Hey it’s the first reoccurring feature on my ol’ website! Because one of the few remaining things left in this world that isn’t awful is my adoration for music and what listening to it/seeing it performed live can do for my mental health. And you know what the albums I liked best this year deserve for giving me this calm, collected disposition? Being JUDGED and RANKED against one another!
Like last year, my list was created so it could be included in a ranking of favorite new albums among a group of local people who find joy in that sorta thing. Unlike last year, I found it much easier to think of albums that I was able to really enjoy and lean on when I was in different moods/situations (working, my commute home, road trips, yelling lyrics on my way to the mall, crying, etc.). Also unfortunately unlike last year, blink-182 did not come out with a new album in which to grace my list. But persevere, I did, as you can see below.
1 – The National – Sleep Well Beast
OK, you caught me – that’s an old photo I took of The National when I saw them in Milwaukee while on their Trouble Will Find Me tour in 2013. This band, besides inspiring my online moniker, continues to put out full, well-rounded albums that I can easily play through and find enjoyment in each track. This album came out the day I traveled to San Francisco and I specifically saved it to listen to for the first time on the airplane – so romantic, I know! While I dug it then, it took a few listen-throughs before I could say I truly and not-just-fan-girl loved it. It has the perfect amount of upbeat tracks and piano/synth-heavy ballads and was worth the wait. While I wasn’t able to see them live this year, fingers crossed they’ll be included among the Eaux Claires festival lineup in 2018.
2. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
Female artists opening for musicians I already love have become actual heroes the last couple of years for me. Much like Lucy Dacus catching my attention opening for Car Seat Headrest last year, Phoebe’s music hit me hard while performing before Conor Oberst took the stage at the Palace Theatre. She pretty much captivated the crowd around me and, well, very few songs have made me emotional the first time ever hearing them (Daughter – “Youth” is one – and, holy shit, they opened for The National at the MKE show referenced above. That’s some full-circleness right there.) but “Scott Street” did me in. It was just her and a guy who switched between instruments and the album sounds equally as solitary but not in a bad?? way?? Plus her duets with Conor (her “Would You Rather” and his “Lua” were especially sweet). Anyway, here’s another young but extremely talented woman making better music than you could ever.
3 – Sylvan Esso – What Now?
Have you ever simultaneously worn the least amount of clothing acceptable in public while also sweating the most you ever have in public? That was me at the Sylvan Esso show at First Avenue. It was one of the most dang uplifting, dancey shows I’ve ever attended, and their new album is equally as buoyant, poppy and blissful. It’s exceedingly BOPPY if that’s a term that even makes sense to anyone – it’s just a great listen all the way through and got me through plenty of lackluster office afternoons. Another example of an album that was worth the wait because it’s everything I love about their debut, but amplified and elevated.
4 – Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
Remember what I said about not getting emotional the first time I hear a song for the first time too often? This list is very skewed, all right? It definitely happened the first and every subsequent listen to “Recite Remorse.” The tears just start rolling, I have no control. Many other songs on this album make me feel the same way you do when the windows are rolled down on a nice day and you’re out for a joy ride; they sorta beg to be sung along to. And I do. Loudly.
5 – LCD Soundsystem – american dream
This one was released around my San Francisco trip as well. I remember a wine bar my sister and I stopped at was spinning the actual record and it just gave me all the good feelings. Seeing them live for the first time ever a couple months after that solidified this album as one of my favorites this year – those songs are just too damn catchy and I have a feeling I’ll be listening to them well after this year ends.
6 – SZA – Ctrl
One day I logged onto Twitter dot com and saw everyone posting about SZA. She had announced a tour with a stop in Minneapolis and people were falling over themselves for tickets to see an artist I’d never heard of. A few months later a song caught my attention on The Current and it turned out to be “Drew Barrymore” by SZA, so hey, now I knew who she was! And understood the hype, and really liked this album and it’s full of what can only be described as ~jams~.
7 – Fleet Foxes – Crack-up
Another long-awaited album from a band I’ve listened to for years that I was left feeling completely satisfied with. Full of folksy melodies that build up beautifully. If you can believe it I felt like they sounded even better performed live but the recorded album is a pretty good consolation.
8 – The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Quintessential dad rock for the ages. I was lucky enough to attend The War on Drugs’ micro-show at the Turf Club this summer and hear them play a few new songs off their yet-to-be-released-at-the-time album. I really dig their more upbeat tracks (“Holding On,” “Red Eyes,” “Burning”) and get a little lost during the slower ballads, but even those have some qualities that catch my attention. Overall it’s an album I can play through and catch myself tappin’ my feet or humming along to every so often.
9 – Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Sorry but this album is fun as hell and I have no shame in expressing my love for it! Plus I think it was important to see how much fun the entire band was having playing the tracks live. Is this the same sound I fell for on Funeral? Nope, but I’m glad because if everything were the same as it was in 2004 I’d still be dating that guy whose family stopped whatever they were doing when the FRIENDS theme song came on so they could clap in unison to that one part. Change is good!!! I focus a lot on how music makes me feel and honestly this album just puts me in a great mood despite some of its short-comings I’ve heard others perceive it to have. It’s been pretty wonderful following this band’s career and being able to relate to their releases at different times in my life.
10 – Paramore – After Laughter
Wow. Yes. This. One. I truly never expected this to be on my radar at all as I wasn’t even a huge fan of this band back in their original heyday but the catchiness cannot be denied. This was my summer record that I blasted regularly and memorized lyrics to within a few listens. Even less on my radar was the idea I’d see them live but then my boyfriend convinced me by saying how great they are during performances and off we went, planning a trip up to northern Minnesota with our last day spent in Hinckley to see ’em at a casino and dang it we had FUN. Give this one a shot, you might be surprised at how enjoyable it is.
11 – Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
12 – Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
13 – Rainer Maria – S/T
14 – Big Thief – Capacity
15 – Sheer Mag – Need to Feel Your Love
In case you want to check out a few of my favorite songs from each of these albums, I made this playlist: