These are my favorite albums of the year (so far). I’m probably missing some and there’s some I feel I need to listen to more before they make my end of year list (Fleet Foxes, Bleachers, Fiest, Lord). So far 2017 hasn’t disappointed. Also, there lots of albums yet to be released that I’m excited for (Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire, The National, War On Drugs).
1. Jason Isbell – The Nashville Sound
2. Ryan Adams – Prisoner
3. Conor Oberst – Salutations
4. Big Thief – Capacity
5. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
6. Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
7. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
8. Dr. Dog – Abandon Mansion
9. Richard Edwards – Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset
10. The Shins – Heart Worms
It’s always hard for me to write about Conor Oberst albums because he’s my favorite songwriter (probably my personal GOAT). I’ve liked every single album (song, really) he’s ever released. So is it worth anybody’s time to read about his new album from my perspective, probably not, but I’m going to do it anyway.
Conor Oberst’s last album (Ruminations) was his most critically acclaimed album since I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. Ruminations is personal, heartbreaking and sparse. It’s a masterpiece of self reflection and a glimpse into the personal anguish Oberst suffered from health problems, false rape allegations, and insomnia. When I heard that these songs were being re-recorded with a full band along with 7 new songs, I was excited and also really confused. Why did these songs need to be re-recorded? Why release them again less than a year latter? But I’m conditioned to be excited over any new Conor Oberst release.
After listening to Salutations nearly nonstop since it’s release I’m less confused (but not entirely). The full band versions of the songs from Ruminations are well done. Musically, they sound better. Ruminations was haunting and Salutations makes the pill easier to swallow.
Maria Taylor’s angelic voice turns “Counting Sheep” into a lullaby instead of a suicide note. The lyrics are still heartbreaking, but the music and the backing vocals ease the pain of the song. Tachycardia comes to life with a full band. I always felt the last verse needed a full band to really drive home the idea the light bulb being lit for the first time at the World’s fair. The only song that loses just a little bit of it’s appeal is “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out”. It was a perfect ending to a great album and on Salutations it seems kind of lumped in without much thought.
The seven new songs belong on Salutations and probably wouldn’t’ have fit very well on Ruminations (The title track “Salutations” being the exception). “Napalm” is a rock country song that has Oberst sounding a lot like John Prine. My two favorite new songs are “Overdue” and “Anytime Soon”. Both sound like Mystic Valley Band B-sides.
Is Salutations a necessary album? Probably not. But it’s still a great album and an important addition to an already stellar discography. The enamored and admiring fan in me will probably place this album way too high on my end of the year list, but that’s fine with me. I’m a loyal fan and I don’t care who knows it.
I’m not going to write a lengthy review of Ryan Adams’ fantastic new album Prisoner, I’m just going to share some quick thoughts.
- Ryan Adams isn’t quite the songwriter that he used to be. I think he reached his poetic pinnacle at Cold Roses. The lyrics aren’t terrible, but there’s some cheesiness and cliche that aren’t found on some of his earlier albums.
- Musically, however, he’s the best he’s ever been and I think that’s what carries this album. The alt country days are far behind him. This album is more an ode to The Replacements and Tom Petty than to Willie and Waylon.
- Everyone see’s this as a comeback album, but common the last album was nearly as good.
- This is a solid record by a prolific musician.
- Listen to it.
- These got shorter as my list grew.
- Love, Zach
We’re only two months into 2017 and no album release (in my opinion) has been bigger than Japandroids third album, Near To The Wild Heart of Life. There had to be serious pressure on the Vancouver, Canada duo to follow up not only the best rock album of 2012, but arguably the best pure rock album of the decade. If Celebration Rock was their magnum opus then Near To The Wild Heart of Life is their Tunnel Of Love.
The album starts with “Near To The Wild Heart of Life”, the perfect rock anthem to kick off the album. I wrote about how great this song is a few weeks ago. You can read it HERE.
The rest of the album takes a more subdued tone than it’s predecessor. Celebration was 35 minutes of pure adrenaline; it rocked so hard you barely had time to catch your breath. In contrast Near To The Wild Heart of Life mellows out just a little bit. It still rocks, but not as hard and that’s not a bad thing.
However, there is one exception, “Arc of Bar”. This song (simply stated) rocks. There is a lightning-like synth glitching through the background, and at nearly seven and half minutes I wish it would go seven and a half more.
This is an album every lover of rock and roll needs in their life. Is this as good as Celebration Rock, no. But it’s the follow up we deserve. I wish I could sing “No Known Drug” to my wife every night before we go to sleep. Every song is that good, actually. Listen to it now.
I went on a run this morning. It’s what people do on New Years Day. Before my run I made playlist full of rock n roll music to pump me up because, lets just say it’s been a few months since I’ve exercised. The playlist was good, but as I reached mile two I hit a wall. My knees were weak, my legs were shaky, I was ready to quit. I was ready to walk. I was ready to throw in the towel.
But something inspiring happened. The most perfect rock n roll song I’ve ever heard traveled from my iPhone, through my headphones and into my ears, “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” by Japandroids. I felt like Coach Taylor (Friday Night Lights) was giving me an inspirational speech as I finished up. I wanted to keep running, so I did. Japandroids rocked me though another half mile.
I’ve been planning for a while to write about how excited I am for their new album. Their last album, Celebration Rock, was hands down the best pure rock album of 2012 if not the best rock album in the last decade. Five years is a long time to wait, but if “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” is any indication of the whole album then the wait will have been worth it.
The album (Also titled Near To The Wild Heart Of Life) comes out on January 27.
Other Notable albums coming out in January:
The XX – I See You: Jan. 13
Foxygen – Hang: Jan. 20
Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound: Jan. 27
I thought this would be the year I gave up on music, but I was wrong. I depended on music more than ever this year. For all the shit life throws at you there’s always a song to make you feel better. I want to thank the 13 artists listed below for getting me through this tumultuous year.
And now an open letter to 2016:
You can go do something to yourself that I can’t write on here because my parents might read this.
Even though you sucked, you put out some of the best rock n roll albums that I can remember in a very long time. You also gave me the most beautiful follow up to Channel Orange that I could have imagined. Oh! and Chance The Rapper; you gave us more of that guy. We all need more Chance in our life.
- Blonde – Frank Ocean
- Ruminations – Conor Oberst
- The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
- Cardinal – Pinegrove
- A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
- Goodness – The Hotelier
- 22, A Million – Bon Iver
- Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
- Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper
- A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings – Beach Slang
- Schmilco – Wilco
- The White Album – Weezer
- Introducing Karl Blau – Karl Blau
You would think that in your thirty-second year of life the you would have things figured out, right? Instead I feel as confused as I’ve ever felt. We live in a messed up world and I’m not sure what to think about it sometimes. I do know that music makes me feel better.
I made a playlist about being confused and sad. It’s not the most upbeat playlist but it’s a pretty good representation of how I’m feeling right now. It’s not all sad. I tried to put some optimistic stuff on there too.
I’ve read lots of reviews that have tried to categorize this album as alt-country and emo, which are two genres that don’t seem to go together at first thought. But if you go back to Omaha, Nebraska in the early two thousands Saddle Creek was doing just that. Bands like Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley were emo(ish) bands that had very distinct country influences. Pinegrove fits that narrative perfectly. It’s rock music that makes you feel mixed with a few banjo riffs and a country draw. I can even hear early Wilco and Heartbreaker era Ryan Adams.
“Every outcome’s such a comedown” is the refrain of Pinegrove’s Evan Stephens Hall on the opening track, “Old Friends”, off their excellent new album Cardinal. With lines like that one and “I should call my parents when I think of them; I should tell my friends when I love them” this song had me hooked from the beginning. It’s a sad and sentimental song; two of my favorite themes wrapped up into one song.
Other stand out tracks on the album include, “Size of The Moon”, “Aphasia”, and the bookend to “Old Friends”, “New Friends”. Next to “Old Friends”, “Size of The Moon” is the other stand out track. It’s a break up song that starts soft and builds to fuzzy guitars.
If I were to pick an early favorite for album of the year this would top my list. It sounds like all my favorite records, but at the same time feels fresh and inventive.
As far as hip releases in 2016 go they don’t get much better than Chance the Rapper’s third album, Coloring Book (4th, if you count Surf). I’ve heard lots of critics call it a hip hop gospel album and I’ll echo that critique. I’ve never felt so spiritually up lifted listening to a rap album. There’s gospel choirs throughout but it’s much more than a gospel album; it’s an album about friendship, love, family, and staying true to yourself. Chance is only 23 but his words are wise beyond his age. He’s preaching and I’m affirming his words from the congregation with a strong, AMEN!
The album starts with “All We Got” (my personal favorite song on the album) a bombastic ode to family and most importantly music. The chorus (sung by Kanye) chants the refrain, “Music is all we got, so we might as well give it all we got”. For music lovers (I’m not talking about your casual music appreciator; I mean people who live and breathe music) this mantra will send chills through your entire body.
Each song is a carefully crafted ride through the south side of Chicago. “Summer Friends” in an ode to summer relationships that come and go, hard work, and family ties. “Same Drugs” which seems to also be a parallel of the movie Hook is about growing up and changing. On “Angels” Chance raps about cleaning up the streets and how hopeful he is about violence ending in his city.
Chance The Rapper, along with rappers like Kendrick Lamar, is the voice of a generation who wants peace and change for their race and for their communities. This is an album about hope for a better future and it’s damn fun to listen to as well.
I first heard Car Seat Headrest on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. Will Toledo (lead singer and band leader) caught my attention because he looked like a young Conor Oberst and he was surrounded by what seemed like a bunch of homeless teenagers and one out of place high school football player who was playing the tiniest drum set in the world. As they started playing and Toledo’s voice cracked in and out of falsetto I was captivated. The three songs were all acoustic so I was pleasantly surprised when I searched for their their album Teens of Style and it was a fuzzy lo-fi rock n roll album that sounded like something I might have listened to in High School. It’s a collection of songs re-recorded from Toledo’s vast collection of self recorded Bandcamp albums. But it was just a glimpse into his potential as a songwriter and musician.
In June they released their second album Teens of Denial. It’s more polished than Teens of Style, but that doesn’t mean the band has lost it’s edge or that the songs of lost their angst. Lyrically Toledo is at his best. Besides Courtney Barnett he’s the best wordsmith in rock n roll right now. Listen to “Drugs With Friends” and you’ll know exactly what I mean. He combines humor and despair as he documents his struggle with depression, drinking, and drug use. It’s a little self loathing but that’s what makes it so great. It’s honest.
It’s not hard to hear Toledo’s rock influences in these songs. The opening guitar riff of “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” sounds like it could have opened on In Utero. Throughout the album you can hear echos of Pavement and Pinkerton’s best songs. Sadly The Cars sample had to to be taken out of “Not What I Needed” (originally titled Just What I Needed/Not What I needed), but it’s just an internet search away and necessary to listen to.
This is the best album of the year so far not put out by Chance The Rapper or Radiohead. It rocks, it’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s just the beginning and of what is hopefully a great career for Car Seat Headrest.