Welcome to year 13 of Everything Ecstatic’s Albums of the Year list. I’ve cut the number of albums featured significantly down from last year’s 60 (it was a lot!) to better represent the albums that I know I’ll be coming back to for years to come. If you feel like going down the rabbit hole of EE’s lists from year’s past, the Albums of the Year tab is where you’ll find it all in semi-organized fashion.
At any rate, I read somewhere this year that the intro to these year-end lists is like the most mundane piece of music writing you’ll read all year. I couldn’t agree more, so let’s get to the albums. I write about a ton of music like this year-round, so hit me up on Twitter to be tuned in as it happens and follow Everything Ecstatic on Twitter and Facebook to be updated whenever something goes up on the site (it’s rare these days, but always meaningful.) There’s a track selection/video under each entry, a full playlist at the bottom of this post and if you’re thinking about buying any of this music, please do it directly through a label or on Bandcamp as they actually pay artists a reasonable split. Shouts!
25. Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
I gotta admit, while I’d listened to Fetch The Bolt Cutters a number of times this year, I hadn’t tuned in with an objectively critical ear until I wrote about it as one of this year’s standouts for my Sunday column in the San Francisco Chronicle Datebook. Fiona Apple is bar none of the best lyricists alive and there are few experiences quite like her impactful music.
24. Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto
The story behind this finally released recording might be my favorite of any album this year. So Monk and his quartet got booked to play a show at Palo Alto High School in 1968 and the tapes only existed because the high school janitor of all people recorded the 47-minute set. It’s a fantastic set of classics that you can read more about in this piece by Marcus J. Moore of the New York Times.
23. Jordana – Something To Say To You
The Grand Jury Music label has been consistently finding emerging talent for years and Wichita’s Jordana is their latest gem. I couldn’t quit her bedroom pop EPs that dropped throughout the year and this album is a combination of two of them. There’s charm in the simplicity of these productions and Jordana doesn’t give up her pointed fieriness for her everlasting wit.
22. Moses Boyd – Dark Matter
I’ve been touting London jazz scene up and comers for the past few years and drummer Moses Boyd is among its finest prospects. This record shows Boyd’s traditional jazz drumming prowess, but with modern production sensibility. He’ll go from jazzed out hyperspace at one turn, to paying homage to his Caribbean roots at another. The Mercury Music Prize-nominated release also features cameos from other names in London jazz you need to know like saxophonist Nubya Garcia, keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, tuba player Theon Cross and others.
21. Dirty Projectors – 5 EPs
I love listening to anything Dave Longstreth creates. He focused on a different Dirty Projectors vocalist on each of the five EPs the band put out this year and then brought it all home on the fifth one. The 5 EPs album is a collection of those five releases and it shows how Longstreth can morph the band’s lineup over the years and still make amazing music.
20. Porridge Radio – Every Bad
This album hit me like the two Savages albums from this past decade. Brighton’s Dana Margolin is pompous and punk all over this record and it’s a refreshing edge. British journalist Everett True called them “the best band in the world” back in 2015 and it’s as if Margolis has carried herself with that idea ever since and has now exploded with passionate anger on Every Bad, the band’s official breakthrough LP.
19. Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes – What Kinda Music
I’m gonna be listening to this album on the beach forever. Tom Misch has presented perhaps the most accessible offerings from the new London jazz movement and now the guitarist and multi-instrumentalist links with the drummer Yussef Dayes for incredibly polished effort that’s meant to make it big. There’s even a Freddie Gibbs feature on the track “Nightrider” to boot.
18. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
Think I listened to this album while avoiding pandemic-infested San Francisco in Calistoga more than any other this year. It’s easily the best Waxahatchee album to date as Katie Crutchfield taps into instantly vintage pick-up truck Americana.
17. Ambrose Akinmusire – on the tender spot of every calloused moment
Already a world-renowned trumpet player, this album represents the maturation of Akinmusire’s illustrious career with the mindset of someone who’s finally made it back full circle to the place where they learned the trade: Oakland. I spoke with him for KQEDArts in October about this blues-heavy essay on the state of America and Black music. The album just got a Grammy nomination and was one of my best Bay Area album of the year picks.
16. Woods – Strange To Explain
Along with the Waxahatchee album, this was a constant companion as I spent as many days as possible on our family’s land in Calistoga this year. It’s perfect folk escapism from the Brooklyn band that was recorded in Marin County’s Panoramic House Studio and brims with the feeling of the Northern California coast.
15. Jeff Tweedy – Love Is The King
This might be my favorite Wilco or Wilco-adjacent record since Sky Blue Sky. Damnit if Jeff Tweedy ain’t one of the best songwriters in the world. I also read his memoir this year and it’s a comforting feeling to know that not all of your musical heroes are assholes and can in fact be good people with interesting things to say about life’s struggles, it’s triumphs and their art. With instrumentation from Tweedy’s sons, Love Is The King picks up where the memoir left off in my eyes.
14. Buscabulla – Regresa
This was a powerful release from Buscabulla, who recorded everything after moving back home to Puerto Rico from New York in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The album’s title itself means to “return” and every beat of this Latinx electropop album bursts with the feeling of a greater purpose to their island community. I wrote about them in May at Pasteand I’m forever moved by Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo Del Valle’s story.
13. Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Jazz Is Dead 1
Was anyone busier than Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad this year? With the Jazz Is Dead project alone, they released 5 albums, plus the original score to Run This Town. Younge also released an excellent album with singer Angela Muñoz, another with Loren Oden and an album of production collabs. But I digress, Jazz is Dead is Young and Ali’s concept of revitalizing the music of jazz luminaries and including the subjects in the process. The first volume merely presents a sampling of the finest work from each of the installments (and future ones). In it, you’ll find the music of Roy Ayers, Azymuth, Marcos Valle, Gary Bartz, João Donato, Doug Carn and Brian Jackson… all alongside Younge, Ali and live instrumentalists. It’s a fascinating effort by the pair to introduce and re-introduce the the greats to old and new heads alike and you gotta hear it.
12. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song
From where I’m standing, this was the best electronic release of the year. Apologies to albums by Four Tet and Caribou (both narrowly missed being included in this list) but Owens creates some of the most exhilarating productions I’ve heard in quite some time. Her music doesn’t feel derivative of anything, with the melody and bass floating in a world of its own. This one’s been living on repeat and I’d kill to sweat my ass of to a live set at a club from the Brit right now.
11. Låpsley – Through Water
Låpsley has never put anything out in her short career that I haven’t absolutely gravitated too. I became enamored with the XL Recordings singer and producer’s EPs in 2014-15 and Through Water was a much-anticipated follow up to her 2016 debut LP. I cook to this music more than anything else as it puts me in an unparalleled zen state as I craft sauces, sauté vegetables and season meats. If you know me well, this is really saying something! This is deeply introspective music from an artist whose sound is exactly what I seek out.
10. Thundercat – It Is What It Is
There are very long and necessary deep exhales and then there’s this. The greatest cosmic bass player on the planet gave us 15 sweeping future funk and nu-jazz tracks about loss, grieving, depression, friendship, a life in flux and love in its many forms. Speaking of deep exhales, I had the pleasure of seeing Thundercat play a Drive-In concert at a driving range in Burlingame this past October and he seemed to know about how much I needed to stop arguing with my dog and go see a live show.
9. Marcos Valle & Azymuth – Fly Cruzeiro
Another fascinating story about this re-issue. It was originally released in 1972 as a gift to flyers on the Cruzeiro Brazilian airline where only 500 copies were pressed. So now in crazy ass 2020, Light In The Attic Records pressed another 500 copies of this collection of Brazilian standards by damn hell ass legends in Valle and Azymuth. Listening to Fly Cruzeiro, I can’t help, but think of sleazy Mad Men-era smoke-filled flights or of some of the late 80’s flights I took as a kid on shuttered Brazilian airlines like Varig and Vasp, or even just being in the Mexico City airport today. This is a real Brazilian music treat and I just picked it up on vinyl through the label this very moment… if you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ out, you should probably do the same.
8. Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine
I thought this was the best pop record of the year. I yearned to hear more of Róisín Murphy’s late-career resurgence after she graced DJ Koze’s “Illumination” last year and damnit she delivered. Songs like “Incapable” and “Murphy’s Law” aren’t too far-removed from Robyn, but with a decidedly disco lean. Queen Róisín of Ireland has entered the building.
7. Cleo Sol – Rose In The Dark
This teases my #1 pick, but along with Arlo Parks (who didn’t put out an album this year), Cleo Sol was this year’s biggest revelation for me. Sol writes and delivers sumptuous newfangled soul inflected with her roots as a British-Jamaican. Hers is a voice I can’t wait to hear grow just as she does as a globally-minded singer. More on her later, but for now, watch this:
6. Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder and Kamasi Washington – Dinner Party and Dinner Party Dessert
Yes, you read that correctly, Terrace Martin + Robert Glasper + 9th Wonder + Kamasi Washington. Does that sound like something you’d be interested in? It’s the jazzy hip-hop supergroup that we the people of this godawful year deserve for our misery. It clocks in at a modest 23 minutes, but the Dessert edition of the Dinner Party EP features elevated versions of all seven songs with singers and rappers including an unfuckwithable number featuring Rapsody on the mic and Herbie freakin’ Hancock on the keys.
5. Seu Jorge & Rogê – Night Dreamer Direct-to-Disc Sessions
Nothing made me prouder and happier to be Brazilian this year as much as this album. Look, I worship at the church of Seu Jorge (I interviewed him about the Bowie covers four years ago for KQEDArts and it meant the world to me) and although I’d never heard of his friend Rogê before, the result of their collaboration is mastery of Brazilian musical art forms; part samba, part MPB, with the pair on vocals and guitar backed by notable Brazilian percussionists. Their distinctly different voices contrast but coalesce via songs about friendship, passion, Rio and being fiercely Brazilian.
4. Adrianne Lenker – Songs
I was finally able to put my finger on what makes Big Thief so great via this masterful feature on Lenker by The New Yorker‘s Amanda Petrusich (easily one of the best music scribes in the business btw.) The Big thief frontwoman stole away to the Western Massachusetts mountains to spend time away from COVID-riddled New York. She recorded this album in the cabin she stayed in and said it felt like playing inside of an acoustic guitar. That imagery never escapes you while listening to one of the most beautiful albums you’ll ever hear.
3. Open Mike Eagle – Anime, Trauma and Divorce
Ahhh…the storied hip-hop deconstruction album. A lot of the great ones have been there and on Anime, Trauma and Divorce, Open Mike Eagle opens himself up for what I thought was the best hip-hop record of 2020. Since the end of last year, his show on Comedy Central (The new Negroes) got cancelled and he and his wife got divorced. Suffice it to say, he doesn’t shy away from his vulnerabilities on this album and I legit lost my shit the first time I listened to “Everything Ends Last Year.” Rapper, comedian, podcaster and more, Mike Eagle has become one of the finest hip-hop renaissance men in the business and this is his “Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
2. Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind
Yves Tumor’s music has typically been a grinding and abrasive listen. But on Heaven To A Tortured Mind, they peeled back a thick layer of hurt to drop an album of unapologetic pop that’s somewhere between the chasm of Prince and Mykki Blanco. Every track is an unpredictable force that pulls at different peaks and valleys of infatuation. The various hairpin turns of lust on “Kerosene!” and the difficult solace found on “Strawberry Privilege” were more enamoring than anything else in 2020 and I’ll be hard-pressed to ever put this album down.
1. Sault – Untitled (Black Is)
Nothing mattered more in 2020 than the fight for racial justice and equality that the surge in Black Lives Matter protests put firmly at the forefront of our lives. What Sault was able to do with Untitled (Black Is), is place the struggle and debate that was centered in America and very clearly show how passionately it resonates beyond our borders. A transatlantic collaboration between British producer Inflo, Chicago rapper Melissa Young (aka Kid Sister) and singer Cleo Sol (see above at #7), Sault found an argument for global unity within Black music. Soul, hip-hop, dancehall, gospel, R&B, trip-hop and then some, were all present on these thoroughly spiritual 20 tracks. And they did it by keeping their identities largely private. What mattered was the music and the purpose behind it. The pain it described and the healing it sought. Love over hate, compassion over greed, with peace through sound piercing through it all. 2020 was a motherfucker, but there’s hope in this album and there may be hope for us all yet.
Everything Ecstatic is crazy excited to partner with Subsonic and Popscene on a new 90’s electronic dance party coming to Amnesia on Saturday, June 8th!
DJ’s Aaron Axelsen (Subsonic) and Spinelli (Everything Ecstatic) will be dropping classic 90’s electronic bombs from acts like Björk, The Chemical Brothers, Air, Roni Size, Everything But The Girl and more!
Aaaaaand…we’re back! This the 11th annual Everything Ecstatic Best Albums of the Year roundup and for 2018, I’ve laid out the 60 albums that meant the most to me this year along with six EPs in a separate section about a third of the way down.
I covered a good number of these artists throughout the year and am linking to some of my favorite features or podcast interviews I did with them if it applies. This was also definitely my most fulfilling year in music festival coverage so you’ll notice that a lot of these interviews may have even happened on site in Montréal, San Francisco, Austin, etc…
Keeping the words brief, but including cover art, scattered audio/video/photos and a Spotify playlist at the bottom of the post. My hope is that you can come back to this list and discover artists that you may have skimmed through the first time around or click on a different link and really get to know them. Click the ‘Albums of the Year’ tab on the top of this site to re-visit past years and hit me at @AGSpinelli on Twitter or Instagram to follow along with my year-round escapades in music. Lastly, Everything Ecstatic has been producing not just features and blog posts, but also events! Like us on Facebook to stay connected! Enjoy and cheers!
61-51: Stellar Spins
61. Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo
60. Cornelia Murr – Lake Tear of the Clouds
59. Tom Misch – Geography
58. The Ophelias – Almost
57. Saba – CARE FOR ME
56. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In 55. Steady Holiday – Nobody’s Watching
54. Jim James – Uniform Distortion
53. Soccer Mommy – Clean
52 . Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar 51 . Kamasi Washington – Heaven And Earth
The Top 50 (+ some EP’s)
50. tune-yards – I can feel you creep into my private life
An uncomfortable album on the surface, but a brilliant and important one when you dig deeper.
Welcome to the 10th annual Everything Ecstatic Best Albums of the Year list! What you’ll see below are a reflection of the 60 releases that resonated the most with me this year….all the way ’til the end of December, when this list published.
You’ll notice that the 10 album block of “Stellar Spins” is back this year to kick-off the countdown. These selections are included as they should positively be heard, despite being just outside of the Top 50. Furthermore, they add depth to the Spotify playlist that you’ll find at the bottom of this post (which you can also subscribe to on here. )
If you haven’t yet, make sure to peep our list of the 10 Best EP’s of 2017 and feel free to re-visit the Best of 2016 here. Previous years can also be perused by clicking the ‘Albums of the Year’ tab on the top of the page.
Each entry features a short blurb, some are longer than others and every 3-5 entries include an embedded audio track or music videos so you can listen to something while you read through. Def click on some of the hyperlinks I’ve included to relevant stories written about these artists and albums, by either myself or colleagues. There’s a lot to enjoy in here!
Lastly, if you dig what you read/hear, hit me on Twitter. I also host the bi-monthly Noise Pop Podcast and share a lot of new music throughout the year (Subscribe on iTunes!) Much of that music is included in the list below. Cheers!
60-51: Stellar Spins
60. Hundred Waters – Communicating
59. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger In The Alps
58. Jonti – Tokorats
57. Caleborate – Real Person
56. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
55. Moonchild – Voyager
54. Milo – Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!
53. Jaime Wyatt – Felony Blues
52. Aldous Harding – Party
51. Ty Segall – Ty Segall
The Top 50: The Year’s Best Albums
50. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
This is exactly what it sounds like. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile on a record together. If you love either, this is up your alley. If you’re a fan of both, have a ball!
49. The JuJu Exchange – Exchange
JuJu Exchange is Nico Segal’s new band (fka Donnie Trumpet of The Social Experiment and Chance the Rapper fame). This is a cool spin on modern jazz and essentially a record of jazz instrumentals that could easily end up on a Chance album.
48. Vagabon – Infinite Worlds
Laetitia Tamko garnered universal praise for her debut and it’s as pleasant of a listen as you’ll find this year. Shouts to SF-based Father/Daughter Records for putting this one out.
47. Jlin – Black Origami
I don’t understand Jlin’s music, yet that’s what keeps me coming back for more…this seemingly never-ending quest to make sense of these sounds, in all of their futuristic-yet-primordial glory.
46. The XX – I See You
Jamie XX took a more heavy-handed role in producing the group’s sound on this one and it made for a welcome comeback following a dreary sophomore slump.
45. Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet
Michelle Zauner is one of the most interesting artists in indie as she begins to try her hand at directing music videos too. The auto-tuned first single, “Machinist,” didn’t do the full scope of this album justice. This is essential.
Montreal-based indie band brought it once again on their third LP on the stellar Arbutus Records label. This is no doubt their most complete effort.
42. Kelela – Take Me Apart
Kelea cements her role as one of the prime forces in electro R&B. Opening track, “Frontline” is perfectly produced, mixed and performed. A standout if there ever was one.
41. Kamasi Washington – Harmony Of Difference
Harmony of Difference could easily be taken as an appendix to Washington’s seminal The Epic(Our #23 Album of 2015).It’s just six tracks, but the saxophonic bandleader leaves a lasting mark, again.
40. Ghosting – Reimagining Miyazaki
Producer Andrei Eremin sampled a slew of Hayao Miyazaki films in this gorgeous re-interpretation of the music within famed Japanese filmmakers works. The Melbourne-based Eremin made a name for himself as an engineer on records by Hiatus Kaiyote and Chet Faker and his Ghosting debut is a must-listen for Miyazaki fans (Listen to the album in full on Bandcamp.)
39. Weaves – Wide Open
Polaris-prize nominated Canadian indie band took the next step in their promising careers. Singer Jasmyn Burke is one of the best front-women in the business. She’s sinister and powerful, yet doesn’t take her self too seriously. Go see this band live. Do it.
38. Bedouine – Bedouine
The latest Spacebomb Records product is the project of Aleppo-born Azniv Korkejian. This is a beautiful record that adds to Spacebomb’s glowing roster of singers like Natalie Prass and Julien Baker. I edited this fine piece by Eric Danton on Bedouine, please dig in.
37. Ibeyi – Ash
I really thought Ibeyi would slump on their second XL Recordings release, but in a lot of ways, this shows more accessibility and direction than their debut. “Me Voy” opened up the world of featured vocalist Mala Rodriguez to me, a rapper from Spain who like Ibyei, can’t be missed.
36. Yellow Days – Is Everything Okay In Your World?
If you’re looking for the next King Krule, here he is.
35. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
The next great hip-hop renaissance man.
34. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
While the lineup of Dirty Projectors has had some tough departures over the years (first Angel Deradoorian and now Amber Coffman), this has always been Dave Longstreth’s project. He pushes strong on what’s incredibly the band’s 8th LP and it’s time we give Longstreth and DP their praise due as one of the best long-running indie rock bands.
33. Daniel Caesar – Freudian
Canadian R&B singer/songwriter shows shades of Frank Ocean in this dashing debut. Remember his name.
32. Washed Out – Mister Mellow
The first Washed Out album on Stones Throw Records is producer Ernest Greene’s finest work to date. He successfully resurrected Washed Out out of the chillwave shell and this slots in nicely on the Stones Throw catalog. Peep the trippy and strangely hilarious visual album companion with SNL’s Kyle Mooney below.
31. BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION II
The freshest breath of air in the music industry this year was a diverse group of 14 kids from Texas. Saturation II stands as the finest of the self-proclaimed “boy band’s” three album’s released this year. They tackle topics from squashing haters to grappling with sexual orientation in the millennial generation. This is an important group.
30. Kllo – Backwater
Debut LP for the Aussie duo on the Ghostly International label. Shades of old school drum and bass are woven within nuanced beats and dancefloor ready electronica.
29. Sango – De Mim, Pra Você
Where Diplo has moved past the Brazilian funk sounds he popularized on a global scale, Sango has made them his hallmark. This is a respectful and aware spin on baile-funk infused beats and the best part is that there’s more coming on the imminent horizon from Sango.
28. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives
English electronic band totally crushed it on this Warp Records release. Guests appearances from James Blake, Micachu and King Krule are just the icing on the cake of one of the year’s best electronic releases.
27. Jordan Rakei – Wallflower
Now signed to Ninja Tune, Rakei’s Wallflower is blue-eyed soul for a new generation.
26. Jay Som – Everybody Works
Bay Area singer-songwriter Melina Duterte’s Everybody Works was one of the most critically-acclaimed new indie acts of the year. This was one of the best album’s to come out of the Bay this year.
24. Rexx Life Raj – Father Figure 2: Flourish
My favorite Bay Area rap album of 2017 saw Raj’s smooth flow and refined perspective over beats from local producers like Mikos Da Gawd, Drew Banga and the Julia Lewis, all profiled in my Behind The Beats series for KQEDArts.
24. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
DC punk band led by Katie Alice Greer are out here to shatter the status quo. Pointed lyrics, a dynamic album and one of the best live performances I saw this year ( at Swedish American Hall)
23. King Krule – The OOZ
The highly anticipated follow-up to 2013’s 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is a complete package at 19 tracks. English singer/guitarist Archy Marshall is as impressive for his gravelly vocals as he is for his dexterous guitar playing.
22. Bonobo – Migration
Bonobo’s Simon Green could have easily gone the route of many other highly accessible electronic musicians and just loaded his next album with features. But Migration is modest in it’s collabs and sees Green further developing one of the richest electronic discographies of the last decade+.
21. Wiki – No Mountains In Manhattan
Wiki lives and breathes New York and No Mountains in Manhattan is bursting at the seams with the fabric of the city. He’s my favorite NYC rapper and this record is fun as fuck.
20. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah- Diaspora
The best jazz album of the year comes from a New Orleans-based trumpet player leading the charge in a new urban jazz movement. I discovered Scott when I was sitting on the couch of the Paste Studio in New York hearing him play for the first time. I was floored. Please watch this:
19. Shigeto – The New Monday
Likely the professional highlight of my year, was heading to Detroit to document how some of the city’s artists were thriving among the city’s urban renaissance. Zach Saginaw (Shigeto) was the main driver for my narrative and The New Monday is a testament to how the city has infused his typical jazz/electronic drum-based fusion with hip-hop and Detroit house. Shigeto has been one of the most intriguing artists on the Ghostly label for a while and this release does the lineage justice.
18. Jacques Greene – Feel Infinite
Feel Infinite hit me out of nowhere in the same was Maribou State’s Portraits (our #15 Album of 2015) did two years ago. Both quickly became go-to electronic refuges throughout the year. “I’m proud of this album because I think it’s the best version of what I can do,” he told Chris Trenchard in a Paste feature earlier this year. And it’s damn fine work.
17. Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom
One of the best rapper’s on the planet. Bar none. Few go harder and are as prolific as Rapsody and the album’s ridiculous features list includes Rapsody. Kendrick Lamar, Anderson. Paak, Busta Rhymes, Black Thought, Moonchild [inhales; exhales] BJ The Chicago Kid, Terrace Martin and more. There’s a reason why people want to be on the same track as Rapsody and I was totally floored when I heard her flow on the album’s opening title track:
16. Thundercat – Drunk
A 23-track revue of new-school funky bass tracks with Michael McDonald, Pharell AND Kendrick features? Hell yes.
15. Cornelius – Mellow Waves
Nobody makes music like Cornelius’s Keigo Oyamada and Mellow Waves is a flat-out beautiful collision of live instrumentation and electronic composition mixed with mild J-Pop undertones. This is an inspiring release.
14. Kacey Johansing – The Hiding
My favorite album to come out of the Bay Area in 2017. Johansing created the bones of The Hiding at her long-time home of Bolinas, along with Panoramic House in Stinson Beach and sessions in Portland. She made the move to LA where the record was finished and released on the Night Bloom Records label she co-founded with Real Estate’s Alex Bleeker, but it still sounds like a lovely and somber walk along the Marin County shore. “Hold Steady” is in the running for my favorite song of the year.
13. Gabriel Garzón-Montano – Jardín
Another excellent find for Stones Throw Records. Born to Colombian and French parents, the New York native Garzón-Montano made an album replete with call-backs to native South American music and groovy hip-hop rhythms.
12. Chastity Belt – I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone
The best release from the Seattle quartet harkens back to the PNW’s grunge roots. This is slacker music at it’s finest, with awesome melodies throughout.
11. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
Jonwayne woke up one night in a pool of his own vomit. Alcoholism had consumed his life and it was at that moment where he realized he needed to take control of his life. He excommunicated himself from his social circle and stole away to a family cabin in Canada. Bridges were severed through his silent approach to rehabilitation and his justification letter for his actions, came in the form of this album. Bandcamp’s Marcus J. Moore lays it out in detail masterfully in this piece.
10. Faye Webster – Faye Webster
A quasi-country, folk album released on eclectic Southern hip-hop label Awful Records, Faye Webster’s self-titled album is one of the stickiest records of the year. Dare you to not fall in love with her songs.
9. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
One of indie’s most heralded hired-guns finally put out his own release and it saw Sumney at his most carnal, impassioned and vulnerable self. This is an album for lost souls trying to find their way in the outside world. It will fill you with purpose and touch your spirit.
8. Angel Olsen – Phases
Ok…Now THIS is what I’ve been wanting from Olsen following 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Last year’s MY WOMAN was spectacular in the fire that Olsen found, but I like my Angel nice and sad. On this collection of B-sides and loose ends, Olsen’s damn near impossible staccato hits you right in the feels.
7. Lusine – Sensorimotor
Spotify says I listened to Sensorimotor more than any other album this year and that feels appropriate. I come to Lusine for digital inspiration and to make my brain work. The long-time Ghostly International artist brings a refined electronic sound…it’s the maturation of musical movements, culminating on this incredible release.
6. Sampha – Process
Sampha was the strongest voice behind what I deem to be the most important album of the decade in SBTRKT’s self-titled debut. We knew he was destined for greatness; if not then, it was when Drake pegged him for a feature on “Too Much.” Then last year, Solange came calling for “Don’t Touch My Hair.” Now, Sampha Sissay finally delivered his debut LP and Process is a Mercury Prize-winning masterpiece.
Nick Hakim is a dreamer. On his ATO Records-released debut LP, Green Twins, the Queens-based singer takes us along for the ride as he waxes philosophical on the muses who reside within his psyche. (“It’s been years since you came around these parts of my mind,” he sings on “Cuffed.”) Throughout the album, Hakim attempts to processes the memories that are beginning to come back to him and the new ones he’s attempting to create, all with an endearing meekness. Laden with tape machine-filtered psychedelic jazz, mellowed hip-hop drum beats and soul-driven vocals, Hakim’s music is meant to make you lose yourself and embark on the same blissfully existential train of thought as its auteur.
4. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid
When I needed it the most, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith lifted me up. The Kid gave me life in a difficult time and reached the inner-workings of my soul from the moment I first heard it. Smith uses the Buchla 100 synthesizer to create her music and it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Her music falls somewhere between Aphex Twin and Jessy Lanza and The Kid is perhaps the most intricate electronic release of the year.
3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Say what you will about the monotony everyone placing DAMN. at or near the top of their Top Albums of the Year lists, but at least we can all agree on one thing: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper in the game. Period.
2. SZA – CTRL
I love everything about this album. I love that the original sessions were at a lake house in Michigan; the antithesis of a studio in LA, where most hip-hop-focused pop music gets made. I love SZA’s vocal melodies…how every “ooh ohh, ahh, ahh” or “doo doo doo” is a treat for my ears. I love little details like the background vocal stacking on the “Broken Clocks” hook (seriously, an audio engineering class oughta be taught around this record) or how she says the word ‘finally’ on “Go Gina” (It sounds like she says ‘final-le-le’ and it’s endearing as fuck.) I love how at a time when the prevailing trend for women in hip-hop is to prove that you’re tough or a ‘bad bitch’ in a male-dominated genre (the Cardi B, Nicki Minaj effect, if you will), but SZA delivers the other side of a male/female narrative with raw emotion, wit and vulnerability. She’s unapologetically secure in her insecurities and it comes across with a distinct authenticity. No line on the album illustrates this better than this one on ‘Drew Barrymore’:
I’m sorry I’m not more attractive I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night I’m sorry I’m not your baby mama I’m sorry you got karma comin’ to you Collect your soul, get it right
It’s a #rare display of empowerment without pandering to what’s already been accepted as a way of conveying it. And when we look back on 2017, we’ll remember how SZA established herself as a bonafide fucking star in a field filled with basic ass men.
1. Kevin Morby – City Music
I’m such a sucker for a well-executed concept album and Kevin Morby executed the hell out it on City Music. These days, everyone seems to be in flux from one city to another (especially in the music industry) and City Music is about embracing where you are, wherever that may be. From “Come To Me Now”—the album’s opening track—Morby transports you into the periphery of America’s cities and towns. Characters gaze out the window of their somber living spaces into the hazy horizons before them. We move from town-to-town in a manner reminiscent of Modest Mouse’s A Lonesome Crowded West, observing their people with a humble desire to understand the backstories that shape our ideologies.
Recorded at Panoramic House in Stinson Beach, CA and at Richard Swift’s studio in Cottage Grove, OR, Swift oversaw City Music’s arrangements and production giving each track a distinct feel…almost like a thematic mixtape, as Morby explained to me on an episode of the Noise Pop Podcast. Morby’s guitar never sounds the same, but it’s always memorable: From the quaint reflection of “Dry Your Eyes” to the triumphant solo on “Aboard My Train” and on filling the guitar hook with life again-and-again on “City Music,” the album’s unforgettable title track. Backing vocals are meticulously littered throughout—often from Heron Oblivion’s Meg Baird—with varying effects, yielding a collection of tracks that feel like they each come from different regional styles. Simply stated, the production and delivery are symbiotically spectacular.
Much like A Lonesome Crowded West, thisis a road trip album of the highest order, exuberantly painting the pictures that get taken at every mile. And while City Music is ultimately devoid of any political slant, you can’t help but feel that it’s thesis subscribes to the notion that seeing the country and experiencing new surroundings is the only way we’ll learn to accept the differences that make America unique.
Here it is….Everything Ecstatic’s 9th Annual Best Albums of the Year List. Shouts out to everyone who’s followed along over the years and I’m excited to share the spoils of another year in music witchas. This year, I had to abandon the one album a day for 20-30 days format of the past few years, cause there just weren’t enough hours in the days leading up to this post. But you can still see all of the archives from ’06 to ’13 here and 2014’s entries beginning here.
At any rate, this year’s list is 50 albums in one post, straight up. Each entry is brief, with some scattered notable videos, links and I made a playlist of all the albums at the bottom. Props to Abhi/Dijon, Drake and Bob Moses, who put out quality releases in 2015, but were the last 3 albums cut from the Top 50. Also, you won’t find D’Angelo on this list as Black Messiah was released on December 15th, 2014. I know some outlets are ranking it this year, but release dates are the only definitive indicator of what year an album belongs to. But ultimately, Black Messiah doesn’t need to be placed on an arbitrary list to validate it’s beauty and importance far beyond a musical context. You can read more of my thoughts on the first performance from D’Angelo’s renaissance here, and know that if it was a 2015 album, it’d be sitting at #2 on this list. With that, let us begin the annual ritual. Enjoy!
Welp…Here’s the final Everything Ecstatic post of the year folks. Chronicling our 35 favorite songs of 2014. Look for audio and video below some of the tracks and a spotify playlist (in order) at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!
35. SBTRKT (ft. Sampha)– “Temporary View”
While most of the buzz on Wonder Where We Land was around “New Dorp, New York” featuring Ezra Koenig, “Temporary View” was the most SBTRKT of them all. It sees Sampha and Aaron Jerome doing what they do best: elevating each other and creating soulful soundscapes.