EmotedLlama’s 2017 in Music

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.

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EmotedLlama’s 2016 in Music: Part 2

With my honorable mentions out of the way last week, it’s time for my top five albums of 2016.

5. This is Acting by Sia

I’m not sure this is a great album, but the story behind it (all but the embedded song originally being written for other artists) gives each song an interesting metatextual context that adds complexity and depth to what are otherwise standard Sia-penned pop songs. This is fifth on my list by a fairly large margin (I could shuffle the order of the rest and feel okay enough with it), but I still really enjoyed it.

4. A Seat at the Table by Solange

I’ve not given this album a ton of listens so I might rank it differently in a few months, but as of now I really dig it. It’s a very frank, honest album that captures a diverse range of emotions without feeling scattered. I don’t love the frequent non-musical interludes (which I don’t care for in general), but there are a ton of standout songs on this album.

3. The Heart Speaks in Whispers by Corinne Bailey Rae

CBR’s previous album, The Sea, was for years my favorite album and still is high up there (I’ve just cooled on it a bit in the last couple years). So I had really high hopes for The Heart Speaks in Whispers, Corinne Bailey Rae’s first album in six years. And . . . it’s fine! There are some really good songs, some I don’t care for so much, some that are in between. There’s a slightly off-kilter, experimental sound to the album that even on the best tracks makes me wonder if it would have benefited from more traditional production, but hopefully CBR’s next album comes a lot sooner and can build on the experimentation going on here.

2. Waitress Cast Recording

This totally counts as an album, okay!

Sara Bareilles is amazing, and while I didn’t actually care for her recording of a bunch of this musical’s songs (which she wrote), I love the cast recording. The slightly retro-sounding piano-pop style is comfortable and inviting and the cast do an absolutely fantastic job bringing the songs to life.

1. Nothing’s Real by Shura

I think I have to rank this album highest on my list, though. I feel like this album is well-described as “’80s-era Madonna if Madonna were a shy introvert” and that rules. Shura’s voice is fantastic and manages to carry a surprising amount of emotion at times, and where I felt The Heart Speaks in Whispers was experimental to a fault, the more experimental tracks on Nothing’s Real have an exciting, daring sense to them.

EmotedLlama’s 2016 in Music: Part 1

I listened to quite a bit of music this year, so I’m gonna break this post into two parts: part 1 has albums from before 2016 and honorable mentions (albums outside my top five), plus a bunch of songs I’ve enjoyed this year, and then next week part 2 will have my top five albums of the year.

Albums from Before 2016

Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara

This album is from 2013 but I didn’t get to it until this year when T&S’ new album caught my attention. I actually think this album is the better of the two, mixing the duo’s alt-rock past with a new electronic pop sound in a way that works really well.

25 by Adele

Adele has yet to reach the tipping point where I really enjoy more than half the songs off of one of her albums, but 25 got pretty close. At this rate I’ll be a huge Adele fan in 2026!

Every Open Eye by Chvrches

I didn’t feel strongly enough about this album to buy it when it released last year, but I gave it a go when it hit Amazon streaming this year and it probably would have made last year’s list had I gotten to it then. “Leave a Trace” is one of my top songs of 2015 and while none of the other songs on the album hit its high, there are some solid jams and nothing really sticks out as bad.

A Head Full of Dreams by Coldplay

I get the impression that Coldplay lost a lot of their cred by their last two albums, but they’re my favorite of the band’s discography so w/e. One of the first things that struck me about this album is how effortless it all feels, like each song was written completely by instinct in a few minutes. I wasn’t sure at first whether that was a good thing, but on further reflection I’ve decided it’s a strength. There’s a vibrancy to the songs on this album and I really enjoy how optimistic it is.

Honorable Mentions

Home of the Strange by Young the Giant

I don’t really care for most of the songs on this album (I think the band’s previous two were more consistent), but the highlights–“Titus Was Born,” “Elsewhere”–are some of Young the Giant’s best.

Love You to Death by Tegan and Sara

This album is pretty much pure pop in comparison to the duo’s past work and ultimately I think that’s to its detriment. There are a lot of catchy melodies and good beats on this album, but there’s a slight feeling to it, like there’s nothing under the surface, that gave it a short life for me.

Emotion Side B by Carly Rae Jepsen

Because this is technically an EP and is comprised of outtakes from CRJ’s previous album, I don’t feel right putting it in my top five, but if I counted it it would probably be second or first there. Carly Rae Jepsen has become one of my favorite artists and this is a fantastic collection of songs.

Beautiful Lies by Birdy

“Keeping Your Head Up” is one of my top songs of 2016, but this album as a whole doesn’t grab me as much. It’s a lot of slow piano ballads that, while fine, make for a kind of languid tone.

Miscellaneous Songs I Listened to This Year

Under the cut for length . . .

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