80. Frankie and the Witch Fingers – Data Doom (Greenway)
Data Doom is Frankie and the Witch Fingers’ seventh album in their relatively short ten years of existence. What’s even more impressive is that Data Doom came off of a three-year absence from their last studio album, Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters… For a psychedelic garage rock band prone to indulge in some mesmerizing, drawn-out jams, Data Doom is a lean 40-minute wave of chugging riffs.
Frankie and the Witch Fingers have always incorporated B-movie style sci-fi imagery into their 1960s and 1970s style psychedelic garage rock, but on Data Doom, the band addresses all the perils of living in our modern world. “Futurephobic” and “Mild Davis” both address how inescapable technology is in our lives, no matter how much we try to disengage. For those who worry about Open AI making their lives irrelevant, Data Doom at least offers a very human blast of empathy. – Sean McCarthy
79. Gia Margaret – Romantic Piano (Jagjaguwar)
Gia Margaret refers to her musical style as “sleep rock”. There is truth to this description, given that her compositions are mostly instrumentals played in an unobtrusive manner. In contrast to rock pianists who overcompensate through raucous playing (Jerry Lee Lewis is the paradigm here), Margaret dials it way down, approaching Erik Satie in tone and volume. In terms of theme, Romantic Piano is about the restorative power of solitude. She references the German word waldeinsamkeit (“the feeling of being alone in a forest”) to explain her approach.
The result is an album so modest that it risks obscurity. However, when listened to attentively, it illuminates a forgotten world. Field recordings of a rainstorm, a person walking, birdsong, children playing, and cicadas at night accompany her piano melodies, hovering like memories. A rare vocal track like “City Song” is quietly show-stopping. Romantic Piano unfailingly reveals the numinous in the everyday. – Christopher J. Lee
78. The Clientele – I Am Not There Anymore (Merge)
It’s always exciting to hear a band at the height of their powers far into their career. A certain depth of talent and artistic commitment are needed to attain this kind of amplitude. The Clientele have achieved this with their seventh studio album, I Am Not There Anymore. Premised on the death of Alasdair MacLean’s mother in 1997, this 19-song, hour-long LP is more than a requiem. It is a complex meditation on memory, mortality, childhood, nocturnal dreamscapes, and the possibilities of music to negotiate and narrate these essential elements of life. The eight-and-a-half minute opening track “Fables of the Silverlink” contains entire worlds in the manner of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”. The remainder of the album digresses in different directions (or “radials”), incorporating different genres, field recordings, and instrumental interludes. From the cover to the lyrics, everything has been thought out with care and grace. – Christopher J. Lee
77. Yaeji – With a Hammer (XL)
Yaeji’s star has been on the rise for years, but this year’s With a Hammer, her full-length debut, is her brightest and most multifaceted moment yet. She remains the queen of clever, catchy electropop on bouncy singles “For Granted” and “Done (Let’s Get It)”, both of which bolster brilliant hooks with bold synths. Scaffolding the earworms—which are abundant, even beyond the singles—is Yaeji’s tremendous range as a producer.
Geometric beats cut through blissful dreamscapes like a sort of sonic papel picado: colorful, delicate, and carefully adorned with moments of negative space that make every track all the more intriguing. Add to that the depth of thought on display in the lyrics themselves (“I like flipping the pages / And feeling the physical weight of how much time has / Passed me by,” she sings on “Passed Me By”), and it becomes nourishing: these bops are good for the heart, the mind, and the soul. It’s a true feat how much sonic and emotional substance Yaeji packs into every moment of With a Hammer, and as satisfying an album as it is, such high levels of overall quality also leave us wanting more: the mark of true pop music genius. – Adriane Pontecorvo
76. Hayden Pedigo – The Happiest Times I Ever Ignored (Mexican Summer)
Amarillo, Texas’ Hayden Pedigo isn’t even 30 years old yet. Typically, that information wouldn’t matter much in the wide scope of enjoying an album, but this prolific guitarist has already amassed a cult following for his beautifully rendered instrumental albums recorded with just an acoustic guitar and the faintest whisper of synth work. The Happiest Times I Ever Ignored is Pedigo’s fifth solo full-length proper and might be his best.
Drawing a line of influence that traces back to both John Fahey and Nick Drake, the power of his compositions comes from their simplicity: these are songs not designed to show off his substantial skills so much as to set the mood and tone. There’s a little bit of backwoods ramble to “Traces of Hope” and honeyed sweetness to the casual “Then It’s Gone”. These songs all soundtracking someone’s romantic Western mind movie. While a clear student of finger-picking tradition, the best part about hearing Pedigo at this point in his career is realizing that the line of influence will one day be traced back to him. —Evan Sawdey
75. Fucked Up – One Day (Merge)
Toronto’s Fucked Up have been rewriting the hardcore rule book for nearly 20 years now, with their landmark The Chemistry of Common Life turning 15 this year. The band has also released a rock opera (David Comes to Life), a psychedelic-tinged hardcore odyssey (Dose Your Dreams), and an experimental EP series with titles based on the Zodiac. One Day continues the progression of Dose Your Dreams in a more concise, punchy manner. “I Think I Might be Weird” is one of the catchiest songs in the Fucked Up canon; however, Damien Abraham’s trademark shout remains intact.
Abraham takes a break for “Cicada”, one of the furthest outliers for the band and the best song on the record, a Husker Du-like elegy for fallen friends sung by lead guitarist Mike Haliechuk. The broken state of the world is a frequent theme (“Broken Little Boys” takes aim at toxic masculinity), but there is also room for joy and family, as on closer “Roar”. With younger bands revitalizing the classic hardcore sound, it’s exciting to see Fucked Up out on the edge, restlessly exploring. – Brian Stout
74. Miley Cyrus – Endless Summer Vacation (Columbia)
Miley Cyrus has gladly reversed the narrative that has followed her for the last decade with her latest record, whose name alone sounds like one could expect a dance-pop album that would impact mainstream airplay just in time to influence the summer charts. But that’s far from the case: Endless Summer Vacation is, in fact, suggesting that the real endless summer vacation for all of us is not the rave pop music purists have come to demand from Cyrus. Rather, it’s protecting our peace, staying in our lane, and buying yourself some damn flowers every now and then because we deserve them.
But what makes the LP a full-circle experience is not Cyrus’ newfound sense of self and maturity in her 30s but rather that she’s accepted more chaotic parts of herself that aren’t going to change. “You know I’m savage, you’re looking past it / I want that late-night sweet magic, that forever-lasting love / But only if it’s with you,” she sings. The singer knows what she wants from life and isn’t afraid to go after it while also maintaining protection over her own happiness. “Forever may never come,” she tells herself, for once sounding secure in such a proclamation. – Jeffrey Davies
73. Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter – SAVED! (Perpetual Flame Ministries)
Formerly known as Lingua Ignota, singer and pianist Kristin Hayter experiments with blues, American folk, and Southern gospel music on her debut LP under a new moniker. Released under Hayter’s new label, Perpetual Flame Ministries, Saved! is made up of tracks consisting of Hayter’s strong, unabashed voice and her own piano accompaniment. Along with five original songs, Hayter includes iterations of hymns that are at least a century old, selected based on her experiences with Catholicism, all of which fit together seamlessly in a stark presentation.
Saved! is more than haunting. At times, listening to it is like watching a folk horror movie. Hayter creates a creepy yet beautiful atmosphere through moans and cries that seem to reference both trauma and religious hysteria. With so much singing about the blood of the savior, this is an anxious and disturbing album, but in an artful way. Charged with the immediate emotions of a live demonstration, the songs on this album exhibit Hayter working through the pain of trauma and subsequent healing through theatrical, spiritual repentance. Saved! is a well-researched collection of songs delivered through a hypnotizing, dramatic vocal performance. – Andrew Spiess
72. The New Pornographers – Continue As a Guest (Merge)
With their latest album, the New Pornographers tackle one of the most difficult questions in rock music: how to age gracefully as a band. The New Pornographers have released nine studio albums, with their debut, Mass Romantic (2000), and their third LP, Twin Cinema (2005), enduring as seminal contributions to the post-millennium indie rock landscape. They also set a high bar for what followed. Delayed and inflected by the pandemic, Continue As a Guest departs from the pop maximalism of those albums to focus on simplified but hook-driven melodies. The opening track, “Really, Really Light”, amounts to a thesis statement, arguing that artful restraint can be as impactful and beautiful as an unhindered display. The valedictory “Bottle Episodes” is one of the loveliest songs they have recorded. Continue as a Guest had a relatively muted reception on release, but these songs grow on you. They will last. – Christopher J. Lee
71. M83 – Fantasy (Mute)
After years and several albums in the sonic wilderness, Fantasy finds M83’s Anthony Gonzales getting back to what he does best. That means maximalist, blissed-out, hands-in-the-sky dream pop informed by shoegaze, synthpop, art-rock, and even prog. Overwrought? Yes, by design. Campy? At times, unrepentantly so. Living up to its title, Fantasy plays like a continuous, multi-stage trip into the wide-eyed naivety of vintage video game arcades and pre-digital sci-fi. The single “Oceans Niagara” only features one lyric: “Beyond adventure!” It is a perfect mantra for an album that keeps the thrills coming. – John Bergstrom