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
It happens even now — an attractive guy on the cover of an album gets me to buy it. I do like those times when the music accompanying the pretty face turns me into a fan. Here are a few.
Jason Isbell isn’t my usual type — that would be Law and Order: SVU‘s Mike Doyle or, uh, Edward Snowden — but I did a double take when I first saw the cover of Southeastern. First, it’s a striking photo. Second, Isbell is a handsome guy. He’s not Channing Tatum-photogenic, but that welcoming, earnest expression can’t help but draw attention.
What clinches the crush, though, is his Twitter feed. He’s a card and an excellent writer. He uses the 140 character cap to his advantage, imbuing the pretty face with a likable personality. All that on top of being a damn fine songwriter.
I’ll admit I’ve downloaded pictures of Tim McGraw stripped to the waist, but I draw the line at listening to his music. When Ty Herndon came out of the closet, I thought I would make the same distinction.
In reality, Herndon has a voice worth playing repeatedly, and his hit singles don’t induce the kind of cringe brought on by, say, Brad Paisley. (I’ve been subjected to Paisley. It was unpleasant.)
If Herndon booked a gig somewhere in Western Washington, I would go see him.
Oh, I’m pretty sure my messages to Steve Grand on Grindr would totally get ignored, were this unlikely scenario ever played out in real life. But my rock snobbery is no match to the charm he exudes.
Royal Wood showed up as a suggestion I might like on a recommendation engine, and I’m sure the context for this suggestion was music. My eyes thought differently.
The Advocate mentioned Sacha Sacket briefly in its 2005 music issue, and I dug his sound. It’s one of the few instances where the music grabbed me, and the nearly naked photos are just a bonus.
Shut up. I blame Rolling Stone. He did a photo spread for them without a shirt. What’s Left of Me is a musically ridiculous album, but I couldn’t help myself.
Tags: jason isbell, nick lachey, royal wood, sacha sacket, steve grand, ty herndon
2015 is turning out to be one of those years where the really good albums suck so much oxygen out of the rest of the release schedule that it’s tough to put together even a speculative list.
That’s a long-winded way to say Sleater-Kinney’s return has pretty much overshadowed everyone else.
- Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: Sleater-Kinney left at the height of their career, and a 10-year hiatus did nothing to dim that achievement.
- Björk, Vulnicura: I like Björk best when she’s more beat-oriented because her more introspective work tends to meander. This album is too wrenching to mess around.
- Madonna, Rebel Heart: I would agree this album is Madge’s best since Ray of Light mostly because it’s head and shoulders above the last few meandering discs she put out, Confessions on the Dancefloor not withstanding.
- Steve Grand, All American Boy: The rockist in me should rally against everything about this album, but I can’t bring myself to do it.
- Takaakira “Taka” Goto, Classical Punk and Echoes Under the Beauty: The decidedly non-orchestral direction of MONO’s Rays of Darkness was a welcome direction that I feared this album would be a relapse. It’s not.
- Kronos Quartet, Tundra Songs: I was bracing myself for more international crossover, but this album is some pretty adventurous and spellbinding music.
- Torche, Restarter: I liked Harmonicraft, but Gaytheist’s Stealth Beats was more my speed. Then Torche recorded this album.
- Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, The Traveling Kind: I hate to say this, but this album is what you would expect from artists with the calibers of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Old Yellow Moon, though, kind of exceeded that.
Tags: bjork, emmylou harris, favorite edition, goto takaakira, kronos quartet, madonna, rodney crowell, sleater-kinney, steve grand, torche