Year in Review: The 10 Best Albums of 2017

When listening to any artist’s music we tend to gravitate towards their command of emotion and vulnerability before anything else, and this year that pull was stronger than ever. 2017 was an incredibly stressful year in just about every sense of the word, and yet music remained the same, fearless medium it always has been, offering solace and motivation during the times where it was needed most. These ten albums were absolutely exceptional in the way they conveyed the same passion and vulnerability that society continues to tell us time and time again to conceal, and proved that succumbing to that emotion is what truly makes us human.

10. King Krule, The Ooz

King Krule has always had an intimidating, even polarizing demeanor about him that has the ability to either completely attract or turn people off the first time they hear him – perhaps it’s the thick English accent or the audible, even seemingly tangible sneer in his voice even when he’s singing about longing love, or perhaps from the intricate, experimental compositions that shouldn’t be able to exist hand in hand with his lyrics, and The Ooz is perhaps the most experimental album Archy Marshall has ever released. It lived up to its namesake, with its often gritty, grimy compositions and visually graphic lyrics, with an added veneer of self-deprecation that sounded more indulgent than torturous this time around. Sleepy saxophones crawl out of murky lakes of bass and cricket chirps of percussion on “Logos,” silvery water swirls in whirlpools in the heavy, jazz laden ballad “Slush Puppy,” and tendrils of smoke curl around talons while he laments to himself in “Czech One,” saying “Loverboy, you drowned too quick/ you’re fading out of sight,” proving that there has always been a soft center beneath his sharp exterior, that pain still gets through. And the pain gets through various times within The Ooz, literally as well as figuratively.

photo by Geordie Wood

9. Tennis, Yours Conditionally

Tennis’s fourth full-length album Yours Conditionally had the husband-wife team sounding less like a quirky caricature of sunny guitar pop and instead more sincere, uninfluenced by outside forces, unafraid to fully embrace their real emotions. Half of Yours Conditionally was written on dry land, and the other half was composed while Moore and Riley were sailing from San Diego to the Sea of Cortez, the journey perhaps contributing to the album’s themes of bittersweet loneliness and detachment from the outside world. The combination of the stress in constantly manning a boat as well as the divine romance of being alone with your significant other on the open seas made for ten absolutely gorgeous tracks. Of course, the isolation also made for some intense soul searching on Moore’s part, and she’s even made clear that “lyrically, it is a consideration of [her] relation to the world as a woman, as an artist whose work is transformed by another’s experience of it, and the conflicting needs that arise from these intersections.” Musically, Riley provides instrumentals that act as both stabilizers and enhancers, but Moore’s lyrics and vocals provide warmth and sincere introspection – they personify a body and the heart that powers it respectively.

photo via noisey

8. Alvvays, Antisocialites

Following their signature style of hiding dark, visceral lyrics under the facade of bright, shimmering instrumentals, Alvvays’s sophomore album Antisocialites didn’t stray too far from the path they paved with their self-titled debut, but it did change their lyrical tone. Mostly gone were the narratives that touch on dependence on another’s touch; instead, the Toronto four-piece explored the ideas of separation and escapism, at the same time fleshing out their jangly, colorful sound, which resulted in a saccharine sweet, yet remarkably tenacious collection of tracks without the sugar crash. Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley’s songwriting skills haven’t diminished in the slightest, considering the narrative grandeur of “Saved By a Waif” or the emotional, yet self-empowering ballad “Not My Baby.” The latter as well as “Plimsoll Punks” is among the most dynamic tracks the band has ever released due to the way they transformed into something completely different halfway through or towards the bridge, proving Alvvays’s immense skill in composition that will no doubt continue to improve.

photo by Arden Wray

7. The National, Sleep Well Beast

Sometimes its hard for us to listen to The National as readily as some of the other artists we write about on this blog, mainly due to the way they make you feel, really feel, their music. Their deep lyrical narratives are repeatedly arresting, and Matt Berninger’s voice are the lock and key that places the handcuffs on your wrists, the voice that evokes their every emotion so gently and yet so fervidly at the same time. It’s easy to get too involved with the dense narratives and begin to compare them to your own life experiences, and since hearing Berninger admit “I have only two emotions/ careful fear and dead devotion” in Trouble Will Find Me I’ve always been a little scared that I’ll get called out again. That’s why we, ironically, slept on Sleep Well Beast until December, where we finally gave in and listened to “Dark Side of the Gym.” I was met with the softest I had ever heard the band, and that led to even more surprises – lead single “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” had Berninger on a whole other vocal register, one that, while yelping in desperation, also had a glimmer of hope attached to it, one that I was pleased that I heard throughout the album. To be honest, we’re still taking our time with it, but we know that there’s still that tinge of darkness that The National has utilized over the years, but in Sleep Well Beast, it sounded far more manageable, even coveted.

photo by Graham MacIndoe

6. Sufjan Stevens, The Greatest Gift

Technically speaking, The Greatest Gift isn’t really an album at all – rather a mixture of demos, remixes, and unreleased tracks from Sufjan Stevens’s most recent album Carrie & Lowell, an absolutely album that, despite the time elapsed from when it was released, still manages to reveal something new with each listen. And yet his musical potpourri remained one of the most stunning releases of the year, proving Stevens’ unparalleled aesthetic appeal – what other artist’s music could be amplified in emotional power just by recording it on an iphone? –  as well as a specific desire for that often well concealed, vulnerable center of our souls to come alive for a moment or two before hiding it away again to face the world. Our favorite track off Carrie & Lowell, “Drawn to the Blood,” had not one, but two remixes  – the “Sufjan Stevens” remix pulsated and contracted like a beating heart, the “Fingerpicking” remix hollowing out a larger space for Stevens’ voice to reverberate freely within the walls of his guitar. The specific ways in which the remixes contributed to the tracks without completely mutilating the original sentiment was perfection – the “Helado Negro” remixes of both “Death With Dignity” and “All of Me Wants All of You” give each track more tension and heartache, while the “900X” remix of “Fourth of July” was eerie and glitchy, an otherworldly dirge, complete with distorted whispers of the afterlife whispering into your ears. As for the previously unreleased tracks, “The Hidden River of My Life” and “City of Roses,” they achieve something deeper with being released separate from its larger work, for they evoke a much different mood in its lyrics – Stevens tells us through a gorgeous menagerie of banjo in the former that “I’m a walker, I’m a drinker, Safeway shopper, thunder egg reader/ I’m biker, yeah I’m a beaver, web-foot walker, trail blazing fever,” the “yeahs” peppered in too playful for the somber affair of its predecessor. But it was “Wallowa Lake Monster” that completely stole our hearts, as it offered another otherworldly, almost transcendental narrative on the death his mother, as well as their troubled, strained relationship. Though the track exists as a continuation of the solemn nature of its larger work, its clear that this is perhaps the most solemn of all, due to Stevens’s absolute acceptance that “no oblation will bring her back,” that he has seemingly understood everything within the span of its seven minutes, as his voice gradually frays and hollows out betwixt a glitchy, cacophony of angelic wails. The arrangements and additions within The Greatest Gift did their namesake proud, and where these came from, there’s bound to be more, if Stevens will ever grace us again with the art that goes on inside his head.

photo courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty Records

5. Perfume Genius, No Shape

Mike Hadreas’s career as Perfume Genius has always been one driven by emotion. His heartbreaking narratives always came through with potent immediacy, whether it was sparse, minimal, and dark like in his debut Learning, more matured like Put Your Back N 2 It, or more experimental and passionate like in 2014’s Too Bright. Needless to say, there’s immense power in being soft and somber, two concepts that Hadreas has undoubtedly mastered throughout the years in his attempts to both constantly and brilliantly oppose a grossly ignorant society denying him the right to exist because of all the concepts he represents – homosexuality, androgyny, male vulnerability – as well as embrace his own humanity at the same time, and that has never been realized as confidently and as gorgeously as in No Shape. There was more than just a voice and piano – there was texture, depth, more freedom, in style and in spirit. His past makes his music honest, something in which to comfort himself as well as let others take comfort in him, and perhaps he owed it to his audience to give them something to truly lose themselves in, and considering the vast expanses heard in tracks like “Slip Away” and “Die 4 You,” there was definitely the opportunity to do just that. He also references his partner of eight years Alan Wyffels – who also plays in his supporting band – as well as their relationship that clearly exists as one built on mutual respect and fascination. There’s constant yearning and never ending desire, both of which sounded just a little more attainable with every track.

photo courtesy of artist/ Matador records

4. Tim Darcy, Saturday Night

Darcy played both the existential philosopher and the starving artist in one of Saturday Night’s stunners “Saint Germain” as he told us “creation is the loudest screech of escape/ which explains why mine sounds like a scream.” But as the frontman of art punk band Ought, Tim Darcy is no stranger to vulnerability or sensitivity; in fact, his lyrics and the melodies that escape his guitar seem to feed off their presence. Ought, of course, being a band party born out of protest, perfectly rides the line of being intellectual but constantly pissed off, and Darcy’s contribution is similar; Darcy’s lyrics, yelped out with a tone existing somewhere between vitriol and inquisitiveness, touch on existentialism and human nature as well as the monotony of everyday life. In Saturday Night, Darcy’s experimental debut solo album, however, he became a human conduit for emotion, and, as a result, the vulnerability appeared less like divine annoyance and more like a lovesick serenade. Obviously, the songs were much more introspective, perhaps a result of allowing ideas to flow freely rather than attach them to any specific sentiment, and there were a few overarching themes – toxic masculinity, vulnerability, gender dynamics – expressed through half-fluid, half-disjointed instrumentals and more experimental effects. But the most gorgeous part of it was the lyrics, how they most indicative of Darcy’s attempts to understand himself, and, by extension, the world in which he exists – he summed it all up in “Tall Glass of Water,” asking “if at then end of the river/there is more river/ would you dare to swim again?,” then answering, saying “surely I will stay, and I am not afraid/ I went under once, I’ll go under once again.”

3. Baths, Romaplasm

Romaplasm is quite possibly the most gorgeous album that Will Wiesenfeld has ever released as Baths. Sure, we’ll always have the fresh, playful sounds of Cerulean and the dark matter of Obsidian, but there’s something so tantalizingly human about both the unique, otherworldly sounds that make up each track, as well as Wiesenfeld’s purpose and inspiration behind the album itself. This time around, he wanted to be as self-indulgent as possible, and thus tapped into what truly gives him the most joy in life, the specific things in which his “heart lies” – books, comics, anime, video games – and yet it doesn’t sound as self-indulgent as he believes, but honest and genuine instead, considering just how unparalleled his sound really is. These passions are portrayed an brilliantly subtle manner, however, the emotion is placed on display, even though we hear things like 8-bit orchestrals, pan flutes, and bouncy, disjointed bass and percussion every now and again like we’re stuck in a never ending video game glitch. Wiesenfeld takes you around the world and back again, taking on various personas as you go: he’s a lovesick, starry-eyed passenger on an airship pining for its particularly appealing captain in the breezy fantastical “Yeoman,” an intrepid space explorer in the Cowboy Bebop-esque “Extrasolar,” where textured effects ricochet off his elastic, oxygenated voice like space debris, as well as a medieval hero scaling castle walls to win the heart of the prince inside in “Abscond,” telling him “you’re the ire of your father but the other half of me” as he wipes the sweat from his brow, taking him by the hand, asking “do you have everything?” before they escaping the castle on horseback. With such dense narratives, it only makes sense to have equally dense, complex instrumentals, and each track has that tenfold – “Abscond” has everything from the sounds of horse hooves to perfectly timed medieval violin blares,“Wilt” is deep, lush, and sensitive, a bleeding heart set to music as Wiesenfeld asks “so, who will house my sentiment?/ it comes in floods and runs me red.” And “Human Bog,” perhaps the most beautiful song Baths has ever released, is sparse and echoed, Wiesenfeld addressing his struggles with his identity in the most direct way he’s ever done. And therein lies the essence of the album – as anticon puts it, it is ultimately a “post-modern take on Romanticism,” with added emphasis on “emotion and individualism,” confronting “the gnawing chaos of life with a focus on beauty and the sublime.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. In that regard, the album absolutely beautiful in that strange, otherworldly, ethereal way that I truly think we will never be able to fully understand, much less accurately describe, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that perhaps that’s the point. Romaplasm will always remain a testament to just how rewarding it can be to truly embrace yourself as well as your passions,  – those things that truly bring you ultimate joy and grant you feelings that others are unable to create or reciprocate. Those feelings are valid, and the ability to get so caught up in them, while it might seem like a curse at times, ultimately make you human.

photo by Mario Luna

2. Fleet Foxes, Crack-Up

Robin Pecknold named Crack-Up after the F. Scott Fitzgerald essay of the same name, where the author expounds the state of being broken, evaluating everything that has happened up to the point of breaking, and ultimately having to venture back inside yourself in order to come out whole, albeit a bit shaken, on the other side. It was for this exact reason why the album wasn’t as immediately arresting as their first two albums, and for this reason why it rivals both of those works in the amount of introspection and honest emotion it offers its listener. In the years after releasing Helplessness Blues, Pecknold went back to school only to come back to music, solidifying that his purpose in the world is to tap into his own ability to understand it. In fact, Crack-Up was best when Pecknold was caught up in his own emotions and possessed by real-world nostalgia, so taken with what he’s communicating that the instrumentals all tended to blur together into euphoria: “Third of May/ Odaigahara” was nostalgic and sprawling in its narrative about his and co-founder Skye Skjelset’s friendship; “Fool’s Errand”’s piercing instrumentals simulate galloping horses or crashing waves, Pecknold’s vocals soaring and gliding in betwixt them; “On Another Ocean (January / June)” had Pecknold riddled with hesitation until it suddenly transitioned to June, where all those questions are treated with sense of self-reliance. Pecknold screams into the void amidst blossoming instrumentals that, in one of the most beautiful phrases of the album – “I won’t bleed out/ if I know me” – back to emphasizing the importance of self-indulgence in order to survive in a continuously changing society. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have never experienced your own crack-up, the search for something bigger and bolder than yourself is, for the most part, universal, and Fleet Foxes offered to give you the first push with this gorgeous album.

photo by Sean Pecknold

1. Grizzly Bear, Painted Ruins

Daniel Rossen repeats twice within Painted Ruins that “it’s chaos, but it works,” which seems to be a catch-all phrase for Grizzly Bear’s entire discography, from the quiet calamity of Yellow House to the colorful, bombastic Veckatimest, to the textured, complex Shields. And Painted Ruins was, from beginning to end, also an absolute chaotic experience to listen to, in the best way possible. Beginning with Daniel Rossen’s lurching, mesmerizing inquiries (“were you even listening”) pulling you into their fantastical world at the very beginning and ending Ed Droste’s near existential crisis during the last quarter of “Sky Took Hold,” Grizzly Bear finally placed the heart its been slowly and painfully carving out for the past thirteen years and placed it on a silver platter, handing it to us mid-beat. The amount of poetic narration and direct introspection were equal, the instrumentals ricocheting off each other as Droste and Rossen acted as a tag team vocally. “Four Cypresses” and “Systole” solidified Rossen as that ethereal, wistful voice guiding you into soft and somber reflection, Droste unearthing more of his deep, bleeding drawl in stunners like “Cut-Out” and “Three Rings.” Although the album contains the feelings of self-doubt and unease, the sense of hope and the chance for rebirth always seems to sit idly by, even sometimes embedded in the fibers of its complex instrumentals. In this, the image of the title’s painted ruins comes to mind, in both its negative and positive connotations; on one hand, the process of painting over something that has shattered seems fruitless, but on the other, it also symbolizes the act of moving on, taking into account your pain and your flaws and using them as the foundation for something even more beautiful than it was before. It’s an amazingly complex, textured album flawlessly conveying the process of decay, epiphany, and, partly, the slow, grueling process of rebirth, a project that reflects those concepts inward into the souls of its creators as well as out into the world around it.

photo by Tom Hines

Thank you so much for visiting kidwithavinyl throughout all of 2017! Here’s to more amazing music in 2018.



Year in Review: The 25 Best Songs of 2017

While 2017 was one of the absolute shittiest (yes, this is the first time we’ve cursed on here – we’re not apologizing) years on record politically, socially, and just about everything else-ly, the songs and albums that were released either in direct and indirect response or in complete indifference to it were on a completely different level of artistic ambition and passion for the delicate art form that is pure, unadulterated music. It was a distraction at the very least, an expanse to lose yourself completely and forget all the indecencies of the world at the most, and there was something for everyone, although we chose to go with the deeper, denser tracks, the ones that weren’t afraid to show emotion despite the call to remain stoic and detached due to the nature of society, to express vulnerability in every sense of the word. And, while doing best of lists this time around, I realized just how lucky I was to have started this blog when I did, because it has allowed me the chance to understand just how much music can change with the times as the years go by, as well as how much it stays the same – the twenty-five tracks presented here are honest, sincere, and gorgeous in their own respective ways, a playlist that kept us sane during a torturous whirlwind of a year.

25. Garbanotas Bosistas, “Last Summer’s Day”

The dreamy psychedelic sounds of Lithuanian band Garbanotas Bosistas were further realized with Room for You, released earlier this month. “Last Summer’s Day,” the first official single for the album, is one of the most gorgeous, a highly textured ballad devoted to the end of the daydreaming during the warm months and the embracing of new ideas. Lead vocalist Šarukas Joneikis asks the universe to bring him back to his good graces, to “bring back [his] heart, reunite with [his] mind,” but also understands that its ultimately up to him, lamenting “Lord, I really need to get moving on,” his voice lingering with something between desire and fear. The instrumentals, slow and saccharine sweet at the beginning, are perfectly in step with the vocals like a delicate waltz, only to quickly condense and explode in a cacophony of sound towards the end, a last hurrah both passionate and reverential in nature.

photo courtesy of artist

24. Peach Pit, “Tommy’s Party”

“Tommy’s Party,” the six minute closer to Peach Pit’s stunning debut Being So Normal released back in September, is perhaps the most minimal and sparse of its nine tracks, and yet, it just might be the most sincere the group has ever composed. Though highly specific in its narrative – frontman Neil Smith explaining upon release that the song is from the perspective of his roommate Tommy the night after a wild party where everyone seemed to have a bit too much to drink – the emotion in Smith’s voice amongst the bright, shimmering flourishes of guitar is what makes the track nostalgic and oddly relatable, especially if you’ve ever grown apart from one of your closest friends due to a new relationship or new life experiences. There’s hints of sadness in Smith’s voice as he tells us everything Tommy told him the morning after the party, that ultimately he was hurt that Smith brought a girl along with him and therefore ignored him the entire night. Tommy says in the last verse that when they were younger they thought that they’d only have each other to rely on, “but now she’s knowing you, just like I used to,” Smith lingering on the last two words as if introducing a painful surge of guilt, the guitar solo that follows afterwards a means to simultaneously suppress and acknowledge it.

photo by Lester Lyons-Hookham and Kelli Lane

23. St. Vincent, “Pills”

Masseduction, Annie Clark’s fifth album as St. Vincent, is something eerily close to post-pop, if we can be so bold as to even suggest that as an actual genre. There’s flashy neon colors, dramatic outfits, scripted, comic interviews, and yet the music itself has no gimmick – its pure, unadulterated St. Vincent as she has built herself up as over the years. “Pills,” not about the overarching presence of the pharmaceutical industry, but instead a brief look at a moment in Clark’s past, where she had once relied on sleeping pills. It’s also a wonderful example of the multi-faceted nature of the album as a whole, seein it feels like two songs in one. After the barrage of hallucinatory nursery rhyme choruses (“Pills to wake, pills to sleep/ Pills pills pills every day of the week”) the track comes down from the high, Clark’s voice melting into a passionate croon before a smooth sax solo. It’s reality in the style of fantasy, a surreal, out of body experience set to music.

photo by Nedda Afsari

22. Tennis, “I Miss That Feeling”

Tennis might be one of the hardest working couples in the indie music industry, as well as one of the most passionate due to the sheer amount of music they have released over the past year. While potentially any track from their fourth album Yours Conditionally could appear on this list, including the ethereal “Modern Woman” as well as the bright and cheerful “Fields of Blue,”  “I Miss That Feeling” from their more recently released EP We Can Die Happy deserves the spot, with its lush, atmospheric choral interludes as well as Alaina Moore’s clever songwriting – we still can’t get over her rhyming of “trembling” with “EKG.” But as always, the duo’s contribution is in constant balance, with Patrick Riley’s signature shimmering guitar melodies lying dormant underneath before erupting into its stunning closing solo.

photo via noisey

21. The Drums, “Heart Basel”

The Drums have always presented their albums with a certain mood in mind, and it feels like they’ve done almost everything with the classic indie sound  – their self titled debut was breezy yet complex in technique with hints of surf rock, Portamento was giddy but considerably darker in overall tone, and Encylopedia was the strange, yet oddly charming experimental outlier – and with Abysmal Thoughts, their first album in three years, it was as if all of those moods had seamlessly converged into one – even the hints of surf rock – with an added newfound aura of confidence. “Heart Basel” is somehow both breezy in composition and piercing in frontman Jonny Peirce’s vocal delivery, fighting the two separate feelings of infatuation and apprehension. He repeatedly asks a faceless, nameless entity in each chorus to “call me and tell me that you want me,” but its clear in the verses that he doesn’t really mean it, later telling him that “the tropical weather must have softened your heart,” that he “don’t make no sense.” Despite the frustration, the track still sounds bouncy and energetic, the pinpricks of guitar hopeful rather than dismal in nature.

photo by Moni Haworth

20. The xx, “On Hold”

I See You was, no doubt, the brightest xx record ever released. Each of its tracks, though still housing that signature heaviness equivalent with the trio’s sound, had an airiness about it, a glimmer of hope amongst all the despair. No other track really expressed this more than “On Hold,” also the first official single for the album. Romy Madley-Croft’s vocals hovered above her echoed guitar melodies, and even Oliver Sim’s signature deep drawl sounded just a touch lighter than usual. Though the narrative is about letting go of love (“and every time I let you leave/ I always saw you coming back to me”), the vocals, as well as the electronic compositions courtesy of the incredibly talented Jamie xx, point to something bright and hopeful, the result of learning from mistakes in life and love.

photo by Laura Jane Coulson

19. Temples, “I Wanna Be Your Mirror”

Volcano might be one of the most overlooked and underrated albums released this past year, and we found that to be an absolute travesty, considering the amount of work and passion that went into its creation. Perhaps it is because some believe Temples’ ambitious compositions emulate classic psychedelic rock just a little too perfectly, or that the complex instrumentals and often inscrutable lyrics make the Brit quartet’s music a little too much to take in all at once. However, what these critics miss out on is the passion and color that Temples place into everything they release, as well as their genuine love for the genre, and the album, to us, was a perfect continuation of everything they introduced with Sun Structures. Among the bubbly, high energy tracks, “I Wanna Be Your Mirror” was our absolute favorite off Volcano, mainly due to  the brilliant ways it melded together the energy of rock with the tenderness of a love song. Frontman James Bagshaw allows his vocals to both soar and condense, sometimes surrounded by walls of sound, but they are most stunning when they crumble down towards the chorus, accompanied only by shimmering guitar.

photo by Ed Miles

18. Rhye, “Taste”

Mike Milosh’s voice is, by far, Rhye’s best instrument. Both his control over it as well as the perfect way in which the instrumentals rush to surround him are absolutely mesmerizing, as heard in the Los Angeles duo’s debut, Woman, released back in 2013. “Taste,” one of the first teases of their upcoming album due next year, pointed to a slightly different, more experimental sound, with Milosh’s relatively deeper, yet still delicate falsetto at the center of a vortex composed of bass and synth, playful and eerie all at once. There’s also a distinct, simultaneous heaviness and playfulness, heard more in the accompanying tracks “Summer Days,” “Please,” and the most recent “Count to Five,” but it is most tantalizing here, the complex mixture of synth, metallic effects, and orchestral interludes conjuring an aura of mystery that Rhye will no doubt have fun with come next year. They’ve always been sensitive and vulnerable, but with these new tracks, they prove they can be a little dangerous as well.

photo by Dan Monick

17. Gorillaz, “Saturnz Barz”

Although Humanz was incredibly ambitious in its creation – complete with various collaborators, a lengthy tracklist, even a new plot and new art style for each fictitious band member (Murdoc’s was especially jarring – who told Jamie Hewlett to get rid of the green skin?) – we think we can all agree that it wasn’t Gorillaz’s best. However, there were moments of brilliance on the album, little melodies and earworms that seemed to linger well after the final note. “Saturnz Barz” was one that harkened back to that classic Gorillaz sound, and we also just had to include it based on how effortlessly cool it sounds. Glitchy synth and bright, metallic effects introduce distorted bass and drums, the sharp vocal delivery from Popcaan the cherry on top, the soft vocals from Damon Albarn peeking out underneath as well as towards the end another damn cherry on top of that one. It’s an absolute masterpiece of a track, proving Albarn’s continued excellence in composition. There never has, and never will be, a band that so perfectly pushes the limits of just about anything music can be – from its “band members” to what sounds go with others, to its incredibly creative music videos – and not even a so-so album can topple that.

photo courtesy of artist

16. Marika Hackman, “Boyfriend”

I’m Not Your Man was yet another incredibly overlooked and underrated album, again with no good reason behind it – Marika Hackman’s take on guitar pop was deliciously fresh and inspired, and the songwriting was impeccable – we couldn’t even decide on a favorite for this list without agonizing over the decision afterwards. Despite the soft fluidity of “Cigarette” and the stunning guitar melodies of “My Lover Cindy,” ultimately we had to go with the bouncy, energetic “Boyfriend,” a gorgeous song that isn’t what you first expect from the title. Though she admits she’s got a girl’s boyfriend “on her mind,” he isn’t the one she wants, instead confessing to stealing her away from him (“I held his girl in my hands/ She likes it ‘cause they’re softer than a man’s”). However, she doesn’t apologize, instead injecting everything from the tone of her voice to her meticulous guitar melodies with a healthy dose of sarcasm, making fun of him while commenting on how she isn’t taken as seriously. It’s the perfect introduction to her unique personality and writing style, showing that instead of feeling sorry for herself, she’ll have fun and steal your man in the process, just because she can.

photo by Pip for Dirty Hit Records

15. Tim Darcy, “Tall Glass of Water”

Ought frontman Tim Darcy took on a different persona in the the composition of his debut solo album Saturday Night, swapping out his mile-a-minute cynicisms with softer, lovesick serenades and sprawling, esoteric narratives. “Tall Glass of Water,” the first track released in anticipation for the album back in February, leans more towards indie rock in it’s heavy, balanced guitar melodies, but Darcy’s signature croon still hovers above, with his lyrics both asking and answering questions about his own abilities to muster on and understand himself as an artist (“If at the end of the river, there is more river, would you dare to swim again?” Surely I will stay, and I am not afraid / I went under once, I’ll go under once again”). These sorts of musings come complimentary with the singer/songwriter, it seems, regardless of what name or group he releases them under. However, rather than only bathe them in tension and angst, there’s also a sense of peace in his conveying himself, which makes the track all the more satisfying.

photo courtesy of artist

14. Japanese Breakfast, “Road Head”

The soft, mesmerizing guitar melody that courses through the entirety of “Road Head” was more than enough to grant it a spot on this list, as well as the fact that it was one of the many stunning tracks on Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Michelle Zauner’s sophomore album as Japanese Breakfast. It lived up to its namesake, each track expressing something otherworldly and ethereal, Zauner’s vocals its own instrument of despair and euphoria. Despite the brevity of its lyrical narrative, the emotion is still vivid and sincere, with super-sensory instrumentals – the guitar and bass the steady rolling of tires along the highway, Zauner’s voice whispering “run,” cooing towards the end, emulating the red and white flash of headlights through the dark as it soundly dissipates into the thick void of synth. It’s a surreal, almost hyper-realistic experience, and considering the short amount of time between projects, proved both Zauner’s passion and immense skill for her work.

photo by Ebru Yildiz

13. Gus Dapperton, “Miss Glum and the Pursuit of Falling”

Gus Dapperton was one of our absolute favorite musical discoveries of this past year, with his Yellow and Such EP offering up a different chunk of his quirky, yet highly intellectual writing and performing style. Working off his love of cinema, each track had a robust, full-bodied aura to them, heavy with thoughtful instrumentation and poetic, often witty and esoteric lyrics. “Miss Glum and the Pursuit of Falling” showed a more eclectic side, piecing together different techniques and moods into one cohesive track. There’s a colorful, yet muted menagerie of sounds – pinpricks and swelling flutters of synth, soft swells of melancholic guitar, a brilliant orchestral interlude that sounds as if it’s on a rocking boat, swaying from side to side – all floating underneath Dapperton’s echoed, ominous vocals. However, it is the implicit sadness evoked in the last minute of the track that makes it especially irresistible, a hotbed of sound where every delicately chosen note can combine and grow in focused succession.  

photo courtesy of artist

12. Alvvays, “Not My Baby”

There were a few tracks within Alvvays’s gorgeous sophomore album Antisocialites that sounded like two or three songs rolled in one, and “Not My Baby” was one of its best, not to mention its unapologetic narrative. Everything about it is soft yet visceral – the drums explode on impact, little flourishes of synth flutter underneath like sparks before swelling to the size of boulders. Molly Rankin’s voice changes right along with the muted, muffled instrumentals in tone, but remains static in her indifferent mood, only growing in power as the track plays on. TIt becomes especially enraptured towards the bridge, where she tells us all the things she did to get over someone from her past, trading her “rose colored shades for a wide lens,” how she used to make noise but now she “much prefers silence.” It’s a song about maturing and elevating your own perception of yourself for the better, and empowerment never sounded so saccharine sweet.

photo by Arden Wray

11. Alt-J, “In Cold Blood”

Relaxer was Alt-J’s shortest, most bizarre album yet, chock full of experimental instrumentals and insane references that, while more than anticipated due to the inspired nature of their past work, would undoubtedly take months to decipher. “In Cold Blood” was one of the most accessible of the bunch, the shallowest of the deep dive that is the three minds of its creators, but not without its individual merits that makes it that classic, albeit strange Alt-J song with an even stranger, specific narrative. “In Cold Blood” begins with a slew of binary, arresting, piercing and esoteric. While the track sounds bright and energetic, a deeper listen and brief glance at the lyrics reveals that a man has been killed during a pool party, and that same positive energy turns frantic and chaotic, the horns and glitchy keyboards mingling together in some sort of demented, violent menagerie. And yet, with it’s addictive “la-la-las,” it also sounds sunny and bright, but its ultimately its multifaceted nature that keeps us in the pool.

photo by Gabriel Green / big hassle

10. Porches, “Find Me”

Aaron Maine returned this year with news of his upcoming third album The House, the two singles shared in anticipation hinting at a project even more personal than his past work. “Find Me” had Maine foregoing instrumentals and instead used synth exclusively, stacking the varying layers on top of each other thoughtfully to create a stable, unwavering foundation for a minimal, yet highly emotional narrative that expounds the torturous nature of anxiety. Maine, through a jungle of tense, earth-shattering synth, desperately begs a faceless, nameless being not to let “it” find him. Despite his attempts to resist, “it” eventually finds him just before the chorus, and with it comes a powerful wave of bouncy, glitchy synth that washes over as Maine succumbs to the influx of thoughts and emotions. Yet his voice towers over the surge in acceptance, and he explains that he’ll go “somewhere else, where I can sink into myself,” and asks those around to watch him go, to watch him try and escape from the most unforgiving entity – himself – to attempt to find peace through internal chaos.

photo by Jason Nocito

9. King Krule, “Dum Surfer”

Archy Marshall’s sophomore album as King Krule was definitely more of a grower than his debut, but surprisingly, that ended up working in his favor. The Ooz steadily diverged from any trace of softness that showed its face now and then in ballads like “Baby Blue,” and instead embraced the deepest, darkest parts of Marshall’s already jagged, twisted musical persona, amplifying nearly every part of his aesthetic to the point where it truly became unparalleled – as if it wasn’t already before. In “Dum Surfer,” one of the highlights of the album, you can hear the signature sneer and snarl in Marshall’s voice so clearly its almost tangible, delivering a perfectly rhymed, snarky narrative about the hellish, alcohol soaked night he and his friends were in the process of enduring. He’s only accompanied by bass and guitar at the beginning, that is, until a glimmering guitar melody gradually slithers its way out of the heavy carpet of percussion, seemingly crawling into the open mouth of a saxophone that adds even more texture with every sultry blare. And yet, even Marshall can’t pull off a track that’s all grime and growl – towards the middle we get a brief moment of introspection, an indication that the zombie he portrays himself to be in the accompanying video has a heart himself.

photo by Geordie Wood

8. Cloud Castle Lake, “Twins”

We will never stop talking about, nor will we ever apologize for our unwavering love for Cloud Castle Lake, as well as their absolutely stunning track “Sync” – a track that, despite being almost three years old, continues to grow in brilliance every time we listen to it. Just when we thought nothing could rival that track in the feelings of transcendentalism and euphoria, the Dublin quartet released “Twins,” the first teaser for their upcoming debut album Malingerer, out next year. They’ve mentioned that the album will pull away from the experimental post-rock aesthetic they began with and instead lean more towards the raw complexity of jazz, and, according to the band, “juxtaposes lyrical darkness and despair with an almost euphoric catharsis.” Though that could be said for their entire discography up to this point, “Twins” seems like the true epitome of that statement, with McAuley enduring what seems like every human emotion to an incessant, brawny menagerie of bright, colorful jazz instrumentals. It’s colorful, explosive, and so wonderfully unique its easy to get lost within it, but after the first minute, you’re almost glad you are.

photo courtesy of artist

7. The National, “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”

Sleep Well Beast was an album that, ironically, we slept on until the beginning of December, where we finally gave into The National’s inevitable darkness and listened to lead single “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” originally released back in May. As you can probably imagine, one listen to the arresting, aggressive instrumentals and we immediately regretted all the time we could have spent diving deep into the vast world they’ve slowly been cultivating over the past four years. Matt Berninger’s voice is completely different from the deep drawl it took on during Trouble Will Find Me, even sometimes entering a vocal register we weren’t aware he could deliver. It’s a whirlwind beginning to end, chock full of little surprises on equal caliber with Berninger’s newfound vocal energy – Aaron Dessner’s guitar solo in the middle is smooth and calculated, an outburst of power that sounded as if it was held captive for far too long. Berninger repeats “I can’t explain it any other/ any other way,” an unapologetic tone that stays constant throughout the entire album.

photo by Graham MacIndoe

6. Sufjan Stevens, “Wallowa Lake Monster”

It seems like it has always been Sufjan Stevens’s mission to make anything painful sound beautiful beyond what is humanly possible, and that was exactly the case with “Wallowa Lake Monster” from this year’s release The Greatest Gift, the supplemental album filled with outtakes, remixes, and demos from Carrie & Lowell. The track follows the same narrative of love, loss, and regret potent within the album, offering another otherworldly, almost transcendental narrative on the death his mother, as well as their troubled, strained relationship. Both piano and voice are somber and delicate, each trying not to overshadow the other, conveying a sense of mutual respect and admiration in signature Sufjan Stevens fashion. Though the track exists as a continuation of the solemn nature of its larger work, its clear that this is perhaps the most solemn of all, due to Stevens’s absolute acceptance that “no oblation will bring her back,” that he has seemingly understood everything within the span of its seven minutes. His breathy vocals periodically rise into a beautiful falsetto during certain parts of the verse, strained and tired in response, but beautiful all the same, greeted with a cacophony of angelic wails that seem to carry a lovely weight towards the heavens.

photo courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty Records

5. Ought, “These 3 Things”

Art-punk quartet Ought surprised us all with news of their upcoming third album Room Inside the World, due out early next year. The first track from the album “These 3 Things” was noticeably different from the grit of their past repertoire, and instead leaned towards the gorgeous instability and unpredictability of post-punk, complete with synth and dulcet orchestral tones. Darcy’s voice sounded different as well, more mellifluous and elastic than ever, only occasionally returning to the brooding, acerbic tone he emulated in their past work, the unique vocals that immediately and unmistakably identified them as Ought. However, despite the stark differences in tone, “These 3 Things” stayed true to the feelings of suppressed turbulence and anxiety and instead sounded like a seamless progression for the band, an evolution that still thankfully takes advantage of their unique recording style – where it constantly sounds as if, through the separate energies of every component involved, that something large, potent, and powerful is brimming just underneath the surface, gaining energy, yet only to stay trapped, smoldering and hot to the touch, that tension more coveted and gorgeous than if it had burst.

photo courtesy of artist / merge records

4. Perfume Genius, “Slip Away”

There’s immense power in being soft and somber, two emotions that Mike Hadreas has mastered throughout the years in his attempts to both constantly and brilliantly oppose a grossly ignorant society denying him the right to exist because of all the ideas he represents – homosexuality, androgyny, male vulnerability – as well as unapologetically embrace his own merits at the same time. In “Slip Away,” Hadreas’s first release from No Shape, his fourth album as Perfume Genius, he fought back against those who denied him the basic right of humanity, and embodied the idea of love over hate, explaining to his partner that “they’ll never break the shape we take,” to “let all them voices slip away” amongst bombastic, pastel-tinged synth blossoms that exploded with each note. It’s enamored, luxurious, and yet with a wonderful message of love in both its romantic and platonic forms.

photo courtesy of artist / Matador records

3. Fleet Foxes, “Third of May/ Ōdaigahara”

Crack-Up contained some of the most gorgeous, dense, sprawling narratives ever written by Robin Pecknold, with lead single “Third of May/ Odaigahara” basically being the thesis statement for the entire album. The nine minute epic is nostalgia epitomized, a track whose first half is more for Pecknold himself than for anyone else, given the amount of breathtaking introspection about himself, his friendships, and his career – which is okay, given its energy and vivid imagery in as well as how much honesty and genuine emotion oozes out of every second. It is essentially a track detailing the close friendship of Pecknold and band co-founder Skye Skjelset, and details of him are everywhere, including the title (Skjelset’s birthday falls on May 3rd). Pecknold explained the song’s poetic narrative in full soon after it was released: “It addresses our distance in the years after touring that album, the feeling of having an unresolved, unrequited relationship that is lingering psychologically. Even if some time apart was necessary and progressive for both of us as individuals, I missed our connection, especially the one we had when we were teenagers, and the lyrics for the song grew out of that feeling.” It’s an anthem for their friendship as well as what Pecknold believes to be his personal responsibility as an artist as well as a human being, made especially clear in the second half, dramatically different from the first in tone. He practically grabs us by the collar and lectures that every day is a gift, that “life unfolds in pools of gold,” and that we “are only owed this shape if [we] make a line to hold,” that with the gift of life comes “the responsibility to transcend solipsism and offer connection beyond yourself.” When combined with the stop-and-go instrumental explosions and the echoes that Pecknold’s voice transforms into, the track showcases something close to divine intervention, given the way in which these elaborate, enamored instrumentals that rush to raise his speech up. It ends softly and sweetly with medieval sounding orchestrals that will soon make up most of the rest of the album, a nostalgic reminiscence, a respectful, mutual admiration, and a hopeful premonition rolled into one.

photo by Sean Pecknold

2. Grizzly Bear, “Three Rings”

Painted Ruins was Grizzly Bear’s most introspective album to date, filled with moments of heartache, hope, and epiphany, and lead single “Three Rings” managed to express all three to near perfection. The instrumentals at the beginning are composed of Christopher Bear’s relatively minimal, yet chunky percussions and Chris Taylor’s steady bass drone, only to later be met with a wave of techniques and styles that wash over to fill the space near the bridge, where Droste begins to question the emotions long since buried deep inside. He asks through the midst of experimental, industrial sounding guitar melodies courtesy of Daniel Rossen if this is “the way it is,” before sinking into a somber, teary-eyed “Ready, Able”-esque bridge of desperation and anguish, begging his beloved “don’t you ever leave me,” promising he can “make it better,” to supposedly make himself better too, if he can fit it in. It’s a desperate plea for acceptance that sounds more like a shout into the impenetrable void, but with an added aura of dignity in Droste’s vocal delivery that strips it of any futility that might come supplementary with such yearning. We root for him to succeed in the end, for him to become the best version of himself, although we can’t help but save a little bit of that pride for ourselves as well.

photo by Tom Hines

1. Baths, “Human Bog”

Though it was released less than two months ago, Romaplasm was one of the most gorgeous albums of the year, not to mention Baths’s most gorgeous album to date, mainly due to its genuine honesty and complex, fantastical compositions. In a similar regard, “Human Bog” was among the most stunning tracks Wiesenfeld has ever released dealing directly with personal identity, and contains a heartbreaking lyrical narrative that begins with the outside world and steadily retreats inward, the mind finding an respite within the heart – an ill respite, as we soon realize, but respite nonetheless. Wiesenfeld states his grievances of both night and day, day including seeing people “positioning pearls on younger girls who couldn’t be bothered” and “buttoning poise on younger boys avoiding their fathers,” minuscule at first glance, but holds a deeper meaning with every listen – by emphasizing the importance of outward appearance, superficial or not, the more he “conducts [himself] invisibly” due to his differences in how he chooses to spend his time, where he finds solace, who he decides to love. He cannot even find peace “by moon,” where he tells us in softer tones just how pathetic he feels he is, whispering “the lengths I go to get held onto” like a secret he’s held in for far too long. Wiesenfeld continues to admit in an increasingly fraying, porous voice between puddles of murky, treacherous synth that he’s “queer in a way that works” for whoever he’s with, but ultimately “queer in a way that’s failed [him], the instrumentals afterwards introducing soft orchestral flourishes that again allows the track to be both sad and beautiful, self-indulgent but honest. He claims before a glitchy, exasperated sigh that “everyone alive live fuller lives than me,” repeating “lie lie lie” before falling in a falsetto laden pit of self-deprecation. It’s incredibly hard to listen to if you or someone close to you, like us, has ever had these sorts of torturous feelings, feelings due to the inability to accept who they are due to the polarizing nature of society, or if you, also like us, wish nothing but peace and happiness for Wiesenfeld – but in the end, its an incredibly important message for others blessed enough to not go through these sorts of social indecencies need to understand. And, though it may hurts, it pays to stay true to yourself, to be honest with your own thoughts and feelings, because if you’re lucky, you’ll create your own sort of peace, or even, as Wiesenfeld has, art of the highest caliber.

photo by Mario Luna


King Krule – “Czech One”

King Krule, also known as Archy Marshall, has always had an intimidating demeanor that can steer people away the first time they see him – perhaps it’s the thick English accent or the audible sneer in his voice even when he’s singing about longing love, or perhaps from his intricate compositions that shouldn’t be able to exist hand in hand with his lyrics. Regardless, his unique style has been expressed in two very different releases: his brilliant, guitar-driven debut 6 Feet Beneath the Moon and the distant sounding, electronica laced A New Place 2 Drown (released under his real name). “Czech One,” the newest from Marshall, sounds like an amalgamation of the two, taking the crisp, moody vocals and marrying them with brooding drums and smoky, seductive saxaphone. He sings through the haze of James Blake esque choral interludes that “Loverboy, you drowned too quick/ you’re fading out of sight,” proving further that there’s a soft center beneath his sharp exterior, and that pain still gets through.


photo by Geordie Wood

Mount Kimbie – “Blue Train Lines” (ft. King Krule)

Electronic duo Mount Kimbie have announced the release of their new album Love What Survives, the follow up to 2013’s Cold Spring Fault Less Youth. The London duo, made up of Dominic Maker and Kai Campos, have already released two tracks from the album – “Marilyn” ft. Micachu, and the chilling, experimental “We Go Home Together” ft. James Blake. Keeping the stellar collaborations going, the newest tease from the album, “Blue Train Lines,” features King Krule, effortlessly blending his signature sharp, piercing delivery with eerie bouts of guitar. The first half of the track, tortured and distressed, has Krule’s agonizing screams peppered in with the shadows of synth and drums, later blossoming into a powerful, moody guitar beat for the last two minutes.

Love What Survives will be released on September 8th.


photo by Frank Lebon