Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best Albums of 2015

2015. A good year in music, I believe. Each year I realize more and more how my music-listening habits and preferences are largely influenced by my station in life, which albums I happen to pull the trigger on and actually buy (greatly improving the chance to making this list), critics' recommendations, and what I feel like listening to when working on my laptop in my office. The chance to see the artist live (Chvrches and Purity Ring) also helps and, sometimes, I like the album even if I happen to buy tickets to the concert and simply decide not to go day of (Tobias Jesso Jr.). Beach House and Panda Bear got a lot of spins while trying to do work. Kendrick would have topped the list if I was judging purely by merit, influence, skill, creativity, and credibility. And Sufjan easily nabs the album that actually had an emotional impact on me and is nearest and dearest to my heart.

10. Grimes - Art Angels
I'm not going to lie. Electronica-pop, female vocal music is totally in my wheelhouse and I've given Grimes' previous album a ton of listens. While Art Angels is less solid front to back as it's forerunner, the hits are top-notch and I'm counting on this one to continue to grow on me with time.

9. Bad Bad Hats - Psychic Reader
This is a little bit of a wild card for me. Bad Bad Hats is a band we're considering bringing to campus in the spring and in my investigation of the band, I got completely hooked. Their album is free (!) on their website. They're breezy, they're fun. I love it.

8. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
"She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes / And the malaprops make me want to f**king scream / I wonder if she even knows what that word means / Well, it's literally not that"
This moody, judgmental, misinformed stanza alone qualifies this album for my list. Also, the Master of None episode (season 1, episode 3 - "Hot Ticket") where they go to the FJM concert is probably my favorite episode.

7. Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon
Yeah, why not this album?
6. Purity Ring - Another Eternity
See above on my thoughts towards electronica-pop with female vocal acts. Purity Ring has a stellar sophomore album that lives up to their first. When seeing them live, they restored my sense of youth by starting their set at midnight and I didn't fall asleep.

5. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
I'm not going to try to unpack this one as there's already a million think-pieces out there. I will say, it's about as dense as you can get and people of all colors should listen to it and consider it and internalize it. We'll be referencing this one twenty years down the road.

4. Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
I haven't listened to much of Panda Bear's stuff in the past but I found myself playing this album almost every day early on in the year. There's something edgy about the sounds produced and the repetition of it all and then it gets stuck in your head, not so much in an annoying way but more in a way that makes your head bob up and down.

3. Chvrches - Every Open Eye
Lauren Mayberry, the lead singer, has been outspoken about her thoughts on gender and sexism over the last few years. This was on display when I caught Chvrches live in Philly this fall. Between songs, some guy threw something on stage or yelled something and Lauren gave a quick response then began the next song. She nearly ended the song too early, her timing off. Afterwards she said, "Typically I allow myself thirty seconds to be angry and then I get over it but this really pissed me off." Then she went on to publicly tell off the guy. Chvrches' sophomore effort is more of the same great stuff; though a little more sure of themselves.

2. Beach House - Depression Cherry
I"m not sure how Beach House can continue to maintain the same sound yet make each album feel like a progression. Anyhow, Depression Cherry is superb. (Perhaps I'm being unfair but I couldn't get into their second release of the year; perhaps too-much-too-soon for me?)

1. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
This was the emotional outlet I needed all year. I'm welcoming Sufjan's return to the stripped down sound. I listened to this waking up in the morning. I listened to this while traveling on a bus in India feeling far from home. I listened to this when feeling unsure what I was doing with my life. Sufjan beautifully sings about a very specific relationship and experience with his recently deceased estranged mother and yet I feel completely in tune with where he's coming from. Sufjan knows how to communicate universally through his finite, heartbreaking ruminations. Keep them coming, Suf.

Honorable Mention
Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
Best Coast - California Nights
Carly Rae Jepsen - E.MO.TION
Jose Gonzalez - Vestiges and Claws
Leon Bridges - Coming Home
Lord Huron - Strange Trails
Son Lux - Lanterns
Vince Staples - Summertime '06
Wilco - Star Wars

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