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Jeremy's Fav Albums of 2018

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Hey everyone! It’s list time again. 2018 really flew by. (Can we get that same luxury in ‘19 and ‘20 please, too? Thanks.) Anyway, for this year’s edition of “The TND List You Don’t Really Care About Let’s Be Honest," I decided to forgo the traditional top ten ranking system. Every year, I feel more and more unsure of who to put in my top spot, and even less sure who to put in my 2-10. I usually love all the albums on my list, and it’s hard for me to somewhat arbitrarily rank them into a neat list. So this time around I’ve decided to just list the albums I enjoyed the most this year in alphabetical order. Sorry if you want a #1. I’m sure if you ask me in private I could pick one for you. But for now, I present…

15 Albums Jeremy Really Liked This Year That He Thinks You Should Listen To:

Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss

Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss

While never being the biggest Big Thief fan, I’ve always known there was something special about them. I heard it most in their quietest, most intimate moments; moreso than any of their rockers. That might explain, then, why frontperson Adrianne Lenker’s debut – which is almost painfully intimate and quiet – is my favorite BT-related thing I’ve yet heard, by a mile. Its soft power stems both from Lenker’s lo-fi and minimal pallet, as well as her hushed, beautiful voice. Above all, though, is her songwriting and melodies, which worm their ways into your mind but are laced with intriguing, abstract lyricism that moves and mystifies at the same time.

Alela Diane - Cusp

Alela Diane - Cusp

Alela Diane is truly one of the unsung figures of the American singer-songwriter scene. Or maybe I should say “under-sung.” She has plenty of fans and critical acclaim, and yet her albums never seem to make the waves they ought to be making. Perhaps that’s due to her relatively tame sound, but Diane is such a fine songwriter, a subtle miner of human emotion so deft that you hardly notice how powerful what it is she’s doing until it’s already been done. Check her hypnotic “Emigre,” the profoundly sad “Song for Sandy,” or the First Aid Kit-featuring “Ether and Wood,” which is undoubtedly one of her finest songs to date. If you’re looking for a high-quality, pretty, and smart singer-songwriter album, you can’t go wrong with Cusp.

Anna von Hausswolff - Dead Magic

Anna von Hausswolff - Dead Magic

If you, like me, first fell in love with Anna von Hausswolff when her single “Track of Time” was released in 2010, then you must also be constantly surprised at the direction she’s taken since then. While that was a staggering, piercingly gorgeous piano ballad, von Hausswolff’s music quite swiftly took a turn for the metallic, the doomed, and the dramatic. Her fourth album, Dead Magic, doubles down on that, giving us beefy, strong storms of songs, which sound more conjured than composed. Her voice remains a towering highlight, beaming above the din, but her chaos comes with great purpose, and each minute of this five-song album begs to be delved into. Let it cast its spell on you. Let it envelop you.

Beach House - 7

Beach House - 7

Beach House’s self-titled debut remains a favorite album of mine. I am fully aware it is probably not their best on any sort of technical level, but it came out at a very certain time in my life, and it eternally glued me to this dreamy little duo. Or so I thought. Their two-album stint of Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars really made me think that they lost me, or I lost them. It felt like the wheels were spinning, and the glory was fading. But 7 reaffirms what I always loved about the band, while also finally adding some much-needed tweaks to their formula. This, for once, does not sound like the exact same band that began by giving us those lo-fi autumnal tunes all those years ago. And yet, it makes perfect sense that this is a Beach House record. It’s beautiful, lush, weird, and their best record since Teen Dream. Here’s to hoping the innovation and curiosity continues.

The Field - Infinite Moment

The Field - Infinite Moment

For some reason, this album from The Field – his 6th since 2007 – finally got me. I’ve always been vaguely interested in The Field’s work, as he creates elongated pieces of repetitive, experimental electronic music. His are not average songs, as they beat and pulsate into oblivion, changing so subtly and slowly you barely notice. This is the first album of his since his debut, though, that has held my ear and my head the whole way through. Parts of this album approach a sort of ambient effect, droning on and on ad infinitum, until I’m dizzied and lost, in the best way. The notable addition of vocal layers goes a long way in spicing up The Field’s sound, and combined with the beautiful, fizzy loops, makes this possibly his best album.

Grouper - Grid of Points

Grouper - Grid of Points

Liz Harris’s work under the Grouper name has captivated me for years, ever since her impeccable Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill was released. Her 2014 album, Ruins, saw her strip almost everything away that was previously part of the Grouper aesthetic – gone were the echo–drenched guitars, and the woozy Wurlitzer, and the seemingly thousand layers of voice. But what we were left with was really a perfect distillation of Harris’s work: a minimalistic arrangement of voice and piano, soaked with just enough reverb. Her lyrics became more intelligible than ever, and her songs more emotionally crushing than ever. Grid of Points sees Harris returning to this setup, and while the results may be less astonishing the second time around, there’s still plenty to love. Some of the mystery creeps back in here, but the songs are just as moving and deceptively simple, and Harris’s voice and melodies still bring me near to tears.

Julia Holter - Aviary

Julia Holter - Aviary

Julia Holter returns with what is probably her most experimental album, the one she seems to have been hinting at all along. Her first two records toyed with experimental structures and sounds, combining them with just enough pop appeal. Then her next two went fully into the art-pop realm, with incredible results (“Betsy on the Roof”, a piano ballad from Have You In My Wilderness, is still the finest achievement of her career). But now, the composer extraordinaire has essentially outdone herself. Holter has dared herself and her listeners to go headlong into this bizarre, abstract world of hers, and it is delightful, scary, and entrancing. This may be the finest example yet of Holter as composer, so even if it isn’t the absolute best example of Holter as pop songwriter, so be it. Just jump in and get lost in the maze that is Aviary.

Low - Double Negative

Low - Double Negative

No matter how you feel about this new Low album, you’ve gotta hand it to the now 25-year-old band for creating something truly unlike anything else in their catalog, yet still very much has the sound of a Low album. Easily their most experimental album, and their least accessible since 1996’s The Curtain Hits the Cast, Double Negative surrounds the listener in static, harsh noises, metallic scrapes, crunched up bass and guitars, and brittle percussion. It’s an album full of surprising and austere compositions, with Alan Sparhawk’s and Mimi Parker’s signature voices cloaked in distortion, peeking out every now and then, like sun rays from behind a dark cloud. It’s not all a maelstrom of odd and abrasive soundplay – “Fly” is gorgeous and direct, while “Always Up” includes some of their indelible harmonies in clear display – but most of this album is a hall of mirrors, a storm worth flying into.

LUMP - LUMP

LUMP - LUMP

I’ve been a Laura Marling fan for a long time, but even though I really enjoyed her last album, I was wondering if she would ever try something a little more radical, or take a serious departure to shake up her sound. While that remains to be seen in her solo work, LUMP – a duo album with Mike Lindsay (of the weirdo-pop group Tunng) – delivers just that. Lindsay handles the music while Marling handles the lyrics, melodies, and vocals. The album is rather short, at just 7 tracks long (including a brief, but funny closing bit of narration), but it packs some interesting punches. It is such a nice treat to hear Marling write some weirder, more impressionistic lyrics, while also pushing her voice into some newer territories. Meanwhile, Lindsay’s compositions, full of strange beats, sounds, unidentifiable instruments, and intriguing left turns, combine with Marling’s beautiful voice to create something truly bewitching and entertaining.

Mary Lattimore - Hundreds of Days

Mary Lattimore - Hundreds of Days

This album almost feels like the opposite to Low’s. While theirs is a brutal hurricane of dizzying noise, Mary Lattimore’s Hundreds of Days is blissful and beautiful, full of gorgeous melodies. Lattimore is a profoundly skilled and renowned harpist, who enjoys tinkering with the limits of her instrument, whether through the knotty compositions themselves or through an array of effects, particularly delay. Seeing her spin her webs live is magical, but it has translated wonderfully on this new album. While songs like “Hello from the Edge of Earth” are heavenly, others like “Baltic Birch” are fantastical but lightly foreboding, and “Never Saw Him Again” engages in some very naturalistic, expansive ambient soundscapes. The harp often gets pigeonholed as being just pretty, and while Lattimore’s often is, it is also so much more complex than that. Her skills as an arranger match her skills as a harpist, and the two combine to create a transportive record.

Metric - Art of Doubt

Metric - Art of Doubt

After a slight misstep with 2015’s Pagans in Vegas, Metric are back in the rock game with the far superior Art of Doubt. Easily their best record since Live it Out, the band give us a very solid set of slick, blistering rock and pop tunes. The synths are still here, but the guitars have come chugging back, as evidenced by the first three tracks. Meanwhile, they’ve given us some truly glowing pop epics, like “Now or Never Now,” and some surprisingly edgy, harder songs, like the incredible title track. They also remind us how good they are at the softer cuts with “Seven Rules” (which reminds quite heavily of their earliest material, like “White Gold”). Metric are very much in their wheelhouse here, and though the very last leg of the album falls off just a bit, the songwriting overall and the reinvigorated performances are enough to make this one of their strongest albums in a very long time.

Mount Eerie - (after)

Mount Eerie - (after)

Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked at Me was on my top albums list last year, and here he is again. Not for his other 2018 album, Now Only, which is very good in its own right, but for his quietly released live album, (after). Hearing these unbelievably personal songs sung out into the world in front of an audience of strangers is sort of heart-stopping in its power. Phil Elverum performs them beautifully, and the sound quality is exquisite. The songs were plenty stripped-down in the first place (especially the Crow songs), so there are not a ton of changes to be found. The main point of interest is simply in hearing these detailed, lovely, deeply sad songs played live. The audience’s hushed respect for the performer is palpable, and by the end of the night, they weren’t strangers anymore. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of either of his previous two albums.

Neko Case - Hell-On

Neko Case - Hell-On

With a discography as long and layered as Neko Case’s, it’s impressive that Hell-On, her seventh album, is her finest achievement yet. Working with longer songs than usual, Case affords herself the time and space to really flesh out her skills as a songwriter. The songs here are denser than many of her songs in the past, as Case dresses them up in dreamy layers of guitar, drums, synth, pianos, and many voices. Some songs, like “The Last Lion of Albion” are snappy and catchy. Others like the “Halls of Sarah” are luminous and melancholic. Some, like “My Uncle’s Navy”, are downright terrifying. Case is a master lyricist, with every song consisting of a myriad of intriguing, surprising lines, such as “Winnie”’s “Loved you so long, Winnie / Blurring softly into you.” Even her cover of Eric Bachmann’s “Sleep All Summer” (with the man himself in a duet with Case) goes off without a hitch. This is Case’s lushest album yet, and it provides the listener with countless moments of beauty, drama, and heart.

Trevor Powers - Mulberry Violence

Trevor Powers - Mulberry Violence

Trevor Powers’s last album as Youth Lagoon, Savage Hills Ballroom, was, for me, his finest yet. A crystallization of everything YL had been up then. It also includes at least one absolutely perfect, stunning song, in “Kerry”. Now, dropping the YL name and donning his own, Powers is back with his strangest document yet. Mulberry Violence is constantly shifting, as Powers experiments with interesting, left-field sound play, never going where you expect. His signature voice is still there, but very often it is cloaked in effects, or pitch-shifted, or distorted. This is not a typical singer-songwriter album. This is perhaps Powers’s most personal and also most alien record yet, which somehow feels exactly right. It is at turns beautiful and hideous, straightforward and complex. It draws you in in a very strange way, letting you bask in its foreboding light. The dream pop of YL is gone. The horrific electronic-noise-pop-whateveryouwanttocallit of Trevor Powers is here.

U.S. Girls - In a Poem Unlimited

U.S. Girls - In a Poem Unlimited

Meghan Remy’s U.S. Girls honestly never caught my attention much. But that all changed this year with the release of the project’s seventh album, In a Poem Unlimited. Don’t let the odd title fool you: this is mostly an album of catchy, groovy, polished pop songs. They are total pop perfection most of the time, while sitting just slightly in left field. One of the most sonically straightforward cuts, “M.A.H.”, is also one of its best, as it highlights with profound wit and charm a very important political conversation that is not had very often to my knowledge. Other songs, like the most meditative “Rosebud” and the ‘90s-ish “Pearly Gates,” make this one of the most varied but also irresistible pop albums of the year. Every time you listen to it, you find out something new about it. What a luxury that is.

Jeremy's Fav Albums of 2017

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well OK, not really. Jeremy, your faithful editor here, and let me tell you: truth be told, List Season this year has been more stressful for me than ever before. I had a really hard time choosing what should go where. I had at least five versions of this list. I decided at the last minute to cut it off at 10 and do the remaining 20 as alphabetical honorable mentions, because ordering became impossible. Finally, I landed on this iteration. There are, of course, some things I didn’t get around to listening to that I probably should have (here’s looking at you Kelly Lee Owens) but at this juncture in time, these are my 30 favorite albums of 2017. I am not even going to go out on the limb of saying these are The Best Albums of 2017, because that feels too shaky. I’ll simply say, when thinking back on the music of 2017, these are the albums I enjoyed most, responded to the most, related to the most, was moved by the most, felt the most, revisited the most. I hope some of you find something new here, or revisit something you may have written off. And don’t blow off those honorable mentions - those are some damn good albums!

All right. Onto my list!


Top 10

1. Feist - Pleasure [Interscope]

1. Feist - Pleasure [Interscope]

I really enjoyed this record when I first heard it, but after months of revisiting it - a rest on the couch here, a long drive there - I love it. I think it is Feist’s strongest and most singular statement to date, without sacrificing or heavily altering anything that has made her music such a point of ardor for me in the past. Pleasure retains her predilection for somewhat raw, scrappy production and recording style, with songs filled with space and hiss and room tone. The title track slowly bursts into a PJ Harvey-esque rocker, while more introspective tracks like “Lost Dreams” and “The Wind” unfurl and stretch out, lithe and full. The lyrics and the music are so full of little details that I think it took me this long to feel like I’ve fully heard the record, and now that I have, when I look back at all the albums I have really liked this year, Pleasure simply stands at the top for me.


2. Zola Jesus - Okovi [Sacred Bones]

2. Zola Jesus - Okovi [Sacred Bones]

Zola Jesus (aka Nika Danilova) also released what is probably her strongest record to date this year, in the bleak, all-encompassing Okovi. The title is Slavic for “shackles” which feels deeply appropriate given the themes of loss, grief, and the shards of hope that permeate the songs. Danilova’s voice - as powerful and sweeping as ever - anchors these brooding songs, but it has never sounded as finessed and controlled as it does here, whether it’s the hysterical “Exhumed” or the pleading “Remains.” Best of all is “Witness”, a song that nearly made me cry when I first heard it. Over languorous, beautifully weeping strings, Danilova delivers her most staggering performance, matched with some very moving lyrics. That the album ends with a long instrumental arranged piece kind of bothered me at first, but now I’ve come to relish in it. It’s the beautiful skyward send off Okovi deserves, and the moment of calm it needs. By then, she’s said everything she needed to say.


3. Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian]

3. Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian]

And now a left turn. Jens Lekman is kind of a lovable dork, a goofball. Despite interviewers commenting more than once on his calm, almost stoic demeanor, his songs are fun, silly, bright, a little winkingly twee, and catchy. Very frequently, they sound like the kinds of songs that nobody else could get away with. Life Will See You Now is his first album to sort of go headlong into a more electronic/beat-driven sound, though it is contrasted with a more organic set of sounds. His lyrics on this album are as witty, self-deprecating, and verbose as usual, his stories full of interesting and humorous details. At times, such as on “How Can I Tell Him”, his writing is almost unbearably touching; at others, like on “Evening Prayer” or “Wedding in Finistère, he is clever and buoyant. I just can’t help but love this album - it’s fun and silly and smart, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.


4. Sylvan Esso - What Now [Loma Vista]

4. Sylvan Esso - What Now [Loma Vista]

When Sylvan Esso released their self-titled debut album, I didn’t know who they were. I hadn’t caught the buzzy singles like “Coffee” or “Hey Mami”. But then I saw them open for tUnE-yArDs, and I felt like I witnessed something awesome. Between Nick Sanborn’s twisty synths and pulsating beats, and Amelia Meath’s pining, elastic, and quietly powerful voice, I was caught. Their second album, What Now, essentially improves on their sound in almost every way without changing the DNA. You can still dance to most of the songs here with glee, and the ones you can’t are still striking ballads-in-miniature, like the melancholy “Slack-Jaw”. But let’s face it, we’re here for the dancing, and almost every song - “The Glow”, “Radio”, “Song”, “Signal”, “Just Dancing” - makes me wanna tap my toe or bob my head. The keyboards are constantly shapeshifting; the beats are infectious; Meath’s lyrics are catchy while still being profoundly human and relatable; her voice is stunning as ever (as it always was - go check out her folk band Mountain Man for further proof). I just could hardly ask for more from this dynamite duo. It’s a dance album that’s more than a dance album, and yet also a really killer dance album.


5. Jesca Hoop - Memories Are Now [Sub Pop]

5. Jesca Hoop - Memories Are Now [Sub Pop]

Jesca Hoop isn’t a typical singer-songwriter. Memories Are Now is her fourth album, and although each one has taken a slightly different guise, she has retained her knack for knotty structures, surprising risks, tight harmonies, and melodies that sound as old as time, but are fresh and new. Her fourth album is one of pristine songcraft, full of tunes that are deceptively simple until you tear away the layers. The opening title cut is bewildering in its lurch toward the climax. “The Lost Sky” repeats the same verse and chorus three times, growing in intensity each time. “Songs of Old” sports some of the highest notes I’ve heard her sing, and she nails them with such gusto and passion. These songs are like little puzzles - spare on the surface, with not much more than acoustic guitar, voice, and some strings - but enough little details thrown in, like tiny shining jewels, to keep you coming back for more.


6. Perfume Genius - No Shape [Matador]

6. Perfume Genius - No Shape [Matador]

The fact that this album just got nominated for an engineering Grammy feels like some sort of grand cosmic victory. Mike Hadreas’ music is the kind that stops you in your tracks almost every time. Once so insular it could crack you in two from sheer emotional fragility, the homespun piano ballads have given way to a much more tense and meaty and complex sound. Hadreas and company’s instrumental palette is more varied than ever, between funky synths, nighttime noir keyboards, unidentifiable stringed instruments, more percussion, and a few glowing walls of sound. It’s no small wonder that an album where nearly every song goes in a different direction than the last feels surprisingly coherent and cohesive. On “Slip Away” he’s breathless; on “Just Like Love” he’s airy and coy; on “Valley” he’s forlorn and thinking on the past’s impact on the present; on “Choir” he’s almost frightening; on “Alan” he’s reserved and ruminating on an enormous love. The album veers wildly left and right and then left again. It’s unpredictable, in a way that would make most albums fall apart, but Hadreas and friends (including producer Blake Mills) have crafted a multifaceted, surprising, and emotionally rich gem with No Shape.


7. Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton - Choir of the Mind [Last Gang]

7. Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton - Choir of the Mind [Last Gang]

Emily Haines’ usual gig playing new wave-inspired electro indie-rock with Metric is well-known by this point, but unfortunately it seems a lot of people - including fans of the band - have been sleeping on her tiny but formidable collection of solo work. Her debut, Knives Don’t Have You Back, came out in 2006, followed quickly by a short and sweet EP in ‘07. And then people kind of forgot about it, even though it’s one of the strongest solo turns from a front-person of the current century. Now, 10 years later, we get her sophomore record. Choir of the Mind keeps much of the debut’s sonic interests in tact while also adding some new touches. The songs are nearly all led by Haines’ emotive, melodic piano, and her aching, moving lyrics. Her voice has never had the widest range, but 20 years into making music she knows exactly how to use it, and she wrings some genuine pathos from these songs. More percussion, subtle synths, and guitar flit in and out (courtesy of the eponymous Soft Skeleton crew), but this is Emily’s show. Songs like “Planets” and “RIP” are draped in thick choruses of Haines’ voice, while “Fatal Gift” gives her the rare chance to jam out. More meditative cuts like “Nihilist Abyss” and “Siren” are beautiful and evocative in their emotional language. Haines is never stronger than when she’s doing her own stuff, and I am beyond thrilled she made another record. That it’s this strong is just a cherry on top.


8. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

8. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

I am not going to write much about this record. Yes, it’s basically an acoustic singer-songwriter record, but it is so much more. It’s a stark, compelling document on grief and loss, from one of music’s most enigmatic and interesting players. Mount Eerie delivers a record that is almost impossible to get through, due to the sheer emotional gravity on display. A record of songs written in the wake of his wife’s passing, the lyrics are full of hyper-specific references, such as her ashes, or her bloody “end-of-life tissues,” and it never really lightens up. It’s a gorgeous, stirring, and honestly profoundly upsetting record, but the strength of the writing, the imagery, and the melodies cannot be overstated. Seek it out if you haven’t heard it yet, but don’t surprised if you end up crying and never listening to it again.


9. Sampha - Process [Young Turks]

9. Sampha - Process [Young Turks]

This album surprised me. I had never heard of Sampha before, which I know is probably some sort of sacrilege in some corners, but when he released his debut album and I began seeing positive reviews for it, I figured I’d check it out. Now here it is on my Top 10. Sampha delivers a singer-songwriter record that operates more in an electronic/experimental pop vein, which is sort of refreshing. “Blood on Me” hits so hard it takes my breath away. “Kora Sings” is airily, effervescently beautiful. “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” is heartstopping. “Reverse Faults” is booming and incredibly catchy. All over this album, Sampha surprises, keeps us guessing, and does it all with a finesse - and a production so pristine it blinds (in a good way) - that belies the fact that this is his debut album. He’s already a pro, crafting emotionally resonant pieces of pop music that doesn’t sacrifice style and hooks for feeling and intricate sonic touches. I am definitely going to be keeping an eye and an ear on Sampha going forward.


10. Aimee Mann - Mental Illness [SuperEgo]

10. Aimee Mann - Mental Illness [SuperEgo]

I struggled with my #10 spot a lot this year. So many records I wanted to spotlight on this list. But in the end, I decided to go with my gut and stop denying it: this new Aimee Mann record is incredible, and is one of her best yet. It may not sound like much to some of you - “oh, another acoustic singer-songwriter, okay…” - but if you listen more closely, the genius arises. Mann’s lyrics - both sad and sympathetic, while also darkly funny most of the time - are masterful. She has an unbelievable way of spitting off a striking image or two and making it sound very, very easy. Her rhymes are rich, never too obvious, and always feel in service of the song. Nearly every song has at least one line or verse that is so smart, so descriptive, so stealthily evocative that it kind of stops me in my tracks: “3,000 miles to sit in a room/With a vanishing groom/Till it undoes me,” from “You Never Loved Me”. Or “You look around and think ‘I’m in the right neighborhood’/But honey, you just moved in,” from “Patient Zero.” Or “We’re babies passing for adults/Who’ve loaded up their catapults/And can’t believe the end results” from “Simple Fix.” The lyrics are the key here, and they’re beautiful, moving, and clever. It doesn’t hurt than Mann’s voice is strong and smooth throughout, her melodies aching and catchy at the same time, aided by a small group of musicians (extra guitar, percussion, and some beautiful arranged strings). It’s a simple album on the surface, but the emotional world underneath is endlessly engaging and rich.


Honorable Mentions

Akira Kosemura - In the Dark Woods [Schole]

Akira Kosemura - In the Dark Woods [Schole]


Björk - Utopia [One Little Indian]

Björk - Utopia [One Little Indian]


Blue Hawaii - Tenderness [Arbutus]

Blue Hawaii - Tenderness [Arbutus]


Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder [Arts & Crafts]

Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder [Arts & Crafts]


Celebration - Wounded Healer [Bella Union]

Celebration - Wounded Healer [Bella Union]


Colin Stetson - All This I Do for Glory [52Hz]

Colin Stetson - All This I Do for Glory [52Hz]


Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors [Domino]

Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors [Domino]


Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up [Nonesuch]

Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up [Nonesuch]


Iron & Wine - Beast Epic [Sub Pop]

Iron & Wine - Beast Epic [Sub Pop]


Juana Molina - Halo [Crammed Discs]

Juana Molina - Halo [Crammed Discs]


 
Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness [Ba Da Bing!]

Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness [Ba Da Bing!]


Land of Talk - Life After Youth [Saddle Creek]

Land of Talk - Life After Youth [Saddle Creek]


Larkin Grimm - Chasing an Illusion [Northern Spy]

Larkin Grimm - Chasing an Illusion [Northern Spy]


Laura Marling - Semper Femina [Kobalt]

Laura Marling - Semper Femina [Kobalt]


Lorde - Melodrama [Lava]

Lorde - Melodrama [Lava]


Mariam the Believer - Love Everything [Repeat Until Death]

Mariam the Believer - Love Everything [Repeat Until Death]


Moses Sumney - Aromanticism [Jagjaguwar]

Moses Sumney - Aromanticism [Jagjaguwar]


Rainer Maria - S/T [Polyvinyl]

Rainer Maria - S/T [Polyvinyl]


Stars - There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light [Last Gang]

Stars - There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light [Last Gang]


Torres - Three Futures [4AD]

Torres - Three Futures [4AD]


Fav Singles

Jeremy's Mid-Year Faves 2017

theneedledropComment

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 - Wounded Healer [Bella Union]

Celebration - Wounded Healer [Bella Union]

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


Colin Stetson - All This I Do for Glory [52HZ]

Colin Stetson - All This I Do for Glory [52HZ]

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 - Pleasure [Interscope]

Feist - Pleasure [Interscope]

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.


Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian]

Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian]

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 - Memories Are Now [Sub Pop]

Jesca Hoop - Memories Are Now [Sub Pop]

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.


Juana Molina - Halo [Crammed]

Juana Molina - Halo [Crammed]

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.


Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness [Ba Da Bing!]

Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness [Ba Da Bing!]

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.


Land of Talk - Life After Youth [Saddle Creek]

Land of Talk - Life After Youth [Saddle Creek]

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.


Larkin Grimm - Chasing an Illusion [Northern Spy]

Larkin Grimm - Chasing an Illusion [Northern Spy]

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.


Laura Marling - Semper Femina [Kobalt]

Laura Marling - Semper Femina [Kobalt]

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.


Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

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.


Perfume Genius - No Shape [Matador]

Perfume Genius - No Shape [Matador]

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.


Sampha - Process [Young Turks]

Sampha - Process [Young Turks]

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.


The xx - I See You [Young Turks]

The xx - I See You [Young Turks]

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!

Jeremy's Faves of 2015

theneedledrop3 Comments

Hey guys, Jeremy here, the man behind the curtain (or one of the men... behind one of the curtains... Why are there so many curtains here at TND? I like to think of mine as being a nice forest green.) I don’t know if any of you care what the co-video-editor’s Top 10 of 2015 are, but here they are, nonetheless! Ha ha haaa!


1. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell [Asthmatic Kitty]

1. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell [Asthmatic Kitty]

I knew this record was a Great Record the first time I heard it, but I don’t think it clicked into #1 status for me until after I saw Stevens perform live on his Carrie & Lowell tour. It forced me to look the man singing these desperate, sorrowful songs right in the face, which gave me an even sharper perspective on the album proper. It may be quiet and slow, but this is a profound, wise, nearly perfect piece of work. Nothing moved me more this year.


2. Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness [Domino]

2. Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness [Domino]

There’s a moment in the middle of “Sea Calls Me Home” where Julia Holter stops short of giving us the expected chorus – it builds right up to the precipice, but doesn’t jump. Instead, we get a lovely whistling coda. All right, nice enough, but the chorus is about to come – three, two, one – ah! Nope! We’re foiled again, this time by a luscious sax. This is indicative of why this is Holter’s best work yet, and there are a myriad of other examples scattered throughout. Impeccable production and songwriting, and just so goddamn pretty.


3. Joanna Newsom - Divers [Drag City]

3. Joanna Newsom - Divers [Drag City]

Anyone who knows me probably thought I would put this at #1 almost by default, but #3 is nothing to gawk at either. Newsom remains my favorite songwriter, and while Divers might not be her best work, it still packs a dazzling punch. Jumping every which way through time and space, Newsom weaves intricate, fiercely intelligent stories with layers of harp, keys, strings, and even a Marxophone. We waited five years for this, but it was well worth it.


4. Björk - Vulnicura [One Little Indian]

4. Björk - Vulnicura [One Little Indian]

Another heartbreaker, here. Breakup albums can so easily go maudlin, or at the very least run-of-the-mill. Leave it to Björk to basically reinvent the wheel. This is by some sort of margin her most challenging work yet, both in the intense, seasick strings and beats that never go where you expect them to, and her personal, heartsick lyrics. It acts as a dark cousin to Vespertine, and it’s interesting to see her go from the global (Volta and Biophilia) back to the personal with such velocity, but I welcome it.


5. Grimes - Art Angels [4AD]

5. Grimes - Art Angels [4AD]

I feel crazy for putting a Grimes record here, but I have to. I’ve never been a Grimes non-fan, but I never got as wowed by her as everyone seemed to. This time around, I was hesitant, but I quickly grew to love the brash, fun, poppy, bubblegum-and-cyanide update on her sound. Stripping much of the reverb, we’re left with a very catchy, very well-made record. This is Grimes’ real breakthrough, “Oblivion” be damned.

 
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 Róisín Murphy - Hairless Toys [PIAS]

6. Róisín Murphy - Hairless Toys [PIAS]

This is the most criminally overlooked record of the year. Minimalist disco with indelible grooves and Murphy’s beautiful, sultry voice. It took a long time for her to return, and while this is certainly not as catchy or colorful as her past work, it is definitely a welcome addition to her strong catalog.


 
7. Destroyer - Poison Season [Merge]

7. Destroyer - Poison Season [Merge]

I never want to like a Destroyer record as much as I do. I’m not even sure what rationale I have for that, but it’s true. At first listen, I’m like, “Ok that was fine.” But even as soon as the second listen, it’s hook-line-and-sinker. This might be my favorite Destroyer record since Your Blues, with its slow sensuousness and thoughtful song craft. Destroyer is so consistent it’s hard to pin what exactly makes this record better than others, but it just is, ok?


 
8. Torres - Sprinter [Partisan]

8. Torres - Sprinter [Partisan]

Torres’ debut was a record I quite enjoyed, but it isn’t really that much of a statement. Sprinter is a statement. This is a fierce, gnarly record with catchy songs and impassioned singing. Songs like “Strange Hellos” and the title track explode, while the more pensive cuts like “New Skin” and (especially) “A Proper Polish Welcome” provide a beautiful counterpoint. I’d bet Torres has even more in her yet.


 
9. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love [Sub Pop]

9. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love [Sub Pop]

It’s just so damn good to have these ladies back in our lives. There isn’t much I can even say here. This is a kickass rock record, tight and taut, with the same great melodies and virtuosic guitars we’ve come to expect. Just all around solid as fuck. Rock on, SK.


 
10. Lianne La Havas - Blood [Warner Bros.]

10. Lianne La Havas - Blood [Warner Bros.]

La Havas improved on her already very good debut album with Blood, a set of soulful, jazz-influenced rock pop, replete with a few folky detours. La Havas has one of the best voices in modern pop music by far, and hearing her belt out funky tunes like “Midnight,” slinky numbers like “Green & Gold,” or out-and-out bangers like “Grow,” is just such a treat. I am thankful for this record.


All in all, 2015 wasn’t the best year in music, to be honest. These were ten albums I loved, and there were many others that were very good – Braids, José González, Laura Marling, and even that Metric record grew on me quite a bit (shut up, Anthony!) – but it just didn’t feel as much like a consistently strong year as some recent years.

But oh well! It’s basically over, and next year is looking like a promising program of potential releases. Bring it on, 2016!