The advent of streaming services for music has drastically changed the way I consume music. And honestly, I think it’s made me more apt to settle into familiar music rather than venture out looking for new music from band I don’t already know. Or maybe that’s more a measure of my age than the technology. Either way, while this year had some great new releases, I spent more time listening to older stuff. As such, it felt more difficult to make a list this year and feel set on it. In any case, here are my top 20 albums with just some quick notes.
1. The Decemberists | I’ll Be Your Girl
Just a great, great album from these guys this year. The song Once in My Life was one of my favorites of the year.
2. Low | Double Negative
Probably my favorite album Low has released in about 10 years. So moody and wonderful.
3. Hammock | Universalis
Hammock puts out an album almost every year and they are all spectacular. I love the way they compose music.
4. Snail Mail | Lush
Hey! A new band! This year had some great albums from women who play guitar. Of that crew, Snail Mail was my favorite. Lindsey Jordan’s songs sound a bit like indie music from the 90’s and they’re great.
5. Spiritualized | And Nothing Hurts
It’s been 6 years since we got a new Spiritualized album and over 20 years since what I consider to be their magnum opus Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space. This is a wonderful album front to back, proving that Jason Pierce has still got it.
6. Beach House |7
When it comes to dream pop, it doesn’t get much better than Beach House. Their 7th album keeps the winning formula going.
7. Mogwai | KIN (Soundtrack)
It’s a soundtrack, but it’s also just a new Mogwai album. Great cinematic noise from these guys. I’d like to see the movie based solely on the great music.
8. CHVRCHES | Love is Dead
Man I love this band. I’d say this album is a slight step down from their previous two, but still some really great anthems here. And Lauren Mayberry’s voice is one of the most pristine in the game right now. I just love it.
9. Death Cab for Cutie | Thank You For Today
Their last album, Kintsugi, is when they finally returned to writing great guitar-based music to go with Ben’s lyrics. They continued this winning approach on their 9th album here and there are some great songs to show for it.
10. Olafur Arnalds | re:member
Arnalds is an Icelandic composer and this album is a wonderful neo-classical collection that makes for perfect reading/working music. No new Sigur Ros this year, but Iceland is well represented with Arnalds.
11. Thom Yorke | Suspiria (soundtrack)
No new Radiohead this year, but Thom Yorke was busy as always. He composed a longform score/soundtrack to the remake of Suspiria and it’s super great. Treat it as a solo album and it might be his best one ever.
12. Jeff Tweedy | Warm
Jeff Tweedy also went solo this year with a new album of original songs that serves as a supplement to a new memoir he also released this year. As such, it’s a very personal album, full of ruminations about life and death.
13. Soccer Mommy | Clean
Here’s another new band with a guitar playing girl at the front. I file this one along with Snail Mail as fuzzy, indie rock that just really suits my ears.
14. Mitski | Be the Cowboy
Mitski’s album is (rightfully so) all over year end lists this year. This album has some great tunes on it, including a stellar lead single with “Geyser”.
15. POLICA / s t a r g a z e | Music for the Long
Minneapolis band Polica collaborated with a German orchestral collective for this album, changing up their sound to incorporate the string section. It’s a cool turn for this ultra cool band.
16. Aaron Strumpel | Mighty Refuge
Aaron Strumpel released a new record of hymn arrangements that expand and contract in just the right ways. It’s always fun to hear the timeless lyrics in new ways and Strumpel is one of those people that has a real knack for it.
17. Paul McCartney | Egypt Station
Paul released a new album this year and it’s… pretty good! I find his solo albums usually bat about .500 for me and this one is right in there. I’m just so glad he’s still making music though! And his appearance on Carpool Karaoke was a complete joy.
18. Metric | Art of Doubt
Metric released a new album this year, sticking to the formula they do so well. Big rock anthems with great guitar tones and synth leads. Emily Haines’ voice is still great and this band is always worth listening to.
19. Mumford and Sons | Delta
I’ll be honest, I found the last Mumford album to be pretty bland. This one definitely has a bit more character to it, but I actually miss their folk sound quite a bit.
20. Big Red Machine | Big Red Machine
Justin Vernon stepped away from the Bon Iver moniker to make this experimental collaborative project with Aaron Dessner from The National. The album itself sounds like a creative process – experimental and exciting and open-ended.