Hello good folks, Jeremy here, lead video editor for The Needle Drop. It’s one of those times again when Anthony’s underlings step out of his melonheaded shadow for a brief moment of sunshine. This time it’s for a mid-year list. Basically, here are fifteen albums from the first half of the year that I enjoyed the most and am still listening to – including while they play on repeat in my head – as June comes to a close.
I want to point out that this is an alphabetical list. It is unordered. I did not want to ascribe numbers yet, because some of these opinions could shift up or down come the end of the year, and it just didn’t feel right to rank these albums quite yet. Instead, it’s an even field here; just fifteen records I have loved from the first six months of this year that I think you should give a listen.
Hope you find a pick or two you like, or maybe even one you hadn’t heard of yet. Enjoy!
Celebration have been one of my favorite bands for almost as long as I’ve been actively listening to and seeking music. They are also one of the most criminally overlooked and underrated. Crafting rollicking pieces of organ-drenched rock and roll, with frontwoman Katrina Ford’s deep, expressive voice anchoring the occasional cacophony. On this, their 5th album, they continue to show their stripes, one glistening, groovy, fun song after another. Don’t let their unGoogleable name deter you - listen to this band. Listen to this album
Avant-garde saxophonist Colin Stetson has earned a reputation over the past few years that acts as both a blessing and curse. He’s released a few albums since his breakout New History Warfare Vol. 2, and to be honest, at first glance, they all feel almost too similar to elicit much excitement. I’m always impressed by him, but sometimes I err on the side of shrugging complacency. I felt this way at first with his new one here, but after a few spins, the intricacies come out, the technicality becomes almost blindingly awesome, and when it’s all over, I can only smile and say, “Well, damn. He’s done it again.”
Feist returns after a very long break, and the world is all the better for it. Continuing down the path she started toeing back on Metals, Feist has given us perhaps her most challengingly spare and unpredictable songs yet. After the PJ-influenced title track comes to a halt, we get a mix of tender ballads (“I Wish I Didn’t Miss You”, “Baby Be Simple”), some eerily placid cuts (“Lost Dreams”), and even a couple rockers (“Any Party”, “Century”). Little Feistian touches like the Foley recordings at the end of “Any Party” (which includes a humorous blip of the album’s title track coming from a passing car), the minimalist bluesy touch of “I’m Not Running Away”, or the Mastodon sample that closes “A Man is Not His Song,”pepper the album’s cobwebbed corners. This is maybe the purest Feist record yet, and also possibly her strongest.
Anthony may have been cold on this one, but goddamn do I love this Jens Lekman record. It’s bright, fun, colorful, weird, silly, groovy, and insanely catchy all at once – basically everything I look for and hope for in a Jens record. That “do do do” refrain on “Evening Prayer” will be stuck in my head until the day I die, and the breathless chorus of “Wedding in Finistère” is the kind of thing only Jens Lekman could ever get away with. More pensive cuts like “Postcard 17” (with its deeply satisfying “Fucking ridiculous” ending) and the aching“How Can I Tell” fill out the tracklist, giving us one of Jens’ most varied and instantly satisfying efforts yet.
Jesca Hoop has been on my radar since her debut Kismet back in 2007, with its knotty song structures and odd vocal tics. It was a strong debut, but it wasn’t until her sophomore LP, Hunting My Dress, that she really hit her stride. Now on this, her fourth solo album, she has more or less struck gold. A set of profoundly spare songs, Hoop shows off her intriguing lyrical skills, her strange structures, and her flexible, passionate vocals more than ever. Her singing and songwriting sound better than ever, especially on cuts like “Memories Are Now” and “The Lost Sky” where her harmonies come piercing through, and “Songs of Old” where she hits her impossibly high notes. It’s the most impressive singer-songwriter album of the year, and one that reiterates the vitality of the genre.
And now for a very different singer-songwriter. Argentina’s Juana Molina has been cranking out records for more than 20 years, and yet she still flies woefully under the radar. Perhaps she prefers it that way. Halo, her seventh album, continues her pattern of crafting weird, otherworldly, unpredictable electro-acoustic songs. Molina’s music is so dense and complex in its webbing of ideas that I can still find new intricate subtleties on my fifth or sixth listen. From the as-bare-as-can-be (and as-slow-as-can-be) “Lentísimo halo” to the upbeat “Cosoco”, from the made-up words of “A00 B01” to the chilly opener “Paraguaya.” Yes these songs are sung in Spanish, but that doesn’t stop Molina’s music from being as surprising and enthralling as ever.
OK. Anthony’s gonna give me crap for this, but hear me out. When I first heard this album, I liked it a lot. Then I listened a second and third time, and I fell to a place of indifference. But then, slowly, it inched its way back in, and now I can’t help but feel drawn to its warm and peaceful compositions. The opening track, “Follow My Voice”, is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard this year, and when Byrne sings, “To me this city’s hell / But I know you call it home,” with her deep, smooth voice giving way to the emotion just a tiny bit, it’s piercing and heartbreaking. Yes, the album tends to blur together, but it’s such a tranquil, warm 32 minutes, that I really don’t mind. Despite the low-key nature of this album, I am actually pretty excited to see what Byrne does next.
Seems that long breaks are a running theme on this list. Land of Talk took a 7-year hiatus, during which a lot of shit happened, which you can extensively read about elsewhere. I’m just here to tell you how awesome it is to have Liz Powell back. Her band’s second album, Cloak and Cipher, is one of my favorite indie rock records of this current decade, and though this new album doesn’t quite hit those heights, it comes close. It’s a record of loss and pain, but also of optimism and new horizons, with some lovely electronic instrumentation and some surprising melodic turns. Powell is a distinct, emotive voice in the oft-tired genre of indie rock (and one of the genre’s best guitarists, which is on far deeper display on past LPs). And though her tunes certainly don’t sound too out of sync with her Saddle Creek labelmates, there’s something there – some indefinable quality – that sets them apart, and this record attest to that.
Experimental singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm has a couple pretty great records under her belt (especially her sophomore LP, The Last Tree, which boasts one of my all-time favorite songs, “Little Weeper”), and now she’s given us another one. Chasing an Illusion is at once her darkest and also brightest album, fusing her feelings on motherhood, abuse, love, and life. The sprawling opener, “Ah, Love Is Oceanic Pleasure,” sounds like something Jackie-O Motherfucker might’ve come up with, and the comparatively catchy and upbeat “Beautifully Alone” features a very satisfying melody. Moodier cuts like “I Don’t Believe You,” which are beautiful and heart-wrenching (“I wish that I could die / I wish that you would die too”), are contrasted with lovely, bittersweet ruminations on being a mother in this scary world (“Keeping You Alive”). It’s a strange but ultimately very satisfying album, one of her most cohesive and affecting to date.
What can I say? I’m a sucker. (I’m tempted to just leave it at that...) Laura Marling has given us her most stripped back album in a while, and it’s pretty glorious. It’s a velvety, beautiful record, featuring some of Marling’s most tender vocal deliveries. I admit, the opening track “Soothing” is a bit of a feint, and I would actually sort of love to hear an album of hers sound more like that on the whole, because it’s a slinky, eerie, gorgeous song. “The Valley” is all countryside prettiness, and “Don’t Pass Me By” is sort of a Beach House-meets-Portishead thing that shouldn’t work, but does. For all the little accents, it may be “Nouel” – the sole track that consists of just voice and guitar – that takes top honors. But all in all, this is another solid – if at times too patiently paced – album from Laura Marling.
This one’s tough in that it’s a hard album to listen to and hard to recommend, but it also can’t be denied for what it is musically and lyrically. An album of songs this personal, this intimate, this frighteningly upfront about the death of a loved one, is inevitably going to be a rough sit, especially with lyrics about “bloody end-of-life tissues” and scattering ashes. A couple moments of utter beauty sneak in, such as “Seaweed”’s “I don’t think of that dust as you / You are the sunset,” but mostly it’s an album that makes Carrie and Lowell look like a Brady Bunch singalong. It’s a gorgeous document of grief, and for that alone, it belongs here, despite the fact that I’ve probably only heard it three or four times.
While I maintain that Put Your Back N 2 It is still my favorite Perfume Genius record, it now feels miles away from what we get on his fourth, No Shape. A wild, blissfully scattered and careening ride, this album has no idea what it wants to be, which is exactly how Mike Hadreas wants it to be. We get explosives (“Otherside”), pensive acoustic cuts (“Valley”), slinky duets (“Sides”), and droning love songs (“Alan’), among many other things. This feels like a step in a new direction – or two or three – for Hadreas, which is nice coming after Too Bright inched a little too gingerly away from PYBN2I’s spare balladry. Hadreas is in full force, now, and I am here for it.
This one took me by surprise. I barely knew who Sampha was before this. I knew he popped up on a few tracks here and there, but it wasn’t until he dropped a whole album that I started to take notice. A beautiful piano player, singer, and songwriter (as evidenced by the insta-classic “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”), he also knows when to up the frenzy (the crazy-passionate “Blood on Me”, the quasi-drops of “Reverse Faults”). Sampha has given us a singer-songwriter album that feels both timeless and also of its time, supplying hooks aplenty and heartfelt writing. I don’t know why I didn’t take much notice before now, but this is a powerful album, from a powerful singer, and I am excited for what comes next.
I’ve always been a fan of The xx, but never to the extent some people are. Their debut was minimalistic and infectious, but it was also a little meek. Their sophomore album continued this path. Finally, though, I feel like I’m 100% on the bandwagon, because their third album is their strongest to date. Beefier arrangements, including an increased bass and beat presence (probably a result of Jamie xx’s breakout as a producer in his own right), and more complex songwriting push this album in the right direction for the band, a step they needed to take to avoid what I will mostly-lovingly call Beach House syndrome. The emotional twinned vocals of Romy and Oliver, along with Romy’s reverb-drenched icicle guitar licks, still fill out the picture, but it all feels more rounded, but complex, a little denser. Rollicking, catchy songs like “Replica” and “On Hold” (which features a perfect Hall and Oates sample) sound like they could’ve only been on this record, which is a good sign for this young, talented band.
And that’s it, y’all. Fifteen albums I love. I hope you like some of them too. Thanks to Anthony for letting me get this list up here. It’s nice to get to reach out directly to some of you who don’t hear from me (though perhaps unwittingly witness my handy work on a near-daily basis). It’s been a pretty good year for music so far, and some albums (like Melodrama for example) are currently growing on me, so don’t be surprised to see albums from the first half of the year ranked higher than these come year’s end. Speaking of which, see ya then!