Here it is - the much anticipated year end list! This blog contains descriptions of fifty-five albums written by nine of the T&E Collective contributors. We present a huge variety of albums that you might not see on your average year end list. Take a look and tell us some of your favorites of 2015!
Artist: Father John Misty
Album: I Love You, Honeybear
Label: Sub Pop
Favorite song: A tie-- “The Ideal Husband” / “Nothing Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow”
Josh Tillman dropped this record in February and I’m still listening to it on a weekly basis. All of the tracks, save for the intentionally contrasting “True Affection,” are cohesive, yet markedly individual explorations on the themes of self-discovery, love, affection, and loathing. While the music (a variably-paced whirlwind of pianos and synths, bells, lax drums, guitars and other strings) is a strong point, the lyrics are the reason I return to this album. Tillman is a master of snark, cutting always and gritty where necessary. He can totally dismantle the confidence of a person or ideal with disparagingly accurate remarks (see “The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apt.” and “Bored in the U.S.A.”) but you’re laughing despite how bad you feel for his target. Hearing how deep he hates brings you back around to how intensely he can love.
Label: Riding Easy
Favorite Song: “Cursing the One”
Simply put, this is a mostly satisfying doom metal record. Vaenir’s heavy and dark riffs are stretched long like satan’s taffy, and Monolord’s penchant for oppressive fuzz adds enough muck to sink every track down to an epic and heavy level. But this isn’t a perfect record-- I’d like to see the aggressive energy and ingenuity of the first tracks, “Cursing the One” and “We Will Burn,” trickle down more into the middle and later parts of the album. “Vaenir,” the final track, clocks in at almost 17 minutes and almost loses the listener in that foggy fade and slow, looming intensity. Criticism aside, Monolord is a band that’s pretty good at balancing heavy and ethereal (see “the Cosmic Silence”) and they’re only getting better. This sophomoric release is a compelling listen and a positive support to the influx of doom that’s been recently bubbling to the surface.
Artist: Kurt Vile
Album: B’Lieve I’m Goin Down
Favorite Song: “Dust Bunnies”
Kurt Vile has created a record that bounds between folk’s thin, cold mountain air and country’s hot and open empty desert sky. B’lieve I’m Goin Down fuses west-coast production and influence with his east coast pseudo-apathetic demeanor. All instruments, but especially the guitars, piano, and banjo, unify the sound of each track with a circular rollicking-and-rolling musicality. Kurt’s words are also very sharp in this most recent record, and they’re just as strong as his indiscriminate-but-really-sincere delivery. You’ll chuckle at more than a few, and some lines will sting you in later reflection. The music in B’lieve I’m Goin Down weaves a story of Kurt spiraling down, but sometimes it feels like a spiral up to you-- and then suddenly he’s singing over the music with a smirk telling you maybe he’s going sideways after all.
Artist: Heathered Pearls
Album: The Body Complex
Label: Ghostly Records
Favorite Song: "Abandonded Mall Utopia"
I’ve already put my two cents in on this record for our summer favorites post and it’s held up for me. Having dug into more minimal dance music this year, it’s much more clear to me that this record owes a huge debt to Gas and the work of Wolfgang Voigt (and much of Kompakt Records), but it’s still a damn slick listen.
Artist: Natural Snow Buildings
Album: Terror’s Horns
Label: Badabing Records
Favorite Song: "King In Yellow"
These folks have been making weirdo folk/drone records in France for quite some time. This latest album is one of their shortest, about 45 minutes, but still manages to fill itself with freaky witch shit and nice soundscapes. Great music to write spells to.
Artist: Ulaan Passerine
Album: Light In Dust EP
Label: Worstward Records
Favorite Song: "Light In Dust"
Another perennial favorite artist of mine, Steven R. Smith somehow finds time to have semi-regular output with many recording projects. This EP, about 22 minutes and two songs long, falls neatly into his usual sounds, minimal droning guitars and eerie sounds. The second track is a very minimal piano composition, and though it is much less warm and buzzing that most of Steven’s work, it’s a breath of fresh air and a nice subtle contrast to the drones of the first track.
Artist: Oneohtrix Point Never
Album: Garden of Delete
Label: Warp Records
Favorite Song: "Mutant Standard"
OPN’s new record doesn’t start with the letter “R” and that’s the least surprising part about it. Many know Daniel Lopatin’s work as very minimal, often sample-heavy (Lopatin low-key created vaporwave), and textural. This album is a stark departure from the quiet uncanniness of OPN’s earlier catalog. At points this record is incredibly aggressive, the song "Sticky Drama", for instance, builds up to a high point that is industrial and percussive and suffocating. Other songs, such as my favorite on the album "Mutant Standard", use this momentum to build towering, shimmering castles of MIDI synthesized arcade-game freakouts.
Album: Autumn Eternal
Label: Bind Rune Recordings
Favorite Song: "Autumn Eternal"
Panopticon is the one man black metal project of Austin Lunn. Ever since they dropped Kentucky in 2012 the band has been turning heads. The project has free-flying riffs, screams, and blasts typical of any black metal project worth their salt, but is unique in that the compositions often take a huge influence from bluegrass, even starting off songs with bluegrass instrumentation before melting your face off. Panopticon is some of the most unique black metal in the States right now (though certainly not the only band pushing boundaries: see bands like Volahn from the southwest, replacing the imagery of the frozen north with Mayan and Aztec imagery), and this record is his most polished and gleaming chunk of bleak blackgrass. Worth the listen.
Artist: J. C. Satan
Album: J. C. Satan
Label: Born Bad Records
Favorite Track: "Satan II"
J. C. Satan are franco-italian garage rock dreamboats. Born Bad Records consistently puts out great post-punk and garage rock etc (check out labelmates Frustration, Wall of Death, Catholic Spray, Cheveu, and La Femme, who’ve all had great records the last few years). This album comes out of the gates heavy with Satan II and spends the next 45 minutes or so chilling out. "Waiting For You", what feels like the mid-point of the record to me, is a 6 minute long track dripping in saxophone. Some of the tracks are misses to me, sure, but it’s refreshing to hear a garage rock band put out a record this varied in feel and not just 45 minutes of fuzz, reverbed-out vocals and the same song structure 5 times in a row (here’s looking at you Segall). This album is worth it for fans of garage rock, at the very least as an intro to Born Bad and their stellar catalog.
Album: The Air Conditioned Nightmare
Favorite Song: "Loops"
You caught me listening to pop music. Don’t tell anybody. The first track on this album, "Hotfoot", is what first caught my ear with its pounding drum tracks and cute song structure. Admittedly, the first time I listened through it I gave up immediately after the first song, and the second song on the record is still my least favorite. The album is pretty synth heavy with some neat transitions and changeups, and displays pretty impressive dynamic range for what I’d place pretty firmly as pop. "Loops" is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard this year. I put this album on at work all the time and it’s grown on me. Me! The forest drone goblin listening to pop music. Bah!
Artist: Human Behavior
Label: Folktale Records
Favorite Song: "Chapter 2" and "Chapter 4"
Hometown dark folk heroes put out Bethphage this year, a longer and dronier release than their last LP Golgotha. Lots of great vocal harmonies, stripped down sad folk melodies and general gloom. This is the second in a three album trilogy, we’ll see the last release in 2016. Not just shoehorning a local band into my Top Ten, Human Behavior makes some of my favorite music around and I’ve loved every record of theirs I could get my hands on.
Album: A Step In The Dark
Favorite Song: "Alone Again"
bvdub is another very prolific artist. He only released two records this year, of which this one is my favorite. He has found his sonic niche, long, textural, ambient dance pieces, usually about 10-14 minutes. If you like bvdub, though, you know his output is reliable. This year was another solid album, and though there may have been flashier releases, I’m choosing bvdub over some obvious records in hopes of putting his name out there for those who haven’t heard his material before.
To Pimp a Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar
Divers - Joanna Newsom
Fading Frontier - Deerhunter
Nymphs II - Nicolas Jaar
Golem - Wand
Abyss - Chelsea Wolfe
Artist: Dan Deacon
Album: GLISS RIFFER
Favorite Song: “Meme Generator”
Dan Deacon is our cute and colorful master of the sound collage. He is known for his high-energy live shows that involve him at level with the crowd surrounded by his various sound machines and synthesizers and lots of audience participation. His music is experimentally electronic in nature, and he seems to favor a lot of vocal manipulation. This album is naturally wacky, and makes me feel like I’m in a pinball machine or one of those boxes that rains money that they have on game shows. I love the album artwork too (check out Joanna Fields’ Instagram when you get the chance). My favorite track is “Meme Generator” which feels a little more serious than its preceding tracks; It’s kind of like you’re in a bumper car with Dan Deacon flying through the jungle and fighting off animated creatures with ray guns.
Artist: FKA TWIGS
Album: M3LL155X EP
Label: Young Turks
Favorite Song: “Glass & Patron”
FKA Twigs is the UK’s favorite video dancer turned singer, director, producer powerhouse. Her voice is hauntingly beautiful, and her music style is unconventional. Historically, she’s been lumped into the vague genre of “experimental R&B,” but that doesn’t begin to sum her up. She started out producing and writing her own songs, was signed to Young Turks, and since then has managed some ridiculous collaborations, including producer Arca, artist Jessie Kanda, and famed vogue dancer Jamel Prodigy There is something about her that is so addictive and compelling--perhaps it’s her classically trained angelike choir voice, or the (sometimes freaky) way she can manipulate her body, or her insane artistic vision. The first four songs of the five-song M3LL155X EP were released as a self-directed16 minute film that is fucking incredible! With her third EP, FKA Twigs proves herself as a true artist—not only a dancer and a singer but also a visionary director. M3LL155X is a shockingly different, genre-melding, audio-video experience.
Artist: Claude Von Stroke
Favorite Song: “Make that Cake”
It seems to me that West Coast deep house was absolutely explosive this year! Dirtybird, Claude VonStroke’s record label never quits. They had bangers coming out left and right from the Martin Brothers, to J. Phlip, to Ardalan and Justin Jay, and of course Shiba San.This short little EP housed two songs, each as simple as the last in lyrical content, and possessing that deep housey beat we’ve come to expect from Dirtybird. If you want to just dance and not have to worry about anything else then blast either of these two songs and you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Who can resist popping their booty to this shit? Not I, that’s for sure.
Artist: Nicolas Jaar
Album: NYMPHS III
Label: Other People
Favorite Song: “Swim/Mistress”
There is really only one way to listen to this and that’s all the way through. The two tracks of this EP, "Swim" and "Mistress", together create this 18 minute masterpiece. Nicolas Jaar constructs sound in a way that must be called something more than just music. This song is fashioned in layers of synth and drum machine, and the genius mind that is Nico Jaar, to create a visceral experience that transcends that standard soundwave-meets-eardrum exchange. No, after you listen to this a few times you’re going to feel it in your gut; it’ll infiltrate your entire body making its way down your spinal cord and out through your fingertips. It sounds simple but 11 minutes in you start to realize that the complexity is really building until Nico totally infiltrates your brain at the end of “Swim” and cools you right off with the beautiful, aquatic piano of the last track “Mistress.” This Nymphs III is my favorite of the Nymphs series that Jaar released this year; it is everything my ears want to hear.
Album: The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam
Favorite Song: “Them Changes”
Thundercat is a dynamic bassist (truly his technicality is unmatched), who also has an adorable little voice. He makes singing about death and heartbreak really sweet and funky. There is also a cosmic, otherworldly quality to his music. His tender lyrics are often matched to avant-garde jazz and spacey synths that places Thundercat is a category unmatched, sort of in a weird modern space jazz genre. Aside from “Them Changes,” another one of my favorites on this short EP is Lone Wolf and Cub; it’s mesmerizing; it will literally put you in a trance. This EP is super eerie, leaves you feeling something—can’t quite say exactly what, but I’ll keep listening to it.
Album: Heartache City
Favorite Song: “Forget Me Not”
Sisters Bianca and Sierra have dialed back the production on this their newest album, Heartache City, for a more nostalgic sound. The emphasis is on the beauty of their voices - Bianca sings her poetry in a strange, baby clown voice while Sierra enchants us with her soprano vocals. The music is extremely creative and poignant, simple but inventive. Throughout Heartache City, Cocorosie explore themes in feminism, with songs like “Lost Girls” that emphasize the sexualization of girls and women and lost innocence. Speaking on more issues, “Big and Black” is another track that blatantly calls out the demonization of black men in society. “It must be hard being big and black. Giving everyone a heart attack” is echoed playfully throughout the song, which provides an interesting contrast to the heaviness of their message. “Lost Girls” and “Big and Black” are both examples of how Cocorosie can breach very serious topics with their music in a creative and child-like fashion.Bravo CocoRosie for creating yet another work of art.
Artist: Guy Blakeslee
Album Waiting All Night for the Salvation Train
Favorite song: “Told Myself”
This is the kind of music you listen to when you’re feeling miserable. Finding solace in knowing you’re not the only one suffering—isn’t that what makes the blues? For over a decade, Guy Blakeslee has crafted a unique brand of psychedelic folk rock inspired by the dark delta blues of Skip James, finger-picking virtuosity of Sandy Bull, and even a little lyrical wisdom from Bob Dylan. What sets Guy apart is possibly best exemplified on his trio The Entrance Band’s Prayer of Death (2006): that is, a fascination with and reverence for the darker shades of life. Then there’s this spectacular Daytrotter session, where Guy steps up to microphone with guitar and piano all by his lonesome self, howling painful odes to the dark themes on his last solo album, Ophelia Slowly. Daytrotter sessions notoriously offer an intimate framing of popular and up-and-coming artists, and it’s that intimacy that complements Guy perfectly.
Artist: Panda Bear
Album: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Label: Domino Recording Company
Favorite song: “Boys Latin”
I’ve been obsessed with Panda Bear ever since falling in love with his samples-based masterpiece Person Pitch, which will be a decade old in 2017. I adore everything from his unpolished, lo-fi self-titled (1999) to the entrancing elegy of Young Prayer (2004) to the heavy, percussive drones of Tomboy (2011). On his newest release, Panda Bear doesn’t stray too far from his established style or sound, but that’s fine. He’s still a sonic anomaly after all these years. There are catchy numbers like “Mr Noah” and “Boys Latin” (above) that get you swaying in a groovy trance (especially if you see them performed live). There are heavy beats, with Panda Bear citing 90s hip hop legends like A Tribe Called Quest and J Dilla as key inspiration. Then there are the classically-influenced pieces, "Tropic of Cancer" and "Lonely Wanderer," sampling Tchaikovsky and Debussy, respectively, lending the album a heavenly aroma to complement its darker, dubbier elements. All in all, another worthy release from one of our time’s most creative musicians.
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: To Pimp a Butterfly
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment / Aftermath Entertainment / Interscope Records
Favorite song: “The Blacker the Berry”
Everything has been said already. Usually I’m the first one to balk at the online media machine’s instant renouncement of love or hate toward new releases. How much can you really appreciate a piece of music after just a couple listens, especially when that piece of music assembles 75 minutes of groundbreaking hip hop, exploring dense lyrics, free jazz, and banging funk? But this time, the critics were right. To Pimp a Butterfly is one of those perfect albums that doesn’t work all the time, precisely because it’s so personal, harrowing, and complex. You’re not gonna flip this on in the club. You may not even listen to it with friends. But, when the time is right and you take the time to let the record spin, Kendrick Lamar’s poetry gathers black as a cloud to blanket the mountain of trite, uninspired hip hop from the past decade.
Artist: Aphex Twin
Album: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2
Favorite song: “diskhat1”
The long-overdue return of Richard D. James to the music world in 2014 was to electronic music fans akin to what it might be like for Christians if the messiah ever comes back. While many of us would’ve been sated for a couple years by the magnificent full-length Syro (2014), Richard wasn’t satisfied, as he eventually released a hundred tracks on SoundCloud as well as two official releases this year, Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 and Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-08. I haven’t explored the latter extensively, but I have the former. Most memorably, I listened to the album while walking through a large, desolate valley in Nevada’s Great Basin Desert, visually surrounded by serene spaciousness and wind and heat while sonically attacked by Richard’s dark, organic tones from drums, pianos, and various mysterious instrument. In doing the research for this review, I discovered that Richard considers this album a sequel of sorts to his 2001 double album Drukqs, which just so happens to be my favorite Aphex Twin release. Well, now it all makes sense.
Artist: The Internet
Album: Ego Death
Label: Odd Future / Columbia Records
Favorite song: “Get Away”
My friend Zoë first introduced me to the Internet by playing a couple tracks on Spotify, but the band didn’t win my heart until I watched the their performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert (embedded above). Girl. So goddamn beautiful. It’s the classic formula: a full band of musical maestros on guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, synth, and egg shakers backing a charming, starry frontman. In this case, Syd tha Kyd is the band’s frontwoman, though her androgynous look and sound admittedly had me confused for a few moments. Sex and gender expectations aside, Syd is clearly the leading creative force here, as lead vocalist and executive producer guiding the band through Ego Death with charisma and tender care, lyrically exploring love and relationships on a buoy of bumping funk.
Dreams Begin to Sway in These Spaghetti Western Fumes — Kitchen Hips
Invite the Light — Dâm-Funk
Moonbuilding 2703 AD — The Orb
Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-08 — AFX
Summertime ‘06 — Vince Staples
Artist: Lana Del Rey
Favorite Song: "Salvatore"
Honeymoon is a mixture of dreamy pop vocals, heavenly harmonies, and sadness. This album seems more adult than Lana’s previous ones, shying a bit away from the “Lolita lost in the hood” persona that was more prominent in her earlier albums. I’d recommend listening to this album while lying on the beach and staring at the sky.
Artist: The Weeknd
Album: Beauty Behind the Madness
Favorite Song: "Prisoner" feat. Lana Del Rey
I’ve written about this album so many times for this site already guys, please just buy it.
Artist: Rae Sremmurd
Favorite Song: "Throw Sum Mo" feat. Nicki Minaj, Young Thug
Ok, before you judge me, this is one of the best Turn Up albums of all time. Listen to it while you’re at work, running, pregaming, pretty much doing anything and you'll get sooo hype. Literally every song is good and it’s impressive that they’re so young.
Artist name: Big Sean
Album name: Dark Sky Paradise
Label: GOOD Music
Favorite Song: "Blessings"
I first saw Big Sean in concert in 2010 and it was really not good…fast forward to 2015 and he’s at the top of the rap game. He’s one of the most improved rappers out there, and with Kanye’s production help you can never go wrong. Plus, does anyone really remember what life was like before “I Don’t Fuck With You” came out?
Artist name: Drake & Future
Album name: What A Time to Be Alive
Favorite Song: "Big Rings"
Future was the king of 2015 and he proved that by showing up Drake on their joint mixtape. The mixtape came out as a semi-surprise, and Drake and Future did not disappoint with songs about money, strippers, and dirty sprite.
Artist: Jose Gonzalez
Album: Vestiges and Claws
Favorite Song: “What Will”
Jose Gonzalez was always one of those artists who I’ve always appreciated but never listened to very often. After listening to Vestiges and Claws, however, I listened to nothing but his music for two months straight. I first heard this album overlooking the cold, dark desert from my friend’s house on the Tucson mountains, and as the music started I could feel a sense of warmth wash over the whole scenery. The analog, self-produced recordings maintain an intimate atmosphere that would otherwise be cleaned up in a big studio production, and I think that aspect of having a singer-songwriter stay true to those simple roots is what makes this album so genuine. The overall sound is more optimistic and major-oriented than his previous works, but it’s still not your happy-go-luck folk album. Rather, it’s a journey through the big questions of life while the warm vocal tones keep you rooted in earthy soil and the crisp acoustics guide you clearly through the foliage. I had a chance see Jose Gonzalez live andinterview him about this album, and his show was undoubtedly the best I’ve been to this year.
Artist: Cosmo Sheldrake
Album: Pelicans We
Label: Transgressive Records
Favorite Song: “The Fly”
I wrote about this song for the favorite summer albums collaborative post, and now that the year has come to an end I can officially say this was my favorite release of 2015. This EP offers the most unique blend of eclectic folkiness and electronic sampling, and each song is still just as catchy as when I first heard it. Sheldrake is masterfully inventive when it comes to creating his own samples. He carries his field recorder everywhere he goes to capture everyday sounds and transform them into rhythmic beats. Anyway, I’ve already gushed about this EP in that previous post so just listen to it already!
Label: Bayonet Records
Favorite song: “Mass Mind”
Who knew that the dude from Beach Fossils could be this fucking intense? This album is super abrasive, full of bass-heavy beats and experimental synth lines - kind of reminiscent of Death Grips beats but falling more on the darker, synth-wave side of the spectrum. Vocalist Dustin Pasyeur (Beach Fossils) switches between tracks from a soft-spoken, coy attitude with a bloodthirsty undertone to ruthless screaming that pierces through all of the instrumentation. Throughout the album, there’s an overarching post-punk nostalgia that keeps me hooked throughout all the genre-melding combinations. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Beach Fossils just fine, but here’s hoping that Pasyeur sticks with his experimental gut and keeps making heavy shit forever.
Album: Maxed Out on Distraction
Favorite Song: “Caught in Frustration”
What can I say...if it’s synthy and post-punk it’s landing on my Top 10. But really, I was extremely impressed these LA garage rockers were able to seamlessly balance their surf rock roots into their new gothic and synth-driven direction. It’s a little Joy Division, it’s a little Dick Dale, and it’s really damn good. Also, PLUG I got to interview these dudes at SXSW earlier this year and we discussed the different distractions in life that helped developed the theme for this album.
Artist: Jacco Gardner
Favorite Song: “Hypnophobia”
I feel as though “psychedelic music” is the new label that every upcoming band is trying to aim for. There’s a lot of bland music out there that just adds some reverb and calls it 60s revival, so it’s easy to get tired of a genre when it’s being inundated with so much forgettable music. Thankfully, there are artists like Jacco Gardner who carefully intertwine baroque pop hooks with neo-psychedelia swirling compositions in order to create a truly masterful and unique “psych” record. Despite the grim album name, this record is a pleasant day-trippin’ listen.
Artist: Public Service Broadcasting
Album: Race for Space
Label: Test Card Recordings
Favorite Song: “Spitfire”
Space is the place! God, I love geeking out to this album. Public Service Broadcasting bases their music off of old PSA audio clippings and builds soundscapes/songs around them with live drumming, guitar, keys, synths, and the occasional banjo accompaniment. This album was all themed of the space race in order to help revive the fascination of space exploration, and I often found myself listening to this album and reading Carl Sagan quotes in the wee hours of the morning. I think what makes this album so brilliant is how PSB uses the samples as a backbone for the song, and the instrumentation works around it to build up this entire storyline. It’s not just a cool, quirky sample thrown in the mix - every sample and instrument is serving a fundamental purpose in building the story of each song. Seeing PSB live was definitely a highlight of SXSW this year, and I shit you not I heard some guy say, “Be still, my heart” to himself after their set was finished.
Artist: Hot Sugar
Album: God’s Hands
Label: Break World Records
Favorite Song: “Mayday”
Break World Records is the new label to be keeping your eye on. Similar to the Cosmo Sheldrake, Hot Sugar (aka Nick Koenig) samples everyday sounds and transforms them into unique beats for his music. In a Noisey interview, he stated how he spent a year manipulating sounds of people in webcam videos blowing bubble gum bubbles or crushing cans on their head until it became a mini orchestra. What makes that so special is that he was able to take records of people being bored and make something melodic and beautiful out of it. The overall sounds are glitchy, playful, and as one of my friends would describe it, ”squelchy”. Koenig is also a great film producer and has worked on a short film for his music - so I’d highly recommend checking out his music videos to get a better glimpse of his world.
Artist: Suuns and Jerusalem in My Heart
Album: Suuns and Jerusalem In My Heart
Label: Secretly Canadian
Favorite Song: “Metal”
Canadian indie-electronic rock group Suuns teamed up with multimedia Lebanese producer Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (aka Jerusalem in My Heart) to create an avant-garde art-punk record that’s unlike anything else I’ve heard these year. These two have seemingly nothing in common, yet after just a week in the studio together they created this cohesive collaboration that incorporates thumping electro beats, krautrock-esque repetition, droney melodies, all through a Middle Eastern lens. The song “Metal” uses a traditional Lebanese melody but brings it into a new world/Western light with an aggressively raw guitar filter and heavy distortion. I’m not going to say that this is objectively one of the best records of the year, ‘cause there are some tracks that are a little more forgettable. Nonetheless, I love it all the same and in my opinion, it’s one of the more inventive collaborations of the year.
The Fourth Light - Niyaz
Man, It Feels like Space Again - Pond
Vulnicura - Bjork
Why Make Sense? - Hot Chip
Stage Hands - Stage Hands
Fly Right - The Blind Shake
Ecate - Ufomammut
Mutant - Arca
Intermission - Shiegto
Label: Loma Vista Recordings
Favorite Song: “Absolution”
The latest offering from Papa Emeritus and his merry band of Nameless Ghouls is much more guitar-oriented than 2013’s Infestissumam. This album has plenty of Sabbath and Zeppelin-inspired riffs and solos while maintaining the band’s trademark theatricality, mystique, and just the right amount of cheesiness (“He Is” is particularly reminiscent of those old-timey evangelical gospel songs from the South). As a side note, the vinyl version is worth picking up just for the large copies of the stunning, intricately-detailed album artwork. It’s so easy to get lost in those drawings.
Artist: Coheed and Cambria
Album: The Color Before The Sun
Label: 300 Entertainment
Favorite Song: “Atlas”
I already wrote a pretty lengthy piece that included my thoughts on this album not too long ago, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Coheed and Cambria took a break from their usual science fiction rock operas to write a straightforward rock album. However, in the process of writing a more personal album, it still unfolds like a story and still has the same quality of memorable songs that made them so great in the first place. “Atlas” and “Here to Mars,” in particular, are now two of my favorite Coheed songs of all time, and as a fan since high school, that’s saying something.
Album: The Children of the Night
Label: Century Media Records
Favorite Song: “The Motherhood of God”
Tribulation’s third album draws from a variety of metal subgenres as sources of inspiration. It contains raspy black metal vocals and some elements of old school death metal, which is to be expected given the nature of their previous two albums; however, the music is more heavily inspired by classic 70’s heavy metal and gothic rock, and even contains hints of psychedelic rock. The vocals, clean guitar leads, and stripped-back production quality contribute to a dark, eerie atmosphere that compliments the driving, headbang-friendly riffs. Bands like this seem to be getting more and more common in Sweden nowadays, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Album: Anxiety’s Kiss
Label: Deathwish, Inc.
Favorite Song: “Sunlight In A Snowstorm”
Truthfully, I’m not 100% familiar with Coliseum’s entire body of work. The only other album I’ve heard by them is their self-titled debut, which is a damn good piece of no-nonsense hardcore punk. Anxiety’s Kiss, on the other hand, is much more melodic and not what I expected given my prior knowledge of them. The band now plays a mixture of hardcore and 80’s British post-punk, and writes songs that sound absolutely massive while somehow also managing to stay organic. Anxiety’s Kiss has a strong Fugazi and Killing Joke vibe, with a little bit of The Pixies and The Cure thrown in for good measure, and the result is an absolute pleasure to listen to.
Album: Into The Sun
Label: Amorphous Music
Favorite Song: “Into The Sun”
I don’t listen to a ton of electronic music, but I’ve always been a big fan of Bassnectar. He has a knack for mixing lush, mellow sounds with massive bass sounds that sound otherworldly at times, and somehow always sounds totally natural in doing so. This album is no exception, and he shifts between loud, turn-up-friendly bangers to mellow, dreamy soundscapes, one after another. For the most part, it’s also hard to tell apart the remixes from the originals, which really speaks to Bassnectar’s ability to make a song his own.
Artist: Cult Leader
Album: Lightless Walk
Label: Deathwish, Inc.
Favorite Song: “Suffer Louder”
Cult Leader formed from the ashes of Salt Lake City metalcore band Gaza. While I never really got into Gaza, these guys REALLY remind me of The Red Chord, which is a good thing because I’m expecting the new The Red Chord album to come out shortly after the new Tool album does. Cult Leader play some devastating, explosive hardcore with plenty of crushing breakdowns and visceral vocals, but they also take breaks from the fast-paced chaos and slow things down to a sludgy crawl in order to focus on the textures that make up their song structures. The sludge doesn’t last too long though, and before you know it, they go back to business as usual and continue to assault your eardrums.
Label: Abraxan Hymns
Favorite Song: “Chlorine and Wine”
I was introduced to Baroness through their fantastic 2012 album Yellow and Green, which struck me as a sludge metal band’s attempt at writing an indie rock album. While this album has familiar indie-sounding song structures, Purple, true to the color for which it’s named, has a heavier sound that combines their first two albums, Red Album and Blue Record. Purple is a much more straightforward rocker than the lengthy Yellow and Green, but it isn’t afraid to use dreamy transitions between songs as a break from the constant riffs. The guitar solos and frontman John Dyer Baizley’s cool vocals particularly shine on this one, and it’s a good note on which to end 2015. Also, the 16-second final song, “Crossroads of Infinity,” sounds like the audio equivalent of the hidden scenes at the end of the Marvel movies and makes me think the band is setting up something big in the future. We’ll see what happens.
Artist: Cattle Decapitation
Album: The Anthropocene Extinction
Label: Metal Blade Records
Favorite Song: “Pacific Grim”
When I heard their 2012 album Monolith of Inhumanity, I thought to myself, “This is it. This is where Cattle Decapitation are going to peak. There’s no way they can top this.” Man, was I wrong. The San Diego death/grinders, whose music has always been popular with environmentalists and animal rights activists, managed to go above and beyond with The Anthropocene Extinction. The guitar riffs are dizzying, the drums are relentless, and Travis Ryan’s bleak vocal techniques and lyrics about the impact of human activity on this planet fit the atmosphere created by the music. THIS is Cattle Decapitation’s best album to date, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Artist: Lamb of God
Album: VII: Sturm und Drang
Label: Epic Records
Favorite Song: “Embers (feat. Chino Moreno)”
Lamb of God regrouped and bounced back from vocalist Randy Blythe’s heavily-publicized manslaughter trial in the Czech Republic, which stemmed from the accidental death of a fan at one of their concerts in Prague in 2010, with what is easily their best album since 2004’s Ashes of the Wake. The band sounds more focused and hard-hitting than they’ve sounded for most of the last decade. They also step outside of their comfort zone and channel their inner Alice In Chains on the slow-burning, clean-sung "Overlord,” which provides a welcome change of pace to the harsh vocals and heavy grooves that dominate the rest of the album.
Artist: Run The Jewels
Album: Meow The Jewels
Label: Mass Appeal Records
Favorite Song: “Creown (3D Remix)”
Why am I writing this? I shouldn’t be writing this. This shouldn’t work. Nothing about this makes sense. Run The Jewels just HAD to go and release a remix album of last year’s excellent Run The Jewels 2 with beats consisting of mostly cat noises, and of course they made it work. Yes, I know Killer Mike and El-P enlisted the likes of The Alchemist, Dan The Automator, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and Massive Attack’s 3D for this. Still, I am mad at myself for not only thinking it sounds good, but for the fact that it actually somehow managed to find a spot on this list. Mike and El: If you’re reading this, I want you to know I hate both of you for this album and I absolutely cannot wait for RTJ3.
Drake - If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Dr. Dre - Compton
CHVRCHES - Every Open Eye
Future - Dirty Sprite 2
Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss
Artist: Chelsea Wolfe
Label: Sargent House
Favorite Song: "Iron Moon"
Chelsea Wolfe’s goth-electronic-folk-rock masterpiece absolutely stunned me upon first listen. She turned her struggles with sleep paralysis into a hauntingly brilliant work of 11 tracks. And she even concocted a perfume named after the single! From an artist who has consistently released uniquely beautiful music, this album is a standout.
Label: In The Red Records
Favorite Song: "Planet Golem"
Another superb release from the garage-punk factory wonderland of Los Angeles, this time from Cory Hanson and crew. The band actually released two albums this year, but the more metal-leaning Golem packs more of a punch. Precise yet fuzzy guitar work with low rolling basslines, plus Hanson’s Dwyer-esque vocals and a pinch of electronica make for a very, very enjoyable album. Also, the live show is excellent.
Album name: II
Label: In The Red Records
Favorite Song: "Burning Wreath"
Suprise! I picked a Ty Segall album! Cases could definitely be made as to why this album is not one of the best of the year, but I would feel wrong if I didn’t include this. II was definitely my most-listened to album of the year. The combination of Charlie Mootheart, shredder extraordinaire, Chad Ubovich, who released his own superb album as Meatbodies last year, and you-know-who, but on drums this time (!), makes for a deliciously perfect garage-dudes-go-metal treat. The sound isn’t new or crazy unique, but they do it so, so well. I can’t resist.
Artist: Vince Staples
Album: Summertime ‘06
Label: ARTium, Def Jam
Favorite Song: "Norf Norf" and "Summertime"
This double LP really introduced the world to Vince Staples. The beats on this album are really superb. Sadly, I am nowhere near as articulate in this write-up as Staples is in his songs. Like the title suggests, the album feels nostalgic -- but not too nostalgic:
Indeed, Staples isn’t living in anyone’s shadows. He’s working with modernistic, electronic sounds and stories of his experiences in Long Beach from the mid-2000s to now. There’s violence, drugs, romance, emotion - after all, this is just a 22 year old guy. While not everyone can relate to the struggles of growing up in a gang, the desire to not to be alone and the desire to succeed resonate with any listener. The young rapper is only looking forward, and his methods led to one of the best debuts of the year.
A$AP Rocky - AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP
Earl Sweatshirt - I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Ty Segall - Ty Rex
Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: To Pimp A Butterfly
Favorite Song: “For Sale?”
To Pimp A Butterfly has been discussed and dissected ad nauseum and for good reason, it’s not every year that an album of instant-classic status is released and shakes the foundations of not only hip-hop, but music as a whole. In some ways I still don’t think TPAB is getting the praise it deserves, although it’s received nearly perfect reviews across the board and tops nearly every year-end list, I can’t shake the feeling that people aren’t grasping the sheer brilliance and importance of this album. While Drake drools over becoming a meme and J. Cole hides his casual misogyny under the guise of being “deep & relatable,” Kendrick Lamar proves that he’s operating on a completely different level than his competition. To Pimp A Butterfly sees him pouring out his emotions from the depths of his being and confronting his demons, both real and imagined, while simultaneously giving the oppressed people a voice; it celebrates the beauty of Blackness in a country that does everything to suppress it.
Artist: Joanna Newsom
Label: Drag City
Favorite Song: “Divers”
There’s so much I could say about this album and an infinite amount of praise I could give Joanna Newsom for constantly reinventing her music while staying true to herself. Divers explores love, time, and death, themes that Joanna has touched upon in the past, but not with the fervor that she does on this album. The poetry on Divers is unmatched with songs that are heart-wrenching and beautiful, odes to the fleeting nature of all things. Joanna has a way with words that is unmatched, weaving fascinating storytelling with experiences that seem rooted in something deeply personal. I hope that it doesn’t take another 5 years for another Joanna Newsom album, but if it delivers the way Divers does, I know I won’t be disappointed.
Favorite Song: “I Serve The Base”
My god, what a colossal year Future has had (pun intended). I could have picked just about any Future project from this year, from the Zaytoven-produced Beast Mode to the DJ Esco-hosted 56 Nights, but DS2 is the most complete work of the bunch. It’s an album that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of Magic City, with dollar bills cascading from the ceiling and styrofoam cups soaked in lean. Many have criticized this album for being a brainless trip through the usual hip-hop tropes: money, women, drugs, etc., but DS2 paints the picture of a Future dealing with his demons and depression through the use of pills and sex, a tortured soul trying to get better in the only we he knows. In this context, DS2 is a remarkable introspection, allowing us to peer into a life that is Tony Montana-esque: riveting, yet tragic.
Young Thug - Barter 6
Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete
Future Brown - s/t
Jeremih - Late Nights
What are some of your favorite albums from this year? Leave us some comments below!
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