There are some big albums anticipated this year, but so far much of what has been released has been things that are far more under the radar. As an aside, Run The Jewels 3 is an odd one. It came out on December 25, so it missed a lot of 2016 lists and will likely miss some this year since no one will really knows what to do with it (which is probably just fine with those lads). That footnote aside, these are a bunch of super clever and likeable albums that I found most noteworthy from January, February, and March.
He is most known for work with other popular artists, but he refreshingly avoids cashing in with tired high profile collaborations. This record doesn't need star power. It stands on its own just fine. One of the most personal sounding albums I have heard this year. Lovely balance of art and listenability.
Century Palm - Meet You
Toronto is a sneaky city when it comes to indie rock, but traditionally not a lot of post-punk styled stuff has come from Big Smoke. What I love most about this record, is it provides all the familiarity one would associate with Joy Division referenced post punkisms, but ends up sounding much more influenced by Wire. Finally someone is channeling and paying quiet homage to Wire properly.
The Jesus & Mary Chain - Damage & Joy
If you come at the king(s) you best not miss. Mary Chain have been ripped off so many different ways over the years, one can barely keep track. The most sincere form of flattery of course, but once in a while (19 years later in this case) they re-surface to remind everyone that no one makes better jangled fuzzed out snarling and indifferent sounding alternative rock than The Jesus & Mary Chain. They are on point here. All their best sides on display.
NE-HI - Offers
Reminiscent of the Omni album from last year, Offers is a low-fi indie guitar rock gem. The hooks and energy hit all the right spots. There are surprisingly few bands doing this well right now, considering versions of this sound were so popular in indie circles twenty years ago or less. I especially love how stripped down the record is, without being the least bit sloppy or apologetic for its hookiness.
Sondre Lerch - Pleasure
Lerche has been kicking around and making arty 60's influenced records for the last 15 years, but for whatever reason, I have never really quite gotten onside. Something about Pleasure though, really resonated with me. Maybe it's the interesting take on blending 80's synth with 80s polished R & B pop (the Blue Monday drums right out of the gate doesn't hurt). Regardless, this is a sophisticated pop record, and maybe the strongest of this Norwegian's career.
Oddisee - The Iceberg
A friend introduced me to Oddisee well ahead of this new album. We both share a passion for clever hip hop, with less focus on flash, on more emphasis on word play and craft. Tremendous production and sincerity all the way through. It's wonderful to hear an artist coming into their own in such a genuine way.
Tennis - Yours Conditionally
I was a passive Tennis fan until 2014's Ritual In Repeat. This new album dials back the slickness they found on the former, and finds a balance with the song craft and composition of their earlier records, while pulling in some of the dash of the last one. This is world class.
PVT - New Spirit
These cats are from Australia, but hang their hats in London currently, and apparently they have been around for a while now. The record is a bit all over the place and occasionally unfocused as a result, but it is daring recording, with so much of the math pop vibe I dig in modern alternative music happening on many of the tracks. The experimentation never strays too far into wank, and for the most part the tracks all clock in and 3-4 minutes.
Spoon - Hot Thoughts
Another year arrives and with it another quality Spoon record drops into rotation. It's like everyone keeps waiting for them to release a stinker, but that never happens does it? The changes between albums are subtle, but not one of Spoon's album is exactly like another, yet you get the warm familiarity of everything that makes them such a wonderful pop band. An uncanny track record.
Methyl Ehtel - Everything Is Forgotten
This is a pretty different record than their debut. The first reminded me of Lower Dens with its sombre phrasing and tonality. Their sophomore is much more psych tinged and groovy. It still has the endearing earnest lyrics and phrasing, but this is a clever playful album from a band getting their footing in an admittedly crowded space right now.
Elbow - Little Fictions
Not unlike Spoon, Elbow continue to tick along with virtually no mis-steps. Again they don't stray far from the nest on Little Fictions, and this is unmistakably Elbow, but there is a cohesion here that suggests the band has hit ultimate comfort in their skin, but without even a hint of complacency. Garvey's voice may very well be my favourite among all modern actives bands. Gorgeous record.
Dutch Uncles - Big Balloon
It wouldn't be a music nerd list without me finding a way to somehow represent Manchester. That said, these guys belong there every time, including with this one. Perhaps not their most engaging, but still a perfect balance of musician based pop songs that show their prog and math stripes prevalently, but embedded in songs with solid corners and catchiness.