While I’m sure my musical diet becomes less and less relevant with each passing year, irrelevancy never stopped me before. So here goes. (And if you want to listen while you read, here’s a Spotify playlist.)
I’m going to start with Boygenius, the EP that represents the theme of much of the music I listened to the most this year: music made by women. Boygenius is the name Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridges gave their supergroup collaboration. At just six songs, this EP definitely made me want more and “Bite the Hand” might have been favourite song of the year.
Another contender for my favourite song of the year was “Night Shift,” from Historian, the fabulous album Lucy Dacus did on her own, Perhaps an even better album was Be the Cowboy from Mitski. All Music Guide calls her sound “catchy but volatile indie rock.” Sounds about right. “Geyser” gives you a good sense of that. Another great, though less “volatile,” track is “Nobody.”
Of course, Boygenius, Dacus and Mitski appeared on plenty of end-of-year lists but one of the albums I played the most over the last few months was Quit the Curse, an under-appreciated debut from Anna Burch. Check out “Tea-Soaked Letter” or “What I Want,” though I liked every song on the album. It’s an impressive beginning to her career.
As for veterans, I first saw Neko Case at the Horseshoe Tavern when Furnace Room Lullaby came out in 2000. That’s still my favourite album of hers, but it’s been such a treat to listen to her develop as a musician over the years. She long ago left her alt.country sound behind and never stays in one place. Hell-On is certainly no exception to that continued growth, as “Last Lion of Albion” attests.
A few others I’d recommend: My friend Jane Gowan and her band, The Real Shade, put out the fabulous Horizon Diaries, which more people should listen to. I also really liked Goners by Laura Gibson, I Need to Start a Garden by Haley Heynderickx and The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs from Wye Oak. Also, Future Me Hates Me from New Zealand’s The Beths is good fun.
Finally, since everything I’ve mentioned so far has been made by women and just so no one accuses me of pandering, let me add Look Now from Elvis Costello and the Imposters. I agree with my friend Biff, an even more fanatical Costello aficionado than I am, who said, “It’s more mature than I am.” But while I sometimes find there’s a bit too much of the Bacharach influence—as much as I loved Painted From Memory, their 1998 collaboration—this is an album that definitely grew on me. “Dishonor the Stars” is one of the less Bacharachy tunes. If you want more Burt, try “Suspect My Tears.”