10. Dan Wilson – Re-Covered
The songwriter behind some of the biggest hits and/or best tunes of the past decade or two, Dan Wilson presents stripped down guitar-focused versions originally done by artists as varied as Adele (“Someone Like You”), Dixie Chicks (“Not Ready to Make Nice”), John Legend (“You and I”), and his own band Semisonic (“Closing Time”).
09. Kelly Lee Owens
The electronic vibe flowing through the debut album of this Welsh musician highlights her sweet, almost ethereal vocals, and provides a nice backdrop for a collection of dreamy tunes that go from airy to intense without losing a singular focus.
08. Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Everything Now restored my faith in Arcade Fire that was lost with their last effort, Reflektor. The epic, post-modern orchestral feel is back with stadium-sized anthems coupled with quiet, thoughtful tracks. When even the token Regine song (“Electric Blue”) is a highlight, you know you’ve got a winner.
07. Betty Who – The Valley
Australian import Betty Who (nee Jessica Newham) has crafted a beautiful second album that showcases her breathy vocals against a collection of 80s and 90s new-wave pop hits that would be perfectly at home next to anything in Pink’s catalog.
06. Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Straightforward guitar rock with an echo-y drum beat and tightly-packed vocals are few and far between these days, but are in heavy rotation on the third studio album from this Canadian duo. With obvious assistance from the National’s producer Peter Kalis, the record highlights the well-crafted harmonies and the simple guitar orchestrations that are the band’s signature.
05. Bleachers – Gone Now
The sophomore album from Jack Antonoff’s pretty much solo effort is a dreamy, fun, catchy collection of songs that are the happiest tunes about loss and grief that you will ever hear. In between producing albums for other artists (this is only the first of three albums on my list he had a hand in), Antonoff managed to release a worthy follow-up to his debut that has the same production style that made that one a favorite, but with a more focused and cohesive entry where the songs can exist on their own but have a great connection when played together.
04. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
I always appreciate Lamar’s approach to music which is more thoughtful, powerful and urgent than the tired swagger preached by his compatriot’s in hip-hop. His voice flows through this album with a mix harmony, anger, thoughtfulness, and resolve. With assists from artists as varied as Rihanna and U2, the album still maintains its cohesiveness.
03. St. Vincent – Masseduction
Taking a page out of Bjork’s system for adding an inherent weirdness to great music, St. Vincent’s fifth studio album is also one of her finest. With an assist from Jack Antonoff who co-wrote a few songs and produced the entire album, the album zigs and zags through a variety of musical styles and vocal ranges, but maintains a consistency thanks to the tight production and St. Vincent’s particular lyrics and style.
02. HAIM – Something to Tell You
On their second album, the triple-threat singer-songwriter-musician sisters of Haim have produced a strong, cohesive and glorious follow-up to their stellar debut. My predilection for sweet harmonies, and fun, straightforward rock-pop is skillfully captured here from the first track and single, the effortlessly flawless “Want You Back” all the way through the slow-churn album closer “Night So Long.”
01. Lorde – Melodrama
With a more assured elegance and maturity informing her sophomore effort, Lorde presents an album where every song assists in making the whole stronger. From the lead-off thumper “Green Light,” which has an angry underbelly, through album highlights “The Louvre” and “Homemade Dynamite” which demonstrate Lorde’s more dance-oriented sentiments, to piano ballads “Writer in the Dark” and Liability,” every song has its own identity and still feels connected to the overall thematic whole. Another A-game effort from producer Antonoff who co-wrote all but one song with Lorde, who has grown and matured into a justifiably confident artist.
And for singles…
10. Tove Lo – “Disco Tits”
Lo has always used her sexuality to support her tunes in a way that is reminiscent of early-80’s Madonna. Her chirpy voice pairs nicely with the goofball sounds, and downward spiral of the music.
09. Beck – “Up All Night”
It’s been too long since a Beck song was this solid and this much fun. I never thought I’d get another harmony-fueled pop track from Beck, who has always been equally at home with a dance groove as his more common guitar-driven laments.
08. Wallows – “Pleaser”
Harmonious garage-rock grinder that celebrates teen angst as well as the pop-fueled eras of Green Day or Blink-182.
07. MGMT – “Little Dark Age”
The last two MGMT efforts were less than engaging messes, but this cozy, slow-burn track feels at home with the peaks of Oracular Spectacular.
06. Bleachers – “Don’t Take the Money”
The perfect showcase for front man Jack Antonoff’s tightly-crafted singalong choruses and nearly infallible pop sensibilities.
05. Ed Sheeran – “Castle on the Hill”
Where his number-one hits have taken the spotlight, this jangly nostalgic tune was the first Sheeran song that made me want to take a second listen. His raspy voice channels an earnestness that elevates the joyful simplicity of the lyrics.
04. Portugal, the Man – “Feel it Still”
The sing-songy falsetto of lead singer John Gourley coupled with the throwback harmonies and thumpy bass line works to make a fun track that is both strange and awesome, defying categorization in the current music scene.
03. Carly Rae Jepson – “Cut to the Feeling”
Pop music has taken a back seat to hip-hop and sometimes even country in chart dominance, which is a shame, because this expertly crafted, bouncy pop-dance number should’ve been a comeback hit for Jepson, her best vocal performance since her “Call Me Maybe” breakout.
02. Sigrid – “Don’t Kill My Vibe”
The Norwegian singer-songwriter has a gorgeous voice that soars through this track, with a sometimes-imperfect scratchiness, peppered with a beautiful ferocity. Whether it’s the acoustic version, or the pop remix, it’s a perfect little pop nugget.
01. Kendrick Lamar – “Humble”
Ubiquity has not softened my reaction to this song, which grooves along to an intense bassline while showcasing Lamar’s unique vocal style.