Music writing too frequently tells more about the author than the art. I did a poor job avoiding that, but here were are:
10) Meek Mill — B-Boy (ft. Big Sean and A$AP Ferg)
At their worst, Big Sean’s lyrics are D-grade Kanye jokes crossbred with Childish Gambino’s corniness. His Mercy verse is a national disgrace. Sean also said “Chrismahanukkwanaka” on the otherwise wonderful Christmas in Harlem [“Swaghili” but worse].
But then he also releases undeniable stuff like IDFWU — undeniable even when radio omits the E-40 verse. He also killed a then-red-hot Meek Mill on B-Boy. Credit is also due to Sap’s beat—his crisp and clean drums over the atonal Mike WiLL bass wash kill. Bonus points to all involved for a worthwhile video + nod to the greatest vine of all time.
9) Wrens - Three Types of Reading Ambiguity
It’s been more than twelve years since The Meadowlands [subtext: quit whining about the follow-up to Channel Orange]. Yes, I need new Wrens so badly that a pair of SoundCloud outtakes from an unfinished song cracked my top-10. In my defense, these ~2 minutes of music sound like they’ve been pulled from the platonic ideal of a Wrens song — chugging guitars etch the chord progression, delirious vocal harmonies hammer away at your gut, and an aching guitar lead fills in the blanks left by ever-indecipherable lyrics.
Give up the goods, Charles.
8) Soft Moon — Far
NIN + diet/exercise, Neon Indian with a backbone.
7) Vince Staples — Norf Norf
Norf Norf [and the rest of Summertime 06] is many things better and far more important than rap nerd bait. It is also rap nerd bait. Beyond the overt Project Pat homage, Staples buries a Young Dro reference in Norf Norf’s third verse. The production also sounds like Clams Casino rebooted the machine which wheezed out the Mr. Me Too beat.
6) Kizzy Hall - Forever Be
Columbus punks demonstrate potency of brevity on song about forever :’)
5) Chief Keef - Tec
Lemonade’s photo-negative. Keef and DP could stay in this lane [Sosa Style, Worries, etc.] forever, but I’m certain Keef will get bored and spin off another sub-genre in the process. I adore the Sabbath comparison—his recent output also gives me Wolfgang Voigt / Gas vibes.
4) Young Thug - Dream (ft. Yak Gotti)
Dream isn’t Thug’s most electric performance on Barter 6, but the textures he wrings from his voice and phrasing therein are unbelievable—the alternately clean and vocal-fried yahhh’s, the sharpness of “rich shit // fish and grits” contrasted against the muted “Michael Vick” in the next bar, etc. Beyond the abundant spirituality their music shares, Thug’s mutating flow reminds me of the way Coltrane would burn through permutations of scales and phrasing.
Also, I cannot fathom a better introduction to Yak Gotti than “hey, how ya doin? I’m Yak Gotti.” On the whole, Barter 6’s features [Duke, Dolph, Gotti] recall Flockaveli’s with career weed carriers delivering perfectly
complementary verses. Best of all, Thug’s features don’t merely serve as an earthbound foil; rather, as with Rich Homie Quan and Bloody Jay before him, Thug brings Gotti into his orbit [see: the ecstatically warbled “I’m forreal, this beat knockin” // the dejectedly muttered “broke is not an option”].
Other Best New Slime from 2015: Drinking Lean is Amazing, Just Might Be, Because of Me, Mine, and Hey, I
3) Viet Cong - Death
Good on these guys for changing their name. The decision dragged on longer than it likely should have, and by no means should “not having a problematic band name” warrant praise, but at least they don’t have to be written off as a total loss. This is good, because I like the half-hour stretch from March of Progress through Death on this year’s self-titled record more than any other contiguous half-hour of music [not named 56 Nights] released in 2015. It’s like Mission of Burma played at 33 instead of 45 RPMs.
2) Beach House - Sparks
Sparks as Beach House’s take on My Bloody Valentine got a lot of critical play this year. The claim isn’t unwarranted — until the guitar drops out for the first time, Sparks could feasibly pass for something cut during the Glider/Tremolo sessions. However, over-reporting MBV’s influence led to a collective understatement of other more interesting [and overt!] influences on BH’s 2015 output.
Overall, I’m most surprised to have encountered nothing linking TYLS’s One Thing to Galaxie 500’s Blue Thunder. For Sparks in particular, I actually hear a lot of Andy Stott— with its swirling, disembodied vocal sample and uncharacteristically plodding backbeat [Beyond Love is more traditional for BH], Sparks also sounds like a technicolor rendition of Stott’s Numb.
1) Future - March Madness
This spot could’ve gone to no less than three [of seven!] other songs from 56 Nights — in particular / in no particular order: Now, Never Gon Lose, and Diamonds from Africa. But March Madness sounds like the planets.