The best musicAccording to me.
2019A year in which I listened to a lot of electronic music again, to the exclusion of most other kinds. Probably because I spent way too much time looking at my computer screen.
- Tyler, the Creator – Igor (standouts: What’s Good, I Think)
Thom Yorke – Anima (standouts: Traffic, Dawn Chorus)
- Floating Points – Crush
- Nils Frahm – All Encores (standout: All Armed)
Barker – Utility
- Weval – The Weight
Best song this year:
- Nils Frahm: All Armed
Albums I liked parts of a lot but found slightly irritating overall:
James Blake – Assume Form (standout: Lullaby For My Insomniac)
- The National – I Am Easy to Find (standout: Not in Kansas)
Albums that weren’t released this year but that I spent a lot of time with:
- Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2 – Star Stuff (standout: Don’t Blame Yourself)
- Leon Vynehall – Nothing Is Still
- Autechre – LP5 (standout: Corc)
2018Nils Frahm – All Melody. A late night journey – masterful control of electronics and keys, mood and emotion. If you like Andy Stott/Floating Points, check this out. Incredibly deep masterwork.
Chilly Gonzales – III. The long-awaited third instalment of Chilly's seminal Solo Piano works. Incredible variation, style, and pop sophistication in a set of meticulous and lovely piano pieces.
Childish Gambino – This is America. What can be said about this song? A stunning video, an earworm of a gospel intro paired with a brutal trap beat, and Donald Glover continuing to show that he can apply his infinite creativity in new and profound ways.
Beach House – 7. Beach House is such a consistently great band. Never varying too far from their own template, but never sounding tired. 7 is more of all the romantic shoegazey glow I love about them.
Phil France – Circle. This album is simply beautiful, atmospheric, and textured. I put it on and it makes me feel like all the vibrating atoms in my body are a little more in tune with the universe.
Foxwarren – self-titled. A great folk/indie rock record from the incredibly talented Andy Shauf and his band. Everything Apart/In Another Life slay me. Whole record has so much space and thoughtful instrumentation and production touches.
Preoccupations – New Material. The best (post-)punk being made today. A taut record for the band with a sound that continues to evolve into new territory, this time with new wave influences and sparse synths. Ending drone "Compliance" is a standout.
2017Kendrick Lamar – DAMN/NATION
Little needs to be said by the likes of me about the likes of Kendrick Lamar. He's simply the most creative, intelligent, talented and driven artist working today. DAMN continues his unbroken streak of perfect records, somehow delivering another profound concept album while simultaneously topping the charts. As he says on the TPAB song Momma: “I know everything, I know Compton, I know street shit, I know shit that's conscious, I know everything…“ He’s not lying.
The double album contained within DAMN (by reversing the track listing to get NATION) inverts the narrative of the record, beginning with Kendrick’s origin story and ending with his death, rather than the reverse. Far from a gimmick, this makes the album endlessly fascinating: a hip-hop möbius strip.
Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
The surge and sway of this post-rock record is particularly fitting as a soundtrack to the chaotic digital bath of 21st century existence. It’s beautiful, ambivalent, dense, and urgent. Mechanical and human without self-conscious awareness of the boundaries between those aspects of the work. Grizzly Bear have continued to refine and evolve their sound since Yellow House, staying relevant while sticking to their own voice. I think this is their best work yet.
Other great albums
- Destroyer – Ken
- Timber Timbre – Sincerely, Future Pollution
- Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
- Fleet Foxes – Crack Up
- Gabriel Garzón-Montano – Jardin
- Palm – Shadow Expert
- Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives
- Björk – Utopia
- LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
- Kendrick Lamar – DNA
- Grizzly Bear – Three Rings
- Timber Timbre – Velvet Gloves & Spit
- Kendrick Lamar – The Heart Part 4
- LCD Soundsystem – Oh Baby
- Mark Pritchard (feat. Thom Yorke) – Beautiful People
- Moses Sumney – Plastic
- Destroyer – Tinseltown swimming in blood
2016Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool. A quiet, elusive, stunning record from the best band making music today. Easy to underestimate but so rewarding to spend time with.
Preoccupations - self-titled. Incredible return from the band formerly known as Viet Cong. Expanded, deepened punk and drone, with an ominous undertone fitting the current state of the world.
Nicolas Jaar - Sirens. One of the most interesting sound makers going delivers a shapeshifting record of peaks and valleys and texture.
Weval - self-titled. Completely unexpected, completely perfect techno album from the young Dutch duo. Warm and danceable - had this one on repeat for long periods this year.
Andy Shauf - The Party. Meticulous sophomore album from the songwriter. Conceptually satisfying (the stories and emotions of characters at a house party) and sonically precise folk music for introverts.
Kaytranada - 99.9%. Bouncy, fun hip hop from one of Canada’s best producers. Here’s the soundtrack for your next house party.
Anderson Paak - Malibu. Rich, emotional hip hop/urban album. Incredible production and memorable songs from an incredibly talented artist. Part of the renaissance of hip hop albums that extend fearlessly into multiple genres and modes outside of traditional rap and pop (good companion for To Pimp a Butterfly).
Kadhja Bonet - The Visitor. Vintage-sounding soul and a remarkable voice. Beautiful album that sounds like a James Bond soundtrack crossed with Nina Simone.
Kikagaku Moyo - House in the Tall Grass. Psychedelic Japanese prog rock. Great vibes and unexpected instrumental shifts. Sort of Zeppelin filtered through Tokyo.
Floating Points - Kuiper. A single track that's more ambitious than most albums. Sweeping, majestic masterpiece.
- Beyoncé - Formation
- Radiohead - Burn the Witch
- Radiohead - Present Tense
- Julie Byrne - Natural Blue
- Nicolas Jaar - Killing Time
- Kadhja Bonet - The Visitor
- Kikagaku Moyo - Silver Owl
- Andy Shauf - To You
- Justice - Randy
- Justice - Safe & Sound
- Kevin Morby - Cut Me Down
- Kanye West - Ultralight Beam
- Soft Hair - Lying has to stop
- Chance the Rapper - No Problem
- Weval - I don't need it
- Preoccupations - Stimulation
- Preoccupations - Memory
- Japandroids - Near to the wild heart of life
2015Viet Cong - self-titled. Relentless and unpredictable punk with new wave influence. My favourite record of the year, start to finish.
Tame Impala - Currents. The sound of summer from Kevin Parker. Great evolution in their sound that was already goddamn incredible.
Gabriel Garzon-Montano - Bishouné: Alma del Huila. Beautiful and addictive EP of soul and funk. Perfect with a fresh pot of coffee in the morning.
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly. Difficult, provocative, intelligent, and undeniable music from the voice of a generation. A massive artistic statement to follow up from Good Kid MAAD City. Brilliant instrumentation.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love. Another fantastic record from UMO - just flows by but keeps you coming back for more. Bits of Beck and Modest Mouse.
Humans - Noontide. Dialed-in beats and great uplifting songs from the Vancouver duo. On a lot this year.
José González - Vestiges & Claws. I became a dad this year, and accordingly listened to lots of quiet acoustic music. Jack and I woke up most mornings to this, Tallest Man on Earth, or Jack Johnson while we played with blocks and ate breakfast and gave Jess a little rest. A great return from Gonzalez after 8 years without a solo record.
Dralms - Shook. Tightly controlled and brilliantly executed debut of prog rock precision from Christopher Smith’s new project. Vancouver rockers.
Tallest Man on Earth - Dark Bird is Home. A slow grower from the other great Swedish player on this list. Just straight unpretentious folk. Good for puttering.
Nils Frahm - Solo. Stunning and minimal piano album.
Beach House - Depression Cherry. In many ways more of the same - but when their sound is so good it's impossible to want it any different.
- Viet Cong - March of Progress. My favourite from the album. The opening drums building to the monologue vocals and arpeggios to the wide open guitars and outburst of drums and sparkle at the end. Thrilling and visceral the way only punk can be.
Gabriel Garzon-Montano - 6 8. Those claps and keys and that pure vocal line.
Gabriel Garzon-Montano - Everything is Everything. A great jam that wouldn't sound out of place on a Stevie Wonder record.
- Jamie XX - Gosh. Space music. The slow build synth line from about 2:20 through to the end and video of a slowly terraformed Mars made this one stick https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjNssEVlB6M
- Bob Moses - Far from the Tree. Hypnotic track from the Brooklyn duo. Love the repetitive fractured vocals.
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Necessary Evil. Funky and heartfelt, with great warm horns in the outro.
- Thundercat - Them Changes. Infectious rhythms from Stephen Bruner and Steven Ellison.
- Tame Impala - Cause I’m a Man. Sure sounds and feels good loud in the sunshine.
- Humans - Watusi. Super fun tropical vibe with a great beat. Beach music.
- José González - Every Age. Lovely reflective poem on growth and positivity.
- Nils Frahm - Ode. Beautiful opener from his Solo album. So much space between the notes.
- Kendrick Lamar - How Much a Dollar Cost. Truth and despair in the face of the wealth gap and the individual's role in perpetuating it.
2014Caribou: Our Love. Another addictive gem from Dan Snaith. Probably the album I listened to most this year.
Timber Timbre: Hot Dreams. The dark warmth of this band keeps evolving. Title track is the best song of the year.
Dawn of Midi: Dysnomia. Less an album than a single 40 minute piece of avant-garde rhythmic jazz music. These guys are so incredibly talented. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcY5czIND-A
Jungle: Self-titled. Out of nowhere: the most enjoyable, danceable, fresh jam record in a long time. So many hits. Such great videos.
Flying Lotus: You’re Dead. FlyLo keeps getting weirder and better. This album is a trip…not for the faint of heart.
Thom Yorke: Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. It’s too bad Thom Yorke is in Radiohead, because it makes everyone underestimate his solo work. This album is a slow grower that rewards over time. (Note: it’s not too bad Thom Yorke is in Radiohead).
James Vincent McMorrow: Post Tropical. An album of delicate and intimate love songs from this unique Irish songwriter.
D’Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah. After 14 years of waiting, D’Angelo surprised everyone with a furious political record alive with soul, funk, and protest. Timely.
- Timber Timbre: Hot Dreams. This is a rare, rare song. The pacing, the emotional pull, and good lord those horns.
- Jungle: Busy Earnin’. You can’t resist it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcsfftwLUf0
- Caribou: Back Home and Silver. Two highlights from a spectacular record. The way Silver drops with a fully fleshed-out beat from 0:00 gets me every time.
- Kendrick Lamar: Untitled (Multiply). Kendrick is the most important rapper in the world right now. Amazing to hear something of his new sound leading up to the next album. What did the black man say? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akyX5yt_W4I
- Thom Yorke: The Mother Lode. My favourite from the album. Somehow he always sounds like he’s singing to himself, and just doing us the favour of letting us listen in.
- Lykke Li: I Never Learn. The layered acoustic guitars and her plaintive voice are perfect on this mournful song.
- Rustie feat Danny Brown: Attak. Just a banger and a great verse from Danny.
- Clark: Unfurla. Warp records keeps finding the best electronic musicians. This is a wicked energetic track from a very good album.
- Museum of Love: Monotronic. Beauty tune from Pat Mahoney’s new band.
- Sylvan Esso: Wolf. Awooooooooo—ooooo-oooo-ooo-oooo.
2013DARKSIDE: Psychic. Nicolas Jaar's new band is making the best new electronic music to come along in a while. Rich textures and addictive rhythms.
Boards Of Canada: Tomorrow's Harvest. A return to form that was never lost from the wise elders of electronic music.
James Blake: Overgrown. Brilliant atmosphere and production, and a totally unique voice. A natural evolution from 2011's self-titled masterpiece.
Andy Shauf: The Bearer of Bad News. Beautiful album full of haunting songs from a prairie storyteller. Highlight: the paired closing songs about an accidental murder told from two perspectives.
Kanye West: Yeezus. This is the first Kanye record I've ever gotten in to. Say what you want about him, but this album is so creative and perfectly executed. It's uncomfortable and raw and powerful.
Shigeto: No Better Time Than Now. Densely layered tones and keys and a great vibe. If you like Four Tet or Teebs, give Shigeto a try.
Thundercat: Apocalypse. Another awesome record of inventive bass and soulful tunes from Brainfeeder's favourite bassist.
Junip: Self-titled. Great to hear what José González does with a full band. Just a really good record of warm acoustic songs.
Shane Carruth: Upstream Colour official soundtrack. My favourite film of the year, and an incredibly rewarding slow atmospheric soundtrack.
I also really liked the new Four Tet, Phoenix, The National, The Field, Vampire Weekend, King Krule, and A$AP Rocky albums. Guilty pleasure: Lorde.
James Blake: Retrograde
- Darkside: Golden Arrow
- Darkside: Metatron
- Thundercat: Oh Sheit It's X
- Mount Kimbie (feat. King Krule): You Took Your Time
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: Can't Hold Us
- Andy Shauf: Wendell Walker
- Shigeto: Ringleader
- Laura Mvula: That's Alright
- A$AP Rocky: Goldie
- The National: Hard to Find
- Vampire Weekend: Unbelievers
- Boards of Canada: Reach for the Dead