OK so I skipped a year. OK so its almost March. Actually sorry.
This year, a lot of electronic beats (though I have some traditional rock’n’roll and acoustic leaning records on the list too), voices that tell a different story from the traditional narratives…
10.Courtney Barnett (Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit)
Ahhh. This is the coolest thing I didn’t know I needed. “Elevator Operator” and “Pedestrian at Best” (the first two tracks on the album) are so on point its scary. Its a throwback to a simpler, no-frills, rock’n’roll time. She captures moments. How old is she even? Younger than me? She sounds wiser than that.
“Depreston” is a quiet little number, a softer look at life. Quiet Drums. A scene, a description, a house. This quiet track grounds the songs around it.
Courtney Barnett is like the cool senior who is in an all chick band that practices in the garage next door. Its not complex, or musically novel, but it is damn good. And very cool.
“Nobody Really Care If You Don’t Go To The Party,” speaks to me. “I wanna go out but I wanna stay home…” How did I get here?
9. Joanna Newsom (Divers)
Joanna Newsom. You probably either love or hate her (voice?). Her new album is so nice. SO so nice. She’s like Kate Bush + Fiona Apple + crack. I get into moods where all I want to listen to is her. Is she the grown up version of the women who spoke to me as a youngster? Maybe.
The title track is haunting, and sad, and so uniquely weird. It is not a song as much as it is storytelling at its core… Every stanza brings with it an echo of the last, asks questions, builds.
“I know we must abide
each by the rules that bind us here:
the divers, and the sailors, and the women on the pier.
But how do you choose your form?
How do you choose your name? How do you choose your life?
How do you choose the time you must exhale,
and kick, and rise?”
8. Ezra Furman (Perpetual Motion People)
Maybe this is good old fashioned rock’n’roll. Maybe its something else entirely. I have always loved Ezra’s music, and this, his 3rd (?) solo album, does not disappoint. The songs are catchy, dynamic, quirky.
Live, he is pure joy to watch. Alone in your room, the songs can resonate on a more emotional level.
This tune is just lovely. It also highlights his non-conforming gender-fluid take on rock’n’roll.
I learned about Shamir by going to his show. I am pretty sure he is under 20, but he captivated the crowd like a pro. This year I was really drawn to “other” “non traditional” performers. I am sick and tired of the old narrative, and Shamir is one to give you something new.
“On the Regular” is obviously a dope song, something to dance to, something to celebrate. Like Frank Ocean, he walks the line of what it means to be a masculine and black. Pitchfork calls him a “Vegas pixie, a black man making poetic and flagrantly rococo dance pop,” which I can’t really top.
“Call it off,” is a sweet little breakup song that makes me bounce around.
6. Mbongwana Star (From Kinshasa)
Maybe I haven’t been listening, but I have never heard anything like this before in my life. This record marries everything from traditional likembe sounds, to electronic beats, grungy and ghostly noise, and distorted Bantu vocals. This project seems like an experiment of what music can do.
Listening to Mbongwana Star makes me excited about what is possible in music. What genre or style they are opening up for other to fill in the space.
5. Ibeyi (Ibeyi)
What else do you want besides Afro-Cuban-French twins who practice Regla de Ocha and sing haunting tunes in Yoruba, English and French? Nothing. Thats what. Tbh I don’t really know what category to put Ibeyi into, its something like downtempo electronic music, some hiphop, some jazz, some Buena Vista Social Club. But whatever it is, its magical.
It’s raw. It’s weird. It feels sacred. It feels both young and old. I really enjoyed their interview on Alt.Latino. Because they sounds like kids- but kids with undisputed talent and creativity.
This is their most well known track of the record. I think its pretty emblematic of their whole vibe, too.
4. Kendrick Lamar (To Pimp a Butterfly)
Its probably a lot to live up to to rise to fame and then release your second album. Everyone is watching. Everyone is anticipating. Everyone looking tfor a vocie in these troubled times, trying to make sense of the tumultuous landscape for young black men in this country.
Kendrick Lamar is again able to define rap music in a new way, reaching for jazz, for slam poetry, complicated ideas/struggles/politics. And I couldn’t get enough of it.
3. Young Fathers (White Men are Black Men Too)
I love these dudes. With a nod to TV on the Radio, this album is dancey in a subtle way. I like the complex and often uncomfortable melodies and rhythms, and the smooth transitions from rap to yelling to singing.
“Old Rock ‘n Roll” is one of the least upbeat tracks on the album, but the lyrical adventure and strange rhythm section
This album is confrontational, its at times uncomfortable, at times unfinished- but oh so good.
2. Jamie XX (In Colour)
I found myself reaching for this record more and more as the months grew colder. It’s hard to believe this is his solo debut, I feel like I have loved his style for so long. This album’s versatility- dance music, gloomy music, love music- is what gets me. The tracks have little in common, besides the endless loops and robot sounds of Jamie XX’s sampler. Can we talk about how often I have listened to the Popcaan/Young Thug collaboration? Like a lot. Probably more than I should. But that song is irresistible, and for the gloomy months, an invitation to travel to sweaty dancehalls (at least in your mind).
“Loud Places” is a sweet quiet song with xx partner Romy. “You’re in ecstasy without me/ When you come down, I won’t be around.” Its sad, and emotional and completely different from the next song on the album (“I Know There’s Gonna Be”). I like how the melody + rhythm swoop in and out from the sweet singing voice, the handclaps (obvs) the message.
1. Sufjan Stevens (Carrie & Lowell)
I can’t tell you how many times I listened to this record. Over and over and over and over. Every single song on this album just cuts you deep in the hollowest insides of your belly. Masochistic? Maybe. But so worth it.
I don’t think this record has percussions at all. It’s all voice. All acoustic. All heart. How do you deal with life when a person you had complicated feelings towards dies?
The songs are melodic, catchy, they sweep you away. I can’t pick a favorite. “Death with Dignity” opens the doors to the a wispy, fragile, story, its gentle. Its sad. “every road leads to and end…”
“When I was three, three maybe four, she left us at that video store,” from “Should Have Known Better” crushes. This song’s melodies are perfect.
Belle & Sebastian (Girl in Peacetime Want to Dance) I LOVE THIS ALBUM. that is all.
Bomba Estereo (Amanecer) Ever since going to the Amazon I can’t get enough of electro cumbia. File this under “I just want to dance”
Justin Bieber (Purpose). Sorry not sorry. This album is pop crack.