TWJ’s Best Albums of 2015: #10-1
As we close another wonderful year for music, it is our pleasure to unveil to you the final 10 albums that tickled our collective fancies and tugged at all our heartstrings. If you’d like to check out the first part of our list (Nos. 25 to 11), please do so here. Happy listening!
#10. Jamie XX – In Colour (Young Turks)
The title In Colour perfectly captures the feeling of euphoria you get from listening to Jamie XX’s stunning debut album. It’s obvious Jamie XX is a music lover and understands the highs and lows, then chooses to focus only on the highs. In Colour is one of the best Electronic/Dance albums released in years.
#9. Szymon – Tigersapp (Eloper Music)
Every generation gets its own tragic Jeff Buckley story, apparently. Szymon Borzestowski, at 23, died far too early but left behind this collection of wondrous, butterscotch electro-pop that I’ll be revisiting for years to come. Tigersapp all but dares you to not find something new within its depths upon each listen. Truly timeless. My favorite album of the year.
#8. Lady Lamb – After (Mom and Pop)
While she may have shed half her original name before releasing After, Lady Lamb — aka Aly Spaltro — did not lose her sense of wonder, which is in full effect on her latest effort. Spaltro asks all kinds of big questions — what is life, are we all sharing the same existence– often by narrowing them down to digestible, relatable everyday experiences. The composition of these tracks will occasionally dissolve completely, often mid-song, before returning to their simple but effective melodic backbones. Spaltro employs horns and guitars and any number of other instruments, along with her own pliable vocals, to communicate the weight of the themes she’s exploring on After.
#7. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Interscope)
To Pimp A Butterfly is Kendrick Lamar at his rawest and most passionate, tackling present-day structures of fame and oppression and so much more. But it also shows a Lamar in complete control of his unique talents. The structure and flow of Butterfly are nearly flawless, and there is both brilliant fury and muted joy contained in each and every track.
#6. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop)
To describe a “Father John Misty album” is to describe the world’s most haunted amusement park: abandoned yet full of life, aimless yet soaring, and elegiac while being straightforward. This follow-up to 2012’s Fear Fun surpasses that effort on every level: a gorgeously stark love letter to all the broken-hearted listeners out there.
#5. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom and Pop)
For a record that’s all about the profundity of everyday occurrences, Barnett’s debut effort is anything but ordinary. Conversational without being breezy, observational without being navel-gazing, it’s a precise stopwatch of a record that’s frighteningly clever and deceptively complex. It’s also just downright fun.
#4. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color (ATO Records)
Sound & Color is the album that I was hoping the Alabama Shakes would make. The Shakes are southern, rock, blues and soul combo revival at it’s finest. I was surprised that this album didn’t make more people’s top albums lists. I mean who can argue with Brittney Howard’s brilliant howl and guitar shredding?
The brilliance of this album comes from the ability to translate powerful live energy and soul of the Alabama Shakes to our headphones. When I listen to the album my head starts shaking and I get an image of Brittney Howard jumping around on stage, or cooing into the microphone, with her band rocking out behind her.
Sound & Color comes out hitting hard with the title track, my favorite song on the album, and one of my favorite songs of the year. The following three tracks are almost just as engaging. Like me, you may be tired of “Don’t Wanna Fight,” but you gotta admit it’s catchy. The rest of the album falls into funky rock bliss, sprawling guitar solos and powerful vocals, with interludes for the ballads, and soulful tacks. Other stand out tracks include, “Future People” and “This Feeling.”
If you can see them live, do it. But if you can’t, just turn up the volume and take a ride on Sound & Color, it’s almost as good.
#3. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
Creating art can be a therapeutic process. Painful or confusing moments in your life can be helped with the stroke of a brush, the writing of words, or in Sufjan Stevens’ case, the creation of music. Following the death of his estranged mother, Sufjan has crafted a beautiful homage to death, life, love, and questioning all of it. Musically bare, yet emotionally overwhelming at times, Carrie & Lowell is amazingly still a pleasure to listen to in a full sitting. This stems from Stevens’ ability to craft songs that are cohesive in their simplicity, but also seem to be very different through the use of his multi-instrumental talents. I hope Sufjan is feeling a bit better after having created this amazing record, because I know I am.
#2. Oddisee – The Good Fight (Mello Music Group)
The first thing that I hear people talk about when they mention Oddisee are his complex and thoughtful lyrics. He’s a rapper who can pull me in with lyricism. He has an interlude of someone talking about him and he says you’ll end up having to re-listen to his songs over and over to catch the intricacies of his social critique and worldview. Oddisee raps about complicated realities of life and inequity, while at the same time weaving in sentiments of unification and collective struggle. Even the name of the album, The Good Fight, purpose behind the album.
In addition to his writing, Oddisee has a way of effortlessness to his delivery that brings up Ludacris with a message, or Sol combined with Kanye. The beat selection and soulish instrumentation on The Good Fight, would be interesting enough by themselves. The combination is nothing less than spectacular. It’s not easy to balance lyricism, message, flow, beats and instrumentation into one package, but that’s what we get with The Good Fight.
For a quick audio intro tour, start with “Contradiction Maze” to break it down, then the cream of the crop “Want Something Done” (one of my favorite songs of the year), next “First Choice” or “Belong To The World,” and finally a lift up from “That’s Love.” Or just listen to the album straight through.
#1. Amason – Sky City (INGRID)
Listening to Sky City, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to someone’s perfectly curated playlist of obscurities from the early 80s. Sky City, the Swedish alt-pop group Amason’s debut, isn’t a playlist nor a nostalgic echo chamber. The songs don’t simply understand the melodic DNA of Fleetwood Mac, either, haunting whatever neon-soaked world Jan Hammer hides in these days. It’s a much more intricate, rewarding experience than that. Sky City is a constellation of inspirations, recalling Stevie Nicks as much as it does the bright smell of a fresh VHS cassette tape. It’s not meant to be enjoyed as a cohesive whole. It’s an album that’s already on “shuffle” the second you start listening to it. It’s completely at home with not being at home with itself, rolling from one homage to the next.
Its caffeinated, lush opener “Älgen” sets the tone pretty quickly for the rest of the album: sumptuous, dreamy, filled with nervous energy. “Duvan” is as gorgeously pensive as the standout track “Kelly” is a floating ode to 1983, saxophones and all. The vocalists change from song to song, adding to the sense that you’re tapped into a wayward radio signal carried aloft by a solar flare or something. Still, Sky City (paradoxically) never soars as much as when singer Amanda Bergman’s vocals take center stage. She effortlessly cribs Regina Spektor at times while borrowing from Cat Power in others: punctuated and poppy, then quiet and restrained.
You can appreciate Sky City’s atmospheric synth-pop, admire its swirling distance-is-relative melodies, or simply get lost in its moody, almost alien dissonance. Hell, some songs are in English while others melt into Swedish. But you don’t need to understand the lyrics of “Elefanten” to hear John Lennon underneath its skin. That’s the point. Amason has released a record that’s less an album than the soundtrack to the greatest 1980s movie never made.
There you have it. Nos. 25 to 11 can be found right here!