- 2008 : Volume 1
- 2008 : Volume 2
- 2009 : Volume 3
- 2009 : Volume 4
- 2010 : Volume 5
- 2010 : Volume 6
- 2011 : Volume 7
- 2011 : Volume 8
- 2012 : Volume 9
- 2012 : Volume 10
- 2013 : Volume 11
- 2013 : Volume 12
- 2014 : Volume 13
- 2014 : Volume 14
- 2015 : Volume 15
- 2015 : Volume 16
- 2016 : Volume 17
- 2016 : Volume 18
- 2017 : Volume 19
- 2017 : Volume 20
Origin, passion, reasoning
For the last 8 years, I’ve been poring over my favorite albums, artists, songs of the year and compiling a pair of CDRs to gift to family and friends for the holiday season. This was a bit of a passing of the torch so-to-speak, in that my uncle Steve used to compile CDRs as his annual gift. Steve passed away 8 years ago, so I’ve been assembling my own compilations; both as a tribute to him and because I really really love music. And even more than loving music, I love sharing music and maybe introducing others to their new favorite artist. If I recall, correctly, Steve’s compilations were more Adult Contemporary in scope. If I were to describe my interpretation it would be kind of all over the place: eclectic.
In addition to fulfilling the music nerd in me, this process also fulfills me, as a designer. I get to design for my favorite thing: music. For the most part, each cover’s design is rather simple. For the past few years, I’ve removed color; as I’ve chosen to use a back-and-white toner-based printer instead of a color ink jet. I can be fairly pragmatic, at times, I suppose. Also clearly at the forefront has been typography decisions. Clear and bold seems to have dominated several years. As you can see, themes/templating tended to stick around for more than one year.
- A type of person who finds beauty, appreciation, and substance in a wide variety of artistic exploration through any creative medium.
- A qualifying adjective seeking to describe admiration for a large variety of music.
The origin of my own use and definition of Grangler dates back to my early twenties and the use of its preceding term Grangley. My friend Ben used “Grangle” as a term (I don’t recall his meaning) and I repurposed it to Grangley. I then used the word to describe “beautifully ugly” color schemes. e.g. Grangley color schemes, grangley orange, etc.
Today, I define the word as a succinct way of referring to an individual who finds beauty/appreciation within things/objects/ideas one might not typically find beauty within.
2008 : Volume 1
The first year very little of the music contained on the playlists were released that year. Instead I opted to ease-into my ultimate vision for these annual playlists and learn as I went along. The songs here were mostly timeless classics that anyone should appreciate in one way or another.
Volume 1 track listing
- Anathallo – Noni’s Field
- Antler – They Know I’m The One
- Antony & The Johnsons – Another World
- Bilal – Gotsta Be Cool
- Billie Holiday – I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues
- Bon Iver – Skinny Love
- Cecil Otter – Rebel Yellow
- Charles Mingus – Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting
- Doomtree – Forensics
- Dessa – If & When
- MGMT – The Handshake
- The Mountain Goats W/Kaki King – Black Pear Tree
- Nina Kiner – Spår 2
- Nina Simone – House Of The Rising Sun
- Dessa – Speedmetal
- Ray Lamontagne – Sarah
- Sigur Ros – Gobbledigook
- Veronica Maggio – Gammal Sång
2008 : Volume 2
Volume 2 track listing
- Opeth – Burden
- Gravenhurst – Black Holes In The Sand
- Gravenhurst – Fog Round The Figurehead
- Frumpy – How The Gipsy Was Born
- Eric Dolphy – Something Sweet, Something Tender
- Dessa – Sadie Hawkins
- P.O.S – All Along The Watchtower
- Dessa / Boy Sopranos – Into The Spin
- Dinah Washington – Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
- Call Me Kat – Bug In A Web
- Little Dragon – Twice
- Joni Mitchell – All I Want
- Melpo Mene – I Adore You
- Loquat – Sit Sideways
- Nina Simone – Brown Baby
- Adele – Hometown Glory
2009 : Volume 3
The second year definitely featured the most graphic heavy artwork. More so than the first year, the overall compilation focused more on music released in 2009. Some classics worked their way in – Tom Waits, Chuck E. Weiss, Nina Simone, Otis Redding, Latyrx, and Chocolate Genius.
Volume 3 track listing
- Amadou & Mariam – Ce N’est Pas Bon
- Gossip – 8th Wonder
- P.O.S – Let It Rattle
- Patrick Wolf – Oblivion
- Me’Shell NdegéOcello – Mass Transit
- Sol.illaquists Of Sound – Look
- Gavin Castleton – Cofflelocks
- Nina Simone – The Thrill Is Gone
- Joe Henry – Richard Pryor Addresses A Tearful Nation
- Katatonia – Onward Into Battle
- Amesoeurs – Faux Semblants
- Antony & the Johnsons – Epilepsy is dancing
- The Beatles – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
- Chuck E. Weiss – Congo Square At Midnight
- Tom Waits – Dirt In The Ground
- Katatonia – Departer
2009 : Volume 4
Volume 4 track listing
- Dessa – Dixon’s Girl
- Metric – Help I’m Alive
- Grizzly Bear – While You Wait For The Others
- Bilal – Sometimes
- Volcano Choir – Island, Is
- K’naan – Fatima
- Mos Def – Casa Bey
- Gossip – Four Letter Word
- Latyrx – Lady Don’t Tek No
- Imogen Heap – Little Bird
- Nina Simone – Wild Is The Wind
- Otis Redding – Change Is Gonna Come
- Chocolate Genius – My Mom
- Bat For Lashes – Glass
- Jeremy Enigk – World Waits
2010 : Volume 5
2010 : Volumes 5 & 6
Year three contained all 2010-specific music, despite retaining the “new and old” disclaimer adorning the artwork. This collection of songs is predominantly r&b/soul based. The year saw great releases from local hip-hop collective extraordinaire, Doomtree; with songs/albums from Dessa, P.O.S, Paper Tiger, Lazerbeak, and the Doomtree-contributing supergroup Gayngs, which is made up of all kinds of Minneapolis awesomeness. Sprinkled throughout the Doomtree madness is a mix of pop, classical, rock, and hip-hop tracks.
Volume 5 track listing
- Dessa – Poor Atlas
- Florence and the Machine – Drumming Song
- Bilal – Restart
- Cee-Lo Green – Wildflower
- P.O.S – Dear Boy (Paul McCartney Cover)
- Joanna Newsom – ‘81
- Gayngs – The Gaudy Side of Town
- Yeasayer – ONE
- Paper Tiger – Palace
- Lazerbeak – Land’s End
- Minus The Bear – Into the Mirror
- B. Dolan – Marvin
- Sade – Long Hard Road
- Max Richter – Journey 4
- Janelle Monáe – Dance Or Die (Featuring Saul Williams)
2010 : Volume 6
Volume 6 track listing
- Bilal – Think It Over
- Sade – Soldier of Love
- Dessa – Go Home
- Gayngs – Faded High
- Jeremy Messersmith – Organ Donor
- Sia – Clap Your Hands
- Arcade Fire – We Used To Wait
- Lazerbeak – Bound
- Maximum Balloon – Absence Of Light
- The National – England
- Cee-Lo Green – No One’s Gonna Love You
- Grieves – Out Of My Mind
- Caribou – Leave House
- Glasser – Glad
- Anais Mitchell – If It’s True (featuring Justin Vernon)
2011 : Volume 7
2011 : Volumes 7 & 8
Active Child ushers us into this series. Like an all-too-familiar voice/style bringing you back to the early 90s. Everything about Active Child, from his voice to production style reminds me of the early 90s/ late 80s for some reason.
Who knew Frank Ocean would go on to release what could be his only masterpiece in 2012’s Channel Orange. I say that half-serious, as the internet has been going nuts about his sophomore album’s announced release date of July 2015 coming and going with no further word from Frank. At any rate, man this was a great year for music.
Before the Weeknd went pop and slayed the mainstream with pairs of earworm-inducing songs: I Can’t Feel My Face and The Hills, he wore his troubles more prominently for all to see. Abel Tesfaye finally figured out how to mix his misogynistic psycho sexual brand of r&b with the right amount of socially acceptable, eccentricity? Great! Now mix in a winning pop formula, his always-great vocals and you have the next pop sensation. All an early 20-something needs to self destruct, eh? Glad the world is giving him all kinds of ammo. I’m conflicted: I want to like him, but he’s so unlikeable it’s laughable to even consider liking him. One can not deny his talent. I am forever stuck in a sadistic paradox. One thing is certain, Tesfaye’s more rough corners; his darkest lyrics, and creepiest production have been reduced to almost unrecognizable versions of themselves. Like something pretty, only hinting at being dark and creepy – instead of being overtly dark and upfront about his intentions. I’m not sure which is worse. Wow, what a tangent that happened there. Anyway, High For This still remains an incredible song. The epicness and sharp contrast still echoes in my head and now I can’t feel my face.
These volumes decidedly closed with two of my favorite James Blake songs of the year. First with a swirrling jarrer of hypnotism I Never Learnt To Share. Then, volume 8 closes with the unreal Joni Mitchell cover A Case of You. His version still destroys me.
Volume 7 track listing
- Active Child – Hanging On
- Frank Ocean – Strawberry Swing
- Bon Iver – Holocene
- Doomtree – Little Mercy
- Astronautalis – Contrails (Featuring Tegan Quin)
- Anna Calvi – No More Words
- Bjork – Crystalline
- Austra – The Future
- Saul Williams – Explain My Heart
- Grieves – Light Speed
- Little Dragon – Ritual Union
- Lykke Li – Get Some
- Tom Waits – Chicago
- Graveyard – No Good, Mr Holden
- Washed Out – Amor Fati
- James Blake – I Never Learnt To Share
2011 : Volume 8
Volume 8 track listing
- The Weeknd – High For This
- Active Child – Playing House
- James Blake – Fall Creek Boys Choir (Featuring Bon Iver)
- TV On The Radio – Will Do
- M83 – Midnight City
- Sims – Bad Time Zoo
- Katy B – Katy On A Mission
- Dessa – The Crow
- Iron & Wine – Rabbit Will Run
- Gary Clark Jr. – Things Are Changin’ (Live Solo Acoustic)
- Charles Bradley – The World (Is Going Up In Flames)
- Black Keys – Sister
- Tune-Yards – Bizness
- Doomtree – Beacon
- Bon Iver – Minnesota, WI
- James Blake – A Case Of You (Joni Mitchell Cover)
2012 : Volume 9
2012 : Volumes 9 & 10
Graveyard’s third album didn’t strike me like their 2nd, but it’s still enjoyable. Their brand of sludgy psychedelic blues rock is still unmistakably Graveyard.
Katatonia released another incredible album, in Dead End Kings.
I’ve been a fan of Macklemore since 2009’s Unplanned Mixtape EP. But I really started paying close attention when he and Ryan Lewis put out 2010’s The VS and The VS Redux. Vipassana was my jam. It’s been several years, but I swear he put out a The VS EP and some months later repackaged it with remixed in The VS Redux but I can’t find a real instance of The VS by itself (need to keep googling).
So now, in 2012, they come along and release an album that would catapult them beyond their own ambitions. Of course, the record didn’t truly hit its stride until 2013 – because not everyone keeps a close watch on underground-to-mainstream artist transitions.
P.O.S released his most polarizing record – an odd mix of I don’t know how to describe, tracks, in We Don’t Even Live Here. From some solid, truly great songs (the couple I included here) to vulgar craziness –Fuck Your Stuff, this album still leaves me scratching my head a bit. It’s now 2015 and I should probably re-visit this record.
Volume 9 track listing
- Graveyard – Endless Nights
- Katatonia – The Racing Heart
- Alt-J – Tessellate
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Same Love (Featuring Mary Lambert)
- Frank Ocean – Thinkin Bout You
- Twin Shadow – Golden Light
- P.O.S – Where We Land (Featuring Justin Vernon)
- Sea Wolf – Old Friend
- Grizzly Bear – Speak in Rounds
- Silversun Pickups – Make Believe
- Polica – Lay Your Cards Out
- Alabama Shakes – I Found You
- Fiona Apple – Jonathan
- David Byrne & St. Vincent – Lazarus
- Aesop Rock – Cycles to Gehenna
- Kyteman Orchestra – Angry at the World
2012 : Volume 10
Volume 10 track listing
- Silversun Pickups – Skin Graph
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Neon Cathedral (Featuring Allen Stone)
- Frank Ocean – Lost
- Twin Shadow – You Call On Me
- P.O.S – Wanted/Wasted (Featuring Astronautalis)
- Efterklang – Hollow Mountain
- Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
- Alt-J – Taro
- Witchcraft – It’s Not Because of You
- Bat For Lashes – All Your Gold
- Now, Now – Prehistoric
- Kathleen Edwards – Change The Sheets
- Grizzly Bear – Yet Again
- Kyteman Orchestra – Mushroom Cloud
- Frank Ocean – Pyramids
2013 : Volume 11
2013 : Volumes 11 & 12
Earl Sweatshirt emerged from seclusion to unprecedented internet pressure and hype. His debut full-length is exactly what it was meant to be; a brilliant young artist throwing something out there and seeing how it’s received. While not all of the record hit me like Chumdid, it’s still a great record. Though, I have to empathize a bit and try to put myself in his world view to appreciate the record. Even then, I fall short – being a white guy who largely grew up in the suburbs and experienced very little economic/societal struggle. I can only empathize so much. What I do know is that Earl will only get better. I look forward to hearing what he’s talking about years from now.
Chvrches debut record was refreshing, great even. Very inline with 2013’s fresh take on older genres – the cycle of influence, if you will. Its inclusion here was a no-brainer – both in terms of quality and sequencing. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same will be true for songs on 2015’s release Every Open Eye. Too much of the same for me. They have such a niche sound. One whose longevity was uncertain from the beginning. I’m reminded, not in style, but by a shared niche sound longevity sentiment in Alt-J’s material. Both, to me, are almost unlistenable now. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I didn’t really ever like them that much in the first place. Ha, ramble ramble.
On a similar note, London Grammer and Haim saw much commercial and critical success. 2014 was an interesting year for debut female-fronted records. I’m a big fan of all of that.
Local hometown hero (and as of 2015, MN homeowner and resident once again!) Har Mar Superstar saw his most commercial success. It also saw his most serious, well-formed, consistently thematic work inBye Bye 17. Gone are the silly, playful party lyrics, what remains is the heart and soul of Har Mar’s world.
James Blake returned and absolutely crushed his debut record – albeit in very different genre distinction confines. His confidence in singing ability, overall musicianship, songwriting is all radically on-point and thoroughly engaging. I’m still holding out for Radio Silence his third full-length record to be released in 2015. We’ll see. James Blake and Frank Ocean: please release new albums this year. Pull a D’Angelo for 2015.
Volume 11 track listing
- London Grammar – Stay Awake
- Volcano Choir – Acetate
- Chvrches – Tether
- Laura Mvula – That’s Alright
- Drake – Hold On, We’re Going Home
- Darkside – Paper Trails
- Dessa – Warsaw
- James Blake – Retrograde
- Har Mar Superstar – Lady, You Shot Me
- Kanye West – Blood On The Leaves
- Coheed & Cambria – The Hard Sell
- Chelsea Wolfe – We Hit A Wall
- Arcade Fire – Here Comes The Night
- Earl Sweatshirt – Chum
- Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
2013 : Volume 12
Volume 12 track listing
- Haim – Let Me Go
- Pearl Jam – Getaway
- Pretty Lights – Color of My Soul
- Atoms For Peace – Ingenue
- Neko Case – Man
- Mutual Benefit – Advanced Falconcry
- Baths – Miasma Sky
- The Weeknd – Adaptation
- The National – Pink Rabbits
- Nine Inch Nails – Various Methods Of Escape
- Youth Lagoon – Attic Doctor
- Jose James – Trouble
- Chicagojazzen – Renberg
- Deafheaven – Irresistible
- James Blake – Our Loves Comes Back
2014 : Volume 13
2014 : Volumes 13 & 14
D’Angelo released his incredible third album, randomly, in December of 2014. His songs just snuck into their places. This, as I always strive to achieve, is a very eclectic mix of genres.
Thom Yorke partnered with Bit Torrent to try out a new music delivery mechanism – well, new to the legal side of music downloading, that is. I’m not sure if Bit Torrent was successful in delivering more albums to music-hungry fans, but I know Thom’s album downloaded quickly and the process went smoothly. What is unfortunate is that the album itself didn’t land how anyone really anticipated. There was barely mention of Thom’s album on internet year-end-best-lists. That’s too bad, but I too agree, it wasn’t up to par with The Eraser.
I’m big on opening and closing with strong, memorable, songs. I’d like every track to be memorable, but I like framing the sequence with solid bookends. At times I feel a more jarring genre juxtaposition in song-to-song transition pairings is in order, and at other times find a more seamless glide appropriate. Point being, sequencing matters, and I try to approach every year differently.
Volume 13 track listing
- D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Really Love
- Jessie Ware – Say You Love Me
- Thom Yorke – A Brain In A Bottle
- Tycho – Montana
- Son Little – Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches
- Tiny Deaths – The Words
- FKA Twigs – Pendulum
- Andy Stott – Science & Industry
- Mr Twin Sister – Blush
- PHOX – Slow Motion
- Banks – Goddess
- Sims – Scope Or Claw
- Dessa – Fighting Fish (The Hood Internet Remix)
- TV On The Radio – Right Now
- Matthew Halsall – When the World Was One
- Aphex Twin – aisatsana 
2014 : Volume 14
Volume 14 track listing
- Son Little – Cross My Heart
- Clark – Winter Linn
- Porter Robinson – Lionhearted [feat. Urban Cone]
- Tycho – Awake
- Hail Mary Mallon – Kiln
- Luluc – Small Window
- Grouper – Clearing
- Pallbearer – Foundations
- Snowmine – Columbus
- St Paul & The Broken Bones – Don’t Mean a Thing
- Marc Ribot Trio – Old Man River
- Sylvan Esso – Coffee
- Arca – Now You Know
- Imogen Heap – Entanglement
- Valery Gore – Hummingbird in Reverse
- D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Betray My Heart
2015 : Volume 15
2015 : Volumes 15 & 16
This year I made it a goal to have fewer repeat artists than previous years. Just my luck, the year produced some truly incredible records.
Nils Frahm released a wonderful, free, Solo piano album. Volume 15 opens with one of my favorite piano pieces ode and Volume 16 closes with another favorite Some. Both pieces feel like great bookends to the series this year. If you would like to have the whole album, download it here.
Son Little released his debut solo album this year. I really can’t say enough great things about this guy and his band. They are crazy talented and exude soul. Maggie and I had the privilege of seeing them perform at 7th Street this year. We were not disappointed. I wrote about Son Little earlier this year.
Courtney Barnett is sure to be at the top of many “best of” lists. It’s easy to see why; as this record is superb.
Kamasi Washington’s The Epic is also a sure-to-top “best of” lists. This is one of the most subgenre-spanning jazz records I’ve ever heard. It’s also one of the best modern jazz records I’ve heard, period. I wrote about Kamasi earlier this year.
Sufjan Stevens writes beautiful music. This record might be his most crushingly depressing records to date. It’s also his best album to date.
Chelsea Wolfe also released her best album to date, in the excellentThe Abyss release. Her sound is so much fuller sounding than previous records. I wrote about Chelsea earlier this year.
I had to include Drake’s thoroughly ridiculous but amazingly catchy campy smash hit that everyone parodied or covered. I can’t even call this a guilty pleasure. It’s just a wonderful awful great song.
Floating Points came out of nowhere to put out one of the year’s most interesting electronic albums – brilliantly fusing jazz/glitch/ambient sounds.
Miguel put out one of my more immediate favorite fun records of the year. I feel like he’s finally shedding his more pop-filled previous records and challenging himself, creatively.
Dollarstore Keyboard is a childhood friend’s (Colin Swenson) latest music project. Colin is an exceptional musician and I always look forward to hearing what he comes up with. This is definitely the most remarkable body of work he’s produced to date.
Volume 15 track listing
- Nils Frahm – Ode
- Son Little – Lay Down
- Courtney Barnett – Depreston
- Roseau – See You Soon
- Jamie XX – Loud Places (featuring Romy)
- Empress Of – Threat
- Elle King – Ex’s and Oh’s
- Odesza – It’s Only (featuring Zyra)
- Floating Points – For Marmish
- Kamasi Washington – Re Run
- Sufjan Stevens – Death with Dignity
- Chelsea Wolfe – Crazy Love
- Joanna Newsom – You Will Not Take My Heart Alive
- FKA Twigs – In Time
- Drake – Hotline Bling
- Antony & Yoko Ono – I Love You Earth
- Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
- Miguel – Hollywood Dreams
2015 : Volume 16
Volume 16 track listing
- Max Richter – Vivaldi, Four Seasons – Spring 1
- Leon Bridges – River
- Son Little – Go Blue Blood Red
- Thundercat – Them Changes (featuring Flying Lotus & Kamasi Washington)
- Julie Holter – Feel You
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Sticky Drama
- Ghost – Spirit
- Tribulation – Melancholia
- Macklemore – Downtown (featuring Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz)
- Bilal – Sirens II
- Doomtree – The Bends
- Silversun Pickups – Friendly Fires
- Björk – Atom Dance
- Dollarstore Keyboard – Teacup Falls
- Pinkshinyultrablast – Holy Forest
- Seinabo Sey – Younger
- Deerhunter – Living My Life
- Nils Frahm – Some
2016 : Volume 17
2016 : Volumes 17 & 18
2016 was a great year for music and not the greatest, otherwise. We lost several incredible music legends: Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Prince, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Maurice White, Glenn Frey, and other lesser known artists.
The year was riddled with social justice and injustice, racism/hatred/sexual assault in our society and one of the most disgusting presidential elects history will have ever witnessed, acknowledged and knowingly chosen. I have a lot of feelings about our country electing a narcissist and how bad things could really get under his presidency. But let’s keep this about the music and hope, if nothing else good comes out of the next 4 years, music and love will prevail. FDT.
Volume 17: comments & notes
Har Mar Superstar‘s record this year, Best Summer Ever is his most serious and consistent record yet. The album opener, which also opens this year’s Grangler Music Series, is quite the memorable emotionally-charged single. I love everything about it – the optimism, the simple sentiment found in dancing for joy and reflecting on appreciation. For me I Hope represents my feelings toward the future; both near and far.
Son Little is the best. I have so much love and admiration for Aaron Livingston, his band, and this incarnation of his musical voice in Son Little. While his only new music output this year is this (too-short-in-length) single, All Wet, right here, man is this a fantastic song. The chorus and melody echo in my head for days. This is my 2016 jam.
Woods found me this year and their timing was perfect. This new record seems to be their most consistent to date. Sun City Creeps has been on steady rotation throughout the year. So much to love about it – from the mariachi horns, to the memorable vocals and melody, to the stellar muted guitar twangs, the groove is strong with this one.
Bibio is exceptional at evoking a time and place for me. Similar to how Bon Iver makes me feel while listening to his music, Bibio / Stephen Wilkinson evokes feelings of nostalgia in me. For some reason, Town & Country makes me feel as though I’m living in a small Italian town, with modest means and an honorably comfortable life. Several of the other songs that make up A Mineral Love evoke nostalgic feelings of shopping at Goodwill with my father, as a child. That’s a weird range of nostalgic feelings, but they are there to feel.
Jinsang provides some breathing room in his instrumental work found here. As of writing this text, December 23rd, he just released a new album on Bandcamp. It sounds great so far! I know very little about Jinsang other than the fact that his instrumental beat work is exceptional and receiving a lot of attention and love on Bandcamp. He’s got the boom bap flavor locked down in 2016.
Kadhja Bonet was also a discovery from Bandcamp where her debut full-length record has been met with much critical acclaim. Honeycomb feels measured and precise but also has a casual flow to it – perhaps it’s her seemingly effortless silky delivery. This record oozes 70s vibes all over the place. Lush orchestration, jazz feels, and lounge atmosphere permeate every square inch of the room its being played within.
Jack Garratt is a remarkable artist. He has an incredible talent for composing dancehall jams, epic hooks, playing multiple instruments very well and he varies things up enough to keep this debut full length interesting. The stand out single found here Breathe Life is one of my favorite “happy jams” of the year. The way he presents, manipulates, and varies the same melody and vocals in a looping fashion works so well. When I initially listened to Phase, I unfairly dismissed Jack’s sound as being akin to a far more popular – mainstream focused James Blake. While the comparison isn’t unwarranted – both have heavy roots in the UK dance scene, albeit differing in sub-genre, but similar. Both artist have remarkable compositions and vocals. Both utilize looping to manipulate/repeat/reinterpret the same vocal lyrics in several ways. James operates on the more bleakly beautiful end of the spectrum, while Jack evokes similar feels but is largely more upbeat and radiates positivity.
Frank Ocean made quite the resurgence this year – releasing not one, but two new bodies of work. Endless being a video album only and has still not been released in a format one can purchase (really unfortunate). Blonde being his self-released sophomore follow up to 2013’s Channel Orange. Blonde’s reach and range goes well beyond my hopes for a second album. It requires several listens to sink in and reveal itself to you. There are plenty of layers to appreciate, observe, and love. Ivy is a love story anyone can relate to, but does far more than scratch the surface of love as a typical sweet pop song would. I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me / I had no chance to prepare / I couldn’t see you coming
Childish Gambino surprised everyone this year by abandoning his rap delivery and releasing his third commercial full-length as a straight up r&b funk worship affair. Also surprising is that he chose to associate the album with his punchline-rap persona of Childish Gambino. Donald Glover has had an incredible year – from his critically acclaimed series Atlanta, to landing a role as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming standalone Han Solo Star Wars movie, and now releasing what many are hailing as an album of the year. This record is a head scratcher, but a good one. His vocal range doesn’t always feel as refined and fluid as I’d like it to, but I think that will come with time. I hope he keeps evolving down this musical path. It suits him so much better than the punchline rap game. I’m super excited to see what the VR Vinyl edition of Awaken, My Love! sounds and looks like. Redbone oozes sexy funk soul worship goodness.
Sleepdealer is another solid beat producer found on Bandcamp. His latest record is a solid collection of beachy, somewhat stoner, beats that flow nicely as the soundtrack to your work day or chilling out on the weekend.
Cass McCombs is an artist that I feel silly having not discovered more recently than this eighth full-length release, Mangy Love. After several listens I find his smooth production, smart lyrics, and memorable hooks very impressive. Bum bum bum serves as a solid somewhat political piece that provides one of my favorite understated hooks of 2016. Lyrically, it aligns well with the subsequent Sampha track, Blood on Me. That was purposeful sequencing right there.
Sampha is yet another hit-or-miss artist with so much potential oozing from every corner. To date, Sampha Sissay has released a couple EPs and gained recognition for his work with the collective known as SBTRKT, of which his vocal contributions have been wonderful. The question has always been whether he can sustain himself, stylistically, for an entire full-length record. Come February 3rd, 2017, we’ll find out if Blood on Me was an accurate expectation setter.
A Tribe Called Quest lost Phife Dawg this year, but released an incredible album (their first in 18 years) that largely honors Phife’s memory. Without a doubt, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is one of the best hip-hop records of the year. It’s full of nostalgic voices, timely social commentary and advocacy, while being tremendously enjoyable and fun.
Eldamar released his first full-length record, The Force of the Ancient Land, which is largely inspired by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. This record, yet another Bandcamp discovery, is an eclectic mix of black metal, atmospheric musical passages, and unique instrumentation and ambient compositions. Super excited to see where this project leads.
Damien Jurado makes me want to take a road trip and provide the soundtrack to the journey. Walrus has an urgent and rugged twang to it; rough in all the right places with enough swagger to go back the city, now.
James Blake‘s third record is a bit of a head scratcher to me. Its anticipation was insurmountable. The Color in Anything is a mixed bag to me. There are some truly remarkable vocal performances and compositions, but overall it suffers for its meandering and lengthy run time. Timeless is one of the best songs on the record and been one, of a handful, that demanded repeat plays throughout the year.
Alcest‘s fifth record, Kodama, offers little in the way of ground breaking material. What it excels at is offering a well-rounded showcase that plays to and exhibits all of Alcest’s greatest strengths. Notre Sang Et Nos Pensées (Our Blood and Our Thoughts) is a bonus track on the record, but I found it to be a clear highlight and the runtime was right.
Phoria‘s Melatonin is low-fi ambient goodness. From the hypnotic beat and keyboards to quiet broad-range vocals, this track is so easy to love. Phoria‘s debut record is so impressive. Put it on some quiet afternoon and enjoy subtle background music. Throw on some headphones and take in all the nuance this record has to offer.
Anderson .Paak has had a huge year – from his standout second record (as Anderson .Paak), Malibu to his Yes Lawd! collaboration with producer Knowledge as the duo NXWorries, he’s been a busy guy. As a record, Malibu has some truly remarkable music. It’s a mix of great ideas, some great execution, some so-so songwriting and some pretty wonderful songwriting. It overall leaves a positive impression, if a bit uneven. The Bird is such a fantastic album opener to Malibu, I knew it had to be included somewhere here. It features the very best of .Paak’s r&b soul sound. He oozes potential and I can not wait to hear more from him.
What more can anyone say about Bon Iver / Justin Vernon? His sound is so unmistakable and so hard to reproduce – though plenty have tried. 22, A Million is an unforeseen progression in Bon Iver’s sound. It’s fractured, deceptively complex, and mostly a good record. “33” God is an epic slow burn composition that breaks into such beautiful space vocal passages and instrumentation.
Volume 17 track listing
- Har Mar Superstar – I Hope
- Son Little – All Wet
- Woods – Sun City Creeps
- Bibio – Town & Country
- Jinsang – Morning
- Kadhja Bonet – Honeycomb
- Jack Garratt – Breathe Life
- Frank Ocean – Ivy
- Childish Gambino – Redbone
- Sleepdealer – Astoria PL
- Cass McCombs – Bum bum bum
- Sampha – Blood On Me
- A Tribe Called Quest – Black Spasmotic
- Eldamar – Travel in the Woods
- Damien Jurado – Walrus
- James Blake – Timeless
- Alcest – Notre Sang Et Nos Pensées
- Phoria – Melatonin
- Anderson .Paak – The Bird
- Bon Iver – “33” God
2016 : Volume 18
Volume 18: comments & notes
Tycho opens this volume, gliding you into the record. While Epoch, his fourth proper release, and second with a backing band, isn’t as consistent and strong as 2014’s masterpiece Awake, it is an exceptional record that takes more compositionally meandering risks. It’s nice to see them trying something a bit different and pushing themselves, creatively.
Agnes Obel has continued evolving with each release. Some artists never surpass their full length debuts, while others surpass each consecutive release with their best work. Sure, all of this is subjective and victim to the listeners emotional state. It’s all relative to you and your life. But I find this third album, Citizen of Glass to be her best work yet. Opting to use less piano and more varied/old/rare keyboard equipment produces a more dense, more challenging and more rich sound. Her vocal performance has never been better, either. Stretch Your Eyes opens Citizen of Glass with a slow brooding flow. Her vocals stretch between comfortable whisper to grand operatic epic ness.
Jean-Michel Blais, yet another Bandcamp discovery, released a collection of incredible and intimate solo piano compositions. They are rich with atmosphere and simplicity. I find so much beauty and emotive range in his composition and playing style. There is so much to love here. il is just the first stand out composition from his record II.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Andrew Bird. Maybe I didn’t start with the right album, or was in a different subjective headspace when listening to him previously. Maybe Left Handed Kisses serves as the basis for me paying attention to this latest release, Are You Serious. A lot of that admiration has to do with Left Handed Kisses being a duet with the incredible Fiona Apple and the equally magical music video. The lyric and vocal tradeoff is spectacular and climactic. The music video is a joy to watch.
Shura‘s debut record is solid. What Happened To Us? happens to be my favorite song on the album and flows nicely as an 80s throwback catchy pop tune. Poppy nostalgic bliss.
Rihanna released one of the more subdued critically divided recorded of the year. Originally it was viewed as a commercial failure. I’m not the biggest Rihanna fan, and found the first lead single Work to be obnoxiously catchy but mostly obnoxious. Needed Me kind of prompted me to give Anti more serious listens and I mostly really enjoy the record. Desperado might be my very favorite track on Anti and one of my favorite should’ve-been-a-single tracks of the year. Her delivery is so spot on and the melody is understatedly catchy as all get out.
Yeasayer‘s fourth record, Amen & Goodbye is a mixed bag. There are a handful of tracks I really enjoy, but it mostly falls flat. I was torn between including Silly Me or Dead Sea Scrolls, opting for the latter due to having less plays over the year than the former.
Coldworld hasn’t released an album since 2008’s debut masterpiece Melancholie². I’m happy his second record isn’t a rehash or stylistic match. It’s an evolution. It’s a different beast altogether. I’ve included one of the most accessible songs on this compilation in The Wind and the Leaves – partially due to its short runtime in comparison to the rest of its album’s track, but also due to the absence of divisive growling vocals.
Pinegrove is yet another Bandcamp discovery. There have been a handful of other rock records I’ve loved this year, but to me, Pinegrove resonated the most significantly, from a lyrical perspective. Cadmium’s lyrics speak to the heart of all conflict: communication and human relationships- noting: say what it is / it’s so impossible / but if i just say what it is / it tends to sublimate away / when i was looking to drop / my life away. One may infer from the somewhat oblique language that labels and definitions are subjective – so saying “what it is” is forever an exercise in futility because “what it is” is so subjective. Who do we define and label things for, anyway?
Aesop Rock released one of the most accessible and enjoyable albums of his career. He also managed to interweave very personal stories from his life in the music industry. Kirby is all about his cat. It’s a cute story.
Beyonce stunned the world by releasing her masterful revenge concept/video album in Lemonade. I have a lot of respect for this record; both as a audio/visual experience and story and for the very public display of therapy-in-progress. Forward consists of 95% James Blake and is perfectly placed in the storyline; serving as a strong transition to push things forward. Its inclusion, over other Lemonade tracks, in the sequence here has more to do with the resounding need for us, as a society, to push things forward. Now more than ever. Glad she and Jay could move forward, too.
Insomnium released 2016’s epic concept album Winter’s Gate; reminiscent of, in bold scope and execution, Edge of Sanity‘s 1996 masterpiece Crimson. Insomnium sounds incredible here and have possibly never sounded better. This fourth Winter’s Gate piece in the story was chosen for its instrumentation and clean vocals. The song starts in a manner that suggests its a continuation of something that came before it; which is the case with each single track on Winter’s Gate. The record is truly meant to be consumed as one whole piece. Perhaps this snippet of the story prompts listeners to seek out the full story.
GoGo Penguin are a jazz trio I’ve had my ear on for years. Some of their previous compositions have struck me as enjoyable and significant, but never to the degree of 2016’s Man Made Object. And more specifically All Res resonates for its melody, passion, and wonderful flowing composition. It serves as an excellent transition both in sound and mood from the bleak-but-beautiful Insomnium track before it.
Cecil Otter is my second favorite emcee on the emcee side of Doomtree. He’s also one of my favorite beat makers. His cool, calm, distinctive delivery just exudes character. After years of no solo material being released, and no updates on Porcelain Revolver (full length follow up to 2008’s Rebel Yellow) it was a pleasant surprise to see this EP pop up on Bandcamp. Cross Countries was chosen for its travel sentiment. It felt like a road trip with your best friend.
Winterfylleth is an atmospheric black metal act that I discovered and since obsessed over since listening to The Mercian Sphere on Bandcamp. This fourth record, The Dark Hereafter, doesn’t rank as my favorite Winterfylleth album to date, but there are a few memorable compositions. Ensigns of Victory is the most black metal song in this year’s collection. It is also one of my favorites from their newest record.
Danny Brown is on another level; a whole other planet that revolves around the world as we know it. His delivery isn’t easy to digest and one could say he’s an acquired taste. His wordplay is often witty, silly, and always impressive. What’s even more bonkers is the fact that anyone can rap over the beats found throughout this third record, Atrocity Exhibition. It’s taken me two previous albums to figure out what makes Danny Brown so damn special. Maybe he’s matured or my tastes have changed, but this is a refreshing record.
Ian William Craig ushers the listener into this year’s closing trifecta. The gentle electronic melody paired with wonderful vocals sets the mood for what’s to come. Arrive, Arrive is 2 minutes of ear candy mood transition.
Radiohead released one of their best, most masterfully minimal-but-emotionally-charges albums in their discography. It took the better part of the year to truly appreciate it as a full record. Possibly because there aren’t the immediately accessible and enjoyable songs that one may be accustomed to finding on a Radiohead record. It takes time and space to appreciate each composition. Identikit might be my favorite song on the album, or at least my favorite while assembling this compilation.
Frank Ocean is the only artist this year to have two songs featured. I tried to only include one, but it was too hard and Blonde is too good to narrow down song selection to just one track. Instead, each volume gets a piece from Frank. White Ferrari absolutely kills me in its latter half. The whole production leaves me in awe. Frank is so good at what he does he redefines what music is capable of evoking in humans. White Ferrari is almost the perfect closer, but then we have David Bowie to truly close out the year in only the way he, himself, could have.
David Bowie‘s career and life were truly exceptional. He evolved and moved through so many creative cycles and phases. As an artist I will alway have so much admiration for his life and work. This final record could literally not have been more timely and purposeful in conjunction to his passing. Listening to the record before he passed was a truly crushing emotional experience. Listening to it after his death brings about whole other levels of purpose and foreshadowing. From the album title Blackstar being another name for the type of cancer legion he battled, to the after-death dialogue between the living and him, up in heaven. One can not help but be tremendously affected by this album. Its overt heft is the only barrier that stopped me from listening to it more over the course of the year. The whole album could be dissected and searched for messaging around his passing and the duration of the disease the consumed him. It’s a truly remarkable, masterful, life-defining, piece of art. What an extraordinary gift to leave us with. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
Volume 18 track listing
- Tycho – Glider
- Agnes Obel- Stretch Your Ears
- Jean-Michel Blais – il
- Andrew Bird – Left Handed Kisses
- Shura – What Happened To Us?
- Rihanna – Desperado
- Yeasayer – Dead Seas Scrolls
- Coldworld – The Wind And The Leaves
- Pinegrove – Cadmium
- Aesop Rock – Kirby
- Beyoncé – Forward (featuring James Blake)
- Insomnium – Winter’s Gate, Pt. 4
- GoGo Penguin – All Res
- Cecil Otter – Cross Countries
- Winterfylleth – Ensigns Of Victory
- Danny Brown – Ain’t It Funny
- Ian William Craig – Arrive, Arrive
- Radiohead – Identikit
- Frank Ocean -White Ferrari
- David Bowie – Lazarus
2017 : Volume 19
Volume 19 track listing
- The National – Nobody Else Will Be There
- Pallbearer – Thorns
- Mammal Hands – Black Sails
- LCD Soundsystem – Oh Baby
- Novo Amor – Anchor
- Grizzly Bear – Mourning Sound
- Chelsea Wolfe – Twin Fawn
- Paramore – Told You So
- Vince Staples – Big Fish
- Sylvan Esso – Die Young
- Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – The Walk [Feat. Sarah Elizabeth Charles]
- Kendrick Lamar – DNA
- Ibeyi – Deathless (feat. Kamasi Washington)
- Kamasi Washington – Knowledge
- John Roberts & Bob’s Burgers – The Harry Truman Song
- Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers – Caroline
- BROCKHAMPTON – Tokyo
- Joey Bada$$ – For My People
- Post Malone – Congratulations (feat. Quavo)
2017 : Volume 20
Volume 20 track listing
- Ex Eye – Xenolith; The Anvil
- Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals
- Son Little – Demon to the Dark
- Dessa – Good Grief
- The XX – Lips
- Shredders – Entertainment
- Rosalia – Catalina
- Drake – Get It Together [feat. Jorja Smith & Black Coffee]
- Penguin Cafe – Ricercar
- BROCKHAMPTON – Gold
- Frank Ocean – Lens
- Dirty Projectors – Death Spiral
- P.O.S – Faded
- LCD Soundsystem – I Used To
- King Krule – Czech One
- The War On Drugs – Pain
- Jack Johnson – Sunsets For Somebody Else
- Feist – Young Up
- BROCKHAMPTON – Lamb