Albums of the year 2015
The albums selected this year by contributors and members of the masthead range from rap albums that are already canon to folk at its raunchiest and heart-wrenching punk. However, if the poignant release of MIA’s video for “No Borders” is any indication of the world we’re about to enter in 2016, it may not bear any resemblance to the one we’re leaving behind.
-Melissa Vincent (Music Editor)
COLE FIRTH (CONTRIBUTOR)
Predatory Headlights – Tenement
To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Painted Shut – Hop Along
DS2 – Future
High – Royal Headache
Demo – G.L.O.S.S.
Barter 6 – Young Thug
Third Side of Tape – Lil’ Ugly Mane
You’re Better Than This - Pile
Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples
Although this year saw a lot of great rap and punk, the top two albums here are ones that I know I’ll revisit and unpack over and over again. In short, they are both the fullest realizations of each artist’s musical vernacular and ethos; both carefully and immaculately put together; both accomplished works in the truest sense without sacrificing the ability to play. There was an array of inspired music released in 2015 and this inspiration was disseminated so widely that it’s impossible for any one person to bite off more than a small piece. We who are fortunate enough to have access to so much interesting art and information that we lack the time to engage with it all should consider ourselves lucky; the post-internet crisis of oversaturation is a truly privileged crisis indeed.
Chinese Nü Yr – Igloo Ghost
Rodeo – Travis Scott
PD2Q - T$VFOG
ALLA – A$AP Rocky
Marauding in Paradise – Jazz Cartier
Cruel Intentions – Tony Lanez
The Barter 6 – Young Thug
Euroz Dollaz Yeniz – Tommy Cash
What a Time To Be Alive – Drake & Future
Integrity – JME
I cannot claim to be tasteful or relevant with my preferences, but for me 2015 was a year defined by some refreshingly progressive albums. Topping my list, Igloo Ghost presented an insanely well-crafted offering that is familiar while shockingly foreign. T$VFOG's over the top PD2Q pushed the contrived sound of contemporary trap to an irrational limit over super minimal production, leading to a strangely jarring auditory bliss. Toronto's Jazz Cartier and Tony Lanez also came through with some incredible offerings, with Cartier’s voice layered over his producer Lanez's “cinematic trap” beats, as said producer swooned his way through 808s and spacey pads. Although completely ridiculous in content matter, Tommy Cash’s over the top Eastern European accent makes a strange amount of sense over a collection of fragmented and dark beats with superb production. The invasion of UK grime is also something I appreciated this year with several Skepta bangers and JME's “Integrity.” Before you put me on blast for not including “To Pimp a Butterfly,” I must note that for me, 2015 was a year about production, and although Kendrick's piece was a monument both lyrically and production-wise, it did not resonate with me the same way some of the more jarring releases discussed above did.
LAURA CHARNEY (CONTRIBUTOR)
Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit”
Father John Misty, “I Love You Honeybear”
Tobias Jesso Jr., “Goon”
Alabama Shakes, “Sound and Colour”
Lady Lamb, “After”
Soley, “Ask The Deep”
Tame Impala, “Currents”
Sufjan Stevens, “Carrie and Lowell”
Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, “Surf”
The Staves, “If I Was”
These albums explore (surprise!) love: not as it is, but as it was thought to have been. How we allow an encompassing emotion to become caricatures; too conspicuous to be true; to fall into a self-exposed oblivion. What happens when two lovers think they're on the same page when they haven't picked up the same book: when they've seen each others' covers and cannot bear the thought of incompatible content, convincing themselves of substance out of desperation to be close. Father John Misty hauntingly points out the contradictions of mortal love in "I Love You Honeybear": "My love, you're the one I want to watch the ship go down with." Tame Impala's "Currents" investigates the fragility of love once one has completely surrendered themselves: "Wish I could turn you back into a stranger" ("Eventually"). Courtney Barnett questions human connection in its purest sense, if we perceive each other based on our own projections, and Soley probes at this through looking at imaginations of love versus the weight its reality might entail: "Did you wonder when this fairytale would ever end?" ("AEvintyr"). An honourable shoutout goes to Dr. Dog for “Live at a Flamingo Hotel”. I constantly hear about the lack of ingenuity in live albums, but “Flamingo Hotel” has enough energy to prove all that noise wrong.
ZACH MORGENSTERN (MANAGING EDITOR)
Power in the Blood - Buffy Sainte Marie
Let’s Hear it for the Dogs - The Proclaimers
Before this World - James Taylor
70 - Tom Chapin
Redemption Road - Tom Paxton
Sad Eyed Lonesome Lady - Steph Cameron
The Monsanto Years - Neil Young & Promise of the Real
Fast Forward - Joe Jackson
That Would be Me - Harry Connick Jr.
No Pier Pressure - Brian Wilson
As an “old” music fan I don’t tend to listen to more than 10—or even more than two—new albums per year. That said, 10 releases from this year have definitely intrigued me. Tom Paxton’s Redemption Road displays his vigor, while showing that even survivors must suffer the non-survival of others. Adele is not alone in naming albums after her age. With the release of 70, Tom Chapin (Harry’s younger brother) has given listeners a solid collection of rustic, emotionally vibrant folk songs including the anti-fracking “Down There.” Chapin is on this list, in part, because he was my first favorite singer having written great children’s albums like Billy the Squid that you’re never really too old to love. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Polaris Prize-winning Power in the Blood highlights Sainte-Marie’s distinct techno-folk-rock sound, while also expounding the anti-war and anti-colonial themes she’s sung on since the ’60s. Neil Young’s concept album, The Monsanto Years takes political risks with its anti-GMO/Monsanto stand, but his general critique of agro-intellectual property law and monopoly capitalism is worth applauding. Finally, the 2015 film Love and Mercy helped remind me just how musically brilliant the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson is. On No Pier Pressure,Wilson merges the spirits of his experimental Pet Sounds/SMiLE projects with his earlier surf style. The result is a stylistically uniform set of mellow tunes performed by a series of vocalists that includes Zooey Deschanel and (Beach Boy) Al Jardine.
DYLAN HORNBY (EDITOR-IN-CHIEF)
Sour Soul - BADBADNOTGOOD / Ghostface Killah
Another One - Mac DeMarco
CZARFACE II: Every Hero Needs A Villain - Inspectah Deck, 7L & Esoteric
Compton - Dr. Dre
The Monsanto Years - Neil Young / Promise Of The Real
Man It Feels Like Space Again - Pond
Ratchet - Shamir
No Pier Pressure - Brian Wilson
Shadows In The Night - Bob Dylan
Carrie And Lowell - Sufjan Stevens
This year saw Toronto-based jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD finally add lyrics to their hypnotic soundscapes with Wu-Tang Clan co-founder Ghostface Killah on Sour Soul. This album tops the list because it was perfect accompaniment to my 5 a.m. work commutes during the brutally cold winter. It perfectly fused the cool freeverse tones of BBNG’s instrumental work with gritty lyrics from underground rappers old (MF DOOM) and new (especially Danny Brown and Tree). Conversely, the summer provided bright psychedelic tones from Pond, calmer ones of Sufjan Stevens whose new work sounds like a modern Simon and Garfunkel, and the new groovy, androgynous voice of Shamir.
While Mac DeMarco’s unique jangle pop style (highly distorted, slightly off-pitch electric guitar) is as strong as ever, Mac’s new album is driven by beautiful synth and soft-toned keyboard work. Finally, we also saw some great work from old school rockers like Bob Dylan, but especially Neil Young and Brian Wilson, who, it seems, are getting re-acquainted with their musical roots, Young with straight-up protest songs targeted at agricultural giants, and Wilson with a return to the melodic tones of the Beach Boys.
MELISSA VINCENT (MUSIC EDITOR)
To Pimp a Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar
Untitled - False
At Least for Now - Benjamin Clementine
Lower Dens - Escape From Evil
Heterocetera - Lotic
DEMO - G.L.O.S.S.
Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Three - Matana Roberts
In Another Life - Bilal
Apocalypse, girl - Jenny Hval
B4. DA.$$ - Joey BadA$$
Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of things outside of our control or the brutal disregard for human life worldwide, but there is something uncomfortable about the current state of our environment. This lack of comfort has manifested into a tension with a stirring grip on the releases that have come out this year and the ones that have resonated with me deeply. This year, Kendrick Lamar provided one of the most powerful counterarguments for the growing disposability of black bodies, while Matana Roberts gave us the third of her taxing Coin Coin series. Increasingly, neutral is less of an option, and several albums this year took their themes to a breaking point—harsh narratives shared delicately, sexuality explored unabashedly, stereotypes reclaimed and reconstructed, and critiques of who’s actually in power, all while reminding us that some things definitely “ain’t free.”