Carrie And Lowell – Sufjan Stevens – His mother left Sufjan when he was three, three maybe four, and again, and again, and then she died, and left Stevens to deal with it by writing the most exquisitely beautiful album of this or many years.
Before This World – James Taylor – A late career masterpiece by Sweet Baby James Uncle, songs as sweet and strong as memory and as strong and lasting as this exact moment, as though before this world there was this world and just this world was then and now.
Questions – David Bronson – This is soft rock meets prog rock meets sweet soul and questions raised and answered over and over again. Back up harmonies an added plus and a great guitarist (and carlos Alomar) doesn’t hurt.
White Men Are Black Men Too – Young Fathers – Scotland mixes rock and soul with hip hop to make modern political rock and roll, completely their own.
California Nights – Best Coast – My favorite of their three albums is a collection of LA inky blue mood music which merges with Bethany’s weed inspired drowsiness and builds into symphonic OKness.
At Long Last A$AP – A$AP Rocky – The problem here is not the lyric as such, but the inability to get over his occasional braggart hip hop attitude but that’s the only problem with this consistency great rap album. “LSD” has song of the year written all over it.
Vulnicara – Bjork – Her most accessible work in years renders a torn asunder romance as steady strings beatified and then distressed.
Shadows of the Night – Bob Dylan – His sublime take on the great American songbook reinterprets classics and lesser known song as songs of deeply rooted humanity
Rebel Heart – Madonna – The 25 song deluxe version deserves the length and breath it takes to emerge as a true self portrait.
To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar – Both major and minor at the same time, his is a toweringly ambitious look at Black life in the States which could have done with more better songs.
Lantern – Hudson Mohawke – Of the three big Scottish DJs, this guy sounds best: he sounds like nothing else, not a beat or bass addict, his addiction is taking desperate sounds and fusing them till they explode.
My Love Is Cool – Wolf Alice – The London indie pop rock band’s first album is a masterpiece of form and formulations mutating at will.
Sound And Color – Alabama Shakes – The sound of post punk meets Southern soul with a terrific lead singer and once in a lifetime songs, this is what happens when bands get better and take you by surprise. It is a beautiful, smart, soulful album.
Power In The Blood – Buffy Sainte- Marie – The Native American folkie discovers modern production and uses it to her own ends.
Be Still And Know – Hymns And Faith – Amy Grant – The sound of faith, Christian music as a force of beauty and life. Amy and Vince stake their claim to being the first couple of country.
Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson – Tony Succar – The sound of Jackson and Salsa meeting for a mash up of epic proportions: it works completely.
Down To Believing – Allison Moorer – Five years in the life and she is shaken not stirred and ready to explain it all. “Ain’t ever gonna be like it used to be…” she warns. No, it is better.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – Drake – Remix tape? I prefer it to his last album, though it has no “Hold On, We’re Going Home” or the single that won him a punk from Diddy and a Grammy. Any album with songs as good as “Legend” and “Jungle” needs no caveats at all.
Tomorrow Is My Turn – Rhiannon Giddens – Sublime blues and gospel album that has made a believer out of me.
Short Movie – Laura Marling – I am gonna stop beating her up for this not being Once I Was An Eagle, and accept it for a set of fine singer-songwriter tracks.
Strange Trails – Lord Huron – Indie rockers with the gift of consistency and melody, and depth.
The American Dream – Adventures In Bluesland – In which one of our great blues singers Phil Gammage, takes his band on a trip to urban blues
Second Hand Heart – Dwight Yoakam – The latest album in a resurgent Dwight with all his, not insignificant, powers restored to him.
Tetsuo And Youth – Lupe Fiasco – His best album is also his most easy going, the seasons pass and the songs, beautiful, r&b and chilled hip hop songs accrue, in mutual degrees. “Blur My Hands” is better than any r&b you’ve heard this year and it isn’t even the best
Duets: Re-Working The Catalogue – Van Morrison – Some of this is better than the originals and even if it wasn’t… Womack? Taj Mahal? Chris Farlowe…???
Artistic Visions – Shinobi Ninja – Improvised live in the studio, produced and mastered over weeks, and as great as hard rock can get. Maniac Dave’s guitar steals whole chunks.
Traveler – Chris Stapleton – Beautiful country songs, superbly performed and sung… the production on the other hand…
The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets – Van Hunt – D’Angelo’s contester on the weirdo r&b front.
Smoke Machine – Nick Catchdubs – Half of Fool’s Gold records, releases one of the most fun noises of the year.
Fully Re-Covered – True Groove Allstars – Empathic covers in a deadly time for the USA
Expect Delays – Evans The Death – The indie rock album of the year with a death wish which will have you whistling all the way to the grave.
The White Man Made Me Do It – Swamp Dogg – This is as good as I’m Not Selling Out – I’m Buying In… from 1981 and just as funny (and as sad and angry). We call that consistency of vision.
Absent Fathers – Justin Townes Earle – Masterful but we assume that, no bad songs, but we assume that as well.
Worthy – Bettye Lavette – She covers other people’s material like Dylan sometimes covers his own; she rearranges them to an inch of their lives and then she sings the hell out of them.
No Cities To Love – Sleater Kinney – Quirked out angular post-rock, post-riot grrrl, post childhood anthems sung as one.
I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t go – Earl Sweatshirt – This grows with every damn listen. “Mantra” took maybe five spins, but it got there in the end.
Wildheart – Miguel – The second is the charm on this superior sophomore effort by the Prince wannabe who just might pull it off if he makes another leap this large.
Waiting On You – Sam Lewis – Modern sounds of country, western and soul from a singer songwriter with a great future.
I Don’t Prefer No Blues – Leo “Bud” Welch – hard electric guitar blues by an unknown master who just celebrated his 83rd birthday and 50th year in Church and here sounds like maybe you should be locking up your daughters. Man, is this guys mojo workin’.
No Pier Pressure – Brian Wilson – Three great songs does not a great album make… unless Brian Wilson wrote the three great songs.
Brava – Bradinski – Where dance and hip hop bear down on each other by a French DJ.
The Firewatcher’s Daughter – Brandi Carlile – Story songs recorded fast, performed live on tape
Till The Story’s Told – Kevin Jenkins – The sophomore album from the gifted bassist is quiet without being still: deep stories told in time with a question mark and a hard final answer.
Touch Down 2 Cause Hell – Boosie Badazz – Fresh off death row, and not the label, and out for blood -METAPHORICALLY!
Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass – her voice is gorgeous but for back up so she lives and dies by her arrangements and songs … and those are great.
Feels Like – Bully – It is as if the Bangles went indie.
Zero – The Rezillos – They’ve lost a little in stickiness a coupla decades later, and no Jo Callis which sucks, but the power is still there
Hold Fast – Letts – best singer songwriter album of the year so far, always smarts, always pretty, never boring, nice production by Marcus Mumford and a lot of songs that will get under your skin, especially “Charles De Gaulle”. a very pleasant surprise
R.N.I.C. – Lil Snupe – The late great rapper who coulda been mainstream but kept it way too real. The kid had flow to spare.
Title – Meghan Trainor – Her third album is even better than her second which is better than her first. She could well be a 21st century Bette Midler
A Haze Of Blues And Grays – Heather Powell – 1960s pop re-0imagined by a superb singer.
Guitars And Microphones – Kate Pierson – First rate new wave for the 21st century from the act we’ve known for all these years and who does herself proud.
La Vendetta… – Adolescents – Old school punk rock and maybe a little more, from a band who can still do it.
All Hands – Doomtree – This Twin Cities collective makes rap for grown ups with five rappers, two of whom are big time and all of whom are good.
Jackie – Ciara – Pretty awesome diva r&b
Forever Charlie – Charlie Wilson – Pure hearted, full voiced soul music.
B4.DA.$$ – Joey Bada$$ – Debut album by the Pro Active co-boss, its lyrical smart but bland but musically he goes from jazz to hip hop to r&b and back and the beat are triumphant.
Chrissybaby – Christopher Owens – Power pop glory, simple but it says it through sticky gooey hooks.
Barter 6 – Young Thug – This is better than you’d effect, the man has flava and he has flow and he is never obvious, even when his ebonics get the better of him.
Meets the Grim Reaper – Panda Bear – easily his most accessible work to date except when it isn’t; “Crossword” should rule the alt charts.
1000 Palms – Surfer Blood – There grand return to indie land heralds their best album to date.
Underwater – Matt Whipkey -songs for and about people sketched in and then colored in with sounds.
Don’t Lose This – Pop Staples – The late great’s daughter Mavis gets Jeff Tweedy’s help in finishing this terrific blues album.
Algiers – Algiers – Debut album is a completely unique mix of Gospel and EDM beats, and hard grunginess.
Future Brown – Future Brown – Experimental collective bring the pop to DJs and rap.
Sometimes I Sit And Sing, Sometimes I Just Sing – Courtney Barnett – I swing from irritation to admiration, and back.
Weeklings – The Weeklings – Power pop from a top notch Beatles cover band. Kudos to “It Means A Lot”.
Nights In The Dark – California X – Classic rock goes punk on a terrific sophomore effort. The guitars are the best sound in the world right now.
American Beauty/American Psycho – Fall Out Boy – Their best album ever, which means two masterpieces, and a coupla killer tracks. Look, I loathed em when I saw em last year so I couldn’t be more surprised myself.
The Past, The Present, The Future – Jodeci – This is the hippiest old school r&b band around, they split the difference and win.
The Early Years – Girl Band – Hot Irish band’s back pages, post-punk perfection
The Pale Emperor – Marilyn Manson – Sure, it isn’t the shock of the new “Beautiful People” was, why would it be? It is still excellent goth rock unlike any one else at all
Montery – The Milk Carton Kids – Gorgeous folk songs
Live From Crush Palace – Karen O – So good in its Lo-Fi dreaminess, it may well take you back to the solo album it is culled from and which it improves upon.
I Can’t Imagine – Shelby Lynne – A profoundly strange woman but man can you write a song. Her best album in a long time.
Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson – Now I get it, there is a Long Island connect between Bronson and Joel…
Mixtape Of The Open Road – Martin Sexton – The world needs grown up, as Gary Trudeau once noted, so here is a grown up rock and roll album for you. I know that because one song is for his daughter like he is Paul Simon or something.
Boys – Crocodiles – A fuzzy sound of pop momentum
Kitsugi – Death Cab For Cuties – this is as throughly distressing as the new Sufjan Stevens, except it hides it better.
Rich Coast – Kids – excellent and deeply felt indie pop
Constant Bop – Bop English – Superb variant on power pop.
The Killer Instinct – Black Star Riders – Second rate Thin Lizzy is vastly superior to no TL at all
Made Us Strangers – The Young Novelists – Americana meets singer songwriter indie rockers, with a coupla cracker tracks.
Can’t Forget: A Souvenir Of The Grand Tour – Leonard Cohen – From the sound check soundboard to your stereo.
Non Believers – Mac McCaughan – The Merge magnet releases a beauty of an album, and sings like, well, like he always does.
Peanut Butter – Joanna Gruesome – Loud fast rules
Dreams Worth More Than Money – Meek Mill – Not only does he have great ears, he signed the late Lil Snupe for one, he has good friends -having recorded for both T.I. and Rick Rose’s labels at various times, Mr. Nicki Minaj has just released this star filled following up to a Dreamchaser mixtape. It is still new to me but it feels like a real keeper.
Gunna: 150,300, Abel: 148,000: it amounts to a statistical error
the police owe us an explanation.
sex and skills level the playing field
Fast Money, indeed
“flashes of vivid memories from an ancient time with an ex-lover”
Less push, More flow
350 rock critics, wannabe rock critics, or people with OCD
a new Tupac Shakur exhibit opening downtown LA
a pop LP that isn’t popular is a question mark…
her mama don’t like you and she likes everyone…