I love looking back at a year and rediscovering the music that carried me and inspired me through the year. Here are some of the favorites.
ONE. The War on Drugs. A Deeper Understanding.
One of the best rock bands that currently exists is putting out really special work. When your record includes an 11-minute experience that seemingly transcends time and space, you know you have a winner.
There are so many amazing sounds on this record. I'm still blown away with the tones I hear in each listen.
TWO. John Mayer. The Search for Everything.
The consistent quality in the songs John Mayer has been putting out for so long now is incredibly impressive.
This collection is extremely solid and grows with each listen.
THREE (tied). Phoebe Bridgers. Stranger in the Alps.
This record came out of nowhere this year. The lyrics are poignant, and her voice is a strong whisper of delight.
Sonically, she breaks a lot of barriers of what a singer/songwriter should sound like and it's a treat for the listener.
THREE (tied). Ethan Gruska. Slowmotionary.
This is definitely my favorite collection of songs from a new artist. I had seen Ethan's name online, but I hadn't listened until I saw him open for Asgeir in the summer and his voice immediately won me over. (The exact song that did is featured in the video below.)
I went home that night and listened all the way through twice. It was so smooth and unique, and even cinematic.
FOUR. Feist. Pleasure.
Feist is always pushing the envelope and I really enjoyed what she did with this record. And while the songs are really cool, it is mainly her voice that I am obsessed with. I can't get enough.
FIVE. Fleet Foxes. Crack-Up.
The return from their 6-year hiatus was strong, and the live show accompanied it so well. Robin Pecknold's return to songwriting after his time at Columbia University and not being sure that he wanted to make music anymore really pushes the envleope in the best way. I am glad he decided that making music was worth it!
I especially enjoyed the Song Exploder episode with Robin talking about "Mearcstapa."
And in no particular order:
- Leif Vollebekk. Twin Solitude. Leif has a rich voice and tells great stories with his songs. (Bonus: some of the instrumentals of these songs are used in The Heights.)
- Hiss Golden Messenger. Hallelujah Anyhow. Hiss Golden Messenger came on my radar this year for the first time via "Cracked Windshield", and it came out just in time to turn me onto the light Americana goodness that is his new record.
- Upper Room Music. Center of Your Love. This really special group of people from Dallas drove out to Ranch Land Studios and made an incredibly heartfelt work - and Pete really nailed the production.
- The National. Sleep Well Beast. Simply loved it.
- Sleeping At Last. Atlas. Ryan has long been one of my favorite songwriters, and his Atlas project continues to push the boundaries. It was one of the coolest honors for me to be a part of his song, "Two," based on the Enneagram. (Bonus: Listen to his fantastic podcast about his process for "Two.")
- David Ramirez. We're Not Going Anywhere. A really raw and special new effort from David.
- Noah Gundersen. Bad Noise. Directionally a lot more pleasant noise, and it worked really well.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. The Nashville Sound. A master class in songwriting.
- Blond Piano. Piano Tribute to Frank Ocean. Keiran posted this at some point early in the year and I was intrigued enough to give it a shot and it became a working staple of the year for me.
- Colony House. Only The Lonely. Getting more heartfelt with lyrics and impressive musically.
- Madi Cunningham. Love, Lose, Remember. In my opinion, Madi is one of the best new and clear voices in music, and Tyler Chester did a killer job producing this.
- Taylor Swift. reputation. The production and those tracks are SO good.
- Sufjan Stevens. The Greatest Gift. A spin on some already released songs, but Sufjan can do no wrong.
- Gangs of Youth. Go Farther In Lightning. A fresh batch of songs that I stumbled into and really enjoyed this year.
- Kendrick Lamar. DAMN. Kendrick takes some really exciting and daring steps with this.
- HAIM. Something To Tell You. Synth pop dreams.
- Slow Meadow. Costero. My favorite ambient compositions.
- Joseph. Stay Awake. Really special collection of B-sides. Their harmonies don't get old.
- Tyson Motsenbocker. A Kind Invitation / Almira. These are some of my favorite songs of the year. Carefully crafted - and I love playing bass on some of them live.
- Wild Pony. Encinitas. Another really excellent collection of instrumental music.
Honorable Mentions: Liza Anne, Vulfpeck, Joey Dosik, The Belonging, U2
Also of note:
- This Khalid video VEVO / Ryan / Micah / Contrast did was really a highlight for me.