So we are fast approaching the end of the year and end of the decade. And it’s list season. Would be easy to give up following new music, which many people have and I’m keeping it to a bare minimum next year.
You can still find the occasional strong, ambitious album which is worth buying. I know for a fact Weyes Blood was given a budget and that definitely helped her reach her full potential with Titanic Rising. But it’s harder than ever for artists to get financing for their projects when music is free for the consumers. When there’s no budget we get homespun laptop-created albums, and while good music can come from a home environment and there’s no gatekeeper on creativity, you usually need money to get together the right musicians, instruments, and proper recording studio.
Quick shout-out to Graham/Aphoristical who convinced me to listen to Vampire Weekend. The band’s previous albums hadn’t clicked with me (aside from the odd song here and there) but the friendly prodding worked as you can see below. I’m not ranking the ten picks as the order changes from week to week!
Titanic Rising by Weyes Blood
Lovely vocal performance by 31-year-old Natalie Mering. The first 5-6 tracks of her ten song album are especially beautiful, creating an ethereal atmosphere that exudes a calm yet introspective mood. Lyrics that feel both personal and universal.
Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana Del Rey
Her lyrics have improved and Lana seems more mature as a songwriter. Gorgeous production with lots of piano and beautiful instrumental details. The album is a bit long although there’s hardly any filler despite a 67 minute running time.
Ghosteen by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Arguably too much to soak up in one sitting so you may find yourself dividing the project into smaller pieces. At this point, Cave is not interested in pop singles but instead creating deeply personal, therapeutic music. As with Skeleton Tree (2016), the theme of loss and suffering is not self-indulgent, but with a bigger scope. The Bad Seeds have mellowed with age, the anger from their earlier work has gone, maybe never to return.
Seeing Other People by Foxygen
In contrast to Ghosteen, this LP has some tasty pop hooks. A glam rock revival album although could also be described as danceable. Some parts are reminiscent of Bowie or The Rolling Stones. Foxygen aren’t able to top their heroes, but a very enjoyable listen, especially if you are a fan of 70s music.
All Mirrors by Angel Olsen
A post break-up album. Olsen’s most sonically ambitious, featuring orchestral flourishes and a chamber pop sound. Lyrics about getting older(Spring), about taking the easy road(What Is It), and needing space away from other people(Tonight). She gives Elizabeth Fraser a run for her money with the haunting title track.
U.F.O.F. by Big Thief
As far as contemporary folk goes, this is special. Adrianne Lenker’s whispering fused with the expressive guitars is a killer combination. Her gentle delivery reminds me of Marissa Nadler, on several tracks Buck Meek and James Krivchenia step in and add vocals. Might be too low-key for some listeners. A sweet, soothing listen that grew on me. Highlights: UFOF, Cattails, Open Desert, Strange
Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend
Features a few of the best songs of their career, Harmony Hall, This Life, and Unbearably White. Stranger is pretty catchy as well. A little too long and a few tracks could have been trimmed but still an easy album to appreciate with much replay value. The lyrics veer into marital conflict yet the music is often upbeat.
Western Stars by Bruce Springsteen
A lush, cinematic, nostalgic album. Nice to hear Springsteen experiment with his sound at this late stage in his career and the songs fit his age. Certain moments are sappy but overall, while doesn’t reach the heights of his 70s and 80s prime, I consider Western Stars among his best post 80s efforts.
Dedicated by Carly Rae Jepsen
Continues the 80s pop vibe from 2015’s E•MO•TION but with a few tweaks. Probably her most consistent effort from start to finish, in comparison to the filler on her previous albums. Catchy choruses, on tracks such as Now That I Found You, Julien, and The Sound. Happy Not Knowing could be a leftover from the E·MO·TION sessions. The tribal chant on For Sure deserved to be on the tracklist. Same applies for self-love anthem Party for One.
On the Line by Jenny Lewis
The opening five tracks have distinctive melodies, good songwriting and fine vocal performances by Jenny Lewis. She has spared no expense and is supported by a range of collaborators including Beck, Ringo Starr, under fire musician Ryan Adams, and Benmont Tench (keyboardist of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)
Honorable mentions 11-20:
ANIMA by Thom Yorke
Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery by The Comet Is Coming
The Book of Traps and Lessons by Kate Tempest
The Secret of Letting Go by Lamb
In the End by The Cranberries
Originals by Prince
Ladytron by Ladytron
Thanks for the Dance by Leonard Cohen
Kiwanuka by Michael Kiwanuka
Office Politics by The Divine Comedy
What do you think? Have you heard any of these? As always, comments are welcome