We all have our favorites. We also have our need to make sense of the world. I hold to the belief that genre is important because while some can say there are only two kinds of music, good and bad, that still doesn’t help describe the music much. Direction is important, so is mood. However, virtuosity rules over all. I feel like listening to many different kinds of music and sometimes my mood shifts. These were my favorites of the albums that I’ve played just as fervently this year as the jazz albums I’ve listened to, whenever the mood so suited.
10) Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
I was taken aback initially with this album– the freakout period of The Age of Adz and All Delighted People is gone. What has returned is the rich but plaintive soundscapes reminiscent of his Seven Swans period, but older, wiser, and more prepared to bare his soul, as if that were even possible. Stevens is as engrossing as he’s always been, in every permutation.
9) METZ – II
They’re as crushingly loud and intense as before, but something here feels more refined, more pointed, just as fun.
8) Stephanie Nilles – Uncle Stephanie’s Murder Ballads *FOR KIDS!
The sheer whimsy and charm New Orleans’ Nilles exudes with her powerfully chirpy voice is a surprise. She’s reminiscent of Fiona Apple but that seems somewhat reductive. Stephanie Nilles is an über-talented huckster and these songs are a ton of fun.
7) José González – Vestiges and Claws
He’s really only making slight tweaks with each release, this his third with some elucidating jaunts with Junip in the mix, but when it comes to José González, his brand of chill never needs much more than that. Sure, one could say he’s today’s Nick Drake, but when he goes lush and layered, we know it’s all him and not the label. He takes his time because he can, and when music is like this, he should.
6) Toro y Moi – What For?
Chaz Bundick has always had a signature sound. It’s relatively difficult to note this considering how he leaps across genre with every subsequent album release, but there’s a quality to his music that doesn’t seem to waver. The purveyor of chillwave led to some pretty forward R&B and now to some rather impressive indie rock, yet no matter what, it’s all still Bundick, as catchy and grooving as always.
5) Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
It’s hard to think about how much more one could jam to this Perth, Australia, quartet, how much further they could go beyond Tawk Tomahawk, how many more corners they can turn to make these perfect songs.
4) Son Lux – Bones
Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia, and Ian Chang sound fantastic together. The trio they have become, taking Lott’s fantastic songs and passionate singing and crafting them into pieces of aurally artistic brilliance is utterly outstanding. These are your theme songs when going into battle, when emerging triumphantly from life’s foibles, and gliding through your moments of solemnity. Bones is this best of all moods.
3) Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin’ down
Kurt Vile’s music seems made for the road. It’s for long stretches and easy rides. His solos wander. His tricky lyrics drawl. His band, the Violators, are top notch. Vile’s music will take your time, even when you weren’t anticipating giving it so much, and never minding. These simple, hazy songs aren’t so simple and maybe this brand of the occasional six minute songs bring that much chill.
2) Tame Impala – Currents
Kevin Parker flips the script, sculpts with synths, and makes new hits. It jams in ways one didn’t see coming from Lonerism and Innerspeaker. The drums still crisply rock the soul, as they may have always the best part of Tame Impala albums, but they’re servicing and 80s vibe this time.
1) Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
I’ve got a friend who tends to leave the same album playing in his car for months at a time. The latest album that has played nigh-unceasingly for many a ride is Josh Tillman’s cheeky tales of a loveable asshole eventually settling down. I, by this circumstance, have heard this album quite often, yet I still have it in rotation in my phone. I still play it on bike rides and bus commutes and sitting at desks while writing. It’s an album that functions as an earworm, through habit and through craft. These arrangements are lush and involved; Tillman is downright crooning; it’s as pleasant to hear how these songs are performed as it is to cackle at the lyrics. This album is a triumph of 21st Century love and its misadventures, of brilliant songwriting, and an exploration of how charmed we can be of this kind of antihero. I’m all in, on my own and with friends.
Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.