2015 brought its share of musical surprises. Here are my highlights.
I’ve liked Baroness’ previous color albums, but not as immediately as the newest effort, Purple. As countless other reviews have mentioned: the energy and love for life in this record is so epic, so hard to contain, that is oozes from the edges of every song. This record is simply a flat-out joy to listen to. The hooks make me feel positive and powerful. Great record full of positivity.
Album highlights: Chlorine & Wine, Shock Me, Kerosene, Desperation Burns
2015 was another year of incredible modern soul debuts. Leon Bridges can sing his lungs off. Call him a modern day Sam Cooke, an old soul or whatever, but know that he’s only getting started. I’m excited to see where he goes from here. I definitely love this record, though at times, feel it suffers from being over-produced. I want more of what made his standout hits Coming Home and The River so classic feeling.
Some of these tracks also feel a bit bogged-down by less-than-great lyrics. Take for example the super problematic lyrics in Better Man and how he’s acknowledging and perpetuating the idea of cheating on your significant other. I take issue with this, just as a human. Take that and mix it with just enough theology, and there is definitely room for improvement from a lyrics standpoint.
Album highlights: Coming Home, The River, Lisa Sawyer
More so than Earl Sweatshirt’s sophomore record this year I Don’t Like Shit. I Don’t Go Outside I found myself really appreciating this dude’s wordplay and flow. This is a seriously impressive debut full-length record.
Highway to hell and I’m speedin’, one way to tell if I’m breathin’ On three let’s jump off the roof, on three let’s jump off the roof
Album highlights: Lift Me Up, Birds & Bees, Jump Off the Roof
The Children of the Night
Tribulation is made up of some awesomely odd ducks. Their genre-spanning ability is remarkable. I don’t think I’ve heard a band blend thrash and black metal so well.
Album highlights: Strange Gateways Beckon, Melancholia, In The Dreams of the Dead, Strains of Horror
As always, every week I add interesting looking albums to my Today’s Music playlist in Google Music. This approach, coupled with a relentless thirst for new music, is what led me to this wonderful record. Solid through and through.
Buy Roseau – Salt
Album highlights: Salt, Kids and Drunks, See You Soon, Florida
This is Björk’s most heartbreaking record to date. Containing mostly lyrics and feelings stemming from and consumed by her divorce, the lyrics explore loss and all things heartbreak. This is also one of the first records since, 2001’s Vespertine, which was, to me, her best record. This record takes the intimacy and introspection of Vespertine and melds it with the accessible bits of her last two records sounds. It doesn’t hurt that Antony Hegarty appears, once again, here. I love them as a duo so hard.
Album highlights: Lionsong, History of Touches, Atom Dance
Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Call her a modern day Bob Dylan, Courtney’s ability to put human observations into song is rivaled by few others. This record is full of remarkable lyrics and solid down-tempo but positive rhythms. What I admire most about the record is how it feels like it’s a record rooted in simpler times. It’s comfortable nostalgia.
Album highlights: Pedestrian at Best, Depreseton, Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party
This is the first Deerhunter record that I feel good about putting on a “best of” list. It’s a flat-out solid, well thought out album. Similar to my thoughts on how Courtney’s album feels, this record to has a very distinct feel rooted in some weird nostalgia for me. Maybe it’s some kind of 80s feel in Talking Heads-like keyboard passages. Whatever it is I like it, a lot.
Album highlights: Living My Life, Leather and Wood, Snakeskin
This sophomore record is crushingly awesome. It’s the best doom record I listened to in 2015. To me, Bell Witch edged-out Monolord’sVænir record; which was good, but not great.
Album highlights: All of it (4 tracks)
To Pimp a Butterfly
This is a truly remarkable record and one that deserves all its accolades, critical acclaim, Grammy awards, and number one spots on 2015 best-of lists everywhere. In every respect, it’s a phenomenal record. But, I’ve had my own struggles figuring out how to appreciate this record given its prevalent use of the n-word. Which, of course, can be seen as me exposing my white privilege and having sad feelings about the word and its power.
Maybe it’s due to age, or our currently heated societal racial tension, but I find myself questioning why hip-hop needs to use the n-word so much. I love this record and my perceived message of what it seeks to convey. I am not the audience. At least, I don’t think I am.
Amendment below from July 30, 2016:
But of course, at least I can have those feelings about it. I acknowledge that this is all on me and not on Kendrick. I appreciate Talib Kweli’s thoughts on this and it helped me gain valuable perspective. Basically, as a person of white-identified race, I feel guilty hearing this word, because my culture is responsible for its hateful inception and creation. I can’t say the word, thus, I don’t want to hear it.
Previously, I wrote that language is a sacred thing and find myself questioning the whys of using such a hateful word. I now arrive at the fact that, through seeing and considering the other side of this language conundrum, my perspective is very different than a Black person appreciating and/or listening to music with a seemingly multipurpose word. Those purposes may be lost on me, but it truly isn’t my place to judge. I don’t know how to make myself feel better hearing it. Maybe I never will. Race issues will always be problematic to me until racism is no long ingrained in our society. Judging by recent police shootings and our Republican candidate for 2016, we have a long way to go. Let’s hope he doesn’t win.
Album highlights: These Walls, The Blacker The Berry, I
This might be the best jazz record released in years. It’s also an incredibly dense and challenging listen – requiring a lot of time to consume and enjoy. I like complexity in music; as it accommodates new learning, exploration, and appreciation with each listen. We’re well into 2016 and I’m still digesting this beast.
Album highlights: Change of the Guard, Final Thought, Re Run, The Magnificent 7, Re Run Home, Malcolm's Theme
I had the pleasure of seeing Joanna perform live at the Fitzgerald in St. Paul. She put on, probably one of my top 10, favorite shows ever. Her voice, musical ability, and stage presence were all impeccable. I could do nothing but stare in awe several times throughout the show – many times on the verge of tears.
Album highlights: Sapokanikan, Leaving The City, Leaving The City, You Will Not Take My Heart Alive
I’m a huge fan of Deafheaven. Call me a hipster or all up on Pitchfork’s fanpersonism, but they are flat-out awesome. No other black metal act constructs such epic, emotive, beautifully diverse music. I’m reminded a bit of Wolves in the Throne Room’s incredible first two records. Not in every respect, of course, but in their shared ability to expand, contract, deviate from, and circle back to the same groove.
Album highlights: Everything: All five tracks
This woman has grown in talent and artistic vision exponentially. I was really torn between in my decision to rank this at number two versus number one on this list. Abyss is Chelsea’s most fully realized record to date. There is no filler here, just crushingly incredible music.
Album highlights: Carrion Flowers, Iron Moon, After The Fall, Crazy Love
I can’t say express enough superlatives about Son Little’s debut full-length. Aaron Livingston has finally created a record/project that is solid front-to-back. I’ve listened to every song countless times and only recently, three months into 2016, taken it out of my daily playlist rotation. It was hard to remove the album. That’s how much I’ve both listened to and loved it.
I had the pleasure of seeing Son Little perform a non-sold-out show at the 7th Street Entry. The experience being back at 7th street brought me back to the late 90s Atmosphere / Rhymesayers / Anticon shows I attended there and a 1st Avenue. I have so many fond memories attending shows in small intimate venues like 7th street and 1st Avenue (when it’s not sold out and awful). Sadly, I don’t get the chance to see some of the artists I love most in such a setting anymore, so it’s great when it does happen. In Son Little’s case, I’d like to think his commercial or at least a sub-level of mainstream appeal is on the verge of exploding. All he needs is a song from this record played on TV or in a movie to propel him to mainstream status.
Album highlights: I’m Gone, Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches, Lay Down, Go Blue Blood Red
- Jamie xx – In Colour
- Oneohtrix – Garden of Delete
- Monolord – Vænir
- Elder – Lore
- Drudkh – A Furrow Cut Short
- Empress Of – Me
- Ghost – Meliora
- Nils Frahm – Solo
- Miguel – Wildheart
- Arca – Mutant
- Archy Marshall – A New Place 2 Drown
- Earl Sweatshirt I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
- Floating Points – Elaenia
- Odesza — In Return
- Thundercat – The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam
- Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
- Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell