Photo of Phoebe Bridgers by Frank Ockenfels, courtesy of Dead Oceans Records.
2017 was ridiculous. The year kept trying to break my heart. Sometimes I broke it myself despite knowing better. But music was the duct tape that held it together. Sometimes leaking, often battered. But intact. That’s counts as a victory in a year that was rough on the heart and a constant onslaught on decency and equality.
My perennial disclaimer: these were my favorite, most listened to albums of the year. It’s impossible to objectively quantify the “best” of anything when it comes to art. It’s just, like, my opinion, man. But these are the records that were my balm for the soul and fuel for the fire. I’m also including a Spotify playlist containing one song from each album in this list. Hopefully this taster, coupled with the reviews, piques your interest enough to check out some of these albums in full.
And now, without further ado, in no particular order…
The Top 10:
Phoebe Bridgers | Stranger in the Alps (Dead Oceans)
Bridgers is 23 going on what feels like 53. An old soul. She writes songs full of wry sadness and vivid imagery and has a distinctive and fascinating guitar style that sounds like acoustic strumming on an electric. Stranger is full of hushed strength and offers a sad yet welcoming, doubt-laced, late night insight, reminiscent of both Angel Olsen and Elliott Smith. It’s easy to imagine that in an alternate timeline, she and Smith would have a two-person band and also probably be in a complex relationship. Stranger in the Alps is quietly arresting and uses negative space to great effect; it’s the work of an artist who has already developed a distinctive voice and formidable songwriting chops, but is also clearly only getting warmed up.
Ryan Adams | Prisoner (Blue Note / PAX-AM)
There’s a dose of self-absorption and ego in any breakup record worth its salt, but too many become accusatory and needlessly self-righteous. While Prisoner is undeniably swimming in pathos, it avoids that trap. What makes it not simply bearable, but truly affecting is its refusal to hurl blame. Even the album title has depth, alternately referring to being a prisoner in a failed relationship, a prisoner to a past that you’re having trouble letting go of, or a prisoner trapped in your own inability to evolve, open up, or compromise. On Prisoner, Ryan Adams uses the sound of what can only be described as Def Leppard and mid-1980s Bruce Springsteen covering the Smiths to mourn what’s lost. Adams’ heart is shattered, but ultimately, he points the finger at himself. There’s a beautiful, responsible honesty in these songs that cuts to the heart of mature loss.
Julien Baker | Turn Out the Lights (Matador)
Julien Baker is an astonishing songwriter. She’s only 22 but sings with the poise and wisdom of someone twice her age. Her songs shine a flashlight on the dark, doubtful corners of the mind and are at once deeply sad and heart shatteringly beautiful. Turn Out the Lights is sparse, built around piano/keyboards, and supported by wisps of twinkling guitar, violin and even the absence of sound. And of course, it features plenty of Baker’s plaintive, cutting, expressive voice. Every song feels like a confession and an invitation. These stories of loss, longing, depression and finding the places you belong in a world that tells you that you don’t belong are brilliantly, catch-you-off-guard honest. (She has an emo background which also definitely informs her music.) She grew up “queer, Southern, Christian and proud” in Memphis and stares all of that in the face with every note she plays and sings. She speaks of enduring hostility and hardship and also of sticking around to carve out your own niche in places where it would be just as easy to leave. These are songs that speak of how bad it can get but that there’s also a way out.
Bleachers | Gone Now (RCA)
Jack Antonoff has a knack for tempering loss with comfort. Gone Now deftly and touchingly transliterates teenage dreams into adult loves, mournings, hopes, and fears, and drapes it all in a wonderfully retro-modern sound that’s comprised of classic synth pop, 1980s gated reverb drums and angular, modern pop. Gone Now is an album about coming to grips with loss, not blaming yourself into oblivion (yet blaming yourself where appropriate!), and holding on to what you still have. It’s chock-full of nerd-friendly sonic nuances and touchstones; it’s immediate but not superficial. Antonoff understands the value of pop music as honest attempt at communication; here he’s speaking clear and true. Whatever you do in this life, just don’t take the money.
Canadian treasures Alvvays take hooky, jangly dream pop and Jesus and Mary Chain it up an extra 80%. Antisocialites, their sophomore album, clocks in at barely over 30 minutes but it’s overstuffed with ideas, subtly indelible guitar riffs, and melodies galore; it refines their existing sound with exquisitely layered results. Molly Rankin’s vocals alternately dip and soar; her delivery is delicate but forward and highly affecting. She has a special way of weaving her vocals in and out of the surging and plunging waves of distortion, and using sudden changes in pitch to, really, just break your freaking heart. (Her singing in the final minute of “In Undertow” is a masterclass in subtle songwriting and vocal performance.) Kerri MacLellan’s keyboards are given far more room in the mix, which lets the band paint with an even more vivid dream pop palette. Antisocialites is a June day in San Francisco. Cool, breezy, layered…and with colors peeking through when you least expect them, and hitting you twice as hard for it.
The National | Sleep Well Beast (4AD)
Every new National album is their best work to date. They’re one of the few bands I feel confident in saying that about. Sleep Well Beast is surprisingly immediate yet intricate as all get out. Its squonky guitars and skittering electronic underpinnings are reminiscent of Kid A/Amnesiac-era Radiohead. Sleep Well Beast feels like the musical equivalent of an Ingmar Bergman film. Scenes from a postmodern marriage. Matt Berninger’s lyrics are typically impressionistic yet specific, which only deepen the late night vibes that hang over the entire record—the subtle turns of melodic and lyrical phrases mix with the rich, textured music to evoke sitting around a kitchen table at midnight with a light on, hashing over the past and looking towards the future.
MUNA | About U (RCA)
MUNA wrap journal entry intimacy in big, glossy synth pop with a dark edge. Their emotional honesty and intimacy is steeped in the catchy but serious, cathartic pop ethos of early Tears for Fears, with a touch of early 1990s chart pop. About U broadcasts in broad waves, sounding like the tannoys extending in every direction into the heavens on the cover of Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses. But the lyrics are detailed and open, and often followed up by online explanations / dissections / expansions from the band themselves. Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson eschew using gender based pronouns in their songs and hope to inspire younger LGBTQ people to be comfortable with their identities. But that’s not to pigeonhole this band. This is music by and for anyone who doubts and prods, is looking for a place to belong, and can’t help but looking into the creepy basement of their minds.
The New Pornos’ latest incarnation is an amalgam of shiny power pop and Krautrock, full of motorik beats, glimmering synthesisers and hooky melodies galore. Weirdo savant Dan Bejar deactivated himself for this record, but AC Newman makes up for his absence from the Canadian collective with an especially strong set of high energy, songwriter’s-songwriter songs. Neko Case shines in her belter Pop Mode, and Kathryn Calder truly comes into her own.
Charles Ellsworth | Cesaréa (Burro Borracho)
Cesaréa, the latest album from singer/songwriter and all-around genuine nice human Charles Ellsworth, reflects the various places he’s called home: Arizona, Brooklyn, Utah, along with the places he’s visited through tireless touring. Its rootsy twang mixed with rock edge sounds like a drive down a dusty Southwestern two-lane; like a hike through a misty, mountainside boreal forest; like a beer and whiskey at a corner bar in your city with your best friend. It’s warmly produced and served with a side of spiky guitars and a dollop of reverb for a touch of post-punk spaciousness. If you’ve ever wondered where you fit, aren’t quite sure, but figure you have to, somewhere—this is the yearning, lived-in, soulful music for you.
LCD Soundsystem | American Dream (DFA/Columbia)
Welcome back, James Murphy. Your planet needed you! 2017 was jonesing for some of his wistful, witty, wonderful dance music for old people. The tightwire Murphy walks between sincerity and cynicism gets strung higher with every year he’s alive, and his songs only become more darkly funny, biting, reflective and truly affecting along with it. This sprawling, yet painstakingly constructed, mix of dance-punk, art rock and synthesizer freakouts chronicles endings. Bands, friendships, relationships…lives. You can sense the ghosts of heroes, lovers and collaborators in every bleep, every revved up groove, and every half-ironic, half-dead-serious lyric about the slowing down of all people, of all things (and the occasional revitalizations on the way). But that’s the beauty inherent in LCD Soundsystem’s music. Their songs have always had entropy in their veins, but also vigorously explore what it means to seek and to create, even as we age, as scenes end, as bands end, as arcs dive towards horizons.
The Best of the Rest:
If Mental Illness isn’t Mann’s best album, it’s damn close. This is a quietly affecting record, a master class in subtle songwriting economy—all acoustics, strings, and vocal performances that feel like sitting down over coffee with a friend who has something important to tell you. Songs like “Goose Snow Cone” and “Patient Zero” are saturated with the lived-in-ness of trying to navigate faulty mental wiring, and the energy it takes to do it. It’s inaccurate to call this a sad record. It’s certainly melancholy, but it’s oddly uplifting, in the way that it commiserates with the listener. There’s a rain-streaked vein of hope running through Mental Illness, not to mention both the guilt you feel burdening people with your problems, and the heartening realization that they’re there for you because they care.
Torres | Three Futures (4AD)
Mackenzie Scott’s third album is like running your hand over an unevenly stuccoed wall. The texture is pronounced, fascinating, and alluring. On Three Futures, she builds rhythmically dense songs around coils of synthesisers and treated guitars that can switch from brooding to cascading and aggressive at the drop of a hat. Her voice alternately rides the waves the music creates and crashes through them, singing visceral, and alternately alluring and discomforting, lines about sex, fate and power. Contemplate evocative lyrics like:
“Consider the source of your energy / there’s no unlit corner of the room I’m in”
“I am not a righteous woman / I’m more of an ass man / and when I go to spread / it’s just to take up all the space I can”
Not to mention:
“No feeling like finding / a peach cobbler sunning belly-up on the granite / the kind that’ll make your tongue slap all your brains out”
“I got hard / in your car
in the parking lot / of the Masonic lodge
We lined the Hudson with our tangents
You trusted me to love your parents
Sunk into my tunnel vision”
Three Futures pulls you close but doesn’t let you get comfortable; it’s a flashlight for the perpetually shadowy hallway of our modern times.
Spoon | Hot Thoughts (Matador)
The refreshed energy Britt Daniel poured into 2014’s They Want My Soul was no fluke. Hot Thoughts continues Spoon’s resurgent late 2010s and crackles with Daniel’s musical efficiency, aloof wit, masterful songwriting and rubbery, psychedelic flourishes from crack producer Dave Fridmann.
Waxahatchee | Out in the Storm (Merge)
Waxahatchee’s latest album is polished (but not too polished) and spiky. It’s loaded with laments, infused with invective, grapples with trauma, and is full of conflicting feelings of sadness and freedom borne of the end of a downwardly spiraling relationship. Ten songs, 32 minutes, not a moment wasted, all rocking out with thoughtful, visceral urgency. We are so lucky to have Katie Crutchfield.
Father John Misty | Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)
Pure Comedy is a remarkably complex set of humanist anthems cloaked in soft rock; irony swimming parallel with sincerity; “we’re screwed” fatalism commingled with tentative shards of hope. The album sleeve and liner notes are works of art in their own right to be pored over at length. I don’t care how easy Josh Tillman is to hate or sneer at, I love it and I love him like I love Vonnegut. He’s the patron saint of the painfully self-aware; he’s ours. “I hate to say it, but each other’s all we got.”
Craig Finn | We All Want the Same Things (Partisan)
Finn’s latest is vivid and affecting short fiction in song form. The interesting, adventurous arrangements feature sequencers, woodwinds and free jazz horns and are handed with great flair by Finn’s tight band. The quasi-spoken word tale of loss, redemption and finding solace where we can in “God in Chicago” is possibly Finn’s most striking accomplishment in a career full of them. “If revolution is really coming then we all need to be well / so maybe it’s just best if we both take care of ourselves.”
Lorde | Melodrama (Republic/Lava)
Lorde’s sophomore album is meticulous, guarded yet open, and sonically sumptuous. The conceit of the album taking place over the course of a party is more than mere gimmick. It lends structure to the mix of confidence and self-doubt of your early twenties, and also doubles as metaphor for the arc of a love affair. She and Jack Antonoff make for a sympathetic, symbiotic songwriting and production team; every song on this album is full of small emotional surprises, lines that catch you off-guard and make you gasp and laugh, and musical touches that feel like they were put in there to reward active listeners.
Kevin Morby | City Music (Dead Oceans)
The latest album from Kevin Morby (or as I like to call him, “Morbs”) is unassuming but strong, on par with last year’s highlight Singing Saw. Each song feels like a transmission from a faraway heart in a faraway place. Kind of like taking Leonard Cohen, late Sixties Dylan, a 1978 NYC post-punk band, and a long-lost early 1970s singer-songwriter on a hike in the hills overlooking a sprawling metropolis at dusk. And then they go down into the city for an al fresco drink and to hear a band afterward. It’s contemplative, earthy, and at times surprisingly ramshackle and exuberant. City Music feels like a heart to heart with a trusted confidant in a dimly lit bar or in the woods on the city’s edge; it radiates the comfort and invigorating soul of a distant AM station that you can only tune in at night.
The Drums | Abysmal Thoughts (Anti-)
Abysmal Thoughts is an all too uncommon happy feeling, a successful second act from a favorite you’d thought had lost the plot. Despite the departure of longtime keyboard player Jacob Graham (to focus on his puppetry, not kidding), vocalist and primary songwriter Jonny Pierce (who essentially now is the Drums) sounds rejuvenated and highly focused after a number of inconsistent albums full of diminishing returns. Here, Pierce freshens and evolves the band’s attractive bread and butter with new twists, including saxes, woodwinds and left-of- center synthesizer sounds. One of the band’s greatest assets is their ability to cloak loss, insecurity, and the dark thoughts that come in the middle of the night in twisty melodies and upbeat guitar pop. Abysmal Thoughts’ combination of fleet footed post punk guitars, Beach Boys-esque “woo hoo ooohs,” thick, tumbling basslines, and surf rock is infectious, inventive, and illuminating, and is a fantastic framework for lyrics about internal darkness and self-doubt.
Steven Wilson | To the Bone (Caroline)
Inspired by 1980s art pop classics like Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring and Kate Bush’s The Hounds of Love, To the Bone finds Mr. Wilson creating emotional, expansive soundscapes while embracing his inner Top of the Pops. Haters gonna hate, but it’s such a beautiful thing when pop and prog mate.
It was a good year for the Crutchfield family. (see: Waxahatchee) On Tourist in This Town, Allison mixes folkie strums with early New Order synths, bits of girl group sway, and bedsit ruminations and recriminations worthy of Sinead O’Connor. Tourist in This Town is a breakup record full of still-fresh heartache and intense self-analysis. Sort of the musical version of taking your car to the mechanic and having them say “well, we’ve already got this thing opened up, may as well have a poke around and see what else is going on here.”
Snowball II | Flashes of Quincy (Doughnut/Independent)
Come for the Simpsons reference, stay for the outstanding shoegaze power pop hybrid from LA that’s more exciting than a weekend with Batman.=
Beachheads | Beachheads (Fysisk Format)
Try and tell me Norwegians don’t make the best power pop. This is ringing, energetic stuff, equal parts Hüsker Dü, Cheap Trick, and early 2000s Scandinavian garage rock revival. Short, sweet, complete.
The Menzingers | After the Party (Epitaph)
Philly emo-punk stalwarts the Menzingers have always had a way of merging the visceral and the profound. On After the Party, they start to think about the way we was and how a youthful, rock n’ roll romanticism translates (and/or doesn’t) to life in your 30s. It’s a record full of roaring guitars and sing along at the top of your lungs melodies that passionately ask “what does where we’ve been and what we’ve lost teach us about where we’re going and what we have?”
Slowdive | s/t (Dead Oceans)
The shoegaze legends’ first album in a dozen years is a triumphant return—melodic, enveloping and gloriously ethereal.
HAIM | Something to Tell You (Columbia/Sony)
The Haim sisters’ impeccably crafted fusion of Fleetwood Mac and 1990s radio pop has never been tighter, more instantly catchy, or more impeccably crafted than it is on Something to Tell You. Danielle Haim’s guitar work is a revelation, economical yet dense with ideas, and the band’s harmonies are as tight and intricate as you’d expect genetics + a decade’s practice playing together to produce. Something to Tell You is packed with emotion, detail, small sound effects used to great effect, and veteran craft that feels like a band on their 12th album, not their second.
The Weather Station | s/t (Paradise of Bachelors)
Tamara Lindeman draws immediate comparisons with Joni Mitchell. They’re both Canadian, both use a folkie background as a jumping off point for self-discovery, and really, just sort of feel cut from the same cloth. But where Mitchell’s music is ultimately cerebral, Lindeman’s music is thoughtful but brash, more brazenly emotional. These poetic songs feel quietly defiant, the sound of standing on a Maritime cliff in a wool jumper, feeling the wind blowing in off the sea, spitting mist in your face. And standing tall, strong and steadfast in the face of it.
Paul Draper – Spooky Action (Kscope)
After a 15 year hiatus, Draper, the frontman of seminal late 1990s/early Aughts UK indie weirdos Mansun, dusted off a number of recordings began in the aftermath of the group’s breakup, but were never finished. Spooky Action is steeped in the various rationales for the abandonment: exhaustion, jealousy, mental illness, drugs, feuding, blackmail, publishing issues, lack of confidence, perceived lack of interest. Spooky Action is also a collaboration with world beating polymath / total badass Catherine AD. Her innate skill at mixing the dramatic with the immediate makes her a natural partner for Draper (he produced her 2016 album Confessions of a Romance Novelist), and her input is integral to the album’s success.
Here, Draper incorporates Krautrock and electro-soul into Mansun’s signature mix of indie and prog. This heady brew is chock-full of Draper’s flexible, unique vocals and ability to write big slabs of art rock and strange but brilliant pop singles with equal aplomb; that versatility is a huge part of what makes this record so compelling. Contrast the slowly building, percussive, psychedelic-paranoid LCD Soundsystem vibe in album opener “Don’t Poke the Bear” with the instantly catchy, warped Philly soul of “Things People Want.” Elsewhere, “Grey House” skulks along on treated synths and slap bass that sounds like someone jumping out at you from behind a corner. It has the cool, arty edge of one of the fractured “rock” tracks on one of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy albums.
Album standout “Jealousy is a Powerful Emotion” sounds like the electronica of Tangerine Dream crossed with the alt-rock shoegaze of the Catherine Wheel. Depeche Mode-tinged single “Feeling My Heart Run Slow” could be a lost classic from an alternate reality where synthesizers were the foundation of New York post-punk. Even three-minute pop songs like “Can’t Get Fairer Than That” are full of left turns and wiry squiggles. Mini epic “You Don’t Really Know Someone Til You Fall Out with Them” floats in and out on church organ, sounding like the Verve jamming with Meddle-era Pink Floyd.
Intricate yet accessible and askew without being impenetrably weird, Spooky Action simmers in conflict, envy, and dissolution, but doesn’t let bitterness metastasize and avoids developing a martyr complex. It’s a rather honest look (warts and all) at what happens when relationships—personal and professional—fall apart and when you become your own worst enemy.
Margo Price | All American Made (Third Man)
Price infuses country traditionalism with a wholly modern, take-no-shit attitude. All American Made mixes lushly orchestrated, pristinely produced old school Nashville country with bits of gospel, R&B, and Tom Petty-influenced country rock. It’s a second album that feels as accomplished as a tenth. Her duet with Willie Nelson on “Learning to Lose” feels like a prophecy fulfilled; Price’s music feels as confident, ambitious and multi-faceted as his, alternately loose, spacey, traditional, rebellious. She also isn’t afraid to let 2017 into what can, at times, feel like an ossified genre—these are fiercely liberal, vociferously feminist songs, and in a genre that often feels middle of the road at best and jingoistic at worst, that feels revolutionary.
Matthew Good | Something Like a Storm (Universal Canada)
The latest album from Canadian institution Matthew Good is the sound of things falling apart. Politically, personally, and psychologically. Something Like a Storm is coated in an uneasy veneer of normalcy teeming with hairline fractures. This record is aged long and deep in the existential foreboding that we all seem to have been waking up to daily for the past year. It feels like sitting in a wet box, waiting for the bottom to fall out. The album’s lyrics scan like koans, like cut-up poems from dark fortune cookies, at once specific and impressionistic, hurting, uncertain, and beautiful.
Good’s powerful, versatile voice is his best weapon. But here he often obscures it, via processing or hiding it beneath layers of instrumentation. This restraint is revealed to be conscious and astute. The moments where his voice soars or snarls unfettered feel like momentary peeks of blue sky amidst weeks of flat, gray, cloudy days and completely attuned to the album’s theme of self-preservation coupled with resistance.
Much of the album is filled with a dramatic disquiet. This tension and uncertainty is on full display in the epic title track, which is amplified by the way Good’s vocals abruptly stop halfway through the song, leaving only strings moving in horizontal layers like a relentless ocean rain.
Good has a knack for crafting haunting album closing tracks, and here, “Bullets in a Briefcase” is no exception. It sounds a bit like a folk-rock Radiohead, and slides along, eerily and wearily, like wandering a long corridor, fumbling for a door that might not exist. The mid-tempo, piano-led “She’s Got You Where She Wants You” features some of Good’s best vocals on the entire album and a plaintive guitar solo that sounds like throwing an anchor into a choppy sea.
Over 20 years into his career, Good still defies comparison. In a perfect world, his songs would be fixtures of American modern rock radio the way they are north of the border. His music comforts and challenges, understands and provokes. He is seeking trust but frightened it doesn’t exist, or that we as a species have dynamited into too many shards to be reconciled. Something Like a Storm gathers the dark clouds, but also offers glimpses of hope for the future.
Cataldo | Keepers (self-released)
Cataldo is the alter ego of Eric Anderson. His latest record Keepers is part soundtrack for a never-made John Hughes film, part piano pop, part 1970s AM gold (love the liberal use of smoove sax), and all heart. Anderson’s Seattle home base somehow informs his sound, making these songs redolent with rainy, evergreen scented winter days and sunny afternoons up the coast.
Former Vampire Weekend linchpin, producer / songwriter extraordinaire, and highly versatile instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij finally steps into the spotlight. True to form, he’s still only standing in it halfways, and reticently. But in a charming way. Half-Light is a simmering stew of ebullient pop, skewed hip-hop, orchestration, and Iranian music. “Don’t Let It Get to You” sounds like Paul Simon’s “The Obvious Child” being played in, and beamed down from, an old space capsule orbiting the Earth. This is an intimate album, at once fun, tender and dreamy, and one that grows even more richly rewarding with each active listen.
Cloud Nothings | Life Without Sound (Carpark)
On Life Without Sound, Cloud Nothings keep things overdriven, but add a new focus on concise rock songwriting. These songs are bowl-you-over loud, tuneful and massively fortifying.
Dirty Projectors | s/t (Domino)
Dirty Projectors’ latest album is borne of a dual dissolution. David Longstreth attempts to come to terms with the departure of longtime bandmate and collaborator Amber Coffman, a loss that is given extra weight by their romantic breakup several years prior. Here he examines how love and appreciation for what you once had (personally and artistically) can endure, even after the union is over. Dirty Projectors is experimental rock infused with indie pop, and this tension gives the songs a mysterious grace. Album closer “I See You” is a sort of fractured hymn, half digital gospel and half Two Tone mired in quicksand…and it’s one of the most affecting, mature explorations I’ve ever heard of how even when things fall apart, often they can be swept up and refashioned into something distinctly different, but no less abiding. A little time + taking responsibility for our own failures is the superglue…sadly we all too often arm ourselves with a Costco-sized drum of blame and bitterness. There’s a lot of that adhesive in this record.
The xx | I See You (Young Turks)
I See You is somewhat more extroverted than the xx’s first two albums (perhaps a byproduct of Jamie’s more straight-up electro solo album), but it’s still plenty moody. It doesn’t feel like they’ve abandoned the use of negative space that makes their work so unique. This is an album that explores connection, and overcoming fears to forge bonds and achieve intimacy. The band’s two excellent songwriters, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, work in parallel—the dual voices (not just male / female, but straight / queer) complement each other and offer illuminating contrast. This journey is wrapped in a slightly snappier permutation of the band’s usual gloriously sparse, R&B influenced electro-pop. This is wake-up-with-the-melodies-in-your-head, sonically detailed, emotionally satisfying, noir.
St. Vincent | Masseduction (Loma Vista)
Annie Clark doesn’t screw around. Masseduction is a neon-bright bazaar of glammy avant-pop, punctuated by slabs of her arty, mesmerizing guitar playing. It takes a specific kind of talent to become, at once, more accessible and more complex, and this is a trick that Clark absolutely nails here. St. Vincent albums always feel ahead of the curve; Masseduction feels like nothing less than a tantalizing vision of the future.
Filthy Friends | Invitation (Kill Rock Stars)
Filthy Friends is Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney, Peter Buck from R.E.M., Scott McCaughey from Minus 5, plus King Crimson / R.E.M. drummer Bill Rieflin and Kurt Bloch. Invitation pretty much does what it says on the tin—it mixes power pop with Sleater-Kinney-esque hard-edged indie and Buck’s folk-rock informed jangle. The songs are strong, and it’s simply a pleasure to hear these artists play and play together. Especially for R.E.M. fans, it’s so great to hear Buck go to town—you can hear an entire career’s worth of guitar styles and eras in one record, plus a bunch of new tricks.
Additional big ups to:
The War on Drugs | A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic)
Beth Bombara | Map & No Direction (self-released)
Elbow | Little Fictions (Polydor/Concord)
Big Thief | Capacity (Saddle Creek)
Whoa Thunder | The Depths of the Deep End EP (self-released)
Line & Circle | Vicious Folly EP (Grand Gallop)
Bully | Losing (Sub Pop)
Angel Olsen | Phases (Jagjaguwar)
Belle & Sebastian | How to Solve Our Human Problems, Pt. 1 EP (Matador)
Stef Chura | Messes (Urinal Cake)
Son Volt | Notes of Blue (Transmit Sound)
The Church | Man Woman Life Death Infinity (Unorthodox)
Thundercat | Drunk (Brainfeeder)
Laura Marling | Semper Femina (More Alarming)
The Shins | Heartworms (Columbia)
Sylvan Esso | What Now (Loma Vista)
Phoenix | Ti Amo (Glassnote)
Aldous Harding | Party (4AD)
Beach Fossils | Somersault (Bayonet)
Feist | Pleasure (Interscope)
Broken Social Scene | Hug of Thunder (Arts & Crafts)
Wild Ones | Mirror Icon (Topshelf)
Japanese Breakfast | Soft Sounds from Another Planet (Dead Oceans)
Beck | Colors (Fonograf/Capitol)
Day Wave | The Days We Had (Harvest)
Jens Lekman | Life Will See You Now (Secretly Canadian)
Roger Waters | Is This the Life We Really Want? (Columbia)
White Reaper | The World’s Best American Band (Polyvinyl)
Kendrick Lamar | DAMN. (Aftermath/Interscope)
Tennis | Yours Conditionally (Mutually Detrimental)