Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Taking On 2015 - Top Albums (Q2 Quarterly Review)

Hey, here we are again. Some of the stats options tell me that people are still reading these things, so I guess I'll keep going even if I didn't have a personal obligation to myself. Which means now that we are through with the best songs of the year so far, it's time to take a look at the albums. Look, I'm not here to mince words, I haven't been keeping track of albums as rigidly as I have in the past, and honestly I haven't listened to nearly as much in 2015, so this list is going to be a little lean. But there's still a Top 10 in here, all of which are really great because, well, there's been some high quality shit this year. So why delay it any longer?

10. DS2 - Future

This realistically could be a collective award since Future has been pumping out high quality mixtapes at a pretty impressive pace over the past 9 months or so, but his return to the full length album with DS2 is notable for both its beautiful album artwork as well as the sense of cohesion that he is able to achieve. There's a nice varied sound, or as varied as one can expect, and the number of bangers is notably high, which one would want out of any quasi-trap album released in 2015. The Future is now, or whatever.

9. Ratchet - Shamir

Few other albums from the year pulsate with the same energy that Shamir displays on Ratchet, which honestly goes a long way to entering the music. On the surface it is almost poppy (whatever in the heck that means), but the actual lyrics of the songs, even when they are at their most broad, are underlined with an awareness that elevates them far above simple party music. There's a self destruction, willing or otherwise, that is probed at throughout the album, a vulnerability that is incredibly impressive and fully featured. Yet still, that energy is pretty damn addicting.

8. I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (An Album By Earl Sweatshirt) - Earl Sweatshirt

Earl Sweatshirt's debut album, Doris, was something I was both way excited for and kind of let down by when everything was said and done. In the time since, the collective that first brought Earl to prominence, Odd Future, has disbanded yet apparently he has not entirely lost the skill that initially commanded attention. The more lackadaisical delivery on Doris is gone here, replaced not by a 'return to form' but rather an evolution of style. Yes there are songs that echo Earl, but by and large tracks like "Grief" and "DNA" advance his music beyond simple shock value. Growth: gradual,  transformative, and ultimately really encouraging once more.

7. Surf - Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment

Despite the inclusion of Chance The Rapper on any number of these songs, this is not a Chance album, the instrumental work by Trumpet really creating an aural aesthetic which takes on the recent upswing in jazz influence and infuses it with a more modern edge in the way that many other artists have not been able to exactly grapple with in nearly the same way. Of course Chance's vocals bring a lot of extended life to the record, and my favorite songs remain the more lyrically intensive ones like "Sunday Candy" and "Familiar" (there's a strange majesty in the delivery of Quavo's almost startlingly simple "Long hair, don't care girl you look familiar / And her momma doesn't like me, cause I'm a rapper so icy."). But there's plenty here to just appreciate on a musical level.

6. In Colour - Jamie xx

Speaking of musical appreciation that even my limited brain is capable of processing, after a few listens I really came around on Jamie xx's 2015 release. In much the same way that there's an obvious construction to James Blake's music that really connects with me, those qualities are also present here. The instrumentals are heavy, they are intensive, but they move. Not just in the sense that the album clips along nicely as background music, but so many of the songs feel alive. That takes a large level of skill and craft, plus "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" could probably almost assure this album at least a mention on a list like this.

5. The Powers That B - Death Grips

It's been too long. I think last year I was willing to consider songs from the first half of The Powers That B for my lists (thankfully because "Have A Sad Cum" and "Black Quarterback" still hold up insanely well), but held off on placing it on the albums list because Jenny Death had still not released to complete the double album. Seems to have been a really great decision, because despite both albums making the run length pretty long, the sheer force of each part back to back, and the differences in both the way lyrics are used and the sheer force of production creates a wonderful discordant beauty that really defines the music Death Grips make.

4. Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit - Courtney Barnett

Sometimes the insular is used as a means to explore heavier topics, but other times the small is just able to exist on its own, letting the innate beauty and idleness of being do most of the heavy lifting. Or not. Which is one of the ideas that Barnett's portraits of the extraordinary mundane seem to drive at on this album. At times even the idea of singing is nearly abandoned, turning more in to read poetry than anything else, which obviously is going to have a pretty great draw to me, especially when the writing is so captivating. Not exactly free association, which ends up being a strength, but a simplicity that occasionally yields complexity.

3. I Love You, Honeybear - Father John Misty

Father John Misty's latest also took me a little while to get in to, which considering just how strong the initial "I Love You, Honeybear" track starts things off, but when I got in I fell hard. The nearly folk rock style of something like Fleet Foxes (not surprising, I guess, considering Tillman's involvement) is on full display here, and the hefty focus on lyricism is right up my alley. Add in a dash of cynicism, though always laced with a sense of personal triumph and survival and you end up with one fantastic album. The songs connect so well thematically, the arrangements string the entire thing along with confidence, and it's just really damn enjoyable to experience all the way through. It's undeniably an album, which, fuck, is just so damn refreshing.

2. Beat The Champ - the Mountain Goats

Speaking of the poetic, it seems only fitting to have music's poet laureate take his rightful spot near the top of the list. Even without this past year's personal dark descent in to a strange fixation/fascination/revulsion with professional wrestling, I like to think that I could find plenty to appreciate on the Mountain Goats's latest ode to wrestling's days of yore. Look, part of this is my own apology for not realizing just how great "Choked Out" is as a song, but really what's impressive is the way the songs take the specific, whether factual or otherwise, and use that as a means to explore the universal. That's the foundation of art, what attracts me so much to poetry, and all the small vignettes that add up to this entire experience are just glorious.

1. If You're Reading This It's Too Late - Drake

Realistically I don't know where else we could end at this point in time. Thus far 2015 has essentially been a Drake takeover (Drakeover), and pretty much from the moment this was sprung upon the internet I have kept it in rotation. Is it perfect? Not entirely, but from top to bottom there is just so much worthy of praise. Lyrically it's on point, there's such a raw energy to so many of the songs, and it's just so much damn fun to throw on and let it run. There's nothing else from the year that I have listened to quite as much, and until something begins to come close, this will likely continue to hold the top spot with a fairly strong grip.

There would be honorable mentions, but maybe when we revisit this in a few months. Until then let me know what I need to listen to below in the comments! And keep an eye out in the next few days for the best films of the year so far.


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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© 2015 Richard James Thorne

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