Here comes 2020, no turning back now. Until then, a few of my favorite albums from the past year. Happy New Year!
10. Charli XCX – Charli
For those familiar with Charlie XCX, it’s really no surprise her third LP, Charli, is banger after banger. Enlisting a stacked list of collaborators (Lizzo, Christine & The Queens, Sky Ferreira, Troye Sivan, Haim and more), Charli and her army know how to pack on the pop charm, infectious beats, relentless command and singalong hooks. A lot of pop superstars go by only one name, and I guess we can now stop at Charli.
9. Big Thief – U.F.O.F
For only formally being a band since 2015, Big Thief has accomplished a lot, including four studio albums, two of which were released this year, both to high critical acclaim. The first of those two, U.F.O.F, is about as mystical and entrancing as a rock album gets. But then again, play it on a rainy Sunday train ride in May, and it might just be all the Midwest familiarity you need.
8. FKA Twigs – Magdalene
It’s been five years since FKA Twigs released her excellent debut, LP1, but the followup was well worth the wait. On Magdalene, the English singer-songwriter processes the vulnerabilities of a breakup with both sincere raw emotion and towering theatrical expression. Current favorites include the stirring “Home With You,” delicate “Sad Day” and monumental “Fallen Alien.”
7. Bon Iver – I, I
Though I overall enjoyed 2016’s 22, A Million, I did miss the more natural trances and tranquil hymns of Bon Iver’s outstanding 2011 self-titled second album. With I, I, there is a welcome return to that beloved and more digitally stripped-down era. As Bon Iver is a fitting soundtrack to every budding June, I, I is a perfect album for those hazy late-summer days.
6. Jenny Lewis – On The Line
Following the death of her addict mother, and an end to her 12-year relationship with musician Jonathan Rice, it was a loaded slate leading into Jenny Lewis’ fourth studio album. But while tackling the heavy material on On The Line, Lewis’ cool and composed songwriting somehow finds a way to make the pain and loss seem manageable, entertaining, and dare I say, even fun.
5. Harry Styles – Fine Line
I never though a member of One Direction would get me so much. On his sophomore solo album, Fine Line, Harry Styles rolls out a new set of dazzling daydreams, possibly even outdoing his eclectic self-titled debut. “Watermelon Sugar,” “Adore You”and “Sunflower, Vol. 6” are all fine sizzling cuts, but “To Be So Lonely” might be the heavy hitter here, as those ‘Don’t call me “baby” again’ choruses sting every time.
4. Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride
Vampire Weekend’s slow rollout of Father Of the Bride songs (including early favorites “Big Blue,” “Unbearably White,” and “2021”) soundtracked much of my spring. It was a nice entryway into the New York band’s rather dense, long-awaited double album. With help from collaborators Steve Lacy and Danielle Haim, frontman Ezra Koening and company build FOTR on the growth and change that inevitably comes when a successful band moves into its next decade.
3. The National – I Am Easy To Find
Being a National fan, a Mike Mills fan and an Alicia Vikander fan, the somewhat surprise announcement of the I Am Easy To Find album/short film project was music to my ears. On their eight studio album, The National bring on a cast of female vocalists to pair with baritone frontman Matt Berninger and the result is a refreshing and rich collection of songs. I Am Easy to Find highlights “Quiet Light,” and “Where Is Her Head” proudly rank with some of my all-time favorite National tracks.
2. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
“Aware, confident and unbounded, Van Etten is running out of limits. If ‘Are We There’ was a question, then the answer is yes, and with albums this fearless, there is no turning back.”
That excerpt was from my review of Sharon Van Etten’s excellent 2014 album. In the years since, Van Etten has given birth to her first child, and pursued other ventures including acting. Yet, even with all those new responsibilities and directions, she somehow found a way to record and release Remind Me Tomorrow with all the momentum she had with Are We There, as if five years was a day, a week. On her fifth album, Van Etten is at her most commanding and comfortable yet, while still embracing her delicate and complex songwriting roots. “Seventeen” might be the song of the year, but all of Remind Me Tomorrow is a gem.
1. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Having only spent its Labor Day release weekend listening to NFR!, I knew already it was my favorite album of the year, and quite possibly my favorite Lana Del Rey album to date, which, if you’re familiar with her impressive catalog of work, is saying a lot. But what makes this one, album six, so special? What makes Norman Fucking Rockwell! the album of the year for so many people and publications? Simply put, it finds a way to be epic, while still being intimate. It’s full of hits, while still being heavy. It’s classic, without being conventional. And for better or worse, it’s honest. And that still may be the greatest attribute of anything, may it be music, movies or real life.