40. Ya Tseen – Indian Yard
Psychedelic groove pop akin to a more texturally adventurous/dynamically diverse Tame Impala.
39. Wu Man/Kojiro Umezaki – Flow
The Jimi Hendrix of the pipa meditation shreds up a finger storm of jaw-dropping beauty.
38. Big Brave – Vital
Post-rock/epic shoegazer sludge metal at its finest with some Cranberries-esque vocals.
37. Chad VanGaalen – The World’s Most Stressed Out Gardener
It’s Chad. Chad’s always great, and this is upper tier Chad being his Chad-est.
36. Ty Seagal – Harmonizer
I didn’t give a shit about Ty Seagal before this album. Harmonizer smacked me right in the fuzzy stoner rock gritty bits.
36. Cartel Madras – The Serpent and the Tiger (Canadian)
These ladies rap circles around most of their peers and have spicy, worldly production to match their eclectic precision.
35. Shad – Tao (Canadian)
Shad, like Chad, is doing his Shadiest Shad-ing here. If you’re not already on the Shad-wagon, this isn’t going to convert you, but the man really can rap and pushes his production choices further than expected here.
35. Kanye West – Donda
This should probably be higher on the list, in all honesty. Kayne has been doing very work to improve himself as an all-around vocalist and Donda benefits greatly from it, despite being more bloated than a Kardashian shopping bill.
34. Lord Huron – Long Lost
This album is the best distinction I can think of between “country” and “western” music. Long Lost is firmly what I’d describe as “western”, conjuring dusty, sophisticated cinematics and staying far, far away from any repulsive pop twang crooning for second cousins to cattle brand each other’s naughty bits to.
33. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
Imagine the Flaming Lips didn’t get depressing and aimless but instead Genderman Button-ed into a young Canadian woman crafting jubilant psych pop.
32. Crumb – Ice Melt
Still the best group currently making psychedelic groove rock.
31. Cadence Weapon – Parallel World (Canadian)
I’ve usually appreciated more than outright enjoyed previous Cadence Weapon albums. This one is mostly different, playing to his vocal strengths and containing his most exciting production to date.
30. St. Vincent – The Nowhere Inn
Confession: aside from a song or two, I sort of hate Daddy’s Home. Annie made her first icky Bowie album. But that’s fine when she pumps out something as experimentally arresting and tunefully excellent as The Nowhere Inn in the same year.
29. Doja Cat – Planet Her
Doja is the pop goddess we need. Her always 100 unique and committed vocal performances can and do elevate everything she touches. Thankfully, her production choices are pretty stellar, even when leaning as far into commercial pop as she does on Planet Her.
28. Pepe Deluxe – Phantom Cabinet Vol 1
Theatrical technicolour prog-freak gear sluts are going to ruin more than a few sets of headphones creaming themselves to the non-stop gymnastic production magic of these bombastic, funktastic sound geek bangers.
27. Badbadnotgood – Talk Memory
See, jazz doesn’t have to suck. Just a shit ton of punk and hip hop swagger no matter how far down the noodle hole you go. And they never go too far before remembering that they’re writing fucking songs, not exercise charts.
26. serpentwithfeet – Deacon
This is as lovely as odes to friendship get. As tender as it is soulful, emotional and expressive.
25. Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
There’s a honed sense of precision and purpose in the songwriting and production of Blue Weekend that instantly moved Wolf Alice from a folk/pop curiosity to a serious art pop/rock act to my ears.
23. Allie – Tabula Rasa (Canadian)
Every time Allie drops an album of groovy, sultry R&B, her craft levels up.
22. Royal Canoe – Sidelining (Canadian)
Alt/pop trip hop brilliance from one of the most consistent groups in the game.
21. Liars – The Apple Drop
Few groups create a sense of sinister unease like Liars, and familiar territory is like inertia to a shark, so there’s always fresh creative blood to chase through these sonic waters.
20. Royal Blood – Typhoons
Rock is alive and well. These riffs and melodies are perfectly buzzy, scuzzy and polished to gleam like a well-used crystal dildo.
14. Backxwash – Here I Lie Buried With My Rings (Canadian)
The sculpted punk metal grind of this album perfectly compliments the energy of her Saul rhythmic roar.
14. Snail Mail – Valentine
Snail Mail didn’t capture my attention prior to Valentine. That obviously changed, thanks to a relentless supply of hooks and beautifully composed sad indie rock love songs.
14. The Armed – ULTRAPOP
I miss Adebisi Shank and Tera Melos. This is like that, but more occasionally hardcore and shoegazer-y.
14. Damon Albarn – The Nearer the Fountain, The Purer The Stream Flows
Albarn is one of those songwriters I just connect with the sensibilities of, increasingly, with age, it seems.
14. William Ryan Fritch – Built Upon A Fearful Void
One of our greatest living composers has another collection to break your heart and warm your soul with its lovingly constructed rustic orchestral beauty.
13. Low – Hey What
Low continues to fascinate with their ongoing experiments in integrating highly manipulated distortion as a prominent tool in a process that sees the mix become the arrangement to a degree I’m not sure I’ve heard elsewhere.
12. Absolutely Free – Aftertouch (Canadian)
I’m getting tired but shit, this album is really good, trust me. It’s like if the ’80s somehow sounded not like all the producers were on way too much cocaine and just tried to make great records. I don’t even know if that really describes what I’m trying to convey about the sound here. How about: what if Tortoise made a Cure record? And both of them were at their best.
11. Hiatus Kaiyote – Mood Valiant
They’re so casually skillful it makes me want to swoon or puke, depending on the track.
10. Quinton Barnes – As a Motherfucker (Canadian)
He should be huge. Barnes can sing, rap, write, produce, mix and master. But with those JPEGMAFIA-meets-Prince-like chops, he should be doing anything he wants.
9. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Read someone else’s more insightful review about this one. It’s epic, pointed and Simz is among the most technically adept rappers in the business.
8. Sufjan Stevens & Angelo de Augustine – A Beginner’s Mind
Norm-ish core Sufjan at its finest. Less silly frills or fuckery than some of his bolder work but he makes up for it in pure compositional brilliance.
7. Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
What an unlikely, yet perfect match. Just a little more Reznor influence in the overall album’s musical vibe might have pushed this one right to the top for me.
6. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue (Canadian)
The best radio-friendly alt metal band I’ve heard in ages is from Victoria, BC. It’s odd for a metal album to rank this highly for me, so take the hint and check it out. They’ve absorbed and repurposed a fantastic amount of music, hitting that sweet spot of familiar yet utterly fresh and exciting.
6. Beams – Ego Death (Canadian)
Holy crap, some old friends, a few people I haven’t met and an outright songwriting treasure of a human made an utterly brilliant, consistently propulsive and beautifully constructed album.
5. Danny Elfman – Big Mess
We all knew he was a genius, but did you know how damn hard he rocks? This album is nuts in the best possible ways – if you can handle the madness.
4. daysormay – Just Existing (Canadian)
There isn’t a band out there right now making alternative pop music more exciting and catchy than daysormay. Top to bottom pristine production and songcraft that cuts no corners in the search for the most expressive way to communicate an emotion.
3. Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost
Yes, Tyler just keeps getting better with each album, his rapping, songcraft, storyteling and production talents always seeking to outpace each other. Being out of the closest is a great fit for a man of his creative wingspan.
2. Xiu Xiu – Oh No
You’re probably not going to like this album. But it’s utter genius on a level that’s probably made Bjork cry. Occasionally utterly breathtaking in its beauty, sometimes horrifyingly uncomfortable, and every emotion in between, Oh No is Xiu Xiu’s magnum opus, a towering achievement in cinematic experimental art music that defies logical categorization at every turn. Don’t worry if you can’t get into it, but if you’re one of the people this album was made for, you’re welcome.
1. Tune-Yards – sketchy.
All hail Merrill Garbus. I mean it. Where the fuck are the fawning 10/10 reviews and year end list topping spots for sketchy. all over the internet? This album makes sweet freaky circus love to my ears and mind at every turn, making the music geek and musician in me salivate in a continuous stream of dumfounded jealousy and volcanic admiration. It’s a stupidly adept and creative achievement but it’s also so absurdly tuneful that even musical muggles will be humming their lips off after a brush with the grand Garbus at the top of her game.
“Look into my eyes, I see you honey.”