I am always looking to challenge myself when I make these lists so they don’t get stale. For this year’s list each album will get one more sentence about it than the album before. So, No. 10 gets one sentence, No. 9 gets two, etc.
Like every year, I didn’t realize how much great music came out this calendar year until I went back through my Spotify history. There were a lot of great albums, some of these Honorable Mentions would have been in my top 5 when they came out. And I’m certain that I forgot several albums. I’ll probably remember them in February and sneak them into the list. Let me know your Top Ten in the comments!
I’ll write one sentence about the Honorable Mentions.
Solid albums from old favorites (Interpol, We Were Promised Jetpacks), a new project from Julien Baker and friends (boygenius), reinterpretations of previously released material (St. Vincent, Cold War Kids), and more.
We Were Promised Jetpacks, The More I Sleep the Less I Dream
St. Vincent, MassEducation
Matthew Logan Vasquez, Texas Murder Ballads
Amanda Shires, To The Sunset
Cold War Kids, This Will All Blow Over in Time
Anderson East, Encore
10. Andy Mineo – I: The Arrow & II: The Sword
Mineo plans to release two more EPs to combine with these two for a full album, but the first half was impressive both musically and lyrically, digging deep into Mineo’s anxieties, fears and faith.
9. Pusha T – Daytona
Famous for the feud with Drake that it spawned, Daytona is much more than that one song. The 41-year-old is still rapping about coke, but he’s doing it with unparalleled lyricism and power.
8. Rayland Baxter – Wide Awake
Not really Americana, definitely not country, kinda rock but kinda not, it’s hard to define Rayland Baxter. What I can say is he writes catchy, easy-to-digest songs that make you feel good. I had never heard of Baxter before this year, but I’m a big fan now.
7. Prins Póló – þriðja Kryddið
Yeah, I know this is a weird one, but I can explain. While in the Eastfjords of Iceland this year we stayed at this guy’s guesthouse and he told us he was a musician. Come to find out, he’s actually a really well-known musician in Iceland and he released this album this year…and it’s awesome! Prins Póló makes some super fun, super interesting, and super catchy music that you should listen to without worrying about understanding the words.
6. Charley Crockett – Lonesome as a Shadow
With his unique blend of honky-tonk, blues, and cajun music, Charley Crockett is taking the world by storm this year. The Dallas-based artist released three albums in the last two years, but two of those are cover albums (and are awesome). Lonesome as a Shadow is his album with originals and shows off his impressive songwriting chops. Crockett’s got a very recognizable voice and seems on a Leon Bridges-like path to stardom in the very near future. “Lil Girl’s Name” is a great song that sounds like it was written in 1952.
5. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Tearing at the Seams
Coming off the smashing success of their self-titled 2015 debut, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats had a lot to live up to with Tearing at the Seams. They delivered on all of those expectations with an excellent album full of great songs. The album isn’t a departure from the sound that made them famous, but it’s also not repetitive of their debut. “Hey Mama” and “You Worry Me” are both great songs, but I think “Coolin’ Out” is the best one. It’s got a great groove to it and is a great example of how good these guys are. Rateliff’s voice has power and passion that hard to top.
4. St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Young Sick Camellia
The Southern soul group branched way out with this album, which has more in common with disco than soul. But the boys pulled it off in almost miraculous fashion. To make it even stranger, the album has several space-themed songs and interpolates recorded conversations of lead singer Paul Janeway’s late grandfather. So, yes, safe to say you haven’t heard an album like this one before. All of their albums get you moving, but this one does it in a totally different way than their other efforts. Check out “Apollo” to get a great picture of what this album is all about. The Alabama-based band showed their versatility with this album, I can’t wait to see what they will do with the next one.
3. Parker Millsap – Other Arrangements
The Oklahoma based singer-songwriter’s third album is his best one yet. His previous two efforts relied heavily on religious themes and country/blues songs, but Other Arrangements is much more on the rock side. Millsap’s first two albums were awesome, but he needed to break away in order to avoid being pigeonholed. It’s rare that you get a 12-song album with only one or two average songs, but Millsap pulled it off with Other Arrangements. The album starts off with “Fine Line”, which makes it very clear that Millsap brought his A-game. Other great songs include “Your Water”, “Other Arrangements”, “Let A Little Light In”, “Gotta Get To You”, “Coming On” and more. Yeah, I realized I just named like the whole album, there are that many good ones. I’ve seen Millsap live when it was just him and a two other guys, I’d love to see him perform this album with a bigger band.
2. Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie
When we last saw Phosphorescent on an album cover, 2013’s Muchacho he was in the foreground of the scene in a bedroom, hat pulled down over his eyes, a wry smile on his face. In the background were women in various stages of undress. Matthew Houck (Phosphorescent’s real name) described the image with the term “messy desperation.”
In five years’ time, a man in the state that Houck was in could have gone in many different directions. He could have spiraled, he could have died, or, he could have found a purpose and cleaned himself up. Fortunately for Houck, it was the final option that it seems he eventually chose. C’est La Vie is the record of a man who found a purpose, in this case a wife, a baby boy, and a new city. This album is a celebration of new life, his child’s and his own. He looks back often, like on “These Rocks” where he says “I was drunk for a decade/Been thinkin’ about putting that stuff away.” The whole album is a work of art, with beautiful string arrangements, poignant lyrics, and incredible production.
1. Leon Bridges, Good Thing
If Leon’s debut album Coming Home was his announcement of his arrival to the worldwide music scene, Good Thing is his declaration that he’s here to stay. Coming Home, with its vintage production and old-school soul sound, was rooted in the 1960s but sung by a young man in his 20s. It was an incredible album, but it constantly elicited comparisons to soul greats of the past.
The only person you can compare Good Thing to is Leon Bridges himself. It’s a much more modern album, and I was honestly nervous when I heard the first song “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” because I didn’t know if I was ready for Leon to take this risk and go in a different direction. But he proved that he’s an artist that you can trust to make the right decisions in regards to his sound. The third song”Shy” is a great song with a stripped-down groove, and that’s really where the album takes off. “Beyond” is a tender and sweet love song, lyrically it’s in the vein of some efforts off Coming Home. The song that will really get you dancing is “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)”.
The album closes with another song to his mother like “Lisa Sawyer” from the first album, but this one has a much darker tone. Leon, starting with just the accompaniment of an upright bass, tells the story of his mother’s struggles in raising him and his own struggles and failures in living up to her standards. It’s a beautiful song that can be kind of tough to listen to if you really pay attention to the words.
I know I went over my sentence limit on this one but Leon is worth breaking the rules.