This year I’m just going to stick to a “top five albums” list, which works out since that’s as many albums I listened to that came out this year. (Well, I gave Lorde’s Melodrama a few listens but it doesn’t do much for me.) Actually I’m not even going to rank them, because I think they’re all solid albums with their own strengths and weaknesses. So, to start:
Everything Now by Arcade Fire
There’s . . . a lot going on with this album. The title track and its two-part “Infinite Content” argue for an album about consumerism and the information overload of the information age, but the rest of the album doesn’t really follow that theme. And that’s for the best, really, as while “Everything Now” works well enough, both “Infinite Content”s are laughably bad, literally just the lines “infinite content/we’re infinitely content” over and over again. In contrast, the rest of the album moves in subtler, less rotely-judgmental spaces, painting a picture of general unease and existential melancholy that feels much more fully-fleshed. Like, damn if I know exactly what “Put Your Money On Me” is about, but it’s easily one of my top Arcade Fire tracks across their five albums, and that lyrical opacity really works in its favor as Arcade Fire tends to be its worst when it’s at its most direct.
Something to Tell You by HAIM
This is just a really solid, late-’90s/early-’00s-tinged modern rock album. The influences are all over the place–from the Christine McVie-penned Fleetwod Mac soundalike “Nothing’s Wrong,” to the R&B sensibility of “Walking Away,” to the grungy closer “Night So Long”–but all feel masterfully synthesized into an album that feels at once contemporary and retro in a way that works out to roughly timeless. On the other hand, some of the melodies here just don’t work for me that much, which is compounded by the repetitious nature of the choruses on practically every track. “Little of Your Love,” for instance, pretty much just repeats the same hook at the halfway mark, making it feel like it’s in outro-mode for nearly two minutes. Nevertheless, standouts like “You Never Knew” and “Right Now” easily justify a few lesser tracks.
Truth is a Beautiful Thing by London Grammar
Truth is a Beautiful Thing stands out as the only album here that doesn’t have a track on it I don’t care for (ignoring the special edition bonus tracks). London Grammar take the simple production from their debut album and ramp it up here to create something far more sweeping and dramatic, a direction perfectly suited to the band’s style and Hannah Reid’s ethereal vocals. I don’t really have anything else to say about this one, because it’s really just an incredibly solid album.
Now by Shania Twain
I’ve been revisiting Shania Twain’s back catalog this year and it’s been astounding to realize just how many perfect melodic compositions she released over just three albums. This gave me high hopes for her comeback album, Now, and . . . it sort of delivered. On a whole it’s a lot less catchy, a lot less upbeat, and so isn’t very reminiscent of what made classic Shania Twain so phenomenal. But it does still have a lot of solid tracks, and honestly some of the better ones are the ones that diverge the most from her classic sound–the swampy intensity of “Roll Me On The River,” the contemporary pop sound of “Poor Me,” the jazzy “We Got Something They Don’t.” Ultimately, none of the tracks live up to the standards set by her classic singles, but as an album I think it’s on par with those in her past, as some of the album tracks from her previous albums are pretty forgettable.
Beautiful Trauma by P!nk
This was definitely the biggest surprise of the year. P!nk really wasn’t on my radar until she released the lead single for this album, “What About Us,” which I really enjoyed and when I checked out the rest of the album I found I liked it all as well. There’s the sort of stuff I’d expect from P!nk here–sort of abrasive pop with a moderately hard edge–but what really astounded me on Beautiful Trauma is the strong through line of singer-songwriter styling, leading to stellar songs like “Barbies,” “Where We Go,” or “Better Life.” The absolute standout track, meanwhile, “I Am Here,” mixes gospel backup singing with thumping folk-rock instrumentals for one of the most emotionally impactful songs of the year. There are some songs here that I don’t think work as well as the others–“Secrets,” for instance, feels a little on-the-nose lyrically–but in all this is a remarkably good album.