Last year seemed like a great year for music. This year – not so much. There was more Spotify angst as the industry continued to deflate and Billboard started to include streaming data into their Top Albums chart for the first time. It was a terrible year for hip-hop with a handful of decent albums and some fine singles but many more disappointed. After a banner year for new country, mainstream country once again dominated and took the genre back into MOR territory.
Some of the best records this year were veterans returning to form: Beck, Steve Malkmus, Neneh Cherry,Aphex Twin, Leonard Cohen, Spoon and New Pornographers all fit the bill while Ex Hex was the vehicle for Mary Timony to cement her post-Heluim comeback.
St. Vincent tops my list this year, though any of my top 5 could have. I gave it to Annie Clark because she pulled off sounding completely contemporary by honing her formidable songwriting, singing and guitar talents to a razor sharp edge. Her previous collaboration with David Byrne may have dissapointed but she seems to have absorbed the knack he had in Talking Heads of creating pop from radical, artsy elements. This is spinal music, connecting the hips to the brain.
Ex Hex also features some wild guitar but in a more traditional setting. Timony sets some of her best songs in a hopped up adrenalized garage sound, her guitar shimmying like Keith Richards circa 1966. There’s not an ounce of fat, just riffs, propulsion and hooks.
Run The Jewels was an easy favorite in a bad year for the genre. Killer Mike and EL-P are formidable on their own but unlike Kanye and Jay-Z , they elevate each other’s game in tandem. This sequel to last year’s debut tops the first one.
You’d have to go all the way back to their mid-90s debut to find a mediocre Spoon album. Since then their consistency has been a burden in itself as they solidified a trademark sound. By Transference they were sounding a bit peaked and predictable though only by their own previous standards. Now after some extra-curricular work Britt Daniels sounds refreshed and ready for the brass ring with some of the band’s best work.
Aphex Twin, or Richard D. James as he’s known at the DMV made some of the most powerful and uncompromising electronic music of the 90’s. After a long hiatus he returns, seemingly unconcerned with the fashions that have have defined his genre in his absence. Instead he serves up a whammee of incredible and surprisingly accessible songs. There’s nothing here he hasn’t done before, save for the seemingly sincere and approachably melodic streak that invites a whole new generation to discover him.
Below is the rest of my list – you can also hear it on Spotify here:
40. Todd Terje – it’s Album Time
39. Michael Christmas – Is This Art?
38. Strand of Oaks – HEAL
37. Pink Mountaintops – Get Back
36. Tweens – Tweens
35. Black Milk – if there’s a Hell Below
34. Cibo Matto – Hotel Valentine
33. Jessica Lea Mayfield – Make My Head Sing
32. Cherry Glazerr – Haxel Princess
31. Hospitality – Trouble
30. Fat White Family – Champagne Holocaust
29. Your Old Droog – Your Old Droog
28. Palace – Lost in the Night
27. FKA Twigs – LP1
26. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
25. Ty Segall – Manipulator
24. Meatbodies – Meatbodies
23. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
22. Mac Demarco – Salad Days
21. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
20. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits
19. Neneh Cherry – Blank Project
18. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
17. TV on The Radio – Seeds
16. Caribou – Our Love
15. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
14. Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
13. Ariel Pink – Pom Pom
12. Steve Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig out at Jagbag
11. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!!!
10. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lose
9. Azalea Banks – Broke With Expensive Tastes
8. Beck – Morning Phase
7. Thee Oh Sees – Drop
6. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
5. Aphex Twin – Syro
4. Spoon – They Want My Soul
3. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
2. Ex Hex – Rips
1. St. Vincent – St. Vincent