10. Django Django -- Born under Saturn
While perhaps not quite as infectious (or as full of remixes) as their self titled from a few years back, Born on Saturn is still a solid piece of art-rock that I love.
9. The Tallest Man on Earth -- Dark Bird is Home
When I first heard The Tallest Man on Earth comparisons to Dylan were inevitable, and at the time I said that that was not a bad thing. It’s still not, but with Dark Bird is Home we move into Dylan’s time with The Band. This is a much fuller sound than the stripped down, mostly acoustic folk of previous records. For better and for worse.
8. Daniel Martin Moore -- Stray Age (2008)
A few months ago I had the awkward pleasure of being one of a handful of people not playing to attend a show headlined by Daniel Martin Moore because Jonathan Hape was opening. I’m glad I did, not just because I got to see my friend, but because Moore is wonderful. A quiet and reflective, straightforward and simple album Stray Age is Moore’s first release, he’s had four or five since including Golden Age this year, the album he was actually on tour to promote. It may be telling that this album, which is about half Moore and a guitar and half full acoustic band, has a better standing for me than the more electric Dark Bird is Home. Or maybe it’s not. I like what I like.
7. mewithoutYou -- Ten Stories (2012)
Philly-based mewithoutYou actually had an album come out this year, Pale Horse, that I’m sure is brilliant but I haven’t purchased, a side effect of being purposefully unemployed for 103 days this year. I did however run across their 2012 Ten Stories. Sonically a bit of a regression to early work, perhaps, but that's by no means a bad thing with these folks.
6. The Weakerthans -- Reunion Tour (2007)
I could cheat and list more, as I actually picked up three Weakerthans albums this year while on tour with my previously mentioned dear friend Jonathan Hape (for more from our adventures click here), 1999’s Fallow, 2009’s Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre, and this, their final studio album which is my favorite of the lot. Exploring themes of regretful ends, John K. Samson’s lyrics are at times haunting and humorous, but always incredibly literary. Put it on, stare at some Edward Hopper paintings, and get lost in your own memory.
5. Billy Bragg & Wilco -- Mermaid Avenue Vol. II (1998)
The entire premise of the Mermaid Avenue albums is fascinating: Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora invited Billy Bragg and Wilco to peruse her father’s thousands of pages of lyrics. Guthrie didn’t write his music, so these unrecorded songs existed solely as words on the page. I love all of those people. As an added bonus this kicks off with my favorite track of the project: Airline to Heaven.
4. The Mountain Goats -- Beat the Champ
It’s well established in these that I love john Darnielle, and of course I love his latest, inspired by his childhood love of pro-wrestling. It’s now my second favorite tMG record. So is 2004’s We Shall All be Healed which I also purchased this year. So is every tMG besides The Life of the World to Come because it was my first.
3. Polaris -- Music from the Adventures of Pete and Pete (1999/2015)
I declared this my album of the year the moment I heard it was being released. Polaris was sort of the house band for the television show The Adventures of Pete and Pete, performing the theme song and providing a number of songs throughout the seasons for a show whose musical pedigree was, frankly, much better than it should have been. I loved Pete and Pete and have been listening to a bootleg of this album for years. Polaris is actually members of college rock all stars Miracle Legion, but if you’re reading my website you probably already know that. This was their only release, and in recent years they’ve started touring because why not? I saw them in their home town of New Haven, CT, over the summer with Mates of State on an adventure during my Long Weekend. Speaking of which...
2. Girlpool -- Before the World was Big
Reminiscent of early -- my favorite -- Mates of State, I discovered this fantastic duo of ladies thanks to Facebook’s weird algorithms. A friend asked another friend if he’d heard of them and wanted to go to a show. Facebook showed me that interaction for some reason and I checked them out. I missed the show, unfortunately, but immediately ordered the album. The title track is an anthem to depression induced nostalgia and is perfect.
1. Sufjan Stevens -- Carrie & Lowell
Speaking of depression have you heard this? Stevens’ magnum opus is a perfect album. Hands down my favorite from the year. I wrote an essay for a very small crowd of people comparing Stevens to masterful filmmaker Carl Theo Dreyer in response to first hearing Carrie & Lowell and I can’t think of anything more to say that I didn’t say there. It’s so great.