It’s been a long time since I’ve written about music.  There’s a good reason for that, this last year has been filled with far more podcasts than ever before.  The majority of it has been industry focused, learning as much as possible about the electricity industry in the US, but some has been basketball (all the more fun when the Timberwolves are playing like a playoff team).

So this year may be a tougher top ten list than previous years.  Here’s a list of albums from last year that I enjoyed more than any others:

10.  Hippo Campus, Landmark  – This is a local indy band that has been putting out some really nice EPs prior to this year.  Landmark is their first full fledged LP and it was a really well done album.  They have a unique sound, oriented around the vocal stylings of their lead and upbeat, light and feathery guitars.  This was one of the better indy rock releases of the year, IMO.  Definitely worth checking out.

9.  John Prine, Sweet Revenge – Every year I need to mention that this list isn’t just “new” music, it’s whatever caught my attention and warrants mention.  John Prine’s best years were before my time, but I saw him with my father in law this Fall in Duluth and he hasn’t lost a beat.  He played for near two hours and sounded absolutely perfect on the guitar, with great singing too.  This is the second of his albums I’ve spent a lot of time with.  At this point it seems fairly obvious to me he was one of the best song writers of his era, perhaps all American music.  Songs like “Christmas in Prison” and “Blue Umbrella” are absolute perfection.  It’s very difficult to describe what is so compelling about good songwriters, but when you find them it’s a truly great thing.  Prine is one of them, still shining.

8.  Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm – Another really good album from Waxahatchee.  Heavier guitars and a bit more production on much of this, but she’s simply getting better and better at executing her visions musically.  A faster, stronger showing than the last mean she is evolving.  Lyrically it sticks with you.

7.  Lexie, Record Time! – A side project of Gretchen Kline of Frankie Cosmos fame, this is a smaller EP with another male vocalist.  It sounds like music written and recorded in two friends’ bedroom–but in a really good way.  It’s light, but fun and keeps you engaged.  It’s over before you know it but there’s enough to make it a really good EP.  This might not be on my list however everything Gretchen touches is pretty high up on my list right now.  She’s fantastic!  I’m excited to see what they do for the next FC record.

6.  Sufjan Stevens, The Greatest Gift – It’s odd, but this remix from his last effort has hit a deeper chord with me than the first effort (though that really was an excellent record, it was just too sad to listen to).  This is a more upbeat remix of many of the songs, with more electronic influence and a confluence of different sounds overlaying tracks.  It’s much more listenable and fun, despite the subject matter still being somewhat dire.  Sufjan has shown repeatedly how he can create beautiful music in different styles and this is no different.

5.  Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – This year I made a concerted effort to listen to more hip hop, which hadn’t been as high on my radar the last few years.  The main reason was that indy and folk rock had kind of taken over, and then another album came out which blew my mind (read on) which led to a domino effect of picking up more albums like this one.  Out of all the top ten albums, this actually might be the best album overall.  It’s incredibly well produced, the beats are infectious, the wordplay and performances from Kanye and all his guests are very good.  Justin Vernon helps on a few tracks which are just mind bending.  I listened to this album a ton and despite Mr. West being a little off kilter to me personality wise, he does create really good music.  This is probably his best album.

4.  Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice – A duet performance from two excellent young performers, Lotta Sea Lice is a bluesy tribute to one another and the life they’ve chosen in rock and roll.  It’s a pretty slow burn, with many songs taking their sweet time getting to their destination.  It’s a great “lazy day” type of album where there isn’t much going on.  This album took me quite a few rotations to really hit home, but when it does, good luck getting it out of your head.  Best tracks are “Fear Is Like A Forest” and “Blue Cheese”

3.  Kendrick Lamar, Damn. – This was the spark that made me think I was missing a great deal in hip hop.  Kendrick Lamar’s Damn is truly a master work for hip hop, one of the best albums in the genre I’ve ever heard.  In highschool and college much of my time with music was spent on indy rap (Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, Sage Francis, etc.) and although when those artists put music out it’s still good, it had been a long time since an album really grabbed me.  This is not indy rap, it’s mainstream, but it deserves all the credit it gets.  Kendrick’s writing and flow are really impressive, and unique, he’s a story teller and keeps these conceptual ideas recurring in time and genuinely makes you think.  You can’t really ask for more.

2.  Alvvays, Antisocialites – Two years ago this band came out with their self titled album and it got my top pick of the year.  This follow up was similarly great, I’d had it as my favorite album initially with the start of this list, but ended up relenting and going with another that just had a little more.  This is a tremendous sophomore effort, it’s really tough to top a great opening LP but they’ve done it.  Alvvays is mostly dream pop but can swing up or down tempo if needed.  This album is about a half hour and is similar to the last in that it uses synths and relies heavily on their lead singer’s capability to captivate.  She’s even better here than initially, with some fun curveballs for listeners to keep them on their toes.  The bottom line is that this album is easily one of the better options 2017 had to offer.  If you like pop music at all, this is a must.

1.  Conor Oberst, Salutations – This album was a dark horse.  Last year Oberst dropped a piano, harmonica and vocal only offering which was very good, but this album is a reprise of that with a backing band, many more songs and changes to the core way of playing them.  Based on that, it’s pretty difficult to imagine it having enough to get top billing, but it did.  The album just has too many good songs that stuck with me.  It ended up getting the number one spot on “value” instead of simply outclassing the other albums.  It got a ton of rotations, and Oberst is quite simply one of the best songwriters alive.  That’s high praise as Dylan, Young, Prine and a number of others are still ticking, but he’s that good.  He doesn’t write spectacular songs that blow you away with their intricacy, he writes songs that you can’t ignore due to their simplicity and truth.  There’s a lot to unpack in any of his albums, and that’s a very good thing for all of us.

This was a good year for music, but not a great one.  There just weren’t enough albums that really broke through.  That said, there’s always many diamonds in the past if you’re willing to dig!