Whether we’re hearing music for the first time in films, listening to the hottest singles while we write, or digesting complete albums at time, we at AE are music lovers with a penchant for variety, experimentation, and original sounds in a wide range of genres. We’ve spent hours out of year consuming music, and the following are the best albums we heard this year. So give each of these albums a listen, and let us know what albums you loved this year.

Josh Rosenfield | Carly Rae Jepsen – EMOTION

Jepsen Emotion

604/School Boy/Interscope/Universal

Though EMOTION‘s first single “I Really Like You” didn’t show it, Carly Rae Jepsen’s sophomore effort is a major evolution for the pop artist. The popping and pulsating ’80s synths on “Your Type” and “LA Hallucinations” reframe the familiar lyrics as something halfway between retro and futuristic. The recent album which it most resembles is Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Meanwhile, the wailing distortion on “Run Away With Me” and “Gimme Love” comes across as invitingly alien. EMOTION is the most exciting pop album of the year, the dark and slick dance club answer to Taylor Swift’s bright and cheery aesthetic. It’s the last thing I expected from the artist behind the bubblegum “Call Me Maybe,” but I’ve rarely been happier about being wrong.

J. Scott Shreve | Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color

alabama shakes

ATO

Sound and Color, the sophomore record from rock group Alabama Shakes, is a beautiful and bold musical journey. The album is sonically frenzied, in the best possible way, as it changes pace from song to song and mixes far too many rock genres to count. It speeds up, slows down, riffs, then fades and all of this is powered by front-woman Brittany Howard, whose voice is commanding and eccentric, yet elegant and measured. Great tracks fill the album start to finish but standout tracks include “Dunes,” “Future People,” and “Gimme All Your Love.”

Richard Newby | The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness

The Weeknd

XO/Republic

The Weeknd’s second studio album further expands on the 21st century revolution of R&B that Kanye West helped implement. The Weeknd exhibits a kind of confidence in his own, unique sound that few pop artists are able to manage so early. There’s not a single disappointing track on the album, and furthermore each song exhibits its own identity and ultimately contributes to the complex portrait of sexual frustration and loneliness. Radio singles “Can’t Feel My Face,” “Often,” and “The Hills” are of course prime examples of The Weeknd’s capabilities, but the deeper cuts like “Dark Times,” “Prisoner,” and “Shameless” give a greater sense of the artist’s range and narrative focus. While comparisons to Prince, Michael Jackson, and even West himself are evident, The Weeknd’s blending of traditional R&B rhythms along with the hard edged guitar riffs and melancholy of alternative rock make Beauty Behind the Madness the modern pinnacle of those artist’s individual efforts to break genre molds.

Richard Newby | Silversun Pickups – Better Nature

Silversun Pickups

New Machine Recordings

Alternative rock band, Silversun Pickups display an increasingly aware sense of maturity with their fourth studio album. While 2012’s Neck of the Wood was solid, if not particularly memorable when compared to the one-two punch of Carnavas and Swoon, Better Nature displays the kind of unique chorus arrangements and arrangements that made those first two albums so memorable and readily used for movie trailer music. While the album lacks a certain urgent menace they exhibited early on, the slower pace of the new tracks like “Connection” and “Friendly Fire” have greater emotional resonance without the moody angst that gave them their platform. Though Silversun Pickups haven’t entirely abandoned the old, as tracks like “Latchkey Kids” and “Better Nature” are more steeped in the band’s familiar sounds. “Raggamuffin” brilliantly balances the eerie dreaminess of their earlier work and weightiness that makes up most of their current work.

Jack Godwin | Joanna Newsom – Divers

Joanna Newsom

Drag City

In 2010 Joanna Newsom released Have One On Me, and I would go as far as saying it is possibly my favourite album of this century. Five years on, we have heard her poetic narration throughout Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (who directed two music videos for this record), but not so much else. Newsom has come a long way from the simple melodies her first few singles, now creating musical arrangements that are both intricate and moving. And that’s what makes her work worth mentioning – she isn’t just making music that is clearly crafted with skill, but music that emotionally resonates. I haven’t even begun to delve into the lyrics of this one, which tend to mix personal heartbreak with more classical themes often found in folk music, but she can communicate so much in a chord change, a shift in tone. Although I may still prefer her 2010 album, this is probably her most accessible album, and the fact that the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra feature is emblematic of the scale and ambition on display here.

Featured Image: XO/Republic