Have you had your fill of year-end lists yet? Of course you haven’t. Year-end lists are the best. I wish we could have year-end lists all year, but alas, the year only ends once a year. There’s nothing quite like the meta feeling achieved from scrolling through someone’s carefully curated rankings of obscure music/film/television, thinking to yourself, “Yeah I’ve heard of that,” and picking apart the author’s clearly pretentious choices. If that’s your shtick, you’re going to love this one…I mean, it features commentary on Grimes, Deerhunter and Beach House. But if you’re just looking to broaden your palate via cool beat by the grouping of bands you’ve never heard of with the ones you like, you’ll probably enjoy this as well…after all, I also talk about Drake. For these reasons, I’ve saved my year-end list of favorite albums from 2015 until now, over three weeks past the New Year. Think of this as the mini-cannoli at the end of a healthy helping of chicken alfredo, or, if you’re feeling French, a one-part-Pernod-five-parts-water-on-the-rocks aperitif.
I narrowed down my list to 10 albums. Anyone who can’t narrow a list down to 10 (unless it’s a staff list or something) should learn to take a more concrete stance. That being said, I have to mention a few albums that didn’t make my list…I guess because taking a concrete stance is kind of hard.
- “Darkest Before Dawn” by Pusha T
The fact that Pusha T still has anything to say, not to mention anything to contribute, to the rap game is incredible. The fact that he put out one of the best rap albums of the year is absurd. He sticks to his lane and conquers it. I mean, he raps about hustling so well that when I listen, I feel like I could get in the game. And run it. (Disclosure: I would never be able to get into the game, much less run it.) If you need a reason to listen to this album, do it for the L. Ron Hubbard reference in “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets.”
- “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” by Panda Bear
Can a sound be fluid and jerky at the same time? Well, labels like that don’t matter to Panda Bear. At his best, he invents sounds – and he is at his best in this record. “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” is happy and cautious, but with underlying anxiety. Music is headed in the direction of perfectly curated tracks created by well-listened producers, and Panda Bear is sitting in the front of that bus, letting his emotions subtly direct the driver.
10. “Fading Frontier” by Deerhunter
While Deerhunter’s acclaimed “Halcyon Digest” sounds like it’s buried under the weight of trying to purify pop culture from becoming one grand reality television show, the new album, “Fading Frontier,” sheds that burden. Though the righteous sentiments remain within the band, instead of grappling with them, they now accept them. Thus, Deerhunter allowed themselves to make music without pretense and delivered something timelessly enjoyable: an upbeat, quirky and fun pop record. It’s extremely listenable and captivating, but don’t get me wrong; it’s still very much unlike anything you will hear on the radio.
9. “b’lieve i’m goin down” by Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile starts this album with a bang. The leading single and first song, “Pretty Pimpin’” is easily one of my favorite songs this year. I don’t think anyone has ever before described an observation of his or her existential crisis as “pretty pimpin’.” But that’s just the vagabond apathy that somehow churns this record onward. It mellows out more and more as it goes along. His ensemble of bluegrass instruments sound originally rock n’ roll, a feat rarely accomplished. Kurt will have you picking your poison as you sway along all night long to his tunes.
8. “Art Angels” by Grimes
Everything about this album is impressive. It’s the most emotionally expansive album of the year. Grimes cultivates this emotional range not only lyrically and vocally, but with incredible production. It’s also an emotional range rarely witnessed in pop culture. Instead of the usual tropes that are accepted of women in music, Grimes embraces her femininity and shows us her refreshingly authentic world. Plus, her sound, somewhere in-between K-Pop, Spice Girls and LCD Soundsystem, is even more authentic. This record is relentless and exhausting, but more and more addicting as you notice more and more of its intricacies.
7. “If You’re Reading This Its Too Late” by Drake
Drake had a hell of a year. He couldn’t take a loss. He initially released this album as a free mixtape. That’s a platinum album that was originally free. “That Cash Money check would have bounced anyway,” he reasoned. Ensuing events forced Cash Money Records to make this into an album for sale, thus officially releasing Drake from his contract with them. He finally found himself free. Free to make “Hotline Bling.” That’s right, this album is number seven on my list because it allowed Drake the sovereignty to make “Hotline Bling.”
6. “To Pimp a Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar
“Number SIX?!?!?!” you scream at me. Yes, this album is my number six favorite of the year. See, my ranking system is solely based on the pleasure each record gave me. It has nothing to do with importance, cultural significance or even overall artistry. If my ranking system were based on those things, this album would be an easy numero uno. That’s why it’s number one on literally every other list. But, to be honest, this record is so heavy that it’s much easier to just put on “good kid, m.A.A.d. city.” There’s no real rap-along factor here. Shoot, I caught a cramp just trying to tap my foot to “For Free?.” That being said, this is the most overall impressive album to come out in a very long time.
5. “In Colour” by Jamie XX
Why does he spell color like colour? It’s because he’s British. This is the solo debut from the producer of the indie pop band XX – and it’s marvelous. If anything, it can be described as the nonchalantly emotional soundtrack of our generation. Jamie channels his eclectic taste and makes an incredibly coherent work of sound from it. His decision to choose Young Thug for the most fun track on the album, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” shows his foresight, and his use of the steel drums on “Obvs” shows ability to revitalize a fairly sequestered instrument. With this album, Jamie XX has glided his way into the mix of the uniquely stylized producers of electronic music that are taking over the future.
4. “Summertime ’06″ by Vince Staples
Vince Staples gave us the most enthralling rap album of the year. He layers sounds onto lyrics onto sounds onto lyrics thus delivering a texturally complex and extremely significant album. A friend of mine put this album as his number three album of the year. In his commentary, he told of a friend of his who described the album as “rap noir.” (Follow those links and the train of authors and you might get a giggle.) Vince brings us the noir of Long Beach, or, more accurately, hands us some night vision goggles to see into all the darkness.
3. “Depression Cherry” by Beach House
Beach House is easily (and often) described as unique, consistent and ambient. I’m going to take the description game a step further, though. Depression Cherry sounds like the raindrops outside of your window easing you into a nap just as the sun begins to shine through and gently warm your feet. Depression Cherry sounds the way the lavender oil smelled that my mom used to put on my pillow when I wasn’t feeling well. Depression Cherry sounds like that warm feeling in your belly when you’re on the couch with an old lover and you find comfort in that. But, more than anything else, Depression Cherry sounds like it is removed from all of this, standing outside in the rain, watching it all unfold through a blurry window.
2. “Currents” by Tame Impala
Some of my favorite works of literature take place within a short period of time. Movies like those of the Before Trilogy are good examples. They take place within 24 hours, and take their time to explore all the little, important details that enhance life. With “Currents,” Tame Impala delves even further into this concept. Each song is enveloped in the reactionary emotions of single, gut wrenching moments. The moments explored are like the ones in which you reminisce on the things once said to you and think of what would have been the perfect response. This album is a retrospective justification of itself, it sounds confident and defensive, like nostalgia and a rebirth. Also, no one commands the drums and synths the way Kevin Parker does with his methodical, fluid sound.
1. “I Love You, Honeybear” by Father John Misty
Whenever I find myself in the awkward icebreaker situation where someone asks me who would be the one person, living or dead, I would go to dinner with, I say Father John Misty. This year, Father John Misty heard that Ryan Adams released a Taylor Swift cover album, and in a strange string of events (none of which included him actually listening to the covers) released his own covers of Ryan Adams’ covers and completely trolled the media. Also, at the end of one of his concerts, he came back out for an encore and instead held a Q&A session with the audience. In that session’s final moments, he grouped two questions together to “save time.” The two questions were “Do you like butt play?” and “Why the alter ego?” His response, and he states this way more eloquently than I paraphrase, rang to the tune of, “Well, the butthole is the most intimate part of the body. So when you allow someone to experience that part of you, you are finally opening up wholly. As for the alter ego, I guess it’s so I can rationalize more butt play.” This is the thesis of Father John Misty. Some people only see the beautiful explanation of intimacy, and others only see the butt play jokes, but the way he operates on both levels allows for an authenticity that pop culture lacks. He is able to be honest because he makes fun of that very honesty. This is the quality that makes “I Love You, Honeybear” so gripping. Father John tells the story of his improbable plummet into love, his struggle with sentimentality, his shortcomings and his deepest fears, all the while operating on both levels of hilarity and honesty.
The first time I listened to this album, I sent it to the girl with which I was enamored and also wrote her a poem. The second time I listened to it, I cringed so hard at what I had just done. Now, I can laugh and accept both of those actions as equally authentic.
So that’s it. We’re at the end. In less than 2015 words I was able to tell you everything you need to know about the year of music in 2015. Ok, so maybe there was a little more to it. But if you haven’t heard any of these albums and you’re feeling ambitious and eager to enhance your well roundedness, go through the list and give them a listen. You have my personal guarantee that it is all good music. If you are already super meta, like me, and have heard these albums, hopefully you were able to go through, agree with me and feel calmness in the justice that I did the year of music. If you don’t agree, I can respect that and we can agree to disagree. But if you don’t want to agree to disagree, then I can only hope that one day you learn to nurture and expand your musical palate in a way as sophisticated as I have.