Top 45 Albums of 2015: 45–31
I got a little worried about my listening habits time to time during 2015. I’m not sure if I liked enough new acts this year. I mean, I liked a lot but I can’t say with confidence that I’d remember most after this year is over. A skim of this list might say the same: a good half of the albums here are by artists who I was already a big fan of.
The music that did stick through, though, hit me a lot harder and more memorable than music from any other year. I may have gotten to know fewer selections than last year — this year was the first time I ever struggled to get past number 40 — but I had a more genuine, for lack of a better word, relationship with these albums than I would have in any other time.
Hope you discover something new through this countdown. If you think I missed something, you let me know.
Reality Show by Jazmine Sullivan
Jazmine Sullivan’s drama in her Reality Show seems commonplace next to more romantic pop dreamers, but if the album’s namesake has shown anything via television, it’s that ordinary people struggle, too. She writes day-to-day decisions, like looking for a job or getting ready in front of the mirror, as a personal battle to conquer. Through her eyes, the everyday woman also experiences cases of infidelity, betrayal and exploit of loyalty — a virtue Sullivan holds highest in the album. Worst of all, they are looked down upon, underestimated, perceived as “stupid” and easy to fool. But no, she’s one step ahead, uncovering all of the bullshit before it’s pulled.
Feels Like by Bully
I can taste the moments in time that Alicia Bognanno writes in her band Bully’s debut LP, Feels Like — but I can only taste it vaguely. She looks back at a not-too-distant past of mine, a time close enough for me to relive the raw, abstract feelings but too far to soberly recall the fine details. The songs, too, vividly focus on the visceral; even when Bognanno’s senses trigger old memories, it flashes back in short bursts rather than a long reel. It’s a warped portrait of youth, admittedly, coloring it in with only partial selections, but isn’t that how memories work? “I feel like trash!” Bognanno screams at one point. If that’s most of what she remembers for a part of her life, who are we to tell her otherwise?
Women’s Rights by Childbirth
Only a few musicians can write about the quirks of modern life like how Childbirth does in their album, Women’s Rights. If done by any other artist, Tinder would yield yet another deadbeat joke or some thinkpiece-like bickering (Choice bit from “Siri, Open Tinder”: “Seahawk/ swipe left/ group shot/ which one are you!?”) Beyond the laughs, though, they use their tongue-in-cheek humor to get a point across or soften a touchy conversation. There’s the “Women, the Dangerous, Insanitary Species” anthem “Nasty Grrrl,” and the riot against stepdads (step-boyfriends?) in “You’re Not My Real Dad.” I could tell you it’s their shot at double standards and a unspoken family dynamic, but it’s better if you let them tell it.
Unbreakable by Janet Jackson
The last decade has been a brutal one for Janet Jackson, from a tainted run of her otherwise untouchable career to a divorce to the death of her brother, Michael, which also left the world in grief. But the declarative title sticks: Janet returns with not a scratch. Her lush soul moves nimble, excited to dance outside the familiar space built by her decades before. Moments where she lets her guard down — her declaring herself “queen of insomnia” in “No Sleeep”, for one — for the sake of fun are the parts that stand out. She’s more inspired to write a new chapter of her life, and I only aspire to one day be accepting and comfortable in my own skin as Janet Jackson in Unbreakable.
Surf by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
Cool people don’t cover the theme song of Arthur. Cool people don’t get noticed by singing gospel or noodling some acid jazz, let alone one in rap songs. Cool people don’t shout out their grandma in a rap song either — and they definitely don’t make that song their lead single. But there’s a reason why Chance the Rapper sings what he sings in Surf: “I don’t wanna be cool!/ I just wanna be me!” By sidestepping pride and expectations, Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment let loose to do what they want to do: make some dumb shit with the homies, and that includes their extended families. Positivity hasn’t been so cool these days, but Surf imagines a world where it rules supreme.
Fetty Wap by Fetty Wap
Fetty Wap will forever be remembered by his auto-tuned garble of an ad lib — yeaaaah, baby — and may he eternally be the uber-positive energy that his ad lib is powered by. His self-titled debut is purely about having a good time during its hour-plus running time. More importantly, it’s having fun with your homies, your crew, your (forgive me) #squad. It’s an album about you and your friends being the center of gravity — sorry, Drake and Taylor Swift, you are in Fetty’s orbit, not the other way around. And it’s about showing love to the ride-or-die people who made you the person you are. Will Monty ever rise to the level of his right-hand man come next year? Will Fetty keep his status? I don’t know, but while this album is on, the moment belongs to Fetty Wap and his Remy Boyz.
Wildheart by Miguel
Miguel wasn’t the one who sang “do you think so far ahead?” though he might as well have in his third LP, Wildheart. While others are trying to convince another they sincerely want to wake up together in the morning, he thinks about forever in his latest tribute to love; he’s here to passionately croon, “I hope we die together” without an ounce of doubt. He champions a committal, long-term romance with a partner over a one-night-only lifestyle of a swinger. That said, don’t call it settling down: “The Valley” debunks any misconception that serious relationships means an end to serious sex. Not that it’s all about sex, but too many men sing as if it’s a mutually exclusive idea from love. For Miguel, the deed isn’t the end to its means, it’s only the beginning.
Kicking Every Day by All Dogs
Maryn Jones is so hard on herself in Kicking Every Day, the debut LP of her band All Dogs. She digs at herself in the way I imagine a lot of introverts do. Every little comment made about her lingers as an emotional scab: she knows she shouldn’t pick at it but that fact only makes her want to claw at it more. All she sees in the mirror are her flaws and how her scars prevent her from meeting the impossible standard of who she thinks she should be. For Jones, it’s her fear of disappointing another and eventually relationships fading because of it that eats her up. “Stay away from me!” She yells in “That Kind of Girl” in fear that she’ll only cause damage. Only if she knew that people don’t see her as nearly bad as she sees herself.
Pearson Sound by Pearson Sound
Back in spring, I had a small episode of anxiety while out during a weekend out of my home city with my friends. I wanted some space to spend time with myself but, as you’d imagine, there’s nowhere I could really run, so I felt slightly suffocated — mentally, at least. (Nothing to worry about: I realize now I actually go through it frequently whenever I spend time somewhere I’m rather unfamiliar with for more than a day.)
For what it’s worth, this head space is how I experienced David Kennedy’s self-titled debut as Pearson Sound and how I will go on remembering it. Funny enough, Kennedy’s friends were worried for the producer’s well-being upon hearing some of the songs for the first time, too. But he wrote these dizzying tracks with glee. His unhinged rhythms express not mania but freedom from constraint, physically, mentally and emotionally. I also turned to this album as a means to bring me back to a clear head. Music that attempts to contain chaos by its own terms seems to be my go-to for anxious times.
Moving Songs by Free Cake for Every Creature
I spent a whole lot of time living in the moment this year, now 23 years old and a semester left in college. “What are you going to do when you’re finished with school?” seems to be the popular question to ask me, and I’ll keep on replying like how Katie Bennett answers where she’ll head next in Moving Songs: “I’m not sure what I’m doing/ all I know is that I got to keep on moving.” I imagine this album hitting me harder when I’m truly left on my on devices, away from school for the first time. But it’s already priming me for what’s to come — a whole lot of uncertainty and just saying “fuck it” to the mess. “It’s all good,” she assures in “All You Gotta Be When You’re 23.” I sure hope so.
Inevitable by Natasha Kmeto
Natasha Kmeto is reaching her breaking point her second LP Inevitable: She wants answers now. Her questions are no doubt intimidating to approach, addressing some tough situations. “Won’t you come and say you won’t go?” “I thought you had a boyfriend?” Yet no matter how strong or persistent she pushes, she seems to reach no one in particular. Her beats resemble a vacuous abyss where her voice is left to echo and eventually fade; it surges with power but carved out in the middle. Her ambitions to fight it out is admirable, though her longing wins out in the end.
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine
Florence Welch has been in a constant process of self-reparation, and How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is no different. She sinks deeper into a heavier heartbreak than her past two records. Yet, she also seems much closer to reach the light at the end as she surrounds herself with more people who she can trust. Through them, or as she writes in “Delilah”, at least, she discovered dancing to shake out her inner demons. Indeed, this is her most dance-friendly record yet, full of glamorous beats to get your back into it. Welch is commanding on the floor,, confidently busting moves and putting fools on trial. She may be down, but she won’t cease to get back up.
But You Caint Use My Phone by Erykah Badu
The telephone has evolved since its birth but, as Erykah Badu tells it, how we use it has not changed much. People still prefer talking on the phone than actual face-to-face contact, and there are many more avenues now to avoid the latter. No matter the form, though — whether it be voicemail, text message or speed dial — it’s a medium to communicate our desire for closeness. Be it in the time of Drake, Usher, New Edition or The Isley Brothers, a phone call has been a line of private, intimate connections. They create a lot of noise now — New Edition didn’t have to worry about their partners not putting their phones down— but being “one phone call away” to discuss matters, casual or serious, still means a lot after a century and then some.
Art Angels by Grimes
A Grimes quote that has stuck around in my mind from the Art Angels promo cycle is the one she gave during her Sirius channel takeover, where she brought Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and Sleigh Bell’s Alexis Krauss as guests. She talked about “California”, music press and its slanted coverage with a group who knows such things very well. “You just fucked my narrative,” Claire Boucher said. “You fucked years of work that I’ve done.”
Art Angels, then, is Boucher’s way of settling the score completely on her own terms. She voices her own identity, one full of strength yet with shades of insecurities because flaw only makes one human and not a digital avatar. She creates her own world, rich with color and flesh and blood. Best yet, she writes her own story with the people who she most trusts. (Wait ‘til you hear Janelle Monae.) And for those who tried to tell her that she couldn’t do otherwise — good riddance.
O.K. by Eskimeaux
“That’s O.K.” — that’s sometimes all you need to hear. Relationships might change into something you can no longer recognize. Life might steer you into a place you’d never thought you’d end up. But see, that’s O.K. That’s normal. That’s just how things tend to go. Remembering to keep that two-word mantra to heart when your world seems to slowly crumble, though, is easier said than done, which Gabrielle Smith knows all too well in O.K., her debut album under her recording moniker Eskimeaux. It’s an understatement to say it’s a struggle to hear those simple pair of words out of the person you want to hear from most — as well as from deep within yourself. At least Smith has the first step down, admitting that it’s not working, instead of denying it altogether.
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