It’s that time of year again, time for every critical body, online and otherwise, to tell you what you should have seen, heard, read, and done this year. If you scratch the surface, though, all these lists tell you is what you already knew: Paul McCartney and David Bowie put out records that weren’t terrible, and everyone loves Daft Punk, Kanye West, and Vampire Weekend. In other words, if you go looking to these lists looking for something you might have missed, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
But fear not, intrepid music fan, we’re here to help! Here’s a carefully crafted playlist, with tracks from twelve of the best albums of the year that (almost) no one is talking about! Dig in and enjoy! (but mind the swears! This line-up is squarely PG-13!) ^Mike
1. “All Hits” – The Night Marchers
San Diego’s John Reis has been the standard-bearer for a unique style of riff-centered rock music for 25 years. Allez! Allez!, the latest LP from the Night Marchers has his fingerprints all over it. “All-Hits” could be the mission statement for his entire recorded output, all riffs and swagger.
2. “Borrowed Time” – Parquet Courts
One of the few things that the “big lists” got right this year was the universal acclaim for this snotty slab of vinyl. A singularly weird record, packed wall to wall with hooks, Light Up Gold is a must-have in any rock fan’s collection.
3. “Brainfreeze” – Bully
Nashville’s own Bully roared onto the scene this year with a four-song EP recorded at Inglewood, TN’s storied Battle Tapes. This over-too-soon record is all powerpop buzz, calling to mind the 20-years-old collaboration between The Breeders and Dinosaur, Jr’s J. Mascis.
4. “Despicable Things” – Mrs. Magician
The weirder counterpoint to last year’s Strange Heaven, B-Sides is a collection of echo-drenched surf pop also-rans and song-writing experiments that shows a much wider range of experimentation for this young band, and is every bit as compelling as their amazing debut.
5. “Fireball” – Life Coach
A supergroup to some, Life Coach reunites Golden bandmates Phil Manley (Trans Am, Scene Creamers, and about a hundred more) and Jon Theodore (Mars Volta, Queens of the Stone Age). Alphawaves is a thick slice of krautrocking, fuzzed-out rock that feels both familiar and new.
6. “Easy Out” – Tristen
After building a following in Nashville with her literary, sardonic country swagger, Tristen Gaspadarek changed gears, the the result is lovely. The crowd-funded CAVES is chilly and atmospheric, but packed with the same incredible songwriting that made 2011’s Charlatans At The Garden Gate so endearing.
7. “Money Music” – Pretty & Nice
Coming seemingly-out-of-nowhere, Golden Rules For Golden People somehow manages to be both a non-stop party and a compelling story of modern America. This amazing record covers topics as wide-ranging as the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the US military’s drone program, but with a beat you can dance to.
8. “Nanobots” – They Might Be Giants
After a several-years-long digression into children’s music, Nanobots sees Johns Linnell and Flansburgh returning to their roots, namely catchy, ridiculous pop songs that address very adult topics in a classically surreal way.
9. “Khmer Avatar” – Alarms & Controls
Another supergroup (if you ask me), Alarms & Controls bring together members of Dischord/DC all-stars like Circus Lupus, Monorchid, and Crownhate Ruin, to make an album of sophisticated art-rock that is as weird as it is catchy.
10. “Time In The World” – Colleen Green
Bedroom-pop superstar Colleen Green has been compared to the Ramones in the past, but her newest LP, Sock It To Me, is a classic pop record, wrapped in lo-fi synths and Casiotone drums.
11. “We Sink” – CHVRCHES
Another near-unanimous pick for year-end lists, The Bones Of What You Believe is a genuine bait in switch. The album’s bright, danceable synth pop disguises intensely dark, compelling lyrics. “We Sink” is an early highlight, vowing revenge over a perfect synth-pop beat.
12. “Minotaur” – Thee Oh Sees
Floating Coffin is the twelfth album in under a decade (not counting dozens of EPs, singles, and compilation appearances) from the insanely prolific Thee Oh Sees, and, arguably, their best. Album closer “Minotaur” is a strings-drenched psych-rock slow burn, a perfect come-down from their amped-up power-vamps.
What did we miss? Tell us about your favorite sleeper hits in the comments!
P.S. But wait, there’s more! Spotify didn’t have tracks from all our favorites. Meadownoise, Run The Jewels, and Young Knives also put out amazing stuff this year that you should definitely check out!