#1: Colleen Green – “I Want to Grow Up”

In the process of wordbombing the internet with solipsistic rants about how much the album SPOKE TO ME, I don’t think I did justice to how good I Want to Grow Up is as just a simple rock album. Now armed with a full band (at least in studio), Colleen Green really rocks on I Want to Grow Up, which has big 90s-inspired riffs and songs that are impossible to get unstuck from your head.

In a way, the fact that it’s so fun to listen to might have hurt I Want to Grow Up in terms of being perceived as Serious Art. When an artist plays quiet folk music, gently strumming their guitar and singing dramatically, it is automatically lent a certain authenticity and we credit them for baring their soul in the music. Green does this on I Want to Grow Up as well as anyone else, but it is sometimes overshadowed by the hooks, her deadpan delivery, and humor, which are all signals to not take this seriously.

But I Want to Grow Up is a truly great album that deserves serious recognition. What still stands out about it is Green’s fearlessness in communicating her fears and anxieties in such a blunt manner, and the way she taps into so many unspoken feelings shared by others. I lost count of how many times this album said something that I’d been thinking about forever, but hadn’t said out loud. Green nails every specific aspect of the minutiae of growing up and trying to overcome your own insecurities.

Even if I didn’t relate to it so hard, I Want to Grow Up would still be great because it’s such a focused album, with a clear progression in the songs. And most importantly, it is almost a complete portrayal of who Green is, from her darkest fears on “Deeper Than Love” to her blase sense of humor and conversation-holding anxieties on songs like “Pay Attention.” I love albums that really reflect the artist’s personality, and I Want to Grow Up did that better than any other I heard this year.

#2: Björk – “Vulnicura”

With her loyal fanbase, incredible natural ability, and established reputation as one of music’s innovators, it would have been easy for Björk to coast on her ninth album, Vulnicura. Instead, she released her most personal album yet, a heartbreaking and challenging work that is as far from traditional pop as she has ever gone. The result is an album that is classic Björk: it sounds alien, but is also deeply human.

Björk’s separation from longtime partner Matthew Barney sets the stage for Vulnicura, which has the most traditional concept of any recent Björk album. However, her execution remains singular. Bringing back the strings that defined 1997’s HomogenicVulnicura has a sweeping beauty that portrays her heartbreak in majestic tones, with the music becoming more dark and formless as the sadness increases. The chronological narrative gives Vulnicura a sense of momentum, and also adds to its “plunging into the depths of despair” feeling as the listener pretty much follows Björk during and after the separation.

Heartbreak is such a common, enduring theme in music, to the point that many artists sing about it because that’s just what musicians do. I always wonder if some of them have ever really had their heart broken. With Björk, there is no doubt: Vulnicura has too much intense personal energy in it and too many specific, brutal observations. This makes it one of the more difficult albums of the year, but also a vital listening experience that offers a deep, honest portrayal of the artist’s life while sounding like nothing else.

#3: Beach House – “Thank Your Lucky Stars”

There are many theories as to why Beach House released Thank Your Lucky Stars just a couple months after putting out their first album of 2015, Depression Cherry. Personally, I’ve started to think they did it just to make me feel insane. I’m not one to necessarily share consensus opinions ever, but I felt pretty alone in loving this album and in perceiving a wide gap in quality between it and its predecessors.

Worst of all, I still don’t have a satisfying explanation for why I like Thank Your Lucky Stars so much more than the rest of Beach House’s work, which drives me nuts as a writer and just as someone who likes to think about why I like the things I like. So I’m left trying to explain the unexplainable, that subjective aspect of music that makes it click for me, but maybe doesn’t impact other people the same way. If nothing else, the decision to release two albums in a year made for an interesting litmus test on taste and what we all value in the music we listen to.

My not-at-all-widely-shared perspective is that Thank Your Lucky Stars taps into something that other Beach House music doesn’t. While the band’s previous music was known for being warm and inviting, this album has a dusty chill that makes the songs feel more ambiguous. Thank Your Lucky Stars ends up feeling different while still absolutely sounding like Beach House due to some kind of musical butterfly effect: the band twiddles a couple knobs, changes some small details, and suddenly the end product feels entirely different.

These are pretty much the accepted differences in Thank Your Lucky Stars, and from there it’s a matter of subjectivity and taste. I think this vibe suits the band much more and feels a lot fresher than the played-out “warm and sunny” sound. Victoria Legrand’s vocals feel less processed and more natural, the lyrics are more interesting (especially the doomier passages like “Elegy to the Void”), and the band’s usual collection of guitars and organs actually sound better because of the different context.

Those are my basic attempts at explaining why I love this album, but I’ve accepted that part of what makes Thank Your Lucky Stars great is that it is so inscrutable and just makes me feel how I do at a gut level. It’s the album I always wanted Beach House to make, even if I’m not entirely sure why.