20. SPOON- HOT THOUGHTS
2014’s “They Want My Soul” was in my opinion one of the best albums of indie-rock institution Spoon’s twenty year career. “Hot Thoughts” may not be quite on its level but there is hardly shame in that Spoon has simply never made a bad, or even average album. Though Spoon certainly has its dedicated fan-base they somehow always manage to fly under the radar even though they are truly one of the best rock bands of their era. Like Real Estate above, Spoon has developed its own sound and stays in that lane while tweaking the formula up just enough to make “Hot Thoughts” different from the rest of their albums. Lead vocalist and song-writer Britt Daniel is also a genius in the studio and adds production flourishes- bleeps, loops, skronks and eerie strings or synths that add spice to his catchy and reliably consistent songwriting. “Can I Sit Next To You”, the title track and “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” are songs surely to be added to the great Spoon song canon at the very least.
BUY Hot Thoughts AMAZON
19. KELELA- TAKE ME APART
“Take Me Apart” is Kelela’s long awaited debut after a series of stunning EP’s. Kelela makes innovative, futuristic pop music, danceable and sex-focused, but more akin to early Bjork, FKA Twigs and the xx than current club music. Her music is patient, sultry & sensual, increasingly rewarding upon repeated listenings. Lead single “Frontline” is a standout track, but “Take Me Apart” is consistently pleasurable from beginning to end.
BUY Take Me ApartAMAZON
18. MAC-DEMARCO- THIS OLD DOG
Third full-length album “This Old Dog” shows talented millennial slacker-hero Mac DeMarco’s leap into relative maturity, as DeMarco delves into his family history with a loving, but struggling single mother and a mostly absent father with substance abuse issues. DeMarco’s woozy, chilled-out, mostly acoustic sound remains in place and tracks like “On The Level” and “This Old Dog” are up there right among his best material. Long-time fans will not be disappointed and DeMarco’s lyrical growth is a welcome sign.
BUY This Old Dog AMAZON
17. SAMPHA- PROCESS
Debut LP by frequent featuring vocalist (Solange, Drake, Kanye, Frank Ocean) Sampha is filled with meditative soul ballads sung in his gorgeous falsetto. It’s a beautiful, but fairly downbeat album concerned with processing grief and self-discovery. It’s one of the year’s best albums so far.
BUY Process [Explicit] AMAZON
16. TYLER, THE CREATOR- FLOWER BOY
Color me surprised that the often offensive, always provocative rabble rouser, Tyler The Creator released his least offensive (by far) and best album with his fourth solo album “Flower Boy”. Production on past albums was normally in your face and aggressive, while on “Flower Boy” it’s gentle, beautiful and slow moving; mellow jazz & soul samples are often used to color in the grooves. Talented collaborators including Frank Ocean, Syd, Estelle & Pharrell Williams all contribute to “Flower Boy”. It’s the biggest switch in sound of a recent artist that I can think of while possibly even being a coming out of the closet statement by Tyler, who previously has been justly accused of homophobic rants. “Flower Boy” is a ton to dissect from a talented and often misunderstood young artist making his first major full-length album statement. “Who Dat Boy” and “911/Mr. Lonely” are two standout tracks but the whole thing is a very strong listen.
BUY Flower Boy [Explicit] AMAZON
“Plunge” is only the second album by Fever Ray, a solo project of Karen Dreijer, one half of Swedish experimental electronic duo The Knife. While certainly maintaining an experimental vibe, Fever Ray tends to be more accessible than The Knife and “Plunge” does not disappoint, delivering some of its best and catchiest tracks yet including “This Country”, “To The Moon And Back” and “IDK About You”. Yet these tracks belie the remainder of the album which tends to be more dissonant and atonal. As always, Dreijer is unapologetically liberal, attacking the western world’s current hyper capitalism and descent into conservatism. She is ultra-focused on sex, and the more overt the sex the more political she sounds. Sex as freedom!
BUY Plunge [Explicit] Amazon
14. JAY Z – 4 44
Many didn’t feel like Jay-Z had this one in him. One of the most talented rappers of all-time and arguably the longest career ever of sustained greatness, most thought of him as done after the fat, rich & happy artists failure of 2013’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail”, but 4:44 is not only great, it’s probably Jay’s best since “The Black Album”. Many are reading “4:44” as a response to his wife Beyonce’s excellent “Lemonade”, or at the very least as an apology for his own marital shortcomings. Whether it is or not, Jay-Z is certainly at his most emotional and introspective, allowing a real window into his soul. “Smile”, “The Story of O.J.” and the awesome hit title cut are among the many highlights.
BUY 4:44 [Explicit] AMAZON
13. RUN THE JEWELS- RTJ 3
The most exciting duo in rap right now drop a free mixtape on Christmas day and continue their winning streak with this third self titled album release. Their political anger is understandably ramped up, but so is their joy- two guys celebrating a true friendship and partnership who are in the zone playing off of each other. And the production is A-one as usual.
BUY Run the Jewels 3 [Explicit] AMAZON
12. THE NATIONAL- SLEEP WELL BEAST
Seventh album by gloomy Brooklyn dads, The National, is to my ears their best since “Boxer”. The National rock harder here on a few tracks than usual giving “Beast” an energy and urgency not quite there on their still very good last few prior releases. “Day I Die”, “Turtleneck” and “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” are the louder cuts and are all standouts in the band’s increasingly vast catalog. The album’s sonic variety allows mellower tracks like “Carin At The Liquor Store”, “Dark Side of The Gym” and “Guilty Party” to stand out more as well. It’s great to see a band over a decade in, well steeped in middle age not running short on ideas and still making some of the best music of their career.
Buy Sleep Well Beast Amazon
11. VINCE STAPLES- BIG FISH THEORY
“Big Fish Theory” is the second full-length (to go along with two standout EP’s) album for the Long Beach, California based rapper, further cementing Staples status as one of the young shining lights of modern hip hop. Like Kendrick Lamar, Staples is a great pure rapper who also has lots to say- he is a fearless voice in calling out societal hypocrisies and racial strife. On “Big Fish” he marries his intellectual raps to club music beats, which are specially indebted to late eighties/early nineties Chicago & Detroit House and Techno music. Early highlights include lead track “Crab In A Bucket” and Kendrick Lamar featuring “Yeah Right”, but I’m excited to dig into this album further.
BUY Big Fish Theory [Explicit]AMAZON