5) Badlands by Halsey
Halsey is a conspiracy. You can disagree with me all you want, but when someone is beautiful, badass, socially aware and talented, there has to be some kind of underground, secret organization churning soft-grunge edits of her lyrics over sunsets into the Tumblrsphere on the daily. But even if she is a conspiracy, I totally buy it. I got roped in by her short but sultry Room 93 EP, then fell in love with her raw, manic vocals on the 1 Mic 1 Take sessions. Admittedly, some of the Badlands buzz wore off since half the album was released as singles to build up hype, but the album still holds up. It’s like if Lorde met Lana Del Rey in a post-apocalyptic alternate universe … or like, the paint section of Michaels.
Must-listen track: “Colors”
“You were red / And you liked me / Because I was blue.” We get it, you can mix primary colors!
4) Glitterbug by the Wombats
There’s nothing a girl loves more than mixed signals! Which is why the Wombats, a British band named after an Australian animal, have always held a special place in my heart. After a four year hiatus after their tour de force 80s pop/rock inspired album This Modern Glitch, the boys of the Wombats returned with a free-wheeling album that definitely leans more pop than rock. A lot of original Wombats fans are bitter about the “new sound,” but I’m all for the 80s synth-pop revival, regardless of what decade it is. The album is smooth and danceable, but still honest and nonsensical at times — a benchmark of the Wombats’ quirky but evocative lyrics. It’s as if the band has since stopped dancing to Joy Division and started vibing to New Order, which is honestly such a better look.
Must-listen track: “Emoticon”
“And all these emoticons and words / Try to make it better but they only make it worse / But I like it here so much I might stay / The edge of nowhere’s such a beautiful place.” Who knew a song about emojis could be so existential?
3) EMOTION by Carly Rae Jepsen
This is my formal apology to Carly Rae Jepsen. I know I dragged you through the mud in my column last summer, but you have since proved yourself to be the banger-worthy pop princess we all deserved. Actually, we don’t even deserve you. You’re just such a sweetheart that you decided to look past our flaws and go straight for our EMOTION. And you succeeded. Teaming up with pop prime minister Sia for the monstrous “Making the Most of the Night” and the slumber-party ready “Boy Problems,” you brought unapologetic, bubblegum pop back into the limelight.
Must-listen track: “Making the Most of the Night”
“I know you’ve had a rough time / Here I’ve come to hijack you (hijack you) / I love you.” Honestly, I’d let Carly hijack me anytime she wanted.
2) Back on Top by the Front Bottoms
The Front Bottoms have consistently been the soundtrack to my college years. I challenge any college student to listen to “Twin Size Mattress” and not feel some sort of pang of empathy, muttering, “Dude, me too!” as tears fall into a cup of Top Ramen. But after two full-lengths of youthful enthusiasm and pseudo-adult confusion, TFB has completely pinned down the feeling of being in your 20s with their sublime third album, Back on Top. They’ve steered away from the subtle, laughable sadness that riddled their earlier tracks and jumped headfirst into reckless but realistic optimism, ending the album with uplifting, drunken gang vocals of “Plastic Flowers,” a cohort of messy friends exclaiming the words we’ve all needed to hear: “I believe that someone’s got a plan for me / Got a plan for me / Even if I don’t know it yet.”
Must-listen track: “Ginger”
“You can tie me up / But don’t tie me down.” This is definitely a song about a dog, but like most great songs about dogs, this one really has a deeper, metaphorical message. (See: “Housebroken” by the Hotelier, “Who Let the Dogs Out” by the Baha Men).
1) Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) by Various Artists
Where do I even begin to talk about the soundtrack to what’s to be known as the defining musical of a decade? One that has had countless articles written about it already? One that has wiggled its way into the pop-dominated album of the year rankings of numerous substantial publications? Maybe a good place to start would be at the musical’s opening track, but that would mean starting the emotional rollercoaster that is the rise and fall of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and not getting off until the last shot has been fired. And while this musical is chock-full of words, the effervescent characters never stopping to take a breath, it’s truly difficult to find the words to describe the incredible feat that this production achieved. Lin-Manuel Miranda has worked tirelessly throughout his career to bridge the gap between hip-hop and Broadway, and in doing so, he’s opened the minds of many to the various stories of unsung heroes, from the immigrant population of Washington Heights in the Tony-winning “In the Heights,” to his living, breathing masterpiece, “Hamilton.” And as Lin so eloquently said, “The kids, when they like something on the Internet, they call themselves the trash of the thing.” And Jefferson knows, I’m Hamilton trash through and through.
Must-listen track: Don’t.
Take my word for it. Save yourself the emotional pain and turmoil and run as far from this album as you possibly can.
Rosemarie Alejandrino is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].