This year has brought a ton of horrible shit our way, from ISIS and Ebola to satisfied St. Louis Cardinals fans. Still, it’s been a stellar year for music, with breakouts from rock, hip-hop and more. And as we posited last year, it might not always be the artist, itself, you are interested in: You’re gonna want to look rad when you’re telling your friends about the tunes. So, here’s a rundown of excellent artists who released an album this year. They’ll all make you look like Nostradamus wearing sunglasses. (And don’t worry: The music is pretty good, too.)
Photo: Constance Mensh
10. Steve Gunn
Gunn used to be part of Kurt Vile’s Violators, so you know his chops are legit. Gunn’s most recent effort, Way Out Weather, came out last week and is as straightforward guitar rock as it comes these days. Throw in a little twang and you’ve got yourself a nice autumn road-trip soundtrack.
Essential track: “Way Out Weather”
9./8. The War on Drugs / Sun Kil Moon
Here’s a two-for-one special: Both of these groups made one of the best records of the year earlier this year, and they’ve both been in the news as of late. The man behind Sun Kil, Mark Kozelek, started the Indie Beef of 2014 when a War on Drugs live set started to bleed over to his stage at the Ottawa Folk Fest. WoD responded with class—Kozelek not so much, culminating in this week’s release of a track, “War on Drugs, Suck My Cock.” Enjoy Sun Kil Moon’s moody pensiveness and War on Drugs’ throwback jams; stay for a feud that would make any rapper laugh.
Essential tracks: The War on Drugs,”An Ocean in Between the Waves”
Sun Kil Moon, “Ben’s My Friend”
7. Angel Olsen
You might remember Olsen from earlier this year, but chances are you don’t. Released in February, Burn Your Fire For No Witness cycles between the hard-rocking and intimate, all bearing a lo-fi underbelly.
Essential track: “Lights Out”
Dan Snaith has been recording under a few names for over a decade. Still, his relatively low output as Caribou makes him easy to overlook. Don’t. The just-released Our Love is a triumph, at once able to replace Ariana Grande on your workout mix and make you yearn for the one that got away.
Essential track: “All I Ever Need”
5. Chad VanGaalen
Shrink Dust—VanGaalen’s album from April—has been mostly overlooked by the tastemakers this year. (As has VanGaalen’s career, in general.) But it’s a thoroughly odd, heartfelt and genius collection of songs. Check out “Where Are You?,” “Lila” and “Hangman’s Son” to get inside his freaky universe.
Essential track: “Lila”
Early in the summer, Jamaican dancehall artist Andre Jay Sutherland released one of the catchiest records of the year as Popcaan. Where We Came From has head-bobbing ragers and smoke-out grooves aplenty.
Essential track: “Everything Nice”
Photo: Max Martin
3. DJ Dodger Stadium
The Los Angeles Dodgers may have lost in the postseason but the name of their stomping grounds lives on with this hilariously monikered act. DJ Dodger Stadium is actually two gents, Samo Sound Boy and Jerome LOL (born Sam Griesemer and Jerome Potter). On Friend of Mine, the duo spins club-ready, hyped-up electronic swirlers that are poppy enough to be played at a ballpark the size of, well, you get it.
Essential track: “Love Songs”
2. Andy Stott
UK producer Stott made a splash with 2012’s Luxury Problems. Earlier this year, he released an album with Miles Whittaker under the moniker of Millie & Andrea. But, he returns with a solo record in November, Faith in Strangers. It’s ominous, industrial and totally out-there.
Essential track: “Violence”
1. Perfume Genius
As Perfume Genius, pianist and troubadour Mike Hadreas made a splash in 2012 with the emotionally raw Put Yr Back N 2 It. This year’s Too Bright makes him impossible to ignore, with songs like the Broadway-ready “Queen” and NIN-informed “Grid” anchoring a record with epic scope.
Essential track: “Queen”