Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Best Albums of 2015

Or another way of putting it, the albums from last year I listened to, ordered by how much I enjoyed them.

Best of 2015

6/7. Beach House - Depression Cherry/Thank Your Lucky Stars

It's sort of the nature of dream pop that it puts you in a trance-like state and doesn't do a lot to differentiate itself from song to song, so when Beach House put out two albums without a couple months of each other, forgive me for saying that you could play a random track from one or the other and I might struggle to tell you which it came from. That's not to say they're exactly the same, or that I didn't enjoy both of them. It's just that I can't make a strong case to myself that one really stands out from the other.

5. Modest Mouse - Strangers to Ourselves

Hey, I listened to an album with electric guitars this year! Modest Mouse returns from a long hiatus from the studio with another solid album, one which doesn't reach the heights of their earlier work but has a few great songs and a few more pretty good ones. There aren't any big surprises here, but there can be value in a band knowing what people expect of them of delivering exactly that.

4. Chvrches - Every Open Eye

There was a bit of experimentation on Chvrches' first album, experimentation which is absent here. They figured out what people like about them, catchy electro pop, and really drilled in on that. I'm fine with that, although there aren't quite as many stand-out tracks as I would have liked. None of it is bad though, and a couple songs, especially the opener, are fantastic.

3. Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

I'm not sure, but I think I might like Panda Bear's solo work more than Animal Collective. There's a bit less variation, but there's also a confidence that he knows what his strengths are and how to play to them. Sometimes it's a little weirder and more psychedelic than the typical radio-friendly indie stuff, but he also finds some hooks that dig deeper than others can usually manage. It's good.

2. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

I like when Sufjan gets into the really big chamber pop stuff, but Carrie & Lowell is much smaller and folkier, and I think it's among his best work. It's pretty much just him with a guitar and double tracked vocals, as he sings very personal songs about his relationship with his mother and stepfather. I tend to ignore lyrics with a lot of music, but they're important here, lending emotional weight to his beautiful playing and breathy singing.

1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

There are so many things Kendrick Lamar can do. He can put out a hit single that will play in clubs for months as well as anyone, but he has a lot of other sides to him. He raps with a lot of different emotions and tones, from pure bravado, to voice-breaking sorrow, to vicious anger. He likes experimenting with different styles of music, from jazz to guitars to more traditional hip hop sounds. And he has the audacity to do something like end an album with a constructed conversation between him and archival audio of Tupac. I can't wait to see where he takes his career from here.

Delayed Entry

This is the best album that wasn't released in 2015 but I didn't hear until then.

Sufjan Stevens - Michigan

Sufjan's predecessor to Illinois in his short-lived "50 states" project isn't as good, but it's hard to make something as good as one of the best albums ever made. Michigan is still a solid, eclectic album full of his strong pop folk sensibilities.

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