Here they are, my top 20 albums plus 2 special teams players. Ok, look, I know this is bullshit right? How can one evaluate the merit of art by assigning a comparative metric? I mean, here I am telling you that one albums is worth more in this arbitrary scale than another? Clearly that doesn’t make any sense. Plus I am sure there are some I forgot.
But that’s the traditional format at years end and I am nothing if not traditional right? So here are twenty great albums. I have enjoyed all of these, the numbering is …whatever. Who am I to assign value like that?
But here it is anyway for whatever it’s worth, using the standard numeric convention, I did it anyway.
I’m an asshole.
And while I have your attention, if you are in Syracuse on January 5th you should go see West End Blend at Funk n Waffles. I have seen this band in action and this band can blow the roof off the place. 8 piece, soul/funk party. I’m not doing a radar report this month so consider this your heads up. Go check them out on You Tube and Spotify etc, then go get a ticket.
- The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
If you know me, you knew this would be up near the top. You knew it. This album checks all the boxes. Quirky, head bobbing melodies over a bed of lush new wave synths and guitar. What TNP do with vocals is almost unfair to other, less talented of voice bands, even with the king of quirk Dan Bejar taking this one off. The harmonies of AC Newman, Neko Case and Kathryn Calder weave in and our creating a lush, shimmering tapestry of pop perfection.
The title track, lyrically, is a 21st century “Life During Wartime” for the current American dystopia.
“The sky will come for you once, so sit tight til it’s done”
I love the New Pornographers. They were always going to be top of this list, so yeah this is rigged. Whatever. I don’t care
2. Warhaus – S/T
I did not see this one coming until my super smart friend Kim threw this one out there. Warhaus is the solo project of Belgian band Balthazar’s Maarten Devoldere. His soulfully laid back but vaguely dramatic world worn vocal style will remind you of a slightly more sardonic Leonard Cohen with a dash of Tom Waits. The jazz influences coupled with Devoldere’s voice creates an intimacy that is often overwhelming and personal and often funny. This thing came into my radar out of nowhere and now it’s burned right into my psyche. Check out lyrics as well. Jeepers.
3. Chronixx – Chronology
It has always baffled me that reggae music remains a niche genre. I mean if the great Bob Marley took it as far as it can go in the pop culture zeitgeist what chance do we have without him? Chronixx may be the man to take it to the next level. Chronology is the perfect combination of roots , lovers rock, dub and dancehall mixed with just the right amounts of pop and just a dash of hip hop to be interesting. A new reggae album that I think can stand up right next to the reggae collection you amassed in college. Watch out for the reggae revival!
4. Fast Romantics – American Love
Described as an album of love songs in a time of turmoil, this Toronto by way of Calgary band creates a huge sound with their lush, shimmery power pop. Heart on the sleeve lyrics backed by soaring harmony creates a perfectly crafted indie pop classic for the current time in history. Stand outs include the title song “American Love”, “Radio Waves” with its infectious backing vocals, “Why We Fight” and the highly emotional “Alberta” a song that put tears in my eyes. The crown jewel of this album full of gems, is the single “Julia” an instant power pop classic. More hooks than any album has a right to have.
5. Curtis Harding – Face Your Fear
One time backup singer moves up front on his second solo release with his easy falsetto and classic soul style. I defy you to resist grooving and swaying with this playing. Hitting the same vibe as Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, but with an occasional psychedelic, Prince vibe thrown in, undoubtedly the influence of producer Danger Mouse.
A very satisfying soul record for your ass.
6. Skunk City – Sparked
Syracuse band Skunk City brings the funky jam every Sunday at local music and dining treasure Funk n Waffles, for free, every Sunday night. That’s hard work. That’s commitment, and all that hard work shows on their debut album Sparked. This is a polished product that will have you driving fast just like they make you dance when you get to see them. The album came out late this year but I think of this one as a great summer record to be grooving through the (salt) city with this album blasting from your car. Touching on funk, soul, jazz , this is an uncommonly accomplished debut album. If you aren’t bopping around in your chair or dancing around your house when “Careful With Your Heart” you need to get your pulse checked.
7. War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
When we all leave this mortal coil we will have to answer to the universe how The War On Drugs was never the biggest band in the world. On A Deeper Understanding, Adam Granduciel continues to dredge up all of his influences and make them into a perfectly seamless blanket of sound that positively soars. This is an album that literally shimmers from your speakers. I hear all the classic influences other writers refer to, but I never hear them talk about 80’s band The Blue Nile. This is the album The Blue Nile wished they could have made.
8. Chicano Batman – Freedom Is Free
For me, it’s been a big year for music that infuses soul into my heart or perhaps an international vibe as I look outward from my own troubled country, or maybe I just want to do a different dance these days. Either way, Freedom is Free is one soul filled record, brining in Latin and at times some psychedelia throwback. Sometimes sounding like Curtis Mayfield, sometimes Gil Scott-Heron and sometimes just a splash of James Brown, the house band of the city of lost angels delivers a new album that touches on the current moment in history but sounds like it’s from another time.
9. King Krule – The OOZ
A dramatic, dark album that will remind you at times of Morphine (the Boston band, not the drug…but maybe), at some times of Portishead and Tricky. With a thick London accent Archy Marshall walks us through some dark and haunting places, telling stories of alienation, despair and insomnia even. The OOZ is the soundtrack to the dark novel you have been meaning to write.
10. Oliver – Full Circle
Los Angeles electropop duo Oliver’s debut release covers all corners of the genre. Some vaguely prog-ish textures on the opening tracks “Portrait” and “Ottomatic” then they hit you with some funky jams with help from MNDR, De La Soul as well as others. The kind of electropop that you can pump from your car speakers as you slide through the city late in the evening.
11. Slowdive – S/T
Well, I guess if countless bands are going to try to sound like you after 22 years gone by, you may as well release your own version of yourself.
Reunions are big business now, well, unless you’re The Smiths and don’t care, and it’s always a fear that a reunion will disappoint. Slowdive’s return to shoegaze prominence rides on a velvet blanket of sound in a confident return especially in the lead single “Star Roving” mixing in some typically moodier tracks like “Falling Ashes” . Reunion of the year and not missing a beat.
12. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
An indie collaboration made in heaven by two of music’s most interesting lyricists. A laid back vibe allows these two song writers to open their journals and share stories and experiences with each other. My Dinner With Andre for the Pitchfork era starring a 21st century “Kurt & Courtney”? Maybe not, but for me just as compelling. Courtney could teach Kurt a thing or two about taking the rock up a notch but Kurt’s stoner twang does set up a pleasant counterpoint. Key Track : Continental Breakfast
13. The Raspberries – Pop Art Live
The live album of the year by the pride of Cleveland was actually recorded in 2004 and finally seeing the light of day. Documenting their first performance in 32 years by the band that should be more widely lauded than they are. Lovingly remixed by the great Tommy Allen, drummer for power pop legends The Flashcubes, this recording finds the Raspberries sounding like they never missed a day. Eric Carmen’s voice is as pure and clear as the day these songs were originally recorded and backed by those amazing harmonies by the original line up of Wally Bryson, Dave Smalley and Jim Bonfanti. . What better time than now to rediscover a catalog of pure power pop perfection beyond the hit “Go All The Way” Music made for hot summer nights and back seat kisses and after 31 years they didn’t miss a beat. A wonderful document of a criminally under appreciated band.
14. Low Cut Connie – Dirty Pictures (part t1)
Man, I have been to many bar rooms and seen a whole lot of bar bands in my time. Philadelphia’s Low Cut Connie, a band named after a waitress, are the quintessential back to the basics rock n roll band. Think stories with the characters and humor of Tom Waits, sung by a northeastern Jerry Lee Lewis on piano. Appropriately recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, LCC churn out a perfectly crafted dirty rock n roll record. Adam Weiner is a story teller as he hits those 88’s and delivers lyrics worthy of Westerbergian praise. It was an unexpected delight to have discovered Low Cut Connie because until now I had not heard of them. Further unexpected highlight is a barrelhouse version of Prince’s “Controversy”
15. Tommy Gunn – Talk of the Town
An entirely charming release from one of CNY’s original “Bright Lights” A rocking, fun collection of well crafted pop with underlying darker themes in the lyrics. Echoes of sad Brian Wilson ballads in the title track with a “town without pity” kind of melancholy Loving the brash rockers like “Get Lost” which has a tip over the tables and go home with a waitress bravado to it. A great track in there about us aging rockers “Past My Prime”. An album that rocks when it needs to and isn’t afraid to jangle. “Golden Rule” is reminiscent of a classic AM radio piano rock mega hit This is an excellent record Power Pop aficionados take notice.
16. JD McPherson – Undivided Heart & Soul
Rockabilly revivalist McPherson’s latest takes his roots vibe to a contemporary place without losing his Gene Vincent loving background. He’s gotten a lot of flak from certain segments of his more traditionalist fan base ,but for me, I love hearing him get a chance to explore without losing his natural influences. I do miss the sax though.
17. Kelly Lee Owens – S/T
Lush and often hypnotic techno dream pop by this London based artist. I really love her voice as it weaves in and our of the beats creating a very dreamy bed of sound. It’s kind of hard to describe(Or I’m just not good at it), so check out the track “Lucid” for my favorite example.
18. Elbow – Little Fictions
Unfair. Look, I am a heart on the sleeve kind of guy, which in this world is no goddamned fun sometime . But when an album with this much romantic heart and soaring vocals wafts through the mire of life, with its heartfelt lyrics and occasional orchestral waves, it’s pretty hard to resist. A perfect emotional ride for middle age, band and listener alike. Uplifting, heartbreaking and never boring.
19. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
Back again and wearing his influences, mostly Bowie and Joy Division, on his sleeve James Murphy embraces the passing of time with enough requisite funky melancholy that he would make Robert Smith proud. Ranting his way through a 70 min new wave classic over beds of synths and bass grooves, taking on aging, taking on the music industry. Technology and commerce. James Murphy is back and he’s grumpy. “This is going to have to be good enough, I cant do it anymore, my brian won’t work.”
20. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Boy did I resist this album. I tried. It’s the popular choice on everyone’s list this year and I was hesitant to consider it even. I am not looking to be a bandwagon jumper but my god, this album is good. Believe the hype. Lamar redefines hip hop by remember who came before him. Cinematic in it’s imagery, deeply introspective in some of it’s lyrical content while still hitting a few good topical topics, sometimes obliquely. For me the key track is the romantic duet with Zacari “Love” because I am an old softie and also because Root Shock do a kick ass version of this song from time to time.
Best Compilation (Multiple Artists)
Dana & Carl Present: This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio Volume 4
Not saying this because I know and love Dana and Carl, I would be saying this anyway.
Dana Bonn and Carl Cafarelli have been hosting the best three hours of music on the whole friggin planet since the late 50’s, ok, well, at least for the past 900 Sundays and this is their fourth compilation. Hand selected rock n roll to serve all your power pop needs and then some.
Most special to me among the 29 smash hits included is the recorded debut of Syracuse super group Maura & The Bright Lights with the BD Love/Maura Kennedy collaboration “Maybe Someday”
At 29 tracks it’s a bargain at twice the price, so go pick it up here.
Best Compilation (Single Artist)
The Flashcubes – Flashcubes Forever
A perfect companion piece to go with your copy of the previously released Bright Lights compilation, includes a good portion of Sporting Wood, the Roy Wood tribute album the Flashcubes released as well as both sides of their Chris Spedding tribute single. For me, the real fun is on CD 2 a recording of a show in Cortland. If you have been reading this blog you know that the Flashcubes burn it down live.
I think this is a limited release but I am told you may be able to secure a copy by checking out the Flashcubes Facebook page.
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