Friday, December 18, 2015

Top 50 Albums Of 2015


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. Oh, and that Kid Cudi album too. 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 is part 1 of my top 50 albums of 2015.

Something to note, just came to my attention I forgot Julia Holter's Have You In My Wilderness. Great album, would have likely been around #30. 

The Game | The Documentary 2

You can throw 2.5 into the mix as well. Or better yet, cut out half the filler from both of these releases and gather up 15 or so tracks for one of the best West Coast records in years. But as has always been the case with The Game, quantity over quality. Here though, on The Documentary 2, he shows a willingness to progress, to embark on loose waters, to curb stubbornness in the fate of ambition. It may be 19 songs deep but the LP manages to hold strong with gorilla tape, baring witness to some of the best Hip-Hop transitions song-to-song all year. With a gang of artists by his side, along with samples from generations before him, The Game actually made a credible record with a point and purpose.

Nosaj Thing | Fated | Review

We haven't yet seen him reach for something greater but Nosaj Thing seems to be falling in line with Electronic producers capable of drawing emotion out of thin air. See Boards Of Canada or Flying Lotus for artists who've already made that leap. What we got with Fated was yet another collection of well rounded beats, constructed with a surreal palate primed for engulfing the night and the gloom that grunts around every corner. Strange companion pieces 'Don't Mind Me' with Whoarei and 'Cold Stares' with Chance The Rapper were the clear standouts, showing a producer whose capable of competing for attention even when given strong adversaries.

Tame Impala | Currents | Review

This one conflicts me. In many ways I hate it, yet in others its my favorite Tame Impala record. Their strong departure from Psychedelic Rock was a welcome change, but their transition into reincarnating the decade after, more specifically the Glam Rock of the 80's, was a bit strange. This might be the best example here of an album ripe with as many high marks as low ones. Opener 'Let It Happen' is a journey round the Disco ball and back, while 'Nangs' thwarted any naysayers to Kevin Parker's talents mechanically. The rest was a barrage of bizarro Glam, corny at heart, but some done with passionate fervor, others with embarrassing regret.

Titus Andronicus | The Most Lamentable Tragedy

It's a great Greek tragedy centered around a manic depressive struggling to come to grips with reality. An epic whose ambition was through the roof, or, in other words, another Titus Andronicus album. Two silent refrains, two Gospel passages, two 9 minute monoliths and a handful of Punk anthems round out their greatest work to date. For obsessive fans nothing more could have been asked than a story so engulfing you'd have to spend hours picking it apart. Thankfully at its basis lies a bevy of interesting concepts, a batch of memorable choruses, and tracks that redefine Punk with structure.

A$AP Rocky | At.Long.Last.A$AP | Review

After Long.Live.A$AP's in-the-moment assimilation of Internet-based Rap welcoming influences from all corners of the country with Pop appeal, At.Long.Last.A$AP was hyped beyond belief, letting many down for various reasons. It's a classic case of filler, 18 tracks with cohesion blending them together. But take out the excess and you're left with memorable moments, supreme verses from old heads (Lil Wayne and Mos Def in particular), and production that reached and achieved a hard to nail down aesthetic. It's tough for Rocky to not feel like a conglomeration of all trending rappers, but it's that very facet that allowed the highs on ALLA to flourish.

Grimes | Art Angels | Review

Not that it's normal by any stretch of the imagination, but there are times throughout Art Angels where Grimes' inspirations are clear; bubblegum Pop of the 90's and tween-addictors like Katy Perry and Charlie XCX of today. Throw her oddball tendencies into the mix and you're primed for 2015's strangest album, one that hinges on two extremes that typically never position next to one another. No where else will you see 'California,' a foot stomp, hand clap Country anthem bash up against 'SCREAM,' a fully Japanese rap song. Grimes always seems too big to fail, her ambition never detracts from the music, it only embraces it and uses it as fuel to further try and succeed with more outlandish things.

Father John Misty | I Love You, Honeybear

In many ways Father John Misty's latest release was an absolute butchering of Indie music. For a genre so far up its own ass, it was refreshing to see an artist take the sounds, chop them up into a blender, mash them together, pour some ooey-gooey love songs over it, while making a mockery of the whole thing. In other words, look at the cover. Absurdism in all forms. Thankfully, musically speaking Josh Tillman has the skills to turn these offenses into Folk Rock jams, making his character the prominent feature only helped to showcase the bevy of interesting concepts hidden beneath.

Erykah Badu | But U Caint Use My Phone

From the get go this sounded like a bad idea. The queen of 2000's Neo-Soul making a mixtape based off of others' works centered solely around cell phones? That can't be good. And yet, here we are. Never doubt Erykah Badu, that's what I learned, cause if someone can make a 36 minute piece weaving between repeated phrases, catchy hooks, PSA's, and dial-up call-backs, it's her. Should we mention that apart from having 'Cel U Lar Device' be Drake's 'Hotline Bling' from a female perspective the entire work is essentially a homage to that song? From small snippets popping up inconsequentially, to Badu's rebuttle's to society's obsession with the phone, she's essentially in love with 'Hotline Bling' and the phone, whilst simultaneously hating all of it.

Kamasi Washington | The Epic

Yes, Mr.Washington I'll get on your epic ride. In an ever-shifting musical climate where the unexpected has become the norm, one begins to wonder how to fully appreciate a three-hour Jazz album. Do you pick it apart piece by piece? Sully in a room by yourself, reacting physically to the range of emotions displayed? Or is it best left for mere elevator music? Whatever the case may be, The Epic suits them all. A gargantuan release that has something for everyone, working as a wonderful introduction to modern era Jazz with hints of expansive Soul (the three vocal medleys come to mind). At the end of the day, sure, Kamasi Washington's Epic was too big to fail regardless.

Jay Rock | 90059 | Review

It's tough to love 90059. The promotional lead-up was some of the worst in music this year. Four years since his debut with five singles to its name, three of which landed on the 11-track LP, 90059 was looking to come down with the Cruel Summer syndrome. It was saved by a stellar template that never overflowed, concise enough to intrigue in a handful of different ways. Often times Gangsta Rap LP's flood listeners with filler, but Jay Rock ratcheted down the send all approach even he used to enforce and came up with a record that said all it wanted to and more. Discrete yet detailed enough, 90059 basked in its love of the streets, turning rudimentary stereotypes into life stories. Oh, and it had 'Vice City.'

Sufjan Stevens | Carrie & Lowell

It's the Sufjan Stevens albums fans waited his entire career for. While I prefer more upbeat chaos in the tune of Age Of Adz, the withering silence of Carrie & Lowell fosters the true talents of a one-of-a-kind musician like none other. Surprisingly the first album in Stevens' strange discography to not have a grand scope or an ordain finish, the pieces of Carrie & Lowell are stripped bare, harnessed back, and contained within 43 expected minutes. It was heart-warming, heart-breaking, and an overall heartache, containing immense imagery over an acoustic guitar, making the LP Steven's most personal release by a long shot. The ode to his fallen mother could not have been better executed.

The Internet | Ego Death

New age Neo-Soul. That's how The Internet has been booked, and that's what Ego Death shows off confidently. Upbeat, with constant rhythmic patterns and a focus on merging modern aesthetics with antique instrumentation. It's been done before, but where Syd The Kid and her group depart from the bevy of competitors is Ego Death's passion to rewriting basic millennial history into poetic refrains. Drama centered around first felt love fills the scope of the release, with musical elements that pander to both new and old crowds. While Syd The Kid dominated much of the LP there were times the group's instrumentation shown vibrantly, the two coming together is all the much better. Ego Death was a moment to moment release, with bustling talent filling the seams.

Panda Bear | Meets The Grim Reaper | Review

Seems like forever ago Panda Bear's latest album was released. Now we're on to talking about Animal Collective's latest endeavor. But looking back, what was initially seen as a redundant release settling into a regurgitated role with Lennox's synth modulation taking over actually provided some stellar music that used those effects properly, and others that discounted them entirely. 'Tropic Of Cancer' might be Lennox's most beautiful song yet, revolving around the death of a loved one, while 'Crosswords' was a bouncy cacophony of brilliantly used rhythms and patterns. It wasn't all hits, but when it did it flaunted the talents of an Indie musician lamenting in his own merits.

Big Grams | Big Grams | Review

The two lead singles that kicked off Big Grams' promotional run, 'Fell In The Sun' and 'Lights On,' would later turn out to be the weakest two on the seven track EP. It was a worrisome hype train that lead to some real satisfaction by the time of its arrival. Every other track brought its own flavor of Big Boi and Phantogram's odd SynthPop/Hip-Hop duality. There was 'Run For Your Life's' rambunctious build-up, 'Put It On Her's' southern-style syrup, and 'Drum Machine's' well, uh, drum machine. Despite being seven ordinary tracks from the outside, there was a goldmine of depth to be found within their appetizing bites. Run The Jewels came ferociously over 'Born To Shine,' while Big Boi shined over the rest, providing more buttery smooth flows that only he can do successfully. At times the production was airy, other times it was cacophonous. But the thing Big Grams did most was what it set out to do; be fun.

Tyler, The Creator | Cherry Bomb | Review

For all the controversy that swelled around Cherry Bomb here it lands #36 on my top albums of the year. I can't do anything but condone Tyler, The Creator for his unwavering commitment to doing whatever the hell he wants. In many ways, while there were certainly more forward-thinking pieces, or just straight up left field ones, Cherry Bomb may have been the strangest of the year. Styles so off the wall that they fail to latch to any, influences ranging from Stevie Wonder to Death Grips, and lyrics that saw Tyler either trying incredibly hard or not at all. There are flaws throughout its duration, but the overall sense of creativity, and the handful of tracks that never cease to remain entertaining ('Smuckers,' Okaga, CA,' and '2Seater' to name a few) make this a worthy record to add to Tyler's catalogue.

Arcade Fire | The Reflektor Tapes

Simply stated, The Reflektor Tapes saw Arcade Fire in the midst of their transformation to the Reflektors from their times as Indie Rock revivalists. Many tracks here bear witness to that disparity. Tracks not fully surrounded by Dancehall influences, containing the last remnants of The Suburbs' Rock aesthetic. Guitars and Win's southernly touch were still ever-present on tracks like 'Apocrypha' and 'Soft Power,' but where each began with their more minimalist origins they ended on much more mechanical notes, drifting away to the synth-based chaos of Reflektor. Others, like 'Get Right,' drifted off into overwhelming discordance, with large melodies soaring over constant electronic shuffling. But, for fans of their more natural sound, The Reflektor Tapes saw a return, a ripening and refining of what made their previous releases noted.

Chelsea Wolfe | Abyss

Dread spilling from the seams. That's how I describe Chelsea Wolfe's Abyss, a terror Gothic Rock opera drowning in the endless darkness of the sea. With the sounds of the apocalypse collapsing around her, Wolfe desperately pleads for an escape amongst the rubble, finding her voice creaking out of the bombastic drums and swelling guitars. While the first half insisted on pushing the final nails in this ghastly coffin, the second half sought to tear back the boards and reveal a softer side. 'Crazy Love' and 'Simple Death' saw Wolfe become the focal point, the noise peel away with the ongoing sounds of humanity. Acoustics, percussions, and pianos played solemnly to the witnessing death. It wasn't until the cathartic finale, 'The Abyss,' where the two sides merged into an experimental fervor, as a haunted house builds around her corridors leaving no escape to the torment.

Four Tet | Morning/Evening | Review

With Morning/Evening subtitles never seemed so in your face. Every aspect of the two twenty-minute tracks had a punch, a perspective, a quality unmatched by other Dance producers in 2015. When others were accentuated abrasiveness, going for a dirtier approach, Four Tet remained crisp, clear, and concise. The drums are persistent, the strings daring and fleeting, the overarching vocals crystalized, and the bleeping synths simply delightful. It's the latter aspect that connects the two parts, a transitional period in which the sun embarks on its quest downwards. While Morning/Evening never attempted to stun or impress, relegating itself to simply existing as a companion piece to late night Rave wind downs, it's presence as this spiritual plane where the beat never ceases to end is a welcomed contrarian to brevity.

Heems | Eat Pray Thug | Review

To many it was a sporadic mess, but for some Heems' Eat Pray Thug tip toed diversity with some nasty beats and alternative structures. It wasn't Industrial per-say, but his debut LP took sounds directly from the streets, sirens, car horns, janky garbage cans, all wired directly into bass reverb that comes from the ground itself. Sure it was inconsistent, mixing relationship problems with bass-heavy jams and cultural dilemmas in a stew equally consisting of each third, but removing the first third leads to an album that's half banger, half contemplative, a combination beyond rare in Hip-Hop. 'Sometimes' and 'So NY' set the tone, throwing listeners through a loop with Heems' off-kilter lyricism and flows, but it was late album growers, 'Patriot Act' and 'Suicide By Cop,' along with 'Flag Shopping,' that kept interest beyond the handful of hype tracks.

Busdriver | Thumbs | Review

At the least fans who didn't find much worth out of Thumbs can rest assured in knowing Driver ain't going nowhere, one of the few figureheads in the underground who transitioned his game superbly to the Internet age. A mixtape/album of sorts, Thumbs brushed upon the extremities Perfect Hair showcased, blowing the Danny Brown vibes out in the open and reveling in the slower jams that retained immeasurable value. Throughout it all, following like-minded emcee Milo in his recent political undertones, Thumbs battled with inequality amongst racial tension, spoke unkindly to power-hungry cops, and contemplated our endeavors brought on by ruthless Capitalism. In other words, it may have been Busdriver's strangest album yet, a sight to behold for someone constantly pushing the abstract.

Fashawn | The Ecology | Review

Initially I was caught in the hype of new Fashawn. Six years removed from one of underground Hip-Hop's last beacons of hope was a long time to gather storm. The Ecology's still great mind you, but it's impact has been hampered down by its one dimensional take on West Coast Hip-Hop. A dying genre unable to expand. But within that scope, The Ecology was filled with refreshing vibes and solid lyricism centered around the growth of an individual up out of the streets. 'Man Of The House' promoted fatherly love while others deferred for Exile-utilized beats that emphasized good feelings. Others were trunk-rattling anthems ('Out The Trunk'), some were storytelling at its finest ('To Be Young'), and overall The Ecology was a worthy contributor to underground West Coast Hip-Hop's growing stack of Sunday morning driving vibing.

The World Is A Beautiful Place | Harmlessness

Typically known as the frontrunners to the Emo revival, The World Is A Beautiful Place took the emotional pull of its early 2000's brethren and Grunge alternative and modernized it with an Indie Rock blend. Harmlessness mostly avoided the tropes found within Emo music, using instrumentation that's not prone to its comparisons, making it remotely Indie. The lyrics swayed to heart-filled contemplations on childlike life, telling stories between two protagonists giving their distant perspectives. Not every moment was condensed to dread and weariness, there were splotches of brighter bliss and introspective set pieces that witnessed the light at the end of the tunnel.

Destroyer | Poison Season | Review

In the year 2015 no one defines Sophisti-Pop as great as Destroyer. In fact, no one really is even in the genre. Dan Bejar's reincarnation of Bob Dylan set in the starlit streets of 1970's Manhattan could be one of the more developed sounds of this decade. With his overuse of organic instrumentation Bejar really takes off and soars with NYC romanticism in the early SNL days. It's smothered in Jazz and ripe with cheesy poetic refrains, but what Poison Season does best is its detachment from the primary, emphasizing use of saxophones, trumpets, flutes, and the like over guitars and drums. It makes for an inviting experience that brings the listener in without exactly explaining why.

Courtney Barnett | Sometimes I Sit & Think

Self-depreciating music has never been so insightful, delightful, and not corny. That last one is a difficult thing to avoid when curating lyrics centered around one's own failures, but Barnett executes it exquisitely thanks to a perspective that treated it with dull humor and serious overtones. 'Elevator Operator' managed to introduce both of those, speaking on behalf of someone with a mundane life with no end in sight. She took this same approach in other aspects of life, from relationships to loneliness, detailing their existence whilst acknowledging the light at the end of the tunnel. Musically she owned her lane, throwing catchy riffs and sonic montages up against a noise-drenched wall to create the scope of Sometimes I Sit & Think.

Viet Cong | Viet Cong

Seven songs is all that was needed to show that Viet Cong's Viet Cong had a purpose and a point. It thrived in a Post-Punk revival that wasn't afraid to merge experimentation with Pop sensibilities. Tracks like 'Pointless Experience' were able to lay claim to the same space as 'Death,' a massive 11 minute finale, by continuation of sounds that successfully worked with smaller riffs as well as larger waves. Matt Flegel's vocals and lyrics commandeered a leading charge of instrumentation behind him, making Viet Cong's grandest moments glorified epics and their spots of textual Art Rock startling in their subdued measures. They weren't afraid to roll with the punches and cut through the tension, resulting in a dramatic piece of music that intrigued through all its various facets.

Dr. Dre | Compton | Review

In what had to be the most surprising release of the year, Dr.Dre returned not with the forever hyped Detox but Compton, a record that (to some crassly) utilized the unveiling of Apple Music and Straight Outta Compton to grand effect. But that's the Dre way, always going big to make his fortune. Thankfully for fans Compton was better than expected, a worthy record that featured an A-list cast and some newcomers to speak on behalf of the troubles arising out of the Compton streets. Thanks in part to Kendrick Lamar's rise in stardom and quality Dre's Compton is a thematic record, with abrupt beat switches, skits weaving in between the music, and an overall grand scope with a message. At the very least, it saw legends known for falling off recently give it their all and provide some stellar verses.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra | Multi-Love

A great take on Psychedelic Pop. Multi-Love was drenched in acid rain, obsessed with caressing melodies and smothered the lead singer, Ruban Nielson, in crackling vinyls and Lo-fi reverb. Tracks like 'Can't Keep Checking My Phone' and 'Multi-Love' somehow merged the cooky sensibilities of post-MPP Animal Collective and of Montrael's psychotic foundation, creating likable Pop songs that were still as intricate as the most Indie of records. Carrying a full range of emotions, it's also a shock Multi-Love was able to provide stunning variety despite the constant complications Psychedelic Pop has with sounding trivial. 'Necessary Evil' was a slow-burner that never deterred from its solid footing, while closer 'Puzzles' was a rousing anthem centered around relational complications.

Deerhunter | Fading Frontier | Review

You'd expect a vehement reaction following a near fatal car crash from someone who ventured into dark areas of Experimental Indie Rock. Instead, Bradford Cox and Deerhunter released their poppiest album to date. If anything their last release, Monomania, seemed to predict the looming crash, being their most noise-centric release to date. But here, through many efforts like lead single 'Snakeskin,' Deerhunter followed structure and melodies known to Indie without forcing impressions. This allowed the group to flaunt their talents without the interruptions of ideas, often leading to some of their most sonically pleasing melodies to date. Tracks like 'Take Care' and 'All The Same' played off their skills, gliding through measures with synths that didn't bombard the background but accompanied it, allowing Cox to flourish with his idiosyncratic mannerisms on the mic.

Miguel | Wildheart

It's quite surprising that for how Pop Miguel is he still hasn't reached the levels of popularity he deserves. Wildheart was his best work yet, a fluid mix of modern and classical R&B with a dash of Hip-Hop and Neo-Soul thrown in. The mixture created a swell aura that followed trends as well as creating new one, sonically and lyrically. With Miguel and Frank Ocean helming modern R&B the distancing from Hip-Hop and 90's R&B machoism is a welcome shift where respect, integrity, and communion combine forces to sway beliefs and actions. Throughout Wildheart few songs stood out amongst the bunch, with a consistent patch of good tracks throughout the record, ranging from sexual talk over coffee, California loving, and the misunderstanding of racial identification.

Joey Badass | B4.DA.$$ | Review

On his highly anticipated debut, the Pro Era emcee kept things cool, calm, and collected. He didn't reach beyond his scope or risk any lofty goals. What he did do was create a solid New York street album for the kids who want to stay true to the Illmatic days. Intelligent, but not overly preachy with his lyricism, and catchy enough to attract listeners from his famed Youtube days, Joey Bada$$' debut flew under many radars for its contention with making something that remained true to his sights. From the dirtiest of production coming from a litany of famed producers, DJ Premier's 'Paper Trail$' and Statik Selektah's 'Curry Chicken' being the standouts, B4.DA.$$ had enough to munch on for people who wanted more than the insight of a New York kid blossoming into Hip-Hop stardom.

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