Collegian Music Critic Alec Erickson ranked his favorite albums of 2015 here.
Socrates famously said “The unexamined life is not worth living” before being sentenced to death. I think we can all agree he was probably urging for the necessity of end of the year music lists in his final moments of life.
Alright, so what if my Spotify Year in Music says I streamed The National 932 times this year? Despite my propensity for angsty, male comprised indie bands, I found time for a diverse selection of music this year. As your self-appointed, somewhat inconsistent, guide to new music, I felt obligated to provide my unsolicited opinion on music in 2015.
And I know you’re thinking “Danny, there was no new Kanye West album this year, why even bother with music in 2015?” Trust me, I empathize with your plight reader, but let me be your Virgil through the soundscape of wavelength, amplitude and frequency, because despite a Yeezy-less year, albums of 2015 were more innovative, progressive and entertaining than ever.
(Important Note: “Favorite albums” is not the same as “Best Albums.” The very nature of a review is I am providing my opinion on albums, which is a subjective outlook on the medium. Because of this subjectivity, an objective “Best” album isn’t really an accurate distinction, so I am offering a list of my favorites from this year. This means please don’t throw things at me just because Sufjan Stevens or A$AP Rocky didn’t make the list.)
Top 5 Favorite Albums
“In Colour” — Jamie XX:
Oh electronic music. What a tumultuous relationship you and I have had. Just when I’m ready to leave you, you hook me back in with FKA Twigs, or Todd Terje, and damn it electronic music you got me again.
“In Colour” is from Jamie Smith of The XX. This was his debut full-length album, although he has been making electronic music for years, working with artists like Drake, Radiohead and Gill-Scott Heron. “In Colour” is refreshing in the saturated world of electronic music. At times it is ambient and somber, other times danceable and energetic, but it is great throughout. Jamie XX is analogous to former electronic revolutionaries like The Chemical Brothers, and this album shows refreshing artistry for the genre. It’s more suited for scotch and a smoking jackets, not teenagers with glow sticks. “In Colour” reminded me that electronic music can be emotional, just like Todd Terje did last year, or FKA Twigs the year before. It’s because of this artistic revitalization that it’s one of my favorites, and it’s so great that I will even overlook the fact “color” is misspelled.
“I Love You, Honeybear” — Father John Misty:
Sometimes it’s okay to be sad and pessimistic. For me, this album was the cathartic middle finger to life when I felt melancholy. During the Sunday crash of a glutenous weekends, I would spend some time with “I Love You, Honeybear” to feed my insatiable cynicism. Father John Misty is the angst-filled solo act of Fleet Fox’s Josh Tillman. “I Love You, Honeybear” is a folky, hilarious, ballad against modern culture. This album and the equally acclaimed “Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Something I Just Sit” by Courtney Barnett showed how pessimism can be entertaining, and sometimes fun, through the lens of sarcasm. This album really has something for everyone, unless you’re like some vapid prep that doesn’t get art or something…
“No Cities to Love” — Sleater-Kinney:
Girls rule; that’s a fact of life. Female-led acts like Sharkmuffin, Alabama Shakes, Speedy Ortiz, FKA Twigs and Courtney Barnett put out some of the best music of the year, and Sleater Kinney’s return to music “No Cities to Love” is at the top of the female led acts. This album came after a 10 year hiatus and 20 years after their debut, self-titled album. In that time, guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein rose to prominence through her work in Portlandia. Because of Brownstein’s notoriety, and 10 year gap between the albums, “No Cities to Love” was likely many listeners introduction to Sleater-Kinney, which was actually a rare opportunity for the band to reestablish themselves with an audience who didn’t know them from the “riot grrrl,” feminist punk scene of the nineties. On this album they return with their punk sound and socially aware themes. “No Cities to Love” is more of what fans have come to expect from Sleater-Kinney, and they sound like they never took a break at all.
“New Bermuda” — Deafheaven:
There isn’t much more to say that I didn’t say in my review of this album in October, so if you’re on a computer click that link for a detailed review on why I loved this album. If you’re reading the newspaper, I’ll give you the highlights. Deafheaven pushed the limits of black metal by incorporating shoegaze and post-metal elements. Their experimentation has made them polarizing in music, and especially hated by black metal purists, but their innovation is what put them on the map with their sophomore album “Sunbather” in 2013. “New Bermuda” built on the sound of “Sunbather” by utilizing the same atmospheric metal aesthetic, but turned up the intensity. This album is far less eclectic than their previous, but the ferocity while maintaining their artistry is what made this album one of my favorites.
“To Pimp A Butterfly” — Kendrick Lamar:
There are albums in every generation that fill a void that audiences didn’t even know existed. A special kind of musician can identify what is lacking, and then provide what is necessary to satisfy a need in society. For our generation, “To Pimp a Butterfly” will go down in history as an album that the people needed.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” will win the Album of the Year Grammy, and everyone knew it the first time they heard it. When that happens, Kendrick Lamar will join Outkast as the only rap artists to ever win that award. Musically, the album is unique because gone are the speaker stressing, windows-down anthems like “Backseat Freestyle,” and Lamar’s words are layered over jazz and funk, played by some legends of the genres. This album is comparatively subdued musically considering his past albums, but lyrically and thematically it is the heaviest rap album I’ve ever heard.
It was the right album at the right time because of the issues Lamar addresses like race relations, police brutality, systematic racial oppression and poverty. His commentary on 2015 America is interwoven in a recurring narrative, culminating in an “interview” with Tupac. The narrative follows a complex story line about fame, growth and transformation. Basically, this album is dense. Like all good things in life, this album took a little bit of work to grasp, and it is a classic people will be unpacking for years.
Top five favorite songs (described in 3 words):
The Less I Know the Better — Tame Impala: Dancing by flailing.
Can’t Tell — Young Thug: Unintelligible, garbled greatness.
Jumpman — Drake/Future: Eh (A) plus (+) squawking.
How Could you Babe — Tobias Jess Jr.: Me scream singing.
Raising the Skate — Speedy Ortiz: 2015 hype anthem.
Collegian Music Critic Danny Bishop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DannyDBishop.