10. Jessie Ware- Devotion
The best singer of this year releases a sensual, sophisticated album and the biggest surprise is how it is still under the radar. Ware has a diva quality to her, but trades in the theatrics for a more rare, welcoming sound. It’s impossible to ignore the roots of 90’s songstresses, but at the same time it’s a realm of her own. She has impeccable delivery, releasing her full potential only at the ideal moments.
9. Lower Dens- Nootropics
Nootropics is an album that is sparsely exciting but incredibly captivating. Its guitar-heavy sound is gargantuan and carefully organized. Most tracks are structured like a slow burn with a steady build, almost as if orchestrated. Hunter’s voice is deadpanned and low when needed, and other times warmly present and elastic. It is an album that completes exactly what it set out to do.
8. Kendrick Lamar- good kid, M.A.A.D city
It doesn’t take a hardcore hip-hop fan to understand when an album deserves its hype. On the cover of good kid, M.A.A.D. city, it says “A short film by Kendrick Lamar,” which aptly sums up how Lamar illustrates his vignettes of growing up in a harsh, violent environment, but ultimately comes out on top. Sure, it’s been done before, but never with the same compassion and transcendence.
7. Sharon Van Etten- Tramp
For writing music about something so human as the idosyncrasies of love and loss, Sharon Van Etten seems to have found the formula for driving it home. Her voice is loose and emotive and her derailed harmonies highlight her pleas. The overall feel of Tramp is so impassioned and so personal it’s as if the songs were not meant to be received by the listener—like you walked in on Van Etten herself, penning the songs in her bedroom.
6. Dirty Projectors- Swing Lo Magellan
Swing Lo Magellan may present itself as being Dirty Projector’s least complex album, but it still characteristically prolific and intricate. This new, understated side is one that is easily welcomed. The tracks are more like “tunes” then ever before, having musical and emotional anchorage. The album is a wake up call while being a joyous celebration at the same time.
5. Chromatics- Kill for Love
Kill for Love plays like an exhaustive novel by being enveloping and fluid. It manages to keep its listeners engaged for its lengthy exploration with varied pace. At times, the focus is rich, textured soundscapes, and other times it’s sparkly rock anthems. Its minimalistic beauty is only matched by its hypnotizing momentum.
4. Tame Impala- Lonerism
Lonerism’s sound is so new that you practically forget its immersion in nostalgic sound: a refreshing psychedelia that creates a new kind of “classic.” It is pop at its best, but still abstract and resilient. Its driving force and defining melodic leave no room for lulls.
3. Fiona Apple- The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Screw and Whipping Chords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Many will say this album is so monumental because of Apple’s progression over the years. I would agree, but I’m part of the generation that missed a majority of her discography— The Idler Wheel was my introduction. The album is unparalleled in its wide array of emotional coverage, as is Apple in her clever lyricism. Each song is like a new plot that thickens and twists and is completely spellbinding.
2. Frank Ocean- ChannelORANGE
This album being on the list was never a hard decision. The hard decision is picking a favorite track from this collection of incredible efforts. ChannelORANGE has beautiful moments of glittery R&B as well as evolving, emotive epics. It holds this genuity and heart that it seems it was distilled out of Ocean instead of crafted.
1. Grizzly Bear- Shields
Grizzly Bear is a band defined by their pattern of consistently raising the bar for themselves, which is a tough place to be after the release of the flawless Veckatimest three years ago. Shields, like their other albums, had a growing infatuation for me. I am not quick to compare; instead, I see it as a counterpart, a continuation. It’s more expansive in many ways: the pop songs are darker; the peaks are more intricate and the valleys are more intimate. It picks up where Veckatimest leaves off and embarks down a mazy, but equally rewarding journey.