I'll be the first to admit that I have been failing at music this year. There have been a ton of big releases by artists I love that I just flat out haven't listened to (M83, PJ Harvey, Animal Collective, James Blake, just to name a few.) And why? Hmm, well, I just don't know. No interest? Too busy? I have no idea. I spent most of the first part of this year listening to the entire discography of Editors. And then I moved onto Biffy Clyro. And I've been listening to a ton of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + the Machine. But none of these things are from 2016. BUT I did find five records I've loved/liked so far this year....
1. Jack Garratt-Phase
I know what you're thinking. "But Alyssa, both Andrew Bird and Frightened Rabbit released records this year. Who the hell is this?" And yes, I was prepared to crown Painting of a Panic Attack my #1 (so far) until about a month ago when I was channel surfing and came upon the music video (I know!) for "Worry." I stopped what I was doing because the song was that good. I obsessively listened to it for a few days, and tried to get into the rest of the record but it wasn't happening. I started likening the way I felt about Phase as the way I felt about Sam Smith's record (what was I thinking!?): great, great single but the rest of the album was just filler.
Oh, but I was wrong. After a few more attempts, the rest of the album clicked. And holy shit. I've been listening to it obsessively since, and "Worry" and "Weathered" are the two most-played tracks on my iPod. This is probably my favorite record since Celebration Rock in 2012. It is a real triumph, and every song is fantastic. Honestly, there is no filler on this album. And Jack Garratt, lord almighty, talk about brilliant and talented. He only has one album out but I already rank him with Andrew Bird, Scott Hutchison, Sufjan Stevens, Merrill Garbus, and Zach Condon as being one of the most talented people in music. And live, he's even better, if you can believe it. That. voice. I can't believe how polished he already is live, and how well he can elevate his music (and you know, play a bajillion instruments at once.) The scary thing is is that he's only twenty-four, which means he'll only get better.
Look, I can go on and on about how fantastic he is but the bottom line is, Jack Garratt has a lot of hype surrounding him, and it's totally justified. I expect him to blow up even bigger than he already has. But in the meantime, it's going to be very hard to top Phase this year, and it's going to be hard to top both "Worry" and "Weathered" as my favorite songs this year (seriously, "Worry" is the best song I've heard in a long, long, LONG time), and it's going to be very hard to top his live show for me this year.
If he does blow up and everyone starts listening to him, and he's playing huge venues, and I don't love his music like I used to, at least I'll have had Phase.
Favorite Tracks: Worry, Weathered, Falling.
2. Frightened Rabbit-Painting of a Panic Attack
Is this my favorite Frightened Rabbit record? No. But is it still a great, great (Frightened Rabbit) record? Yes. Scott Hutchison is just a genius, plain and simple. His skills as a songwriter are unsurpassed, and he's one of, if not the, best lyricist in music right now. This is a strong record, just as you'd expect from Frabbits but at the same time, it's a progression from their previous records. They were able to expand their sound but still sound like the Frightened Rabbit we all know and love. I will admit though, there is a bit of filler in the middle of the record (I just never want to listen to "400 Bones" or "Blood Under the Bridge") but when it's good, it's good. I mean, I think the end of "Lump Street" is one of the best things in their catalog, and just listening to "Die Like a Rich Boy" makes me think, "yep, this is exactly why I love Scott Hutchison." And don't even get me started on the one-two punch of "I Wish I Was Sober" and "Woke Up Hurting" (a Frabbits song you can dance to? What!?) This is just further proof that Frightened Rabbit is one of the best bands around.
Favorite Tracks: Lump Street, Die Like a Rich Boy, I Wish I Was Sober.
3. Tegan and Sara-Love You To Death
A solid record by a trusty and true band. At this point, Tegan and Sara just couldn't disappoint me. I love their foray into pure pop, and quite frankly, I find it to be a natural progression, not a major leap. This is just a catchy, well-written, cohesive record, and if you thought they couldn't possible get any better by record #8, you were wrong. Tegan and Sara are making mature and thoughtful pop music, and I don't miss the guitars at all.
Favorite Tracks: Boyfriend, U-Turn, Stop Desire.
4. Andrew Bird-Are You Serious?
Another solid record by a trusty and true favorite. But...let's be honest here, for as enjoyable as this record is, it's nowhere near as good as we know Andrew can be. It's tame, and not very ambitious. It's his most straight forward record, his most accessible, which isn't a bad thing (the other records on this list are very accessible) but when you know what Andrew can do, it's disappointing. Regardless, it's still very enjoyable, and it's nice that he's moving towards writing pop music again and moving away from the country/bluegrass direction he seemed very fond of. Luckily, this record also came off much better live.
Favorite Tracks: Left Handed Kissed, Roma Fade, The New Saint Jude.
5. Sia-This Is Acting
Look, sometimes I just really like some good old-fashioned pop music where people just belt their faces off. Sia is perfect for that.
Favorite Tracks: Unstoppable, Alive, Cheap Thrills.