An E·MO·TIONal Year

E·MO·TION

Carly Rae Jepsen is the first person to ever send me flowers. It was Valentine's Day, 2014. Jepsen had just announced the first single from her new album E•MO•TION as "I Really Like You." She tweeted that by using the hashtag #IReallyLikeYou, she might send you a surprise. I, of course, dashed for the shift+3 combo as quickly as I could. Later that day, I got a direct message from Jepsen asking for my address. Sure, I essentially handed over my personal information to a stranger behind a keyboard, but CARLY RAE JEPSEN direct messaged me.

During this time, I'd just moved back to Chicago after a brief stint in San Francisco. While Chicago is always home, I found myself feeling a little lost, like I'd given up on the West Coast too easily. However, when I returned home to those surprise roses after a particularly trying day, with their hilariously misspelled greeting card from the local florist, something felt right. 

Not trying to be that guy, but I've been a Carly Rae Jepsen fan long before E·MO·TION showed off her MBA in pop music. My friends and I discovered her via Pandora nearly a year before "Call Me Maybe" and its tidal wave smashed over the world. Its success caused an entire record Jepsen already announced to be scrapped in favor of making one that housed potential successors to "Call me Maybe." The resulting album Kiss ended up being everything I love about pop: sugary yet smart, sweet yet emotional, simple yet complex. When I heard Jepsen was working on a follow-up alongside heavyweights like Greg Kurstin, Ariel Rechtshaid, Sia, Tegan & Sara, and more, I knew she wasn't just curating a follow-up. This would be a statement of her artistic development and a love letter to a genre.

I couldn't dream up the album we got, and never imagined it would soundtrack some of the lightest and darkest times of the year.

I Really Like You

After years of adoration, I finally saw Carly Rae Jepsen live on March 12th, 2016. Even though none of the album's singles caught on with the public like "Call Me Maybe" did, it didn't matter. Jepsen achieved the same virality, but this time it was because she made a perfect pop record. As critics and fans alike shared their love, begging disbelievers to give it a try, E•MO•TION developed the kind of cult following certain 80s movies have, which aligns nicely with the album's ability to double as a John Hughes soundtrack. 

The Cult of Carly Rae made my first show magical. This wasn't just a concert, it was a celebration of people who were in on the secret. You have to feel for the poor saps who jumped off the Jepsen Jet after "Call Me Maybe." Then again, they're the reason we could see her in a more intimate setting. The audience went crazy for every song, with Jepsen clearly blown away by the worshipers. For that hour and a half, she never let the energy dip and played choir director to an 1,100-person singalong. 

Me & Carly Rae Jepsen in Chicago

Me & Carly Rae Jepsen in Chicago

Before the show, I was fortunate enough to meet Jepsen. Finally, I could thank her for being the first person to send me flowers, and tell her how much I loved E•MO•TION. It was such a blur, and I probably sounded insane, but I felt like I'd finally said something I needed to say. She was gracious, humble, and everything you'd imagine her to be. I wonder if she understands the love so many have for this record? 

I Didn't Just Come Here to Dance

Throughout the year, I watched as friends discovered Carly Rae Jepsen the same way I saw her; someone who made pop music for adults, putting attention into every detail and crafting songs that remind us of being young, having crushes, being heartbroken. The feelings that smart no matter how old you get. 

When I realized I could see Jepsen again, but this time in New York City with two of my favorite pop aficionados, I couldn't say no. We got to the show, staked out a corner, and danced our asses off. At the Chicago show, I absorbed the vibe and watched Jepsen take command of the stage. With the New York show, the songs became gospels. We shouted every lyric, sweat through our clothes, and bathed in the positive energy. 

The Terminal 5 show was the last on Jepsens' Gimmie Love Tour, and she also had much to celebrate; E•MO•TION was not only one of the highest rated pop albums of the year, but it was the 11th best rated album anyone in 2015. More importantly, Jepsen proved she wasn't defined by one song and established herself as one of the best writers in the genre. Suddenly, E•MO•TION was a point of reference for examplifying a perfect pop record. Many who've been aching for Robyn to return with new music found solace in someone else making songs just as pure and anthemic. 

Gimmie Love

Nobody will forget June 12th, 2016. We remember where we were when we heard 49 members of the LGBT community lost their lives in the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Pulse Nightclub in Orlando was every nightclub; LGBT people all over the world rely on gay bars and clubs as escapes from a world that continues to other them. The weight of the fear and anger made celebrating a Pride event in Los Angeles a struggle for everyone. How can we dance? How can we sing and be with our family and friends, knowing those 49 people will never get to be with theirs? 

Somehow, you push through being afraid and refuse to accept defeat. We need to dance. We need to sing. We need to celebrate the people we love. 

Photo by Joe Scarnici/WireImage

Photo by Joe Scarnici/WireImage

I traveled to Los Angeles for a few reasons, but Carly Rae Jepsen headlining Pride made it a required visit. After a day that ran the gamut of emotions, Jepsen welcomed us to pause our thoughts and let music do what it does best: heal. Having the familiar soundtrack of the songs from E•MO•TION drown out the sadness was the ultimate medicine. Imagining the responsibility Jepsen felt to put on her usual show in the face of national tragedy, and how she had to push through the same emotions, made me even more in awe of her. It's the best gift she could have given everyone in the crowd that day, and I hope she knows that.

Let's Get Lost

Photos by www.philamonjaro.com

Photos by www.philamonjaro.com

I read that "Call Me Maybe" is the first Billboard Hot 100 number one to be performed at a Pitchfork festival. While I'm not sure if that's true, I'm choosing to believe that Carly Rae Jepsen is the queen of shattering hipster glass ceilings. My final Jepsen show of the year was seeing her perform at Pitchfork Music Festival. This was one of the biggest and best celebrations of her amazing year. The crowd didn't just go nuts over "Call Me Maybe"; every song was given equal enthusiasm. I could even hear people around me doing the background vocals and ad-libs from the studio recordings. We all know this record inside and out, feeding off of the shared joy. 

Today marks one year since Carly Rae Jepsen released E·MO·TION in the United States. Listening to all of the the songs from the era on shuffle while writing this, is indeed, emotional. I'm instantly transported to dissecting the harmonies of "Gimmie Love" with one of my best friends. I recall shouting the words to "Your Type" simultaneously with another friend as we expressed the song's full anguish. The sax intro to "Run Away With Me" loops the countless vines in my head that were shared in group texts, even after the joke was beaten into the ground. 

I'm not sure when it's appropriate to call an album one of your all-time favorites, but I think a year is plenty of time. As the best albums often do,  this one soundtracked so many unforgettable moments. Here's to more memories, music, and E·MO·TION.

 

 

JoJo releases first single from first album in 10 years, due October 14th

It started in 2004: at 13 years-old, JoJo became the youngest solo artist to have a number one hit in the U.S. when "Leave (Get Out) gave millennial teens everywhere their own "You Oughta Know." In 2006, she almost did it again when "Too Little Too Late", the first single from her second album The High Road, bowed out at number three. Label woes lead to a music drought, save for a few one off singles and free mixtapes. After finally freeing herself from her contractual chains, JoJo released a "Tringle" of three songs last August. 

This October, it will have been 10 years JoJo released The High Road. Via the best way to announce an album I can remember, JoJo revealed today that her third studio album will be out October 14th, 2016. It's called Mad Love, and will be preceded by first single "F*ck Apologies" featuring Whiz Khalifa. 

While the three songs from the tringle ranged in sound, from 90s dance to epic balladry, they were a departure from the R&B-flavored pop from her first two albums. For "F*ck Apologies", JoJo digs back into her R&B roots to deliver a relaxed but assured sound. Wiz Khalifa offers an assist that adds some additional flavor. It's a mature and marks a definitive new chapter in an incredible artist's career. 

Listen to "F*ck Apologies" via Spotify below. Buy it on iTunes now

Britney Spears: Her nine lead singles, ranked

With the release of her new single "Make Me...", Britney Spears adds another song to her list of leads. What started in 1999 with "...Baby One More Time" ands ends with "Make Me" equates to one of the strongest sets of first singles from any pop artist. When you listen to these songs in chronological order, you'll hear artistic evolution, snapshots of the dominating pop sound of the time, and your own nostalgia stitched into these songs. 

Below are Britney Spears' lead nine singles from her soon-to-be nine studio albums, ranked least best to best.

09. Work Bitch - 2013

2013's Britney Jean was billed by Britney and her team as Brit's "most personal album to-date." Fans of course immediately expected a Ray of Light-influenced opus where she sings about her private life, her struggles, and owned the wisdom that comes with being in the industry for so long. That's what makes the trend-chasing, EDM-heavy first single "Work Bitch" so jarring. While it certainly "works" in the gym and at the club as a serviceable dance track, it doesn't have the magic Britney Spears brings to a song when she's tapped into the material. The British accent and campy lyrics showed off her fun side, but ultimately it's a hollow song that's anything but intimate or personal. 

08. Hold It Against Me - 2011

Pop was all over the place in 2011. Across the pond, the thundering, wobbly-dance craze of dubstep was taking over the clubs and inching its way to radio. Britney brought the trend to North America and included a dubstep-esque breakdown in the middle of the lead from her 7th album, Femme Fatale. "Hold It Against Me" is a Bonnie McKee co-write that, while clever, sounded a tad dated upon arrival. However, the "I might be a little hay-zay" is classic Britney. 

07. Me Against The Music (feat. Madonna) - 2003

Britney fans debate on whether In The Zone or Blackout is her best album (Spoiler: it's In The Zone). Unlike the imposter Britney Jean, In The Zone is her most personal album to-date. Here, she addresses her tumultuous relationship and breakup with Justin Timberlake, masturbation, and self-empowerment. To introduce the public to the record, Britney chose the Madonna duet "Me Against The Music." On paper, this should be outta this world: the Queen of Pop joins forces with the Princess of Pop on the first single from the album fans, critics, and tabloids all lusted after. Britney worked with producer Tricky Stewart to create a song that mimics Justin Timberlake's first solo single "Like I Love You", a Neptunes/Pharrell production. Because of that, the song doesn't quite feel like a Britney single. Still, it's a club-ready bop that preceded a fantastic album.

06. Womanizer - 2008

Circus is an important album in Britney's discography. It's the first record she released after her over-publicized breakdown, a time many feared would be the end of her career. To show fans and critics alike that Britney Spears The World Conquering Pop Star was still alive, she threw herself into what ultimately matters most: the music. Kicking it off was "Womanizer," a synth-y, sassy number that had Britney's signature delivery all over it, an earworm chorus, and a sexy video to accompany it. It's a solid representation of an album that jumps around stylistically, but curates sounds Britney knows how to capitalize upon. 

05. Make Me... (feat. G-Eazy) - 2016

While the hit potential and cultural impact is to-be-determined, "Make Me..." catapults itself into one of Britney's best leads for a few reasons. Most importantly, this actually sounds like a Britney Spears song. While not the strongest vocalist, Britney typically knows how to use her voice to her advantage. The blend of sensual R&B and angelic falsetto is perfect for this mid-tempo, lush summer song. Second, "Make Me..." shows us what Britney can do when she's connected to the material. With a co-writing credit, you can hear and feel that Britney genuinely enjoys this song. Finally, the sound is a marked shift for her. Not since "I'm a Slave 4 U" has Britney pivoted so sharply. While it certainly sounds current with its hints of tropical pop and smooth beats, "Make Me..." is a new sound for her, and unlike the other slow jams on radio. Hopefully, the song will find further strength in the context of her upcoming, 9th studio album, as well as the soon-to-be-released, Dave LaChapelle-directed video. 

04. Oops!...I Did It Again - 2000

The red catsuit. The Titanic-inspired bridge. The choreography. "Oops!...I Did It Again" is one of Britney's most iconic songs, and one of the most memorable moments of the teen pop era. After playing with naughty school girl motifs for her first album, Britney plunged into full-on sex kitten for her sophomore effort. She confirmed what conservative parents feared about gerinfluence on their kids. "Oops!..." builds on the sound palette of "...Baby One More Time" but ramps up the pop and the drama. It was the perfect song to continue riding her wave of success. Of course, the ultimate expression of the song came during Britney's momentous 2000's MTV VMA performance. For that reason alone, "Oops!" is essential. 

03. Gimme More - 2003

It's Britney, bitch. Everything about "Gimme More" is the perfect snapshot of Britney Spears at this time. Quite frankly, Britney gave zero fucks during the Blackout era. She knew she was consistent tabloid fodder, and she didn't care. She was a proud mom on a stripper pole, and she didn't care. Even with her entire existence in constant scrutiny, Britney once again turned to music as her release. Blackout is essentially a lineup of up-and-coming producers and writers featuring Britney Spears. Still, she is key to every song's impact. "Gimme More"'s stripper-inspired video is perfect for the seedy, grimy sound while Britney's dark hair casts her as possessed by her own debauchery. Like her best singles, this was Britney pushing her sound forward. Even now, "Gimme More" sounds contemporary and timeless. 

02. I'm a Slave 4 U - 2001

If "Oops!" was the arrival of Britney the sex kitten, "I'm a Slave 4 U" was the arrival of Britney the sex tigress. Max Martin and his teen pop gloss are all over Britney's first two records. For her third album, Britney needed to evolve in order to stay relevant and continue her ascent towards the throne. To accomplish her mission, Britney worked with an emerging producer named Pharrell Williams to inject a deep, hip-hop-flavored sound to contrast against her breathy delivery. The result is the first overtly sexual song in Britney's catalogue, one that set a precedence for fan favorites like "Breathe On Me" and "Touch of My Hand." "I'm a Slave 4 U" was a bold move at the time; it was completely unlike anything on the radio at the time, and unlike anything Britney had done before it. In other words, it's one of her finest moments as an artist. 

01. ...Baby One More Time - 1999

There really isn't another choice for Britney's best lead single. "...Baby One More Time" is the teen pop song of the era. Anthemic in all the right ways, "...Baby One More Time" introduced us to Britney not with a handshake, but a hip thrust. It's meticulously constructed to lodge itself in your brain immediately. The moment those nostalgic piano notes hit, you're taken back to that golden age of pop music. "...Baby" has just the right amount of sweetness to sound natural from a 16 year-old singer, but enough sensuality to make it appealing to adults. Vocally, Britney was in top form; she's assertive, soulful, and terrifically taps into the yearning nature of the lyrics. "...Baby"'s blueprint is somewhat minimal, but the climaxes are perfectly placed. For example, the recall of the bridge over the final chorus makes the song blast off until it explodes into a thousand stars. "...Baby" is Britney's signature song, and one of the best pop songs in existence. 

Listen to all of Britney's lead singles in chronological order below via Spotify. 

Shura channels 80s high school crushes in "What's It Gonna Be?" video

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After a string of singles, English artist Shura will release her debut album Nothing's Real on July 8th. Her new song "What's It Gonna Be?" is spritely, summer-soaked pop with twinkling 80s synths and an undeniable chorus.

For the song's video, Shura and her friend pursue their crushes in various high school settings, with a pretty damn adorable twist.  

Watch below. Pre-order Nothing's Real on iTunes, or Shura's web store. 

 

Nao's brand of electriconic soul stars in "Fool to Love" video

Nao

Nao

After releasing the acclaimed February 15 EP and the undeniably sensual "Bad Blood", London act Nao eyes her full-length debut. Preceding the set is "Fool to Love" a stuttering and thrilling blend of deep beats and R&B. Think Brandy meets Lorde but Nao truly carves out her own space with her one of a kind voice. 

Of the concept, Nao says: 

image.jpg

Watch the "Fool To Love" video below. Catch Nao at a venue near you.  

Ariana Grande brings out the big guns for Max Martin-produced "Into You"

Since announcing her third album, Ariana Grande hasn't been able to contain her millennialness. She can't resist teasing bits of her new music to an audience who hangs on her every tweet. That's why sometimes, it feels like we've been waiting years for her new album Dangerous Woman to be released.

In two weeks, we'll have it in our hands. In addition to the first single/title track, Ariana previewed the album with the breezy, summer vibed "Be Alright" and the Lil' Wayne-assisted, sparse and sensual "Let Me Love You." If those songs didn't convince you, the newest released track "Into You" will drag you bopping and screaming.

This four minute monster takes you for a ride. A smokey dancefloor with strobes invites you in, as Ariana coos Britney Spears-"Breathe On Me"-style over a thick beat. More bumps roll in as Ariana glides over angelic harmonies. Suddenly a ridiculously perfect chorus cuts through with the line "a little less conversation and a little more touch my body" that will surely be the tagline of every other dude on Grindr. Praise be to Max Martin who brought that melodic Swedish mastery that's most evident in the bridge, where Ariana channels the underrated, pulsating Christina Aguilera single "Your Body"  that erupts with a finale of targeted ad-libs and triumph. 

Listen below

Carly Rae Jepsen releasing E•MO•TION: Remixed + 2 new songs

Ready for more E•MO•TION? Carly Rae Jepsen will release a collection of remixes on March 18th, featuring the singles from the album. The best part? The tracklist features two brand new songs, "First Time" and "FEVER." No word on who Carly worked with on the new tracks. See the full tracklist below. 

01. First Time
02. FEVER
03. Run Away With Me (Velvet Sunrise remix)
04. Run Away With Me (Y2K Remix)
05. Your type (Schuyler Spence Remix)
06. Your type (Young Bomuzu Remix)
07. Ai Really Like You (Blaster Jacks Remix)
08. Ai Really Like You (M. Rod Remix)
09. Ai Really Like You (Bleachers Remix)
10. All That (The Knocks Remix)

Gwen Stefani to release 3rd solo LP This Is What The Truth Feels Like on March 18th

Target version of album cover

Target version of album cover

Gwen Stefani has been on the verge of releasing her third solo album for almost two years. She released "Baby Don't Lie" in October 2014 to a tepid reception. She followed it up with "Spark The Fire", a Pharrell-produced dance track that made for a solid Mastercard commercial soundtrack, but failed to nab Gwen the radio hit she needed to jumpstart things.

In 2015, Gwen started from scratch. After finding herself in the middle of a divorce, heartbreak spurred the creative drive she needed to finish her album. The first song born of this new perspective was "Used to Love You", a surprise radio hit and a remarkably honest song in the vein of emotional No Doubt classics like "Don't Speak" and "Simple Kind of Life." Now, Gwen is finally ready to release an LP. Titled This Is What The Truth Feels Like, the 12 song set arrives on March 18th, with a Target exclusive version containing four additional songs. Neither "Baby Don't Lie" or "Spark The Fire" made the cut. 

Tracklist
1. Misery
2. You’re My Favorite
3. Where Would I Be
4. Make Me Like You
5. Truth
6. Used To Love You
7. Send Me A Picture
8. Red Flag
9. Asking For It
10. Naughty
11. Me Without You
12. Rare
13. Rocket Ship (Target Exclusive)
14. Getting Warmer (Target Exclusive)
15. Obsessed (Target Exclusive)
16. Splash (Target Exclusive)

SiftThru's Top 25 Albums of 2015

Compiling this list made me realize how truly great 2015 was for music. While reading other outlets' lists, I was excited to see such a wide array of genres being represented. 

My own taste leans heavily towards pop, and boy was it a year for the genre. Because the heavy hitters remained quiet or focused on other ventures, lesser-known artists were able to shine. However, 2016 already promises new albums from the likes of Lady Gaga, Robyn, Britney Spears, and maybe even Rihanna. 

Until then, these are the 25 albums I believe best represent my 2015. Plenty of great records didn't make the list, and some might have made it had I not discovered them so late (Cam's Untamed is one that stands out). They're soundtracks for the highs and lows, and I hope my write-up inspires to listen to anything you haven't heard yet. A playlist of the key tracks from each album, minus any record not available on Spotify, is below. 

25. Adele - 25: The biggest selling album of 2015, and it was released at the end of November. Nobody in the music industry has the power of Adele, but it’d do everybody good to step back from the numbers and really listen to 25 itself. While it has its fair share of predictable, signature Adele ballads, there are some interesting moments that justify her hype. The sweeping darkness of “I Miss You” reminds us why we care about Adele; underneath that voice is an artist capable of capturing emotion in ways few vocalists can. There aren’t any songs with the same bite of some of her previous singles, but she manages to craft a calming yet familiar record that sits nicely in her canon. Key Tracks: Hello, Water Under The Bridge, I Miss You

24. Christine and The Queens - Christine and The Queens: A gender queer French pop star whose stage name comes from her love of drag queens - what more do you need to know? Much like she does with her appearance, Christine bends her brand of pop in a thousand different directions, making for a compelling, cool listen. Key Tracks: iT, Titled, Jonathan (Ft. Perfume Genius).

23. Ryn Weaver - The Fool: Ryn Weaver hatched out of nowhere with her mammoth song “OctaHate.” The Fool is the album that followed, featuring laser precise production permeating each song, but also a carefree vibe in line with Ryn’s own free-spiritedness. Key Tracks: OctaHate, Pierre, The Fool

22. Tove Styrke - Kiddo: This Tove has a little more bite than the more widely-known Tove Lo, but Tove Styrke is just as ferocious and sure of her pop sensibilities. A record that sounds exuberantly youthful with an infectious confidence, Kiddo’s melodies sink into your brain until you find yourself humming bits of every song. Key Tracks: Ego, Borderline, Number One

21. Torres - Sprinter: The venom Torres spews on “Strange Hellos”, the lead song from her second album, is unsettling in the best way. The disgust she sings with as the crunching guitars roar louder and louder until the song’s explosive climax mirrors a bold record that makes you wonder what sounds she’ll dance with next. Uncomfortable honesty anchors every song, creating a confessional album not often found in today’s musical climate. Key Tracks: Strange Hellos, Cowboy Guilt, Sprinter.

20. Laura Marling - Short Movie: On her fifth album, Laura Marling plugs in not only her guitar to bring an electric undercurrent to her stream-of-conscious songwriting, but she also gives more of herself than she ever has. Born out of disillusionment with her life and career, Short Movie revels in frustration and empowerment. Key Tracks: False Hope, Short Movie, Warrior (Director’s Cut)

19. Patty Griffin - Servant of Love: Heartbreak yields devastation in many forms. For Patty Griffin, she forces us to consider the idea of a perfect love and how it’s not only unattainable, but perhaps even self-destructive. Sparse arrangements create an intimacy that’s almost painful to listen to, but nobody captures emotion like Patty Griffin. Key Tracks: Servant of Love, Everything’s Changed, Rider of Days

18. Vanessa Carlton - Liberman: If you haven’t invested in the reincarnation of Vanessa Carlton, let Liberman be your jumping in point. Not that there’s anything wrong with Vanessa’s earlier work, but she’s evolved in every way. Her lyrics have never been more beautiful or introspective, her voice as fragile or assured, and her atmospheres more thick. Liberman is nostalgic, wise, and haunting. Key Tracks: Take It Easy, Willow, Nothing Where Something Used To Be.

17. Susanne Sundfør - Ten Love Songs: Ten Love Songs proves why we still need albums. This is a collection of songs that make so much sense when digested as a whole. While Susanne can certainly execute one-off singles, hearing the songs blend into each other, all orbiting the album’s 10 minute centerpiece "Memorial", locks everything in place. Key Tracks: Fade Away, Accelerate, Delirious

16. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love: The return of Sleater-Kinney cemented the trio as one of our most important, accomplished bands. There’s no re-branding, no change in sound; in fact, this may be the best they’ve ever sounded. Politics and societal stumbling blocks act as the context in which they navigate their unmistakable brand of feminism and punk. If this were their final album, it’d be the highest note of their career. Hopefully, there’s more to come. Key Tracks: Price Tag, Bury Your Friends, No Cities to Love

15. Janet Jackson - Unbreakable: When a legend delivers her best album since 2001, it’s cause for celebration. The creative rut that Janet Jackson found herself for almost a decade made some think we’d never hear another record with the same creative passion and R&B masterfulness we expect from her. For Unbreakable, Janet drew inspiration from the world’s instability to bring introspection and wisdom to her most cohesive effort in years. No more breathy-coos, no unnecessary hypersexuality - just pure R&B with Janet reminding us why she’s always been the best Jackson. Key Tracks: Unbreakable, Shoulda Known Better, No Sleeep

14. Jewel - Picking Up The Pieces: Jewel simply doesn’t get credit for her incredible pipes. It’s easy to write her off based on her hits, but this is an unhinged record full of some of her absolute best songwriting and vocals. Most of these songs predate her debut and have been fan favorites for decades. Finally, songs like “Carnivore” and “Boy Needs a Bike” have a home on what’s easily Jewel’s best album since 2001. Key Tracks: Carnivore, Here When Gone

13. Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool: This British upstart is already a Mercury Prize-nominated band, and this is their first record. Wolf Alice jump through genres with ease, navigating a punk song like “Fluffy” and a poppy kiss-off like “Freazy” like veterans. Having a British band that’s not a pack of lads and instead has a badass female frontwoman like Ellie Rowsell also adds to the magic of Wolf Alice. Key Tracks: Bros, You’re a Germ, Freazy

12. Lianne La Havas - Blood: Rarely does a sophomore album eclipse its acclaimed predecessor, but Lianne La Havas’ Blood sounds like an artist finding the perfect groove. Lianne’s vocals are unquestionably powerful, soulful, and controlled. Its her main instrument, in addition to intricate guitar work that sets cascading moods like the late night chill of "Tokyo" or the swirling "Unstoppable." A lesser-known treasure who will only keep growing. Key Tracks: Green & Gold, What You Don’t Do, Midnight

11. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell: Many of us feel as if we’ve grown with Sufjan Stevens. He’s soundtracked our awkward high school years, college confusion, and the stumbling we do into adulthood. On an album dedicated to his late mother and stepfather, Sufjan sings about mortality and death in ways that capture the complexity of life. Instantly his most intimate and personal set of songs, the sparse arrangements of eloquently plucked guitar, gorgeous harmonies, and subtle electronic flourishes makes the gut-wrenching subject matter a little easier to digest. Key Tracks: Death With Dignity, Should Have Known Better, The Only Thing.

10. Lana Del Rey - Honeymoon: At this point, there shouldn’t be many surprises when you listen to a Lana Del Rey record. It’s easy to trace her evolution from her self-released debut to Honeymoon, the record where she fine-tunes her aesthetic and brings us deeper into her world than ever before. Those longing for Born To Die-style hooks and accessibility will have to keep longing, but Honeymoon features an artist gracefully settling into a world that’s completely her own. Key Tracks: Music To Watch Boys To, Terrence Loves You, High By The Beach

09. Joanna Newsom - Divers: One of our greatest living composers once again challenges us to think beyond traditional structures and immerse ourselves in her songs. Calling Divers Joanna Newsom’s most accessible album speaks less of the album’s actual sound, and more to a meticulously constructed, musical vision. The nautical themes that permeate throughout the record, as well as some of her most gorgeous vocal work to date, places Divers comfortably alongside the other epics of her catalogue. Key Tracks: Sapokanikan, Anecdotes, Divers

08. CHVRCHES - Every Open Eye: Being a critically acclaimed band with a critically acclaimed debut layers the pressure on thick to release a quality follow-up. Thankfully, CHVRCHES took everything we love about them and added a healthy pop glow. Everything sounds more jubilant; take “Clearest Blue” for example. It’s a rush of a song that builds higher and higher, until an instrumental climax explodes. It’s a moment made for huge festival crowds, unifying dancefloors across the globe. Lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry shows dramatic improvement, singing with a confidence that lends itself well to kiss-offs like “Leave a Trace” and “Empty Threat.” Every Open Eye sounds like a band making the music they're meant to make. Key Tracks: Clearest Blue, Empty Threat, Leave a Trace

07. Miley Cyrus - Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz: Miley Cyrus’ current hippie incarnation is polarizing, to say the least.  Most listeners probably didn’t bother with the free album she did with The Flaming Lips, due to her persona eclipsing her actual music talent. Those who braved it uncovered one of the most fascinating evolutions of a pop star in recent memory. While “Dead Petz” is an affectionate name for the Flaming Lips, who provide the backing for each song, it’s actually a literal reference to the album’s subject matter; the loss of various animals she shared a bond with, including a dog, a blowfish, and a friend’s cat. A few albums on this list cover loss in its various forms; Sufjan losing his parents, Patty Griffin losing love, Adele losing her youth. But losing a pet? That might be one of the most profound losses one can experience. A love so pure as the one shared between pet and owner, untainted by the complications that accompany love in its human forms, is particularly devastating when lost. Miley not only wrote every song, she also produced the 23 song set. It may be a detour of sorts, but it’s a bold release by anyone’s standards, not just Miley Cyrus’. Key Tracks: Karen Don’t Be Sad, Lighter, BB Talk

06. Florence + The Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful: The power of Florence Welch’s voice is unmatched. Nobody sings with the same drama and power, especially within the rock music realm. After two albums that sound like the fury of the storm, it’s arresting and satisfying to hear Florence grip her voice with white-knuckled control. The songs are still big, but the moments of fragility, like “Long & Lost” and “St Jude”, are softer side of Florence + The Machine that’s been missing from their sound. Key Tracks: Ship to Wreck, Queen of Peace, St Jude

05. Ashley Monroe - The Blade: It’s a tough call between Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves releasing the year’s best country album. Ashley came so close, and still has one of the most critically acclaimed records of the year in any genre. Like all country greats, Ashley Monroe knows how to tell a story; the sincerity with which she sings makes you believe her every word. Plus, when you can make a ballad like “The Blade” have a catchy chorus, you know you’ve done something right. While she may not be lighting the charts on fire, The Blade is a classic-sounding record by a young yet wise artist that's worth everybody's attention. Key Tracks: On To Something Good, Bombshell, The Blade

04. Kacey Musgraves - Pageant Material: Kacey Musgraves is at the forefront of artists guiding fallen country fans back to the fold. Gone are the usual cliches found on top 40 country radio, and back are the stories that we grew up with. On her sophomore album Pageant Material, Kacey further defines who she is as an artist. There’s a bit more twang compared to her flawless debut, Same Trailer Different Park, but in a delightful way. “Biscuits” features the lyric “Pissing in my yard won’t make yours any greener.” It’s tongue-in-cheek, yet earnest, which sums up Kacey’s ability to use her wit to write evocative, empathetic songs. She’s already pushed country out of its comfort zone by singing about same sex love, drugs, and other taboos. Pageant Material is another trip to Kacey’s world of small towns, nosey families, and free spiritedness. Key Tracks: Dime Store Cowgirl, Late To The Party, Biscuits

03. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit: Being 27 is weird. You’re young, but have a lot of life to live. You’re wise, but feel as if you know nothing. On her debut album, Courtney Barnett captures that confusion with songs that make the mundane sound profound, and the profound sound mundane. It’s as if she could have an A-ha! moment doing something as trivial as taking out the trash. Courtney’s genius is that she can sing lyrics like this back-to-back: “You said we should look out further, I guess it wouldn't hurt us / We don't have to be around all these coffee shops.” She means exactly what she says, but sings like she has all of the answers.  Musically, Courtney’s Australian drawl and plane engine guitars are the backdrop for songs that could be born in a few different decades. For example, there’s a distinctly 90s, early Sheryl Crow-vibe on the opening song “Elevator Operator.” It’ll be hard to top a debut like this, and maybe she won’t...but she probably will. Key Tracks: Elevator Operator, Pedestrian at Best, Depreston.

02. Grimes - Art Angels: Art Angels is a video game soundtrack. It’s a collection of Anime theme songs. It’s fearless pop odyssey from an incredible composer. Since she started releasing music, Claire Boucher has championed pure pop in its many incarnations. She’s an out and proud Mariah Carey fan, constantly posts links to pop videos on her Tumblr, and of course draws influence for her own music. Therefore, to hear an entire album of bombastic production and instant melodies doesn’t feel like a shock; the shocking part is that it’s 100% Claire. Not that anybody should be shocked by her ability to write, perform, and produce her entire album own her own - she’s been doing it since the beginning. More so, Art Angels could go head-to-head with some of the best pop albums created by huge teams of people. For instance, lead single “Flesh without Blood” has monstrous hooks that some of the best pop producers could only dream of crafting. Same “Kill V Maim”, a modern take on the hybrid pop/rock/grunge sound Garbage pioneered. Grimes even enlists music visionary Janelle Monae to add extra flare to the thundering “Venus Fly.” For anybody put off by Grimes’ shift to a more effervescent sound, they can listen to “California”, or as she calls it “a hate track for Pitchfork." With a deceptively sweet melody and the closest thing Grimes has come to country, “California” is a confessional, intensely personal track in which she acknowledges being effected by critics, but making peace with not being able to please them. As music listeners and lovers, we should all be pleased with a record so unapologetic, adventurous, and magical as Art Angels. Key Tracks: California, Flesh without Blood, Kill V Maim

01. Carly Rae Jepsen - E•MO•TION: While pop music technically refers to music that’s popular, the definition and descriptors morph with each decade. The vibrant yet melancholy sound of the 80s, pioneered by acts like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, and our beloved David Bowie, remains a trusty template for an artist to combine accessibility and songwriting. That’s why it’s a perfect fit for somebody like Carly Rae Jepsen, an artist who gravitates toward tight lyrical structures that support the high levels of sweetness in her music. For those not listening closely, Carly Rae Jepsen songs might sound just as brainless and aimless like 99% of what top 40 radio plays. The genius of Jepsen is in her simplicity; countless couplets on E•MO•TION pack punches of all sorts, ranging from confessions of teenage-style longing to self-empowerment anthems. Take “Warm Blood”, one of the album’s most sonically striking songs. It’s about unapologetically wanting somebody, and Carly Rae captures that fearless feeling so nicely: “I saw myself tonight / Caught my reflection in the mirror / My hands and heart were tied / But I was scared of almost nothing at all.” If you listened to any of Carly Rae’s last album Kiss beyond its singles, E•MO•TION wouldn’t sound that out of nowhere. But for the majority of fans and especially critics, it’s emerged as not only the best pop album of the year by quantifiable measures, but it also rebrands and relaunches an artist completely connected to her craft. With a total of 17 new songs connected to this era, the consistent quality and countless hooks are a bit awe-inspiring. Not to mention, the spectrum of sound Jepsen covers makes for an engaging experience that delights and thrills from start to finish. E•MO•TION is less sugary than Kiss, which allows its songs to breathe and mutate within their short durations. E•MO•TION is also an example of an album divorced of persona and hype. Carly Rae doesn’t have a squad. There isn’t an (official) rabid fan base with weird nicknames, or TMZ articles detailing her wild nights out. If she has any of these, they’re not the biggest part of her, nor does she allow them to eclipse her music. This allows E•MO•TION to stand firmly as a meticulously crafted set that doubles as a celebration of an entire genre of music, and an incredibly gifted artist. Key Tracks: Run Away With Me, Warm Blood, When I Needed You