- DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar – One of my favorite things I discovered about this album was that Kendrick meant for it to be played both forward and backward(further proven by the release today of DAMN. COLLECTORS EDITION., which is simply the album in reverse order — hint: it’s better backward). The story it tells each way is different, and he is a master storyteller through hip-hop. My favorites on this album constantly changed, but it was always based on my intense listening to a song I hadn’t previously, and hearing the intricacy of the narrative Kendrick is weaving. Top three right now: “DUCKWORTH.,” “GOD.,” and “ELEMENT.”
- Play Dead by Mutemath – Unfortunately, this album is a little marred for me by the loss of both Roy Mitchell-Cardenas and Darren King. The current Mutemath band only includes one original member (Paul Meany). While I love Paul Meany and Todd Gummerman, I’m not sure that any future Mutemath albums will hold the same significance for me as their five albums they produced with at least three original band members. Anyway, Play Dead showcases some of Mutemath’s best soundscapes. My favorite tracks included “Break the Fever,” “Everything’s New,” and “Achilles Heel,” all for different reasons. I love the shift they made since Vitals to heavy synthesizers, and I love the Darren King’s percussion was out in the open.
- The Search for Everything by John Mayer – This album had to grow on me a little bit. I was worried when I heard the songs released in “waves” that the music was a little too sweet and poppy. First, he had some great blues-inspired tracks like “Helpless,” but even his actual pop songs (“Still Feel Like Your Man” and “Moving On and Getting Over”) were winners. His place as a blues-guitar master was also solidified for me, as I finally got to see him live with Elaine back in August. Mutemath still holds as my favorite concert (five times over), but John Mayer’s show was an amazing production. (And this dude can seriously shred up a guitar.)
- Melodrama by Lorde – I’ve been waiting for this album since 2012 when Pure Heroine came out. She kind of came out of nowhere back then, but the minimalist pop of that album was incredible and unique. The direction of Melodrama‘s pop took a different direction – its sounds were fuller and more developed, but she maintained some of her minimalism in interesting ways (“Hard Feelings/Loveless”). I listened to the top half of the album far more than the bottom. “Homemade Dynamite” and “The Louvre” were big favorites.
- This was the year I discovered Lofi Hip-Hop. Honestly, it’s kind of a weird subgenre that I discovered on YouTube while trying to find music I could listen to while researching and writing that wouldn’t distract me. This was a big win for me. There is a ton out there, but this was a common channel I used:
- “If We Were Vampires” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Good Lord. Don’t listen intently to this song unless you are ready to cry. What an amazing way to capture the ephemeral nature of life and love.
- “Your Water” by Parker Millsap & Sarah Jarosz in the Luck Mansion Sessions:
- “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” by Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau – I love the combination of jazz piano to Thile’s mandolin genius. Also, apparently this is a Bob Dylan cover?
- Chance the Rapper, in two different performances. Need I say more?:
Here’s a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite songs this year: