Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color
Our Top 10 begins with the sophomore release of Alabama Shakes, the effervescent Southern rock outfit that exploded into our lives with the debut Boys & Girls, due in no small part to the charm and blustering pipes of leadwoman, Brittany Howard. While I do miss the rockier stylings of their debut, Sound & Color doubled down on nuance, melody, and intimacy.
Will Butler: Policy
From one of my favorite bands, came one of my favorite solo albums. There’s a constant groove in Policy, so much so that you might miss the gnashing wit or sarcasm underneath. From the pulsing groove of “Anna” (one of my favorite singles of the year) to the stammering doowop of “Witness,” Butler invokes Reed, Bowie, and Jagger in some sort of kooky, unidentifiable swagger.
Laura Marling: Short Movie
While the rich, oaken strings suck you in from the first, there’s a smouldering sense of mystery woven into the lyrics that needs time to ruminate. This coupled with an arid desert backdrop paints Marling as some sand whipped gunslinging warrior princess. Short Movie is a cool dram in the middle of a dust bowl.
Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats: self titled
Whether through bolstering brass or the cathartic cry of the blues, The Night Sweats’ only concern is making the listener feel good. It’s easy to get cynical about the love song in the beige modern pop scene we live in, but Rateliff and Co. manage such honest heart that the record is an instant classic.
The Decemberists: What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
With as many great debut records as there were this year, it’s nice to see a veteran act in the mix. The 8th release from The Decemberists (while maybe not entirely unexpected) Colin Meloy, ever the gifted lyricist accompany to roiling, midwestern marches effortlessly, whether by the side of bossy brass, or smooth, jaunting licks. After all this time, the Decemberists are still great.
Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People
Almost two weeks before the nationwide legalization of gay marriage, long time frontman Ezra Furman released his solo debut Perpetual Motion People. In any given moment, Furman’s lyric will flip from fraught to flippant, wallowing in and shrugging off the labels and expectations (both personal and societal) that spring from his gender and sexual identities. Furman is equal parts eccentric and exciting, and I can’t wait to see more.
Death Grips: The Powers That b
It was an emotional year for Death Grips fans, (long story) but after a big wait, fans were happy to hear a fully completed Powers, just as impressive as the early content promised it might be. As the Hill/Morin production grows in scope and ambition, MC Ride continues to push himself, and us, to the edge of our comfort zones. Death Grips continues to push the genre forward.
Kamasi Washington: The Epic
The reason I like this record so much, besides the obvious musical prowess of its players, is it’s challenging facade. A three hour collection of as many discs, The Epic (aptly named) refuses to let the intensity waver, The hooks are memorable and the solos are rousing, Though for all its girth, the record is clearly an proclamation of love, both for jazz, and the friends with which he plays.
Benjamin Clementine: At Least For Now
After playing through single “I Won’t Complain” a lot, my expectations for Benjamin Clementine’s debut were astronomical. Of all the great lyrics this year, none come close to the blinding natural talent of At Least For Now. The masterful poetry accents the distinctive musicality that comes from the self taught musician. From contemplative lows to howling declarations of love and pain, Clementine might be my favorite performance of the year.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly:
While Kendrick Lamar has always drawn lyrical inspiration from his Compton youth, I can’t remember the last time a record so perfectly encapsulated the social condition of the time. Lamar delivers a laser sharp thesis that constantly subverts our expectations by changing flow, or perspective, or instrumental. To Pimp A Butterfly sits deservedly at #1, and should be expected to place similarly at the turn of the decade.