President Obama will be the final president in this series. President Trump hasn’t been in office long enough to put together a credible list. And, frankly, I haven’t been paying attention to the music released this past year.
However, the eight years during Obama’s administration, while not necessarily comparable to the music released during President Johnson’s presidency, for example, saw its fair share of good music. Some of that music may even be remembered by future generations as some of the best pop music ever produced. Time will tell.
Here are the honorable mentions before we get to the best ten albums released during Obama’s presidency: Hospice, The Antlers; XX, The XX; Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons; Teen Dream, Beach House; This is Happening, LDC Soundsystem; Have One on Me, Joanna Newsome; Bon Iver, Bon Iver; El Camino, The Black Keys; 21, Adele; Strange Mercy, St. Vincent; Lonerism, Tame Impala; Chemical Orange, Frank Ocean; Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, Kendrick Lamar; Benji, Sun Kil Moon; Yeezus, Kanye; The Seer, Swans; Visions, Grimes; Modern Vampire of the City, Vampire Weekend; Winnowing, Bill Mallonee; Idler Wheel, Fiona Apple; Take Care, Drake; Random Access, Daft Punk; Days, Real Estate; The Firewatcher’s Daughter, Brandi Carlile; Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs;
10. 1532 — Drew Gibson
1532 is Drew Gibson’s well-crafted statement about how familial love binds different times and places together. Gibson invites the listener in with him as he explores the past that shaped him. If the listener accepts the invitation, and the listener should accept the invitation, there are riches to be found in the well-crafted songs and Gibson’s warm baritone voice.
9. Rose Mountain — Screaming Females
Marissa Paternoster is one of my favorite guitar players. In fact, Spin named her the 77th greatest guitarist of all time. Of ALL TIME. And that guitar brilliance rips all over Rose Mountain.
8. Lands & Peoples — Bill Mallonee
With a voice often compared to the likes of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, Bill Mallonee is a true country troubadour making and singing songs that are reminiscent of a combination of Pete Seeger and the Sons of the Pioneers. Lands & Peoples may be his best album in his distinguished career that began as the front-man and driving artistic force of the ’90s indie darlings, Vigilantes of Love. Bill Mallonee is considered the 65th best living songwriter by Paste.
(Note – since Mallonee almost never produces videos, the video above is not from Lands & Peoples. It’s a song off of the album Audible Sigh.)
7. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
I’m not sure if David Byrne passed the art-rock baton to Annie Clark (St. Vincent) while they were recording their 2012 collaboration Love This Giant, but listening to St Vincent, her fourth solo album, sure makes one wonder if he did.
6. Hello I Feel the Same — The Innocence Mission
The Innocence Mission has been making music since the mid-eighties, which is hard to fathom. Their sound is so fresh and compelling that it’s hard to believe that they’ve been telling the same stories for this long. Created by the husband-and-wife team known as The Innocence Mission, Hello I Feel the Same is a level of melodic, poetic, and soul-burrowing music that is consistent with the duo’s incredible back catalog.
5. Tomorrow is My Turn — Rhiannon Giddens
Co-founder of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens is possibly the best female vocalist operating in the larger pop arena of the last twenty-plus years. Tomorrow Is My Turn is Giddens’ first solo effort, and the album of blues, jazz, and country standards, plus a few of Giddens’ originals, is one that will appeal to a wide range of musical tastes.
4. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music — Sturgill Simpson
If you’re a fan of real country music, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music belongs in your music library. With his unaffected Southern accent, Sturgill Simpson croons through traditionalist country music, ragged honky-tonk songs, and moving ballads. His cover of When In Rome’s “The Promise” is the highlight of this excellent album.
3. Wakin on a Pretty Daze — Kurt Vile
Meandering, psychedelic rock is a genre of music that Kurt Vile has claimed as his personal domain. Wakin on a Pretty Daze finds Vile combining zoned-out lyrics with interesting musical jams. His guitar work is exquisite, and his lyrics are compelling.
2. A.M. — Arctic Monkeys
A.M. propelled Arctic Monkeys to stardom in this country, and for good reason. Boasting well-integrated musical influences from the world of hip-hop, psychedelic rock, blues, and straight up hard rock, A.M. is a fun album that is also rooted in the world of artistic integrity.
1. The Suburbs — Arcade Fire
A somewhat dystopian reflection on growing up in the suburbs of Houston, The Suburbs is one of the most decorated and critically acclaimed albums of the new millennium. And rightfully so. Arcade Fire will most likely be the band from Obama’s era that people are still talking about and listening to decades from now. And The Suburbs will be considered their masterpiece.