You know that feeling when you bite off more than you can chew? That’s this post about six albums in. I’m still conflicted about it: I’m sure I forgot someone really important, but if I didn’t cut it off at ~20, we all know this would go on forever and ever. This post is really long. Trust me, I understand if you don’t want to read the whole thing. (But I did provide hyperlinks and also spent ages on it so…)(Shannon told me she would read it and that’s good enough for me.)
So, four weeks into 2015, here are my favorite albums from the past year:
1. I Forget Where We Were || Ben Howard
I have loved Ben Howard since my friend Jackson made me a mix CD four years ago. The first track was “Old Pine,” and it took me two weeks to listen to the rest of the tracks because I was so distracted by Ben. This record has a unique sound, completely different from Every Kingdom, but still decidedly Ben. I’m seeing him live in eight day (!!!!), and I couldn’t be more excited if I wanted to be.
Top tracks: In Dreams, Time Is Dancing, Am I In Your Light (the vinyl bonus song)
2. Islands || Bear’s Den
“Agape” came up multiple times on my both my Ben Howard and my Noah Gundersen iTunes radio stations, so I decided to give this band a listen. Best decision ever. Their record came out in October and I instantly lost my mind. Their lyrics are so well-written, and the harmonies are Mumford-esque. They are part of the 2014 documentary “Austin to Boston” with Ben Howard, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Staves, so you know they’re good. I also can’t encourage you enough to look up all their acoustic stuff. They sing “Above The Clouds of Pompeii” in an old church and it’s absolutely swoon-worthy.
Top tracks: Think of England, Elysium (watch the video too)
3. Dreaming Your Life Away || Vance Joy
This human is opening for Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour, which I find strange but lovely. I’ve been listening to him for a while, as “Riptide,” “From Afar,” and “Snaggletooth” circulate on Tumblr relatively often. This record is absolutely lovely, and I really appreciate his lyricism. His voice is that raw singer-songwriter style I live for. I can picture sitting on a porch in Portland in the fall, listening to him pick at a tinny old guitar and sing goofy songs about falling in love. He’s got that kind of voice. (Bonus: he’s Australian. And cute.)
Top tracks: From Afar, Mess is Mine, Georgia,
4. Tough Love || Jessie Ware
My sister and I listened to “Say You Love Me” at least twice a day during our entire vacation. So much so, in fact, that our brother accused us of ruining the song. Not so, Phil. Jessie’s voice is stunning, and her music is very falling-in-love-on-the-dancefloor-and-starting-a-long-distance-relationship. (Does that even make sense?) It’s equal parts power ballads à la Adele and electronic jazz crooner.
Top tracks: Say You Love Me, Kind of…Sometimes…Maybe, Champagne Kisses
5. So Long, See You Tomorrow || Bombay Bicycle Club
I’m late to the Bombay Bicycle Club game (like, I knew two songs before), but this record is so, so flawless. It’s the record I put on when I am getting ready in the morning, when I’m cleaning my room, when I need a dance break. Every song has an impressive number of layers and different things going on that all manage to blend — rather than clutter — the “vibes.” They have a KEXP session where you can watch them singing these intricately built songs, which is entralling.
Top tracks: Whenever, Wherever; Luna; Home By Now
6. In Return || Odesza
I LOVE THIS RECORD. It’s like when An Awesome Wave came out and I would finish Taro and start Intro — I will listen to the entire thing start to finish three times in a row before I move on. I wrote about this album specifically in my study playlist Tunesday post, but it truly is one of my favorite records ever ever ever. This is one of my favorite styles of music (electronic indie? chillwave? indie chill? who knows?), and I am stoked to see this duo when they come to Columbia in February.
Top tracks: It’s Only (feat. Zyra), Memories That You Call (feat. Monsoonsiren), Kusanagi
7. Strange Desire || Bleachers
I was late to this record too (and missed my chance to see them in KC), but man oh man, do I love it. Jack’s voice is so smooth and his range is just lovely. I’m usually wary of albums from band members who have broken away for solo albums, but this one absolutely did not disappoint. There are archive soundbites, reprises and YOKO ONO (who sounds like Grandmother Willow and brings me such joy).
Top tracks: Like a River Runs, Shadow, I’m Ready to Move On / Wild Heart Reprise (feat. Yoko Ono)
8. Four || One Direction
I literally don’t care what you have to say about them. Don’t even get me started on my love for this band. I know they’re ridiculous humans and most of their fan base can’t even drive a car. These five idiots bring me an unbelievable amount of joy and happiness. This record is wonderful because it is starting to actually showcase their talent (I will fight you on this) rather than basic cookie-cutter radio singles. Life is too short to deny yourself the pleasure of pop music. Also, have you ever looked at them?? It’s unbelievable. Angels, the lot of ’em.
Top tracks: Steal My Girl (ZAYN’S HIGH NOTE); Girl Almighty, Fool’s Gold, Clouds
9. 1000 Forms of Fear || Sia
I listened to this record for the majority of my summer. It became the soundtrack to my metro rides and early mornings. Sia’s voice is absolutely unreal, in case you were unaware. Plus, this record is a good balance of full-on power vocal ballads and songs you will dance around your kitchen to while making breakfast. It’s also an incredibly cohesive album, and you can hear the story playing out as you listen. Also, I love the videos, controversial as they are.
Top tracks: Chandelier, Burn the Pages, Cellophane, Dressed in Black
10. Wanted on Voyage || George Ezra
This, along with Sia, defined what I listened in Brussels. It only came out in the US this past week, but it dropped in Europe over the summer. My roommate Shannon and I refer to his vocal style as “sweater voice” — it’s warm and luxurious, and you feel like you could wrap yourself in it on a brisk morning. His range is absolutely incredible, and his lyrics are perfect for lazy summer days. (He’s also friends with Ollie, which is amazing news.)
Top tracks: Budapest, Breakaway, Da Vinci Riot Police (not on the US Spotify version, apparently)
I bought the physical CD in Brussels with store credit I had left over…
11. Chapter of the Forest || Trevor Hall
I want to turn this record on and do sun salutations all day long. Trevor Hall is an incredibly spiritual musician, and his work is heavily influenced by his Buddhist faith. His voice has a really interesting quality to it: soft, rounded and raspy. I’ve been listening to his music here and there for a couple years, but not until this record did I ever sit down and listen from start to finish. It’s incredibly calming and centering. Light a Volcano candle, turn this on and take a load off.
Top tracks: Holy Country, Jagadeesha
12. Ledges || Noah Gundersen
The same playlist Jackson made me that got me into Ben Howard had a track on it called “Garden” by some guy named Noah Gundersen. His voice is soft and lovely, and his lyrics are worship that sound like wrestling. I have been eagerly awaiting this album. The minute it dropped, it was the only thing Shannon and I listened to in Brussels for a solid week. His band is made up of himself and a few family members, and the harmonies blend beautifully.The album is heartbreaking, but I still listen to it back to back.
Top tracks: Poor Man’s Son, Cigarettes, First Defeat
13. Hozier || Hozier
This goober Irish man has a voice that demands a listen. I had heard “From Eden” and “Take Me To Church” from his previous EPs and loved his sound: gritty and dark and begging for black-and-vote music videos. This album is great, y’all. Like…y’all. Maybe not the most cohesive concept, but each song is such a gem that it can be forgiven. They have their own universe, their own important plots — but maybe have the same background cast? I’m not sure exactly how to describe it. It just gives me a lot of emotions. Listen to it all.
Top tracks: To Be Alone, Foreigner’s God, Take Me To Church, From Eden
14. The Pickprint || Nicki Minaj
I will fight you on how much I love Nicki Minaj. When I was younger and was a Bad Feminist (read: internalized misogyny and backhanded slut-shaming), I didn’t appreciate her and was, frankly, terrified of her rapping. But now I just love her endlessly. Her ferocity, her confidence, her take-no-shit-from-sexist-interviewers attitude, her unbelievable skill and rap prowess: it’s all incredible. I love her. This album feels like she has really come into her own image. She’s not in costumes, she’s not putting on airs. There are heartfelt ballads, there are dance jams, there are amazing featured artists (hello, Drake). She’s just real and honest and Nicki.
Top tracks: The Crying Game (ft. Jessie Ware (!!!)); Trini Dem Girls (ft. Lunchmoney Lewis); Feeling Myself (ft. Beyoncé)
15. In the Lonely Hour || Sam Smith
This human’s vocal cords are a blessing. At first, I was nervous that I was going to lump him in with Adele — where the voice is amazing and stunning and powerful beyond all measure…but most of her lyrics just don’t hit me like her voice does (I know, I know). But this album didn’t disappoint. It’s all sorts of heartbreaking, and his range follows the emotions impeccably. My roommate also owns this record on vinyl which is incredible as well. (Also, there’s a version of I’m Not The Only One with A$AP Rocky which is GRAND. Look it up.)
Top tracks: Money on My Mind, Leave Your Lover, Lay Me Down
16. Range of Light || S. Carey
I’ve been sleeping on poor Sean Carey for years, and I’m still kicking myself for it. He did vocals, drums and some guitar for Bon Iver, but also released a lot of his own music. I didn’t even know this new record had dropped until “Crown the Pines” was floating around Tumblr. I recognized the name from his Bon Iver days and decided it was time indeed to listen to him. Good decision. He’s got this ethereal, glowing, soft sound. It’s rainy day coffee shop music that you want to sit around and be sorta sad about things. Not like a lay-down-and-sob cry, but a reflective, nostalgic sad. A good sad.
Top tracks: Crown the Pines; Alpenglow, Fire-scene
17. This is All Yours || alt-J
Let me preface this with the fact that I like An Awesome Wave better. I just have to get that out there. BUT. This record is absolutely wonderful. alt-J just can’t seem to make bad music. They have such a unique sound and vibe that I can’t help but turn to them when I don’t know what else to listen to — equal bits jam-in-your-car and chill-out-and-stare-at-walls-are-ponder-life. Also they sample Miley Cyrus, so what could possibly go wrong.
Top tracks: Hunger Of The Pine, Bloodflood pt. II, Every Other Freckle
18. Sylvan Esso || Sylvan Esso
I want this duo to be president and vice president of the nation. I love this record absolutely endlessly. Claire sent me “Coffee” a while ago (and might have sent it twice?) and it took me ages to get around to listening to it because I am the worst friend. But I did and then I searched out the record and the rest is history. I’ve been listening to it pretty regularly on my way to class — it puts some jam and pep in my step. They’re performing at Coachella this year, but if anyone wants to get me out of work and take me to see them in St. Louis on March, I accept your wedding proposal.
Top tracks: Dress, Play It Right, Coffee, Come Down
19. Ghost Stories || Coldplay
My favorite thing about this band is that every record is a completely different world, but still very much so a Coldplay product. Say what you will about them, but I’ve listened to them as I been doing that growing up thing through middle school, high school and college. I always look at them with fondness; they’ve been steadfast and good my whole life. Basically, Coldplay is my musical comfort food, and I’m okay with that. This record is only nine tracks long, but you can so easily get lost in the 40 minutes of music. There’s this warm bass in the background, and it feels kind of like blankets around your shoulders when you’re sitting in bed alone and thinking too much about life (does that make sense?).
Top tracks: O; Midnight; A Sky Full of Stars
20. Goddess || Banks
One of my 2015 resolutions is to transform myself into Banks. She is absolutely stunning, has an incredible voice and has straight up vibes to her music. I closely relate her to Jessie Ware in my mind, but falling out of love rather than recently married. There’s so much girl power of the best kind throughout this record. She is as strong as she is vulnerable, as confident as she is gun-shy. I like to turn Banks on, turn it up and zone out to whatever I’m working on. Also a good idea with this record: put on your darkest lipstick and dance around your room in your underwear. (Trust me.)
Top tracks: Goddess; Drowning; Someone New
21. Still Life || Dawn Golden
This is my most recent obsession. I saw “All I Want” on Tumblr and listened, thinking it was a Kodaline cover. Wrong-o. Dawn Golden is some magnificent electronic-ambient-indie situation that I can’t even find the words to describe. It’s like… a little Sufjan, a little Greg Laswell, a little Death Cab, a little OMN. Just listen. The sound is amazing and the lyrics are stunning, which lets you get completely lost in the music (my favorite hobby). In the past, he’s done a bunch of remixes, but this record is a beautiful story that I can’t encourage you enough to listen to.
Top tracks: The Beekeeper; Still Life; Last Train
22. The 1975 (Deluxe Edition) || The 1975
We all know how I feel about this band. It would probably be annoying for me to prattle on and on and on about how much I love each member, their experience and their music, so I’m going to just not. I was #blessed enough to see them live TWICE in 2014, and I cannot wait for more.
Top tracks (this is a 39-track album…): Robbers, Menswear, Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You?, Facedown, Woman, Me, Head.Cars.Bending., So Far (It’s Alright), Fallingforyou
- Talking is Hard || Walk The Moon (top tracks: Portugal, Shut Up And Dance, Sidekick)
- Promises EP || Ryn Weaver (I told y’all she was gonna hit it big and now she’s playing at Coachella and I AM SO PROUD)
- Leftovers || Cherub (also one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to)
Whew. If you’ve made it to this point, thanks for sticking around.
Send me some of your top albums or let me know who I might have heinously left out. May 2015 be as music packed as 2014.
(Header image photo cred here)