Just me, or are the years racking up? Too cold to dwell on it now.
A few thoughts on the albums I liked and listened to often in the past year. Best of luck in 2018, Happy New Year!
10. Halsey – Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
Halsey was featured on the unavoidable 2016 Chainsmokers’ mega-hit “Closer,” and I don’t think her role and the song’s success was a coincidence. On her second album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, the 23 year old further establishes herself as a rising pop superstar. But even with all the hit-making capability, the emphasis remains on the sincerity of the songwriting.
9. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
In 2012 I attended an SNL dress rehearsal taping, featuring Sofia Vergara as host and a musical guest I hadn’t yet heard of, One Direction. Even from those two songs performed in Studio 8H, Styles carried himself as a frontman of sorts in the young British boy band. On his solo debut, he anchors his familiar pop croonings with shadows of rich British rock influences, and the result is a powerful and original collection of songs.
8. Phoenix – Ti Amo
Following 2013’s denser Bankrupt!, Phoenix returns with a carefree, upbeat and disco-fused sixth album. Ti Amo doesn’t quite recapture the same arena anthems from the band’ 2009 breakout Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but it’s not short of its own rousing, infectious melodies (“Fior Di Latte,” “Role Model,” “Telefono.”)
7. Haim – Something To Tell You
After seeing the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed studio cut of “Right Now,” I was stoked for the release of the Haim sisters’ sophomore album. Even with the album version of “Right Now” losing some of its stark vulnerability to further production, Something To Tell You is an impressive album full of painstakingly crafted, guitar-driven love songs.
6. Feist – Pleasure
Leslie Feist can do no wrong. She may never regain the commercial success of the 2007’s The Reminder, but I think that’s the last thing on her mind when it comes to songwriting. Much in the vein of 2011’s Metals, Pleasure is a densely layered atmospheric trance of power and emotion, loss and longing. Begin with the tangled title track, on to the beautifully restless “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You,” and fall in love with the rest of Pleasure.
5. Broken Social Scene – Hug Of Thunder
I’m not usually one to be enamored by a lead single, but “Halfway Home” had me from first listen. Like many of Broken Social Scene’s best songs, the soaring anthem is built up and fueled by the beat-up flicker of hope. Packed with much of the same, Hug of Thunder proves to be a rousing and renewed effort from the Canadian ensemble.
4. Lorde – Melodrama
Few albums gained as much universal critical and commercial success as Lorde’s 2013 debut, Pure Heroine. But even with that tough act to follow, Melodrama let few down. The loosely based concept album brilliantly centered on a house party, and Lorde owned it, as if her music hadn’t already soundtracked countless house parties. From the piercing honesty to the cutting commentary, few can sing it like Lorde does, and still “make ‘em all dance to it.”
3. The xx – I See You
I first discovered The xx in the dead of winter, and for some reason I have always found some added fulfillment listening to the British electro-pop trio in this cold, dark Midwest season. With I See You having been released in the opening days of 2017, I was delighted to add new material to the winter mix. Favorites include the invigorating “A Violent Noise” and wonderfully sparse “Brave For You.”
2. Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life
With Lust for Life, Lana Del Rey releases her fourth studio album in five years, a pace few modern-day artists are capable of matching. Amongst the rapidly growing song catalog, Lust For Life keeps it fresh with numerous guest collaborations, including The Weeknd, Sean Ono Lennon and a lovely duet with Stevie Nicks. The album does display a heavy hip-hop influence, but tracks like “13 Beaches” and “White Mustang” capture the spirit of Lana Del Rey’s most beloved past ballads.
1. The National – Sleep Well Beast
Now on their seventh album, The National continue their reign as one of the most consistent rock bands of the 21st century. The sonically rich “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” is maybe my favorite lead single from any of their albums. Still, The National always seem to be at their best in those restless, introspective reflections (“Guilty Party,“ “Carin At The Liquor Store,” “Empire Line”). With that said, the delightfully innocent “Dark Side Of The Gym” is a welcome change of pace. I don’t know about you, but seven albums strong, and I have yet to be disappointed by the band of two sets of brothers and an instrument-less frontman.