I’m not exactly sure how my favorite non-jazz album list comes together. My moods shift here and there in the moment or throughout the year. I have things that come in and out of rotation for various reasons. Yet, these are the things that somehow filled out those other ends of bike rides and assorted commutes. Lists like these aren’t necessarily why you, dear reader, are here, but they are the compliments to the musical moods we all have. A list like this is the further articulation of my year’s musical fullness, and I’m glad to have had these albums around in the last year, among others, to keep my interest.
10. METZ – Strange Peace (Sub Pop)
I’ve got a soft spot for METZ. These dudes from Canada always go hard, even when they’re going slightly softer in their latest release, Strange Peace. Softer is a relative term, but the additional focus in their new material makes this raucous energy into something more pointed for one of the most cogent albums they’ve released yet.
9. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice (Matador)
This pair of charmers sound perfect together, their vocals lazily floating around each other through the air, all the while sneaking their cleverness in every drawled word. Vile wrote most of the songs on this album, and the playfulness mixed with emotional truths exemplify this, but musically one can tell Barnett and Vile are in this together all the way. The album is a pure pleasure.
8. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)
Some people aren’t crazy about the seeming pretension of Josh Tillman. Perhaps he’s just being too real about our facile reality. But the guy’s got pipes, his musical arrangements are consistently lush and forever on point. No man has so consistently made cynicism sound so beautiful, and his latest thesis continues to prove this.
7. Landlady – The World is a Loud Place (Hometapes)
Adam Schatz and Co. have released another collection of songs filled with warm, laser-focused energy. They’re a fantastic group that could be defined as a rock band, but feel more like master craftsmen. They aren’t defined by their complexity, but those attributes cannot be denied. This is the power of Landlady.
6. The National – Sleep Well Beast (4AD)
It’s remarkable how much pleasure one always gets from each group of nominally… What would one call the opposite of uplifting?, downsetting?… songs. Dessner, et al., have been playing in the same vein for years and still find new ways to stretch this mood into something larger that sounds super awesome on road trips. They’re the best at this and one can never tire of feeling so… downset.
5. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism (Jagjaguwar)
Moses Sumney is immediately gripping. His falsetto calls attention, but the spareness of some of these songs makes one listen more intently to the silence between the notes. Finding those silences then makes one more appreciative of the wave of sounds that come after, like and ebbing and flowing that washes over the soul by way of the ear. Aromanticism is an outstanding album, notable for every direction it turns (and one can’t forget appearances from Thundercat, Jamire Williams, and Ian Chang). This is the future of R&B.
4. Nai Palm – Needle Paw (Sony)
The lead of Hiatus Kaiyote makes a solo album that strips away the rest of the outstanding band to prove the power behind these songs and Nai Palm’s inimitable presence. Her voice has always been outstanding, and the acoustic instrumentation here is very much top notch. One could expect greatness from Hiatus Kaiyote, as a group and in their individual endeavors.
3. Real Estate – In Mind (Domino)
There are few bands out there that I can describe as the encapsulation of pleasantness and not mean that at all as an insult. Time and again, Real Estate with their floating electric guitars and lilting melodies are never a bother and always make for a charming good time. In their latest release, In Mind, the group has a slightly different configuration but that same pleasantness at their core that makes them always a welcome addition to my listening rotation.
2. Jonti – Tokorats (Stones Throw)
Jonti Danilewitz hasn’t been gone in the last six years since his debut album, Twirligig. He’s been living life, collaborating, refining his sound until things were good and ready. One could think of it as part of the process, ensuring that Jonti’s swirling, colorful sounds are layered just so into an album so exquisite that it’s been worth the wait. The man has a hell of a voice, which is always nice to hear layered as he often does, but it’s the everything else in his repertoire that makes Tokorats such a welcome return.
1. Washed Out – Mister Mellow (Stones Throw)
Ernest Greene doesn’t make albums, he makes moods. His works seems to tumble from speakers, already formed but assembling in mid-air at the same time. The lo-fi fuzz factor of his electronic music is a bit diminished from his earlier chillwave beginnings, but the same feeling one gets that this music can cradle your hazy brain for hours on heend is still there.
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.