As many of you may remember, I'm disinclined to make a list of what I perceive to be the "best" albums of any given year. I have no idea what's best. I certainly haven't listened to every album released this year, and I'm loathe to make judgments about the quality of an album - I'd much rather tell you about some albums I loved with the hope that you may connect to one (or more) of them as intensely and as passionately as I have. These are in no particular order! I'll include a link to a favorite track for all of them, hopefully that's a sufficient entry point for y'all!
1. Noah Gundersen – 'Ledges'
I make no secret of the fact that I think Noah is very likely one of the most talented songwriters of his generation, and maybe out there right now. With a full band behind him (including siblings Abby and Johnny), Noah's soaring lyricism and chin-raised defiance in the face of sadness/hope/hardship/fear is nothing short of astonishing. It's worth noting that the live EP that followed this ('Twenty Something') is just as viscerally breathtaking, and should be picked up just as quickly as 'Ledges'.
2. Field Report – Marigolden
Field Report's debut album in 2012 knocked me off my feet, their sophomore release is more evolved, more subtle, but just as wonderful. Chris Porterfield's magnetic, pained vocals rise above a more filled out sound - although the majority of the album evokes a similar "lost in the woods with a cup of coffee at sunset" feeling in my chest. I can't count how many times I listened to this album as autumn descended. Please make a point to spend an afternoon with this one.
3. S. Carey – Range of Light
S. Carey's follow up to his debut album 'All We Grow' finds itself evolving in many of the ways that Field Report did between their first two albums. A more dense, lush, sonic landscape accompanies S. Carey's haunting vocals. There are few albums I can think of more perfect for staring at the movement of the stars before calling it a night. Incredible.
4. Joseph – Native Dreamer Kin
I discovered these three sisters' triumphant debut album on a recommendation from the folks at Cause a Scene - and my god am I glad I took the time to listen to it. Soaring harmonies and simple, honest lyricism remind me of a more dynamic version of First Aid Kit's first album, with a brightness that the Swedish sisters didn't necessarily try to achieve. These women are going to be something special.
5. Joan Shelley – Electric Ursa
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Joan a month or so before she released this album when the band Maiden Radio, which she is a part of, played a wonderful campfire Music Means Family show. When I first sat down with this album, I was blown away by the immense power of Joan's storytelling, the phenomenal musicianship, and the brilliance of the brevity of the album. There's no filler here, just folk perfection.
6. St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Half the City
From the second I heard Paul Janeway's soaring, earth-shattering voice, I knew I was hooked. Then I heard the horns, the unbelievably tight rhythm section, and I had my feet tapping before I could begin to figure out what was going on. This is modern indie-soul done very, very right. They'll be playing bigger and bigger venues next year, grab this album NOW and don't miss out.
7. Hey Rosetta! – Second Sight
It's no secret that I love Hey Rosetta! They are perhaps, as close to a "perfect" live band as I've ever seen. 'Second Sight', their third full album, builds on its predecessors, creating a swirling, thrumming, wondrous landscape of indie-pop under Tim Baker's enchanting lyrics. If you haven't had the opportunity to listen to Hey Rosetta! yet, the time is absolutely now.
8. Ark Life – The Dream of You and Me
There is something incredibly infectious about the dusty, shimmering music that Ark Life makes. While in many ways it evokes memories of a bygone era, of Laurel Canyon, of open highways - this album is also grounded, incredibly easy to listen to over and over again. If you find yourself setting out on the road, or sitting on a train, or really, going anywhere, put this on - and let the the miles fall away around you.
9. Anais Mitchell – Xoa
Anais Mitchell very well may be the finest folk songstress of this era. Skimming this blog, you can unquestionably find many glowing words about her shimmering voice, her deliriously complex lyricism, and the unimpeachable talent of the musicians she surrounds herself with, 'Xoa' is a love note to her fans of sorts, a solo reworking of old songs, songs from her incredible folk opera 'Hadestown', and a few new songs thrown in for good measure. Even if you've never listened to Anais before, this is a wonderful way to enter into the music of one of today's true luminaries.
10. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
While Sharon Van Etten's debut album 'Tramp' was a beautiful, heart-wrenching album, her sophomore album, "Are We There' is an absolute masterpiece. There is a grim determination in the way Van Etten sings, with weighted symphonies underneath that so clearly indicate the influence working with The National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner had on her. This one is a slow burn, a lie back and breathe deep, a perfect way to shake the dust after a long day.
11. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
I don't have a lot to say about this album that hasn't been said on the numerous best-of lists that it has topped. This is unquestionably one of the best albums of the year. It stayed on repeat on my car stereo for much of the first half of the year - the incredible depth and astonishing musicianship is something everyone should have the pleasure of experiencing. Get the hint? Pick it up!
12. Lily & Madeleine – Fumes
Speaking of absurdly talented sisters, Lily and Madeleine have crafted an album in 'Fumes' that beautifully showcases their voices, their soulful youth, and a certain joy and charisma that rarely transfers to recording. This is one I didn't take enough time to listen to when it came out, and only realized how wonderful it was later. Don't make the same mistake I did - spend a morning with this one.
- Broken Bells – After the Disco
- Sun Kil Moon - Benji
- Spoon - They Want My Soul
Here's to a great 2015!