Tame Impala - The Slow Rush
Expectations were high for this one, after the absolutely masterful Currents in 2015. And although it didn't deliver the same ridiculously catchy hooks as its predecessor, The Slow Rush was a demonstration of Kevin Parker's growth as a lyricist while retaining his incredible precision in the studio. The album really sinks in after repeated listens, from the meandering melody of "One More Year" to the vulnerable "One More Hour", it's an honest expression of a 34-year-old musical savant who struggles with the same existential questions we all do. And man, does he know how to construct some badass synth lines.
The Strokes - The New Abnormal
What a pleasant surprise when The Strokes dropped this in April - a time when the world was adjusting to its own "new abnormal." After bursting on the scene with their superb debut in 2001, The Strokes had seemed to lose a bit of magic with each subsequent album. And yet somehow, with their sixth record, over 20 years since the band formed, The Strokes delivered the goods again. The songs are catchy as hell, while Julian Casablancas increased confidence in his falsetto allows their melodies to take off in unexpected directions. Comeback of the year, or maybe even the century!
Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher
In William Schulz' biography of Elliott Smith, the author repeatedly states that Smith "was incapable of writing a bad song." Phoebe Bridgers is the heir apparent to Elliott Smith, in that she too, seems to have the Midas touch for perfectly crafted melancholic songs. The talented Bridgers turned just 26 this year, and already has two solid albums to her name, not to mention releases from Boy Genius and Better Oblivion Community Center. On her sophomore solo effort, she covers quite a bit of musical terrain. There's the soaring full-bodied chorus of "Kyoto" confessing at the end "I'm a liar, who lies, cause I'm a liar." And then there's "Savior Complex", a lilting waltz, filled with regret and longing, on top of an absolutely sublime chord progression, shifting between major and minor chords as violins and clarinets slide in an out of the musical tapestry. Can't think of anyone whose next album fills me with more anticipation than Ms Bridgers.
Fleet Foxes - Shore
Like The Strokes' album, Fleet Foxes' Shore transported me to another era of my life, when the reverb-soaked harmonies of Robin Pecknold and company rang out beneath the hot sun at the now-defunct Sasquatch Festival in 2008 in rural central Washington. It was my generation's Crosby, Stills and Nash, heralding from my hometown of Seattle no less! Their second record was even better than their debut and this band was on quite a trajectory. But fast-forward several years and the band was on a hiatus with no clear end in sight. Thankfully the hiatus ended with 2017's Crack-Up and now, Shore. Fleet Foxes continue to carry the torch for 21st century folk rock. The songs' jangling guitars, brass fanfares and strident countermelodies provide the tried and true accompaniment for Pecknold's crisp tenor, but the production is more polished than ever, making their fourth long play offering of polyphony wondrous indeed.
Lianne La Havas - Lianne La Havas
Every now and then an album comes along that makes you close your eyes, just wanting to soak in every delicious note from every instrument and voice, without the distractions of sight. British songwriter Lianne La Havas magnificent fusion of R&B, jazz, South American and many more flavors create an absolute feast for the ears. Of all the albums on this list, this is the hardest to write about, as the chemical reaction of La Havas expansive jazzy guitar chords, her rich, soulful melodies, over bass/drums in groovy lockstep, is just impossibly magical and therefore impossible to capture with the written word. The fact that the album represents La Havas own journey through the challenges of an evolving romantic relationship just makes it all the more entrancing.