04 January 2016
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett has a way with words. Freewheeling and deadpan with a heavy Melbourne drawl, Barnett delivers some of the year’s best hooks to a backdrop of poppy, gently psyched-out rock. These eleven story songs focus on such everyday topics as insomnia (“An Illustration of Loneliness”), apartment hunting (“Depreston”), and missed connections at the public pool (“Aqua Profona”), but Barnett convinces us to pay close attention thanks to her skilled songwriting and an infectious sense of fun. Warm and self-effacing, her humor is ever-present here, manifesting as tossed-off one-liners, offsetting heavy moments, or elevating songs that might otherwise be throwaways, securing Sometimes I Sit’s place as one of the best albums of the year.
Body English – Stories of Earth
A wise and whimsical multi-layered epic from Cambridge mainstay Clint Degan’s brand new outfit, Stories of Earth is the best rock album of the year. Every song is masterfully crafted; from the rich romantic complications of “Kiss Them” to the modern torch song “Do It Slowly” through to the monumental climax, Degan wows with accomplished vocals and guitar super-heroics. Lush production serves well here, and though it evokes 1970’s decadence, never does Stories of Earth feel like a retro exercise – quite the opposite. This phenomenal record sounds like nothing else out there, but promises to remain so only as long as it lays undiscovered
Destroyer – Poison Season
A collection of strange, effective slow-burners counterbalanced by two instant classics: rollicking “Dream Lover” and effervescent “Times Square”. The latter of these may be the best Destroyer song to date: – poised, catchy, funny, brilliant – and Dan Bejar must know it as he includes three different versions here, to mixed effect. While Poison Season is unable to match the effortlessness of its predecessor Kaputt (2011) or the elemental power of the near-perfect Destroyer’s Rubies (2006), it is a worthy addition to the soon-to-be-mythic catalog of “rock’s exiled king.”
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
After nine months and countless listens my opinion hasn’t changed on this masterwork, so April’s review needs only a few updates: History reigns on Kendrick Lamar’s Butterfly with samples ranging from George Clinton to Tupac, Disco to dubstep. Over innovative beats, Lamar detonates on this, the most angry, playful and truthful release of the year. Lyrically dense, beautiful and maddening – even danceable – To Pimp a Butterfly is perhaps the musical high water mark of 2015.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, et al – Hamilton: An American Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Suddenly the founding fathers have never felt more human, hip-hop and musical theater lovers have common ground, and the Richard Rodgers Theater looks to be a school group destination for years to come. This revolutionary musical has garnered near universal acclaim and sprouted a transcendent cast album with rousing anthems and rap battles that have the potential to inspire a new generation of Americans, many who have too long been left out of the conversation. Is this The Great American Musical? Someone get me tickets and I’ll let you know. In the meantime, such a small capsule doesn’t give me ample space to discuss my passion for this record.
Joanna Newsom – Divers
Armed with peculiar chirruping voice and fey aesthetic, Joanna Newsom is a polarizing figure. With each release, however, it becomes harder for critics to ignore Newsom’s singular talents. As clever, emotive, and profound as any of her previous three albums, Divers gets better on each listen. This is a good thing as it will take many to excavate all of the hidden treasures buried deep. Newsom’s lyrics are characteristically esoteric, employing words like “debrides” and “Ozymandian”, but she succeeds most here when she is straightforward. “You will not take my heart alive!” she repeats on this album about all kinds of death – the death of people, and love, and civilization – and when all seems most lost, she quietly reassures us to “Stand brave/time moves both ways”.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens’ mother is dead. Carrie & Lowell is, thus, an exercise in catharsis, but one elevated by Stevens’ wide-open heart. He invites you to feel what he feels. Choose to accept and you will find yourself overcome with muted anger and fresh grief. This is Sufjan Steven’s best record. Its greatness lives in simplicity. Here there is no obscure American history, no birding references or hula hoops, just a loss so well-articulated that you forget it is not your own.