Below are our favorite albums of 2017.
Here it is. Arguably our favorite list every year. A year’s worth of listening all distilled into one list. 2014 was a surprisingly weak year for hip hop (minus the colossal RTJ2), a wonderful year for triumphant returns (Beck, Jenny Lewis, D’Angelo), and a showcase of how important honesty is in music with some beautifully vulnerable records (Perfume Genius, Sun Kil Moon, Damon Albarn). Who knows what 2015 holds, but for now we can reflect on all the greatness their was in 2014. Now onto the list.
20. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Sturgill Simpson is the 21st century country outlaw, with the same rebellion and classic sound of his country forefathers with a post-modern, existential spin to wrap your head around. Sturgill will have trouble beating his 2014 release, an instant country classic in Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.
19. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
The Soderberg sisters that make up First Aid Kit have some of the purest harmonies in years, and Stay Gold was a huge step forward for the Swedish duo that sounds like they are from the Carolinas.
18. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Angel Olsen’s 2012 debut Half Way Home was a beautifully promising first step, but Burn Your Fire For No Witness is a giant leap forward, thanks to 11 tightly written songs and some dynamic production from John Congleton, undoubtedly our producer of the year since he’s responsible for the new St. Vincent, Strand of Oaks, and Angel Olsen.
17. Strand of Oaks – HEAL
Goshen, Indiana’s own Timothy Showalter releases titanic rock songs as Strand of Oaks, and HEAL is the big ambitious rock album that was missing from mainstream rock this year. For more on Strand of Oaks, read my breakdown of his perfect tribute song in “JM”.
16. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Like Perfume Genius, Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon releases music as brutally honest and open as a high school diary. While it may come out clumsy at times, after over 20 years of music, Benji is no doubt Kozelek’s masterpiece.
15. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Jenny Lewis releases music only every few years, but it’s an absolute treat when she does. The Voyager is her first album in six years and succeeds thanks to some surprisingly great production work from Ryan Adams and Beck.
14. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
There are few artists as singular and sophisticated as Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus, making some truly one-of-a-kind electronic music. You’re Dead, a concept record about death and mortality, brings some heavy hitter guests like Herbie Hancock, Ennio Morricone, Kendrick Lamar, and Thundercat.
13. Ty Segall – Manipulator
Ty Segall is as prolific at releasing music as Taco Bell is at releasing new menu items, but Ty Segall is actually good. Manipulator might be the garage rock youngster’s best album yet, filled with monster riffs, tons of attitude, and even better melodies.
12. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso released musical Pop Rocks with their debut, a sparkling electro-pop album for the ages.
11. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Damon Albarn has headed up Blur, Gorillaz, and the Good, Bad, and the Queen, so it’s interesting that he finally releases an album under his own name over 20 years into his career. Everyday Robots is a dark-night-of-the-soul album for the 21st century, speaking to how we use technology to shield are loneliness.
10. TV On The Radio – Seeds
Coming off the death of their bassist Gerard Smith, TV On The Radio regroup and make their most immediate and catchy album in Seeds.
9. Courtney Barnett – The Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas
Our favorite new artist of 2014 is witty Aussie Courtney Barnett, whose combined EPs from 2013 was released in 2014 as one of the best albums of the year. Her guitar work, sense of humor, and song craft has us excited for much more.
8. Jack White – Lazaretto
Beyond releasing one of the greatest instrumental songs of all time in “High Ball Stepper” and putting on our favorite live show of 2014, there is nothing Mr. White can’t do. Lazaretto is yet another great release from a living legend.
7. Run the Jewels – RTJ2
Usually super groups never deliver on their promise, but El-P and Killer Mike are the undisputed rap champs of the year with RTJ2. Never has Killer Mike sounded so vicious, and never have El-P’s production sounded so urgent.
6. Beck – Morning Phase
Beck’s long-awaited (and completely unexpected) sequel to his acoustic change-up Sea Change was a perfect record for the quietness of winter. Unfortunately as the year has went on, Morning Phase fell a little ways down on our list from it’s number #1 spot midway through the year, but still deserved to be up here with the best.
5. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Guitar goddess St. Vincent has truly become fully formed on her self-titled fourth album, her most confident and unique album to date.
4. The Antlers – Familiars
Another one of our favorites just keeps churning out quiet but beautiful masterworks. Familiars is the trio’s third album, and while it’s their least immediate, it also blossoms more and more with each listen.
3. Spoon – They Want My Soul
Back from a minor hiatus and sounding as rejuvenated as ever thanks to the sonic stylings of producer Dave Fridmann, Texas indie giants Spoon prove why they are one of the ten best bands in the past ten years with They Want My Soul.
2. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah
After a 15 year hiatus following his R&B masterpiece Voodoo, D’Angelo proves some things are worth waiting for, releasing the perfect R&B album at the perfect time, looking to restore the racial divide that has torn apart the U.S. in 2014.
1. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius releases nakedly honest ballads, but with his third album, he has combined beautiful vulnerability with creative ambition to make his best album yet and our best album of 2014. It’s a once of a lifetime album from Hadreas.
Wes – Lykke Li – I Never Learn
Power ballads are usually left to AM radio and bad 80’s rock compilations, but Lykke Li has mastered the art of them on I Never Learn: triumphant love songs you can reflect on quietly or belt out to the sky.
Todd – Sharon Van Etten – Are We There?
Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is undoubtedly beautiful and a real lift to Todd’s soul.
Austin – Taylor Swift – 1989
Some pop music just can’t be denied, as is the case with Taylor Swift’s 1989, her full-on conversion from pop and country darling to full-on pop superstar.
Some albums are so great, they can overcome any personal biases. Such is the case with Too Bright, the third album from Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius. I was pretty opposed to Perfume Genius’s music before Too Bright, finding it at worst boring and hard to listen to because of its extremely lo-fi quality and at best just not for me. But upon hearing “Queen”, the lead single off of Too Bright, for the first time, I knew Hadreas’ music was worth a second look.
The two-minute confessional of “I Decline” opens up Too Bright with the emotionally naked Hadreas we are used to, but compared to his past work, his voice has been brought further up in the mix, and sounds as expressive and pure as ever. It’s amazing how slight changes in production or style can mean a world’s difference in how it’s perceived by listeners, and this was certainly the case with me and Perfume Genius’s music. “Queen” follows and is just a mammoth of a song. As Austin has previously discussed, its mix of visceral noise, shimmering glam rock, and heart-on-its sleeve emotion make this song pretty much perfect. And it might not even be my favorite song on the album!
That distinction belongs to “Grid”, the hypnotic rockabilly song from the robot apocalypse. The way this song starts from a mix between Suicide and Springsteen’s Nebraska and as minimal as it gets then only to turn into a full-on nightmarish monster is more thrilling every time. Fans of past Perfume Genius albums where Hadreas was more of a piano balladeer will be shocked by songs like “Queen” and “Grid”, but I think these songs offer up the sort of music only Hadreas can make: broken, glamorous, vulnerable, yet ultimately triumphant.
Hadreas has become somewhat of a gay icon, but his songs don’t only speak into that experience. “Fool” is a soulful breakup song about being left feeling stupid and used, but like so many of Perfume Genius’s songs, they start, stop, and completely change on a dime keeping you on your toes and emotionally invested. The complete shutdown on fool at two minutes that leads to a huge vocal exhale seems pretty unorthodox at first, but it’s the perfect thing to relieve the tension and split up the song. “My Body” has a similarly pulsing electric heartbeat like “Grid”, but its haunting and smothering in the best way rather than playful and devious like “Grid”.
The album ends on two ballads in the flavor of Perfume Genius’s old work, but in the light of the rest of the heaviness and brokenness of the rest of the album, “Too Bright” and “All Along” serve as an affirming and welcome change. This may seem like a diss, but Hadreas’s voice reminds me of the pure and expressive Art Garfunkel, which while he is the forgotten half of Simon and Garfunkel in terms of long-term duration, there is no denying he had one of the best voices in rock history. “All Along” serves as such an ideal closer in tone and sound, a beautiful look back at this relationship that affected Hadreas so deeply and a shining example of the new confidence Hadreas has found.
Too Bright is in limited company in 2014 with Sun Kil Moon’s Benji as the only truly unique albums I’m not sure I’ll hear anything like again. It’s so emotionally raw and unique to the personality behind it, which is the height of what art as expression can be. Probably my closest comparison would be Of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna, Are You a Destroyer, another album that is a true creation out of one man (Kevin Barnes) born out of a desperate situation.
Hearing Too Bright not only showed me a side of Perfume Genius I liked (the noisier, more experimental side), but it illuminated the rest of his catalog for me. It was a real light bulb moment for me. The light was Too Bright for me to deny (sorry :).
Can’t Miss: “Queen”, “Grid”, “All Along”, “Fool”
Can’t Hit: “I’m a Mother”
I was going to essentially just post the video for the lead single of the upcoming Perfume Genius album, Too Bright, and pretty much call it a day, but “Queen” is so exhilarating I had to at least write a few words.
Continue reading “Perfume Genius Song Review: “Queen””
For this week’s Lxlistening, I wanted to highlight several tracks that have come out this year whose album we failed to review. Even though each album was noteworthy enough for me to go, “Hey guys, I’m gonna review this”, for some reason reviewing another album (or life in general) got in the way. Good or bad (mostly good), I hoped this week to give you a some brief feelings on the album as well as the chosen track. And yes, surprise surprise, my focus is mostly on strong female singers this week. But hey, even the only man on the list is attracted to dudes, so I have some semblance of a theme. Here we go.
Continue reading “LxListening: Four Ladies and a Little Man”