Staff Picks: Best Music of 2015

Nick Alberico (@MeadowsLeague)

Favorite Songs of 2015

  1. Alright – Kendrick Lamar
  2. Reality in Motion – Tame Impala
  3. The Less I Know The Better – Tame Impala
  4. The Blacker The Berry – Kendrick Lamar
  5. Butterfly – grimes
  6. Cry For You (RAK Version) – Hot Chip
  7. Depreston – Courtney Barnett
  8. Elevator Operator – Courtney Barnett
  9. What Do You Mean? – Justin Bieber
  10. Realiti – grimes

Favorite Albums of 2015

  1. To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

An eclectic album that utilizes many different musical elements, Kendrick Lamar has managed to put together the most engaging and substantive piece of work in recent memory.

Hip-hop’s new champion has demonstrated serious development from his last effort, good kid, M.A.A.D city. Artistically, Mr. Lamar has matured, opting for a less-accessible musical style that results in a more enticing product. While retaining much of the narrative elements of his previous LP, this time around they are significantly more ambiguous and feel less like a recount of events.

“The Blacker The Berry” is a venomous outcry against institutionalized racism as well as hypocritical behaviors within himself and his own community. The frustration exhibited is palpable and captures the more emotional and personal style Kendrick has adopted for this record. “Alright” is a masterpiece through and through. I will start a riot if it doesn’t win the Grammy for Best Rap Song.

Perhaps the most impressive is how well the album flows from one track to the next; I have never found myself bored or fatigued while listening, even with the album sporting a total runtime of 78 minutes.

Indeed, we as listeners feel more connected to Kendrick and his music this time around, experiencing his struggle with new found fame and recognition. To Pimp a Butterfly is an improvement over good kid, M.A.A.D city in every respect. Unequivocally the best record released in 2015, and possibly the best record released in five years.

  1. Currents – Tame Impala

A follow-up to 2012’s Lonerism, Currents is an album that moves away from some of the psychedelic-rock style of Kevin Parker’s previous work, a switch that is very apropos to a work with “change” as its dominating theme.

Currents features no shortage of deep musical landscapes fans of the band have grown familiar with, along with some welcome changes. Parker heavily relies on electronic and synth elements that give the album a dreamy, drippy feel. Hits like “The Less I Know The Better” and “’Cause I’m A Man” dazzle with incredibly funky bass and the ghostly echoes of the band’s singer/producer/guitarist/etc.

The songs not released through singles are nothing to sneeze at either, including “Yes, I’m Changing”, a manifesto presumably to his ex-girlfriend and perhaps himself about what else—personal change. The new album introduces unique mixing compared to his previous work; Parker’s voice is much more front-and-center, a subtle claim to ownership over the events and feelings portrayed throughout the story.

A moving tale of heartbreak and self-discovery, Currents is an album not to be missed, as it may very well be the best record Tame Impala has put out.

  1. Art Angels – Grimes

Sometimes gritty, sometimes saccharine, and always fantastic, Art Angels is a hell of a ride that is without hesitation the best pop album of the year. The production is unparalleled in the genre, with subtle elements purveying the entirety of the record. Because Art Angels carries such depth, it also features replayability uncharacteristic of pop. I often find myself unable to decide whether to dance or listen intently.

“Kill v. Maim” is a song unlike anything I’ve ever heard, anxious and fast-paced, with many layers of percussive brilliance that give me chills every time. “Realiti”, although more subdued, retains the ferocity found on other tracks through its impressive layering and Ms. Boucher’s strong vocal ability.

Every song on the album is worthy of high praise, which makes for a listening experience that flies by. Art Angels comes in as the third best album of the year in an excellent showing.


 

Troy Provost-Heron (@Troy_Provost)

Favorite Songs of 2015

  1. Pray 4 Love – Travis Scott, The Weeknd
  2. Often – The Weeknd
  3. P’s and Q’s – Mick Jenkins
  4. Paper Trail$ – Joey Bada$$
  5. 679 – Fetty Wap, Monty
  6. Electric Body – A$AP Rocky, ScHoolboy Q
  7. Alright – Kendrick Lamar
  8. One of Us – Rick Ross, Nas
  9. Folgers Crystals – J. Cole
  10. Preach – Drake, PARTYNEXTDOOR

Favorite Albums of 2015

  1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar set the bar pretty high with his second studio album, Good kid, m.A.A.d city, but he was able reach that bar with To Pimp A Butterfly. The album invokes a lot of different emotion, providing a sound that varies from song to song. With this latest project, Lamar puts himself in the conversation with some of the all-time greats.

2. Revenge of the Dreamers II – Dreamville Collaberation

Cole has built quite the team. Revenge of the Dreamers II picks up right where last year’s debut Dreamville Records collaboration left off. Bas continues his rise as one of the best seldom-known artists in Night Job, Housewives and Tabs. As the last song of the project, “Grow,” suggests, Cozz has improved dramatically. And of course, Cole is once again at the top of his game. Newcomers Ari Lennox and Iute shine in their tracks as well.

3. What A Time To Be Alive – Drake & Future

Drake is at his best when paired with a rapper from the trap and it shows in What A Time To Be Alive. Future’s raspiness meshes perfectly with Drake’s emotion and he also brings out the best verses from the Toronto rapper we’ve heard in awhile. Suffice it to say, What A Time To Be Alive is a big reason why 2015 was Drake’s year.


 

Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

Favorite Songs of 2015

  1. Let It Happen – Tame Impala
  2. Alright – Kendrick Lamar
  3. Give Me All Your Love – Alabama Shakes
  4. The Blacker The Berry – Kendrick Lamar
  5. Dream Lover – Destroyer
  6. Realiti – Grimes
  7. Gosh – Jamie xx
  8. They.Resurrect.Over.Next. – Lupe Fiasco, Ab-Soul
  9. Go – The Chemical Brothers
  10. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) – Jamie xx, Young Thug

Favorite Albums of 2015

  1. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

Carrie & Lowell is the year’s most personal album, and probably the darkest. Driven entirely by a folk guitar, a muted piano and Steven’s vocals, each track creates a portrait of the past, as he intimately whispers stories, his deepest thoughts and his fears. Obviously, many of the songs sound the same because they come from the same place, but there isn’t a weak song of the bunch and it’s rare to find an album that flows so seamlessly, and knows exactly what is it. Not one song is out of place, too long or too short. It just feels like one, complete story.

I’m more partial to the piano tracks, and the best is “Fourth of July,” a subtle and sipping piano backed by echoes and ambient harmonics and the album’s best moment is the outro to the title track, which sounds like a striped down version of the Inception soundtrack. But whether the song uses piano or is almost entirely an acoustic guitar, the complexity of sounds he’s able to create with the same instruments (and a handful of effects pedals) over and over again is impressive.

 

2. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t perfect by any means, and ultimately doesn’t reach the same heights asGood Kid, M.A.D.D. City, but these isn’t an artist out there as confident in their own product as Kendrick Lamar, who recreated his sound without sacrificing really anything that made us like him to begin with. Each song on the album is heavily detailed, layered in production and lyrically on point and culturally relevant.

You know you’re in for something new right away when you’re hit with a Flying Lotus jazz track with a funky Thundercat bassline. He follows that up with by spitting hot fire over a furious drum track on what, for all intents and purposes, should have been a throwaway interlude. Then we get into “King Kunta,” a throwback track that sounds like early Eminem and references the likes of James Brown. Throughout the album, you never know what’s coming next, as songs shift suddenly in mood and in style.

The album’s best tracks are “Alright” and “The Blacker The Berry,” but my favorite moment of the album might be the opening two minutes of “u.” There’s raw emotion, an unorthodox, ever changing flow, and unbelievable production. The screaming, the slow build of the virtuosic saxophone and piano, the female vocals echoing him in the background. It creates so much in such a short amount of time. Another strong moment is “Mortal Man”, which in an album littered with great production, might be the strongest and musically sounds like a part two to “Sing About Me”.

3. Currents – Tame Impala

Where Lonerism had vintage 60s charm, with garage-rocking single “Elephant” and tracks with psychedelic rock long form bridges reminiscent of The Doors, Currents is a new direction for Kevin Parker’s act, with dance synthesizers and computerized harpsichords replacing most of the guitar work and standard rock and roll sounds. The album is more polished, more upbeat and more modern.

The album is sandwiched by two epics that are over six minutes in length. The opener, “Let It Happen,” is a driving and ever evolving symphony made entirely of synthetic sounds, from the looping drum track to the vocodered vocals. The closing track, “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” is similarly intricate, but much more plodding and baroque. There are also three simple interludes each under two minutes, two being electronic samples and a third short rock song, “Disciples,” which gives the album a nice variety of song lengths.

The only problem I have with Currents (which is the same problem I had with Lonerism) is many of the songs fill the same role on the album. While the lyrics might be a little different between them, “Love/Paranoia,” “Past Life,” “Yes I’m Changing,” and “Cause I’m A Man” are instrumentally all slow synth ballads. “Eventually” seems  similar on it’s surface, but stands out because it shifts time signatures, changes pace and transforms from beginning to end, making it one of the album’s best.

The other prominent song archetype is the upbeat synthpop tracks, like “The Moment,” and “The Less I Know The Better.”  “Disciples” also fits this mold, but is more guitar driven and helps transition into the next upbeat tune, “Reality In Motion,” the one song tied this album with their last. While completely fitting in with the modern, electronic theme of Currents, “Reality In Motion” carries drums and guitar reminiscent of “Endors Toi” and “Nothing That Has Happened…”

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