I actually got my 2018 roundup finished before the year is over! Here’s hoping I can keep that planning and productivity intact for all things to come in 2019.
Before we jump into the top 10 albums, here are some concert highlights from 2018:
I went to Cincinnati, Ohio for The National’s first ever Homecoming Festival. (Looking back to last year’s album roundup I had my fingers crossed the lineup would be good, and it was great!)
Saw Jack White at the Mayan and there was a “no phone rule”. Watching a show with my own eyes and not through the video screen of some strangers phone felt refreshing.
Smash Mouth played a free concert at Pershing Square in DTLA. No shame: it was amazing!
Other staple shows of the year were: LCD Soundsystem & the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the Hollywood Bowl, Arctic Monkeys at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Courtney Barnett at Pico Union and Leon Bridges at The Greek.
Went to The Foo Fighter’s festival, Cal Jam, and was there for the Nirvana reunion.
Listen along with the 2018 playlist as you make your way through my top 10 albums of the year!
TOP 10 COUNTDOWN
10. SOLACE / RÜFUS DÜ SOL
It’s an odd thing for me to stray from the indie/alternative path… Solace is the exception being the one EDM album on my list. Synth-y, deep, but not too “unce-unce-unce” rave-like. The album is influenced by stark Californian desert landscapes and has a dark, moody vibe that comes along with it.
The cover for Solace was taken by Le Fawnhawk who also photographed artwork for each single release. It’s definitely worth checking her out for her contrasting desert style, especially in the photos where people and shapes are the main focus.
9. FOR EVER / JUNGLE
I had been patiently awaiting Jungle’s sophomore album since 2014. For Ever was worth the 4 year wait which, at times felt like forever. It comes in strong with a heavy, funky percussion on “Smile” that you can’t help but move to. Mid-way you’re met by a keyboard-strong “Casio” that sort of gets you to sway. And it ends on a mix of a bit of everything with “Pray” that’ll send you into a dreamy state of mind.
They have a show at The Hollywood Palladium March 1, 2019!
8. THE OTHER / KING TUFF
The Other dives into the issues of technological addiction, the environment and how it’s suffering by our neglect, and ultimately, death.
Kyle Thomas, (aka King Tuff), touches on questioning what’s out there in the universe; but urges that if we focus too much on what’s out there we may forget what we have here on Earth, and we might realize that too late.
The song “Thru the Cracks”, is a touching tribute where Thomas reminisces about an old friend who is now at peace. Featuring an assist from Jenny Lewis on vocals, it’s a warm reminder that we are all loved, even our darkest hours.
7. SPARKLE HARD / STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS
Good ‘ol American Rock pretty much sums up Sparkle Hard. A bit twangy, almost country at times, with classic storytelling at the center of it all. Listen close for the modern day stories about the “Me Too” movement and Black Lives Matter.
“Kite”, weighing in at a nearly seven minutes, departs from the rest of the album by journeying back to the 2013 style of Wig Out at Jagbags and beyond. It’s like a walkabout for guitar riffs and “doo doo doo” backing vocals. A refreshing jam in the center of the album.
Malkmus has been in the game for a long time and seems to be finally kicking back, doing whatever he wants. Luckily it’s what I want too.
6. GEOGRAPHY / TOM MISCH
Tom Misch has a calculated take on jazz in that his songs are crafted to his version of perfection. They range from the slow, building storyline of “Movie” to the dancy, steady repetitive bass of “Cos I Love You”.
There’s also a cover of “Isn’t She Lovely” randomly wedged in the tracklist that’s a nice little instrumental surprise, and a fun exploration from his usual style.
Even though Geography was one of my most played albums of the year, I somehow can’t sum it up into words as to why. It’s just an easy listen that makes me happy.
5. VIDE NOIR / LORD HURON
Vide Noir is an atmospheric folk-pop triumph.
If you’re searching for the perfect road tripping/driving album, this is it. Picture fuzzy 8mm film playing where the sun hits your windows just right while you drive off into the sunset. Yeah, this could be you.
Lord Huron played The National’s Homecoming festival earlier this year in Cincinnati, OH at Smale Riverfront Park. Hearing them play "Wait by the River" while being between a river and at the edge of a city was a pretty surreal experience. Ben Schneider took it all in when he motioned to the river and skyline as he sang. Goosebumps all around.
4. GOOD THING / LEON BRIDGES
From the first listen, Good Thing felt nostalgic, familiar, comforting and warm. It’s like you’re listening with your best friends, arms around one another even when it’s just you and the music.
I can't listen to "Beyond" without tearing up especially when he sings, "I know that Grandma would've loved her like she was her own." (I’ve got a soft spot for my grandmas in my heart).
On the flip side of that, some laid-back, up-tempo funk songs that were on my heavy rotation this year are “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be")” and “Bad Bad News”.
There’s authenticity that comes with the songs on Good Thing. They remind me of love and loss, better days, but more importantly the great days to come.
Really regretting not buying a "Good Thing" jacket when I saw Leon Bridges at The Greek in LA earlier this year.
3. CON TODO EL MUNDO / KHRUANGBIN
Con Todo El Mundo means "With all the world" which, coincidentally is how much I love this record.
I also recently learned that “Khruangbin” is Thai for airplane. Very fitting for their 70s psychedelic, global sound that will definitely take you on a trip.
I put this album on when I need to zone out to some smooth sounds, or, on the flip side, dance to the occasional funky tune. May I suggest, “Evan Finds the Third Room” or “Maria También” for your swaying dance floor needs.
2. WIDE AWAKE! / PARQUET COURTS
The lyrics off the title track, “I'm wide awake, Mind so woke 'cause my brain never pushed the brakes”, are actually a great way to describe my 2018. A constant ‘go-go-go’ mentality of over-working and planning and trying to make time to do everything all at once, at points resulting in a flurry of anxiety.
Wide Awake! is loud, a bit punk, full of noise/yelling and serves as a great companion for LA traffic.
Earlier this year while browsing a blog I frequent, It’s Nice That, I was surprised to stumble upon an article about Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts. Not only does he do vocals/guitar in the band, but he creates all of the album artwork, too. What an awesome relationship between two creative outlets: one completely fast-paced, and the other slow and relaxed. What a good balance to strive for.
1. TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL / COURTNEY BARNETT
Equipped with a bit of anger, a lot of hope, and a “take shit from no one attitude”, Courtney Barnett told us how she really felt on Tell Me How You Really Feel.
Back in May in a tiny chapel near DTLA, Barnett played the full album front to back and I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to it all the way through since then. (look it’s me front ‘n center in a pink hat!)
This album is chock-full of emotional, soul searching anthems and for me, “Charity” really rose to the top. It talks about this “everything’s amazing” veil we all have over our lives, the obstacles in our way and the truth that none of us really know what we’re doing. “You don’t have to pretend you’re not scared, everyone else is just as terrified as you.” Be kind to one another: we’re all searching: we’re all going through something: we all want to be heard and respected: Are you listening?
2017 has come to a close, and with it comes my yearly roundup of top music! (Can you believe we're already 7 days into 2018?!)
First, here are some musical highlights from my 2017:
- I went to my first East Coast music festival, Panorama NYC, where I met my favorite band, Spoon!
- I finally made it to Red Rocks and saw Bonobo with Nick Murphy. Obviously it was amazing, and exploring Denver proved to be more fun than I could've imagined.
- Some other "staple" shows of the year were !!! (Chk chk chk) at the Echoplex, The Shins & Spoon at The Greek in Berkeley (road trip!), Beck at the Ford Theatre and El Ten Eleven at the Masonic Lodge in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery
- According to Spotify's 2017 Wrapped, I listened to 78,502 minutes of music, 7,926 songs, 2,423 artists and explored 110 genres along the way. If you haven't gotten your stats yet, try it here!
Listen along with the 2017 playlist as you make your way through my top 10 albums of the year!
TOP 10 COUNTDOWN
10. IN MIND / REAL ESTATE
Real Estate has always been the perfect band for a summer drive down the coast. Rolling down those windows and feeling the breeze through your fingertips, the salty sea air tangling into your hair and the sunlight kissing your skin. In Mind is the perfect roadside companion and a good reminder to just take it easy, you know?
Also fun lil' link to click on: there's a cool, interactive music video for "Stained Glass", featuring geometric outlined illustrations that the user can fill with color. Give it a go yourself here!
9. TI AMO / PHOENIX
The album opener J-Boy is synthesized auto-tune bliss. Not a sentence I ever thought I'd say, but seriously they know the formula to mix songs that just work.
Phoenix is a French band, known to sing in English. Not only are there dashes of French on Ti Amo, there's also Italian, Spanish and French. Each language subtly slips into the songs, blending perfectly with the rest of the lyrics.
A bit of rock, a lot of pop, perfect for the dancefloor and singing along at concerts... ti amo, Ti Amo.
8. SLEEP WELL BEAST / THE NATIONAL
On Sleep Well Beast, the first track grabs your attention by opening with an Imogen Heap-esque harmony, shifting to quick choppy drums and guitar. According to an interview with Pitchfork, "The System Dreams in Total Darkness" is "an abstract portrait of a weird time we're in."
I saw The National at the Hollywood Bowl this year when I was having a really rough day. A friend sarcastically said, "Oh good, that'll cheer you up". But it was therapeutic listening to the raw sounds of The National when my emotions were a bit raw, too. It's good to tap into your emotions and feel those feelings, even when it's tough.
Last month, The National announced a hometown music festival called "Homecoming" in Ohio. The lineup releases this Monday, January 8. Crossing my fingers it's a good group!
7. A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING / THE WAR ON DRUGS
When you listen to A Deeper Understanding, it's like a winding stream of music washing over you. There are unexpected splashes of sound and it always feels like you're floating.
The 11 minute dream-like haze that is "Thinking of a Place" feels like that completely, and I want to be lost in it forever. Hell, I want to be lost in this album forever.
6. SILVER EYE / GOLDFRAPP
"Systemagic" may have been my most played song of the year. A good, synthesized beat and soothing repetitiveness are found in this song and throughout Silver Eye as a whole.
I'll take some good electro-glam any day, and this is close to as good as it gets.
5. CRY CRY CRY / WOLF PARADE
Cry Cry Cry was worth the 10 year wait from Wolf Parade. It's indie rock at it's finest.
Don't get me wrong, I've loved Dan Boeckner's side projects with Operators (shoutout to last years top 10) and Handsome Furs but I'm glad to have Wolf Parade and their raw, gritty sound back.
These guys are the only band out of my top 10 that I've never seen live. But that's changing this month when they play at The Observatory in Santa Ana!
4. HEARTWORMS / THE SHINS
Heartworms is a pop-infused album guaranteed to make Zach Braff's character in Garden State smile.
James Mercer's skill for songwriting and making memorable songs has always been strong, and it's held the test of time judging by the tracks off of Heartworms. The only dispute to that I've ever witnessed was at their El Rey show in March of 2017 where Emily and I witnessed someone Shazam New Slang. Obviously that was a fluke and that person didn't know anything about anything. End of story.
My front-runners off of the album are: "Name For You", "Painting a Hole", "Dead Alive" and "Half a Million". The music video for "Half a Million" is awesome. It's composed of 500,000 (or half a million, get it?), hand cut stickers filmed in a stop motion fashion. Very clever.
3. COLORS / BECK
I'll admit it, when "Wow" initially came out in 2016, I laughed out loud. I had always admired Beck's experimentation with genres and his ever changing musical styles from album to album... but this felt too weird. I thought the weird shift was a predecessor of what to come from his next full length.
Now I look back at that moment and laugh, because I'm kind of into that song. It grew on me a lot. Granted it's not my absolute favorite off of Colors, but I really appreciate it for what it is. And the rest of the album blew me away with it's all around happiness.
I finally got to see Beck this year for the first time ever in his hometown of Los Angeles. He described the show as more of a "backyard barbecue filled with friends" than a concert because he was surrounded by so many people he knew. It was one of the most intimate shows I've ever been to and he owned that intimacy on stage.
Most importantly, I really connected with this album. When I was feeling down or not like myself, Colors lifted me back up.
2. MIGRATION / BONOBO
Bonobo started off strong in 2017 with the release of Migration. It's overflowing downtempo, nostalgic sounds are lifted up even further with the collaborative additions on the album of Rhye, Nicole Miglis, Innov Gnawa and Nick Murphy (previously Chet Faker).
I saw Bonobo 3 times in 2017: Coachella, The Theatre at the Ace Hotel Los Angeles, and most importantly Red Rocks Colorado.
During takeoff on the plane ride to Colorado, I listened to Migration. Watching the world shrink smaller out the window as I floated away with the music almost felt like an out-of-body experience.
1. AMERICAN DREAM / LCD SOUNDSYSTEM
Ah, LCD. The indie-electro rock-n-roller who went out with a bang was reborn this year with a long awaited reunion album.
I was lucky enough to snag a ticket for the first show at The Hollywood Palladium during their 5 night residency. I had goosebumps, and maybe even shed one single tear when I chanted along to "Tonite" with James Murphy.
"Tonite" is probably my favorite track off of American Dream. It's a bit reminiscent of "Losing My Edge" from '05, where Murphy talks about the past with that infamous line, "I was there". But instead of talking about the past, he's going on about the present. The world we live in where everybody is 'famous' (*cough, cough* Instagram) and how songs are all recreations of the same thing over and over. A world where technology is blindsiding us, changing who we are and making us question things when comparing ourselves to others. Which is something so accessible at our fingertips every day with the influx of tiny screens that act as windows into other people's lives. It's easy thinking others' lives are better, that they know better than us and are better than us. But they're not. The song closes with, "But that's all lies. That's all lies."
This album gets... really real about modern life. It makes you feel something. Or at least it does for me, and that's why it's my #1.
It goes without saying that 2016 was a pretty terrible year for the world at large. Luckily for myself, it wasn't too bad. I landed a new job at Ticketmaster, traveled, adventured, transitioned a room in our apartment into an art studio, and saw a lot of music. So I can't really complain.
According to Spotify, I listened to 60,232 minutes of music this year. That's 41 days on Spotify alone!
I saw nearly 100 bands (96 if you want the specifics)
- One of those five festivals was my first one abroad in Wales where I got to see my favorite band, Hot Chip. (This was a weekend after they headlined at FYF. And I got the set lists from both weekends!) What an AMAZING experience.
Enough of that, let's get to the good stuff. My top 10 albums of 2016!
TOP 10 COUNTDOWN
10. Eternally Even / Jim James
Jim James of My Morning Jacket is a rad dude. He took this time of a political clusterfuck that we're in and made an activist album out of it. It talks about gun control, people in 'power', and how citizens need to speak up (directly stated in "Here in Spirit" with the lyrics, "If you don't speak out, we can't hear it").
It's a really important time right now. I mean, Trump's inauguration is in 12 days. He's not even officially president yet and things are out of control. Shit.
Speaking of Trump in music there's a project called "30 Days, 30 Songs", (which is now 50 songs), that is "united in our desire to speak out against the ignorant, divisive, and hateful campaign of Donald Trump" - 30 Days, 30 Songs.
Jame's song "Same Old Lie" is featured on the album.
9. Dolls of Highland / Kyle Craft
I was listening to KCRW on the way to work one day when I heard "Berlin" by Kyle Craft for the very first time. I arrived at my desk and immediately looked up tour dates and bought a $9 ticket to a show at the Bootleg. Best $9 show of my life! Intimate. Front row. Perfect.
My friend Emily and I got to talk to Kyle after the show. I remember he had this awesome hat he wore everywhere, collecting little knick-knack memories from shows on the trim.
His voice has this broodingly inviting quality to it. Pitchfork described it as "summoning you into its world like a carnival barker wooing customers into a funhouse." Pretty spot on.
8. The Colour In Anything / James Blake
The Colour in Anything, is the perfect album to listen to on a rainy day.
James Blake has this really interesting quirk where he's able to be melancholy and upbeat/optimistic at the same time. I think the electronic R&B sampling in his music plays a big part in that.
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver is featured in "I Need A Forest Fire" which is probably my favorite song off the album. It sort of makes me feel like I'm in a dream when I listen.
7. Epoch / Tycho
Epoch is a collection of wordless, dreamy electronic that makes me feel like I'm floating in the clouds.
It's the perfect zone-out music. When I'm working on a project and need to focus it helps me block everything out. That's probably why it's been a constant repeat listen for me this year.
6. Blue Wave / Operators
Operators was a band destined to find a place in my heart. They're composed of Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, Sam Brown of Divine Fits (a spin-off of Spoon [one of my favorite bands]), and a multi talented Devojka, a badass woman who plays the keys and much more.
Blue Wave is their first full length, after having released an EP in '14. It was 100% worth the wait. The gritty, echoing vocals over strong drums and twanging guitars in the background have me swooning.
5. 99.9% / KAYTRANADA
I saw Kaytranada a couple years back at a club opening for Purity Ring. It was one of the worst shows of my life. Another shit DJ set with lyrics repeating the mindset of "fuck bitches get money".
I feel like in the past, he didn't have the resources to team up with so many great artists to make his own album so he was playing a lot of other people's music and maybe it wasn't the best curated selection that it could've been. Some of his old singles have been good, but it's all been a maturing process with him working up to this moment.
That's why I was so surprised to find myself wrapped up in 99.9%. Like it's REALLY good. I can't even tell you how many times I've listened to it.
The way the percussion and rhythm weaves their way through the lyrics to the foreground and background, the funk R&B feel that's having an affair with electro, and the collaborative aspect are what really makes this album for me.
AND Little Dragon is featured on the track "Bullets"??! Sold.
4. Stiff / White Denim
I got to see White Denim at Free Press Summer Fest this past year shortly after they released Stiff. They're indie rock at it's finest. When they play live it's like one huge jam sesh. No setlist, they just do what they want.
Stiff has a forceful retro soul that hits you in the face with its sound. It's so groovy and just makes you want to get up and dance
With lyrics like "Be yourself, try to have a good time", it's really hard to not have a good time. Listen to "Ha Ha Ha Ha! (Yeah)" and try to tell me you didn't at least tap your foot...
3. Blackstar / David Bowie
David Bowie's death last year came as a surprise to all of us. I'm not gonna lie, I cried like a baby when I watched Lazarus. I had chills the whole time watching what seemed like the foreshadowing of his passing. All the songs off Blackstar have this eerie yet beautiful feeling that accompanies them.
Just today, on what would've been Bowie's 70th birthday, an unreleased track from Blackstar beamed down like a message from heaven. You can watch the video for "No Plan" here, or stream it on Spotify.
2. Are You Serious? / Andrew Bird
Ever since seeing Andrew Bird at Coachella years ago, I've been in love with his music. Did you know he took whistling lessons at Julliard? For some good whistling on this album, check out "Chemical Switches". Also, the amount of different instruments throughout Are You Serious is impressive. Specifically the violin in Capsized.
1. Teens of Denial / Car Seat Headrest
Earlier this year I described Car Seat Headrest as sounding like Tapes 'n Tapes infused with a hint of Modest Mouse. But they're much moodier and introspective than those two combined.
I think part of the reason I relate so much to this album is that Toledo is basically the same age as me, older by only a few days. The lyrics seem like they're maturing, becoming more aware of the real world and the issues surrounding them.
The song "Cosmic Hero" deals with what you want/need vs what you do to make it happen. How you can be your worst enemy or your most useful advocate. Powerful stuff.
Have a listen to the 2016 playlist below. It includes songs off of my favorite albums of the year, as well as ones I constantly had on repeat.
COMING UP FOR 2017
I only have a few shows queued up at the moment (Bonobo and Jose Gonzalez) but I know this year will be filled with massive amounts of music.
- Bonobo's new album "Migration" comes out January 13
- I'm DEFINITELY NOT going to Coachella, (cough, what the fuck happened?), but I do want to check out some new festivals I've never been to
- The Shins are working on new music!
- SPOON IS WORKING ON NEW MUSIC!
Yeah, it's gonna be a good year.
2015. This is farewell, isn't it? I feel like I just wrote my roundup of 2014 yesterday.
This past year I saw 106 bands. Granted there’s a few festivals in there, but still. That’s A LOT of music. Let's see if I can top that in 2016!
Out of all that music, here's my top 10:
- Why Make Sense? // Hot Chip
- Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit // Courtney Barnett
- Currents // Tame Impala
- b’lieve I’m goin down… // Kurt Vile
- Return to the Moon // El Vy
- Yours, Dreamily, // The Arcs
- Multi-Love // Unknown Mortal Orchestra
- The Waterfall // My Morning Jacket
- I Love You, Honeybear // Father John Misty
- The Magic Whip // Blur
I've made a playlist of my top songs of 2015 including some of my favorite songs off these albums. Have a listen below.
One of my fondest memories of 2015 was at Sasquatch! Music Festival when Joe Goddard of Hot Chip danced the entirety of Why Make Sense doing a shuffle sort of thing while still fully playing his keyboard perfectly. Of course, they're my number 1. Always will be!
Courtney Barnett was also at Sasquatch! this year, and she blew my mind. Ever since Avant Gardner, I've been paying very close attention to this Aussie chick. Seeing her play the main stage in front of The Gorge was just breathtaking. Tame Impala and Father John Misty also played that festival. What a great lineup... can't wait to go back!
My Morning Jacket was a staple show of this year as well. I won tickets from KCRW along with a signed album of The Waterfall, and on top of that they played with Dr Dog and Fruit Bats at The Shrine. It was amazing.
El Vy sort of came out of the woodwork this year. I've always been a fan of The National, and when I heard that Matt Berninger was taking on a side project I got so excited. Happy to say that they did not disappoint. This album is constantly on repeat.
The Arcs remind me of old school Black Keys, a.k.a. when they were REALLY good in my opinion. Dan Auerbach is just magic when he slows it down. You should check out his solo stuff, too. Mm SO GOOD.
Pretty Pimpin on Kurt Vile's b’lieve I’m goin down… might be one of my most played songs of the year. To me it's about figuring out who you are as a person, and learning to know yourself as you change. I've been doing a lot of that lately.
Multi-Love from Unknown Mortal Orchestra is just a feel good album. The kind that gets you swaying a little bit in your seat when you listen.
There's a little bit of electro sprinkled into Blur's latest album. They still have that mellow feel about them but it's sort of refreshing having something different with it. Speaking of sprinkles... that album cover?! A neon sign AND ice cream is almost enough for me to sell the album even without listening to it. ALMOST.