It’s already halfway through January, I need to finish these!
Jimmy Cliff, Rebirth: Unbelievable. After all these years, after so much history, Jimmy Cliff is still making some of the tightest, most beautiful reggae in the world. His voice has weathered and aged, but it’s still probing, honest, and direct.
The Tallest Man On Earth, There’s No Leaving Now: With his confident picking and raspy voice, Kristian Mattson sounds like Bob Dylan on first listen. And with further attention he sounds even more like Dylan—simple and perfect rhymes, just the right amount of additional instrumentation on top of his essentially solo pieces, and thoughtful but opaque lyrics like:
But the lesson is vague and the lightning
Shows a deer with her mind on the moor
And now something with the sun is just different
Since they shook the earth in 1904
More delicate beauty from Sweden; the folk scene needs more music this good.
Doomtree, No Kings: I’m a sucker for this kind of rap—rhythmically complex, eclectic, incorporating soulful singing and dubstep beats together with the whole of American hip hop. The diverse Doomtree collective out of Minneapolis is greater than the sum of its already talented parts. Look at videos of them together to see the ways the members push and inspire each other.
Dustin Wong, Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads: The truest heir to prog rock guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, Wong takes a break from recording with Ponytail to release a jaw-dropping album of layered guitar music. The album is angular, edgy, and virtuosic without ever feeling like it’s just a guy showing off his chops.
Fun., Some Nights: This album had no right to become a giant success. Grandiose, theatrical, and sincere aren’t really titles we associate with great indie rock. Wait, I think the problem’s with us! I take it back, this album had every right to become a huge success. Nate Ruess is one of the best lead singers in the world and the band as a whole delivers exciting, relevant, modern arena rock.
Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself: Fiddler / singer / whistler / genius Andrew Bird is back, and he’s changing things up. This feels less experimental than his last few albums, with more folk influence coming through. Above all it’s less about the production and atmosphere and more about the performance of a band that’s coalesced around Bird himself.
Chelsea Wolfe, Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs: A spooky, dreamlike collection of material from Wolfe. Making an acoustic album is a bold move for an artist who usually incorporates lots of electronic atmosphere on her tracks. This works though, kind of like early p.j. harvey or a more fully realized Julee Cruise.
Tamaryn, Tender New Signs: Yeah it’s another shoegaze album. Shoegaze is awesome. It’s the first niche genre of music I became really expert in. Tamaryn aren’t content to subdue their guitars under mountains of reverb—there are delicate but strong riffs here to make each track stand out.
Alex Winston, King Con: Complex production and busy arrangements can’t hide Winston’s powerful little-girl voice. Between Winston, fun., Pepe Deluxe, Muse, and others I think we’re heading for another period of great theatrical rock, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the mid-70s.
Torche, Harmonicraft: It takes giant brass balls to put out a metal album with this cover: rainbows and clouds against a pink sky, whimsical goats everywhere. That’s Torche, though. Wedding the best kind of catchy emo riffs to sludgy stoner rock just shouldn’t work, but here it really does.