Friday, December 18, 2015

Top 50 Albums Of 2015, 10-1



__________________________________________________________

It was almost a year ago many, including myself, were envisioning the coming onslaught 2015 would have in store. The anticipation of a litany of artists colliding into one special year was reaching critical levels, hype that was unpronounced in the Internet age, and hype that was going to be difficult to reach. And yet, thanks in large part to surprise releases, quality projects, and many artists coming through on their goals, 2015 absolutely lived up to its lofty expectations. It faired much better than 2014, despite that years top 20 albums. While many would have you believe, thanks to the title, that Drake and Future's mixtape What A Time To Be Alive (which caused WATTBA as a phrase to turn into a meme) spearheaded and defined this year, it was really Beach House for their unprecedented release of two unaffiliated albums two months apart after three years of silence that stands as the best statement for what we had this year. 

From the growing musical disparity between OF affiliates Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, to Lil Ugly Mane's genre-bending two-plus hour assault, to Grimes' take on erratic 90's Pop, 2015 was filled with left field advancements. A fine line was created where the artists who took risks began to outshine those who fell in order. It may be sad to think of what lies ahead, with the possibility for 2016's fountain drying up, but here and now we'll stand appreciating what these past 12 months have given us. Without further ado, here are Dozens Of Donuts' top 10 albums of 2015. 
__________________________________________________________

10
Lil Ugly Mane | Third Side Of Tape


Maybe it’s due to its gargantuan size, or its genre-blending assortment, but Lil Ugly Mane’s Third Side Of Tape acts like a hushed magnum opus. Not all of it sticks, some reveal wounds of rushed ideas, but considering it eclipses two hours the overall quality and scope of the freely released tape drastically outweighs its dips. Really, while more than anything it shows Ugly Mane’s knowledge of all genres he attempts here, it’s quite shocking how often he creates something entirely memorable. Considering the six tracks are undefinable and last twenty minutes it’s hard to pin down those moments, but the variety is sheer astounding. From Electronic to Country to Black Metal to Indie Rock to Chopped N’ Screwed, one can’t pass through this grand statement without finding something they enjoy. While one could brainstorm a greater ideological addendum for Ugly Mane’s piece, the thought that making an anti-record sounds fitting. It’s disjointed, mastered purposefully poorly, filled with fits of hashed concepts, and contains no overall theme besides the chaos of it all. In this regard, the contrarian effect Third Side Of Tape endorses makes it the dark horse of 2015, one we needed in a sea of albums desperate for perfection. It makes ugly an honorable cause.
__________________________________________________________

9
FKA Twigs | M3LL155X | Review

For how experimentally wretched M3LL155X is it’s surprising to know it was completed shortly after LP1’s more tame, Pop-centric piece. Twigs waited to release the five song EP after her tour finished with a full set of music videos to accompany the pieces, and they sure as hell worked. It may be only five songs but never before has 18 straight minutes of music been so explosive, so in-your-face, and so defiant on the changing shift of the female Pop star than M3LL155X. It ventures into realms never before heard, taking experimentalism as a construct to alter perception rather than a forced commodity. The bass on ‘Figure 8’ lingers so far in the background you’d imagine it representing the looming presence of the fatherly entity two songs down in ‘In Time.’ The skittering distortions made early on in ‘Glass & Patron’ only seek to prepare listeners for the destructive facade the song would later turn into. And the prepubescent imagery captured on ‘I’m Your Doll’ effectively showcases the harming, lustful male in ways linear descriptors could only imagine doing. In all, M3LL155X starts on the gas and doesn’t let up until ‘Mothercreep’ rears its ugly head, jarring in its presentation, sleek in its commitment to the eery, this song, and the whole EP for that matter, tip-toe the line between alluring and uncomfortable beautifully.
__________________________________________________________

8
Milo | So The Flies Don't Come | Review

A Toothpaste Suburb was my first look at Milo, a Wisconsinite rapper who didn’t hide his obvious Busdriver influences. But where Milo separates himself is with attitude, both in style and sound, making statements on the globe while dejecting the sonic zaniness that was, and still is, attached to Art Rap. While I appreciated his debut for what it was, it wasn’t until this years set of releases, So The Flies Don’t Come and Plain Speaking under Scallops Hotel, that his importance in Hip-Hop began to settle in. The music this time around was stripped back, concentrated, and focused, promoting typically witty lyricism with atypically political fodder. So The Flies Don’t Come is odd in that, apart from ‘Re: Animist’ which is striking and shocking, no other track warrants such remarks, with the other collective nine doing nothing but being really, really good. What’s interesting is while the production is largely similar to his other works, the lyricism and vocal dissonance is drastically different, with undercut phrases best construed as racial tension building, violent uppercuts abruptly interrupting calming songs, and use of the hard N-word gets lambasted amongst the populace. It’s Milo, and Art Rap as a whole, with a message, finally speaking out instead of remaining earnestly loopy. Thanks to his continuously increasing palate of skills however Milo can, and will, pop back into calming tendencies, quoting his little sister amongst the litany of racially-charged lines, “dap dunlop don why I outta, I’m the fly dun dotta, I’m the fly dun dotta.” The brutal honesty reaches out and grabs you by the neck. 
__________________________________________________________

7
Dan Deacon | Gliss Riffer | Review

In his promotional cycle for Gliss Riffer Dan Deacon made it clear that his fourth album wouldn’t be so concerned with America’s anxieties. And while he brilliantly hid them through wildly esoteric soundscapes on his previous releases, Gliss Riffer drops the subliminal stresses and frolics in the unbridled joy of Deacon’s characteristic music. What results are scenes without a care, movements without a message or motive, just created for the contest of most stringent eagworms. Opener ‘Feel The Lightning’ is this in a bottle, obsessed with pushing the sonic taste buds of listeners, using Deacon’s voice to manipulate the surroundings so much he himself turns into a girl. Or ‘Learning To Relax’ that’s ironic in its titling given its chaotic foundation, veering around corners at top speed, bouncing off voices, rapid drums, and cascading synths all in an attempt to get the body feeling bodiless. It’s funny though in that the track most concerned with the persona, with Deacon’s old ways, is the best. ‘When I Was Done Dying’ tells a riveting story, a la ‘Wham City,’ of a character achieving death and all the ensuing regrets of not experiencing more. It’s a dazzling display of musicianship, one that’s rife with imaginative wordplay and emotional tug, fostering an epic of a song within an epic of an album. 
__________________________________________________________

6
Bjork | Vulnicura | Review

It seemed like one of music’s most enduring careers was coming to an end, at least in terms of critically-adorned albums. The latter half of the 2000’s wasn’t too pleasant for Bjork, releases that masked her talents through excessive other-worldness ran rampant, with albums like Volta and Biophilia concerned most with technological advancements and spacial awareness than Bjork herself. This makes Vulnicura, her ninth album, her most striking yet, and for no other reason than it was a return to the self. Her most personal album yet, Vulnicura concerns itself with a break-up, one wrought with vulnerability, torment, and rebuilding. The sounds are less synthetic and more organic, wrapping strings, horns, and percussions around the withering Bjork animating herself, reliving moments of despair for our pleasure. This culminates in the ten minute centerpiece ‘Black Lake,’ a track that attacks Bjork from all corners, pounding bass rhythms at her then forcing her to compete with silent violins. With all the greatness 2015 held few releases reveled in such intimacy as Bjork’s latest, a testament to her and the ever-lasting break-up album that both can bear the brunt of time to make a truly sensational release.
__________________________________________________________

5
Jamie xx | In Colour | Review

The days of tongue-in-cheek Tumblr and insistent meme-ing on artistic form have made the term ‘aesthetic’ a near wash. It denounces all discussion and uses simple excuses as to the reasoning why an artist chose to articulate their creative expression. But there’s times when aesthetic is the perfect word, and for Jamie xx’s In Colour that word fit beautifully. His group, The xx’s, have always exquisitely presented their music in cleanness. The colors are greyscale, the music pristine, the vocals crisp and clear. On the different side of the same coin, In Colour is vibrant, filled with bright colors and evocative sound structures. It no longer seeks to retreat into the quiet corners but boldly, thanks to Jamie xx’s incredible mastering and invigorating production, places itself at the mantle of attention. I can describe this theory endlessly but nothing will compare to listening to the opener ‘Gosh’ unfold. It’s a magnificent edifice that presents one of the most impeccably produced tracks of the decade, and a far departure from The xx’s previous work. And while Romy and Oliver Sim join Jamie xx at one point or another here, the former being the central focus of two excellent tracks, this is far from the third xx LP, it’s arguably something grander.

Even the details work flawlessly. Instrumental pieces like ‘Hold Tight’ and ‘The Rest Is Noise’ come off as unassuming despite thriving in texture, patterns, and picturesque flow. So really what makes In Colour memorable is its successes in all fields; the loud brash absurdity of ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be,’ the peculiar distancing of ‘Loud Places,’ and the lonesome ‘Stranger In A Room’ are just some examples. For that diversity shows the albums true colors, an array of UK-influenced dance music moving through the past three decades. The subtle but persistent inclusions of reggae rave chatter throughout the LP make the hushed tone more lively, with the music sewn in between breath in life and turning it into a loosely-scripted concept album revolving around a late night dance club and the relational quandaries slithering throughout. And with every forthcoming night ‘Gosh’ renews the fire that the longwinded hangover ‘Girl’ incites, recycling the journey the UK rave scene sees in glorious fashion.
__________________________________________________________

4
Vince Staples | Summertime '06 | Review

In one of the most surprising albums of the year Vince Staples effectively turned me onto modern day Gangsta Rap. The overwhelming soundscape of Summertime ’06 did it in for me. Rather than take homage from his city streets in Long Beach, he took from the Internet and the radio; the Soul fire of Chicago, the Southern bangers of Atlanta, and the gritty realism of New York. The albums plays out like a fiery emcee rapping over today’s Top 40 tracks, doing so whilst being conceptually sound and retaining cohesion. Staples, with his recent comments about 90’s Hip-Hop, has caught a bit of fire for something thats been apparent to a lot of new age emcee’s. The genre is changing rapidly, its influences expanding drastically, and to continue churning out West Coast anthems with little originality is a sure fire way to fall into an artist grave pit. He’s also part of the new wave, along with Earl Sweatshirt, to follow in DOOM’s footsteps of creating quick-witted, short-of-breath songs, that retain no excess, trimming the fat to withstand only the bare essentials. Which means, for moments like the second half of disc 1 where each track jumps to different areas around the map, the cohesiveness, which should break apart, remains adhesive, glued together with sheer talent.

And while Summertime ’06 doesn’t follow a narrative concept, as its name would imply, it does offer up a thematic one, where the sounds and events of Staples’ childhood are pristinely matched and synced. Tracks like ‘3230,’ ‘Norf Norf,’ and ‘C.N.B.’ detail encounters of the violent kind, while others, like ‘Birds & Bees,’ ‘Loca,’ and ‘Lemme Know’ play with the drama-filled romanticisms of teenagers in the hood. All this though thrown with a layer of depth and intrigue, like on ‘Summertime’ or ‘Might Be Wrong,’ where deeper thought plays into the sometimes brittle human emotion. While many of these topics have been on display before without the passionate recital Staples brings, where he really takes off from his contemporaries and predecessors is his domination of the mic in all facets. It may be too soon to call but Summertime ’06 shows signs of a rapper who can hang with the best of them in terms of flow, lyrical prowess, and creativity. His fusion of complex lyricism and Southern drawl make the litany of flows he uses on the LP a shining success, bringing with each new song a different form of enjoyment and perspective. Like ‘Senorita’s’ slack-jawed dribble or ‘Surf’s’ leisure bounce on a beat, Summertime ’06 is filled with verses that bless listeners with stage presence in all forms of the term.
__________________________________________________________

3
Beach House | Depression Cherry | Review

Maybe the reason Beach House fans were split on Depression Cherry’s final outcome was due to its unsteady ground upon which it held firm. Not a full blown Dream Pop gospel like Teen Dream or Bloom, and not a meandering walk down victorian streets like Beach House and Devotion. It balanced between the middle, with large sounds evoking darker times mixed in with creaky segues and creepy proses. It lacked in the catchiness of its Sub Pop companion pieces, while failing also to bring creativity in silence like their more amateur days. So, depending on what side of the coin you expected the Baltimore duo to fall, they didn’t live up to either, with ‘Sparks’ acting as a false hope to a changing sound. And yet, gathering storm and influence from their previous releases while bringing in new assets never tried before, Depression Cherry is their best record to date. Both Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are on their A game here, further contextualizing their eery sound with heavy reverb, dense textures, and hazy romanticized lyrics. Loftily cascading over the piece is Beach House’s most conceptualized piece, following the fading life of a loved one, seeing them cast out into the stars, giving them their well deserved funeral in its closing minutes.

All this serves listeners to a palate that’s equally delectable as it is gratifying. Not every moment is filled with euphoric highs or antiquated lows, but a wealthy mix of both. There’s the beatbox sidestep of ’10:37,’ the demented swaying of a Hawaiian luau on ‘PPP,’ the cathartic welcoming to heaven on ‘Days Of Candy,’ and of course the brush with Shoegaze with Scally’s commandeering guitar work on ‘Sparks.’ While Thank Your Lucky Stars would later prove to be their most similar to their earlier days, Depression Cherry attempts to encompass it all. ‘Space Song’ detours into a wildly evocative synth reprise while ‘Wildflower’ layers over the foundation with virtual radio static, making the quieter moments on their 5th LP a joy within their own cocoons. And as would always be the case, despite how disruptive Scally sometimes gets (in a good way), Legrand still dominates the Beach House aesthetic. Her vocal bravado increasingly succumbs to the heaviness of the sound behind her, as she mumbles and even turns to spoken word on ‘PPP.’ And yet, what feels like a summation of Beach House’s last nine years as musicians, the sendoff on ‘Days Of Candy’ sees Legrand breaking through, returning to her soft age of innocence as she wails that the “universe is riding off with you.” It’s line of the year, and one told with such sincerity that it’s not hard to feel it comes from the heart
__________________________________________________________

2
Death Grips | The Powers That B | Review

I won’t try and fight through my fanboyism to understand why Niggas On The Moon and Jenny Death form The Powers That B. I’m just glad they did. The former released unannounced in June of 2014 to further confusion as many thought they’d gone a little too off the rails, while the latter attained tremendous hype for its drawn out release that saw ‘Inanimate Sensation’ and ‘On GP’ facilitating the meme-sphere while simultaneously defining Death Grips as Hip-Hop’s most creative force. The cards were set to see how the two discs would merge, and yet, ironically and purposefully so, they couldn’t be more different. One a continuous stream of abandoned consciousness over glitchy synths and electronic barrages, the other a structured containment filled with crunchy guitars and overwhelming dread. Their intended togetherness, theoretically, forms Death Grips. By no means is it a starter kit for intriguing music-goers, but it is their best work, one brimming with originality not just limited to the lazy Industrial/Experimental titling. Within those sub-genres of Hip-Hop they distort the picture, creating soundscapes, patterns, and structures that mold into a dizzying portrait of an emcee gone mad, the emotional tug relentlessly punishing listeners throughout makes The Powers That B a visceral joyride. 

From the noise-blasting ‘Up My Sleeves’ that warps a surprisingly sincere recitation of a lost loved one to the eye-opening verse commentating on his public relations on ‘On GP,’ never before has Ride been so expressive, so emotionally distraught, so revealing. All of this tied into a sonic roller coaster thats all g-force and no downtime. From the samples of Bjork put their a grinder on ‘Black Quarterback’ or ‘Voila’ to the brush with Shoegaze on ‘On GP’ and ‘Centuries Of Damn,’ The Powers That B is increasingly hard to pin down, even by Death Grips standards. But what’s more, once one breaks through the difficult barriers, is an album filled with dense textures, highly receptive lyrics, an emotional palate that parades through negative emotions, and chaotic ear worms, both in the production and choruses. The paranoia instilled in the variety of verses on ‘Inanimate Sensation,’ the corny, yet still cool robot vocals on ‘Why A Bitch Gotta Lie,’ the intimately brooding opening of ‘Up My Sleeves,’ and the discomforting mania of ‘Say Hey Kid’ are just some of The Powers That B’s genre-transforming characteristics. 
__________________________________________________________

1
Kendrick Lamar | To Pimp A Butterfly | Review

While it exclusively remained atop my top albums of the year since its release, Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece didn’t actually solidify its importance with me until I witnessed ‘Alright,’ a rather nonchalant track with a simple-phrased chorus, turn into a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter’s protesters. It was awe-inspiring in a way I assume many felt back during the days of Woodstock when music mattered more than the vibrations. And really, To Pimp A Butterfly is more than the music. It’s a sprawling 16-track, 78 minute opus that covers black culture and pride, racial injustice, cultural neglect over skin color, depression, political turmoil, music industry tropes, and reinvention through a return to the roots, all wrapped in a poem told to Tupac. Honestly, one could ding the record for being too ambitious. Every aspect of the black American life is flaunted here, from the fight that feeling constant oppression warrants, the anger it penetrates, and the pain it constantly endures. And yet, with one line that’ll go down in Hip-Hop history, Kendrick revokes all the bad the white man has done, looks internally for the solution, and questions “why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street when gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me? Hypocrite.”

With the cool passing of a thousand waves following that eruption, Kendrick knew exactly what kind of impact it would make. For the black community to see a proactive change, expecting the white oppressors to do it would be foolish. The change resides from within. At that moment, and a handful of others on the LP, I’m not embarrassed enough to admit I get teary-eyed. And while what secretes from the surface is a top tier music experience, it’s the details that allow To Pimp A Butterfly to sit comfortably atop the podium. Like the three-song opener that plays from the perspective of Hip-Hop's newest trending rapper, facetiously spending his millions, signing his soul to the devil, only as a ploy for the rich above him to get richer. Or the second verse on ‘Momma,’ where Kendrick’s pompousness gets the better of him, only to be told five songs later by his paternal figure that he doesn’t have to lie to kick it. Or the fact that the entire album develops around a slowly unfolding poem, with each part elaborating on a premise, reaching its completion upon the ears of Tupac. To Pimp A Butterfly, years down the road, may be seen as the pinnacle of Hip-Hop, the gleaming beacon to which all albums that aspire to be noticed, admired, and utilized will look to. 

Because, as I’ve mentioned before, Kendrick’s Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul, Funk fusion record aims at being much more. One of the most damning notifications surrounding the album, Kendrick, and his Compton roots is that the inspirations it attains don’t come from his gang-banging streets obsessed with Gangsta Rap, but rather the bubbling underbelly of New York’s streets in the early 90’s that promoted peace, love, and solidarity. In clearer terms, the Native Tongues. A collective of artists from A Tribe Called Quest to De La Soul that admired black culture rather than dejecting it, sampling the sounds of their forefathers, acknowledging the problems of societal inequality, but understanding that adding fire to fire would never squash the flame. Those artists, while revolutionary in their own right, failed at creating concentrated efforts to mare their beliefs with ongoing political strife. That’s where To Pimp A Butterfly’s other influence comes in; Outkast’s Stankonia. A motivated, grotesque edifice of disparity between the black and the white, covering the American landscape at the turn of the century. Throw in his experience in Compton’s gentrified streets, the passionate violence musically and physically that played out around him, and you have a human primed like none other to lead a movement in America centered not through fiery speeches and daunting marches, but music, music that’ll be played to unite the populace and open minds of all those listening.

2 comments:

  1. Found your blog on /r/hhh. It's an absolute pleasure to read, from the way you refrain from merely using buzzwords to articulate your opinion, to how pretty the blog is to look at. Good job so far, and keep it up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Really glad to see you enjoying my work, always love to hear from people to know it's actually worth putting out.

      Delete