Lots o’ good albums this year so I’ve expanded to 20 albums. Feel free to chime in and leave your top 20 (or 5 or 10 or 1) in the comments. Lets go.
20. Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials (cop it here)
If Florence and the Machine’s debut album Lungs was the band’s introduction, Ceremonials sounds like the victory lap. Florence Welch’s vocals soar as expected, but nearly every song has anthemic quality. The initial 3 singles “What The Water Gave Me”, “Shake It Out” and “Only If For A Night” achieve as ‘Yeezy would say “stadium status” with enchanting hooks and booming soundscapes. Later, “Bedroom Hymns” shines with tribal drums and “Breaking Down” showcases a hushed Florence paired with orchestral pop. The quality shouldn’t come as a surprise though as the entire album was written and produced by go to Brit producer Paul Epworth. The man had a hand in 4 tracks from Lungs and has worked with Adele, Cee-Lo, Friendly Fires, and Foster the People in the past year.
Required Listening: “Only If For A Night”, “Seven Devils”, “Shake It Out”, “Bedroom Hymns”
19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (cop it here)
Strange is one way to put it. Annie Clark is at her most quirky, but also strongest effort to date on Strange Mercy. Clark’s angelic voice is again paired with grizzled guitar riffs (“Chloe In The Afternoon”, “Cruel”, “Northern Lights”) and trippy synth (“Surgeon”, “Strange Mercy”), but more polished than usual. “Surgeon” contains one of the best metaphors for heartbreak I’ve heard in awhile, while “Cruel” has the best chance for cross over appeal. Don’t worry though, nearly all tracks sounds like Ms. Clark could careen out of control at any moment, but in an intriguing way.
Interesting Mind Melts: “Cheerleader”, “Surgeon”, “Cruel”, “Northern Lights”
18. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (free download here)
Drake certainly started R&B’s relative resurgence, but The Weeknd is taking the genre in more interesting places. I listened to the sex and drug drenched House of Balloons essentially for a week straight. The synergy of sparse production (“Wicked Games), dub step influence (“High For This”) and Aaliyah/Timbaland influence (“What You Need”, “The Morning”) was refreshing for a type of music I wrote off long ago. You could essentially put the follow-up Thursday in this spot as well.
Drug Induced Romance: “The Morning”, “Wicked Games”, “High For This”, “The Party & The After Party”
17. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean (cop it here)
Kiss Each Other Clean furthers Sam Beam’s progression that started as a solo troubadour and has grown more diverse along the way. Iron and Wine is more of a full band experience these days and Clean expands the act’s musical palette with jazz influence (“Big Burned Hand”, “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me”) and shared vocals (“Half Moon”, “Tree By The River”). Beam’s stream of conscious-like story telling are still as poetic as ever (particularly on ballad “Walking Far From Home”), just be sure to have a lyric sheet near by.
Bearded Beauties: “Walking Far From Home”, “Monkeys Uptown”, “Me & Lazurus”, “Rabbit Will Run”
16. Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr – It’s A Corporate World (cop it here)
I was a relative latecomer to the goodness that is Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, but they were a welcome surprise this summer. I can’t think of any better way to classify It’s A Corporate World than indie pop. Comparisons to Animal Collective, Hall & Oates, and the Beach Boys aren’t far off. Melodic hooks (“Vocal Chords”), fun with harmonies (“Morning Thought”), catchy electronic elements (“When I Open My Eyes”) and clever metaphors (“It’s A Corporate World”). Plus, how can you not root for Detroit after listening to the guys’ cover of “We Almost Lost Detroit”?
Motor City Melodies: “It’s A Corporate World”, “We Almost Lost Detroit”, “Morning Thought”, “Simple Girl”