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As with our 50-track, best-of-2015 mosaic, so go some of the finest voices we heard silencing, or in some cases loudening, the world’s consistent attempt to destroy itself. Kendrick Lamar, our pick for Lyricist of the Year, stretches out in timeless fashion, beaconing the pack with the future archetype for novelizing social injustices, while appearances from artists like Kurt Vile‘s concrete jungle one-liner chill and Dan Deacon‘s anti-quixotic electronic philosophizing filled in the gaps. Hopefully the link between a chaotic spin of the globe isn’t directly bound to great art like so, but we’ll take it for now. Thank you, voices of 2015, we salute you.

Erykah Badu – But You Caint Use My Phone

Erykah Badu; 'But You Caint Use My Phone'This was as unexpected as it was pleasant, an album that had Badu creating simply for the joy of creating. The backbone of the album was laid out in just 11 days, done with a producer that is a relative no name. The feel is loose, carefree and full of humorous moments. Yet it still explores love and love loss. At times she pokes her head in for nothing more than a quick, catchy hook or two; sounding as if she was singing blissfully in the shower. It’s jocular in nature and inspired by Funkadelic, a brief uber-funky interlude before delving back into the final installment of the New Amerykah series: [LISTEN] – Jeff Min

U Don't Have to Call

Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer

Dan Deacon - 'Gliss Riffer' album artDeacon’s 2015 entry was his most polished effort to date. He kept his strangely pitched vocal effects, sometimes black-MIDI-esque instrumentals, and electro-noise-party vibe intact, but made its end result far more sleek than we’ve ever seen it. Older, less pretentious fans dug it, and the layperson could get behind it as well. His lyrical storytelling and philosophizing improved the same — he’s almost become a sort of benevolent experimental electronic hippie-nerd figure, like a messianic hipster Santa of good vibes. Really, you just have to let go and do the dance moves he gets from you at shows. He’ll reward you not only with euphoria on the floor, but words that can actually speak to you beyond the trippy noises they make: [LISTEN] – Karl Ernest

Feel the Lightning

Death Grips – Jenny Death

Death Grips - 'Jenny Death' album artLove ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no arguing Death Grips’ chaos provokes an instantaneous and extreme reaction. I’ve yet to encounter anyone who didn’t use the word ‘crazy’ to describe their sound. The ear-drum battering ram continued on Jenny Death, the long-awaited second half of the double album The Powers That BJD is slower, heavier, weirder, angrier, more paranoid, and more honest than we’ve seen from these misfits. Stefan uses his real name in a conversation with Death on the suicidal “On GP”, which is followed by an instrumental to finish the album as if he’d actually gone through with it. The only certainty with these guys is that they’ll break your neck. Even they “can’t know what [they’re] ‘bout to do:” [LISTEN] – K.E.

The Powers that B

Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt

freddie_FEATThe cover to Freddie Gibbs‘ third studio album Shadow of a Doubt says everything: one foot in the light, the other in the dark. Is he coming or his going? That uncertainty, the ability to dance between two worlds, is his biggest asset when it comes to writing. It adds authenticity to a game that is marred with pretenders and wannabes. All throughout the album Freddie shows us instances where he barely escapes, how all of this success is a miracle. Just one year removed from Piñata and he comes through with another classic: [LISTEN] – J.M.

Insecurities

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick_LEADEvery time Kendrick Lamar makes a step it turns into a huge stride; well-calculated and thoughtful in everything that he does. To Pimp a Butterfly was as a good a follow-up to Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City as anyone could have hoped for; it was dark, ominous, and malevolent in its approach towards social injustice. Without an album like this it is almost certain that other pop-stars wouldn’t have been as vocal as they were, Kendrick Lamar once again certifying himself as a leader amongst leaders. He is one of rap’s biggest ambassadors and instead of being circumspect with his writing he took it upon himself to challenge authority: [LISTEN] – J.M.

institutionalized

METZ – II

METZ - 'II' album artThey say when something reaches 20 years old, it goes from passé to ‘vintage’ or ‘retro;’ two decades is the sweet spot for ‘revival.’ The legacy of grunge — already a loaded word — got ruined thanks to all rock radio in the years of yarlers doing terrible Cobain vocal impersonations following the Nirvana frontman’s death. Enter METZ. Their brand of ‘grunge’ revival seamlessly mixes equal parts old-school hardcore, noise rock, plus some blues, yet it still manages immense catchiness. Detractors of this album lean on the “its sound is so similar to their debut” argument, because god forbid you have a distinct sound. What they ignore is the huge improvements in songwriting, making both the mundane and intense equally scream-able, as heard on “Acetate:” [LISTEN] – K.E.

acetate

Joanna NewsomDivers 

Joanna_Newsom_-_DiversReading too deep into Newsom’s songs can feel like an Odyssean trap, they’re so damn beautiful and intoxicating, packed so dense with references to everything from lullabies to obscure 18th century poets, Newsom angelically fluttering about her harp all the while, the Siren cliff crash will come hard and swift if you ruin it with interpretation here. But Divers is just a bit different in that she manages to pull off orchestrations with a more conventional sonic arc – electric guitars and organs playing traditional rhythm roles — and within those moments of just enjoying the ride, moments of her life-is-a-great-mystery genius will creep into your bones: [LISTEN] – Gavin Paul

Sapokanikan

OughtSun Coming Down

ought

In an era when art rock can be so damn pretentious, it’s refreshing to see a band take on battles of the psychosomatic in both anthemic and accessible ways. Tim Darcy’s neurotic howl is a commanding mix between Joy Division lyrics’ monotone fight with his own demons and David Byrne’s ability to turn those same demons into genius catch-phrases, Darcy and the band consistently finding erratic ways to pull off buoyant, uplifting payoffs, usually at the tail end of Darcy repeating words like a corner street poet dressed in a suit made out of newspaper scraps, sometimes explicitly saying he’s talking out of his ass. The sun may be coming down in one song, with a wall of feedback fueling its decent, and war planes fly over a sea of endless condos in another, but there’s always cause for celebration and an absence of fear with proper time to dance and play a guitar, and witness the big, “Beautiful Blue Sky:” [LISTEN] – G.P.

Beautiful Blue Sky

Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell 

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There’s a school of creative thought that great art can only come from great pain. That’s a bunch of bullshit. Though Sufjan Stevens is a poster child for those that want to crusade that cause. The man is folk’s master of dragging the ghosts of his past into the church of melody, able to build a hymn around a thousand shards of broken glass. The Age of Adz was an experiment in proving his genius in orchestrations other than stringed instruments, but white space is clearly his jam. And Carrie & Lowell is his most intimate project to date, framed around family trips to Oregon as a kid and the struggles of growing up with emotionally absent parents. Laced with the usual biblical references and pin-drop melodic beauty, no one will be able to touch the level of reconciliation and catharsis that happens here for years. Nothing is held back for this cause, Stevens never encroaching on trite remembrances, as evident in one of the record’s most heartbreaking moments, when Sufjan and his brother were left at the video store by their mother as toddlers on “Should Have Known Better:” [LISTEN] – G.P.

Should Have Known Better

Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m going down

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Philadelphia’s statesmen of Chuck Taylor chill, Kurt Vile couldn’t have stepped more in to a wet piece of concrete with b’lieve i’m going down if he tried, etching into City of Brotherly Love permanence. All of the manic shoegazery bliss that was so endearing about Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze turns into a banjo and piano-tinged steely-eyed meditational, here, speckled with all sorts of hilarious one-liners on how to survive the oppression of the concrete jungle often encapsulated before you even push play — i.e. “All in a Daze Work.” The messages aren’t revolutionary, but that’s not the point, that’d be just getting by, either by recognizing your “Pretty Pimpin’” by your lonesome, or toughing it out with the ones you love by your side: [LISTEN] – G.P.

Life Like This