

4. Illuminati Hotties – Kiss Yr Frenemies

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I didn’t know this band existed, and then I saw them open for Diet Cig at Off Broadway this year and I was impressed at the show and impressed with the album which is still in my CD player in my car. I change this disc only a couple times a year.

Good solid rock album. Lot of fuzzy guitars, dramatic changes in dynamics, songs about being young and sleeping on your friends couches and trying to figure out what the fuck is going on.

3. Lucy Dacus – Historian

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Night Shift, the opening track on this sublime album, has to be in contention for one of the best breakup songs of all time? It’s a big six and a half minute epic, a showcase for Dacus’s musical and vocal range.

The rest of the album is almost as good. The lyrics throughout paint vivid portraits of people in various states of broken relationship. But it’s not just the lyrics! The music is full and gorgeous and there are some moments like the penultimate Pillar of Truth where things really get loud and fun.

2. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

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Is this album, a song-for-song re-recording of Car Seat Headrest’s 2011 album of the same name even eligible for a 2018 best of list? I don’t know what the consensus is on this, but it’s eligible for mine!

Car Seat Headrest achieved a great growth in acclaim and recognition with their 2016 album Teens of Denial. That’s the album that put them on my radar. So mad props to their label, Matador, for letting them follow that up with such an unconventional idea.

I love this album just as much as I loved Teens of Denial and now that I’ve spent a lot of time with both the 2011 (Now referred to as “Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror)” and 2018 Face to Face version of Twin Fantasy, I think it was an excellent call to revisit the songs.

The roughness of the 2011 release has its own charms (and mentions of Dan Bejar) but the 2018 version is better in pretty much every way. It is not polished to the point of losing the character of the first recording, but rather the increased quality and production are used to highlight what made these songs great.

1. Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog

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Many thanks to the ever morphing voice of Frances Quinlan for everything she did to improve the quality of my 2018. The main thing she did for me was release and tour behind this album.

The hooks on this album are plentiful, creative, and gripping in all kinds of different ways. The melodies are all beautiful, the lyrics are all interesting and Quinlan’s delivery remains the star of the show throughout.

9 songs, 40 minutes. Not a single second worth skipping.

Here’s a Spotify playlist with all 10 of these albums on it.


Musical Overview, Including Top 10 Albums – 2017

January 8, 2018


Musically, I was feeling pretty distraught at the end of 2016, with the death of What.cd (the best music library in the history of the world). I wrote a lot about it. In 2017, I started out with a what.cd replacement but quickly abandoned in and have fully given myself over to Spotify.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • I bought significantly less music this year streaming music v. When I was pirating it. Like probably a 50% drop. Anecdotally, after one year, my paying $8/month for streaming is a net loss for artists, compared to my prior behavior. So, do with that what you will.
  • For these lists, I’m not 100% sure I took into consideration everything I listened to this year. For previous “best of” lists, I’d go into iTunes and sort by date added to see what was eligible. There is no such (manageable) feature for the Spotify universe. So I was a bit at the mercy of my memory. I think I got everything, but I’m not sure.
  • The things I go back to my iTunes library for, because they aren’t on Spotify: Joanna Newsom discography and old Lil Wayne mixtapes.
  • I discovered some great new things through Spotify’s weekly Discovery and Release Radar playlists. Two of my top 10 albums came to my attention this way, and four of the artists in my Runners Up section.
  • Overall… I think I like my Steal Things + iTunes + buy things system better, but this one is definitely less work.
  • I still go to about a live show a month, I’m still listening to new music, and still listening to new artists.
  • Here are my top 100 songs of the year, according to Spotify. (Spoilers? I’m not even sure this link will work for you?)

I also have a daughter now. Thet’s cool. But that also means that I’m not writing as much this year. Only publishing one year-end music piece, so let’s just dive into the top 10. Runners up are after that. Playlists and Spotify links mixed in. Here’s a highlights playlist:

Top 10:

10. Conor Oberst – Salutations

Conor Obers - Salutations

Conor Oberst, most known for his angsty work as the lead singer of Bright Eyes is a long-time favorite of mine. In 2016 he released an album called Ruminations, which was the last thing cut from last year’s top 10 list. In 2017, he released the same damn album, but with a full band this time and a handful of new tracks. Some of the versions of the old songs are worse, some are better. But amongst the new songs there are some real standouts. If you stopped listening to Conor Oberst when you exited puberty, try picking him back up again.

9. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket

(Sandy) Alex G - Rocket
Apparently this dude’s been kicking it for awhile but 2017 is the first time that (Sandy) Alex G has come to my attention.

He’s got some janglin’ low-fi pop sensibilities that wouldn’t be out of place in an early Elephant 6 setting. It’s mostly guitar, drums, fiddles & the like but there are a few really noisy tracks that aren’t my favorite.

8. Wolf Parade – Cry Cry Cry

Wolf Parade - Cry Cry Cry
Hey, a new Wolf Parade album… and it’s pretty darn good, if you like Wolf Parade albums. I’d call it my second favorite one after their unstoppable debut which is easily a top 25 album of all time for me. (No, that list doesn’t actually exist)

Co-Lead-Singers Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner do their their thing, switching who sings lead more or less each song and it seems like they’ve got some of their original energy back. Still bummed I’ve never seen them live.

7. The Mountain Goats – Goths

Mountain Goats - Goths
Mike & Sandy Becker (those are my parents) Family Favorite™️ the Mountain Goats are back, with another album that isn’t my favorite Mountain Goats album, but has some solid tracks on it.

Mountain Goats albums are good forever, and I often find that listening to one a couple years after its release has better results for me. I think I saw them live 3 times this year?

6. Japandroids – Near to The Wild Heart of Life

Japandroids - Near to the wild heart of life
Kind of forgot this album came out in 2017? Almost missed the list. Everyone’s favorite Canadian Indie Loud Rock Duo is back with their most ambitious release back… and I don’t like it as much as their previous two less ambitious releases. BUT it is still really good and loud and they should make music together forever.

5. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar - Damn.
This was at the top of almost everyone’s album of the year lists, but it did not connect with me the same was as his previous two albums. Who knows. Still great work, still one of the most interesting and important artists making music today.

4. Tristen – Sneaker Waves

Tristen - Sneaker Waves
Jon & Lydia Becker Family Favorite™️ Tristen is at it again with one of my most personally anticipated albums of the year. Sneaker Waves does not disappoint! Perhaps this is in contention for my Favorite Tristen Album.

Go see her live, whenever you can. I think Lydia and I paid to see her as an opener 2 or 3 times this year for various artists, and she was able to win over every crowd of people who had no idea who she was.

3. Spoon – Hot Thoughts

Spoon - Hot Thoughts
It should be illegal to be as consistently good as Spoon is. I think this is my favorite Spoon album? That sounds crazy to say, but I guess there it is.

2. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3

rtj3
This, on the other hand, is my LEAST favorite Run The Jewels album. A ringing endorsement for the #2 album on my list? That said, it balls extremely hard.

I think when it comes down to it, I think Killer Mike is the most interesting lyricists out there. EL-P makes some of the best beats out there. This album tries some new things and while it is generally successful, it doesn’t have the same urgency as their previous two releases. But I think this was close to my most played album of the year because it’s so much damn fun.

1. Dieg Cig – Swear I’m Good at This

Diet Cig - I swear I'm good at this
So. Much. Fun.

Another loud rock duo, like the Japandroids, except this one is led by a woman, and they are from New York not Vancouver. This is a discovery for which Spotify’s algorithm’s gets 100% of the credit. They must have been pushing it pretty hard because it came up independently for both my father and I and we both recommended it to each other.

2017 – Runners Up & Odds & Ends

Trophy Dad – Dogman EP
Susto – & I’m Fine Today
Destroyer – ken
Why? – Mow Lhean
Mister Heavenly – Boxing the Moonlight
Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell Live
Sufjan Stevens, James McAlister, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner – Planetarium
Yucky Duster – Duster’s Lement EP
Oso Oso – The Yunahon Mixtape
The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
Jens Lekman – life will see you now

See you again next year.

p.s. I did update my data sheet for the past 12 years of lists, if that interests you:


Runner Up Albums – 2016

December 23, 2016

Welcome to part two of my year-end music recap. This isn’t much of an article as it is a list of things that didn’t make my top 10 list. You can check out that list or other parts of this thing by clicking something below:

  1. Top 10
  2. Runners Up (You are reading this, right now. No need to click anything)
  3. Stats, Data & Trends, 2006 – 2016
  4. Music Piracy & Discovery

Things that were really close to making my Top 10:

Conor Oberst – Ruminations

Listen on Spotify
One of my favorite songwriters singing songs like Bob Dylan, by himself with a piano and harmonica and sometimes a guitar. Quiet and nice

Oh Pep! – Stadium Cake

Listen on Spotify
This band opened for the Mountain Goats, who I saw two nights in a row this year. They were a great opening band and I checked out their album and it turns out it’s great also.

case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs

Listen on Spotify
Women indie super group. Niko Case, K.D. Lang & Laura Veirs. I was worried it would be a letdown, but it’s actually great.

Things that were less close, but still really good:

Okkervil River – Away

Listen on Spotify
Okkervil River’s best album in a long time, even though the band broke up and Will Sheff found some new people to play with him and call Okkervil River. Nice and acoustic and good.

of Montreal – Innocence Reaches

Listen on Spotify
Not of Montreal’s best work. Still pretty good. See them in concert whenever you can.

Wolf Parade – EP 4

Listen on Spotify
With the exception of their incredible 2004 debut, “Apologies to the Queen Mary”, I have always loved the side projects of Wolf Parade’s members more than I have loved Wolf Parade themselves. But it’s still exciting when they are doing things together. This album is fine.

Islands – Should I remain Here At Sea?

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Islands other album made my top 10 list. This came out on the same day, and may have made my top 10 list if it was the only Islands album that came out this year. But I like the other one more, so I listened to this one less and we’ll never know for sure.

Beyoncé – Lemonade

Not on Spotify
Yeah. I like this album.

Operators – Blue Wave

Listen on Spotify
Here’s a Wolf Parade side project. Dan Boeckner’s Operators released this album. If you like his other projects (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, the Divine Fits) you’ll probably like this too.

Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing

Listen on Spotify
Twee as fuck.

Moonface & Siinai – My Best Human Face

Listen on Spotify
Another Wolf Parade side project. Spencer Krug can do no wrong in my eyes. This is kind of boring though. If I don’t love this, I’m not sure who will. Still worth a listen if you like his stuff though.


Music Piracy & Discovery

December 23, 2016

A remembrance of what.cd

Remember Napster? I sure do. I was 12 when it came out. I was just getting into computers and I was just getting into music and Napster basically changed my life.

On our family’s 56k modem, I downloaded songs I heard on the radio that I liked. Here are some early downloads I vividly remember: Papa Roach: “Last Resort”, Limp Bizkit: “Rollin” (both the Air Raid & Urban Assault versions), O.P.M.: “Heaven is a Halfpipe”. Absolute garbage that 4th graders who are just getting into music might be interested in.

It wasn’t a straight upward trajectory, but things got better for me musically. My big obsession in middle school was Weezer (and also a lot of punk rock music we don’t need to talk about). I used Napster (and when Napster got shut down, services like Limewire, BearShare, Kazaa and all the rest) to find rare tracks, tons of bootleg concerts, radio show appearances and pretty much anything else I could get my hands on. It took 15 minutes to download a song and it was amazing.

Eventually, I got on Weezer message boards to learn more about Weezer and also to read about music that other Weezer fans liked (Hereae’s retrospective from the heyday of Weezer’s message board). I’d read a thread about an artist, then head over to whatever music pirating program I was using at that point and download an album to figure out if I was interested in them also.

The quality of these downloads were often terrible. There were low bit-rates and weird bleeps and cutoffs. Sometimes you’d have to download different album tracks from different places, and sometimes it took days to get the rare file you were looking for. But for a young person with an abundance of time, an insatiable interest in discovering new music and a satiable budget, it was incredible!

When I found an artist I liked, I tried to download as much of their stuff as possible. And eventually I’d buy the CDs. As I grew older, I’d attend more and more concerts.

To this day, I buy 10-20 physical albums (some CD, some vinyl) a year and probably attend on average a concert a month. I love music, and I spend money on music.

I really believe that one of the catalysts for me loving my music the way I do today was the ability for me to discover, hunt down and acquire (steal) music on my own at a young age. (The other catalyst is my father’s love of music.) The idea of knowing bands’ whole catalogues, finding bands that my friends had never heard of, or finding weird recordings of bands my friends loved but had never heard… all of it was wonderful.

Eventually, Napster, Limewire, Kazaa and BearShare all got shut down, or became too much of a hassle, or just weren’t that great.

Then eventually I learned about torrents.

Getting music through torrents is like getting music from Napster, but better in almost every way. On a peer to peer (P2P) service like Napster, when you downloaded a file, you were downloading it from 1 person. If they logged off of Napster, your download would stop. With torrents, you download from multiple sources as the same time, sometimes tens or hundreds. When one person logs off… it doesn’t matter! It just redirects and starts downloading from elsewhere.

Another amazing thing about torrents: You could download whole albums at the same time. No more searching for the last track of an album, or getting things from a ton of different sources and bitrates. Everything was right there in one folder.

But some things still sucked: Sometimes music was mislabeled and you’d download a virus. Sometimes the quality was garbage. Sometimes there were no seeders (that’s the term for the people you download music from) and you couldn’t download anything at all. It was tough to find a good torrent site and you’d spend a good amount of time searching for one.

Then, I started to hear about the amazing world of private torrent sites. These were invite-only sites that had rules in place to make sure that the user wouldn’t experience any of the problems above: Music wasn’t mislabeled or a virus, because you could get banned from uploading mislabeled music. Quality wasn’t garbage because they set minimum standards for that, and they were all labeled so you knew the quality of file you were downloading before you started. There were always seeders because you were required to keep a certain ratio of content downloaded to content uploaded.

The first one of these sites, and certainly the most popular at that time was Oink’s Pink Palace. This ugly site had rules like the ones listed above and also silly ones like “You have to have a cute avatar” (almost everyone had pictures of cute puppies). I got into Oink (I think from an invitation from someone on a Radiohead message board) about a year before it got shut down, and even though I had only been a member for a short amount of time, it was devastating when it happened.

Out of its ashes came an incredible site called What.cd and I rushed to get access as soon as I could. For the last 9 years, until it was shut down last month, What.cd has been my source for music discovery.

Not only did they have the best organized library of music known to man, quickly surpassing Oink’s selection, but they got everything the moment it became available (legally or otherwise), and they also had incredible tools for discovery.

There was a top 10 page where you could easily see the most downloaded torrents that had been uploaded in the last day/week/month/year. Easily visible for each release was the artist, the title, the type of release and the file file format. And even better, each upload was tagged with a smattering of genres: indie, indie.pop, indie.rock, garage.rock, etc. And when you clicked on a torrent’s page, you could participate in a discussion about the release and see what others were saying about it.
It was from this Top 10 page that I downloaded countless releases from artists I had never heard of before… and so many times I was rewarded with incredible music. So many of my new artists on my top 10 lists over the years have been a direct result of a random download.

A lot of times, I wasn’t able to get into whatever I had downloaded. But the cost of downloading was so low and the payoff for finding something great was high, so I kept going.

And just as I did with Napster, when I found an artist I liked, I bought their CDs and went to their concerts. From fourth grade until last month, while my musical tastes have evolved, my general habits of music consumption have not changed.

So it hit me like a punch in the gut a few weeks ago when What.cd was shuttered, its servers taken by some government agency in Europe. Like Napster and Oink before it, I knew that illegal music sites are never long for this world. But it felt like this was different. This site felt like it would be around forever.

Now I’m lost and confused. I’ve been depending on something for so long and now it’s gone. I don’t have a plan of attack for music discovery going forward and it is a little scary to me. Do I look for the “next What.cd”? Do I trust a combination of Pitchfork reviews and Spotify Discovery playlists to encourage my music growth going forward? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I am not ready to stop listening to new music. I will not give up on finding and supporting new artists I like. When I have children, I will play current music for them that they think is weird in various ways. And I will keep putting together these stupid top 10 lists at the end of every year as long as I can stand to write them. I don’t think I know that I am not a good music critic, but I know the joy that music brings me and that I will keep doing my part to share that joy with others.

Other 2016 Year-end music posts:

  1. Top 10
  2. Runners Up (You are reading this, right now. No need to click anything)
  3. Stats, Data & Trends, 2006 – 2016
  4. Music Piracy & Discovery

Music Data & Trends – 2016

December 23, 2016

Here’s updated data from 2015. Not tracking any new metrics, but you can read last year’s post for more context here.

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Other 2016 Year-end music posts:

  1. Top 10
  2. Runners Up
  3. Stats, Data & Trends, 2006 – 2016 (You are reading this, right now. No need to click anything)
  4. Music Piracy & Discovery

Top 10 Albums – 2016

December 23, 2016

You know what was great in 2016? The music was great. This is the hardest time I’ve ever had whittling my list down to ten albums, and there are a few that break my heart to not have made the cut!

This list is full of new-to-me bands with a wide variety of genres, moods and perhaps accessibility. Old friends like Bon Over come back with exciting new sounds, my favorite band of all time is back with their first great album in almost twenty years, and Chance the Rapper literally changed my year for the better just by existing.

This year’s music review comes in four parts… I guess I’ll break these up into four blog posts. Let’s dive in.

  1. Top 10 (You are reading this, right now. No need to click anything)
  2. Runners Up
  3. Stats, Data & Trends, 2006 – 2016
  4. Music Piracy & Discovery

Here we go.

10. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine

Listen on Spotify

Hamilton Leithauser was/is the lead guy for The Walkman, a popular indie rock band that I was never able to get into. Rostam Batmanglij is a side guy for Vampire Weekend, a popular indie rock band that I love. He’s also in Discovery, another band that has made an appearance on this list.

Hamilton Leithauser + Rotsam is a beautiful rock band that is more Walkman than Vampire weekend, but I love it none the less. Excellent rock music for any time. For awhile, I only listened to the first song over and over again and wasn’t that impressed by the rest of the album… but it grew on me.

9. Islands – Taste

Listen on Spotify

Nick Thorburn (Or, Nick Diamonds) is the lead singer of Islands. He is also the lead singer of indie pop legends, The Unicorns. But YOU probably know his work best as the guy who wrote the score for the smash hit podcast Serial That’s fine too.

Islands has been a mixed bag of musical output in terms of quality, never bad but not always inspiring. Taste, which they released simultaniously with another album, “Shall I Remain Here at Sea”, is their best work since their 2006 debut “Return to the Sea”. Shall I Remain Here at Sea was also very good, but not good enough for this list. Clever pop music and clever lyrics. Exciting song structures. Not cumbersome.

8. Frank Ocean – Blonde

Listen on Spotify

Did I ever really taken the time to get into Frank Ocean before this year? NO, I DID NOT. Does that make me a bad person? MAYBE. But man, this album is excellent.

This album, which might be most generally characterized as R&B, has so much feeling and intention in every bit of it. Perhaps if I listened to it more, this would be higher up on this list.

7. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

Listen on Spotify
Chill pop rock. Falsetto singing. Fun for all occasions but this wins the distinguished award of “brunch album of the year”.

6. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Listen on Spotify

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five freaking years since Bon Iver released his last album, “Bon Iver, Bon Iver.” That album, and his 2007/2008 debut “For Emma, Forever Ago” have never really left pop culture, from their placements in movies & TV shows to YouTube covers. It’s rather remarkable for such soft spoken music.

It is easy to hear 5 years of growth in “22, A Million”. So much growth that it’s a bit startling on the first few listens if one goes in expecting more of the same. This album is sparse and weird, at the same time melodic and beautiful. I like it more every time I listen.

5. Chairlift – Moth

Listen on Spotify

This band announced they are breaking up today (December 16, 2016) which is a bit of a bummer, considering I just found out they existed in January of this year.

Fortunately, I was able to really enjoy their last album, “Moth”, and see them in concert before they broke up. This album is an infectious bit of dance pop and the album is a joy to listen to, dancing around your house and cleaning up or doing dishes or whatever. I guess they are touring a bit more in the spring before they break up, so if they’re coming to your area, go check it out.

4. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Listen on Spotify

You already have an opinion about Kanye West and I’m not going to change it. This album is great.

3. Weezer – Weezer (The White Album)

Listen on Spotify

Who would have thought that Weezer would find its way up this high on any top ten list ever again? I sure didn’t. I didn’t think they would even make it onto my Top 10 ever again. Their most recent effort, “Everything Will Be Alright In The End” was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t seem like they had enough in the tank to make a full album of really enjoyable music again. I have never been happy to be so wrong.

Weezer (The White Album) is EASILY the third best Weezer album. It it closer in quality to their two classics (Blue (1994) and Pinkerton (1996)) than it is to any of the pretty decent to irredeemable garbage albums that they’ve released this millennium.
Don’t miss this album, and if you only listened to it once, listen to it five more times. This is great California pop rock. It never takes itself too seriously, and it’ll make you laugh or be confused without rolling your eyes/pulling your hair out. It’s weird and it’s fun and it’s great.

2. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Listen on Spotify

Apparently this has band has been around awhile making pretty great rock music with a small following. But they seem to have picked up steam and coverage this year with their incredible rock album, “Teens of Denial” as they’ve finally reached my ears.
This album is as packed with guitar riffs as it is with clever lyrics that are at times both self-defacing and outwardly eviscerating to their subject. See this stand-out line from one of many standout tracks, Cosmic Hero:

And if you really wanted to be kind,
You’d have forgiven them a long ass time ago.
And if you really wanna know how kind you are,
Just ask yourself why you’re lying in bed alone.
If you believe in rock music, you are doing yourself a huge disservice by not checking this one out.

1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

Listen on Spotify

When everything else was busy going to shit this year, Chance the Rapper was out there saving the world. “Coloring Book” is the happiest, most uplifting, most life-affirming, most wonderful album of the year. The joy is infectious.
This album came with a teaser of sorts, as Chance blew up the first track of Kanye’s album, delivering the only gospel verse (and the best verse) on Kanye’s self-described “Gospel Album”.

Coloring Book is a bonafide gospel album, with choirs, hymns and God throughout. It’s also a rap album, with thrilling verses from newcomers and veterans alike.

I haven’t wanted to stop listening to this album since the moment I first heard it and I know that I’ll be listening to it for years to come. Thank you, Chance the Rapper for everything you’ve done.


10 Years of Top 10 Lists: Data

January 10, 2016

I’ve been writing Top 10 Albums of the Year lists for over 10 years now, but this year marks 10 years of lists which are published on the internet. If you’d like to take a walk down memory lane, go for it:
2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

One of the most amazing parts about this, to me, is that all the links still work, across Facebook Notes, Tumblr and for the last 6 years, this very website here. Things have broken though: images embedded from elsewhere on the web, all download links, and who knows what else.

Well, I like data so I decided to take this 10 year milestone as a chance to draw as much as I can out of these top 10 lists. So I made a Google Sheet and I went to work.

Here are some charts. Some have some explanation and others should be more self explanatory. Click on the charts to see bigger versions with interactive data in a new tab.

Does my list contain popular opinions?

Are the opinions on my list widely held? This first chart aims to find out. I put in the Metacritic scores for all 100 albums on my list (when available) and averaged them out for each year. Some years 2-3 albums weren’t available so there are less than 100 data points to work with here.

My list is pretty steady from year to year with my “least popular list” at an average score of 76.1 and 3 of my most popular lists all topping out just above 81.5. Metacritic states that a score of 81-100 is “universally acclaim” and 61-80 indicated “Generally Favorable Reviews”. I put a trend line in there as well which seems to indicate that things are getting more popular:
List's Average Meteoritic Score

Some other trends

Here I took 5 different data points and put them all on one confusing chart.
RandomData
The red line indicates how many artists made their first appearance on my list that year. Obviously, the first year, that would be all 10 of them.
The blue line indicates how many new artists have showed up on my list that year. This line is troubling because it’s definitely trending downward, meaning I’m listening to less new artists. Boo Jon.
The other three lines are demographics: How Canadian is my list? How female is it? And how many entries on my list are by eponymous artists?
That first chart was a little cluttered, so I made another one that is a 3 year average (one year before, one year after, when data is available):
Data3YearTrend

The Regulars

The last 3 charts attempt to visualize some of my favorite artists of the last 10 years by documenting how frequently they show up on my list, how they rank in the top 10 and finally if they are in multiple bands throughout the years.
Here are all the bands that appear more than once:
RepeatListAppearances
Here are how bands with multiple appearances usually rank (shorter bars are best here):
AverageScoreofRepeatArtists
And finally here are the individuals who are leads or co-leads in multiple bands that appear on the list:
MultiTaskers
For clarification:
Panda Bear is in Panda Bear & Animal Collective.
Dan Bejar is in Destroyer, The New Pornographers and Swan Lake.
Dan Boeckner is in The Handsome Furs, Divine Fits and Wolf Parade (though Wolf Parade never appears on this list!)
Britt Daniel is in Divine Fits and Spoon.
Rostam Batmanglij is in Vampire Weekend (though probably a bit of a stretch to call him a lead) and Discovery.
Spencer Krug is in Sunset Rubdown, Moonface, Swan Lake and lots of other bands that aren’t on this list.
John Darnielle is in The Mountain Goats and Extra Lens which I think was a 1-off project.
And Tim Kasher is in The Good Life, Cursive (not on any of these lists!) and of course, Tim Kasher.
There were a couple surprises for me in this chart:

  • Conor Oberst, despite being one of my favorite artists and in a ton of bands like Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos and Monsters of Folk only has 1 top 10 spot over the last 10 years
  • There’s only 1 Spoon album in my last 10 years of top 10s? That’s crazy
  • Anyway. That’s all for now. The data is available to anyone who’d like to look at it on Google Drive!


    Top 10 Albums – 2015

    January 10, 2016

    2015 was almost the year that I switched from my time-honored tradition of buying & illegally downloading music to buying & legally streaming music… but alas, it was not. I tried Apple Music for the whole 3 month trial and while I found it pretty nice in a lot of ways it couldn’t break my old habits. I still torrent whatever I want and buy whatever I like. So it has always been, so it will probably always be.

    What other things didn’t change in 2015? I still can’t find a way to get interested in EDM, I never stopped listening to Run the Jewels 2, and I still am writing a list of my top 10 favorite albums of the most recent year. Spoiler alert: this list is not that exciting. There’s only 1 artist on here that hasn’t appeared on previous Top 10 lists. Yikes. Will 2015 be an anomaly of will it mark the start of me being an OLD PERSON?

    Oh well, let’s get to it.

    10. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi

    Listen on Spotify
    Death Cab for Cutie - Kintsugi
    Death Cab’s guitarist quit sometime between their last album and this one, but Ben Gibbard is still pretty much doing the same thing he’s always done. I find the sound of Death Cab albums comforting even when I don’t think the songs are quite as good as they have been in the past, so here’s this album with a top 10 spot.

    9. The Good Life – Everybody’s Coming Down

    Listen on Spotify
    The Good Life - Everybody's Coming Down
    Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life) is a regular on this list, but The Good Life haven’t put out an album in a long time. Everybody’s Coming Down checks all the regular Kasher boxes (drinking & breakups) but I think this is his best work since his untouchable 2000-2004 run. This has a bigger, louder sound than previous Good Life records and I think it works well. Bonus tip: If you ever get the chance to see any of his bands live, I think you should do so.

    8. CHVRCHES – Every Eye Open

    Listen on Spotify
    CHVRCHES - Every Eye Open
    CHVRCHES 2013 debut The Bones of What You Belive took me awhile to warm up to but ended up being one of my favorite albums of the year. Once you’ve warmed up to that, their 2015 followup Every Eye Open should take no time getting used to, because it’s very very similar.

    That said, It’s still very good. Poppy tunes, fun beats, etc… They definitely didn’t reinvent their sound for their sophomore album but that’s probably a good thing. What’s going on here works.

    7. Holy Sheboygan – THREE

    Listen on Spotify
    Holy Sheboygan! - THREE
    If you haven’t heard of Holy Sheboygan, you are forgiven. However, there are no excuses for not checking them out if you’re reading this list and especially no excuse if you read this list last year. Their latest release (or at least most of it?) is even on Spotify!

    This CD (probably an EP?) is a big winner for me and my wife. If you’re looking for some chaotic but accessible pop music check this out. It’s endearing and beautiful and happy and sad. Special standout track: Swim with me.

    6. Destroyer – Poison Season

    Listen on Spotify
    Destroyer - Poison Season
    Easily in my top 3 Canadian musicians, Dan Bejar’s Destroyer is back with another tale of mystery and intrigue. This album contains beautiful string and horn arrangements and melodies which serve as backdrops for Bejarian classic lyrical contradictions like “The writing on the wall wasn’t writing at all”.

    The album’s thematic core, Times Square/Poison Season (not sure what to call it) is particular beautiful, with different versions at the beginning, middle and end of the album.

    5. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

    Listen on Spotify
    The Mountain Goats - Beat The Champ
    Becker Family Favorite™ The Mountain Goats did not disappoint in 2015 (they never do) with their 2015 release, Beat The Champ, a concept album about professional wrestling at the time when it was still a regional affair.

    I’ve never been a huge wrestling fan, beyond a brief stint with N64 classic “WCW vs. NWO Revenge” but as always, lead singer/songwriter (of our generation) John Darnielle finds ways to find the humanity in stories and people that you don’t think you care about.

    4. Joanna Newsom – Divers

    (Not on Spotify… hates streaming. Purchase on iTunes here.)
    Joanna Newsom - Divers

    Otherworldly enchantress, wife of Andy Sandberg, “the world’s most famous harp player”, Vicoria’s Secret Commercial Music Contributor, second cousin twice removed of former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom… these are just some of the ways to describe Joanna Newsom.

    Divers, her first album since 2010’s overwhelming triple album Have One On Me, is a compact logical evolution from that ambitious event. The strengths of this album are the strengths of all Newsom albums: clever use of a uniquely beautiful voice, lyrics which may require a dictionary, and thoughtful arrangement of an ever-growing bag of instrumental tricks. While this might not be her strongest work, if you were just starting with Joanna Newson, this is perhaps your gentlest route into her beautiful world.

    3. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

    Listen on Spotify
    Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

    Thank God for Kendrick Lamar. Rather than remaking Good Kid, M.A.A.D. city (which would have been awesome!), this Compton rapper started from scratch to create something completely different. Kendrick, who is almost certainly the most lyrically proficient rapper making popular music right now, is pushing himself on every level here. The music is challenging, the lyrics are challenging and the story line is ambitious.

    This album is asking and addressing questions that I have the luxury of never having thought about as a white person in America. It is good to be challenged, to think, and to have perspectives broadened. It is good to listen to voices other than your own.

    2. Natalie Prass – Natlie Prass

    Listen on Spotify
    Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass

    Welcome to Natalie Prass, the lone newcomer on this list. This was one of the first albums I listened to in 2015 and it stuck with me throughout the year. It’s short, there are repetition of motifs and themes throughout, and the melodies and arrangements are seeping in a vaguely familiar nostalgia.

    Prass’ voice is breathy and beautiful. And she writes lyrics which are immediately simple and memorable. One point of consternation: album closer “It Is You” is too much for me.

    1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

    Listen on Spotify
    Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
    What is there to say about an album that speaks so clearly and with such focus for itself? Carrie and Lowell is an album that Stevens wrote about his complex relationship with his mother (Carrie) and stepfather (Lowell) following his mother’s recent death.

    The songs buck Stevens trend of plunging headfirst towards musical decadence and pulls everything back as far as it can go here. There are no more instruments or words than necessary. Stevens has always felt like an artist on the verge of quitting and becoming a recluse, but albums like this show what a tragedy that would be. He has a unique way of reaching into the soul of a personal experience and making it universally powerful.