1. Hiatus Kaiyote – Tawk Tomahawk
This Australian outfit’s short, neo-soul/R&B LP easily got the most plays in my music library this year. With a 30-minute runtime, this album behaves like a mixtape, and is delicious from start to finish. Its dynamic soundscapes oscillate between spaced-out hip-hop and future soul grooves, showcasing the band’s compositional prowess and musicianship on each song.
2. Jai Paul – Jai Paul
UK producer Jai Paul’s album was released amid controversy, heightening the anticipation for his long – awaited debut. A ploy? No matter, this is a surefire banger that is bound to make you move! Whether he intended to or not, Jai Paul serves up this year’s finest offering of electro pop, chopped with weird glitches, silky interludes and eccentric vocal harmonies.
3. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
UMO’s sophomore release reveals a new direction for the group without abandoning its psychedelic roots. Singer/songwriter Ruban Nielson refines his song structures, even dabbling in some R&B along the way, as the band delivers a somewhat patient and more polished offering from their debut effort. Fans of their first will have their thirsts quenched by phased out guitar riffs, distorted horn lines, and psyche-funk breakdowns, as II intrigues listeners while luring them further down the rabbit hole.
4. Thundercat – Apocalypse
Stephen Bruner’s bass grooves have been in high demand for the past few years, notably lending them to Flying Lotus’ recordings while touring in Erykah Badu’s backing band. Apocalypse could be considered a concept album, exploring themes of friendship, love and loss, as Bruner responds to the death of long-time friend and keyboardist, Austin Peralta. A fusion of pop, soul and R&B layered with tasty vocal harmonies, scorching bass lines and a few wacky time signatures, Apocalypse delivers catchy hooks amidst its complexity that ensure repeat listens.
5. Matthew E. White – Outer Face
Matthew E. White’s follow-up to last year’s Big Inner, Outer Face serves as an extension of his solo debut – rooted in Americana, and confident. White’s attention to detail is what makes this album shine; with prudent panning, dynamic swells, subtle touches and bass grooves to boot, Outer Face is simultaneously patient and bold.
6. Bilal – A Love Surreal
A Love Surreal ventures toward the avant-garde side of neo-soul and R&B to accompany the Coltrane nod in its title. With unconventional melodies and harmony structures overtop smooth chord changes and back beats, Bilal explores his creativity on this release. The result is an album that engages listeners with multifaceted arrangements, dynamic swells and sexy spells, all without sacrificing accessibility.
7. Danny Brown – Old
The Detroit rapper’s follow up to his widely praised debut, XXX, features a slightdeparture from his established signature sounds, solidifying Old as this year’s gold standard for hip-hop. Functioning as a dual album, its A-side features more old school production, while the B-side nods to more contemporary, party-rap configurations. Now in his 30’s, Danny Brown explores stories of aging betwixt his inescapable past of poverty and drugs, carefully constructing this concept album as each song masterfully flows to the next.
8. Ducktails – Wish Hotel EP
Matt Mondanile was a busy man this year, releasing two albums for his solo recording project, Ducktails. On Wish Hotel, Mondanile records by his lonesome, diving deeper into the hazy soundscapes explored on his full-length release, The Flower Lane, from earlier this year. While the LP meanders, Wish Hotel maintains focus, clouding its listeners with phased out pop melodies and distorted keyboard tones, capturing the mood of its fall-time release.
9. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
No surprise here as Arcade Fire’s latest has made quite a bit of noise since its October release, finding itself atop myriad year-end lists. Clever marketing tricks aside, Reflektor is equipped with production from James Murphy, and showcases the pure craftsmanship of Arcade Fire. Perhaps in an attempt to capture their live sound, the album is lively and paranoid, switching seamlessly between carefully constructed choruses and limber electro-grooves, effectively keeping listeners on their toes.
10. Foxygen – We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Foxygen’s first full-length release feels as though its paying homage to their Sixties’ heroes while simultaneously poking fun at them right to their faces. Its playfulness is endearing and supports its lyrical prowess, alternating between folk tales and colorful anecdotes. We are the Ambassadors delves into psychedelic breakdowns amidst shifty time signatures and clever hooks; this album is more fun with each repeat listen.
11. Bear Grass – Stories in Books
12. Jagwar Ma – Howlin
13. Atoms for Peace – AMOK
14. Blue Hawaii – Untogether
15. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
16. The Chronicles – Spanning the Gap
17. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
18. Crocodiles – Crimes of Passion
19. Diane Coffee – My Friend Fish
20. Washed Out – Paracosm