December is usually a month when the release calendar winds down but not this year.
Miguel, War and Leisure, Dec. 1
I heard snippets of Miguel’s first two albums, and they we’re terribly striking. Then he released Wildheart, and upped his game.
Cocco, 20 Shuunen Kinen Special Live at Nihon Budokan -Ichi no Kan, Ni no Kan-, Dec. 1
Cocco has released a number of live DVDs, but this two-night concert is her first live album.
Shiina Ringo, Gakuyunyuu ~Koukuukyoku~, Dec. 6
Shiina Ringo offers a second self-cover album which finally includes “Shoujo Robot”.
Kicell, The Blue Hour, Dec. 6
I haven’t followed Kicell in years.
Idlewild, Hope Is Important, Dec. 1
Idlewild, 100 Broken Windows, Dec. 1
I picked up a number of Idlewild albums from Lifelong Thrift Shop and discovered Hope Is Important is the Scottish band’s roughest — and quite frankly most interesting — album. It gets reissued on vinyl along with the masterwork, 100 Broken Windows.
Tags: cocco, idlewild, kicell, looking ahead, miguel, shiina ringo
I didn’t think a comeback this year could top the return of Sleater-Kinney, but I was mistaken. I didn’t realize how much I had missed Janet Jackson till she returned, and Enya quenched a drought of a similar length (7 years.) Even Madonna turned in work that’s some of her best in a while. I also learned the awful term “PBR&B”, which describes the kind of R&B music to which I seem to be drawn.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical: The last time the score of a musical had me riveted to my stereo was The Phantom of the Opera. Not only is the story of Hamilton thrilling to follow, but the hip-hop score is jaw-dropping. Policy debates as rap battles? Maybe that should happen in real life.
- Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly: Just about every year-end list will include this album near the top. And I don’t even listen that much hip-hop.
- Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
- Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free: It’s always great to see an artist with a breakthrough album follow up with something just as strong.
- Torche, Restarter
- Björk, Vulnicura: So now the question is which do you prefer: Vulnicura or Vulnicura Strings?
- Deebs and Jarell Perry, Shift: I like how Jarell Perry keeps pushes the borders of what R&B can do. He’s got great company with Shaprece, Santigold, Miguel and Frank Ocean, WHEREVER THE HELL HE IS.
- Steve Grand, All-American Boy: I still don’t understand why people call him a country artist. He sounds nothing like Sturgill Simpson.
- Janet Jackson, Unbreakable: Janet returns with her most sonically diverse album since The Velvet Rope.
- Miguel, Wildheart: He bragged about being better than Frank Ocean, and I hate to say it, but I think there’s something behind that bravado.
Honorable mention goes to …
- Madonna, Rebel Heart
- Duran Duran, Paper Gods: Duran Duran tends to misstep after hitting a home run, but that’s not the case here.
- Enya, Dark Sky Island: You know what you’re getting with Enya. On a few tracks, she does seem to be dipping a tentative toe into more pop styles, by which I mean less Bach.
- Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit: Barnett crams a lot of imagery in her songs, but they make for great stories.
- ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, Wonder Future: When ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION take time with their albums, it really pays off.
- Kronos Quartet, Tundra Songs: No, this isn’t an international crossover album. If anything, it’s some of the most challenging music the quartet has recorded in a while.
- Seattle Symphony / Ludovic Morlot, Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 / Varese: Ameriques: This album is something of a souvenir for me because I attended this concert, but the live recording of Ameriques would be reason enough to pick it up.
- Takaakira “Taka” Goto, Classical Punk and Echoes Under Beauty: I didn’t think this album would be very distinct from MONO, but it’s quite a change for Taka and still recognizably him.
- Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear: This album will also appear on a lot of year-end lists, but it didn’t grab me as much as everything else on the list.
Tags: bjork, deebs, favorite edition, janet jackson, jarell perry, jason isbell, kendrick lamar, lin-manuel miranda, miguel, sleater-kinney, steve grand, torche