10 Fantastic Albums I Discovered in the Past Year (Part 1 of 3)

If you think my opinion of music has merit, check these out!

(They’re in no particular order, but they’re all awesome.)

For each, I’ll answer HOW they came to my attention, WHY they’re great, and WHO should take special notice to them, and highlight tracks. Just click any of the titles or covers to hear them on Spotify.

It should be noted that every one of these albums is recommended to be listened to as a whole.
My top list of songs or singles would look quite different than this one, and these are records that deserve a full front-to-back listen!

 

 

HOW?: These guys were introduced to me by my college roommate this past year, and if he hadn’t told me about them then, I would have known who they were soon enough. This piano-rap-pop-rock duo from Columbus, OH are freshly signed to Fueled by Ramen (whose roster includes fun. and Paramore) and recently were tapped to play at this year’s MTV Movie Awards, to much acclaim.

WHY?: The music itself is powerful in it’s simplicity, using mostly piano, drums, and synth leads to create a larger-than-life atmosphere with very few layers. Josh Dun’s drumming is super solid and stays in the pocket of the song–keeping it groovy without distracting from the rest of the song. Stylistically, it’s all over the place. There is influence from piano rock, rap, pop,  and even EDM. The best way to describe lead singer and songwriter Tyler Joseph’s lyrics is stream-of-conciousness. He writes from a very deep and unfiltered place…which, as it turns out, attracts young adult listeners. The members’ Christian beliefs, in addition to their brutal honesty, result in an emotional, but ultimately, uplifting experience.

WHO?: Fans of Jack’s Mannequin-type piano rock, poppy hip-hop, or are interested in music that is deeply emotional but poppy and out-there musically.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “Car Radio” is a good introduction to what this band is about, “Migraine” gives a little more to the hip-hop fan and “Trees” is the most well-crafted song, in my opinion, in that it feels epic and has the greatest build-up on the album.

 

 

HOW?: This past year at Malone, we hosted Jars of Clay for an evening concert, and my department (Music Production) are always active in running these concerts in collaboration with Alive Festival and the bands’ crews. As the concert approached, I decided to get up to date on Jars’ latest work. They had just released Inland, which is an amazing album that almost made this list, but I also discovered lead singer Dan Haseltine had started a side-project, The Hawk in Paris.

WHY?: Because this is everything that made 1980s pop awesome, but here, it’s even further perfected. This album is a throwback to the years of Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode, but intercut with the modern songwriting sensibilities of Haseltine. These songs have beautiful hooks, and grand synth landscapes that ride the line between relevant and classic nearly flawlessly. The best part of this phenomenal homage is that it feels 80s, but sounds as clean and balanced as any modern production. A great example of this is the use of reverb, which is much more than typical, but not so much so that it’s annoying (a common problem with listening to 80s music nowadays).

WHO?: Any fans of Jars (who don’t mind the lack of Christian-related material, the lyrical content is mostly about love and identity), and ANYBODY who loves the new wave-era 1980s thing, or just really well crafted pop music.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “The New Hello” is by far the standout track, including one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard in a long while, and a perfectly-retro synthscape throughout. “Wake Me Up” is likely the most ‘fun’ song here, with drums that send-up the Michael Jackson sound, and obnoxious, but fitting, auto-tuned vocals. As in many 80s records, the first half here is very hooky and full of singles, while the deeper cuts draw out near the end. Perfect for long car rides.

 

 

 

HOW?: This band was recommended to me earlier this year by Rick Elias, of Ragamuffin fame, during a songwriting workshop at Malone. I played him a demo of a song my band Static Speed is currently working on, and he told me that my clear obsession of writing catchy 80s-influenced pop songs indicated that HAIM would “feel right at home” to me. He was right.

WHY?: First off, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an entirely-female group that I like this much. There is really musical talent going on here, and it’s not a bunch of pretty-faced girls singing factory-produced pop written by record label hires to make a quick buck. This sister band is cranking out well-crafted late-70s-tinged pop anthems. While Haim isn’t quite as straightforward-new-wave as The Hawk in Paris, they still feel classic in their retro production. The arrangements here are a bit more innovative and modern, and the production is just as slick as any female-fronted pop on the radio. The vocals and songwriting are also reminiscent of the Christine/Stevie-led tracks in the Fleetwood Mac catalog.

WHO?: Anyone who likes catchy pop, female vocals, clever songwriting, Fleetwood Mac, and, of course, 80s new wave.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “The Wire” and “Falling” are the lead singles here, and for good reason; these hooks are infectious. Other standouts include “Don’t Save Me” and “If I Could Change Your Mind“.

 

Stop back tomorrow for 4

more great albums!

 

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