Every December, members of the Student Activities Board write on 25 albums from the past year that they loved most, thought were most worth talking about, or are connected to Calvin SAO in some way. Here are our picks:
Melodrama - Lorde
In her sophomore album, Lorde delivers like the strong, capable woman she is. Her beautifully crafted album is an expression of self, exploring solitude and relationship, especially the solitude that comes in the aftermath of a break up. Melodrama is full of just that—melodrama, but in an oh-so satisfying way, full of richness that was only hinted at in her previous album Pure Heroine. The process has been long in the making; Lorde announced she was beginning work on her second studio album back in 2013. But the wait has been worth it, such tracks as “Greenlight” and “Perfect Places” beg to be danced to in the kitchen, while “Writer in the Dark” and “Liability” reveal a lyrical prowess that is crippling. This album was produced by Jack Antonoff of fun. and the Bleachers; he helped Lorde to shape these songs into the tight pop hits they are, and introduced piano into her ballads. Her time since Pure Heroine has allowed Lorde to grow as an artist, but also as a person. The album is not a traditional break-up album, rather it is an album about finding power in being alone, and the album showcases her newfound maturity as an artist. Lorde, in her lonely power, is the pop-artist we need right now. She is a strong, intelligent woman who is fearlessly vulnerable and who takes all of her experiences as worthy of an album. Jenna Van Donselaar
Album Highlights: "Greenlight" "Writer in the Dark" "Supercut" "Liability"
DAMN. - Kendrick Lamar
On his new record, DAMN. Kendrick Lamar grounds himself in the world, repeating “what happens on earth stays on earth.” By beginning the album with a narrative of his own death, Kendrick introduces the theme of this record: his identity as a sinner and his mortality. Kendrick lays himself before his listeners with brutal honesty and an invitation to participate in an exploration of his flaws, his vices and his hardships. In “DNA” he boldly states his identity, tearing into himself and his metaphorical genetic makeup calling out Fox News anchor Geraldo Rivera who shames Kendrick’s critique of police brutality. Kendrick takes a step away from the winds and jazz of To Pimp a Butterfly by using a more mainstream yet complex sound, using angry beats, energizing bass and gritty guitar. On “FEAR” he explores his fixation with his intimidations, taking the voice of his mother to begin the song peppering himself with ridicule. Here he boasts his skill as a rapper, with each sentence tied so intricately to the next that you forget his need to breath. On “HUMBLE” we are reminded of his imperfection as he attempts to go against assumptions of the woman body image by rapping “show me something natural like ass with some stretch marks,” incidentally perpetuating the over-sexualization of women. DAMN. is full of stories through which we are invited to see the real Kendrick. He states exactly who he is in the vivid origin story of “DUCKWORTH,” and exactly what he will not be reduced to by rapping “I’m an Israelite, don’t call me black no more, that name is only a color, it ain’t fact no more,” on “YAH.” The record works both forwards and in reverse, giving, as Kendrick put it to NME “the full story and even a better rhythm.” These things echo the transparency of Kendrick through DAMN., and allow us to accept his invitation to explore his heart and his mind. Patrick Jonker
Album Highlights: "DNA" "XXX" "LOYALTY"
Turn Out The Lights - Julien Baker
Halfway through my first listen of Turn Out the Lights, it struck me just how “churchy” parts of the album sound. Whether it’s the modest musical arrangements, moments of vocal crescendo, or direct mentions of prayers and grace, there are elements that sound musically akin to what one hears from the front of the sanctuary during worship. Yet Julien Baker’s sophomore record is deeply intimate and rife with themes of addiction, doubt, deprecation and pain—concepts often wholly absent on Sunday mornings. Contemporary church music may concede that there is pain in the offering, but rarely is such pain acknowledged. But in the confessional Lights, Julien—a vocal Christian—adopts the emotional swells, melodic composition, and accessibility of episcopal music to bear witness to a life in which pain and hope are interwoven. The effects of which are best described by fellow songwriter Lucy Dacus: “She gives shape and form to darkness and contains it in a way that makes it manageable and helps people manage their own pain.” The clash of the hymn-like musicality and austere themes in the record may initially be discomfiting, but the beauty of Turn Out the Lights comes from Julien’s ability and audacity to make this dissonance harmonious. Derrick Kamp
Album Highlights: "Turn Out the Lights" "Happy to Be Here" "Claws in Your Back"
Masseduction - St. Vincent
St. Vincent, the project of Annie Clark, once again returns to the spotlight with Masseduction. In Masseduction, St. Vincent not so subtly explores sexuality, especially as experienced by women who have an audience. Her album art and music videos are full of images of fragmented bodies- a leg here, an ass there, all reflecting a fragmented sexuality. And as this sexuality is fragmented, St. Vincent seeks to reclaim sexuality. The album also touches on themes of power, drugs, and loss- and, Clark states in an interview, this is her most personal album yet. High production, and yet intimate in vulnerability. Honestly, this is my album of the year, with smash hits that juxtapose ballads perfectly. Jenna Van Donselaar
Album Highlights: "New York" "Savior" "Los Ageless" "Young Lover"
What Now - Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso’s 2014 self-titled debut felt like the kind of understated happy surprise that could only be produced upon first collaboration. Their Calvin performance in the fall of 2015 remains my forever-favorite concert experience, as well as the most I’ve ever danced or sweat at once. In their highly-anticipated follow-up, the electronic duo extends their already eclectic palette—namely the juxtaposed mechanical bells and bass that hooked so many on their breakout hit “Coffee”—to include poppier synths, dancier beats, and even acoustic guitars. Music publications continue to be astounded by the duo’s coupling of infectious dance music with nuanced lyricism. Approaching their sophomore album with self-awareness, What Now attempts to answer exactly that. It’s an album about maturing and connecting. It examines the melancholy of love (“Sound,” “Die Young”), at times focusing on the warmth of romance (“The Glow,” “Song”), while meditating on that romance’s replaceability (“Just Dancing,” maybe a clubbier sequel to “Coffee”). The duo reflects on building a personhood in the era of technology (“Rewind,” “Signal”), surviving in the entertainment industry (“Radio,” “Kick Jump Twist”), and even accepts the inescapable dread that will follow through it all (“Slack Jaw”). Each emotional exploration is backlit by the jitters of newfound fame. This is most directly confronted in the hit single “Radio.” In exactly 3 minutes and 30 seconds of the most formulaic electropop imaginable, the duo chastises both the mob bosses of the pop radio machine as well as those buying in (including themselves). It’s a satire that’s impossible not to move to. Start to finish, What Now’s unwillingness to compromise pop playfulness for seriousness results in an album that’s endlessly enchanting while never naive. Cotter Koopman
Album Highlights: "Die Young" "Radio" "Just Dancing" "Rewind"
Sleep Well Beast - The National
In their 7th studio album, The National sounds older and more experienced than ever. Matt Berninger’s melancholy voice and somber lyrics explore the world of middle age and love in times of experience, making it the most intimate listeners have been with the band. After 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me took a step back from rock and towards a more mature, soft-rock alternative sound, Sleep Well Beast is another change in musical direction. The National coats each song with undertones from synthesizers, strings, and drum programming, providing a layer where guitarists Bryce and Aaron Dessner build frameworks of loose chords and ambient electronics accompanied by Berninger’s baritone voice. For instance, “Nobody Else Will Be There” is played entirely over a loop with a simple drum beat, plucking strings and a pan flute, and “I’ll Still Destroy You” opens with a loop that almost sounds like a synthesizer’s purr. The album is not limited to this song structure: “Turtleneck” is a gritty, guitar driven Trump critique, and “Dark Side of the Gym” sounds like an awkward school dance of the 1960’s, with waltzing rhythm and reverb-soaked guitar lines. Through the exploration of Berninger’s love life, the political commetary in “Turtleneck,” and its expressions of persevering through late middle-age, this album serves as an introspection into the life and subconscious of The National. It is revealing and intimate, raising questions and leaving many of them unanswered. Patrick Jonker
Album Highlights: "Nobody Else Will Be There" "Guilty Party" "Dark Side of the Gym"
Big Fish Theory - Vince Staples
Big Fish Theory has real energy. The direct, centered production varies between dance beats in “Love Can Be…,” to sparse melodies in “Crabs in a Bucket,” to raging, chaotic noise in “Yeah Right.” Big Fish Theory sounds unique in a way that can only be compared to Kanye West’s Yeezus when it first came out. Vince Staples’s sophomore album explores where rap culture stands in our times and where our times stand in rap culture. In his 36-minute hip-hop album, Staples exposes the ruthlessly competitive nature of the world that he is now so immersed in. With this release, Staples tackles this competitiveness head-on by exploring an entirely new sound for hip-hop. Ethan Hohn
Album Highlights: "Big Fish" "Yeah Right" "Bag Bak"
Ctrl - SZA
Ctrl is a striking album from the first listen. With her sweet, soaring voice, SZA stretches the borders of R&B while articulating both the reality and fragility of love. After making a name for herself with multiple EP’s and features, SZA’s first full-length release was a welcome surprise for many listeners. Driven by a recorded conversation with her mother about the need for control, it’s an album that explores and celebrates sexual freedom, but also yearns for connection, intimacy, and relationship. Ctrl is a smooth listen, a celebration of femininity and sexuality, and a conquering of self-doubt. SZA tells stories articulately, welcoming the listener into her world, her relationships, and her desires. Self-aware and confident, SZA cuts no corners, and demands to be taken seriously. Kendra Larsen
Album Highlights: "Prom" "Broken Clocks" "Normal Girl" "20 Something"
Guppy - Charly Bliss
Guppy, by the New York pop-punk band Charly Bliss is all at once revealing and enthusiastic; the experience of listening to Guppy is somewhat akin to hanging out with the best part of one’s adolescent self. At once insecure and bold, singer Eva Grace Hendricks flings scathing one-liners at those who may have mistreated her. And yet, Hendricks lays bare her own sadness and struggles with appearing strong before others. In “DQ” she sings “I’m too sad to be mean,” while in “Percolator,” Hendricks proclaims “I cry all the time, I think that it’s cool I’m in touch with my feelings.” While these are often feelings we associate with adolescence, and most of us try to forget about our teens, Charly Bliss approaches the lively and terrifying feelings of adolescence with power and vulnerability. “Four years above sixteen” isn’t that far removed from adolescence after all, and Charly Bliss reminds listeners of the fun that can be found even amidst insecurity. Jenna Van Donselaar
Album Highlights: "Percolator" "Westermarck" "Scare U" "Ruby" "DQ"
You're Not As ___ As You Think - Sorority Noise
In the forefront of the emo revival is the band Sorority Noise. Their recent release, You’re Not As _____ As You Think, is a purposeful album that tackles the reality of grief after death while simultaneously wrestling with the goodness of God. As their third full-length, Sorority Noise has settled into their sound of exposed guitar riffs and bold rhythms, each wedded to Cameron Boucher’s familiar, confessional lyricism. However, YNA_AYT stands apart from their previous discography – this record communicates, with honesty and maturity, the experience of processing a friend’s death by suicide. With multiple nods to prominent artists within the scene (such as Into It. Over It., Modern Baseball, and Julien Baker), Sorority Noise addresses death with unflinching vulnerability. Despite the harsh reality of loss, the record remains life affirming and defiantly hopeful as Boucher chooses to press on, facing his pain rather than giving up, believing life will be worth it in the end (“Disappeared”). YNA_AYT faces the brutal reality of absence after death (“No Halo”), admitting one’s own struggle with mental illness (“Leave the Fan On”), and questioning the place of God in the midst of suffering (“Second Letter from Saint Julien”), making it one of the most honest, purposeful albums of the year. YNA_AYT is record that admits the reality of loss and makes space for grief, asking questions that will never fully have answers, all while continuing to live in spite of pain. This album paints a world where nothing is glamorized, neither life or death, in hope that it will make someone, perhaps Boucher, perhaps the listener, feel less alone. Kendra Larsen
Album Highlights: "No Halo" "A Better Sun" "Disappeared"
Soft Sounds From Another Planet - Japanese Breakfast
Japanese Breakfast’s second album Soft Sounds From Another Planet, while about outer space, feels very close to the listener. Dream pop, synth pop, or just plain dreamy, Michelle Zauner moves considerably from the intimate themes explored in her last album, Psychopomp, her musical response to the death of her mother. In Soft Sounds, Zauner envisioned a concept album about relationships and space, a sort of “science fiction musical.” While borrowing sounds often found in shoegaze, Zauner doesn’t let her voice fade into the soundscape. Rather, it is her voice that drives. She is still grieving the loss explored in her last album, but now Zauner is exploring the duality of living, both with the lyrical themes of her album and her musical choices. “The body is a blade that moves while your brain is writhing / Knuckled under pain, you mourn but your blood is flowing,” she sings in “The Body is a Blade.” And so, while Japanese Breakfast turns to space for inspiration, the Zauner remains intimate and utterly human. Jenna Van Donselaar
Album Highlights: "Road Head" "The Body is a Blade" "Till Death" "Boyish"
Freudian - Daniel Caesar
In an R&B climate that seems to be shunning its Gospel roots, Daniel Caesar’s debut album, Freudian is a breath of fresh, ancestral air. Its first lead single, “Get You,” which features the genre-defying singer Kali Uchis, is an ode to the love often sung about in ‘90s R&B with its description of an all-consuming love that can last “through drought and famine.” Caesar’s Gospel roots are evident in his use of an electric organ, air-tight harmonies, and in “Hold Me Down,” a nod to Gospel great Kirk Franklin’s “Hold Me Now.” Caesar also has old school R&B well in hand with his use of the infamous adlib “nayhoo” in “Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song),” while combining it with modern R&B’s Hip-Hop influences with his rap-sung verses. Freudian’s title track is Caesar’s 10-minute magnum opus; the first five minutes of which are a melancholy, introspective half-apology-half-indictment of a love lost. The second half begins with a skit from Sean Leon about losing faith, a common theme in Caesar’s music although juxtaposed with his deep Gospel roots from growing up in the Black church. Its outro is a stripped-down moment with Caesar that almost feels like an intrusion with only an electric keyboard and Caesar’s baritone singing, “Isn’t it nice, human sacrifice?” It’s an ode to the human ego and the desire for the easy way out, “chasing delight.” Overall, this album shows that Daniel Caesar has a masterful understanding of his ancestors’ music, while also being able to add his own flair. As far as debuts go, Freudian is the blueprint. Elyse Hill
Album Highlights: "Get You" "Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song)" "Freudian"
Rocket - (Sandy) Alex G
Amidst the dog barks, mumbling verbiage and guttural synths, (Sandy) Alex G’s Rocket has a message: “Now I know everything.” And it certainly seems so. With the album’s wild, interweaving of country twang in “Powerful Man” and jazz arpeggios in “Guilty”, Alex Giannascoli possesses a canny ability to change musical genres at the drop of a hat. Apart from strutting his stuff, Alex G conceptualizes knowledge as meaning many different things. Allusive to creation mythology, the “poison tree” in “Poison Root” knows both good and evil. In “Proud,” knowing—“having something to prove”—is the speaker’s aspiration until his line, “I’m better off dead.” Knowing is the grating of violins in “Brick,” manic and unmanageable. In “Bobby,” knowing is loving another person. It takes a chorus of voices throughout Rocket, a kind of call and response, to ask whether these particular images of knowledge create harm or good, whether they can be managed by oneself or not. Alejandra Crevier
Album Highlights: "Proud" "Bobby" "Sportstar" "Powerful Man"
Care - David Bazan
David Bazan’s voice is bruised and threadbare, yet resiliently powerful in its honesty. His mournful murmurs and wails have captured the heartbreak, confusion, and morose honesty of coming to terms with apostasy. As such, his work has long focused upon the concept of fidelity: to self, to other, to (or not to) God. 2017’s Care lands firmly in this personal tradition of examining human honesty and faithfulness. However, this record does not strictly decry what Bazan sees as vainly dishonest. Rather, it recounts the intricate struggles of attempting to reconstruct a set of values after having the floor drop out from beneath him. The record deals mainly in the extended metaphor of the temptation of marital infidelity, as spurred on by an implied loss of fervor. Throughout, as the songs explore desire for new, unfamiliar encounters as well as all-too-well known patterns of experience that have been left behind, Bazan implores, “Come on.” As the album’s central character, he seems to be continually begging himself to be unfaithful, all while he is laying out the dangers of infidelity, of “carelessness.” The record quietly and steadily explores deeply human desires: fulfillment, pleasure, excitement, freshness, and most importantly, honesty to oneself. In Bazan’s quest for a fulfilling fidelity, “care” is both a noun and a verb: he expresses a deep priority of caution, being careful not to violate himself or others in his pursuit of a renewed life-fulfillment. His mournful, bitterly honest voice is well suited to Care, an album that questions the existential possibility of re-forming a fulfilling faith in self (or perhaps in something or someone else) without doing so in the carelessness of bad faith. Daniel Hickey
Album Highlights: "Up All Night" "Make Music" "Lazerbeams"
Infinite Worlds - Vagabon
In worlds fraught with physical, social and mental barriers, Lætitia Tamko’s booming, mellow voice speaks to a spacial tension between belonging and unbelonging. On Infinite Worlds, the latest record from Vagabon, Tamko describes what it feels like to be made small: “a fish” compared to the many “sharks” in the sea. Her belting, soul-wrenching cries preceded by calm provide her audience with a sonicality that is erratic and almost architecturally unsound. This wild and calm makes sense, as the songs navigate what a construction of home, a “self- made world,” looks like. “Cleaning House” critiques the invisible borders of worlds drawn out of prejudice that isolate persons from each other—“My standing here / Threatens your standing too.” Tamko, as on of the “fish,” is victimized by such prejudice-driven worlds. “Mal a L’aise” dips into an escapist, synthetic soundscape, indicating a desire for separation from an oppressive reality; but, Tamko’s victorious roar—“You can tell everybody that Lætitia it is”—in “Fear and Force” reclaims a bone-shattering sense of self, which is a new reality...“a self-made world.” Alejandra Crevier
Album Highlights: "Fear & Force" "The Embers" "Cold Apartment"
Rainbow - Kesha
The world was first introduced to Ke$ha in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2017 and the release of Rainbow that Kesha was able to sing her truths. In Rainbow, Kesha strings in many themes including those of female empowerment and overcoming struggle. Although Kesha does not claim any religion, she sings about forgiveness in her first single, “Praying”. It is a direct message to her accused abuser. Although the song is written about her specific journey, it holds universal messages. Kesha takes back control and chooses to move on, instead of allowing the past to keep a hold on her. A similar message comes through in “Learn to Let Go”. Kesha lives this message in “Woman”. She embraces her present self, without letting her past define herself, providing a message to all other women to join her in her state of self-acceptance and confidence in whoever they choose to be. Kesha spoke out and identified her abuser and took legal action before it became almost all too common in Hollywood. Kesha made this album without knowing if anyone would ever hear it, due to this legal battle. Instead of making music to make money, she was able to focus on making the music that she wanted to, the music that she desperately wanted the world to hear. And to her credit, it is music that the world desperately needs to hear. Jen Streelman
Album Highlights: "Praying" "Learn To Let Go" "Rainbow"
A Deeper Understanding - The War On Drugs
Alex Granduciel, singer-songwriter behind the project The War on Drugs returned in 2017 with his record A Deeper Understanding. Continuing with his massively ambitious, all or nothing approach to songwriting established in his 2014 record Lost in the Dream, Granduciel builds each song on A Deeper Understanding with such grandeur that it seems careless, yet remains encapsulating and concentrated. The complex layering of the record is exhibited on the first track, “Up All Night,” where piano dominates but is supported by multiple synthesizer voices. On “Strangest Thing,” we hear Granduciel’s ability to cultivate a build in his music, in this specific instance climaxed with a guitar solo that feels like it rips through the bedding of the song. It is simple yet wrenching –an end to a climax with so many moving parts it feels like the middle of a storm. A Deeper Understanding explores connection in the life of Granduciel, never giving answers to the questions he raises in each song, yet providing us with the stimuli to ask those questions in full. His 80’s influence is prominent in this record as it has been in the past, as he emulates the likes of Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen. At its heart, however, A Deeper Understanding is its own unique machine, each song as ambitious as the last. Patrick Jonker
Album Highlights: “Up All Night” “Strangest Thing” “Pain”
Stranger in the Alps - Phoebe Bridgers
Stranger in the Alps is the debut album of LA singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers. A slow paced and meticulously organized record, Stranger in the Alps addresses mortality, love, and connection in 11 nostalgic tracks. With storytelling parallel to artists like Courtney Barnett, Bridgers spins tales of heartache and loss with each track, drawing the listener in. With a sweet voice and a gentle guitar, she addresses complicated and dark subject matter, from a broken heart to her own death, with candor that is surprising (and sometimes jarring) for the listener. Listening to Stranger in the Alps feels a little like being welcomed into Bridger’s secret diary. With honesty, she admits her faults, her past, and moving on. It’s an album that drives the listener to their own nostalgia, as though walking down Scott Street beside her, yearning for the familiarity of things we’ve lost and spaces we’ve left behind. Kendra Larsen
Album Highlights: “Motion Sickness” “Funeral” “Scott Street”
No Shape - Perfume Genius
Mike Hadreas is in love and he doesn’t care what you think. No Shape, Hadreas’ fourth album as Perfume Genius, is a confident testament of reverence to his long-term romantic and musical partner Alan Wyffels. Past records have found Hadreas broodingly exploring his queer identity while denouncing bigots and addressing his own insecurities. But in No Shape, Hadreas devotes all energy to triumphantly celebrating his romantic love and the recipient of it. This transformation is most prominently heard in the beautiful opening track “Otherside,” as Hadreas’ crooning voice and gentle piano unexpectedly give way to a glorious explosion of electronics. Then, in the bombastic “Slip Away,” Hadreas proclaims, “They’ll never break the shape we take…Baby let all them voices slip away.” Hadreas hasn’t forgotten the trials expressed in his previous albums—he still addresses the existence of the bigots. But he lets these trials of the past highlight the triumphant nature of his unbreakable love. Derrick Kamp
Album Highlights: "Otherside" "Slip Away" "Sides" "Alan"
The OOZ - King Krule
King Krule’s The OOZ is a rainy collection of daydreams and mental struggles, all connected through the dark, dripping voice of Archie Marshall. The London native has released the record four years after his freshman album, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. From the very start, the listener is taken on a dazed rollercoaster ride through Marshall’s mind. “Biscuit Town”, the first track, sees Marshall introduce himself as a bipolar, metaphor-ridden astronaut. Atmospheric phrases like “Gazing at the rings of the solar” and “I got more moons wrapped around my head than Jupiter knows” make the audience feel as if they were drifting along with him. “Lonely Blue” and “Logos” add to the immense motif of distance and isolation. “Slush Puppy” finds Marshall being more upfront about his loneliness, writing “I’m a waste, baby. And I’m alone”. Loneliness and frustration are common on this record, and Marshall conveys them beautifully through heavy, synth-layered tracks like “A Slide In (New Drugs)” and “The Cadet Leaps”. In contrast, songs like “Dum Surfer” and “Vidual” see him as an upfront, in-your-face entity. Aggressive and uncomfortable, Marshall comes from all sides. In “Vidual” he is heard desperately screaming broken phrases like “…hey, how, where you going with my gun?” In “Dum Surfer” he can be heard talking about automobile crashes while a chorus of zombified voices mutter “As Venus completes orbit, I’m feeling slightly mashed”. It’s chillingly catchy, but still brilliantly manages to allude back to Marshall’s ever- present feeling of drifting into space. Ultimately, The OOZ is a collection of everyday experiences rushing through Marshall’s brain. They are more than just his own, though: they are identifiable to anyone who struggles with the illnesses like depression. Brendan Murphy
Album Highlights: "Dum Surfer" "Biscuit Town" "Czech One"
I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone - Chastity Belt
The Seattle-based band, Chastity Belt, is the most vulnerable it’s ever been in it’s latest studio album, I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone. In Julia Shapiros’s signature cool, laconic voice, the Chastity Belt frontwoman sings about depression, self-contempt, regret and ultimately just wanting to be okay. In the first, and perhaps most optimistic, track of the album, “Different Now,” Shapiro sings: "You're hard on yourself, well you can't always be right / All those little things that keep you up at night / You should take some time to figure out your life," on the anxieties of growing up into the person you want to be. Musically, the album blends fuzzy reverb and meandering guitar riffs that are reminiscent of shoegaze bands, The Cocteau Twins or Slowdive. Whereas Chastity Belt’s previous two albums seemed to celebrate the reckless care-free themes of sleeping around and passing time at late night parties, Alone takes us into the headspace of the morning after, hungover, and left to contemplate the consequences. Emma Carpenter
Album Highlights: "Different Now" "Caught in a Lie" "Stuck"
Slowdive - Slowdive
The hype game for a comeback record is a risky one. In this age of nostalgia cash-grabs, it’s hard to tell what comebacks are genuine. Slowdive is genuine. 22 years after their last album, Slowdive have returned with a new sound. They have turned in the chaotic shoegaze of their previous works and exchanged it for glittering, ethereal instrumentation and crisp, clear vocals. Dream pop has seen quite a bit of evolution since these pioneers first brought it into the spotlight in the 90’s. Slowdive not only adjust to the changes, but improve upon them. They have made a record that sounds not only fresh, but refreshing. Each song captures a mood and thrives in it. Whether it is the sonic light show of “Star Roving,” or poignant static gloom of “Falling Ashes,” Slowdive have perfected something that they have been working on for decades: feeling. Ethan Hohn
Album Highlights: "Star Roving" "Sugar for the Pill" "Everyone Knows"
White Noise - Noah Gundersen
Noah Gundersen has been evolving as an artist since his earliest release, both musically and ideologically. Though a significant step away from his Americana folk roots, his most recent release, White Noise, is still marked by familiar, honest lyricism, making it a natural next step in his discography. White Noise is a mature record that demonstrates Noah’s growth as a songwriter, without losing the signature details that have historically defined him. Lyricism has always set Noah’s work apart from other singer-songwriters, and White Noise is no exception. Though no longer questioning the existence or goodness of God, a mark of his previous work, White Noise is an honest exploration of death, love, and loss. Noah doesn’t back down from daunting questions, rather he faces them with brutal honesty and acute attention to detail. It’s no longer his lyricism alone that makes Noah’s work captivating. White Noise is sonically developed, the culmination of his folk roots and solo melodies, partnered with the full-band sound of Family, and the atmospheric yet lonesome Carry the Ghost. White Noise holds nothing back, experimenting from the softest parts of Noah’s range to the most soaring. Noah has grown up over the years, growth that has gifted us his best record yet. Kendra Larsen
Album Highlights: "The Sound” “Heavy Metals” “Send The Rain"
No Home of the Mind - Bing & Ruth
Brian Eno notably claimed, “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” The pliant functionality of ambient music is no better explored than in No Home of the Mind. In the opening track, “Starwood Choker,” Bing & Ruth project leader David Moore doesn’t pull the listener in as much as construct a sonic environment around them with droning piano and a balming cello. Moore’s made music for an acoustic ensemble of strings, winds and piano, but he also incorporates processed tapes and electronic production into the tracks. Doing so creates soundscapes that feel familiar yet foreign; welcoming the listener, yet prompting them to further explore the sonorous pieces. No Home of the Mind is a fascinating record that garners equal enjoyment from being meticulously analyzed or simply played as background music. Derrick Kamp
Album Highlights:"Starwood Choker” “To All It"
A Crow Looked At Me - Mount Eerie
In the summer of 2016 Phil Elverum’s wife, Genèvieve Castrée, died of cancer, leaving him the sole parent of their young child. Revered in songwriting and indie circles for his work in The Microphones and Mount Eerie, Elverum has a reputation for creating sonically lush and complex treatises on nature and existence itself. But in A Crow Looked at Me, Elverum relieves himself of his familiar tools and instead goes for a bare and literal approach, combining the opaque high-context lyricism of Sun Kil Moon with brazenly sparse instrumentals. He charts the unending journey of grief with relentless honesty, chronicling death’s immediate aftermath, tainted domestic routines and unwanted tribulations. He also sings of the love he and Genèvieve shared, of its beginnings and the plans they made together as a family. The result is not just an remarkably moving and blunt documentary of grief, but also a monument to a deep and unbreakable love. James Li (alumnus)
Album Highlights: "Real Death" "Ravens" "Seaweed"
So much great and interesting music comes out every year, we can’t draw the line here. Here are some honorable mentions we didn’t get to:
- 4:44 — Jay-Z
- A Black Mile to the Surface — Manchester Orchestra
- American Dream — LCD Soundsystem
- Aromanticism — Moses Sumney
- Colors — Beck
- Crack-Up — Fleet Foxes
- Culture — Migos
- Dirty Projectors — Dirty Projectors
- Everybody Works — Jay Som
- Flower Boy — Tyler, The Creator
- Harmony of Difference — Kamari Washington
- Harry Styles — Harry Styles
- If Blue Could Be Happiness — Florist
- Lust For Life — Lana Del Rey
- Planetarium — Sufjan Stevens et al.
- Powerplant — Girlpool
- Pretty Girls Like Trap Music — 2 Chainz
- SATURATION — BROCKHAMPTON
- SexySweetSavage — Kehlani
- Socialites — Alvvays
- Swear I’m Good at This — Diet Cig
- Take Me Apart — Kelela
- Three Futures — Torres