10. The Wild Hunt || The Tallest Man on Earth
I didn’t get into The Tallest Man on Earth until this record, and it was some introduction. The Wild Hunt finds Kristian Matsson’s songwriting at its most refined, with every song’s intricate, finger-picked melodies designed to stay in your head for weeks at a time. He even switches up his style for a few songs, and jams out his epic ballad “Kids on the Run” on piano to end the record.
9. Epic || Sharon Van Etten
Epic is the perfect post-breakup, down-on-your-mind album. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful and has an air of Cranberries-esque ’90s angst. The song “Love More”, with it’s simple instrumentation and raw vocals, is exactly what the album title describes– Epic.
8. Perch Patchwork || Maps and Atlases
Maps and Atlases uses a variety of instruments on this album to create a fun, dancy, yet decidedly folk album. The guitar riffs are catchy and each song varies from the others. “Pigeon” even has a tropical vibe.
7. Deadmalls and Nightfalls || Frontier Ruckus
Frontier Ruckus’ talent for banjo solos and genius lyrics shine in their second full-length album. In each song, Matthew Milia weaves his beautiful, emotion-strung lyrics in between strummed acoustic guitar, brass riffs, and plucked banjo. This album captures the essence of the Midwest.
6. Heretofore || Megafaun
Heretofore was released as a “mini-album” this fall, and while this describes its runtime, the content is certainly on par with every full-length on this list. Megafaun comes through once again with their unique take on southern folk — building sonic layers of noise and other experimental sounds on top of banjo-based jams. “Carolina Days”, despite its deceptive title, reflects the band’s use of mostly electric instruments live and proves that deep down, the Megafaun boys are just good old southern rockers.
5. Kairos || White Hinterland
Casey Dienel’s voice in-and-of-itself is a beautiful, haunting album. Add in the balance of bass-heavy samples and simple drumbeats to build excitement and you have an entrancing album. The often simple lyrics in her songs take on layers of meaning with her ethereal vocals.
4. Inter-Be || Peter Wolf Crier
When Peter Pisano called on Brian Moen to help flesh out his songs for Pisano’s solo album, a beautiful thing happened and the band Peter Wolf Crier was born. Pisano and Moen fed off of each other’s artistic vision and recorded their debut album, Inter-Be. Their incorporation of vintage amps and instruments give this album a retro feel. This album sounds complete, and much bigger than the creation of just two guys from the Midwest.
3. Mare || Julian Lynch
I marveled over the intricacy and brilliance of Mare for days on end when I first got my hands on a copy. This album finds Julian furthering his sonic experimenting, recording a plethora of instruments on his own 8-track in his Madison apartment. The tracks span the variety seen in his back catalog, an assortment of instrumental jams and Julian’s barely discernible vocals over tracks which could be described as anything from folk to world to progressive. Coming off as slightly more listenable than some of his earlier fans, Mare is a great introduction to Julian Lynch.
2. Causers of This || Toro Y Moi
I’m generally not a fan of “dancy” “electronic” music, but Toro Y Moi’s first LP changed all that. Chaz Bundick uses his samples in a style that blends pop, funk, hip-hop and rock and creates an atmosphere of blissful yet aware songs. The result is amazing, a joy to listen to cursorily or intimately. Causers of This is another album that turned me on to one of my new favorite artists.
1. Relayted || GAYNGS
The first time I heard of this album, a friend described it as a the perfect soundtrack to get “inebriated and have intercourse to.” Consider its debut on 4/20 and that the whole album is set to 69 beats per minute, then throw in the best of the best in the Eau Claire/MPLS music scene and you have the recipe for this year’s most infamous and original half-ironic album of the year. GAYNGS is composed of members of Bon Iver, Megafaun, Solid Gold, Doomtree and The Rosebuds. It’s an album that should only be listened to in it’s entirety as the tracks are meant to flow one into another.