Every year there are the consensus albums that end up on all the end-of-year lists, and then there are the albums that I loved that don’t get any love. This year, the critics seem to agree on Kendrick Lamar, Courtney Barnett, and Sufjan Stevens, all of which ended up on my own tentative top ten list. Other artists on that list receiving a little end-of-year attention were Alabama Shakes, Phil Cook, and Samantha Crain.
This is a list of the albums that got zero mentions in top ten lists, mine or otherwise. In past years I’ve included albums that got less than three, but that seems disingenuous, and, as a public figure, I must maintain the trust of my many fans. That means Jimmy Needham, Ben Rector, Gungor, and The Tallest Man on Earth aren’t on here, even though I can’t find a single list with them on it except my own. It also seems like a waste to include albums I’ve already written about, so no Amy Speace, Belle and Sebastian, David Ramirez, Dawes, KaiL Baxley, Lucero, Nicole Dollanganger, Sam Outlaw, The Weather Station, The White Buffalo, or Worriers. Basically this is just an excuse to catch up on writing about the artists I missed over the past year.
Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher’s Daughter: Carlile recorded every song on her fifth studio album in one take, and the roughriding approach is apparent in the DNA of every song. She’s released good albums before, but she had the problem that a lot of singer-songwriters have, of having a sound that was too staid to do justice to her roughly hewn lyrics. The Firewatcher’s Daughter fixes this problem in one fell swoop with its first track, the rollicking “Wherever Is Your Heart”, which sets the tone for the barn-burning Americana to follow.
Caroline Spence, Somehow: Where Carlile’s record shows how strong folk music can be when it’s set loose, Caroline Spence’s Somehow is an example of how great Americana can be when it stays home. There aren’t any risks and there are few flourishes. Spence displays an earnestness that, in a lesser songwriter’s hands, might have been cloying, but with strong metaphors and clever turns of phrase, her record is instead comfortably satisfying.
Curren$y, Canal Street Confidential: Curren$y’s latest studio album just came out this month, so the critics can have a little slack for not including him in their roundups. But since I’ve never seen his albums or mixtapes on year-end lists in the past, it’s probably safe to say that the stoner rapper’s newest would have gone similarly unheralded. It’s his most polished effort so far and his album with the most famous featured artists yet (Future, Wiz Khalifa, Weezy), but it still retains his blunt sensibility, which is a more defined sensibility than any of those featured artists have had of late, by the way.
JD McPherson, Let the Good Times Roll: Rock doesn’t get a lot of mainstream critical attention anymore, and that’s fine. But you can still find great rock music if you know where to look, and JD McPherson’s Let the Good Times Roll is a good place to start. He scratches a rockabilly itch that nothing in the wider cultural conversation is really getting near.
Lord Huron, Strange Trails: On their 2012 debut, Lonesome Dreams, Lord Huron was a little too in love with the same propulsive dream-folk rhythm that permeated every song. It was their calling card on that album, and they revisit it on Strange Trails, but with more variations, allowing for syncopation and even some swing to enter their musical vocabulary. The result is a compilation perfect both for the road and the campfire.
Carly Rae Jepsen, “All That”
Chromatics, “Just Like You”
Janelle Monae & Jidenna, “Yoga”
These were three of the best pop songs of the year and yet have received little to no end-of-year attention.