Making a best-of list at the end of every year is both a fun and frustrating endeavor. Fun because it’s my one last swing at promoting some of my favorite music, music many people may not even have heard of. Frustrating because I know there’s a lot I haven’t heard that could very well belong on my list. My wish lists are full of albums I just simply haven’t had the opportunity to buy yet; as it is, I already spend more money on music than I should. And what I buy at any given time relies simply on that moment’s whims.
So some things that may be just as deserving of a place on this list end up left off, and as someone with great passion for music, it does hurt me a little that I don’t have the opportunity to represent everything great, or even just good, because, like my wallet, year-end lists have limits. One thing I can say for sure, however, is that everything I have managed to include on this list I hold in the highest regard and hope you can take a chance to hear. They are the albums from which I derived the most enjoyment this year. It won’t be like what you see in the major publications. For the most part, these are releases that you probably haven’t heard, so this list is an opportunity to discover a lot of new music that you won’t be able to find on other lists. And that’s precisely why I keep doing this year after year. (P.S. These are only loosely in order.)
1. Mia Pharaoh by Miniature Tigers
Nothing has delighted me quite as thoroughly this year as Miniature Tigers’ third full-length album, Mia Pharaoh. The band’s pop sensibilities have always been strong but they’ve taken a significantly synthy turn on their latest, with sexually suggestive overtones in the lyrics (“Flower Door”) and special appearances by some slow jam beats (“Cleopatra”). Jeremy Malvin, aka Chrome Sparks, contributed some of his expertise on this album, which turns out to be a very smart pairing with Charlie Brand’s style of musical preciousness.
2. Blonde Album by Lightning Love
After a few years of waiting, we finally got our wish of a sophomore release from Michigan’s golden-tressed trio and, boy, did they ever deliver. It’s always seemed like bandleader Leah Diehl can do no wrong in her music; every song she creates is just as perfect as can be, with melodies that are impossible not to sing along with and lyrics that are as self-aware as they are sassy. There’s much pain and much surrender in Diehl’s words, and whether she pairs them with punchy beats (“Awkward”) or sparse minor chords (“I’ll Never Love No One Else”), they resonate on a level so deep, you’ll think you’re feeling it all yourself.