Tk’s Top Ten Ten Albums of 2015
Seeing as I was raised on a healthy diet of early-90’s Amy Grant (thank you, Mom), I feel like my entire childhood was preparing me for the year 2015 in music: The Year of Girl Pop.
Pop music delivered by strong female leads has been very prevalent in mainstream music for decades. However, never have I seen a time in which the indie scene has embraced it so whole-heartedly. Perhaps Haim’s sudden explosion in 2013 primed the indie scene for it; or maybe it was Ariana Grande’s dominance in 2014, which was fully tolerated (accepted? celebrated?) by Top 40 Radio, hard-to-please critics, and readers of Pitchfork alike. Whatever it was, there is a plethora of female not-just-catchy-but-full-on-pop artists freshening up the music world these days. You’ll see evidence of this in 4 of my Top 7 albums this year.
Below, you will find my Song of the Year, Honorable Mention Albums, and Top Ten Albums of 2015.
Song of the Year
Tame Impala – Let It Happen: As always, it was hard to pick just one song for my song of the year. In the end, I had to go with the only song that I got obsessed with this year. The song that followed me around for a few weeks (grocery stores, buses, public radio, my dreams). The song that Mo, Jessie, Kyle, and I listened to at full volume while driving a rental car through the countryside of New Jersey, realizing that New Jersey was about 9 times prettier than stereotypes would have suggested. The song that I played to motivate my 6th graders with fraction conversions. The 7:47 jam with the perfect, synthesized blend of repetition and evolution.
Honorable Mention Albums (11 – 20 in alphabetical order)
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly: A visionary rapper who just keeps getting better and better. A true artist who is pushing the entire music world in new directions (and getting 11 Grammy nominations while doing so).
John Moreland – High on Tulsa Heat: This 30-year-old Oklahoman has released my favorite Country/Americana album of the year, full of heartfelt and thoughtful tracks.
Pokey LaFarge – Something in the Water: Pokey makes fun, old-fashioned American roots music. Enough said.
Public Service Broadcasting – The Race for Space: This is the 2nd album from the British troop who blends vintage audio from the 1957 – 1962 Space Race with elements of rock, electronica, and disco. PSB have created an unexpected, cinematic experience unlike anything else I’ve heard.
Ryan Adams – 1989: Pop melodies in folk clothes. I don’t know why Ryan made this album of T. Swift covers (and I’m too lazy to look it up) but I’m surely glad that he did.
Songhoy Blues – Music in Exile: Another stellar release coming out of Mali (so much good music there); passionate desert blues from a band that is truly in exile, having fled the northern part of their country.
Steve Gunn – Seasonal Hire: If I told you that Steve lives in Brooklyn and used to play with Kurt Vile, then you’d have the complete wrong idea of what ‘Seasonal Hire’ sounds like. If I told you that he teamed up with The Black Twig Pickers, an Appalachian old-time folk group, then you’d have a much better idea.
Steve Hauschildt – Where All is Fled: Ambient electronic music that pairs well with reading, studying, or meditating on eternal existence.
Tame Impala – Currents: I didn’t really dig ‘Lonerism’, as too much of it felt like poor-man’s Beatles. When “Elephant” comes on the radio, I quickly change the dial. The highly-realized ‘Currents’ feels more consistent, more dancey, and less guitar-reliant, while still maintaining some characteristic psychodelic elements.
Vessels – Dilate: Powerful, hypnotic British electronica driven by percussion, but with some welcome splashes of melody.
Tk’s Top Ten Albums of 2015
10. Tallest Man on Earth – Dark Bird is Home: When ‘Dark Bird’ first came out, I was on record telling friends that it was “Okay.” I wasn’t crazy about the production, especially the way Kristian’s voice was mixed. Then I saw TMOE live and realized just how damn good these songs are in their essence. Since then, I have listened to ‘Dark Bird’ as much (or more) than any other 2015 album. Despite adding more layers of instrumentation, it feels like his most personal album to date. ‘Wild Hunt’ is still my favorite (by a long shot) but this one is well worth your time.
9. Royal Headache – High: There’s a lot of excellent garage / post-punk music coming out of Australia these days (Blank Realm and Twerps barely missed the cut for my Honorable Mention albums this year). Royal Headache are the most impressive of the bunch. Most of their songs are short, snappy, and upbeat with a 50’s/60’s melodic sense, as rock and roll should be.
8. Destroyer – Poison Season: Dan Bejar’s 10th album as Destroyer sounds a little bigger and a little more urgent than previous outings, while holding onto all the froggy strangeness.
7. Grimes – Art Angels: If you’re not sure if Grimes’ new album is your thing, just listen to “California” below. All my thoughts and feelings about the album are contained in that song. Delicious 90’s/00’s-inspired unabashedly-poppy music. Grimes pours it on thick. You’ll either relish in it or feel like you’re drowning in it.
6. Jamie xx – In Colour: In my opinion, Jamie’s solo release is much more creative, interesting, and re-listenable than anything The xx have put out. He had a breakout year, for good reason, and has sprinkled this album with so many tasteful rhythms, textures, and guest vocals.
5. Seven Davis Jr. – Universes: This California cat has made one of the most satisfying and fun party albums of the year, chock full of funk/soul flavors and plenty of good vibes.
4. Georgia – Georgia: An emotional and dynamic post-grime pop debut from Georgia Barnes of London. If she cut 2 throw-away songs, this very well could be my #1 of the year.
3. Golden Rules – Golden Ticket: More jaw-dropping music from London (hands down the best music city for 50 years running!). The British producer Paul White teamed up with rapper Eric Biddines to create an old-school, soulful hip-hop album. The result is stylish and in-the-pocket.
2. Susanne Sundfor – Ten Love Songs: Susanne is a Norwegian singer-songwriter who makes fragile, dark, and big synthpop songs. She will keep you guessing; in the first 3 tracks, she moves from a vocal-driven anthem with organ and a choir (seemingly filling a large church with the sound) to a driving goth-pop song to a delicate, lovably-corny tune that channels the aforementioned early-90s Amy Grant. She spent much of the year at the #1 spot on my list but, in the end, was replaced by someone whose relentless innovation demanded my attention.
1. Dawn Richard – Blackheart: Before branching out to make her own music, Dawn Richard performed with Danity Kane and Diddy-Dirty Money. Since that time, she has been a relentless innovator, perfecting her unique brand of experimental, electro-R&B. Pitchfork calls it somewhere between Bjork and Brandy, while Richard herself says that ‘Blackheart’ is like being stuck in a rain forest alone with blood on your armor (couldn’t have said it better myself). The album is long and impossible to pin down, traversing from the hyper and head-spinning “Calypso” to the catchier-than-any-Top-40-chorus-this-year (yet never came close to the Top 40) “Phoenix.” It is a remarkable release that is so dense, it will demand multiple listens over multiple months. Listen to “Calypso” below and if it doesn’t do it for you, search for “Phoenix” and marvel at the fact that you never heard it on the radio.
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Tags: amy grant, ariana grande, australia, beatles, bjork, black twig pickers, blackheart, blank realm, brandy, calypso, dan bejar, danity kane, dawn richard, destroyer, diddy-dirty money, early 90s, eric biddines, georgia, girl pop, golden rules, grimes, haim, heart in motion, jamie xx, john moreland, kendrick lamar, let it happen, london, mali, paul white, pokey lafarge, public service broadcasting, royal headache, ryan adams, seven davis jr, songhoy blues, steve gunn, steve hauschildt, susanne sundfor, t. swift, tallest man on earth, tame impala, taylor swift, twerps, vessels, xx