In a year where most mainstream music news revolved around the latest twitter beefs, there was also some pretty good music coming out. Here are a few of Chris Dowbiggin’s favorites for 2015:
Ghostface has immersed himself in the concept album method in recent years, namely with Twelve Reasons to Die and 36 Seasons. But it’s his most recent collaboration with Ontario jazz-soul fusion trio BADBADNOTGOOD that holds its ground amongst the best hip-hop albums of the year. Having already proven their worth alongside Earl Sweatshirt and Odd Future, BADBADNOTGOOD take Ghost’s gritty urban anecdotes and enhance them with a noir-like atmosphere. The record isn’t all sordid subject matter, with Danny Brown injecting some dark humor into his verse on “Six Degrees”. Ghost’s lyrical character Tony Starks is also referenced in a couple of track titles. The record is short in runtime, and Ghost’s verses are sparse at times, but it’s a refreshing back-to-basics approach after a couple of ambitious albums, and BADBADNOTGOOD don’t try to overplay their role in the production. It can be argued that Ghost is playing it safe on this one, but Sour Soul holds up well as a heavyweight record.
Top Tracks: Gunshowers, Tone’s Rap, Food
#4: Neon Indian – Vega Intl. Night School
One glance at the cover of Neon Indian’s newest release, and you get a sense of the hypothetical disco cabaret this music was intended to exist within. Vega Intl. Night School is a lively blend of electro, disco and synth pop. It’s no doubt a dance-y record, but Palomo refrains from the contrived and obnoxious nature associated with the “nostalgic” disco-teque revival sound. “Annie” is relatively downbeat compared to its counterparts, but the muddled guitar upstrokes and synthesized xylophone during the chorus hook provides a nice little tropical getaway. “The Glitzy Hive” features one of the catchiest vocal hooks of the year.
Palomo’s spacey voice occasionally gets buried in the mix, but it’s not exactly the focal point of the record, so no harm, no foul. In essence, Vega Intl. Night School is a fun record. While not as readymade as more contemporary dance music, the grooves are free-flowing over melted guitars and piercing synths. Somewhat distancing himself from his chillwave roots, Palomo is taking Neon Indian in a positive direction with this record.
Top Tracks: Annie, Slumlord, Techno Clique
#3: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
The best way to craft a hip-hop record driven by multiple concepts is avoiding half-baked ideas that make the record feel incomplete. As one of the rap game’s most talented and conscious artists, Kendrick Lamar has mastered the multi-concept record like no other, first with 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, and this year with To Pimp A Butterfly. Lamar’s unbridled flow carries the weight of tracks such as “King Kunta” and “Hood Politics”. The strong social intellect in his lyrics is neither confined nor rehearsed, even with a handful of spoken word verses and interludes. The instrumental backdrop draws on funk, jazz and soul, while allowing the record plenty of room to breathe. Considering the majority of mainstream rap albums are now dominated by the overly-popular trap beat, To Pimp A Butterfly is a welcome dose of diverse production. It’s no secret that Kendrick has made powerful friends in the industry, but the flawless production value on the album is just one thing to consider. Dr. Dre, Pharrell Williams, Flying Lotus and even George Clinton of Parliament fame all leave their mark on this record, but this work is authentic Kendrick all the way through. Easily the best rap record of 2015.
Top Tracks: King Kunta, How Much A Dollar Cost, i
#2: Destroyer – Poison Season
I had the pleasure of reviewing Poison Season this summer, and in doing so I realized that there’s no issue of blind optimism when it comes to expectations, even 11 studio albums into his solo career. Poison Season is as fruitful as any of his other works, conjoining concepts of artistic depression with his signature idiosyncratic vocal style. Although it may sound theatrical at certain points, Poison Season doesn’t thrive completely in an ethereal nature. Instead, Bejar allows his poetic strengths to carry the record. Swathed in guitars, strings and horns, Poison Season is a legitimate contender. But considering it’s a Destroyer record, what else is new?
Top tracks: Times Square, Archer On The Beach, Bangkok
#1: Tame Impala – Currents
There was a time in the early 80s where numerous groups were trying to prove that keyboards and synths could serve as the dominant instrument in a band. That legacy has thrived in recent years, notably on Tame Impala’s Currents. If there was a record this year to epitomize the power and scope of a single music mind, Currents is the best example. Kevin Parker has always been the driving force behind Tame Impala, but his completely self-performed/produced 2015 release is new territory for him. A swift dreamscape of modern psychedelic, each track on Currents is draped in an ensemble of synths, with Parker’s vocals drowning in a sea of reverb. While the atmosphere and composition on Currents differs from his previous albums, Parker has the ability to familiarize this sound as a signature style. Carrying on the tradition of implementing inventive percussive arrangements, Parker reaches new heights in this aspect as well. To call Currents a kaleidoscope record would be stating the obvious, but the supreme production has provided a visual dimension to the album as well. Despite this, Currents is a highly accessible record and indeed the cream of the crop for 2015.
Top Tracks: see entire track listing
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
Viet Cong – Self-titled