I skipped out last week – I was busy! – but I haven’t skipped out on finishing the rest of this list. There’s so many more records left to discover and enjoy!
1. Norman Fucking Rockwell! – Lana Del Rey
Remember when Lana Del Rey was an ingenue with lousy stage presence who bombed on SNL? Neither do I. Lana has slowly been accruing accolades as her work has matured, and now she’s made the most acclaimed record of her career. She’s become one of those rare artists who can maintain an aesthetic without impeding creative growth, and she’s finally getting the respect she’s always deserved.
2. Oklahoma – Keb’ Mo’
Kab’ Mo’ has been quietly keeping the blues alive since the 80’s, and he’s seen interest in roots music wane and ebb. Blues-based music may be at a bit of a low tide right now, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be fresh and relevant in the hands of a master like Mo’ – and this master still has a lot to say.
3. On the Line – Jenny Lewis
This has been one of those records that everyone and their dog seemed to have been listening to all year. Jenny Lewis, of course, has been an indie rock darling for a solid two decades. With this confident and accomplished record, it’s pretty clear why.
4. Only Things We Love – Blaqk Audio
There’s no lack of bands ambitiously trying to recapture the magic of 80’s New Wave, but not many of them actually do. Blaqk Audio is one that actually does, with a sound reminiscent of Human League at the height of their glory. It’s ‘reminiscent’ without sounding apish, and consistently fun, stylish and, uh, very gay.
5. Outer Peace – Toro y Moi
6. Pony – Orville Peck
“Orville Peck” is an anonymous masked cowboy who croons like the second coming of Roy Orbison. With an image that makes reference to the iconography of mainstream Americana AND to the leather-daddy underground, Peck is camp of the highest refinement. Gay cowboy jokes aside though, he’s the best throwback crooner since Chris Isaak seduced Helena Christensen.
7. Remember the Future – Ionnalee
The Scandinavian contingent continues to dominate the electronic music spectrum. Like her peers Karin Dreijer and Aurora Aksnes, Jonna Lee uses her haunting voice and ice-wraith image to create atmospheric music that is both chilling and soothing, and ever so slightly surreal.
8. The Return – Sampa the Great
The future of American music is being shaped by artists all over the world. R&B, soul, & hip-hop music, all as American as fortune cookies and fried chicken, can seem stagnant if you listen to what’s on the top of the charts. Maybe it takes an African woman living in Australia to make those genres sound alive again. Sampa the Great is a Zambian-expatriate who raps about life as a border- and identity- hopping citizen of the world.
9. Rouge – Yuna
In a global world, we want our pop singers to be as international as our fusion cuisine. There’s a thirst for pop music that’s both exotic and accessible. Malaysian sensation Yuna is a cool fresh drink for everyone who’s been parched waiting for the next Kali Uchis. Yuna has Top 40-friendly pop chops, alright, with an eye on the global market too. She can collaborate with major-name rappers one minute and be singing in Malay a minute later.
10. Solutions – K. Flay
K. Flay comes off as your trainwreck bestie, the one who always fucks up the hardest but always manages to land on her feet. She might not be a very good singer, or a very glamorous person, but she’s a writer and performer who projects wounded tough-girl attitude. Each one of her records has been relatable, dirty and funny.