- Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
If the purpose of a title track is to define its corresponding album, there’s no better title track than “Pure Comedy,” an emphatic lamentation of humanity’s descent into indecency. The comedy of Pure Comedy is largely gallows humor, a sordid affair that finds bittersweet beauty in life’s ironies. With his third album, Father John Misty reestablishes his place at the top of the contemporary indie folk scene; both as a composer and a lyricist, Father John Misty knows what he does well and does it immaculately.
- The Mountain Goats – Goths
Goths is brilliant on so many levels. On one level, as a bittersweet tribute to post-punk and goth rock groups of the early 1980s that laments the loss of bands like The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees while acknowledging their idiosyncrasies. On another, as an experiment in composition: across the entirety of Goths, not a single guitar is to be heard. And lastly, as a fusion of these two challenges, a genre homage with minimal imitation. With the exception of “Shelved,” Goths is a love letter to goth rock that’s about as far from goth rock as one could imagine. On all three of these fronts, Mountain Goats mastermind John Darnielle goes above and beyond, creating something with heart, humor, nostalgia, and self-awareness.
- Colin Stetson – All This I Do for Glory
Primal wails over serrated saxophone jabs, industrial scratching and hollow metallic drums generally color a majority of the instrumentation of this avant-garde pseudo-jazz project. Stetson (whose past credits include albums by BadBadNotGood and Bon Iver) skillfully balances his shriller, harsher pieces (“Like wolves on the fold”) against moments of airy serenity (“Spindrift”). With only six tracks, Stetson has the freedom to draw out his concepts to thrilling climaxes, demanding and then rewarding patience and focus. Few releases this year have been as experimental as All This I Do for Glory.
- Lorde – Melodrama
In an interview with The New York Times, Lorde described Melodrama as “a record about being alone. The good parts and bad parts.” Given that a sizable portion of this album directly addresses a past relationship of Lorde’s— “Homemade Dynamite” a fond recollection, “Writer in the Dark” a painful goodbye—it would be easy to assign this album the label of “breakup album.” However, Lorde goes far beyond merely acknowledging the dissolution of her relationship; she expresses a wide breadth of emotion, and there’s tremendous growth and revelation across the album’s eleven tracks. Youthful but with the retrospect youth often lacks, Melodrama is a stunning sophomore effort from one of the most talented major pop stars working today.
- Slowdive – Slowdive
The English shoegaze band’s first album in over two decades, Slowdive uses that lengthy timespan to its advantage; improved recording and mixing techniques and technologies have helped catapult the band into the 21st century while preserving their musical identity. This album doesn’t pander to modern musical trends. Instead, it takes the genre-defining guitars of their 1993 opus Souvlaki and covers it in the ambiance that colored 1995’s Pygmalion, their last album prior to this one. It’s all brought to life by a crisper sound, detailed without diminishing the shoegaze genre’s iconic “wall of sound” technique. And with the auxiliary ambiance, that wall often feels like an ocean breeze, hopefully signifying an exciting new future for the band in the years to come.