This list is my favorite part of this website, every year I toil through reviews and my iTunes and record collection to select my very favorite albums of the year and it is always a blast. Eight years running I’ve had a top 10 list and I wish I had them for the last 20, I’ll just build them one year at a time from here. Craig Finn wins out this year, this album was played so much this year for me it would be impossible to name anything else #1.
1.Craig Finn – We All Want The Same Things
Criag Finn has finished at #4 and #2 in my rankings with his previous two records, once again he moves up, this time to #1. From the beautifully done mostly spoken word song “God In Chicago” to the rocking “Tracking Shots” Finn is at his best here. On “Be Honest” he creates a new moniker for himself and writes a pretty damn good song as well. At times enthralling and at times confusing (see “It Hits When It Hits”) this album just doesn’t get old. Every song is a story and every story leaves much of it up to the listener to decipher, it’s simply a captivating album.
Key Track: “God In Chicago”
2. Will Johnson – Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm
Will Johnson used the dissolution of Centro-matic to expand the sound on his solo records. He uses some harsh electric guitar on songs like “Every Single Day of Late” but is still at his best using acoustic strums and his massive voice on songs like “Ruby Shameless” and “Predator.” Johnson has a way with words to draw you in and his vocal performances are always top notch, he always releases good albums but this one is his best solo record and among the best he has ever recorded.
Key Track: “Predator”
3. Deslondes – Hurry Home
The Deslondes are incredibly unique in their current niche. With multiple singer-songwriters in the band their sound is always fresh. It’s not just the vocal performances, it is also the style of the songs, sometimes old school folk/country and other time 50s bop or even drawing on the The Animals for 60s style pop, this group has an incredible range. The best songs here are the country tunes still, “(This Ain’t A) Sad Song” and “Muddy Water” being the cream of the crop.
Key Track: “(This Ain’t A) Sad Song”
4. Beck – Colors
What the hell is Beck doing making a dance pop album at his age? Once you let that question stop festering you can enjoy this album because it is actually very good. Beck has always had the tendencies to do these kinds of things but he went all in here and it paid off. This is best enjoyed as an album because when served as singles the songs can really be held out of context. This album shouldn’t be good… but it is. It is likely the most fun record of the year.
Key Track: “No Distraction”
5. Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
This was supposed to be my album of the year. It isn’t. It is still a great album though, my expectations were simply too high. It is great dance rock, “Feet Don’t Fail Me” and “The Way You Used To Do” simply rip. It is everything Queens of the Stone Age is supposed to be and time will probably reveal how important this record was to rock music. The best hard rock band in the game is still killing it and we should all be grateful for that, this one feels like it missed the mark of greatness but just barely.
Key Track: “Feet Don’t Fail Me”
6. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator
This album came out of nowhere for me, a complete album that really was a surprise. The sweet vocals and powerful songwriting are really impressive. The Dylanesque “Living In The City” and the great pop triumph of “Hungry Ghost” carry this record. “Rican Beach” is politically charged and “Pa’lante” is one of the more interesting songs here. There is a lot to digest on this record and that richness really pays off.
Key Track: “Living In The City”
7. Ashley Raines & The New West Revue – It Could Be Worse
The Midwest’s greatest kept secret released another great record this year. The most produced sounding record in Raines’ long catalog stands out. His songwriting is always top notch but on “It Could Be Worse” he brushes off the rust he normally wears with pride and works on the shine of the songs. Songs like “Better Days” and “Desperate Man” are all the better for it. On many songs like “Old Time Religion” you can still see the festering negativity shining through but it wouldn’t really seem like an Ashley Raines record without it.
Key Track: “Better Days”
8. Justin Townes Earle – Kids In The Street
Justin Townes Earle gets the “comeback album of the year” award. After a couple lackluster efforts that seemed a little aimless he got back to what made so many people be entranced by him in the first place. On songs like “What She’s Crying For” you can hear the same old JTE that wrote “The Good Life” so many years ago. With songs like “Champagne Corolla” he seamlessly makes old timey country-folk sound modern, this is how you can tell he is in the zone.
Key Track: “Champagne Corolla”
9. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
For Jason Isbell to receive praise at this point is redundant. Vocals On Top has touted him long before he was decorating his house with Grammys and it’s no surprise to see him cashing in on tons of year-end lists. “The Nashville Sound” is a very good album but far from his best. “If We Were Vampires” may be one of his best songs though, he also has some rock songs return to his palette with “Cumberland Gap” and “Hope The High Road” which are a very welcomed sound. There are a couple songs that don’t live up here but the album is still easily one of the best of the year.
Key Track: “If We Were Vampires”
10. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
Spoon are no strangers to putting out good records. “Hot Thoughts” is stacked with good songs but has a very different sound. The guitars are pushed back a bit for a more electronic sound but Spoon still pulls it off. The acoustic strums are gone but the powerful hooks that define the band are as strong as ever. “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” and “Hot Thoughts” are great, “Shotgun” is a riffy stunner but what the heck is with “Us” to end the album? It pulls the whole album down into the spiral it alone created.
Key Track: “Shotgun”
Every Year a few albums just barely miss the cut. This year those albums for Vocals On Top were Travis Meadows – First Cigarette, Langhorne Slim – Lost At Last Vol. 1, Liam Gallagher – As You Were, Toadies – Lower Side of Uptown, Mastodon – Emperor of Sand, Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett – Lotta Sea Lice, Tim Kasher – No Resolution
Here are my past lists:
Now it is time for former Hold Steady lead singer Craig Finn to take his turn on top with his phenominal “We All Want The Same Things.”
Thank you – Clint at VocalsOnTop (vocalsontop at gmail.com)