20. Poliça-Give You The Ghost
The debut from Minneapolis duo Bryan Olson and Channy Leabeagh aka Poliça is drenched in so much vocoder it would make rapper/sanger Future jealous. That might seem like a bad attribute, but the vocal effects used by Leabeagh result in an enchanting synth and drum-filled affair. Many tracks like “Amongster” and “I See My Mother” come off as passionate with an otherworldly quality. Elsewhere, the duo dials up the bass and percussion on “Violent Games” to give a feeling of immediacy, while “Lay Your Cards Out” is reminiscent of The xx with quiet storm R&B vibe as Leabeagh coos “lay your cards out, I’m waiting.” If their next effort is anything like Give You The Ghost, many people will be waiting for Poliça’s next album.
19. Dana Falconberry-Leelanau
I would still love Dana Falconberry’s folk classic Leelanau even if it wasn’t about my home state (I swear). Falconberry’s semi-concept album name-checks a host of picturesque settings in the Mitten and beautifully flows from orchestral pop (“Crooked River”) to laid back folk pop (“Petoskey Stone”, “Copperleaf”). Harmonious album opener “Birch Bark” could easily soundtrack a Disney feature of yesteryear, while “Petoskey Stone” whimsically is reminiscent of Feist. Album standout “Lake Charlevoix” melodically sways with subtle percussion and acoustic strokes as Falconberry’s sanguine lyrics and airy voice put the listener at total ease. Leelanau is almost as relaxing a stroll on Lake Huron in June.
Brooklyn sextet Friends were a welcome surprise with the quirky indie release Manifest! that easily cooled off what turned out to be a hot Summer. Lead singer Samantha Urbani steadied a diverse mix of tracks that touches on tropical pop (“Sorry”, “Home”) and experimental anthems (“I’m His Girl”, “A Thing Like This”). “Mind Control” was a consistent favorite with a wicked bass line, jungle percussion and chanting reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem’s heyday.
17. First Aid Kit-The Lion’s Roar
If you don’t appreciate the charm of young duo First Aid Kit on The Lion’s Roar, you best catch them live. Much of the material on The Lion’s Roar floats between subdued alt country (“In The Hearts of Men”) and folk rock (“The Lion’s Roar”, “New Years Eve”), but suits the Söderberg sisters penchant for storytelling. The only true uptempo track of the set is “King of The World”. Filled with handclaps, ukulele and horns, First Aid Kit battle with observations ranging from self-doubt to carefree emotion. I still can’t believe how these two could sound so Nashville, but be from Sweden.
16. Nas-Life Is Good
Nasir Jones will always be a legend in hip-hop for classic albums like Illmatic, It Was Written and Stillmatic, but his latest was a welcome addition to an impressive catalog. Nas continued be a scribe of street tales of hustles and riches (“Loco-Motive”, “A Queens Story”, “The Don”), but he was never sarcastic, until now. The album title and artwork nod to his troubled past few years of back taxes and a public divorce with Kelis. While “Bye Bye” excellently details the good and bad times in their marriage, “Daughters” offers a rare look at honest worries of having a daughter in a genre that doesn’t always favor women. Emcees don’t often balance concrete narratives and peeks into their personal life so well.
15. Purity Ring-Shrines
While I’ve heard Purity Ring’s music described as everything from witch house to indietronica, I’m going to settle on dark synth pop. The Montreal duo’s (Megan James & Corin Roddick) debut album Shrines balances DJ Screw-inspired eerie samples with glittering keys and James’ angelic vocals. Tracks like “Obedear” and “Belispeak” get downright weird but encourage you to keep listening by taking chances that are still accessible.