Best Albums of 2022

After taking a year off, now’s the time to dust off the danger zone and bring Kenny Bloggins back with 10 albums you absolutely need to hear—all released in 2022. Without further delay, here are the best and most important records of the year (according to a recovering music addict).

Curated Playlists:

1) The Mars Volta – The Mars Volta

Standout tracks:

  • Blacklight Shine
  • Graveyard Love
  • No Case Gain
  • Equus 3

The Mars Volta have a history. Those who need a quick lesson can continue reading here, while TMV theologians can fast forward to the next paragraph. In 2000, the band At The Drive-In released a critically acclaimed post-hardcore album and were on the precipice of becoming widely successful when suddenly, they called it quits (seemingly out of nowhere, but tensions in the band had been brewing for some time). Out of the ashes were born a pair of bands, splitting the group into two factions hereafter known as The Mars Volta and Sparta. The Mars Volta became well known for exploring complex storylines, atypical time signatures, and unique melodies while Sparta chose to produce more straightforward post-hardcore rock.

22 years later, The Mars Volta have released a new self-titled album, the first in 10 years (Sparta also put out a new record in 2022, which is also self-titled, and also great). Shimmering with golden album art, this is easily the most accessible collection of The Mars Volta songs, with listeners being rewarded by the bands ability to be more direct as the occasional oddity hits even harder than on previous work. Yet, this is not The Mars Volta “lite” nor does it travel down the same path as Sparta. Plenty of rapturous convolutions lurk from beneath the floorboards, likely since the material was born out of anger, danger, and fear stemming from trauma experienced by lyricist/singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s family as portrayed via a public trial of assault, Scientology, and conspiracy caused by a has-been 90s sitcom actor making very poor life decisions. This is dramatic, poignant, Latin-infused progressive rock at its best.

2) Anthony Green – Boom. Done.

Standout tracks:

  • So It Goes
  • Pleasure of the Feast
  • Center of It All
  • Maybe This Will Be the One

Boom. Done. dances in arduous circles around addiction—tales of how the entanglement of dark thoughts can break us down, how overindulgences can be used to heal, and how we can find light on the other side through the love of healing. While chemical dependency might be the primary muse, the lyrics can be interpreted through the lens of any form of addiction. There is pain throughout but also much to celebrate. Anthony Green’s heavy words are crooned with heady falsetto, creating tension. Masterful instrumentation coming from Tom Goodwin and Tim Arnold (longtime collaborators of Green’s, from the band Good Old War) then help to revitalize. Boom. Done. is a challenging excursion, especially if you pay close attention to the stories being told, but it’s ultimately an astonishingly rewarding undertaking for those who take a ride.  

3) St. Paul & The Broken Bones – The Alien Coast

Standout tracks:

  • Bermejo And The Devil
  • Minotaur
  • The Last Dance
  • Love Letter From A Red Roof Inn

St. Paul & The Broken Bones are new to me. All I knew was how groovy and unique their sound was (imagine if Cee Lo Green could actually rock and could get as gritty as Tom Waits, with backing from a band nearly good enough to give The Funk Brothers a run for their money). I recently learned that St Paul & co. are an eight-piece group from Birmingham, Alabama and have been around for some time, releasing their first record in 2014 and appearing on nearly all the late-night shows. What makes The Alien Coast stand out from other more traditional funk rock records are the uses of psychedelic textures, fuzzed-out synths, modern hip-hop production, and ultra-heavy rhythms. This is an explosive, soulful rock record from front to back.

4) The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention

Standout Tracks:

  • The Smoke
  • We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings
  • Free in the Knowledge
  • Pana-vision

Endless magic seems to consistently flow from the boys in Radiohead. But with only two-fifths of the Kid A stalwarts here to form The Smile, you might expect a partially guillotined Radiohead. That’s just not the case—A Light for Attracting Attention may echo past work but with a more limited roster, including jazz drummer Tom Skinner, Johnny Greenwood’s arpeggiated genius shines even brighter without being abstracted, and perhaps Thom Yorke is able to deliver his classic howls more candidly in a groovier, less melancholic manner. It might seem like a patchwork group of songs upon first listen, but culminates into a spellbinding and cohesive collection of music over time.

5) Bartees Strange – Farm to Table

Standout tracks:

  • Heavy Heart
  • Mulholland Dr.
  • Hold the Line
  • Escape This Circus

Let’s clear the air—the hype surrounding Bartees Strange is justified. Listening to all of Farm to Table takes just 34 minutes and comes through like a journey across a vast valley of musical lexicons; rock, neo-soul, R&B, and even Midwest emo. This means Bartees carefully chooses which form each song should take based on the story he wishes to tell, and he does it well. Listeners who can break down the compartmentalization of styles will most enjoy Farm to Table for what it is—a fantastic genre-bending album from an artist who is just getting started. The resulting beauty of Farm to Table is heard in how full these songs sound, with moments of vulnerability ending in grandiose exclamations, and cautious falsettos leading to invigorating choruses.  

6) Death Cab for Cutie – Asphalt Meadows

Standout tracks:

  • Rand McNally
  • Fragments From the Decade
  • Pepper
  • Here to Forever

Existing fans of Death Cab for Cutie will love Asphalt Meadows (you can even stop reading now and put the record on if Transatlanticism or Plans are still in your constant rotation). It’s been accurately hailed as a mature midlife work that’s among their best. I’ve personally been watching Ben Gibbard grow from quirky indie rocker during the early aughts into a well-respected songwriter, which has been one of my favorite music encounters—all this in parallel with finishing college, starting a family, and moving away from California to make my homestead in Death Cab’s stomping grounds near Seattle, Washington. Asphalt Meadows became the perfect soundtrack for my daughter and I this winter while driving her to school on white snow-covered streets, smiling at horses covered in heavy blankets as we passed, and breathing in the cold winter air. These songs bring me back to the first time I heard Death Cab but also benefit from Gibbard’s improved songmanship over the years, and are sure to be at the top of the DCFC cannon.

7) Anchor & Bear – No More Nights On the Roof

Standout tracks:

  • I’ll Give You Fire
  • Red Ink
  • Glad It’s Over
  • Red Letter Days

There’s no need to hide my connection to Anchor & Bear, a band created by my older brother and sister-in-law, which I have also had the opportunity to play in. There’s also no need for me to feel obligated to include their latest release No More Nights On the Roof on this list other than the fact that this is a masterwork in power pop that deserves significant recognition. No More Nights sees the California outfit painting a portrait that takes the best elements of their previous works (beautiful bridges, tasteful echo/reverb, crafty songwriting) and lifts them to new textures on a canvas that is uniformly enjoyable and unbelievably catchy, sometimes brilliantly so. This is the record for late nights, on the roof or not.

8) Andrew Bird – Inside Problems

Standout tracks:

  • Underlands
  • Never Fall Apart
  • Make a Picture
  • Faithless Ghost

I’m new to Andrew Bird and it’s clear to see I’ve been missing out on an extraordinary artist. Inside Problems is chock full of some of my favorite folk-rock musical elements; featured throughout are punchy and warm 60s bass, smooth drumming, string accompaniment (the violin playing is handled by Andrew himself), and well-constructed melodies. This would be much higher on the list had I discovered Bird earlier in the year and I’m sure this vinyl will eat away at my record player needle in the decades to come.

9) Brent Faiyaz – Wasteland

Standout tracks:

  • Price of Fame
  • Dead Man Walking
  • Role Model
  • Bad Luck

Wasteland is a brutally honest R&B album from Columbian-born artist Brent Faiyaz with heavy beats and frictionless vocals. The guest spots (Alicia Keys, Drake, The Neptunes) are notable but aren’t particularly even album highlights. Wasteland really excels when Brent Faiyaz’s soulful, smooth, and slippery hymns are front-and-center in the mix, sliding alongside remarkably fresh production.  

10) Frontperson – Parade

Standout tracks:

  • Ostalgie (Fur C. Bishoff)
  • Messy Roomz
  • Parade
  • I Fall Out

Parade comes off like a Sangria Lemonade, or maybe a fresh Bellini during Sunday Brunch. Kathryn Calder (The New Pornographers) and Andrew Hamilton (Woodpigeon) make up the Canadian indie pop duo Frontperson; they are like two simple ingredients that when mixed together create something fizzy and refreshing. The songs here twinkle and shine, but are by no means simple, having enough underlying rock tension to keep you curious about what’s to come after Parade.

Best Albums of 2020

In a year full of Orwellian/Atwoodian/Huxleyan stereotypes, I sought out music that was comforting, transcendent, or required me to think. The songs that piqued my interest both moved me and helped me to move past the challenges presented by 2020. As a result, here are the best and most important albums of the year (according to a recovering music addict).

Listen to the Best Songs (Standout Tracks) of 2020: Apple Music Spotify

Listen to all the Best Albums of 2020: Apple Music | Spotify

1) Sault – Untitled (Black Is) / Untitled (Rise)

Standout tracks:

  • Wildfires
  • I Just Want to Dance
  • Hard Life

What it sounds like: First on this list are two sister/brother albums from the mysterious and nearly unknown musical collective known as Sault, exploring an infusion of ’70s soul, funk, R&B, rock, neo-soul, hip-hop and Motown. The Untitled albums counterbalance conviction with celebration, encasing poignant storylines among dance floor ready jams and gospel sounds to create powerful protest anthems. Black Is and Rise are companion albums that combine to create a challenging and enlightening end-to-end experience, with a message that’s as strong as the music. This should be required listening for all Americans.

Why I love it: If there was an artist who captured the breadth of complexities related to racial injustice in 2020, it was Sault—at least that’s how I’ve interpreted their work coming from the perspective of an outsider, a privileged 30-something white male. No music challenged me more this year with deeply moving lyrics, tense poems, and  critical prose addressing the dynamics of being black in America. From the tribulations (Black Is) to the triumphs (Rise), this music drove me to search deeper to try and understand the complicated issues related to racism in America, eventually leading me to read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Two quotes from this book, told from the perspective of a father speaking directly to his black son, remind me of how Sault forced me to confront my own preconceived beliefs regarding racism in America.

“I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”

“The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant ‘government of the people’ but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term ‘people’ to actually mean.”

2) Mystery Jets – A Billion Heartbeats

Standout tracks:

  • A Billion Heartbeats
  • History Has Its Eyes On You
  • Hospital Radio

What it sounds like: Blaine Harrison has an extraordinary cache of songs in the Mystery Jets back catalog but on A Billion Heartbeats, he and the Jets have perfected their powerful triad of rock/pop/prog to help escalate their socially conscious lyricism. Inventive drumming lays the groundwork for intricate guitars and carefully placed keys to create one of the best sounding/most important records to be unleashed into the 2020 zeitgeist.

Why I love it: A Billion Heartbeats is a helpful reminder that the issues we face as humans extend far beyond the limitations presented by our country’s borders. Realizing this concept as a truth enables us to better empathize with others around the world. The Jets cover a wide-range of humanitarian-charged topics, such as the rise of alt-right politics in the UK, global racism, and ineffable benefits of having a government-funded health system when you are seriously ill. As a long-time Mystery Jets listener I can recommend their entire discography, but please start here.

3) Hamilton Leithauser – The Loves of Your Life

Standout tracks:

  • Isabella
  • Here They Come
  • Wack Jack

What it sounds like: Hamilton’s juke-joint delivery has a haunting nostalgia to it. The skilled frontman can howl, croon, and twist his vocals like a tornado tearing through a mid-western town—but there’s still plenty of his signature falsetto to comfort the listener throughout. Lest we forget the bombastic work by his band of musical masters including Jon Batiste (Prince, Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder) and Jonathan Gregg (pedal steel aficionado).

Why I love it: On his second solo album, The Walkmen leader has realized full potential of his writing abilities–talks of ferries, dancing, old movie theaters, and creaking floorboards help to create a wild, enlivening, dramatic, and fun record. Each of the songs on The Loves of Your Life transport you into a story about a different person from Leithauser’s past, but one could easily mistaken these experiences as tales from their own lives. 

4) Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Standout tracks:

  • Shameika
  • Rack of His
  • Heavy Balloon

What it sounds like: This is the rawest, most playful, and outwardly wicked of Fiona’s records (if you can believe it). She’s pissed off, funny and warm, or at least that’s how Apple describes the character in the indelible track “Shemeika.” There’s something about the minimalist instrumentation that feels more Fiona than anything before, letting her explosive voice scream directly into your eardrums, sending your synapses into a firing frenzy. 

Why I love it:  The album title, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, is a fantastic metaphor that paints a vivid scene. Interpret as you wish, but to me it’s a mantra for taking back control of the hellish year that was 2020 by figuring out what you need in order to cut yourself free from the binds of isolation, frustration, and fear. There’s a sharpness in Apple’s growl, a feeling that she’s on the brink of insanity at any moment, but always has the wherewithal and strength to stabilize her well-being.

5) Fleet Foxes – Shore

Standout tracks:

  • Sunblind
  • Can I Believe You
  • Featherweight

What it sounds like: Fleet Foxes’ sound has been described many times, but probably most accurately as “harmony-drenched folk songs…folding in British folk traditions, baroque pop, and even Laurel Canyon’s ’70s sensibility.” On the surface, Shore is no different but deep down there’s a new positivity, a fusion of hopefulness that outweighs the heaviness heard in other Foxes releases. Massed vocal arrangements flutter around glittering guitars, incredible production, and near-perfect performances by the 20+ musicians who contributed to this release. 

Why I love it: Shore caught me off guard this year. I expected another emotional rollercoaster from Robin Pecknold, who previously used his sharp-tongued wit to pummel piercing anguish at his listeners. Shore instead finds the Foxes frontman now capable of using his brilliant compositional mind to fill your soul with the warmth of a winter fire–like a shot of whiskey on an empty stomach–or the antidote needed to expel this year from your memory banks. 

6) Phantom Planet – Devastator

Standout tracks:

  • Waiting for the Lights to Change
  • Dear Dead End
  • Through the Trees

What it sounds like: The influences of The Zombie’s Odessey & Oracle, Fugazi, Ok ComputerPet Sounds, and early Elvis Costello can’t be ignored. However, on Devastator there’s something buoyantly unique about how Phantom Planet deconstructed the sounds of their record collections to build an explosive array of songs that range from beautiful (“Time Moves On”) to devastating (“Torture Me”) and even, devouring (“BALISONG”).  

Why I love it: Devastator still brings the heavy hooks they’re known for, but in the 12 years since their last release, Phantom Planet have learned how to articulate fury with fervor. This is a baroque-pop masterpiece in 2020 and one can only hope it influences generations of kids to pick up guitars, find a garage, and start a band.

7) Bright Eyes – Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was

Standout tracks:

  • Dance and Sing
  • Mariana Trench
  • Comet Song

What it sounds like: There’s a significant evolution and range in the work of Bright Eyes over the past 15 years—Wide Awake (2005) was a mostly acoustic-driven bombast of emotive ramshackleness, Digital Ash the more experimental electronic siamese twin released the same year, Cassadaga (2007) channeled Dylan and The Band, and The People’s Key (2011) introduced technical synth into their discography. Down in the Weeds combines the best of the Bright Eyes cannon with a heavy hand on the alt-country tinges of Wide Awake/Cassadaga. 

Why I love it: It’s a bit weirder and frustrated than other Bright Eyes releases but somehow, Conor and co. seem to have gained a better understanding of what makes them really tick. Oberst’s ability to articulate the contradictions of life via song is more apparent than ever before (the highs/lows are more extreme, pleasure/pain hit harder, and life/death are around every turn). Here’s 2020 served in a can. 

8) Washed Out – Purple Noon

Standout tracks:

  • Paralyzed
  • Face Up
  • Haunt

What it sounds like: Purple Noon is a roaring headphone record that creates a lush blanket of comfort around your body, calming your mood with haunting melodic tones, gripping beats, and effusive vocals. This is Washed Out floating between misery and the mystical, giving us the soundtrack to your next late-night drive or existential crisis. 

Why I love it: We’ve all needed something to take the edge off this year, whether to overcome the daily challenges of living through a global pandemic or working through the stresses caused by a tense political environment. This was my go-to record during summer outings on the lake, reading by the windowsill, or dancing in the dark late at night. Purple Noon is capable of sending you to cosmic dimensions for 40+ minutes. 

9) Richard Edwards and the Velvet Ocean – The Soft Ache and the Moon

Standout tracks:

  • Inchyra Blue
  • Cruel and Uncomplicated
  • Monkey

What it sounds like: Richard Edwards stretches his melodic muscles on The Soft Ache and the Moon, tugging at tension with surgical precision. You never really know if the songs will hit a big pop chorus or drop down into a tender moment of beautiful melancholy (lucky for the listener, you usually get both). Even so, the real gift is in Edwards’ heartbreaking language that hits you right where it counts. 

Why I love it: Here’s a new career arch, especially thanks to the backing of a dream group of musicians. With drums by Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), Dave Palmer on keys (Fiona Apple), and Mike Bloom on guitar (Jenny Lewis), here’s an album with the potential to influence musicians for years to come as a showcase in how great indie singer-songwriter rock is done right. 

10) Yukon Blonde – Vindicator

Standout tracks:

  • It’s What You Are
  • YGTT
  • Good Times

What it sounds like: There’s something for nearly everyone here as Vindicator fuses indie-rock and dance-pop, seemingly also drawing inspiration from ’90s hip-hop. Airy guitars and hazy vocals flow freely over a steady, forceful rhythm section. 

Why I love it: The key to Yukon Blonde is their ability to make you feel like you’re gliding from song to song, letting you escape from reality into a heavy cloud of echo-drenched anthems. Vindicator delivers moody pop that’s easy to love from the start, but gets better as you realize just how astonishing the songs truly are. 

About “The Best Albums of 2020” List:

The above list was developed to help readers find new music via the music service of their choice. I try to keep the commentary concise, only including the elements that I find most helpful when receiving a recommendation: brief list of my favorite songs, how each record compares to other artists/albums folks may know, and what’s unique (or what do I love) about these albums in particular. – Kenny Bringelson

Best Albums of 2019

The music of 2019 closed out the decade on a high note, with flourishing artists understanding how to combine traditional elements—instruments like guitar, bass and drums—with modern recording and production techniques.  As a result, here are the best albums of the year (according to a recovering music addict):

Listen to all the Best Albums of 2019: Apple Music | Spotify

Listen to the Best Songs (Standout Tracks) of 2019: Apple Music Spotify

10) Cape Francis – Deep Water

Deep-Water-Cape-FrancisStandout tracks:

  • Bloodlines
  • Ahead of Myself
  • Button Up
What it sounds like: Intricate guitar work and airy tenor vocals are carefully arranged to present a dimly lit masterpiece, rooted in multiple genres (folk, indie, jazz, singer/songwriter). On Deep Water, Kevin Henthorn (AKA Cape Francis) keeps plenty of empty spaces in his compositions to let elegant chords and graceful melodies fade in-and-out of silence.

Why I love it:
Rather than rely on deals with major record labels, most of today’s musicians rely on themselves to keep their art alive. Deep Water deals with what it means to be an artist trying to balance creative life with work life—let’s hope Cape Francis keep making beautiful music for a very long time.

9) The Black Keys – Let’s Rock

black keys lets rockStandout tracks:

  • Shine A Little Light
  • Walk Across the Water
  • Breaking Down
What it sounds like: Auerbach’s vocals shift from being smokey to raucous, guitars rip through the speakers, bass lines soothe your soul, and drums rumble and crash like an incoming storm. Let’s Rock is 100% pure rock.

Why I love it:
In 1946, an electric chair malfunctioned and failed to execute a prisoner. Having survived, lawyers for the prisoners argued that, although he did not die, he had been executed as defined by the law. The next year, the US Supreme Court ruled against the prisoner and he was returned to the electric chair and successfully executed. In the case of The Black Keys latest effort, the cover art features an electric chair charged with electricity and the promise to “let’s rock”. It’s clear that this chair (with no surviving prisoner in sight) made good on its promise—after listening to the album, so did The Black Keys.

8) The Japanese House – Good At Falling

japanese house good at fallingStandout tracks:

  • Lilo
  • Worms
  • Maybe You’re the Reason
What it sounds like: Dream-fueled anthems drenched in complex layers of bedroom pop, electronica, and indie-art rock make up Good At Falling. This is music for long distance travel through dark landscapes, or late night episodes of soul-searching—some moments are quietly devastating, while others are cautiously optimistic.

Why I love it:
With EPs released nearly ever year since 2015, this is the first official full-length album from England’s Amber Bain (AKA The Japanese House). Like her previous work, Good at Falling is a gem that might stay hidden from the masses for a while, but is guaranteed to eventually be discovered and infatuated over for many years to come.

7) Thrice – Palms

thrice palmsStandout tracks:

  • Just Breathe
  • My Soul
  • Hold Up a Light
What it sounds like: Raw, emotive vocals claw through Thrice’s masterful arrangements. While maturing into one of the most well-sculpted artists to come out of the post-hardcore scene, Thrice now prioritize melody alongside their ability to create music that can shake you to the core.

Why I love it:
 With lyrics like “stay deep in the moment, just breathe—feel the flow of all things in the moment’s sway”, songs like “Just Breathe” could almost be used as mantra for meditation. Other moments deal with more vexing issues, like how “The Grey” seems to tackle the political divide: “you’re rigging the game, you’re part of the system—it shows in the way that you never listen when I speak”. It’s these contradictions that make Palms a perfect companion for both deep thought and emotional release.

6) Jimmy Eat World – Surviving

jimmy-eat-world-surviving-album-coverStandout tracks:

  • Recommit
  • 555
  • Criminal Energy
What it sounds like: Surviving teeters carefully between frenetic energy and intricate fervor. Jimmy Eat World have borrowed the best bits of their past (hooks of Bleed American driving songs like “Criminal Energy” and raw emotion of Futures fueling tracks like “Recommit” and “Congratulations”) while continuing to experiment with new sounds and production techniques (i.e. “555”).

Why I love it:
The pride of Arizona return with another fabulous release only three years after the impeccable Infinity Blues, continuing to add to an already impressive catalog. Rather than going through life with a “just need to get through it” attitude, Surviving reminds us how important it is to figure out how to enjoy the ride.

5) Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost [Part 2]

foals everything not savedStandout tracks:

  • The Runner
  • Wash Off
  • Black Bull
What it sounds like: Foals’ second release of the year is drenched in hyper indie-rock anthems that pull and wretch at built-up tension. Heavy mid-tempo riffs share the space with punishing beats and relentless howls of declaration to help pick you up after you’ve been broken down.

Why I love it:
While both Part 1 and 2 could have made this list, here is the stronger of the two, solidifying Foals as a true force. Frontman Yannis Philippakis self-described Part 2 as “songs about working through it and the power of perseverance and energy and passion, and not being defeated” and that some tracks have a “when you’re going through hell, a keep going type of mentality.” Here’s the perfect album for anyone feeling like 2019 did them wrong, so they’re charging into 2020 like a hungry pack of wolves.

4) Noah Gunderson – Lover

noah gunderson loverStandout tracks:

  • Lover
  • Robin Williams
  • Older
What it sounds like: Convulsive beats are paired with seductive melodies to present this disciplined singer-songwriter’s words in a format that’s both refreshing and revitalizing. Noah Gunderson has a spell-bounding voice that sits atop a destructive layer of synths, loops, guitar and bass.

Why I love it:
Lover hits you like a 3 AM whiskey—heavy and rich—pulling down your mental guard to open your mind for brazen reflection and careful introspection. Gunderson self describes the album as “exploring themes of love, failure, drugs, sex, age and regret and the search for acceptance and peace.” This is for anyone who’s just experienced any (or all) of these things.

3) Tora – Can’t Buy The Mood

tora cant buy the moodStandout tracks:

  • Deviate
  • Morphine
  • Similar
What it sounds like: Tora’s fourth LP is a soulful, moody and intimate album layering innovative electronic elements over perfectly executed instruments. You can dance to these songs, but you might just want to find a comfortable couch to sink into as your crooned and grooved into submission. Can’t Buy The Mood is best served chilled, two rocks.

Why I love it:
As an amalgamation of genres and thick with originality, it’s difficult to figure out which artists inspired this work. For example, a song starts out sounding like a chillwave track, but you’re hit with a resounding kick drum that’s more Dr. Dre than downtempo. Can’t Buy The Mood is my introduction to Tora, and I’ll soon be working backwards through their catalog, but not until I’ve spun this one a few more hundred times.

2) Liam Gallagher – Why Me? Why Not.

liam gallagher why meStandout tracks:

  • One of Us
  • Now That I’ve Found You
  • Once
What it sounds like: Why Me? Why Not. growls in the same vein as the one-two punch of Definitely Maybe/Morning Glory, hitting hard with honest and direct rock ’n’ roll. The album title comes from two John Lennon paintings (“Why Me?” purchased by Gallagher at an exhibition, “Why Not” a gift from Yoko Ono), an apropos relationship considering the Beatlesque sounds crafted into these songs.

Why I love it:
With his swagger back in full swing, Liam’s blessed us with the closest thing to an Oasis sounding album from either of the Gallagher brothers in years. With a little help from his friends (Greg Kurstin/Andrew Wyatt lending their writing and production talents, plus fierce guitar work from Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Liam’s crafted masterful songs with skilled vocals, completely worthy of the famous LG “biblical” stamp.

1) Guster – Look Alive

guster look aliveStandout tracks:

  • Hard Times
  • Summertime
  • Terrified
What it sounds like: Instead of making drastic shifts to their sound over the years, Guster have treated their career like a recipe that gets better and better each time you cook it—replacing the flavors that didn’t quite produce what they wanted on previous albums with a fresh batch of ingredients. In the case of Look Alive, chefs Ryan, Adam, Brian and Luke hand-selected a rich blend of imported spices for our eating (err…listening) pleasure.

Why I love it:
It took me 15+ years of being a fan—experiencing all the good, bad, and ugly that happens in that amount of time—to make it to my first Guster show this last summer. Look Alive combines all my favorite music elements: innovative and meaningful writing, catchy melodies, remarkable performances, and near-perfect sounding production. It makes sense that my first live Guster show was in support of their best album to date.


Honorable Mentions:

Stats – Other People’s Lives, From Indian Lakes – Dimly Lit, KAYTRANADA – BUBBA

About “The Best Albums of 2019” List:

The above list was developed to help readers find new music via the music service of their choice. I try to keep the commentary concise, only including the elements that I find most helpful when receiving a recommendation: brief list of my favorite songs, how each record compares to other artists/albums folks may know, and what’s unique (or what do I love) about these albums in particular. 

– Kenny Bringelson

Best Albums of 2018

While we are all ready for 2019 to start, not all of 2018 should be forgotten about. It was an excellent year for some shining new artists and some veterans who produced their best work to date. As a result, here are the best albums of the year (according to a recovering music addict):

Listen to all the Best Albums of 2018: Apple Music | Spotify

Listen to the Best Songs of 2018: Apple Music | Spotify

10) Mitski – Be The Cowboy

Standout Tracks

  • Nobody
  • Lonesome Love
  • Washing Machine Heart

What it sounds like: carefully crafted songs that get fired into your cortex like a slap shot taken with hyper-accurate succinctness (most clocking in at less than three minutes each). Hard to classify as straightforward pop, the prominent bits and hooks get locked into your unconsciousness right out the gate.

Why I love it: punchy anthems that grab you by the shirt collar, toss you to the floor, and carefully dust you off–all before you can realize what just happened. This is suave and cheeky artistry worth assimilating.

9) The Magic Gang – The Magic Gang

Standout Tracks

  • All That I Want Is You
  • Jasmine
  • Fade Away

What it sounds like: the most earworm-worthy and addicting release on this list (hard to believe it’s a debut effort), The Magic Gang give a thoughtful nod to clean-shaven Beach Boys, early Weezer and even minor tinges of guitar influence from Strokes era stalwarts. But there’s a uniquely refreshing hint of British snark and maturity that will likely help their self-titled debut sound even better for summers to come.

Why I love it: the nerd rock torch was dropped a while ago (at least in regards to front-to-back albums worth mentioning). The Magic Gang somehow reignite the flame with hook, fuzz and harmony for one of the best straightforward rock records of the year.

8) Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today

Standout Tracks

  • Autumn Love
  • Your Hurricane
  • Northern Lights

What it sounds like: Gibbard’s airy crooning prospers from gentle guitar melodies and atmospheric electronic tones. Thank You For Today borrows elements from the classic Death Cab rulebook, but also expands into different sonic territories, thanks to the addition of two new band members.

Why I love it: I have a special relationship with Ben Gibbard’s catalog–various projects have been in fairly constant rotation throughout the years–and Thank You For Today is destined to sit alongside their best work. It’s been both a challenge and blessing to be a dedicated Death Cab fan due to how easily they can become attached to dramatic real life experiences. Instead, Thank You For Today feels more like a dreamy serenade than a somber soliloquy.

7) Tash Sultana – Flow State

Standout Tracks

  • Murder To The Mind
  • Salvation
  • Big Smoke

What it sounds like: we wouldn’t have Tash Sultana without 90s R&B or Hip-Hop, but equally important are the flashes of Hendrix, Buckingham and a pantheon of jazz guitarists crawling through Flow State. This musical virtuoso can pick up and play over twenty instruments, but has the insight to leave space in compositions so listeners can enjoy each masterfully crafted moment.

Why I love it: bluesy and breathy narrative carries you through intricate guitar work and powerful beats, all written and beautifully performed by Tash. This is the cure for your Sunday morning hangover, an elixir of subtly lush yearning and provocative confidence.

6) Soccer Mommy – Clean

Standout Tracks

  • Your Dog
  • Cool
  • Last Girl

What it sounds like: with a vulnerable intensity that’s fueled by punchy guitars, Clean has finite pure moments but more often penetrates through your ears with a carefully disguised acid tongue. This is angsty guitar rock that rotates between impressive production and performance, both techniques used to highlight Clean’s dynamic elements.

Why I love it: there’s no doubting how well Soccer Mommy can sing with blunt honesty. As you dive into this album, you’ll think you’re feeling empathy for the authors long-lost love, when in reality she’s helping you look more closely into the mirror of your own failed romances. Label this one pre/post break-up album of the year and one that’s guaranteed to inspire a new generation of singer-songwriters, locked away in bedrooms for hours on end.

5) Israel Nash – Lifted

Standout Tracks

  • Rolling On
  • SpiritFalls
  • Looking Glass

What it sounds like: reflections of Neil Young, Wilco and Gram Parsons with luscious three-part harmonies lurking below a layer of Israel’s tender lead vocals. Slide guitar and pedal steel help bridge a path between the vibrant acoustic work and splashes of piano.

Why I love it: Lifted is the perfect album to put on while sitting by a warm fire, savoring a glass of whisky and taking in the mountain air. But it’s just as enticing through the trials and tribulations of everyday life–here’s a record that has the ability to lift your spirits and cleanse your soul.

4) Leon Bridges – Good Thing

Standout Tracks

  • Shy
  • Bad Bad News
  • Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand

What it sounds like: smooth as ever, Leon on Good Thing isn’t quite as distant as the one found on Coming Home like some reviews may lead you to believe–but this certainly is a new phase of Bridges’ career. Leon moves past the innocence of 50s/60s Motown and starts tipping his hat to other R&B influences more closely traced back to the 70s/90s.

Why I love it: Bridges found even more groove and control while creating this example of neo soul perfection. Recognition must be granted to the ultra talented backing group, with extra accolades directed at the rhythm section on tracks like “ Bad Bad News” and “Shy”. Good Thing is like a two ingredient cocktail—one part will make you move, the other will move you.

3) Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending

Standout Tracks

  • Paper Cages
  • Feel The Love Go
  • Always Ascending

What it sounds like: pronouncing guitars battle against seismic choruses, loaded with tranquilizing backing vocals that slide in between Kapranos’ trademark howls. This one’s a party of snappy indie rock.

Why I love it: while the rest of us are doing our best to forget 2018, Alex Kapranos and co. are already looking forward to 2020 and beyond. Most may pass over this album while thinking it’s the same old mid-2000s indie marketed to meet the needs of today’s listeners. Instead, we’ve been graced with a band gravitating towards new heights and leaving behind the disciples who didn’t make it into the music streaming stratosphere.

2) Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

Standout Tracks

  • Just Dumb Enough To Try
  • Please Don’t Die
  • God’s Favorite Customer

What it sounds like: Misty gets down to brass tacks on God’s Favorite Customer. There’s fewer quips than Fear Fun, more heartfelt memoirs than we heard on Honeybear, and a near-complete removal of the dismal world view found on Pure Comedy. These songs are concisely-constructed and calculated attacks on his own personal relationship fumbles.

Why I love it: Father John’s snarkier songs are undeniably enjoyable, but it’s always been the more sincere cuts that convey his full potential. Luckily, that’s exactly what we get here. On “Just Dumb Enough To Try” we get full-blown ballad Elton meets Nilsson, while “Please Don’t Die” begs to be played on repeat with the most impressive falsetto vocals we’ve heard from Father Josh. This might be his best yet (noting this is just the type of commentary he’d hate to read, and that makes it ever more important to write since it’s guaranteed to fuel his next effort).

1) Jump Little Children – Sparrow

Standout Tracks

  • X-Raying Flowers
  • Euphoria Designed
  • White Buffalo

What it sounds like: an elegant endeavor into infectious melodies and exciting musical arrangements. Jay Clifford’s soothing vocals glide across the speakers, pushing through with breathy undertones earmarked with gusto. The production and execution supersedes even heftier budgeted work from major league-level recording studios.

Why I love it: Sparrow is a valiant return to recorded music where Jump Little Children twist between variances of folk, jazz and orchestral rock. They’ve combined veracious lyrics with vital musicianship and tenacious rhythms to somehow breed an inspiring new form of baroque pop. If this your first foray into JLC’s catalog, you’ll quickly understand why you’ve been missing out.

Honorable Mentions:

Thomas Dybdahl – All These Things, Muse – Simulation Theory, The Coral – Moving Through The Dawn, The Vines – Miracle Land

About “The Best Albums of 2018” List:

The above list was developed to help readers find new music via the music service of their choice. I try to keep the commentary concise, only including the elements that I find most helpful when receiving a recommendation: brief list of my favorite songs, how each record compares to other artists/albums folks may know, and what’s unique (or what do I love) about these albums in particular. 

– Kenny Bringelson

Best Albums of 2017

Evolution is the common thread running through the majority of these 2017 releases—many of the veterans took their work in a new direction, and one particular debut nearly came out on top. As a result, here are the best albums of the year (according to a recovering music addict):

“Best Albums of 2017” full playlist via AppleMusic

“Best Songs of 2017” 15-song playlist via AppleMusic

10) Future Islands – The Far Field

future-islands-the-far-field_sq-fecacdb42cd94c9d212b212d97e41b7b3d20cb14-s900-c85– Standout tracks:

  • Beauty of the Road
  • Ancient Water
  • Through The Roses
  • North Star

– What it sounds like: curtains drawn, stereo at max. The groove hits you in the gut as you try to mimic unconventional vocal patterns. You throw in a limber dance move or two (nobody’s here to judge you). There’s only one problem—you forgot to check if your dog was close by (or whatever else it is you use for comfort), because now it’s too late and you’re already shaking and shivering along with the murderous bass lines.

– Why I love it: The Far Field recognizes the strength in coming to terms with weakness. Although Herring’s usually confident voice cracks momentarily during “Through The Roses”, this can’t be mistaken as an example of fragility—it’s merely Future Islands’ lead singer letting go. The slick and snappy rhythm section lays down a backbone reminiscent of the best post-Strokes bands, with a unique vocal clamor and bellow making every moment a worthwhile listen.

9) Kommode – Analog Dance Music

kommode-adm-digipack-full.indd– Standout tracks:

  • Come On, Sense!
  • Lady-Logic
  • Shoes
  • Captain Of Your Sinking Ship

– What it sounds like: as the title describes, here are ten tracks to get you up-and-moving, sans the use of drum machines or synth bass. As Kommode shift flawlessly between song sections, your ears will insist they’re listening to a sample or loop instead of any actual band.

– Why I love it: Eirik Glambek Bøe is 1/2 of indie folk group, Kings of Convenience. Needless to say, this half is just as good as the other. I spent part of the fall traveling through the misty trails of the Pacific Northwest and Analog Dance Music was the perfect soundtrack to help me navigate from point A to point B. I can imagine two ideal scenarios for enjoying this record: sipping cold session IPAs lakeside, and cutting a rug with your boo.

8) Paramore – After Laughter

paramore-after-laughter-album-artwork– Standout tracks:

  • Told You So
  • Fake Happy
  • Rose-Colored Boy

– What it sounds like: longtime listeners of Hayley Williams know of her ability to deliver emotional lyrics on a platter doused in Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce. On After Laughter, those lyrics still range from tender to menacing—but this time are prepared like musical Sloppy Joes with a side Ambrosia Salad—giving you the false sense that these songs might be well-suited for playing at an ’80s-themed dinner party.

– Why I love it: Paramore continue to get better as they evolve into a more pop-oriented band (their last, self-titled album being the discernible turning point in their sound). Now they’ve done away with distortion and replaced it with fizzy guitars and clever production. Hayley is one of the standout voices of her generation—here we have her talents shining brighter than ever before.

7) Portugal. The Man – Woodstock

portugal– Standout tracks:

  • Number One
  • Easy Tiger
  • Feel It Still
  • Fat Lip

– What it sounds like: the latest from PTM has hints of it’s ’60s namesake (i.e. vintage electric guitar tones, upfront bass, etc.) but pushes far beyond the constraints of an era devoid of drum loops, samples beats, and other elements that can give you a welcoming, full sound. “Talent borrows, genius steals” remains more true today—it’s all about what you do with what you stole (buy the McMansion or build the empire, on your own accord, from the ground up). Portugal chose the latter, as their sonic empire is under full construction.

– Why I love it: I’ve watched this band grow from opening the 500 capacity Troubadour in West Hollywood to tearing up the AMA stage this fall in front of millions of viewers. While this band started hitting their stride years ago, here they’ve exchanged their trainers for cleats—digging into the dirt, gripping the ground, and pushing themselves forward with more traction than ever before. The album artwork shows a classic car engulfed in flames—the band’s out with the old, in with the new message is coming through loud and clear.

6) Acceptance – Colliding By Design

acceptance– Standout tracks:

  • Diagram Of A Simple Man
  • Haunted
  • Colliding By Design
  • We Can Escape

– What it sounds like: prior to Colliding by Design, Acceptance released the impressive cult-classic, guitar-laden rock debut Phantoms (2005) which was commanded by the sanguine vocals of lead singer Jason Vena. Twelve years later we have a reanimated sound which includes minor elements of ’80s synth and glittering guitars, combined with a major focus on cohesion, and engineered to mix the vocals more evenly with the music.

– Why I love it: for those who commonly associate colors with sound, Phantoms can be described as a combative relationship between red and blue (bloodletting energy being strained through a wall of frozen ice). However, Colliding by Design is a symbiosis of bright colors, like orange rays of light being pulled toward a mint green valley below. Here’s a great case study for bands contemplating a lengthy hiatus.

5) Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

theNashvillesound– Standout tracks:

  • Cumberland Gap
  • Tupelo
  • White Man’s World
  • If We Were Vampires

– What it sounds like: alt-country in the same vein as your Wilcos and Whiskeytowns, transfused with heavier Heartbreakers’ tunes, and balanced out by more straightforward Americana. Nashvillian country traditionalists might scoff at the title, but this version of the Nashville sound may actually be a more realistic and accurate representation of the eclectic nature of this southern town.

– Why I love it: Isbell pulls out the best songwriting elements of his influences and leaves behind all the filler. The 400 Unit perform less like a supporting cast and more as a single co-leading actor. Nashville Sound is at it’s best when you listen to the extremes back-to-back, as with the one-two punch of “Cumberland Gap” paired with the tenderness of “Tupelo”.

4) Ryan Adams – Prisoner

ryan-adams_prisoner– Standout tracks:

  • Prisoner
  • Haunted House
  • Doomsday
  • Do You Still Love Me?

– What it sounds like: long-time Ryan Adams fans may have thought they knew what genre tinge he would apply to his spectacular writing this time around—stripped-down acoustic (Ashes & Fire), alt-country (Cold Roses), or even brit-pop (Love is Hell) were all possibilities. Instead, on Prisoner, it’s as if Adams spent the last few years dissecting Springsteen’s catalog and ’80s power ballads in preparation for this release—adding to his diverse artillery of musical modifications.

– Why I love it: there’s much ado about how this is Adams’ breakup record, but the focus should be on how Prisoner is a reminder of how resilient we can be. Instead of feeling somber listening to this record, look to Prisoner as step-by-step guide of how to get over lost love: “Haunted House” exclaims the importance of getting far away from the ghostly memories that haunt you;  “Breakdown” reminds you how to build yourself up after you’ve been completely broken down; and “Prisoner” is a declaration of how to liberate your heart of chains holding you captive. You’ve been warned…love is hell.

3) Richard Edwards – Lemmon Cotton Candy Sunset

richard edwards– Standout tracks:

  • Lil Dead Eye-d
  • Git Paid
  • Lemon
  • Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’

– What it sounds like: Lemmon Cotten Candy Sunset applies Laurel Canyon melodies to non-coastal specific tribulations such as lost love, major illness, and insurmountable absence. Here’s a perfect example of darkness being balanced by sunlight—a divorcees mangled heart being reassembled by times natural ability to fix all. Dissonant piano keys fill the spaces between acoustic guitar strums and electric meanderings—all in support of Richard’s incomparable ability to draw you into his intimate storytelling.

– Why I love it: I remember watching my parents tune into the The Eagles Hell Freezes Over live concert in the mid-’90s and thinking to myself, the band are on auto-pilot, and feel more like an Eagles cover band than the real thing. Reinvention seems essential to prolonged creative success, and here the tenured Mr. Edwards (Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s) made a decision that reinvention means stripping away the excess to reveal what’s important—carefully crafted melodies, devastating lyrics, and incredible musicianship.

2) Bedouine – Bedouine

Bedouine-Album-Cover-3000x3000-1024x1024– Standout tracks:

  • Dusty Eyes
  • One Of These Days
  • Nice and Quiet
  • Solitary Daughter

– What it sounds like: Azniv Korkejian (a.k.a Bedouine) was born into an Armenian family in Syria, relocated to Saudi Arabia, and then later to the United States. Her wandering lifestyle is an excellent metaphor to describe the way this album causes your mind to drift and amble without cause. While clearly pulling from the ’60s/70s and the laid back California lifestyle, I imagine her former lives have given her an alternative perspective on traditional folk music. Mostly acoustic instrumentation leads charge here while supplemental keys, woodwinds, and brass carefully lend a hand.

– Why I love it: listeners are pulled into this album and may react in a similar manner as when enjoying the best work of Nick Drake. You’ll get lost in the airy comfort of Bedouine’s voice, hardly breaking free from her special spell. She’s masterfully created an environment and vibe which make it easy to forget about the world around you, especially on songs like the magnificent “Dusty Eyes”. It’s just as important to note that Azniv challenges the listener throughout, as delight turns into defiance, on such songs as “Solitary Daughter.”

1) Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built the Moon?

noel gallagher– Standout tracks:

  • Holy Mountain
  • It’s A Beautiful World
  • She Taught Me How To Fly
  • The Man Who Built The Moon

– What it sounds like: Noel Gallagher has had a shameless reputation of borrowing from The Beatles, Sex Pistols and Stone Roses for 20+ years—let’s call that period the calm before the storm. On Who Built The Moon?, the sky has turned electric with lightning, resounded with thunder, and then cleansed itself with a pelting downpour. This is not Morning Glory 2.0 and never tries to be. Instead, this album should be placed in it’s own category of godlike genius (that one’s for you, Liam).

– Why I love it: the songs are brilliant, hopeful, and are the idyllic representations of his resurrection. Noel and his birds soar through every track, especially the striking nods to Blondie on “She Taught Me How to Fly”, Stevie Wonder on “Keep On Reaching” and even Genesis on “If Love Is the Law”. It’s always felt like The Chief was just one more album away from putting out his magnum opus and now with Who Built The Moon?, it doesn’t seem like we need to wait any longer.

Honorable Mention:

Washed Out – Mister Mellow, Photay – Onism, Beck – Colors, Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up, The Japanese House – Saw You In A Dream

About “The Best Albums of 2017” List:

The above list was developed to help readers find new music via the music service of their choice (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, etc.). I try to keep the commentary concise, only including the elements that I find most helpful when receiving a recommendation: brief list of my favorite songs, how each record compares to other artists/albums folks may know, and what’s unique (or what do I love) about these albums in particular. 

– Kenny Bringelson

The Best Albums of 2016

The music of 2016 was magnetic, with a few upstarts making thrilling first impressions and some of my favorite go-to artists tuning their sound to a new frequency. As a result, here are the best albums of the year (according to a recovering music addict):

Access the full playlist via AppleMusic by following this link 

10) From Indian Lakes – Everything Feels Better Now

from-indian-lakes-everything-feels-better-now– Standout tracks: Happy Machines, The Monster, Blank Tapes, Come Back

– What it sounds like: imagine being kidnapped, locked inside a dark room all winter long and given only a few provisions to stay occupied—a lonely copy of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers to read, albums from Air/Radiohead to listen to, and a metronome to keep track of time. Later that Spring, you (Joey Vanunucchi) are unleashed back into the wild and record a stunning, intricate indie rock album (singing and playing every note).

– Why I love it: take the technicality of Death Cab for Cutie’s rhythm section, add in wispy vocals, and factor in a whole lot of heart—one haunted by the past but optimistic about the future. Vanunucchi has given us an album to put on after the storm when the air is crisp and “everything feels better now.”

9) The Japanese House – Swim Against the Tide EP

the japanese house - swim against the tide.jpg– Standout tracks: Swim Against the Tide, Face Like Thunder

– What it sounds like: electropop lullabies teetering on the edge of clarity, but with a cough syrup induced cloud hovering above. You’ll hear subversive beats, melodic guitars, mesmerizing lead vocals, and ethereal harmonies that serve as another instrument (a page taken from the book of Imogen Heap).

– Why I love it: like the rest of The Japanese House releases, this 4 song EP begs to either run much longer or at the very least, be played on repeat. The percussion tugs at your feet asking them to tap along while Amber’s androgenized vocal tone swims through your ears. This is a quick record—ideal for lazy days, long days, and days longing for love.

8) Civil Twilight – Story of an Immigrant (Acoustic)

civil twilight - story of an immigrant acoustic.jpg– Standout tracks: Oh Daniel, River Child, All My Clothes, Let it Go

– What it sounds like: Story of an Immigrant (the non-acoustic version) was #4 on my list last year mostly because it was an album to “feel, not hear.” There’s even more emotion built into these stripped-down versions of those songs. Here we find a deconstructed recreation that’s naturally beautiful with simplified piano melodies and naked vocals.

– Why I love it: last year’s version made me feel alive. This year’s version is the soundtrack to being alive.

7) Kaytranada – 99.9%



– What it sounds like: multiple genres weaved together by a common thread (confidence). Think 90’s hip-hop beats, spiked with electronica, snapping with modern bass lines, and thriving from the addition of remarkable guest vocals.

– Why I love it: this album has helped me to see how the simple act of listening to a song with a beautiful beat can completely change the trajectory of your mood. Kaytranada has perfected the mix of sensible musicality combined with dance floor ready hip-hop, accompanied by some seriously versatile vocalists. This record grooves better than any other album produced in 2016, or at least 99.9% of them.

6) Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool


– Standout tracks: Burn the With, Daydreaming, Desert Island Disk, Identikit

– What it sounds like: It’s incredibly beautiful. It’s incredibly sad. It’s minimalistic. It’s Radiohead.

– Why I love it: when In Rainbows came out I couldn’t quite describe how it made me feel other than feeling transfixed in some sort of alt-rock/indie paradox. Now I’ve had years to figure out what that was—complete disorientated contentment. This record triggers similar responses. It’s claymation witch hunts, abandoned snow caves, and characters with glass eyes being viewed on a small black and white TV—all played at half speed with haunting background music. Discomfort turns into relief, sensibility is gone (but not forgotten), and now you’re destined to wander around lost until the album is over.

5) Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

jimmy-eat-world-integrity-blues– Standout tracks: It Matters, Pretty Girls, Through, Pol Roger

– What it sounds like: here’s the record Jimmy Eat World fans have been longing for since Futures. The production is impeccable and the performances are breathtaking.

– Why I love it: they’ve been important staples in my record collection since I started evolving beyond a 60s and mid-90s rock radioholic. These songs are ripe for late night drives where you just want to feel something, but instead end up feeling everything. This record has me unconsciously shouting Jim’s ardent phrases while unabashedly air-drumming (especially during the breakdown at the end of “Pass the Baby”). Jimmy Eat World mean a lot to a lot of people, and Integrity Blues are their Rushmore, Max.

4) Thrice – To be Everywhere is to be Nowhere

thrice-to-be-everywhere-is-to-be-nowhere– Standout tracks: Hurricane, Blood on the Sand, Wake Up, Black Honey

– What it sounds like: prime cannon, load with powder, aim to proper elevation, and be ready to ignite at the at the officer’s command—this is the return fire. Once you start listening, you’ll experience an explosion of political dissatisfaction, conceived by empathy and unmitigated awareness. Heavy guitars react to hammering percussion, which are bound by thundering bass and eventually pushed through the cannon with the aid of Dustin Kensrue’s guttural vocals.

– Why I love it: Thrice foretold November’s outcome eloquently and without restriction on this album. The band, unbound by major record label influence, are able to examine gun law, confront the definition of repeated insanity, and attempt to wake up a country asleep at the proverbial wheel. History says that political turmoil has the potential to spawn great protest music and here’s our first case study of this election.

3) Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are

nada-surf-you-know-who-you-are– Standout tracks: Cold to See Clear, Believe You’re Mine, Out of the Dark, Victory’s Yours

– What is sounds like: effortless indie rock that hits you right in the gut, right away. Nada Surf play music that sounds just as good being played on a hi-fi stereo at max volume or carefully whispered from a bar stool in an empty saloon.

– Why I love it: deliberate drumming leans into ringing guitars and melodic bass, all complimented by Matthew Caws’ airy and incomparable vocals. When listening to this album, I’m taken back to my kitchen table circa elementary school days, eating a bowl of my favorite cereal—reading the back of the box while waiting for the moment where the prize inside starts to surface for the taking. This is exactly how I want music to make me feel: first contemplative (tearing you down), then comforted (building you back up).

2) Bon Iver – 22, A Million

bon-iver-22-a-million– Standout tracks: 22 (OVER S∞∞N),715 – CRΣΣKS, 33 “GOD”

– What it sounds like: dismantled singer-songwriting with moments of desolate solitude followed by stages of iridescent faith. Mr. Vernon sounds like he’s tired of being locked away in his father’s hunting cabin (this is exactly what he did to record his first album, For Emma, Forever Ago) and instead, is now out for the hunt.

– Why I love it: on first listen, I experienced early-onset confusion, caused by the fragmented track names and audio that sounded like it had been recorded in a moving armored truck. Choruses were unrecognizable and I couldn’t tell where the songs were heading.

Then I discovered the decoder ring in “715 – CRΣΣKS”: an a cappella vocoder experiment turned into a master work. These songs are full of endless, impacted vocals surrounded with frustrated beats and splintered melodies, all fused together with hidden elements of “traditional” Bon Iver (see, now it all makes sense). The division between verse and chorus is still unclear at times but this also means that these songs don’t necessarily have a clear ending, and good things shouldn’t come to an end.

1) Paper Route – Real Emotion

paper-route-real-emotion– Standout tracks: Untitled, Real Emotion, Mona Lisa, Zhivago, Chariots

– What it sounds like: electronic-infused indie rock—equal parts soul, emotion, atmosphere, and shear energy. Once known as the band who recorded their first release in a bedroom, Paper Route are now three albums in and couldn’t be further away from sleep. Uptempo songs like “Chariots” are just waiting to make you move while “Untitled” and the other more anthemic tracks grab your attention and make you stay put.

– Why I love it: I’ve experienced records like this only a handful of times before—those that successfully blend multiple genres, tones, styles, and feelings. Real Emotion is concurrently complex and simple, pairing Nashville talent with a New York state of mind, while sounding both bombastic and barren.

The color blue comes up many times throughout this album. (Un)fortunately for Paper Route, blue is the farthest emotion you’ll feel by the end.

Honorable Mention:

Conor Oberst – Ruminations, Local Natives – Sunlit Youth, Phantogram – Three

About “The Best Albums of 2016” List:

The above list was developed to help readers find new music via the music service of their choice (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, etc.). I try to keep the commentary concise, only including the elements that I find most helpful when receiving a recommendation: brief list of my favorite songs, how each record compares to other artists/albums folks may know, and what’s unique (or what do I love) about these albums in particular. 

– Kenny Bringelson

(Almost) End of the Year List – 2016

The following are my (as of today) favorite albums of the year. Each selection is ‘in the running’ for consideration into my “Best Albums of 2016” top 10 list (really, these are the records I need to listen to, over and over, until the end of the year so I can whittle down the list). Without further adieu, in no particular order:

  • Mystery Jets – Curve of the Earth
  • J Dilla – The Diary Instrumentals
  • The Coral – Distance Inbetween
  • Nada Surf – You Know Who you Are
  • From Indian Lakes – Everything Feels Better Now
  • The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
  • Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
  • Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  • Paper Route – Real Emotion
  • Conor Oberst – Ruminations
  • Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
  • Your Boy Tony Braxton – Adult Contempt
  • Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to the Earth
  • Wilco – Schmilco
  • Civil Twilight – Story of an Immigrant (Acoustic)
  • Local Natives – Sunlit Youth
  • Sia – This is Acting
  • Thrice – To be Everywhere is to be Nowhere
  • Kings of Leon – WALLS
  • Band of Horses – Why Are You OK
  • Sarah Watkins – Young in All the Wrong Ways
  • Bon Iver – 22, A Million

These albums are still to come, highly-anticipated releases of 2016:

  • The Japanese House – Swim Against the Tide EP
  • Jim James – Eternally Even
  • Ryan Adams – (Untitled November Release)
  • Nada Surf – Peaceful Ghosts
Best Albums of 2015 by Kenny Bringelson

The Best Albums of 2015

To celebrate the year in music, I present a ranked list of my 10 favorite albums of 2015. The mission is to expose you, the reader, to new music in hopes that you’ll check out a song/album via the music service of your choice (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, etc.). I’ve highlighted the elements that I find most important when receiving a music recommendation: what are the best songs, what does it sound like and what do you love about it (or what makes it unique). Without further ado, here are the best albums of 2015 according to a dedicated music addict: 

10) José González – Vestiges and Claws

Jose Gonzalez Vestiges and Claws – Standout tracks: With the Ink of a Ghost, Stories We Build Stories We Tell, The Forest

– What it sounds like: it’s minimal, but like Nick Drake maturing and adapting tasteful pop sensibilities in order to reach more people with his music.

– Why I love it: I’ve wondered what a whisper would sound like amplified and turned all the way up. I’ve also wondered how much of an impact you could make with that magnified murmur. Those who exert ample energy into having their whispers heard must have something very important to say. José González makes me feel every emotion on this album while helping me realize that sometimes you can make the most noise by being the quietest.

9) Ryan Adams – Live at Carnegie Hall

Ryan Adams Live at Carnegie Hall – Standout tracks: Gimme Something Good, Am I Safe, Oh My Sweet Carolina

– What it sounds like: Ryan Adams alone with his guitar, performing two blocks south of Central Park — doing what he was born to do in a beautiful setting.

– Why I love it: on the surface it’s simply a live album, but deep-down way underneath it’s Adams coming alive. I took a trip up to the mountains, rented a cabin, drank mediocre whiskey and smoked mediocre cigars with this as my soundtrack — honest, stripped-down and contemplative versions of some of Ryan’s best tracks. This is the album you put on when you don’t know who your friends are anymore, don’t know where you’re going and don’t know what’s next. Are you safe? Ask Ryan – he’s guaranteed to give you an answer. I bet you’ll be alright.

8) Guster – Evermotion

Guster Evermotion
– Standout tracks:
Endlessly, Long Night, Gangway

– What it sounds like: Guster doing Guster all over again but with smoother melodies, driving rhythms and an appreciation of leaving more space/emptiness in the mix than ever before. 

– Why I love it: this is the album for long drives, late nights and people who stop to live life in the moment. Guster has this way of making me feel happy, no matter what life has thrown at me. I think it’s the beautiful songwriting and killer musicianship…but maybe it’s just the return of drummer Rosenworcel’s bongos.

7) Leon Bridges – Coming Home

Leon Bridges Coming Home – Standout tracks: River, Brown Skin Girl, Coming Home

– What it sounds like: a soul singer who was hitchhiking in 1958, got picked up by Marty McFly, flux capacitored (sic) to 2015 and decided to stick around. This is Sam Cooke at his most soulful moment (River) and Jackie Wilson wearing his loosest tie (Brown Skin Girl).

– Why I love it: there are plenty of singers and artists who attempt to redo the golden years of rock ‘n’ roll with some sort of homage to the greats but end up sounding like cheap ripoffs or insincere copycats. Instead, Leon was just born a few decades too late. This is late-night soul done right in 2015.

6) Dustin Kensrue – Carry the Fire

Dustin Kensure Carry the Fire
– Standout tracks: Ruby, Back to Back, Carry the Fire

– What it sounds like: forget everything you know about “the lead singer of Thrice.” This is a singer-songwriter showing the world what he can do….write great songs and back them up with outstanding musicianship and commanding vocals.

– Why I love it: the band who plays aside Dustin here is incredible, reminiscent of The Band playing with Dylan in the 60s. Dustin sings with more soul than Joe Cocker at most times, partly due to the subject of this content. Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel “The Road” tells us that deep down we all have the ability to “Carry the Fire” that’s inside of us which helps us to keep on going when things get tough. Kensrue creates an album for the dips, dives and dark that life throws at you. These are times when we all can learn how to carry the fire and never give up.

5) The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

The Decemberists What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World – Standout tracks: Lake Song, Make You Better, Cavalry Captain

– What it sounds like: heaven? It’s really good and it’s everything we’ve ever wanted from The Decemberists without the band ever sacrificing what makes them best or compromising.

– Why I love it: The Decemberists have found their North Star and it seems like the telescope is eyeing in on the most focused group of lyrics, music and melodies since the early days. I believe this is The Decemberists at their best, bringing us a diffusion of what they know works combined with ample risks: Colin’s voice is front and center i.e. Lake Song, there are jangly R.E.M.-like guitars (which are now accented with solid acoustic layers), unforgettable lyrical analogies combined with a scholastic vocabulary. The difference here? This time, it feels like home — comfortable, warm yet challenging.

4) Civil Twilight – Story of an Immigrant

Civil Twilight Story of an Immigrant – Standout tracks: River Child, All My Clothes, Holy Dove

– What it sounds like: you’ll read about how the band are from South Africa, were a U2 cover band in a past life and sound at times like Muse. Leave this all behind — while the songs themselves may resemble their influences at times, the albums are guaranteed to sound like nothing you’ve heard before.

– Why I love it: this band makes me feel alive. They sing about rivers, running wild, rhythms in nature, shedding distractions, embracing life, believing in the people in your life and always asking yourself “what does all this mean?” This is a band and album you feel, not hear. Civil Twilight are quickly becoming one of my favorite bands with two solid releases in a row.

3) Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell – Sing Into My Mouth

Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell Sing Into My Mouth

 – Standout tracks: Bullet Proof Soul, No Way Out of Here, Am I a Good Man

– What it sounds like: two artists who are enjoying music more than ever by singing someone else’s lyrics (which means they get to focus on the MUSIC). Combine Iron & Wine’s enigmatic, soft mortality with Band of Horses’ country insights and you have Sing Into My Mouth. But it’s better than that (much much better).

– Why I love it: this album is beautiful. The integrity of the instrumentation is matchless and perfectly suited to the selection of songs. During certain moments, you feel like you’ve figured it all out: it’s like reading a good book, coupled with a perfect glass of wine and finally realizing that your soulmate is sitting right in front of you, all at the same time. This is comfort food. This is warmth. This is relief, contentment and a promise that everything’s finally falling into place.

2) Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds Chasing Yesterday – Standout tracks: Riverman, They Dying of the Light, While the Song Remains the Same

– What it sounds like: Noel Gallagher breaking free of the confines of brit-pop and not worrying about pleasing anybody else (including his brother and the rest of Oasis). There’s plenty of strings, thumping bass and horns (much to Liam’s dismay) and a surprising lack of layered electric guitars, a welcomed change.

– Why I love it: it’s as honest as anything we’ve ever heard from him. It shows Noel doing something different while building unapologetically on his signature style and simple chord structure. This is as good (or better) than anything to come out of the Oasis songbook because you get to see Mr. Gallagher having fun while appreciating his muses (love, music and swagger) once again. Most importantly, it’s Noel stepping out from behind the songwriting gig to instead pull the strings, sing his melodies and masterplan his path all the while.

1) Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Father John Misty I Love You Honeybear – Standout tracks: When You’re Smiling and Astride Me, Strange Encounter, Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)

– What it sounds like: folk-infused chamber pop and a mix of the early 60s with early 90s. It makes you want to cry, laugh and shout all at the same time. You’ll be air drumming your heart out while weeping like a baby. This one folking rocks.

– Why I love it: At it’s best, Honeybear is better than 99% of the albums I’ve heard in the last 15 years. At it’s worst, it’s still better than 90% of the albums I’ve heard in the last 15 years. If Father John’s first album Fear Fun was the bear being awoken, then Honeybear is the bear learning how to steal picnic baskets from unassuming campers. The vocals are godlike, as holy as the Father John moniker insinuates, making you feel like you’ve had that first cup of coffee in the morning laced with a shot of whiskey. The lyrics create stories that sound like something you’d hear from a village elder who’s had too much to drink and too little sleep. At this rate, the music could be coming from a Casio AZ-1 midi controlled keypad and you’d still have a great album. Instead you get A+ musicianship as the proverbial icing on the cake. This one feels like your first kiss – awkward, too short, rewarding and ultimately unforgettable.

Honorable Mention: Lord Huron – Strange Tails, Elvis Presley – If I Can Dream, Lovedrug – Notions, Punch Brothers – The Phosphorescent Blues, My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall