As D'Angelo just taught us with the surprise release of his astoundingly great LP Black Messiah, the year in music ain't over until it's over. For all we know, Madonna, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Adele are going to drop surprise albums sometime before the ball drops. (They probably won't.) But back in those pre-Black Messiah days of last week we asked our readers to vote for their favorite albums of the year. Here are the results.
Four years after the release of their bluesy LP Mojo, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers returned this year with a more traditional rock album. "I knew I wanted to do a rock & roll record," Petty told Rolling Stone earlier in the year. "We hadn't made a straight hard-rockin' record, from beginning to end, in a long time." Hypnotic Eye was recorded, off and on, during the previous three years. "You must get the songs," Petty said. "It takes time to write 10 or 11 really good songs." He finally felt it was ready for release this summer, and the band hit the road this summer where they mixed in killer new cuts like "American Dream Plan B" and "Fault Lines" with the classics.
The Black Keys' decision to start making records with Danger Mouse back in 2011 was extremely wise. The producer helped the blues rock duo become extremely unlikely arena rock stars, infusing their music with soul, funk and psychedelic sounds that somehow makes for a radio friendly sound. Turn Blue is their fourth collaboration, and "Fever" and "Turn Blue" were added to their growing list of hits. Just don't like for the album on Spotify. They're part of a growing movement against the streaming service.
Leonard Cohen's amazing comeback that began with his 2008 tour and his 2012 disc Old Ideas continued this year with Popular Problems, his 13th LP since emerging on the scene back in 1967. The disc is produced by Patrick Leonard, best known for his work with Madonna in the 1980s. "We were both, I think, quite compassionately savage about our vision," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "If something's obscure or just on the wrong side of accessible, then Pat will mention that and I'll happily redirect." Check out the songs "Almost Like the Blues" and "Nevermind." They are some of the greatest songs ever produced by an octogenarian.
Philadelphia indie rock band War on Drugs has been around for nearly a decade, but it wasn't until this year that they finally broke through to a mainstream audience. That's entirely due to Lost in the Dream, their third album which sounds like a great lost 1980s album by Lindsey Buckingham. "I wanted to write songs people could connect with on another level," War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel told Rolling Stone. "Instead of just the sonic landscape stuff of earlier albums, I wanted them to hear songs that they heard a part of themselves in or felt was a natural progression."
What does he have planned next ? "I’d really love to make a record like [Neil Young's] Tonight’s the Night," he says. "Find a sweet old house, put [in] some pinballs and pool tables, party all day, and then at night, record from 11 to 4. It should be fun to do this."
The last time Beck released a new album, George W. Bush was president and Lehman Brothers was still standing, so people were more than ready to embrace his new LP Morning Phase this year. All 12 songs on the disc take place in the early hours of a new day. "There's this feeling of tumult and uncertainty, getting through that long, dark night of the soul – whatever you want to call it," he told Rolling Stone. "These songs were about coming out of that – how things do get better."
The roots of the album go all the way back to 2005, when Beck went to Nashville to begin a new record. "I recorded a bunch of things real quick," he said. "Then I thought, 'I need to come back and try this again.'" It took a little longer than he planned, but it was well worth the wait.
Just about the last thing anybody expected this year was a new Pink Floyd record. It had been 20 years since they quietly ended the band after touring in support of The Division Bell, and the death of keyboardist Richard Wright in 2008 seemed to end any chance of further activity. But as the 20th anniversary of The Division Bell approached, the group began rooting through the many hours of outtakes from the disc. They realized they left a lot of astounding material in the vault, and it would be a proper tribute to Wright to resurrect the material.
"Roger [Waters] and I always made so much noise on the records and in the press that Rick tends to get slightly forgotten," Gilmour told Rolling Stone. "But he was just as vital as anyone else in this thing. He created a whole sonic landscape in all the things we do. That is something you cannot reproduce anywhere else.”
To complete The Endless River, the group lifted Wright's keyboard parts from the 1994 sessions and overdubbed new guitar and bass on top of it, adding vocals only to "Louder Than Words," the final song on the album. Gilmour says it marks the end of the band. "I'm really enjoying my life and my music," he says. "There's no room for Pink Floyd. The thought of doing any more causes me to break out in a cold sweat.”
Jack White spent about 18 months recording Lazaretto, his second solo disc. He started while on tour in 2012. "I wanted to catch stuff while we were still on tour, while we were still electric," he told Rolling Stone. "‘We're a band right now, let's record right now.' I didn't wanna come back and reintroduce ourselves to each other."
Many of the songs were inspired by a group of short stories he wrote when he was 19. "That was a way of stimulating me," he says. "What if I talk to my younger self and work together with him? What if you write songs with your younger self's ideas?"
The result is a killer collection of songs, reminiscent of some of his best work in the White Stripes and The Raconteurs. "I really love the guitar sounds and the solos that happened on this record," White says. "I was looking at songwriting in a different way. With this record, I got to new places. I never played in drop-D tuning before, for one thing, and the solos were recorded live, in the room, at the time, the first thought out of my head."
For her third album, Lana Del Rey assembled an incredible team of producers including Dan Auerbach, Paul Epworth and Greg Kurstin. They put together a disc that instantly shut up all the haters and guaranteed that her legacy won't be a botched Saturday Night Live appearance.
The album had a difficult birth. "There was a lot of bullshit I'm not used to," Auerbach told Rolling Stone. "The label says, 'We're not going to give you the budget to extend this session unless we hear something.' And we send them the rough mix and they fucking hate it and they hate the way it's mixed. And it's like, 'Thanks, asshole.'"
Thankfully, the label eventually heard the brilliance in Ultraviolence. "Every criticism that I'd ever heard about her was proven wrong when I was in the studio with her," Auerbach says. "From how great the songs were to how confident she is as a musician to her fucking singing every song live, with a handheld microphone and a seven-piece band. I mean, get the fuck out of here, who does that? Nobody does that, there hasn't been a number one pop record that was recorded like that in 40, 50 years."
U2 went through four years and five producers until they had 11 songs they deemed worthy of release. "We had great fun getting lost in the creative process," Bono told Rolling Stone. "The thing that propelled us to reach deeper and aim higher was a new appreciation of the craft of songwriting. . .We found ourselves bored with material that just felt good or unique."
In order to find the energy and passion that fueled him to become a singer in the first place, Bono began writing a series of tunes about his turbulent teenage years in Ireland. "I went back and started listening to all the music that made us start a rock band," he said. "It gave us a reason to exist again. That’s how this album started."
The tracks on Songs of Innocence deal with the death of Bono's mother, falling in love with his future wife Ali and first hearing the Ramones. They're more stripped down than the material on U2's last few albums. "We wanted the album to have songs that would stand up when played on acoustic guitars or piano," Bono said, "not relying on Edge, Adam and Larry’s atmospheres or dynamic playing."
About a year after creating a documentary about legendary Los Angeles studio Sound City, Dave Grohl decided to broaden the project considerably. Picking eight studios in cities across America, Grohl and the rest of the Foo Fighters traveled the country and cut one song in each place. Along the way, he interviewed rock stars from each city and shot the acclaimed HBO series Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways.
It was an extremely ambitious project, featuring guest appearances from Joe Walsh, Zac Brown, Ben Gibbard and many others, but it all flowed together quite nicely. It was also a very clever cross-promotional effort since the album fueled interest in the TV series, and vice versa. The Foo Fighters promoted each episode with a club show, but this summer they're hitting the road for a massive stadium tour. Back in 1993, who would have guessed the drummer in Nirvana would be in this position?