Best 50 albums of 2015
It’s that time again! Below you will find the list of Musikki‘s favourite albums of 2015.
And what a year it was.
First, the comebacks: d’Angelo, Sufjan Stevens, Blur, Sleater-Kinney, Joanna Newsom, Erykah Badu, Dr. Dre, Destroyer, The Chemical Brothers, My Morning Jacket, José González, Beirut, Modest Mouse, Jeremih – all major acts that hadn’t released anything for years and that chose 2015 to comeback with strong records.
Second, the promises that proved throughout the year that their talent is currently indisputable: Torres, Jessica Pratt, Action Bronson, Alabama Shakes, Majical Cloudz, THEESatisfaction and Miguel.
Then, the amazing debuts from C Duncan, Leon Bridges, Benjamin Clementine, Julien Baker, Deradoorian, Tobias Jesso Jr., Courtney Barnett, Ibeyi and Vince Staples.
And, finally, new releases from consecrated artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Jamie xx, Oneohtrix Point Never, Grimes, Deerhunter, Bjork, Chance The Rapper (with Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment), Panda Bear, Beach House, Sun Kil Moon, Christopher Owens, Dan Deacon and Foals.
It was a great year to be a music fan. One can only hope 2016 will be, at least, as great as this one.
As English bands go, Foals are an exquisite example of the post-punk revival that has been one of the most recurrent trends of UK pop in the last three decades. In the wake of the international success of their previous album, Foals returned in 2015 with What Went Down, their fifth LP in seven years, which is definitely their most emotional affair to date, thanks to a sharping loud and danceable sound that is au pair with their traditional indie energy. An LP that cements their status not only as one of the most consistent British bands of the decade, but also as one of the few that can nurture a significant following outside the UK.
In the wake of the most divisive album of their career (2008’s Evil Urges), My Morning Jacket long hiatus finally ended with this year’s The Waterfall, an LP that showcases a band that hasn’t lost the impetus of following their muse even if, this time around, she has decided to mainly to stay within their alt country comfort zone (with the occasional electronic flourishes) in order to induce them to produce some of their most anthemic melodies and striding choruses of their career.
With his Mercury Prize nominated debut Architect, Scottish composer and multi-instrumentalist Christopher Duncan (aka C Ducan) has become some kind of an indie celebrity in the United Kingdom thanks to the uncanny depth of his lo-fi folk music. Add lush choral harmonies and dreampop textured acoustic instrumentation and you get a very idiosyncratic music that occasionally brings to mind the creative design and precision of other luminaries such as Sufjan Stevens, Owen Pallett and Andrew Bird. Yep, it’s that good.
Modest Mouse were the first post-grunge underground American rock group to achieve a massive commercial success and definitely pave the way for other bands such as The Decembrists or Vampire Weekend to climb to the top of the Billboard charts in the new millennium. After a long hiatus of 8 years, the band finally returned this year with Strangers To Ourselves, a nuanced, complex and rather thoughtful album that gets better with every listen. One of the best comebacks of the year.
Gliss Riffer is definitely a step back from the serious mood and grandiosity of Dan Deacon previous record (2012’s America) and represents a glorious return to the uptempo beats and the vintage sounds of his better known work. Nevertheless, one significant novelty stands out: for the first time, a Dan Deacon record shines through the use of modern pop vocals and thoughtful lyrics. We didn’t see this one coming.
Expectations were pretty high for Torres sophomore effort – not only because of her 2013 eponymous debut, but because both the single she released last year (“New Skin”) and her guest spot on Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There? were stellar. Sprinter does not let us down: Rob Ellis production truly takes her songs to another level, showcasing a dynamic range and an attention to detail that definitely lacked on her first record.
Once upon a time there was this kid named Chris who was raised from tender ager in the austere climate of the Children of God cult, travelling with his family throughout Asia and Western Europe. One day, by accident, he caught a peak at American pop culture on TV and immediately fell in love with rock’n’roll. Shorty before his birth, his infant brother Steven died of pneumonia due to the reluctance of the church’s members to seek professional medical assistance, so it was obvious that he would have to run away in order to pursuit his dream of being able to live only thanks to his art (either as a painter or as a musician). Things happened pretty quickly afterwards: at 16, he came back to the States; at 24 he moved from Texas to San Francisco to play on streets and bars; and by the age of 28 he started write, record and release the two full-length albums (plus an EP) that would make to this day the spotless discography of Girls, one of the most beloved North American indie bands of the new millennium.
Though it is hard to tell truth from fiction in this fascinating story, one thing is undeniable: when Christopher Owens announced that he was breaking his indie duo in pursue of a solo career, the expectations were tremendous. Nevertheless, both 2013’s Lysandre and 2014’s A New Testament felt like minor works that indulged into 70s AM pop and Country music without reaching the apex of his former band canon. Things definitely changed this year with Chrissybaby Forever, an LP that any fan only needs to listen to once to realize that not only it is by far his best solo record to date as it manages to sound like the very natural next step for a singer-songwriter whose talent seems thrives again thanks to his newfound minimalistic approach.
Jeremih used to be the next big thing in the R&B arena, but the last five years almost made us forget about his promising career. In the beginning of December, Late Nights finally dropped out of the blue with guest spots from J. Cole, Future, Big Sean, and Ty Dolla $ign, among others. This release with zero advance warning ended up being the perfect way to surprise the world with a much-delayed collection of songs that are the perfect companion to both Miguel’s and The Weeknd’s in this year’s great male R&B records. Frank Ocean should really watch the throne.
On Your Own Love Again may be a major leap from Jessica Pratt’s haunting homespun melodies of her debut, but the truth is that it maintains the same charming simplicity and straightforwardness that obfuscates the puzzle-piece precision of her poignant craft and melancholic delivery. One of the most overlooked records of the year.
After a four year hiatus only partially broken by the release of Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer debut double LP, Wilco surprised the world in 2015 with the unannounced release of Star Wars, their ninth studio album. This short affair (just over 30 minutes) is also a surprise when it comes to its musical content: an adventurous and unscripted collection of songs that aims to explore the talent and possibilities of a band that has been trapped in its comfort zone for too many years. They sound fresh, focused and joyful. And it’s truly great to have them back.
After a long hiatus of 5 years (the biggest yet of their career), The Chemical Brothers returned this year with a stunning new album. Born in the Echoes mixes stadium hymns with hard-nosed club bangers, pop anthems and some mind-blowing studio experimentations. The guests are, as always, stellar (Beck, Cate Le Bon, Q-Tip, St. Vincent, Colin Stetson, Ali Love) and at the top of their game, turning this album a high points of their discography.
One immediately feels like having entered a time-machine when listening to a Leon Bridges song: the voice (which often recalls Sam Cooke or Otis Redding), production, arrangements and themes of travel, love and salvation all seem to echo the golden age of R&B and Soul of the late 50s and early 60s. His debut album, Coming Home, maybe indeed a throwback album, but one that has been blessed with modesty, talent and focus. Leon‘s smooth vocals and inventive phrasing are preserved intact thanks to low-key arrangements and a pristine production that makes this collection of songs one of the warmest slow burners of the year.
Twelve years after their last studio album, Blur returned to their original line-up (Graham Coxon had left the band during the recording of Think Thank) to record The Magic Whip, an hitless album that nevertheless showcases a band that plays tighter than ever with a loose sound that indicates its jam sessions origin. Its biggest achievement is undoubtedly the fact that it is Blur’s first record that truly finds an absorbing common ground between the divergent passions of its two main composers (Coxon’s Sci-Fi folk and Damon’s bottomless music interests).
After releasing a much-praised, successful and awarded debut (2012’s Boys & Girls), Alabama Shakes returned this year with Sound & Color, an album that showcases twelve slick yet gritty tracks that blend blues and soul with punk, rock, gospel, funk, disco and a touch of free jazz. Some may found the record a little bit all over the place, but the truth is that it’s hard not to be excited with a band that seems to be brilliantly effortless in everything they do. This thing really rocks.
After releasing several mixtapes that showcased not only a skillful rapper with a tremendous ear for beats, but also someone who keeps choosing top collaborators such as Tommy Mas (2011’s Dr. Lecter), Statik Selektah (2011’s Well-Done), Party Supplies (2012’s Blue Chips and 2013’s Blue Chips 2), The Alchemist (2012’s Rare Chandeliers) and Harry Fraud (2013’s Saab Stories EP), Action Bronson finally released this year his first official full-length and major debut, Mr. Wonderful, which should immediately be considered the best entry for newcomers to the work of one of the most funny, loose and audacious rappers of today. His fans might be initially taken aback by his new soul leanings, but will rapidly recognize his striking wit, tremendous punch lines and irresistible self-deprecating sense of humor. Fuck, That’s Delicious!
After releasing two promising and successful solo records (2005’s Veneer and 2007’s In Our Nature), it was rather surprising that José González ended up dedicating the following years to Junip, releasing the band’s first two albums. Both 2010’s Fields and 2013’s eponymous LPs featured a more elaborate take on his dark, low-key and moody indie folk, incorporating other kinetic styles such as pop, blues, electronic, krautrock and ambient sounds. This new approach is also quite audible on Vestiges & Claws: alongside his trademark whispery voice and fingerpicked acoustic guitar, one can hear intricate guitar overdubs, strings and percussive elements that emanate a warm optimistic feel that González has rarely showcased before. A real step forward from an exquisite composer and interpreter.
This may sound odd today, but back in the mid-aughties, Zach Condon was regarded as a musician as influent and talented as the likes of Jeff Mangum, Sufjan Stevens or Conor Oberst. Though time has not been that kind to Beirut’s musical legacy, it is undeniable that records like 2006’s Gulag Orkestar and 2007’s Lon Gisland EP showcased a surprising fusion of Balkan and Gypsy music with mournful indie folk and low-fi experimentation. Even more surprising was the fact that all was pretty much composed, sang and performed (accordion, keyboards, saxophone, clarinet, mandolin, ukulele, horns, glockenspiel, and percussion) by Condon alone, which turned him into some kind of mysterious and exotic musical prodigy. Even if 2007’s The Flying Club Cup and 2011’s Rip Tide were fine LPs, both of them failed to bring something truly new and exciting to his music, which was a real shame considering the promising electronic landscapes he explored in the double EP March of the Zapotec / Holland.
After a four-year hiatus that represented a period of turmoil in Condon’s life (facing a divorce and having been admitted into a hospital in Australia for exhaustion due to extensive touring), Beirut returned this year with No No No, his fourth and kind of unexpected LP. It is simultaneously a steady, thoughtful and upswing affair, loosely executed, but lyrically focused: a feel-good and bright record whose arrival can only be greeted by what has been a quite serious and heavy-toned 2015.
Heralded as the ultimate songwriter’s writer and meta-pop wizard due to his eloquent approach to songcraft and his deconstructionist lyrics, it came as no surprise that Destroyer mastermind Dan Bejar would react to the massive success and universal acclaim of 2011’s Kaputt with a shrug. The long hiatus that followed were only partially interrupted last year with the release of an (exquisite) EP and this year with Poison Season. The LP is another inspired and inspiring album that channels both 50s icons crooning and orchestral arrangements in order to deliver an exquisitely balanced collection that mixes sophisticated ballads with upbeat, funky gems. The Zeitgeist might be not on his side this time, but the muses are still with him and his band.
Coming in the aftermath of what is arguably their two warmest and shiniest records to date (2011’s C’mon and 2013’s The Invisible Way), Low’s Ones and Sixes is an inspired incursion towards grief and anxiety that mixes a stark, cold sound with haunting electronic landscapes. It comes really close to reach the level of their undisputable masterpiece (2007’s Guns and Drums) and proves that, after 22 years, the band is still one of the most exciting in the indie arena.
Sixteen years after his last solo album, Dr. Dre released this year what is supposed to be his third (and final) solo album. Though Compton has been marketed as a soundtrack for the Straight Outta Compton movie, the fact is that the album is a unified collection of songs inspired by the jazzy structure of Kendrick Lamar’s last LP with beats, grooves and a robotic funk that could only come from the mind of Dr. Dre. The guests are all stellar and fully deliver their talent in every single track, turning Compton is an unexpected synthesis of what has made hip hop the most vibrant genre in popular music’s last decade.
As self-taught artists go, Benjamin Clementine is most definitely one of the most jarring. After being supposedly inspired by both a televised performance of Antony & The Johnsons and a startling radio encounter with the music of Erik Satie, the singer-poet, composer and musician from London moved to France where he lived as a vagabond for four years, playing in the streets of Paris. In 2013, things began to happen very quickly: he found an agent, began to play in high-profile music festivals such as Montreux Jazz and Eurosonic, released two EPs, made his television debut on an episode of BBC’s show Later With Jools Holland and started to received public praise from major artists such as Paul Mccartney, Charles Aznavour, David Byrne and Björk. Earlier this year, he released At Least For Now, his much anticipated full-length debut that reached the Top 10 in half a dozen of European countries and won the prestigious Mercury Prize. This impressive collection displays not only his mesmerizing spinto tenor reach but also a quite dramatic and innovative musical territory fuelled by his tumultuous biography. One of the great musical revelations of 2015.
As one of the most distinctive and consistent acts of the new millennium that combines dance music (mostly house, hip-hop and techno), indie (folk, R&B and pop) and deeply invocative lyrics and vocals (thanks to the contrasting voices of Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard), the quality of Hot Chip releases and gigs has been taken for granted for more than a decade now. This year, they decided to follow what was arguably their most more experimental record (2012’s In Our Heads) with Why Make Sense?, a stripped down affair that manages to be their most fun, danceable, sexy and open-hearted collection of songs to date.
Julien Baker is a 20 years old singer songwriter from Memphis, Tennessee, that developed her musician skills as a member of her high school band Forrister, with whom she kept performing with while attending college outside Nashville. It was during her first year outside her homeland that she started recording songs on her own. In a strange twist of fate that remains to be fully explained, she ended up recording the nine songs of her debut LP at Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb Studios, in Richmond, a very strange fit since the facilities are better known for producing orchestral pop than the stark sounds that are the flesh and bone of her songs. If the soulful and melancholic melodies of Sprained Ankle invokes the musical landscape shared by the likes of Bon Iver, Birdy and Nathalie Prass, her voice and delivery brings to mind both Torres and Sharon Van Etten, a fine mixture of influences that only reinforces the singularity of her own voice. One of the most delicate and poignant debuts of 2015.
After another long hiatus and when news of her forthcoming sixth LP were starting to sound promising, Erykah Badu released rather surprisingly this year the mixtape But U Caint Use My Phone, a cohesive collection of songs that gravitates around the theme of human reliance of staying inter-connected. It features a cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” that surpasses the original and closes with a stellar duet with Andre 3000. The perfect palette cleanser for some of the overhyped music released in 2015.
After much anticipation, John Grant quietly released in October his third, and arguably best, solo record Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. Adding some very needed funk and new wave stamina to his trademark electronics and orchestral arrangements, this is his most complex and paradoxically accessible album. Even if the lyrics feature too many name-dropping, the approach to his autobiographical universe is mature, auto-critical and poignantly poetic. One of the most balanced, deep and fun records of 2015.
It has been one tremendous and quite unforgettable year for Mark Kozelek. If, at least initially, the new autobiographical tone of his songwriting received a lukewarm reception (2012’s Among The Leaves), last year’s Benji triggered such a widespread acclaim that it became easily not only his most revered album, but also his most popular to date. But then, all hell seemed to break loose with the difficulty of some press and occasional fans to digest Mark’s twisted sense of humor: first was his The War On Drugs feud, then his lamentable rant about a female British journalist. In the middle, not only a very touching and surprising Christmas album was released under his own name as he managed to record and release a new album for his Sun Kil Moon moniker, when any spin doctor would have advised to wait for a better timing, in which half of the world would had forgotten his politically incorrect antics. But (and to paraphrase one his new songs) this is Mark “fucking” Kozelek we’re talking about, and he obviously pulls no punches.
The sardonically titled Universal Themes doesn’t need any welcoming mood to set its own agenda: these are the most nakedly confessional songs he has ever released, obsessively focusing on the same themes of Sun Kil Moon two last records (basically, music and death – you can’t get more universal than that), invoking his family, friends and childhood with the mix of acute precision, humor, rage and melancholy that has become his trademark voice in the last four years. The big novelty is, definitely, the music: this is one of the most diverse, adventurous and sonically rich records Mark has ever produced and brings to mind the good-old days of Red House Painters‘ musical prowess. Of course it was not praised as much as Benji (too many shit happened in between and too many people were either baffled, shocked or pissed by his shenanigans), but genuine Kozelek fans will definitely appreciate a much-needed deflection of all the hype he has been receiving lately.
Angel Deradoorian is a North-American (and Armenian descendant) musician based in Los Angeles. Her career began to gain prominence as an extremely talented bass player and singer for Dirty Projectors from 2007 and 2010, a period during which she also managed to release a slow, droning and fascinating EP titled Mind Raft and to feature in the Discovery album LP (both in 2009). As soon as she left the Projectors, she joined Avey Tare’s project Slasher Flicks with ex-Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman, releasing the exotic Enter The Slasher House in 2014. After proving being quite a talented team player for other bands (that also include Charli XCX, Flying Lotus, U2 and Matmos), Deradoorian has finally released her much-expected debut LP, The Expanding Flower Planet, an arty record absolutely dominated by her layered vocals, minimal beats and a charming collision of unexpected sounds and ideas. A definite keeper for anyone who likes music that is both beautiful and exploratory.
Goon, Tobias Jesso Jr. debut album, has no tricks under its sleeve: a direct descendent of the 70’s golden era of open-hearted singer-songwriters with a combination of craft and emotional weight that brings to mind piano auteurs such as Randy Newman, Elton John, Carole King or Billy Joel. Who would have thought that simple melodies, winsome chord changes and heartfelt lyrics could be the recipe for one of the most unanimous records of 2015? Perhaps Adele.
2015 was the year Beach House went rogue: who (outside hip hop) releases two LPs in the same year nowadays? Well, they did, and both are fine. Nevertheless, the real keeper was Depression Cherry, an LP that ditched the grandiose and crystalline sound of both 2010’s Teen Dream and 2012’s Bloom, and returned to the synths drones and bare bones approach of 2008’s Devotion. It’s arguably their most low-key collection of songs to date, with Victoria’s unshowy croon and Alex’s subtle riffs conferring an overall hypnotic splendor that never ceases to amaze.
Goodbye long suites and triple LPs. For 2015, Joana Newsom delivered Divers, by far her most manageable record to date: eleven songs that do not shy away from her trademark elaborate sonic textures and storytelling, but somehow manages to turn her philosophical meditations into pop gems that demand to be listened by a larger audience. A tremendous and haunting artistic achievement.
Are You Alone? not only follows but deepens the impressionistic path of Majical Cloudz previous record showcasing an extremely stark and ethereal sound that occasionally seems to be aiming at silence. Nevertheless, the duo also reaches great melodic heights thanks to a more upbeat musical approach and warm textures that confer a longing that tempers the confrontational tone of their lyrics. The record is definitely a cerebral affair that echoes deep into the heart of its listeners, which was a fairly rare combination in 2015.
After the turbulent and rock’n’rollish ending of Women (onstage fight in 2010 followed by the demise of guitarist Christopher Reimer in 2012), Matt Flagel formed Viet Cong and self-released the following year a cassette EP that immediately caught the attention of critics who praised their eclectic fusion of clenched-fist post-punk with old-school psychedelia and cinematic instrumentals. The band finally released this year their much-anticipated eponymous full-length debut and the seven songs it comprises balance groovy repetitions with surprising dynamics, making it one of the finest and inventive rock albums of the year.
As both a defining band of the underground feminist hardcore punk movement riot grrrl and an act that throughout its career never abandoned its overtly political ideals, Sleater-Kinney have long been considered not only an archetype of American indie rock, but also one the best and most influential rock bands of the last two decades. After 2005’s The Woods, the band entered a long hiatus: Tucker dedicated herself to motherhood and a solo career; Weiss drummed for Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks and formed Wild Flag with Brownstein, who meanwhile had become a TV star due to her leading role next to Fred Armisen on Portlandia. If you think about it, it almost seems as all they did was to somehow slowly built the expectations for No Cities to Love, a breathtaking album filled with their trademarked thunderous guitars and soaring hooks. The best comeback of a year that had a fierce competition in this particular chapter.
After the more guitar-centered sound for his last solo record, 2011’s Tomboy, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is a fierce exploration of Noah Lennox trademark hallucinatory sonic landscapes with densely layered vocals, resilient hooks and buoyant melodies. More than ever, the tension between the deep feel of communion expressed by his voice and music and the dread of his themes fuels some of the best songs he has produced both solo or with the rest of Animal Collective.
After the crossover success of 2012′s Kaleidoscope Dreams and following a rather long array of guest spots on albums by Mariah Carey, J. Cole, Big Sean, Santana, Jessie Ware, Ludacris and A$AP Rocky, Miguel returned this year with his much-anticipated third album. Though it is true that Wildheart accentuates his obsession towards sex-related subjects, it is an album that expands his musical palette in such a way that it starts to make less sense to compare him with R&B icons such as R. Kelly or Chris Brown than to articulate his body of work with the one from Afro-American visionary creators such as d’Angelo and Frank Ocean, who (once again) should definitely be watching his throne.
When the debut LP of a 21-year-old trumpeter reaches 618,000 downloads via iTunes and 10 million individual track downloads on its first week of release, one is bound to wonder what the heck is going on. The answer is both clear and unsettling: Surf is the debut studio album of Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, being the first Nico Segal (the above-mentioned young trumpeter) and the later a self-described group of bohemian musicians consisting of Peter Cottonale, Greg Landfair Jr., Nate Fox and, finally, the ultimate reason for the record success: one of the most promising hip hop recording artists of the last decade: Chance The Rapper.
After releasing his highly praised second mixtape, Acid Rain, in 2013, Chance maintained a pretty low profile, collaborating as a guest vocalist for Childish Gambino, Vic Mensa and Action Bronson and debuting in a lead acting role in Colin Tiley’s short film Mr. Happy. That his next step was to dilute his stardom as a mere member of a new rambling band, contributing with vocals and arrangement for half of the album’s tracks, may sound strange until you actually listen to the record. Surf is a contagious collection of up-tempo and uplifting tunes, meticulously produced and arranged, that showcases an impressive range of live instrumentation that shifts with ease between neo-soul, jazz and hip-hop. And not only is Chance’s syncopated flow better and more complex than ever, as all its guests (Busta Rhymes, J. Cole, Big Sean, Erykah Badu, etc.) are all in the top of their game. Definitely one of the most surprising and uplifting highlights of 2015.
You really had to be living in another planet to be surprised by the fact that the Museum of Modern Art of New York (MoMA) chose, as one of the core events of 2015 program, a massive retrospective exhibition that aims to chronicle the career of an Icelandic singer, songwriter, composer, musician, actress and activist named Björk. In the last three decades, she has been one of the most important, popular and forward-looking musician of her generation with an innovative approach to singing and composition, a pioneering use of electronic beats, groundbreaking music videos, intense live performances, and, perhaps above all, an alien-like celestial voice. Make no mistake: it is simply impossible to write any history of pop music without dedicating a considerable chapter to the huge legacy of her singular and everlasting body of work.
2015 was also great for Björk and his fans thanks to the release of Vulnicura, an immersive and intense listening experience that channels the majestuous sound of Homogenic and Vespertine and the talent of producers Arca and The Haxan Cloak in order to narrate chronologically the deterioration, end and aftermath of Björk’s relationship with Matthew Barney. A breakup album has rarely sounded more brave, engaging and frighteningly intimate.
Courtney Barnett is an Australian singer-songwriter and guitarist from Melbourne mainly known for her digressive lyrics and poker-face delivery. She gained her momentum at the end of 2013, thanks to “Avant Gardener”, a song from her second EP, that used a asthma attack as an excuse for a witty reflection about home crafting, being an adult, career decisions and mortality. The narration of mundane episodes as a springboard to make deceptively simple and acute observations on bigger themes has become her trademark in the rather traditionalist format (guitar-bass-drums trio) used to propel her songs. Though she is musically indebted to 60’s garage rock and 90s grunge, her singular voice also makes her a genuine descendent of a long line of observational singer-songwriters from Dylan to Liz Phair.
Her debut full-length, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, takes to another level the nonchalant way she can turn an existential crisis into concise, funny and irresistible rock songs: the production is tighter, the lyrics are more focused and the band seems to have crystalized how to play a tune with punch instead of precision, which gives a wonderful loose ambience to Barnett’s rambling lyrics.
2015 has yet to see a more fascinating and fully formed underground rock troubadour.
EarthEE not only keeps exploring all the superlative qualities of THEESatisfaction debut (political without being preachy, experimental but not hermetic, challenging though highly enjoyable), but also manages somehow to be even more sonically rich and detailed. This is one of the most indisputable musical triumph of black womanhood of recent years, a keeper for any listener avid for some stimulating and innovative blend of Afro-futurist rap, dense neo-soul, jazz, R&B and pop with an acute social message.
In many ways, I Love You, Honeybear is exactly the kind of album you would expect from the same duo (Josh Tillman and Jonathan Wilson) that produced Father John Misty’s celebrated debut: sexy, literate, caustically funny and sumptuously arranged. The only real difference is that our sinful troubadour is now in love – and he wants everybody to acknowledge it. In 2015, it was hard not to.
Any year is better with a Deerhunter album. In 2015, they gave us Fading Frontier, an extremely concise and focused record, that ditched the dark claustrophobia of their previous record (the great Monomania) for the kind of kaleidoscopic approach and precise experimentation that has made them one of the most fascinating indie bands of the States. Add adds the most personal and accomplished lyrics ever written by Bradford Cox and you got another fine addition to a stellar discography.
In 2015 we had the chance to see blooming a French-Cuban musical duo Ibeyi consisting of Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz. Though born in Cuba, the twin sisters were raised in Paris, where they currently reside. Their father was the famous Cuban percussionist, Anga Díaz, a distinct member of Buena Vista Social Club. The duo sings in English and Yoruba, an ancient Nigerian language their ancestors spoke and the name of the band (pronounced ee-bey-ee) refers the divine spirit that exists between twins. Lisa is usually the lead voice and also plays piano, while Naomi plays traditional Cuban percussion instruments such as cajón and Batá drum. Their eponymous debut album is a beautifully produced collection of songs that fuses jazz, hip-hop beats, samples and electronica with traditional instruments in order to evoke elements of French, Afro-Cuban and Yoruba culture. Nevertheless, it all sounds both immediate and hypnotic, which makes their debut a surprising addition to a lineage of highly inventive and evocative records from composers such as Kate Bush and Björk.
Of all the figures that founded and leaded the so-called neo-soul movement, which favored down-to-earth 70s production rather than 90s slickness and was appalled by the excesses of late-90s hip-hop and R&B, D’Angelo has always been the most elusive, coherent and fascinating one. After releasing Brown Sugar in 1995, it had already took him five years to surpass his groundbreaking debut with his sophomore effort and even though Voodoo has steadily become the most celebrated R&B record of his era, it is pretty hard to understand how such a creative composer, skillful performer and meticulous producer needed fourteen years to release his third record. After listening to D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s Black Messiah one feels compelled to not only excuse his lengthy exile but also to halt all the furious digital medial landscape around us in order to listen to this truly timeless collection of beautifully crafted, politically conscious and soulfully delivered songs. A late 2014 release that deserves to be a part of this year’s most formidable records.
Label her music however you want, whether it’s “witch house”, “grave wave”, “gothic synthpop” or “ADD music”, Claire Elise Boucher, aka Grimes, remains one of the most unclassified and popular artists to have ever emerged from the American underground lo-fi dance music scene. Her atypical fusion of children-like vocals with a wide array of influences (ranging from electronica to pop, hip hop, techno, R&B and medieval music) combined with a deeply idiosyncratic visual identity (that mixes Manga comics with Heavy Metal and psychedelic imaginary) and strong political stance against sexism have turned her artistic vision one of the most fascinating and divisive on the emerging digital media landscape. After releasing a couple of cassettes that, in spite of favorable reviews, failed at the time to gain any substantial traction (2010’s Geidi Primes and 2011’s Halfaxa), Grimes signed to the legendary UK label 4AD for the release of 2012’s Visions, one the paramount albums of the new millennium, gaining accolades from all over the world and turning one of its tracks (“Oblivion”) in the hymn of a tortuous and hyperactive generation. The polarizing reaction to the release of the 2014’s single “Go” (a significant departure from her previous sound) seemed to make her scrap the entirety of what she had already recorded from her new album. Things seemed to get back on track when she uploaded a self-directed video for a demo from the abandoned album, “REALiTi”, which received critical acclaim from both music critics and fans, and finally came to a happy ending with the release of Art Angels, an album that showcases a more melodic songwriting and mature performance without loosing the charming weirdness that has already turned her one of the most magnetic figures in the history of popular music.
With Garden of Delete, Oneohtrix Point Never went deeper into his fascinating fusion between airy electronics, ambient drones, noise and exploratory sampling. This time, though, he ditched the bright and briskly tones of 2013’s R Plus Seven for powerful and wide-ranging emotions, adding vocals that give a personal touch to his music. One of the most intellectually engaging, funny and cathartic musical experience of the year.
There is a rather provocative (but also enlightening) way to introduce Jamie xx body of work and influence over the last five years: he is the only producer, beat-maker and remixer that managed to work successfully with such a diverse array of pop artists that include Adele, Jack Peñate, Gil Scott-Heron, Florence + The Machine, Drake, Rihanna, Radiohead and Alicia Keys. But even more surprising is that it was still with the band that he formed with three former school friends, the xx, that he managed to release one of the most unanimous records of the new millennium and bring home the prestigious Mercury Prize. Though he had released two singles under his solo moniker, Jamie xx finally released in 2015 his much-anticipated debut LP In Colour. The album is arguably one of the most satisfying distillation of electronic dance music, indie and R&B of recent years and showcases a genuine sound and sampling craftsman that is able to turn complex song structures into irresistible emotional landscapes. A stellar release.
Anyone who has been following Vince Staples knew that he was going to kill it this year. And so he did. His highly anticipated debut LP Summertime ’06 is an album that manages to pack twenty songs in an hour that flies by once you start listening to it or. The pristine production, ingenuous phrasing, intricate beats, lavish soundscapes and meaningful lyrics make this record simply one of the best rap debuts not only of this year but of the decade.
In an North American indie music arena defined by artists that have shaped their songcraft in a circuit comprised by the bedroom and the road, Julia Holter is a rare example of an erudite composer that has managed to reach a level of critical acclaim and a cult following that is both refreshing and perplexing: her songs seem to inhabit a world of its own, somewhere between classical music and jazz-infused post-rock, that seems to be immune to either trends and ideas of coolness, pretty much in the vein of the work of, say, Joanna Newsom. Her 2015 release, Have You In My Wilderness, is, by far, her most sunny and accessible record to date, an irresistible cycle of songs that manages to be intimate without loosing any of the enigmatic charm that has defined her music. The perfect entrance to the work of one of the most fascinating composers and performers of the decade.
With To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar offered the world an ambitious record with a widescreen musical reach that one may define as a howling and highly immersive post-rap/free-jazz masterpiece. It will definitely be remembered in the following years as one of the most memorable achievements of black protest art.
It is the sparse, acoustic and biblical tone of 2004’s Seven Swans that immediately comes to mind once you start listening to Sufjan Stevens last album. Carrie & Lowell is not only a return to his indie folk roots but his most spiritual work yet, a genuine coming to terms with the passing of his mother in 2012, the memories of his family trips to Oregon during his childhood and the love that nurtured the relationship with his stepfather (who currently runs his Asthmatic Kitty label). It’s that simple and mundane. No tricks or gimmicks – just sheer emotion, storytelling prowess and refined musicianship.
João Pedro da Costa is a web studies scholar and a music fan.