#40: Wet – Don’t You
Wet’s Don’t You is a frustrating first listen. Initially, it seems to wallow in the desperation of a relationship about to break using an amalgamation of ’90s synth a lá any R&B artist you can imagine (think Usher and maybe some Spice Girls with a little Brandy). The Brooklyn trio conveys oft-explored emotions through the adopted sounds of a genre 20 years their senior to create a vulnerable and fragile album without much recourse to get over the pain of it all.
Some would call it feeble. Some would find it trite and too nail-on-the-head personal. But, as Robert Frost so perfectly put it, “The best way out is always through.” Lead singer Kelly Zutrau takes these words to heart as she leads us through the twisted struggle of heartbreak with tracks like “Island” and “Weak.” This album serves as a reminder of how we, too, so tightly grasp onto the comforts of familiarity, be it ’90s R&B or hopeless lyrics, in order to get out and go through. – Christine Perez
#39: Ingrid Michaelson – It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense
I love, love, love this album! Ingrid Michaelson has never had a problem being honest, and that is why she is among my favorite artists. It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense perfectly balances smart and punchy with emotional vulnerability.
Influenced by the loss of Michaelson’s mother, the album is a testament to the strength of women, present and past. From her tear-jerking rendition of “I Remember Her” to the dance-inducing single “Hell No,” Michaelson is continuously singing beautiful lyrical melodies and touching our hearts with her empowering musicianship.
I both fist pumped and cried while listening through this album (not at the same time, mind you), and, in my book, that means it accomplished what it set out to go: it made me feel. – Zein Khleif
Listen: “Hell No”
#38: Moderat – III
The already-illustrious Berlin electronic scene has no shortage of quality acts, but when you combine the forces of Modeselektor and Apparat…well, that’s just not fair. The appropriately named III is the third LP from the trio, and it may well be their best yet. Gradual intensity is the name of the game here. You won’t find any “sick dropz” on this LP. Instead you’re treated to superbly layered tracks that give way to some seriously beautiful crescendos.
It’s difficult to pick out just one standout track to recommend because they all contribute to the sonic landscape of the album in their own way, but if I absolutely had to, I’d settle on “Finder.” With its subtle progression and deftly drawn-out build up, it’s perhaps the best example of what Moderat is capable of. And if you think the album sounds as incredible as I do, prepare to be blown away if you ever have the good fortune of seeing them live. – Lesley Park
#37: Jon Bellion – The Human Condition
My favorite artist of the year above and away is multi-talented singer/songwriter Jon Bellion. His debut album, The Human Condition, combines hip hop, electronica, pop, indie, and R&B to create a record filled with some of the most uniquely impressive songs I’ve heard in years.
With its lush instrumentation, creative lyrics, and falsetto vocals, “’80s Films,” Bellion’s love letter to movies like Back To The Future and The Breakfast Club, was the first track I fell in love with on The Human Condition. Later, songs like “All Time Low” would make my a cappella-loving heart swell, and the melody of “Guillotine” would stay in my head for weeks.
Bellion constantly experiments on this record, playing with sound effects and tempo changes in “Woke The Fuck Up” and questioning his religious faith in “Maybe IDK.” With each melodically interesting and impressively creative song, Bellion proves his formidable talent (both vocally and musically) and solidifies himself as an artist to watch for years to come. – Mary Bonney
#36: Ian William Craig – Centres
Describing Ian William Craig as an avant-garde experimental artist who has spent several years playing with tape loops and ambient textures might be a good way to put most people off listening. So let’s go with this instead: Centres is an album of almost overwhelming beauty, with a similar otherworldly feel to early Sigur Ros. And its creator, along with being a bit of a sound scientist, has an angelic voice that comes to the foreground regularly throughout the album’s duration.
Craig finds beauty in decay, and the long swathes of loops, drone, and static feel detached from time itself. After delivering almost an hour of glorious soundscapes, he also has the nerve to end the album on a reworking of the breathtaking opener in the rawest form possible: simply one man and an acoustic guitar. Somehow it feels like the perfect ending. This is the kind of album you want to press on people, to convince them that this unassuming Canadian is some kind of relatively unknown genius. It’s an absolute bolt from the blue. – Jay Chirinos
Listen: “Contain (Astoria Version)”
#35: Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack
Scott Hutchison has admitted to ongoing battles with depression and alcoholism. Even though he does have the occasional Twitter outburst or public meltdown, as he did earlier this year, his issues generally unfold beautifully in his music. It’s said that music is the best therapy, and if you couldn’t already guess from its title, Painting of a Panic Attack is a clear representation of exactly that.
A decade into their career, Frightened Rabbit has found a clear sound that is their own. This album is one gut-wrenching anthem after another, kicking off with the wash of “Death Dream.” They have been able to continuously push their sound from album to album, simultaneously crafting unique sounds and writing catchy lyrics and melodies that make you forget that you are singing about real problems, a skill epitomized by the single “Woke Up Hurting.” This band brings real comfort to daily pain, and their mix of hope and helplessness is as present as ever on this album. – Gerry Doot
Listen: “Woke Up Hurting”
#34: Lady Gaga – Joanne
Well known as a social and political rights pioneer, Lady Gaga has long had a reputation for going above and beyond for her beliefs, whether it be through a wardrobe statement or revolutionary hit single. However, it seems that this time around, our much-loved pop icon has gone a more low-key route, and I find I’m still loving her.
The music on Joanne is stripped down, taking on hints of an indie-rock vibe simultaneously colored with hints of folk, country, and jazz. It still has classic Gaga pop singles like “A-Yo” and “Perfect Illusion,” but it doesn’t come with theatrics. It’s more about the music and less about the complete presentation we have become accustomed to from the artist. It’s poignant and honest — a fun change that still carries Lady Gaga’s always resonant message of love and mutual respect. – Zein Khleif
Listen: “Million Reasons”
#33: Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Parquet Courts unveiled their first full-length album in 2011 after relocating from Texas to New York, and this year, they released their most-polished, most binge-worthy album to date. Though they may not exactly be redefining the American punk resurgence of the 2000s, they are doing a mighty fine job of honing it to a tee.
With frontman Andrew Savage channeling Lou Reed, The Feelies, and Beat Happening, the band is not afraid to let their influences shine through. But Parquet Courts’ lyrics and unique instrumental implementations make their albums memorable, and on Human Performance, they tackle themes such as heartbreak and loss, lonely city dwelling, and overwhelming regret. There’s an undercurrent of self-blame that’s apparent, and it feels as though the band is trying to come to terms with or take accountability for their actions throughout each track.
I suppose that’s why the band aptly titled their third official LP Human Performance, navigating the flaws of human behavior through lo-fi instrumental progressions and the bendy, mellow sensibility of modern punk. – Jillian Goldfluss
Listen: “Berlin Got Blurry”
#32: AJJ – The Bible 2
Although the era of pop punk domination is long passed, fans of the genre still crave its youth and free spirit. After a slight rebranding from the name Andrew Jackson Jihad, this Phoenix-based act’s first release under the name AJJ (subtle, right?) continues their basic sound.
While the earlier incarnation of AJJ boasted more folk influences, The Bible 2 delivers perfectly comfortable and adolescent theme songs for 30-somethings with a firm grip on their teenage years. It delves into stereotypical school-aged musings such as parent/teacher conferences, finding ways to buy beer while underaged, and the most relatable character on HBO’s Girls.
Only a few songs last longer than two-and-a-half minutes, but they don’t need to. It’s a fun record that will make you bounce around like you are on a caffeine high between classes. Don’t take it too seriously, and you’ll love it. – Gerry Doot
Listen: “Cody’s Theme”
#31: Rihanna – Anti
When it comes to making ear candy, Rihanna is an expert confectioner. Her latest album, ANTI, combines her charisma, charm, and femme power into one loosely packed album full of ballads and sprinkled with chart-toppers. This unusual departure from Rihanna’s usual aim to make every track a number one hit points to her evolution as an artist over her decade-long career.
Perhaps producing a subdued album wasn’t the initial plan, but it happened, and it’s refreshing. Tracks like “Desperado” and “Needed Me” force longtime Rihanna fans to sit back and listen to the seriousness of her sound and artistry. Anti squarely points to this developing maturity, as it coolly and effortlessly reminds the listener that Rihanna can still surprise us. At this point, she has nothing to prove, and she knows it. – Christine Perez