25: Tegan & Sara Love You To Death
I thought this album was the duo’s fourth or fifth studio album. It’s their eighth; they also have 7 EPs. Apparently I am not fully aware of how substantial their catalog is. Ditto Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Metric, even New Pornogaphers (kinda). Like the country itself (the second largest in terms of square kms), it’s easy to lose track of how much stuff is actually there.
“Lead single ‘Boyfriend’ is a massive pop song with a huge chorus that rhymes ‘friend’ to the word ‘friend’ five times in the chorus.”—Line of Best Fit
It's a great pop record that captures the best qualities of 1989 and 25—throwback electropop, swelling choruses—without feeling like a knockoff of either.
But the album isn’t about past relationships as much as it is about their relationship with each other. It’s got to be tough to be in a band with family members: the biggest stressors of life, your job and your family, combined and, for bonus measure, you get to tour with them which means additional stress, and being confined to tour buses for hours at a time! I can’t begin to imagine how much more “fun” that is with a twin sibling. This album is, largely, about 20 years of that.
24: Chance the Rapper Coloring Book
It’s worth mentioning that Coloring Book is a mixtape (released for free, never available to purchase). It lives online, initially streaming through Apple Music. It is the first album to make the Billboard 200 chart without being sold; large scale promotions like the free copy of U2’s Songs of Innocence given to iTunes account holders traditionally don’t count toward sales tallies, but a formula that accounts for streaming plays via services like Spotify in album sales earned him that first. It is also the first streaming-only album to receive a Grammy nomination (it received 4). I have a lot of respect for albums that thwart the traditional record label paradigms, but frankly that’s secondary to the music.
The music here is joyful, both in terms of its gospel-tinged emotions and of being really fucking happy. Chance doesn’t characterize himself as a Christian musician, but describes this as music from a Christian man. His grin on the album cover says a lot about the content of the album.
23: A Tribe Called Quest We Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service…
The timing around this album was sadly impeccable. Their first televised performance in nearly 20 years was the night of the Paris attacks (the Eagles of Death Metal concert, suicide bombers outside a sports arena, additional attacks in bars and restaurants around the city). The heaviness of the evening prompted the band to come together to work on an album of brand new, very relevant material, in secret. Phife Dawg died 8 months before the album’s release, but is well represented, both musically and by naming the album. The album’s release, just days after Trump’s victory, paired them with Dave Chappell as musical guest on the Saturday Night Live show that week, putting “We The People…” right in Trump’s face (since the show is requisite viewing for him).
22: The Jayhawks Paging Mr. Proust
The Jayhawks have been orbiting a bit beyond my radar for the last two decades, occasionally crossing my path but not nearly as much as Wilco or Ryan Adams: all splinters from seminal No Depression bands of the early 90s. Had I not lucked across “Quiet Corners and Empty Spaces“ as a featured song on NPR’s website I probably wouldn’t have thought about them for at least another 18 months.
The album is a return to the band’s classic harmonies sans some of the twang of early albums. Some of the songs lack a bit of the passion of early albums, but it’s from maturity, not weak songwriting. After 30 years in the game maybe everything isn’t the most important thing of ever.
21: PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project
At my best, I am a casual PJ Harvey fan. I’m not even sure I’ve heard all of To Bring You
This album has been called "Let America Shake," and while it got lost in the spring’s flood of music (it did for me: Beyoncé, Radiohead, others took my focus), I’m glad I got to it post-election. It’s non-specifically angry about “all the shit” (intended vaguely) with a sense of urgency on which I’m projecting meaning I can relate to. Her vocal channeling of Chrissie Hynde doesn’t hurt a bit either. Good music for a shitty year.