Thus Owls – The Mountain That We Live Upon

Top billing goes to the stark, incantatory, incandescent fourth album by this Quebec duo. Singer Erika Angell is the most exciting and committed vocalist I heard all year.


Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds

Producer to the indie stars and dude who looks like Jesus achieves a stirring, cinematic scale with his latest batch of Laurel Canyon paeans.


Szun Waves – New Hymn To Freedom

Three UK instrumental improvisers transport adventurous listener to outer and inner space simultaneously. Is this jazz? A personal inspiration for my own improvisational trio.


Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth

Now this is jazz. Washington’s big band (including vocal choirs, electric organ, and percussion) vibrates powerfully with the African diaspora’s suffering and emancipation.


Caroline Rose – Loner

Such a fun, fresh voice. Crafting sharp hooks, getting an engaging sound from a basic rock combo, and telling witty, relatable stories will never get old.


The Ex – 27 Passports

What is this “trends” of which you speak? 40 years in, these Dutch anarchists plow ahead with their jagged postpunk din, circular African rhythms, and reportage from the global periphery.


Cauldron – New Gods

After my 9-year-old son said “play that again” upon first listen, these metal revivalists’ credible Dokken took over our travel soccer warm-up playlist and earned their place on my end-of-year list.


Julia Holter – Aviary

Five albums in, I remain in awe of Julia Holter’s artistry. Her melodies will always have a foot in beauty, but it’s exciting to hear her art music turn weird and at times bracing again.


Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

She may not be today’s Nashville sound, but we can dream. My Wednesday night cover band spent many hours breaking down “Slow Burn.”


Kurt Vile – Bottle It In

Dude returns once again with a new album that advances his sad stoner trad-rock just a smidgen from his last one, and I’m all in.


The Hellenes – I Love You All The Animals

The Rain Parade were my touchstone for Los Angeles’s 1980s “paisley underground,” so I was gassed to find this consistently pleasing album by their distinctive guitarist and vocalist Matt Piucci.


Messa – Feast For Water

Adding a Fender Rhodes electric piano moves this Italian scarlet doom metal band into a whole new, sexy league.


gobbinjr – ocala wick

My 12-year-old daughter packed this goofy indie-folk album for summer camp. “Fake Bitch” should prepare her for a few issues she’ll encounter in the next ten years.


The Beths – Future Me Hates Me

I’m highly immune to high-energy guitar pop (which too often is code for pop-punk), but wow did these New Zealand kids bring the motherf–kin’ hooks.


Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo

Houston trio spices their R&B instrumentals with Thai funk, middle eastern riffs, and a little Texano soul. This record never failed to sound great.


Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs

Melbourne remains Australia rock city! Behind the relentless beat, I hear the poetic lyricism of forebears the Go-Betweens and the Triffids.


High On Fire – Electric Messiah

It’s easy to take these metal cavemen for granted. DON’T.


The Breeders – All Nerve

It’s easy to take these alt-rock cavewomen for granted. DON’T.


Warm Drag – Warm Drag

Sex and drugs and rock and roll (and cheap-sounding drum machines) really are all their brains and bodies need.


Exploded View – Obey

The Berlin-Mexico City unit discarded a member and some of their earlier electro-crash, intuiting a post-night (sunnier?), post-depressing (optimistic?) sound.