Before getting into the next five albums in the countdown, let’s take some time to explore the concept of a collaborative ranking list. When John asked me to help him out with a Top 20 list he was assigned for the paper, I was originally apprehensive about contributing.
I was worried about differing music tastes. As much as we respect each other’s opinions concerning music, there are naturally going to be dissentions or unfamiliarity. John knows a lot more about electronic music than I do. Personally, my biggest issue was if I downright did not agree with an album’s inclusion or exclusion. For me, this came to fruition with John’s love of CHVRCHES’ debut, which I did not find nearly holistically as strong as he does. However, such is the nature of a collaboration of this sort. We agreed on a lot and defended a few records, respectively. Still, do not let either one of us detract from the other; all of the albums featured on the entirety of this list are worth exploring. —M.M.
15.) “Old” – Danny Brown
By Matt McMahon
When Danny Brown released the cover for “Old,” I proclaimed if I enjoyed the tracks half as much as the artwork, I would love the album. Somehow, Brown outdid himself and his music surpassed even the album’s cover. A follow-up masterpiece to his excellent breakout mixtape “XXX,” “Old” proves he should definitely be considered one of the best in the game. Brown constructed a music lover and appreciator’s album. He juxtaposes the serious and haunting styles of his somber, gothic persona with the outrageous bombast of his partying nature. Brown wants to be at the forefront of his genre, remembered for his innovation and critical appeal. With his storytelling and hook writing ability, ear for beats and collaboration with strong producers and other artists, he’s achieving what he has set out to do.
Choice Cuts: “Side A [Old],” “Side B [Dope],” “Dip”
14.) “Major Arcana” – Speedy Oritz
By Matt McMahon
The release of “Major Arcana,” the proper debut full-length studio album of Massachusetts’s Speedy Ortiz, proves that guitar driven indie rock still exists. And better yet, here it absolutely flourishes. The angst-ridden voice of lead singer Sadie Dupuis, coupled with warped, crunching riffs combine for one of the catchiest and grittiest releases of the year. The frontwoman, sharing guitar duty with Matt Robidoux and bassist Darl Ferm, create angular, distorted melodies swinging from quiet to loud tension and explosion. On top of it all, Dupuis’s tenacious-while-poetic lyricism and wry-yet-caustic tongue exude personality. The band’s performance recalls the fondly remembered 90s indie noise pop. Meanwhile, Dupuis charms with her starkness and a raw emotional performance that cuts to the core and stings through the speakers. MM
Choice Cuts: “No Below,” “Plough,” “Tiger Tank”
13.) “Obsidian” – Baths
By John Darr
“Obsidian” is dark. It’s not the kind of jump-when-the-ghost-pops-out dark, not the apocalyptic movie dark. It’s the tension and fear we face our everyday lives.
It’s seeing a cliff and instinctively seeing yourself fall off its edge. It’s wondering if your intense, close relationship with someone is deeper than a hormonal push and pull. It’s wondering how to live in the face of death’s inevitability.
“Obsidian” finds Baths (singer/songwriter/producer Will Weisenfeld) exploring all these things over sonic tapestries that ebb and flow in the wake of each word. Flitting from light Postal Service electronica to symphonic electro-acoustic ballads to throbbing industrial, Baths covers as much musical ground as he does lyrical. And yet “Obsidian” is tightly focused, bound by meticulously tight production and thematic cohesion. Whereas many albums sacrifice either scope or coherence, Baths manages both here, and the product is truly something to behold. JD
Choice Cuts: “Ironworks,” “No Eyes,” “Phaedra”
12.) “The Bones of What You Believe” – CHVRCHES
By John Darr
Somewhere in this world, there is a huge pile of bright shiny things and it is guarded by a moat of golden retriever puppies. For their debut album, CHVRCHES swam/cuddled through the moat, ascended the pile with proper equipment and found the twelve shiniest and brightest things. They then threw them in the moat so that the puppies could play with them, thus infusing them with magical even-shinier powers. When they got home, they melted them into millions of CDs and the rest is history.
In the end, “The Bones of What You Believe” is a perfect pop album. It’s stuffed to the brim with ridiculously catchy hooks, features golden production that allows every instrument to stand out, and is fronted by ridiculously cute and amazingly talented singer Amanda Mayberry (and she has a Scottish accent. Game over). And if you perhaps thought, “I like sophisticated music, it’s probably not for me,” you’re still in luck – the album boasts not a single cheesy lyric and concludes with a gorgeous dream-pop ballad straight out of hipster heaven. Just give it a listen — your ears will thank you. JD
Choice Cuts: “Recover,” “We Sink,” “Tether,” “You Caught the Light”
11.) “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” – Foxygen
By Matt McMahon
It seems like forever ago that Foxygen’s third LP came out. Not just because the indie rock duo released the album in January or because of the ongoing news from the band over the year — from inner turmoil between the two founding members to solo albums and side project — but because the record has such a solid, classic rock sound. Soulful, psychedelic, with the production style of any 60s and 70s rock favorite, the band pays tribute to the best of experimental and glam icons like David Bowie and Lou Reed. What lifts this album the most though, is that it remains completely the band’s own. Their pop songwriting is inventive, taking the elements given to them from the past and turning them into something fresh. MM
Choice Cuts: “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic,” “No Destruction,” “San Francisco”