Lists of top albums are some of my most favourite things. We hit December and I instantly begin thinking of all the music that came out over the course of the year, waiting to hear what Rolling Stone and NPR and Pitchfork have to stay about the past twelve months in music. Mid-way through the month, I realized that having a blog meant that I was free to voice my opinions and put out my own list of my favourite albums of the year. I put myself up to the challenge, even though narrowing down all the music I consume was a difficult task. Even harder was putting them in order from most to least favourite, and I’m still not a hundred percent sure that this is my final answer. The first four are good, but after that I have no idea. I also realize that eleven is an odd number, but that’s the amount of albums that I really connected to this year, so I’m cool with it. I didn’t want to push it.
Long story short, I loved a lot of music this year. Many of my favourite bands put out new albums, some records surprised me, and others were like tsunamis, completely consuming me and pulling me into their depths. The past fifty-two weeks have brought us some incredible records, and I’m excited to share my favourites with you.
11. Palma Violets, ‘Danger in the Club’
Palma Violets are an odd gang of boys. Their music reflects that, and in their case, that’s a very good thing. ‘Danger in the Club’ is old-school punk. It feels a lot like The Ramones or The Clash, like the kind of music that changes things around and turns things on their head simply because it dares to be different and unusual. It’s so damn catchy that I can barely sit still while I listen to it. I have to get up and dance or it doesn’t feel right. It’s enthusiastic and youthful, messy and drunken, but it works spectacularly. It’s carefree and seems to be injected with joy, as if the members of the band have never had a bad day in their lives – and if they have, they’ve just accepted it and carried on. It feels like a giant sing-along, like a bunch of friends in a pub on a rainy night, drinking beer until they’re slurring their words. I can’t imagine Palma Violets doing anything differently, and I definitely don’t want them to.
10. Cage the Elephant, ‘Tell Me I’m Pretty’
This is another unexpected one. I’ll admit that I’ve never paid Cage the Elephant much attention, but this album has completely changed that. I’m obsessed with it, to say the least. Like most of the albums on my list, it’s really catchy. I guess that’s just how I like my music. The guitar riffs are insane, the drum beats are actually noticeable, and the lyrics are perfect. Lazy, effortless vocals seem to define the album, and it works incredibly well. It’s easy to swallow, but that doesn’t stop it from being powerful and striking. It’s dreamy and almost romantic. Rosy, really, if the album was coloured. Halfway between love and hate, a grey area that’s a little frayed around the edges and doesn’t really belong at either end of the spectrum. I think it’s brilliant, and maybe a little eerie. I feel like I could attribute a million different things to it and my description still wouldn’t make sense. Bottom line is, I love it, even if it confuses me a little.
9. Carly Rae Jepsen, ‘E-mo-tion’
My life pretty much revolves around indie rock, but sometimes there are outliers, and Carly Rae’s most recent release is definitely one of those. The album is one hundred percent pure, sugary-sweet pop music – and I love it. Rather than a collection of songs about being in love, ‘E-mo-tion’ is about crushes. Lots of them. For any girl who’s tired of hearing about everyone being in picture-perfect relationships, this is a welcome change. It feels light and untroubled, young and bubbly and happy-go-lucky. It’s a bunch of simple pop songs, but these pop songs are so. Good. I love it so much, I’m not sure how I could get tired of it. I strongly advise you to go listen to this as soon as you can. Revel in its sweetness, and don’t feel even an ounce of guilt for enjoying it as much as you will.
8. Houndmouth, ‘Little Neon Limelight’
Discovering a band at the beginning of summer vacation always feels special, especially when their sound reflects the season. You know they’ll stick with you throughout the coming months, that they’ll be the soundtrack to most of what you do, and that when you look back on the memories you made, the band’s music will come along with the mental images. Houndmouth was that band for me this past summer. They create airy, soulful, rock-infused blues music, and the best kind at that. The kind that makes you want to stomp your feet, tap your fingers on the steering wheel, and holler a little while you’re singing along. The lyrics are beautifully written, with beautifully crafted melodies to go along with them. It’s all bright and sunshine-y, dotted with slow jewels of songs that make you stop and think for a while before going back to smiling as big as you possibly can. ‘Little Neon Limelight’ is very much a raw record. The production is minimal, but the imperfections just make it feel cozier and homely, more filled with warmth. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s perfectly imperfect.
7. Young Rival, ‘Interior Light’
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a lot of Canadian boys who really know how to make music. Young Rival are no exception. Their latest record, ‘Interior Light’ is soft and subtle in the most beautiful way. Groovy, jangly guitars instantly drew me to them, and I was not the least bit disappointed. The songs feel young, reflective of an adolescent life when your biggest issues are whether someone likes you back or how to get through the next semester of school. The lyrics are full of charisma and charm. As a whole, the album is sweet and extremely catchy, making it nearly impossible to ignore. The way it’s put together and the song delivery makes it feel quite gentlemanly, if that’s even a word you can attribute to a musical work. It’s beachy and care-free, and I’m sure I’ll have it on repeat for a while.
6. Courtney Barnett, ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’
Sarcastic, simple rock n’ roll music is something I never knew I needed. Now that I’ve heard this record by Courtney Barnett, I’m not sure I could live without it. The album doesn’t have any spectacular synths or fancy tricks, but the plain and simple vibe of it speaks for itself. Hilarious lyrics reflect a normal, middle-class life – nothing flashy, no crazy lines about an out-of-this-world kind of love. It’s all insanely relatable, all songs about mundane daily life and regular relationships. Barnett has a natural way with words, spinning out witty lyrics that could remain in your head for an eternity. It’s catchy enough to make you want to bang your head around a little and rock around your room, and it feels so real and close to home that she could almost be singing about your own life – worrying about not wanting to go to parties, spending twenty-five dollars a week on coffee, and dealing with awkward crushes and romance. I like how candid and sincere it is, and I think the music world could use more albums like it.
5. Raury, ‘All We Need’
This is the second time I get to gush about this album, and I could not be happier to do so. Raury has created a genre-bending, raw, and real record. The nineteen-year-old has managed to write songs about today’s very real and very important issues – something that people twice his age aren’t even willing to do. Lyrics about the power within black people that is often ignored, about harmony with individuals all over the globe, about peace and love and happiness. Raury speaks unapologetically about terrifying problems that are obviously very close to his heart. It’s out of this world. It’s hard not to feel uplifted and empowered when listening ‘All We Need,’ and you almost get the feeling that the album itself could in fact be all we really need. The record set out with a purpose: to change the world. And with the right listeners, in the right hands, it could definitely do that.
4. Wolf Alice, ‘My Love Is Cool’
There’s nothing I love more than a grungy, punky, female-fronted band that defies the norms and delivers something unexpected. For me, Wolf Alice do exactly that, and I couldn’t love it more. “My Love Is Cool” spent hours on my turntable this year, completely engrossing me, molding me into a follower and causing me to obsess over its every nook and cranny. It’s glittery and dirty at the same time, with a range of melodies allowing the record to do everything you need it to. Scratchy, screechy, and often soft vocals are a commonality, Ellie Rowsell spinning her voice to rough gold as it floats out of her mouth. Popular song “Bros” is one of the few songs I’ve heard about a non-romantic, best-friends-in-the-world kind of love, while other tracks “Lisbon” and “The Wonderwhy” are earnest and searching as if they’re asking for answers or some form of reason. The record is unabashedly real, and I love that about it.
3. Spector, ‘Moth Boys’
I’ve already given a detailed review of this record, but I had to include it in this list. ‘Moth Boys’ was an unexpected favourite this year, mostly because I had forgotten just how good Spector is as a band. The album is honest and far-reaching, dipping into moments everyone tries to forget and venturing into topics nobody has the guts to talk about. The production is impeccable, making the album feel pristine and untouchable, while the lyrics are honest and expectedly relatable. I like hearing bands experiment and play with their sound, seeking to do something different, and that’s what Spector did here. I find myself gravitating toward it no matter how I’m feeling, as it manages to make me feel whole and purified in an instant. I never expected to fall as in love with it as I am, but sometimes the records that creep out of nowhere and into the spotlight are the very best ones.
2. Florence + the Machine, ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’
Florence knows how to hit me straight through the heart. After waiting nearly four years for this album, I was so ready to let her music bring every emotion possible to the surface, and that’s exactly what the record did. The album is full and expansive, rolling over every crevice of your being and swallowing you whole. I feel entrenched in it, entrenched in her – she tugs at heartstrings and digs out the deepest feelings, wringing everything out and laying you bare. At the same time, you know that’s exactly what she’s done to herself as well. You know that she’s allowed her innermost sentiments to rise to the surface and to flow out of her and into song, and that’s what’s being presented to you in the form of an album.
From the very beginning of the record, I knew that it was going to be mind-blowing. Florence herself is ethereal, so there’s no reason why her music wouldn’t be. The album soars through valleys and over mountains, dazzling you with every note. “Third Eye” made me sob uncontrollably the very first time I heard it, “Ship to Wreck” is one of the best songs for rolling down car windows and singing unapologetically, and “Delilah” is something I can’t help but dance to. The entire record is undeniably beautiful – it creates magic with every listen.
1. The Vaccines, ‘English Graffiti’
My most loved album of the year should come as no surprise to anyone. The journey with this one was a roller coaster, from the nearly three-month wait between the release of the first single and the album announcement, to almost sitting in the hallway of a Madrid hotel to hear the record in full as soon as the stream was available. I love every single inch of this album. I feel physical pain in my chest when I listen to the most heart-wrenching songs. There is video evidence of me breaking into the most embarrassing, freeing kind of song and dance as soon as “20/20” started playing, and I often sing “Give Me A Sign” incredibly loudly while simultaneously waving circles around my tattoo, where those words are inked into my skin. This album is very different from their first two, but I love it whole-heartedly. Justin’s voice is at its peak. The musicality is impeccable, and the addition of a fifth member was a smart move. The boys have really grown into themselves and their new sound reflects that.
It’s a special thing to go through all the motions of your most favourite band releasing a new album. The first time the songs are played live when the band is just testing the waters, the radio premieres of each single, the release of the music videos, the new photo-shoots. Pre-ordering the biggest bundle possible and collecting all of the vinyl singles. Memorizing the words, the first time driving to the record, sharing it with your friends. All of it feels heavy and important, like you should cherish what each thing feels like. I loved the whole process, and I am so content with the entire record that there could have been no other new music for the rest of the year and I would still feel satisfied.
I’d say it’s been a pretty spectacular year for music. Although all the incredible albums that seemed to be released all at once sometimes felt a little heavy, that’s kind of a non-problem. In the end, we’ve all got a ton of great music at our fingertips. I can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring.