Say what you will about life in the last couple years, but musically it’s been a creative delight. (Maybe that’s just more time to listen?) For the second year in a row I have a full top 10:
- 1975 — No-No Boy
Melodic and memorable with a great story and purpose behind it (the record is literally part of Julian Saporiti’s Ph.D dissertation on trans-Pacific musical culture), I’m amazed this hasn’t shown up on more year end lists as it seems to check every cultural and critical box there is. Possibly the best god damn album of the last 5 years.
- Get Some — L.A. Exes
Pop-punk meets the classic wall of sound with this supergroup that’s just so much fun. Do you want to go to Jake’s house? Yes, yes I do.
- Visits From Future Technology — Shaun Ryder
Despite the title, this is technically a blast from the past. Mostly recorded ten years ago and forgotten, I think it’s his best work since It’s Great When You’re Straight, the first Black Grape album.
- From Dreams to Dust — The Felice Brothers
Listening to this band evolve over the last decade has been a wondrously fulfilling experience. “Jazz on the Autobahn” sounds very Felice Brothers while not sounding like anything else. “To-Do List” has no chorus, three ramshackle guitar solos and was recorded in one take. A great record for everyone from Francis of Assisi to the fans of AC/DC.
- Who Do We Hate Today — Jim Bob
Jim Bob hadn’t released a new solo record in ~7 years, and then put out two in 11ish months right when we needed it most. (He also allegedly has at least an EP planned for 2022!) I think I slightly favor last year’s Pop Up Jim Bob, but that’s splitting hairs for an artist that hasn’t let me down across 17 albums + numerous b-side compilations and live releases. Can you say infallible band?
- Play Loud — The Record Company
Similar to what I said about the Felices above, though in this case I was super proud to watch my favorite local LA band hold their own on a national stage—and then pleasantly surprised to hear them broaden their sound with some of the poppy/glammy tracks here. “Get Up and Dance!” = wow.
- You Get It All — Hayes Carll
A weird side-benefit of the pandemic and the resultant livestream shows some artists did was a front row seat to watching an album develop. Four or five of these songs (plus some non-album tracks) debuted on either Alone Together Tuesday streams or Patreon exclusives, nicely building anticipation to a solid finished product.
- Unsettling Delight — Rafe Addison
I discovered this guy from his stellar cover of “Baby, It’s Your Life!” by Benji Hughes, which led me to check out his debut album shortly thereafter. Guess what? As advertised, Unsettling Delight is an unsettling delight. A unique take on power pop reminiscent of a few different influences while solidly it’s own thing. I dig.
- Things Take Time, Take Time — Courtney Barnett
My vote for best album title of the year, it’s Courtney Barnett taking it down a gear but still doing that thing only she can do so well. Part of me misses the rocker side here, but I can pretend her awesome Harriett the Spy theme song is part of this record to restore equilibrium. (I suspect given another couple months this would rank higher, but these things take time…)
- Introducing... — The Pink Stones
Was I pretty sure I was going to like this album when I saw the ellipsis in the title? Perhaps. Did I like it even more when I learned the singer switched from punk to americana after hearing Evan Dando’s cover of “Brass Buttons” by Gram Parsons? Same answer. Easy country rockers sung in a soothingly lazy cadence. Sign me up!
- “Like I Used To” — Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen
- “Puppy and a Truck” — Jenny Lewis
- “Jazz on the Autobahn” — The Felice Brothers
- “Get Up and Dance!” — The Record Company
- “Smile Real Nice” — Courtney Barnett
- “Barroom Blues” — The Pink Stones
- “It Sucks (and I Don’t Like It)” — Eddie Spaghetti & Frank Meyer
- “Raising Hell” — Tom Morello featuring Ben Harper**
**lyric of the year: “Fell in love with a drunken friend at a South By show with R.E.M.”