I’ve been thinking a lot about how this year was one of the weakest years in recent memory in terms of new music that was released. Aside from there not being any real breakout/new acts, none of the albums that were promised to drop this year did. No Kanye. No Frank Ocean. No Panda Bear. No Grimes. Legacy acts like U2 and Pink Floyd released offensive albums. Coldplay was the latest act to succumb to the American EDM phenomenon and put a drop in one of their radio songs.
This was a year in music that if you told me 10 years ago would happen, I’d probably laugh and reveal to you that I’m Batman. An album by a band that sounded like every 80s arena rock cliché may have recorded the best album this year. Then, this summer, in what could be taken as a nightmarish dream sequence in a David Lynch movie or an episode of Tim & Eric, U2 pulled off the creepiest and most ballsy album launch of all time by automatically gifting everyone who had iTunes (that’s pretty much the whole planet) with their new album as part of the new iPhone 6 roll out. The album sounded overly confident and churlish, took years to make, and comes off like the band is covering acts like Coldplay who initially copied them in the first place. I know this is the most overrated album of the year because Rolling Stone just placed it as the best album of the year.
“Atlas” Real Estate
I traveled a lot last year, and this album was a good come down once I got home and didn’t want to go anywhere. It’s mostly about yearning for a quiet domestic life. But what if your home isn’t what you once recognized it as? A lot of that is floating around here on songs like “Talking Backwards” and “Primitive,” which are drenched in melancholic harmonies reminiscent of “Mirage”-era Fleetwood Mac. The guitar playing is also great and pretty much every song on here makes me picture a warm sunset. This is the band’s third album, but I had never given them a shot until this year. A friend of mine said it was hard to feel any strong emotion when listening to Real Estate’s music. I could kind of see that since the singing/playing maintains a reserved, almost muted quality to it. But maybe that’s the mood I’m into these days.
“Benji” Sun Kil Moon
This is an album that sounds like your depressed uncle recorded while nursing a bottle of whiskey. It’s composed mainly of just nylon string guitar, vocals, and family tragedy. There’s a song that laments about a cousin who takes out the trash and dies because a battery explodes. Another song starts off, “My uncle died in a fire on his birthday. Redneck that he was he was burning trash in the yard one day.” If you like the austere, dark folk songs of Springsteen or Bright Eyes, then there are tons of tales of Middle American despair packed into this album. Singer Mark Kozelek doesn’t sing in allegories or make you go fetch some deeper meaning in his lyrics. His songs are hard news stories given to you straight. The centerpiece is “I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same,” a 10-minute plus song about childhood that feels like it could carry on forever.
I’ve been a huge Ryan Adams fan. This is probably his best straight-up rock album since “Love is Hell” 10 years ago. The production is top-notch, sounding like it was recorded in some super expensive studio during the heyday of LA radio rock. If this was 1985, “Gimme Something Good,” and “Stay With Me” would surely be cuttin’ up the airwaves. I love the electric guitar he plays on this along with the subtle organ playing. Those fans who yearn for more country vibes from him have songs like “Wrecking Ball” on here. And without a doubt, the sickest guitar solo of the year is on “Am I Safe.” Nailed it!