This year has been great for music. Here are my picks. Yes, I left out Tame Impala-so sorry.
Joanna Newsom- “Divers”
Released only this month, “Divers” is a return to Newsom’s ethereal, heavily lyrical tales set to music. If you are not familiar with Newsom’s music then you had best start with one of her earlier albums: there’s a lot to take in here.
With lush layers of production, Newsom’s childlike voice, and lengthy, densely symbolic lyrics combine masterfully, but to an overwhelming effect for the virgin listener. The space in these stories is vast, as reflected in the album art, and the words and harp are a bewitching combination. If you’re not there for the words, you’re missing out, but the atmosphere will capture you anyway. For those that would call Newsom’s lyrics dense for the sake of denseness, you are ruining this party, sir, please leave while you have the chance.
Sufjan Stevens- “Carrie and Lowell”
If you’re not moved to tears by this album then you are a monster. Like salt to a wound, this album will find you, and you will sting with sentimentality. Steven’s soft voice and folky guitar combine to create a safe space which you quickly learn is full of death, nightmares and sentiments so sweet they start corroding your flesh.
The album is dedicated to Stevens’ mother who recently passed away. It’s a meditation on letting go and accepting death as a friend. The intimate portraits Stevens paints of people in his music have become fully formed characters in my mind who I recall fondly. If you like melancholy without melodrama, you’ll love this.
Kendrick Lamar- “To Pimp a Butterfly”
Produced by one of music’s weirdest and most unique producers, George Clinton, and featuring the shiver-inducing saxophone skills of Kamasi Washington, I’d call it the biggest album of the year. When I’m middle-aged, every high schooler will still be listening to this album. It’s a sweeping introspective concept album that creates and riffs on fresh metaphors for ongoing issues. There’s half a jazz band present at all times.
The narrative follows a lost soul, tormented by the devil, in this case, a wily woman named “Lucy”. Lamar takes on a messianic role and invents characters with which to converse about the darkness of society, the beauty of the human soul and what it means to be famous. I frequently get overly excited at parties while talking about this album.
Father John Misty- “I Love You, Honeybear”
This is the least objective pick on the list. I say that because it breaks no major boundaries and didn’t cause a great stir, plays on cliched principles of masculinity and J. Tillman (Misty) is an assemblage of the “rockstar” image. That being said, I listen to this album on the daily, identifying with Misty’s achey Johnny Cash meets Jim Morrison voice and reveling in his larger than life image.
The album consists of narratives ranging from “let’s get married even though we don’t believe in marriage” to “I’m going to stop sleeping around this is getting dangerous” to “America is sucking the life out of me while I suck its tit”, all told in beautiful cadence with a life-affirmingly entitled attitude. Sex appeal goes a long way with me.