The Weather Station - Loyalty
Some of the best lyrics of the decade, sung by one of the best voices of the century.
The Cairo Gang - Goes Missing
Sturdy power pop with an undercurrent of desolation, like if Chris Bell had been born in the 70's.
Jamie xx - In Colour
Jamie xx takes his rightful place with Kieran Hebden, Axel Willner, Dan Snaith, Nick Zammuto and others in making electronic music that seems not only to remix but to fetishize the physical world.
Shana Cleveland and the Sandcastles - Oh Man, Cover The Ground
This album is a testament to constancy, showing how much musical material a talented songwriter can wring from inhabiting a single chordal world.
Joanna Newsom - Divers
Dense, generous, expansive, and able to be defined only in relation to herself. My favorite of her albums.
Jim O'Rourke - Simple Songs
O'Rourke is back with a casually awe-inspiring album that stacks up favorably against his other Drag City releases, all of which are brilliant in individual and self-contained ways that defy explanation.
Steve Hauschildt - Where All Is Fled
Perhaps the best ambient album of the year. Put it on and let it drift through your subconscious.
Olivia Chaney - The Longest River
More earnest and dexterous truthtelling from this English songwriter, following up on and in some cases reiterating the promise of her earlier releases.
Julia Holter - Have You In My Wilderness
What once might have struck me as artifice on previous albums has turned into something incredibly moving. Brilliantly austere and detached.
Joan Shelley - Over and Even
Beautiful, bucolic, and unadorned songwriting, singing and playing here from Shelley, with lovely and restrained accompaniment from Nathan Salsburg, one of America's best living acoustic guitarists.
Floating Points - Elaenia
Like Jamie xx, Floating Points is fusing genres to incredibly naturalistic effect here.
Wilder Maker - Everyday Crimes Against Objects of Desire, Vols 2 and 3
Gabe Birnbaum and his band redefine Americana as a genre, making it more expressive and subtle in the process. Volume 2 is as neat and tidy as Volume 3 is refracted and broken, reminding me of the transition Big Star made from #1 Record and Radio City into Third.
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
I know, I know--another token inclusion of Kendrick Lamar on a white boy's best of list--it is what it is. This album is remarkable and transcends genre, which is why I, as an extremely casual hip hop listener almost entirely unversed in the idiom, got sucked into Lamar's turbulent, conflicted narrative. The ambiguity and sense of dread is what gives this music its power over me.
Tigue - Peaks
This is a classically trained percussion trio that upends any expectations one might have about what a record by a classically trained percussion trio might sound like. Polyrhythms upon polyrhythms--so tasty.
Tame Impala - Currents
OK, so I've listened to this album to death and perhaps it doesn't sound quite so innovative to me as it once did. But it's still got some pretty great songs on it, and listen to those drums! Holy cow, how did he do that?
Aphex Twin - Computer Controlled Instruments PT2 EP
I've always loved when Richard D. James uses a palette of organic timbres rather than synthetic ones. This "EP" presents the best of both worlds--the ideas are executed with robotic precision precisely because they are not being played by humans, but they retain the humanity of physical instruments moving sound waves in real air.
Spencer Radcliffe - Looking In
I know literally nothing about this guy, and I haven't read up on him yet, but his album reminds me of the smell of friends' basements in high school. That's enough for me. The songs are impeccably constructed, too, which doesn't hurt.
Martin Crane - Physical Therapy
Martin is nothing if not omnivorous. As much as any other album this year, Physical Therapy is filled with ideas from unexpected places. Don't sleep on this one.
EDIT 12/7: Things I have neglected to list here just because I forgot: This Is The Kit, Zachary Cale, Rozi Plain, Natalie Prass, Meg Baird, Jesse Berlin, Yo La Tengo. There will be more, probably.