As the year winds down, the Weinblog continues to reflect on all that the year had to offer.
One of those things was music. Plenty of new releases made their way from the studio to our ear drums this year, and some were better than others.
This is the second straight year I’ve ranked what I thought were the best albums of the year, and after doing some serious listening over the recent weeks, I’ve narrowed it to 12.
And despite receiving my praise yesterday, you will not find Justin Bieber on this list.
I debated what to put in the last spot for quite a while, and then decided that If I didn’t go with Colbie Caillat’s Gypsy Heart, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. OK, that’s maybe an exaggeration. But the songs on this album (particularly in the top half) are just so pure, so empowering and so well-intentioned that I thought I’d be remiss not to acknowledge it in era where musicians tends to forget that they have the unique ability to inspire young people with their words. There’s no tricks here. No over-the-top hooks. Just Colbie singing from her heart.
Death Cab for Cutie
Ben Gibbard has a unique ability to slow the tempo and invoke emotion with his voice without ever becoming too tedious. Kintsugi is further evidence of that. I can’t help but listen to Death Cab for Cutie and feel a sense of longing, or nostalgia … for what, I don’t know. But it’s there. Indeed, Kintusgi may even have an added flair of somberness tinged in since it’s the first release since Gibbard’s and Zooey Deschanel’s marriage fell apart. The album is bookended by its best tracks, “No Room in Frame” and “Binary Sea.”
Right out of the gate, Payola smacks you in the face with its heavy riffs, smash-mouth lyrics and aggressive attitude, and it maintains that edge throughout. The punk rock band, headed by Conor Oberst, just seemed like they were on a mission with this album, as they touch on many socioeconomic issues in their songs. But the result is a powerfully raw, angry and restless album that makes for a very lively and enjoyable listen.
Dark Bird is Home
The Tallest Man on Earth
Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, known by his stage name The Tallest Man on Earth, is known for his raw and simple delivery. He’s just a man and his guitar, singing about life. But with Dark Bird is Home, Matsson adds a jingly, instrumental accompaniment that perfectly suits his voice and adds more depth to the tracks. The whole thing is just very pleasurable to listen to on many levels.
What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress
Underrated as one of the best singer-songwriters of our generation, Bareilles sticks to her roots, singing about romance and relationships, but this time does it in a more theatrical way. Which is fine, as it shows us another element of her amazing talent. The theatrical feel makes perfect sense, as the songs were written by Bareilles as a score to a musical, which she decided to translate into a full-length album. The whole album is really good, but hits its stride at the end with tracks nine through 11, namely “You Matter To me,” “She Used to Be Mine” and “Everything Changes.”
Mumford & Sons
As a devoted Mumford & Sons fan ever since I first heard “Little Lion Man” on the radio in 2009, I was admittedly apprehensive when I learned the band was changing course, ditching the banjo for its forthcoming release and replacing it with the electric guitar. By doing so, they were essentially abandoning their folk roots, which is what made them who they are. Even after the first couple listens of Wilder Mind, I was still dubious — with the exception of “The Wolf,” which I liked from the get-go. But after stepping away for a couple of months and returning to the album with a fresh ear, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is awesome. It’s different, for sure, but at the heart of each track is still the same old Mumford & Sons. For the most part, the tracks are a little less explosive and more refined, but the band still displays their subtle brilliance to begin a track slowly and build to a dramatic climax, best exemplified in the track “Only Love.”
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
I’ve always loved The Decemberists, but seeing them live in Newport, Rhode Island this summer made me a fan for life. They are just such a cheerful, energetic bunch on stage. And they’re also very good at making music. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is a continuation of the band’s great catalog, an indie-rock serenade that you can’t possibly listen to without feeling your mood brighten. It’s endlessly hopeful and charming, and ends with a bang, with “A Beginning Song,” which may be my favorite Decemberists track ever.
There’s something so incredibly appealing in what Kacey Musgraves does. She possesses the furthest thing from powerhouse vocals, but has the unique ability to tell a story in every one of her songs. Her straightforward delivery really helps you pick up the lyrics, and you find that they are actually really funny and poignant, but at the same time, flow perfectly within the song without seeming too forced. I don’t know any other artist today that can match her ability to create songs that are so simple, yet so multi-layered. Just take a listen to the album’s title track “Pageant Material,” and really try to hear what she’s saying if you want to fully grasp Kacey’s brilliance. It’s a great follow-up to the Grammy-winning Same Trailer, Different Park, but with a little more sass and humor embedded within.
I Love You, Honeybear
Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear is really an achievement in indie rock singer-songwriting, which I’m not sure was really a genre until Joshua Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, made it his own with this release. There’s really nothing else like this in music today, and it’s a perfect example of how experimenting with music and lyrics can be a win-win for all. It’s not at all conventional, and will at times challenge your musical palate, but that’s a good thing.
The Firewatcher’s Daughter
It’s about time this woman deserved her due. As far as vocal ability, Brandi Carlile is up there with almost anyone else in the music industry today. Her voice has so much depth and range that it almost works against her in the sense that it leaves her without a genre. She’s a hybrid of country, folk, rock and alternative. But whatever it is — it’s awesome. With The Firewatcher’s Daughter, Carlile really channeled all of her life inspiration into a beautiful anthology in an extremely mature fashion. There’s up-tempo rock mixed with slow ballads, all heavily imbued with emotion, and each of which showcase the extraordinary talents of Brandi Carlile.
Quite simply, nobody else in the world can do what Adele does. Her voice is second to none, and thus, 25 could not be recorded by anybody else. I went into this album weary of praising it just because it’s Adele, and because critics will tell me I should, but it didn’t take long for me to appreciate it. The second single, “When We Were Young,” is an extremely powerful and emotive song, rich with feelings of nostalgia, that could go down as her biggest hit yet. The whole album is a tour de force driven by Adele’s bluesy and soulful voice, which is very refreshing in today’s bubblegum pop-driven contemporary music industry
Carrie & Lowell
There’s just something so soulfully haunting when it comes to Sufjan Stevens that it’s almost hard to listen to his music over and over again. But with Carrie & Lowell, Stevens created a much more accessible album that could not be more blissful or soothing. His almost whisper-like quality of singing puts the listener into a surreal, dreamlike state of mind. It’s absolutely criminal that the album was ignored by the Grammys this year, but in the grand scheme of things, the most important thing about music is the impact that it has on people, and I think the acclaim that the album has received speaks for itself. It’s chilling in so many ways, but never becomes depressing, and may even leave you with a small feeling of hope. And that, my friends, is why it’s the best album of 2015.