Friday, December 18, 2015

Top 50 Albums Of 2015, 20-11


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. 

Wilco | Star Wars | Review

In one of the more unexpected expected surprise releases that've caught fire the past couple years, Wilco, living legends in Indie Rock, dropped their follow-up to 2011's The Whole Love. It was an unassuming 11 track, 33-minute piece that did away with extracurricular tendencies, stripped the wallpaper, and gave off musicianship in its finest form. In fact, the album is so well contained and bare that a proper promotional cycle wouldn't have done it justice, despite it also being the strangest surprise released album in the bunch. Just Wilco things, I suppose. There's some hidden depth here though, like Tweedy's new-found love on 'Magnetized,' or the expertly crafted 'You Satellite,' which maintains tenacity like a sprinter heading to the finish, or 'More..' which billows into a blaze of pent-up expectations. As you can see, a lot is on display for how quaint the package is. There's times when it's silly, introspective, genre-following, and experimental, and to bounce through all that in just 33-minutes is worthy of merit in its own right.

Waxahatchee | Ivy Tripp | Review

Romanticism in its most open, baring form. Katie Crutchfield, by all indications found here, has had her fair share of troubles with a lover coming in and out of her life. Barren to the thought of foreverness, Waxahatchee spends the bulk of Ivy Tripp contemplating that final straw. It's a raw portrait of the rose-tinted past, the troubling present, and the unsure future. Sonically her voice pleases in its fascination with togetherness. The constant quips, soft cooing and chooing throughout, the impromptu visits to her nostalgic past in Country, Alabaman form, all correlate to an album that reeks of personal commitment and contention. On 'Bonfire,' the album's anthemic finale, Waxahatchee finally attends to making a decision, leaving forever without sparing a hope for a comeback. It was earnest and heartfelt, but not done before seeing the light of potential in what's to come. Moments in Ivy Tripp ran the gamut of the tug and pull of emotional dissonance felt in a sparring relationship better than nearly every album this year. It brought life and a personal touch back into a form of singer/songwriter that's been beaten for hundreds of years. Romanticism with a bleak hope for survival, a dash of the gleaming past, and a untarnished look at the inner-workings was all it took to make Ivy Tripp a noted presence in 2015.

Earl Sweatshirt | I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside | Review

I'm still not entirely sure why but over the course of the year, even while it wasn't playing in my headphones, I Don't Like Shit was slowly climbing my lists. Initially I wasn't too much of a fan. It disappointed me in its seemingly blatant lack of creating scale considering Earl was twiddling his thumbs inside his room. But it's that aesthetic exactly that kept luring me back. Ten concise tracks drenched in wallowing emotion without forced diversity like Doris was. He flaunted his emceeing, his production, and his ability to create an aura, all things that went into making I Don't Like Shit a memorable piece even though it never intended to come off as such. I still remember sitting slack-jawed listening to 'Grief' for the first time as it through listeners through a loop as the first single. The most grotesquely mastered track in a long time, it reeked of the sights, sounds, and textures Earl's been feeling the past year perfectly. And even when things get more in tune, like on 'Off Top' or 'Wool,' they still adhere to the qualifications of an atmosphere that respects lurching darkness. There's even the jarring juxtapositions thrown in as well, like 'Grief's' finale that bares resemblance to Kanye's 'New Slaves,' or 'AM // Radio' that transitioned into a minimal beat house bending around the shadows. Now if only 'Solace' was appended to the end, I Don't Like Shit would have soared with conclusionary brilliance. 

Youth Lagoon | Savage Hills Ballroom | Review

Due to his first two lauded albums, Youth Lagoon was in a tough place with his third LP. Based on the drastic shift between Year Of Hibernation and Wondrous Bughouse, one relegated to bedroom Indie while the other expanded into Psychedelic Rock, many were intrigued on where the sudden star would explore next. While descriptively vague, the bulk of Savage Hills Ballroom can be condensed to Art Pop. Tracks with Pop fervor surrounded by oddball Electronic fluctuations seem to be his bread and butter here, abstaining from remaking a sound, content with constant shifts in not just sound, but persona. With the release of the album, Powers altered his style into being more expressive, more dominant, and more artistic. That showed in various ways on the album, with tracks like 'The Knower' and 'Again' taking on sociopolitical thoughts in a way to detach from reality and hopefully bring others along for the ride. When he wasn't intriguing listeners with pomp beat romps, contemporary Indie Rock, and organic set pieces, Powers went with a personal touch, bringing stories of his past with a vocal clarity that hasn't been present in his previous works. Savage Hills Ballroom tore back the facade and, more so than his debut and sophomore records, showed off the character behind Youth Lagoon. 

Jenny Hval | Apocalypse, girl | Review

Taking cues from opener 'Kingsize' Jenny Hval seems to be getting more blunt with time. No longer are her feminist views, capitalistic problems, and patriarchal re-visioning hidden behind content not so easily describable. Rather, she's in your face, obvious, and aggressive, a changing tone for female artists in the past couple years. Apocalypse, girl concerns itself with progressive thoughts centered around her visit to America where feminism seems complete, capitalism rules the world, and the lost hope of the holy land dominates the perceived landscape. Within that spectrum Hval seems more focused on sending a message than curating good music, but thankfully what backs her up is some of her best work yet. It's an uneasy, grotesque facade that moves from classic Art Pop to Experimental to Drone with Hval singing longly over a wide assortment of instruments. There's the standout 'That Battle Is Over' with chimes, chants, and simple drums, 'Why This?' with scattered vocals and haunting coo's, and 'White Underground' with its apocalyptic origins. All of it assembles Apocalypse, girl into a beautifully compact album with no fringe edges or loose strings, with each passing moment deserving of a place on the album. From 'Holy Land's' drawn out close, containing nothing more than the dreading silence of a world long since lost with flying strings and a gurgled voice rippling through humanities history, Apocalypse, girl is determined to raise awareness on the front of where we as a community are going.

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment | Surf | Review

The Social Experiment has been making waves with music that's inherently likable. While Chance has always been the focal point of the group, with what they call a bunch of releases helmed by one artist respectively, they're aiming at exposing the masses to the parts that make up The Social Experiment. Donnie Trumpet who, obviously, plays the trumpet, leads things here, brandishing his flavor of the Juke into the mass of good vibes that parades through their fantasy of Chicago's streets. While there are middling portions of Surf, the bulk of the release is filled with jubilant affairs, dancing between the mess with a large assortment of instruments, voices, and characters to back. Initially released credit-less, Surf is loaded from top to bottom with features ranging the gamut of Hip-Hop, from legends like Busta Rhymes to contemporaries like J.Cole to Soundcloud unknowns like Eric Butler. In total, there's 57 different people who worked on the album, a number as grand as it is communalistic. It's indicative of the release that positivity can, and will, always reign supreme with tracks like 'Familiar' bringing otherwise gritty street artists King Louie and Quavo on a track to diss and riff their way through bright World music. With how grand the scope of Surf is, even with its limitations in not making a grand statement, it's really a great example of the Internet's blossoming into a global hub, one where a litany of collaborators can come together to do nothing more than make pleasurable music.

Son Lux | Bones | Review

Even if one's not a fan of Ryan Lott's pristine palate of Art Pop, they can't be forgiven for not finding it intriguing. His previous record, Lanterns, was a glory be to all for listeners in need of a symbiotic piece of music that merged organic with electronic flawlessly. In many facets Bones does away with the former, resisting the urge of replication, bringing in Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia to present a more Rock-oriented edge that teeters on obsession of lights. It's daring, provocative, and loud, using jittery beats and hollow drums to present a clean layering of sounds that invites listeners to a trip up to the heavens. While Lanterns focused on escapism out to another dimension, laterally, Bones takes things vertically, and it plays out in the music as well, bearing roots in religious overtones that witness God questioning humanities quandaries. Much of the album is concerned about the you, a revolutionary piece of sorts that demands a change from the listener in conflicting times. As has always been the case with Son Lux though, the most appreciative aesthetic here is his moments, bouncing through earworms that see trumpets parlaying ('Change Is Everything'), choir girls giving baptismic chants ('Now I Want') and 2000's Radiohead-esque progression ('Undone'). Bones took a serious look at the insides, the rugged flesh of humanity and their desperate fight against themselves.

Travi$ Scott | Rodeo | Review

Well this one was unexpected. Any avid reader of mine knows well and good that I don't particularly put merit into prototypical Trap Rap, for many reasons. While the production is almost certainly the driving point, the lyrics and lack of innovation derails many albums from holding concrete attention. Rodeo changed that. He may not be an innovator himself, picking and choosing his favorite inspirations from today's music, but that conglomerate is exactly what makes Rodeo so interesting. There's the Southern flavored edge of 'Oh My Dis Side' and '3500,' the clear Yeezus influence from 'Piss On Your Grave,' the nightmarish recitations of Kid Cudi's Man On The Moon series, and flows that match the best Pop Rap crossovers in 2015. It may come off as derivative, but Rodeo acts like a catch-all album, one that flawlessly incorporates memorable one-liners with slang cut off Scott's Houston origins over production that ranges far and wide, going so far as to include Toro Y Moi on a track that finds more solid footing on Tyler, The Creator's Cherry Bomb ('Flying High'). Then there's the pristine butchering of 'Maria I'm Drunk' that make it a track to witness the glorified ugliness of Pop and Rap's drunken baby, crystalizing its presence with Bugatti Biebs and Young Thug. At the end of the day though, to many, Rodeo's just another fake attempt at curating trends. And while it is, it's damn good at it.

Joanna Newsom | Divers

Many fans of Newsom won't hide behind the difficulty of entering her music. It's well known that she's either to intrinsically novelistic or too enamored with grandiose expression to be welcomed by all. That's changed with Divers for many, including myself. The grueling Have One On Me interested me so little, apart from its riveting standout 'Good Intentions Paving Company,' that for all the work Newsom clearly invested it seemed lost to overabundance. This makes Divers her perfect welcoming record. Not too wrought with engulfing the senses, containing just enough of what makes her remarkable while inviting typical Pop sensibilities, her reasonable 11 track, 51-minute LP is just what many needed from her. In many respects opener 'Anecdotes' introduces listeners to her previously covered hours of music into one six minute journey that joins all her talents into one perfected period piece. Elsewhere she provides more of her whimsical Shakespearian verbiage over a litany of old-timey instrumentation, like on 'Waltz Of The 101st Lightborne,' which even incorporates antiquated Irish limericks. Her talents are as recognized as they are diverse, meaning the condensed versions of her works are more than welcomed for new recruits awaiting to appreciate her vast intellect and musicianship. 

Beach House | Thank Your Lucky Stars | Review

Can I mention Thank Your Lucky Stars without the context in which it originated? Besides that sentence? Yes, yes I can. Beach House’s sixth LP remains in a soft space between their pre and post Sub Pop days, with a more stripped back approach despite having the grandiose textures that made their later works noted. It had no hyped facade, no justification for existence, just nine more tracks to add to Beach House’s ever growing catalogue of emotion-filled Dream Pop. Here though, they tone their edges, wither the seams, and contain only the necessities. Some works resemble their earlier tracks unexplainably, like ‘Majorette,’ which mimics Teen Dream’s prepubescent dazzling. Or ‘One Thing’ which seems like a B side to ‘Sparks,’ with a harsher barrier that teeters on patterned progression. There are moments, and its when Thank Your Lucky Stars is at its best, that the duo sit back and admire what they’ve created. It’s an album that doesn’t focus on manufacturing an aura or context, just exists as complimentary pieces to a career that’s spanned nine years. On the outside of that spectrum though exists ‘Somewhere Tonight,’ a finale that resembles nothing like their works while simultaneously acting as the greatest synopsis to a group’s sound. It’s creaky, desperate, and heart-warming, like a homecoming dance for teens stuck in the wrong era. A great closer to yet another great Beach House album.

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