I realized the other day on the plane from Denver to Chicago that this year, more than any other I’ve known, involved music being very acutely tied to places and times and memories. It was a year of big change, of moving across country, of taking a chance on happiness and love and starting a new life in a new time zone, and the music I most loved was tied very specifically to snapshots along the way. Here are some of the stories behind why I loved the albums I did over the last 365 days. I’ll try to go in the order I fell in love with them, cause it makes more sense in my mind to explain it that way, but I’ll say up front that the Hiss Golden Messenger album was my favorite one released this year.
James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical (buy)
This is the album that got me through the most brutal stretch of the most brutal winter I’ve ever lived through. It’s a boldly beautiful album, one that sounds fresh and exciting each time through, one that finds McMorrow stretching out and taking a huge step forward from a songwriting perspective without so much as one misstep or false start.
Cataldo – Gilded Oldies (buy)
The album that saw me through that period of time in late February/early March when winter almost won, as it seems to every year about that time. It’s an album, as Eric Anderson says, about ‘reconciling my conception of adulthood with actual adulthood,’ which at that point spoke a whole lot to me and what I had been going through- the year-plus before it was released had included a divorce, a totaled car and getting laid off, which were never on my Adulthood To-Do List. Sometimes the right album with the right songs about the right things comes along at the right time.
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream (buy)
The album that got me through the long drives between Iowa and Colorado, the ones that started at 5am and ended at 6pm and contained more prime time to think about my life and what I was doing than I knew what to do with. An album about working through personal chaos, worry and doubt, this was the record that I sent to friends going through the same thing in hopes they could find as much solace in it as I had found.
Esmé Patterson – Woman to Woman (buy)
The album that snuck in and made itself important to me this year, and the smartest record I came across this year. Patterson gives a voice to Eleanor, Caroline, Loretta and a whole host of women we know through popular songs by name only, and she ensures we know they are far more than just names or muses or mutes- they are fierce, intelligent, badass women.
Jay William Henderson – Hymns to My Amnesia (buy)
The album that soundtracked my first days as a real resident of Denver. There’s a morning I always think about when this record is on, a morning right after we first moved in, when the windows were open, the early morning sun was pouring in and my lady and I were enjoying coffee. We had only a few pieces of furniture and I didn’t have a job yet, but it felt like a home for the first time.
Field Report – Marigolden (buy)
The album that helped got me through the move. We got our place in the middle of June, and the PR rep for Field Report sent me this album when I was at Ikea putting my relationship to the ultimate test while outfitting our place. I remember coming home from that trip and downloading the record before starting to put together one of the many pieces of furniture I’ll never be able to pronounce the name of. This album was the soundtrack to that exciting, anxious time, Chris Porterfields masterfully spun stories about people and places I had no connection to somehow feeling deeply relatable and pertinent.
Ryan Tanner – Together Is Where We Belong (buy)
The album I got into when the golden hours seemed to only get longer by the day. An exceptional record full of love songs- songs about how love conquers, about how love sometimes fails, about how love is great and about how love is work, but most of all about how love is always worth it. It is rich and lovely from start to finish, all harmonies and sliding guitars and softly bold statements, an album tailor-made for Sunday mornings.
Hiss Golden Messenger – The Lateness of Dancers (buy)
The album that I wasn’t expecting, the one that took over for a few months and saw me through the end of summer on into fall. Smart, insanely well-crafted songs about love, family, traveling and life, this was the record that made the life I had come out here for seem real. I’m so happy to have found this record.
Shakey Graves – And The War Came (buy)
The album I was most uneasy about pressing play on for the first time. Listen, I don’t need to tell you that I was looking forward to this album in a ridiculous way- by the time it came out I had spent the better part of two years posting anything and everything I could find from Alejandro Rose-Garcia- so I was more than a little happy that the album managed to capture some of what makes Shakey so incredible and engaging live while also allowing for growth and exploration in the songwriting. It’s a fun, well-executed record worth being excited about from one of the most exciting talents out there today.
Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker (buy)
The album I got into last this year, but one of the albums I’ve found most exciting this year. Raw, gritty rock and roll tunes that say something important, full of youthful exuberance and brashness. This is the sort of record I’m always looking for, one that gets my toes tapping and my brain churning.