Haim, Days Are Gone – This sisterly trio from Cali manages a very interesting balancing act: Paying homage to 1980s era melodies while sounding like the future of pop. Bravo.
Hanni El Khatib, Head in the Dirt – Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produces, so it’s no surprise that Hanni’s Dirt is bluesy. That said, Hanni’s is a strong songwriter and performer, so he manages to keep Dirt uniquely his own.
Houndmouth, From the Hills Below the City – These Louisville roots rockers aren’t innovators, just damn good at what they do.
Juana Molina, Wed 21 – Molina is an Argentinian psychedelic folkstress who makes some brilliant noise on Wed 21. I mostly think of Beck as I listen to her, although the connection isn’t as direct as sounding alike, but more of their openness to unique sounds and arrangements while hewing to a traditional folk sound.
Janelle Monet, The Electric Lady – I’ve never quite bought into Monet because she always seemed heavier on the image than the music. With Electric Lady, she’s changed that perception.
Savages, Silence Yourself – Ignore the fact that they have Courtney Love’s seal of approval. This quartet of female post-punkers is more Rid of Me than Doll Parts. If I had to say, “This is the best album I heard this year,” Silence Yourself would get that nod.
The Shouting Matches, Grownass Man – Solid blues rock, track the first to track the last.
* Best of the rest: J. Cole, Born Sinner; Daft Punk, Random Access Memories; M.I.A., Matangi; Pissed Jeans, Honeys; Tylor, The Creator, Wolf; Kanye West, Yeezus; Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito
* Honorable mentions: Elvis Costello & The Roots, Wise Up Ghost; Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2; The Flaming Lips, The Terror; Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse; Har Mar Superstar, Bye Bye 17; Valerie June, Pushin’ Against a Stone; Parquet Floors, Light Up Gold; Queens of the Stone Age, … Like Clockwork; The Relatives, The Electric Word; Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana; Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience; Gin Wigmore, Gravel & Wine