Best Albums of 2015

OK so I skipped a year. OK so its almost March. Actually sorry.

This year, a lot of electronic beats (though I have some traditional rock’n’roll and acoustic leaning records on the list too),  voices that tell a different story from the traditional narratives…

10.Courtney Barnett (Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit)

Ahhh. This is the coolest thing I didn’t know I needed. “Elevator Operator” and “Pedestrian at Best”  (the first two tracks on the album) are so on point its scary. Its a throwback to a simpler, no-frills, rock’n’roll time. She captures moments. How old is she even? Younger than me? She sounds wiser than that.

“Depreston” is a quiet little number, a softer look at life. Quiet Drums. A scene, a description, a house. This quiet track grounds the songs around it.

Courtney Barnett is like the cool senior who is in an all chick band that practices in the garage next door. Its not complex, or musically novel, but it is damn good. And very cool.

“Nobody Really Care If You Don’t Go To The Party,” speaks to me. “I wanna go out but I wanna stay home…” How did I get here?

9. Joanna Newsom (Divers)

Joanna Newsom. You probably either love or hate her (voice?). Her new album is so nice. SO so nice. She’s like Kate Bush + Fiona Apple + crack. I get into moods where all I want to listen to is her. Is she the grown up version of the women who spoke to me as a youngster? Maybe.

The title track is haunting, and sad, and so uniquely weird. It is not a song as much as it is storytelling at its core… Every stanza brings with it an echo of the last, asks questions, builds.

“I know we must abide
each by the rules that bind us here:
the divers, and the sailors, and the women on the pier.
But how do you choose your form?
How do you choose your name? How do you choose your life?
How do you choose the time you must exhale,
and kick, and rise?”

8. Ezra Furman (Perpetual Motion People)

Maybe this is good old fashioned rock’n’roll. Maybe its something else entirely. I have always loved Ezra’s music, and this, his 3rd (?) solo album, does not disappoint. The songs are catchy, dynamic, quirky.

Live, he is pure joy to watch. Alone in your room, the songs can resonate on a more emotional level.

This tune is just lovely. It also highlights his non-conforming gender-fluid take on rock’n’roll.

7.Shamir (Ratchet)

I learned about Shamir by going to his show. I am pretty sure he is under 20, but he captivated the crowd like a pro. This year I was really drawn to “other” “non traditional” performers. I am sick and tired of the old narrative, and Shamir is one to give you something new.

“On the Regular” is obviously a dope song, something to dance to, something to celebrate. Like Frank Ocean, he walks the line of what it means to be a masculine and black. Pitchfork calls him a “Vegas pixie, a black man making poetic and flagrantly rococo dance pop,” which I can’t really top.

“Call it off,” is a sweet little breakup song that makes me bounce around.

6. Mbongwana Star (From Kinshasa)

Maybe I haven’t been listening, but I have never heard anything like this before in my life. This record marries everything from traditional likembe sounds, to electronic beats, grungy and ghostly noise, and distorted Bantu vocals. This project seems like an experiment of what music can do.

Listening to Mbongwana Star makes me excited about what is possible in music. What genre or style they are opening up for other to fill in the space.

 

5. Ibeyi (Ibeyi)

What else do you want besides Afro-Cuban-French twins who practice Regla de Ocha and sing haunting tunes in Yoruba, English and French? Nothing. Thats what. Tbh I don’t really know what category to put Ibeyi into, its something like downtempo electronic music, some hiphop, some jazz, some Buena Vista Social Club. But whatever it is, its magical.

It’s raw. It’s weird. It feels sacred. It feels both young and old. I really enjoyed their interview on Alt.Latino.  Because they sounds like kids- but kids with undisputed talent and creativity.

This is their most well known track of the record. I think its pretty emblematic of their whole vibe, too.

4. Kendrick Lamar (To Pimp a Butterfly)

Its probably a lot to live up to to rise to fame and then release your second album. Everyone is watching. Everyone is anticipating. Everyone looking tfor a vocie in these troubled times,  trying to make sense of the tumultuous landscape for young black men in this country.

Kendrick Lamar is again able to define rap music in a new way, reaching for jazz, for slam poetry, complicated ideas/struggles/politics. And I couldn’t get enough of it.

3. Young Fathers (White Men are Black Men Too)

I love these dudes. With a nod to TV on the Radio, this album is dancey in a subtle way. I like the complex and often uncomfortable melodies and rhythms, and the smooth transitions from rap to yelling to singing.

“Old Rock ‘n Roll” is one of the least upbeat tracks on the album, but the lyrical adventure and strange rhythm section

This album is confrontational, its at times uncomfortable, at times unfinished- but oh so good.

2. Jamie XX (In Colour)

I found myself reaching for this record more and more as the months grew colder. It’s hard to believe this is his solo debut, I feel like I have loved his style for so long. This album’s versatility- dance music, gloomy music, love music- is what gets me. The tracks have little in common, besides the endless loops and robot sounds of Jamie XX’s sampler. Can we talk about how often I have listened to the Popcaan/Young Thug collaboration? Like a lot. Probably more than I should. But that song is irresistible, and for the gloomy months, an invitation to travel to sweaty dancehalls (at least in your mind).

“Loud Places” is a sweet quiet song with xx partner Romy. “You’re in ecstasy without me/ When you come down, I won’t be around.” Its sad, and emotional and completely different from the next song on the album (“I Know There’s Gonna Be”). I like how the melody + rhythm swoop in and out from the sweet singing voice, the handclaps (obvs) the message.

1. Sufjan Stevens (Carrie & Lowell)

I can’t tell you how many times I listened to this record. Over and over and over and over. Every single song on this album just cuts you deep in the hollowest insides of your belly. Masochistic? Maybe. But so worth it.

I don’t think this record has percussions at all. It’s all voice. All acoustic. All heart. How do you deal with life when a person you had complicated feelings towards dies?

The songs are melodic, catchy, they sweep you away. I can’t pick a favorite. “Death with Dignity” opens the doors to the a wispy, fragile, story, its gentle. Its sad. “every road leads to and end…”

“When I was three, three maybe four, she left us at that video store,” from “Should Have Known Better” crushes. This song’s melodies are perfect.

Honorable Mentions:

Belle & Sebastian (Girl in Peacetime Want to Dance) I LOVE THIS ALBUM. that is all.

Bomba Estereo (Amanecer) Ever since going to the Amazon I can’t get enough of electro cumbia. File this under “I just want to dance”

Justin Bieber (Purpose). Sorry not sorry. This album is pop crack.

Best Albums of 2013

10 Beyoncé- Beyoncé

I like the fanfare around this album. It’s also just a good album. She’s talented, hot, and cool. What is there to hate? I also like her husband (see #8). I generally enjoy collaborations, and she does them well, especially on Superpower, with Frank Ocean (but I pretty much like anything he does). The album feels so intimate, like she is really telling us what happens with Jay Z when the cameras are off, which is partially “eeeeewwww” and partially enthralling (especially in Drunk in Love). You go girl.

9 Justin Timberlake– The 20/20 Experience

Put this album on in the background, and you will be dancing around your office for real (or you know, your apartment, your bed, the street, etc.) This album is for lovers, and every song a love song. An epic long love song. Even such frivolous songs as Don’t Hold the Wall (a love song about dancing in the middle of the dance floor, not up against a wall),  and Spaceship Coupe (a love song in space: “Hop into my spaceship coupe.There’s only room for two (Me and you)/And with the top down/We’ll cruise around/Land and make love on the moon/Would you like that?”) are not only dancey and catchy, but actually kind of sweet. The highlight for me, and one of the longest odes of love, Pusher Love Girl. 8 Minutes. A (simulated) Orchestra. A sweet tune in the beginning, and a mean beat at the end. It’s like 3 songs in one. It’s love.

8 Jay-ZMagna Carta Holy Grail

This album was not universally loved. Critics were rough.  But what can I say? Bye haters. While I do think Jay didn’t try hard enough on this one (it seems sloppy in parts, not innovative enough, simple at times, maybe safe) it’s still more amazing than 90% of the music out there. I do hate the whole deal Jay made with Samsung, but what can I say> He’s not just a “Business Man” he’s “a Business, Man!” I digress. The title track is cool, but I especially liked Oceans (featuring Frank Ocean- see #10)  Tom Ford, and Picasso Baby. In Picasso Baby, Jay evokes the greats Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Jeff Koons, Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol) and thinks he  can become (or actually becomes?) a visual artist in doing so. His MoMA performance of this song was dope, and you can’t tell me otherwise. His confidence is what makes this album what it is. He’s has it all an he knows it.

7 King Krule6 Feet Beneath the Ground

King Krule. What a weirdo. What an amazing weirdo. The album opens up with Easy Easy (“Ow no I should’ve kept my receipts/Cause the sandwich I bought/Yeah it’s been off for a week/And Tesco’s stealing my money/When positivity seems hard to reach”)-Which I think is maybe more accessible than some of the other tracks on the album. The melody is so cool, the hook pretty catchy. But it’s not the only good stuff on here, his creaky, raspy, deep voice, juxtaposed to a 19 year old red head, full of 19 year old red head issues, it’s just amazing. Sadly I missed his show a few weeks ago, due to something or other. But that for sure won’t happen again.

6 James Blake- Overgrown 

This album is haunting. This is where my interest in electronic music meets my love for sad singer song writers. Retrograde is so perfect, I can’t even tell you. The simple beat, the airy melody, the words (“I’ll wait/So show me why you’re strong/Ignore everybody else,/We’re alone now”) It builds up, it lets you down. It’s a trip. Even Take a Fall for Me, which features RZA, and Pitchfork called sub-par- I like. Yes the rap seems clunky over the music, but whatever man. Who else is doing this kind of stuff? No one. That’s who.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

If Chance the Rapper tackles angst of growing up through the eyes of a 20 year old, Trouble Will Find Me is all of the sadness of disappearing youth from a 40 year old’s perspective. Matt Bernginer is a tortured soul. I like many songs on this album, especially Fireproof “You’re fireproof/Nothing breaks your heart/You’re fireproof/It’s just the way you are” and especially I Need My Girl, but that is because I am such a sentimental shmuck (“Remember when you said/I’m sorry/To the vines and no one saw it/I’ll try to call you from the party/It’s full of punks and cannonballers/I need my girl”)- this album has something fore every shade of blue.

4 Major Lazer- Free the Universe 

I am not even joking. a) Mad Decent Block Party was by FAR the best show I went to this year and b) this album has the best dance music of the year. I listen to this in the morning when I am getting ready, I listen to this at the gym, I listen to this before going out, I listen to this EVERYWHERE. From the mellow and personally long awaited Jessica (featuring Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend), the beautiful and tender “Get Free” (featuring Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors) to the righteous “Jah No Partial” (featuring Flux Pavilion) this album has something for everything (who likes dance hall). Bumaye Comrades.

3 Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City

While the last Vampire Weekend albums were pretty much exclusively fun (still bookish and quirky) Modern Vampires of the City is much more adult, complex, grounded, wordy, worldy. Interesting questions of religion (Ya Hey, Worship You, Unbelievers) and love/broken hearts  (“Hannah Hunt”, “Everlasting Arms”) wrapped up in super catchy beats and melodies. I like this stuff because it’s pop music. But it’s not thoughtless.

2 Chance the Rapper- Acid Rap

This is his second EP, and I think I like every song on it. It’s psychedelic-happy-hip-hop. It’s young and fresh and vulnerable. Chance is terrified of becoming an adult, as we might all be, but addresses the issue in such a childlike way, it’s endearing. The title track has a killer melody, and some interesting drum beats in the back.  He really nails it when he talks about the ennui of growing up:

“I miss my diagonal grilled cheeses
And back when Mike Jackson was still Jesus
Before, I believed in not believing in
Yeah, I inhaled, who believed in me not breathing in
Cigarette stained smile all covered in sin”

Favorite Song and Cocoa Butter Kisses are so catchy, you won’t be able to get them out of your head. And you won’t want to.

1 Kanye West- Yeezus

I didn’t think anything could be better than Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but this is definitely coming very close. The electro beats are flawless, his rapping is interesting,this album is the future. If the Jetsons listened to rap music, they would listen to Yeezus. Bound 2, is a one of the most beautiful love songs I have ever (“I know you’re tired of loving, of loving/With nobody to love, nobody, nobody/Just grab somebody, no leaving this party/With nobody to love, nobody, nobody (Uh-huh, honey)”. Also, Blood on the Leaves, with those old eerie Strange Fruit bits, dissected by harsh lyrics, that at first glance have so little to do with the baseline samples, is pretty amazing.

All in all, this will be a staple for many eons to come.