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From pop to rock to country to r&b, here are my top 10 albums this year:
Hundred Acres is a collection of songs that puts the nuances of life into simple statements. His instrumentation and vocals are atmospheric, and every song feels like a sung poem. It’s beautifully delicate.
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This Tennessee-native sibling throwback group is one to watch. They combine their rock, blues, funk and soul influences and create something fresh, fun, and needed. They’re like the modern Sly and the Family Stone — but grittier. I can’t get enough of them and you should for sure check out this album if you haven’t yet.
The smoothest pop songs out there. “My My My!” was one of my top 5 most streamed songs on Spotify this year and that makes total sense to me. These songs just feel so good and I think Troye represents modern pop so well. His lyrics are carefree but emotional, and his songs are (mostly) uptempo but chill and dare I say…vibey.
I saw her at Bonnaroo in 2015 and her performance was electrifying. She ran threw the crowd bare foot singing at full voice. It was insane!
In addition to her commanding presence and haunting vocals are her powerful thematic lyrics. This album touches on spirituality, childhood, and addiction. The opening lines of “Hunger” are amazing:
At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness
Damn. I also love how she talks about happiness not being an interesting emotion in “No Choir.” Ceremonials is still my favorite record, but this one really resonated with me more than her 2015 release did.
This eclectic album combines so many different eras of music that it feels innovative and nostalgic all at once. The opening track is so dynamic with deafening spaces of silence in between the vocoder a cappella that leads so well into the uptempo “Give Yourself A Try” and the sonically huge, hard-hitting “Love It If We Made It.” The stripped down “Be My Mistake” was so unexpected that it was my favorite my first listen through. The 1975 do the MOST and it works so well. This record is amazing.
Lauren Daigle’s sophomore effort is a triumphant. To see her break mainstream records, perform on Ellen, and reach people far outside the CCM world (she’s performing at Hangout next year!) has been so cool to see.
Her gritty vocals are so powerful and impassioned, and her lyrics are relatable to both believers and non. Every song is emotional and beautiful. This album is important, and I feel like if they haven’t yet, everyone will know the name Lauren Daigle very soon.
This album is so fun, anthemic, and empowering. The record starts out with the title track which is an unexpected, dreamy collab with Brian Wilson and it grows in energy from there to certified bops like “Make Me Feel” and “I Got The Juice.” Monae is an infectious, inclusive performer and this whole album is such a good representation of her overall message and image.
My friends had dragged me to a Josh Abbot concert in high school. Saying I’m not the biggest country fan is a bit of an understatement, and the thought of listening to some TX country while avoiding stepping on a sea of empty beer cans did not thrill me. But in the middle of his set, something magical happened. He brought out this artist I had never heard of to sing a duet with him called “Oh, Tonight.” I left saying that country dude was alright, but that girl he brought out was for sure the highlight.
That highlight was of course Miss Spacey Kacey. This was 2011, two years before she’d release the brilliant Same Trailer Different Park. Her follow up Pageant Queen felt like a bit of a sophomore slump — over-branded and too kitschy for me. And then she released Golden Hour this year, and it felt like the perfect, pinnacle Kacey album. It feels fresh yet nostalgic, it crossed over genres reaching so many new listeners for her, and was released at the perfect time of the year — right as spring began flirting with summer. The songs are so conversational and relatable and very much reminded me of late 90’s/early 00’s Sheryl Crow. I don’t say this to imply that Kacey won’t ever beat this album, but Golden Hour is Kacey’s Golden Era. At least for now.
I believe I first discovered Leon Bridges when I was a Lightning 100 (Nashville’s Independent Radio Station) intern and they had put “Coming Home” on regular rotation. I immediately dug his throwback sound and voice, and also loved the fact he was a native of Fort Worth, Texas, where I grew up.
I was a bit wary of a follow up album from him, and boy was I proven wrong. I sometimes get nervous when an artist’s branding is too good, afraid that they will get trapped in a certain image and sound that won’t feel authentic. But as his debut Coming Home was more mid 50’s to early 60’s inspired, this sophomore album was more mid 60’s to early 70’s – mixing some more Wonder in with the Cooke. And it doesn’t just sound and feel good – the lyrics are clever and deep. It didn’t feel like a new direction for Bridges, just the natural next direction for him. I genuinely dig every song and it’s an album that spans multiple generations.
Ariana Grande was by far the most interesting pop artist this year, and her album was diverse, unpredictable, and so sonically dynamic and vocally impressive. “no tears left to cry” was reminiscent of Lorde’s first single from her album last year in that it took such a different turn arrangement and overall feel wise, and that seemed to capture melancholy and empowerment all at once. “God is a woman” — song of the year? Won’t expand on that. That GOSPEL choir at the end. The bouncy “R.E.M” (which was, fun fact, a reworked unreleased song originally written for Beyonce) and fun “sweetener” provide variance and a lighter tone. “breathin” is maybe my favorite, I love the melodies and production, and it’s just so cool to hear artists write open and honest songs about their experiences with paralyzing anxiety (similar to Shawn Mendes’s “In My Blood.”)
From this album, to her Wicked performance, to the “thank u, next” (song and video) takeover, to releasing “Imagine” and delivering a FLAWLESS performance of it on Fallon, I gotta give my top slot to miss Ariana.
Gregory Alan Isakov, Evening Machines
Emily Warren, Quiet Your Mind
Shawn Mendes, Shawn Mendes
Charlie Puth, Voicenotes
Rayland Baxter, Casanova
LANY, Malibu Nights
Ella Mai, Ella Mai
Donovan Woods, Both Ways
Jon Bellion, Glory Sound Prep
Lake Street Dive, Free Yourself Up
Anderson .Paak, Oxnard
Brandi Carlile, By the Way, I Forgive You
Death Cab for Cutie, Thank You for Today
Matt Corby, Rainbow Valley
Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy
Wet, Still Run
Cory Asbury, Reckless Love
Alessia Cara, The Pains of Growing
H.E.R., I Used to Know Her
Katie Herzig, Moment of Bliss
Hush Kids, Hush Kids
Caitlyn Smith, Starfire
The Carters, EVERYTHING IS LOVE
Lykke Li, so sad so sexy
Tove Stryke, Sway
Middle Kids, Lost Friends
Houston Kendrick, PINK
Anderson East, Encore
J. Cole, KOD
Bishop Briggs, Church of Scars
Dashboard Confessional, Crooked Shadows
Jesse Marchant, Illusion of Love
Camila Cabello, Camila
Travis Scott, ASTROWORLD
Moon Taxi, Let the Record Play
Shakey Graves, Can’t Wake Up
Amy Stroup, Helen of Memphis
Fenne Lily, On Hold
Jorja Smith, Lost & Found
Ben Howard, Noonday Dream
Glen Hansard, Between Two Shores
Phil Wickham, Living Hope
Mumford & Sons, Delta
Alec Benjamin, Narrated for You
Wild Child, Expectations
Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes, Wind Up Bird
Imagine Dragons, Origins
Haley Heynderickx, I Need to Start a Garden
Father John Misty, God’s Favorite Customer
Courtney Barrett, Tell Me How You Really Feel
The Paper Kites, On the Corner Where You Live
Devin Dawson, Dark Horse
Post Malone, beerbongs & bentleys
Lauv, I met you when I was 18. (the playlist)
Lucy Dacus, Historian
VHS Collection, Retrofuturism
Scott Mulhavill, Himalayas
Lucie Silvas, E.G.O.
Rita Ora, Phoenix
Saint Sister, Shape of Silence
Tom Misch, Geography
Noname, Room 25
Monica Moser is a native New Yorker, grew up in Texas and now lives in Nashville. She's a graduate of Belmont University where she studied Songwriting & Music Business and interned with NoiseTrade, Nashville's Independent Radio Station Lightning 100 and Dualtone Records (The Lumineers, Shakey Graves) assisting their TV/Film Synch Licensing department. She’s a musician, writer, playlister and is the Marketing Coordinator at Streaming Promotions in Nashville, and is also Coordinator at NoiseTrade.