Top 10 Best Albums

  • The Blade, Ashley Monroe

    Ashley Monroe, The Blade
    Warner Bros. Nashville Ashley Monroe, The Blade

    On her second solo album, Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe commands the spotlight: She’s got a sweet, yet steadfast voice that brings to mind the coo of Dolly Parton, and her whip-smart lyrics quickly reveal she’s nobody’s fool. The Blade showcases Monroe’s ability to work the entire emotional spectrum; she offers soothing words on the gentle “From Time To Time,” kicks back at heartbreak on “I Buried Your Love Alive,” and winks at misfortunes on the stomping, hooting “Winning Streak.” Even when she’s unlucky in love and money, though, Monroe’s can-do attitude propels the songs, making The Blade a razor-sharp collection of newly minted, yet classic, country. —Maura Johnston

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  • In Colour, Jamie xx

    Jamie xx, In Colour
    Young Turks Jamie xx, In Colour

    This solo LP from one member of the shift key-averse British band the xx doesn’t thump as hard as the average nightclub playlist, but it’s steeped in dance-music history nonetheless. Jamie Smith, an accomplished DJ and producer who’s worked with artists like Drake and Alicia Keys, adds and re-arranges samples like Jenga bricks, using his songs’ ever-changing architecture to both pay tribute to the past and blaze a trail forward. As murky club beats and merry-go-round steel drums keep up the album’s pulse, ambient synths envelop the listener like creeping sunlight, guiding you home after an all-nighter. —Nolan Feeney

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  • Break Stuff, Vijay Iyer Trio

    ECM Records Vijay Iyer Trio, Break Stuff

    Pianist Vijay Iyer builds on the traditions of jazz—his trio’s latest album pays homage to John Coltrane and Billy Strayhorn—while borrowing inspiration from a large chunk of the musical map on his trio’s latest expansive, exhilarating collection. The interplay between Iyer (a 2013 MacArthur Fellow) and his bandmates, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, possesses a joie de vivre that comes from collaborating for more than a decade while drawing fresh inspiration from outside collaborations. And Iyer’s stylistic range is dazzling without coming off as too self-impressed; he showcases his instrument’s percussive power on the manic “Hood,” the frantic rhythms of which pay homage to the pioneering minimal techno producer Robert Hood, and gracefully dips in and out of his collaborators’ parts like a darting bird on “Geese.” —Maura Johnston

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  • Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Barnett

    Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think…
    Mom & Pop / Marathon Artists / Milk! Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think…

    “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you,” Courtney Barnett wails two songs into her debut album. But put her brain under a microscope, and the 28-year-old Australian will thrill you. Her misgivings about attention aside, Barnett deserves praise for the way her clever one-liners and rambling monologues transform the most mundane details of everyday life—sleepless nights, the state of her unkempt lawn, the merits of organic vegetables—into fascinating character studies. The topics might sound dull, but her stream-of-consciousness commentary, as well as her jagged guitar riffs, are hilariously sharp. —Nolan Feeney

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  • Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves

    Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material
    Mercury Nashville Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material

    Kacey Musgraves veered from country tradition on her 2013 major-label debut when she criticized small-town life instead of celebrating it; her who-am-I-to-judge approach to gay rights and marijuana only polarized her further. But on this year’s follow-up, she’s not only a little kinder to the communities she questioned, her sweet, twangy anthems about staying true to yourself and minding your own business are poignant reminders that we’re all trying to live our best lives, no matter the terms. “Just tryin’ to hold it all together/ we all wish our best was better,” she sings on the touching “Somebody to Love.” Here, her best is hard to beat. —Nolan Feeney

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  • Holding Hands With Jamie, Girl Band

    Girl Band, Holding Hands With Jamie
    Rough Trade Records Girl Band, Holding Hands With Jamie

    The notion of the classic rock foursome—guitar, bass, drums, vocal—gets turned on its ear by this Irish quartet, who don’t approach their individual instruments as things to play as much a they do puzzles to be solved. What results is a bold, noisy debut effort full of ambition and surprise, not to mention the occasional guitar part that sounds like a malfunctioning washing machine. (In a good way.) Girl Band—an all-male affair, it should be noted—teem with energy on tracks like the tense “Pears For Lunch” and the dizzying “In Plastic,” even when the wail of vocalist Dara Kiely is extending vowel sounds for what seem like full minutes. A potent, high-octane album that gave 2015’s rock landscape a much-needed jolt. —Maura Johnston

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  • E•MO•TION, Carly Rae Jepsen

    Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion
    604 Records/School Boy Records/Interscope Records Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion

    At its best, pop music serves up pure feeling—singalong choruses, heart-tugging hooks, verses that balance the evergreen with the highly personal. Carly Rae Jepsen, she of “Call Me Maybe” notoriety and Broadway’s Cinderella, is a scholar of the form, and her third album could be her dissertation. Working with a hypercolor palette and using her voice — delicate yet knowing, able to convey a secret and shout adoration from the rooftops — to personalize each track, Jepsen has created an album that tackles first-glance crushes (“I Really Like You”) as adeptly as it does those long-term friendships that bubble into something more (“Making The Most Of The Night”). An album tailor made for anyone who’s been in love, or thought about being in love, or longed to fall in love once more, E•MO•TION wears its heart on its sleeve and declares its intentions right in its title.—Maura Johnston

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  • To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

    Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
    Interscope/Aftermath/Top Dawg Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

    The Compton rapper’s follow-up to 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city is looser and funkier than its predecessor—a better match for Lamar, anyway, as his rapping really never colored inside the lines. It’s also understandably angrier, given the conversations around police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement that ignited during the record’s creation. Over songs that ooze and unsettle, Lamar asks tough questions about what it means to be a black man in America today. You may not agree with all his conclusions, but there’s no arguing that his process is riveting. —Nolan Feeney

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  • No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney

    Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
    Sub Pop Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love

    An eight-year hiatus didn’t soften the edges of one of the most singular rock bands to ever emerge from the Pacific Northwest. If anything, the trio only got more ferocious on their first LP since 2005, No Cities to Love, whose January arrival set a bar for quality that proved tough to clear this year. With Janet Weiss’s forceful drumming anchoring them, guitarist-vocalists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein trade sinewy guitar riffs as tough as shark skin and spit out lyrics that are casual in their devastation. “Only I get to be sickened by me,” Brownstein quivers on the battle cry “Bury Our Friends.” Yet everyone can rejoice in their return. —Nolan Feeney

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  • Wildheart, Miguel

    Miguel, Wildheart
    RCA Records Miguel, Wildheart

    Placing Miguel Jontel Pimentel into a box is a fool’s errand—his 2012 breakthrough hit “Adorn” might have been a R&B chart-topper, but its attendant album’s amalgam of rock, pop, psych, and soul made for a heady stew. On its followup, Miguel decided to delve deep into the mythology of Los Angeles, tackling its wide-open roads (“Face The Sun”) and the fragile yet alluring promises offered by fame (“Hollywood Dreams”), with bold, twisty tracks that quiver with energy. Sex is, unsurprisingly, a big part of the equation too, but Miguel’s brand of sensuality runs deep; balancing out the devastatingly blunt “The Valley” with the besotted “Coffee” and the sultry “Waves” reveals his desire to blend the body and the mind with his brand of soul. —Maura Johnston

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