in Top Ten

Remember the cartoon Pinky and the Brain? You know, those lab mice (one a genius, the other insane) who every episode plotted to take over the world? Yeah, that’s me and music. Every year I plan a new scheme to discover new music and every year I still feel like I miss something.

This year, I relied heavily on Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” section. If you’re not familiar, Spotify generates weekly playlists based on the user’s listening habits. A great idea but at the end of the day I really only found one album from that process that ended up on my list (it’s in my number 2 spot btw).

Otherwise, I found out about all these other albums in a multitude of ways; the radio, YouTube, Pitchfork (which I’ve tried to wean myself off of… No good snobs!) It’s not a perfect process but I’m happy with this list and I hope you are too!

Honorable Mention 
Beach Bunny – Emotional Creature
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

10. The Linda Lindas – Growing Up

In 2021, teen girl band The Linda Lindas went viral for their instant punk rock classic, “Racist, Sexist Boy” (I posted that original video up above). A year later and they’ve played all the late night shows, gone on tour, and released their debut album, and guess what? It’s really good! 

Ranging between the ages of 18 to 12. Yes, their drummer is 12! The maturity in this band’s musical ability is staggering. The Linda Lindas are versatile too. “Oh” is headbangin’ classic rock, while the title track “Growing Up” is more pop punk. Then there are just straight up PUNK numbers like “Fine” and the album’s closing track (the song that made them famous) that show this band is more than just a viral video. They are true, bonafide rock stars.

9. Charli XCX – CRASH

Charli XCX is in her big hair, boombox beats era and I’m here for it. Remember that Paula Abdul song where she danced with a cartoon cat? This album reminds me of that. CRASH is danceable radio pop. Ooh, and remember the Fly Girls from In Living Color? They would definitely dance to a song like “New Shapes” before a commercial break.

8. Makaya McCraven – In These Times

It’s become a tradition of mine to include one instrumental (usually jazz) album on my list to look cultured. In this case, that culture is courtesy of virtuoso jazz drummer Makaya McCraven. The genre dips between contemporary jazz and 70s soul with its varied instrument choices, shifting tempos, and atmospheric production. 

As for the drumming, I don’t know. Not sure how to describe it. The hi-hat work sounds intricate. But even saying “the hi-hat work sounds intricate” sounds so pretentious it makes me want to kick my own ass. Which I must resist. I am a man of culture.

7. Megan Thee Stallion – Traumazine

It wouldn’t be a “Hot Girl Summer” without a fiery new album from my favorite modern rapper Megan Thee Stallion. Megan’s grown as an artist on her sophomore release. There’s no shortage of sex-postive singles with radio bops like “Sweetest Pie” and “Her” but there’s some serious shit here too. 

Megan raps about her personal insecurities on “Anxiety” and body autonomy on the heavy hitting “Plan B”. Megan’s digging into the good and bad times and only getting better in her craft. The hotties (myself included) are lovin’ this one!

6. The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention

What if you took the two most prominent guys from Radiohead and then paired them with a different drummer? Turns out you get a band that still sounds a lot like Radiohead. I love Radiohead, so this bold experiment worked out great. 

If I had to make some effort to differentiate I’d say the sound feels more stripped down. I was on a Radiohead forum where some fans said that drummer Tom Skinner is “looser in the pocket.” I’m gonna pretend that you and I both know exactly what that means. 

Play this album if you want something that will attract ghosts.

5. The Weeknd – Dawn FM

I love when a concept comes together. Almost as much as The Weeknd loves a good concept. On his last album, After Hours, Abel Tesfaye aka “The Weeknd” promoted his synth pop songs in the guise of a bloodied Vegas high-roller who’s face got more and more fucked up in each proceeding music video until he started appearing with a creepy faux-plastic surgery look. 

This time around, the Weeknd is promoting his album under heavy old-age makeup. Is this a metaphor for death? Probably. I just love the commitment. The album is cool too! 

The idea here is that “Dawn FM” is like a fictional radio station. There are bumpers and spoken word bits in-between songs (some performed by Jim Carrey) and the whole vibe is laid-back 80s R&B Pop. Man, if we don’t give the Weeknd his own radio station in the next GTA, someone is cruising for a bruising.

4. Cheekface – Too Much to Ask

Can I give an award for “Most Fun Album of the Year”? What would you call that? The Spirit Award? I heard LA trio Cheekface last fall on KEXP and fell hard for their hooky choruses and smart aleck-y wordplay. I think my favorite lyric of the year is when Cheekface sings, “Life hands you problems, make problemade.” 

Cheekface gets another John-exclusive award for featuring my FAVORITE SONG OF THE YEAR: “We Need a Big Dumpster”. Doesn’t that sum up everything perfectly?

3. Wet Leg – Wet Leg

Wet Leg is one of those rare new acts that broke out of the indie world and straight into the mainstream. I first heard their infectious lead single, “Chaise Longue” on Seattle’s The End of all places. That station says it’s “Alternative” but there’s nothing Alternative about playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at the top of every hour.

English duo Wet Leg are flirty with their lyrics. Look at some of these words:

“Mommy, daddy, look at me
I went to school and I got a degree
All my friends call it “the big D”
I went to school and I got the big D”

Very cheeky. But the music is catchy and goes down smoother than a case of warm beer.

2. Toro y Moi – MAHAL

When I heard “Postman” shuffling through Spotify earlier this year, my first thought was “Wow, this is kind of like Prince. If Prince drank a bottle of Robitussin.” Funky but very chill. 

This makes sense because because Chaz Bear aka “Toro y Moi” has been an established “Chillwave” artist for over a decade. I can’t speak for Toro y Moi’s other albums but on MAHAL the style of music feels like a crockpot of psychedelia, soul, funk, electronic and pop. 

Toro y Moi reminds me a lot of Beck too. Both chill dudes who like to experiment with genre. I look forward to doing a deep dive into Toro y Moi’s six other albums. Sounds like I got some chill vibes in my immediate future.

1. Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia

I knew I was gonna love Fontaines D.C.’s third album the minute I saw the cover. If you don’t wanna click the link, it’s this badass deer walking around this spooky house filled with red light. The album’s very Irish title “Skinty Fia” means “the damnation of the deer” which is also very badass and more than befitting for these angsty Irish blokes. 

These guys are so Irish the D.C. in their name means: “Dublin City” which was added to differentiate them from another band called Fontaines. I love their hometown pride. I also love their Britpop sound. Fontaines D.C. is like a moody Oasis. Like if Oasis was sent to their room without any supper. The songs are melodic but melancholy. A lot of minor chords. A lot of great guitar sounds and I love Grian Chatten’s voice. 

These guys are so Irish they have two band members named “Conor”. They even have a Celtic ballad set to accordion. It’s the kind of music that takes you to another place sonically but grounds you thematically. We can all relate to Fontaine D.C.’s brand of bittersweet love ballads. And at the end of the day, that’s all I want. Something to connect with.