2016’s top 10 albums of 2015

thingoftheyear

New Backlog contributor Noah Lamprecht has graced us with more 2015 lists. Thanks go to him, and enjoy. 

You’ve read all the lists at this point.

All. The. Lists.

Games, music, movies, TV shows, books… Whatever. Anymore we don’t know how to process the end of one year and the start of another without making a list of everything we did or didn’t enjoy.

And that’s fine.

In fact, it’s awesome. It’s a great way to trick our dumb brains into catching up on stuff we skipped over, whether or not we meant to. So, with Rachel’s article about missing out in mind, here are my 10 favorite albums that came out this year. Well, last year. Whatever.

Editor’s note – We’ve included Spotify links on each headline. Feel free to clickity click them. 

  1. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

I’m not cool enough to have been into Sleater-Kinney before they went on hiatus. That said, this is the perfect album with which to dive in. 10 years after The Woods came out, S-K haven’t missed a beat. Make no mistake: this is NOT a reunion album. This is a brand new, ass-kicking Sleater-Kinney album. They’ve always been Very Important, and this record proves why.

They’re just as intelligent, just as raucous, just as raw, just as political, and just as good as they’ve always been. This time around, however, they come with an endorsement from the Bob’s Burgers kids. And if Tina, Gene, and Louise say they’re cool, they’re cool.

  1. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

Super great female vocalist. Sparse guitars. Very high emotions, very low emotions. That’s it for me. That’s the idiot’s guide to Waxahatchee, but 2015’s Ivy Tripp is so much more. There are more pop elements than we’ve previously heard from Katie Crutchfield and Co. this time around, but they’re still founded on the unfiltered emotions that Waxahatchee do best.

And hey, some of the tracks even have synths on them! According to Crutchfield, an Ivy Tripp is that time in your 20s and 30s when you don’t know what you want, but you know it’s not what you have. There’s plenty of that here, and much, much more. She might be ivy tripping the world, but her voice is still inescapable.

  1. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin’ down…

Unfairly or otherwise, I know some artists’ releases will end up on my top 10 every year. Kurt Vile is one of those. As much as it may sound like it to a casual listener, b’lieve i’m goin down… isn’t another run-of-the-mill folk record. It’s true that Vile has always embraced his genre with gusto, but that doesn’t mean he’s unoriginal.

His most recent releases, Wakin on a Pretty Daze and Smoke Ring for My Halo, saw him exploring the lighter and darker sides of guitar-driven folk respectively, and consequently toying with the affected emotions of what it means to make a Happy Record or a Sad Record. Here, Vile finds the perfect balance of yin and yang: an examination of the genre that’s equal parts self-aware parody and loving embrace.

  1. Chvrches – Every Open Eye

This record is so good that I took it for granted. So good that I moved on from it too quickly. So good that I had to stop myself from placing it lower. Chvrches’ second record is everything a fan who saw them live four times in their last album cycle (guilty as charged) could want, almost to the point that Every Open Eye is too great for its own good.

This is an album full of huge, anthemic synth-pop hits, and it’s exactly what their fans crave. Every Open Eye is the rare pop album that meets its own expectations to the point of being obvious because it’s so good. If anybody was set up to fail it 2015, it’s these guys. Instead, they delivered one of the catchiest, most empowering records of the year.

  1. Beach House – Depression Cherry

This was the Beach House album I was expecting. These songs are the direct opposite of those on 2015’s compatriot, Thank Your Lucky Stars. Where those are big songs about microcosms, these are insular songs about Giant Issues. The music on Depression Cherry is much more claustrophobic, closer – songs that fit an album whose cover is fuzzy red velour.

The more restrained sound is only broken by the disparate notes that are meant to shock and stand out; to highlight the universal themes of love, loss, and identity on an otherwise more terrestrial album. Depression Cherry is beautiful, haunting, and understated. Aka, it’s exactly what I’m looking for on a Beach House record.

  1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

This is an album that is one of the more stunning, individual, universal, and perfect pieces of music that was released in 2015. Everyone knows how personal it is because Stevens made no secret of the fact that this was an album dedicated to, and about, his mother and step-father’s marriage. For something so intensely specific, Carrie & Lowell has so much universal appeal that it’s almost paradoxical.

It’s remarkable that an album whose subjects have nothing to do with its listeners can affect us so much. In the end, it’s a real testament to how well Stevens crafts his songs. He’s at the top of his game, and there’s no reason to doubt that he’ll stay there until further notice.

  1. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

I read an interview with Josh Tillman in which he said he was nauseated that people were aligning their relationships to the romance outlined throughout I Love You, Honeybear. That’s the perfect distillation of this album: a perfect tongue-in-cheek sense of disgust. One-half ironic (detached, burnt-out view of 2015 America and modern romance) and fifty percent real-life story (meeting and falling in love with his wife), Tillman’s record is one that we should be listening to for a long time.

Smirking earnestness is the theme here, and, like all perfect deadpans, Tillman’s folky, honky-tonk examination of modern love is equally sincere, ironic, and hypocritical for all 45 of its minutes.

  1. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett is a wordsmith. That is a hack sentence. Neither one of those short, direct thoughts would fit onto her 2015 release. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is 2015’s best sprawling, witty, verbose album. Great guitars, uncomplicated music, amazing lyrics: they’re all here. It’s her first official record after a ‘double ep’, a tellingly circuitous approach. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty perfect way for describing Barnett herself.

Her lyrics are about simple, everyday occurrences: going to the grocery store, swimming in the community pool, and self-identity crises. Okay, maybe they’re not so straightforward, but her lyrics are so indirect, wandering, and interesting that if they were all we got from her, I’d still be hooked. Add in terrific three-piece rock, and you easily have one of the year’s best albums.

  1. Tame Impala – Currents

In any other year this would’ve been #1. Originally, Tame Impala were put into the box of being ‘another psychedelic band’. That’s wrong. Super wrong – and always has been. Currents bucks that pigeon-holing more than anything else Kevin Parker has released to this point. There are long songs, expansive takes on love, intentionally corny down-pitched encounters with past lives – this album has everything.

This whole album perfectly encapsulates what it means to be in a relationship, and, more specifically, what it means to end one. Parker’s noted that Currents stemmed from realizing that there were no honest breakup songs told from the perspective of the person who ends a long relationship knowing both parties will be better off. Both he and I pulled that same trigger within the last year, something which, admittedly, might color my appreciation for this record’s emotional nuances.

Maybe I love this album because it spoke to me so directly, so personally that I couldn’t avoid it. But that doesn’t mean Currents isn’t beautiful, catchy, horrifying, tear-inducing, and perfect, irrespective of your relationship status.

  1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

At number one is the album that has to be number one. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is stunning, important, long-lasting, political, and necessary. Nothing can be said about this record that isn’t worth saying. I know that’s the literal definition of gross exaggeration, but this is an album that makes the hyperbolic true, that makes jazz a top 40 hit in 2015, and that makes a definitive statement about Blackness a commercial smash.

As I write this living in a Cleveland that has seen the Tamir Rice case illustrate just how far America still has to come, To Pimp a Butterfly addresses those issues with one eye on the past, and one looking toward the future.

Overwhelmingly, what’s most impressive about To Pimp a Butterfly is just how Kendrick manages that equilibrium. Anger versus hate, shouting versus stating, and where we’ve been compared to where we’re going are all touched on here. “King Kunta” reads equally as top-notch rap bravado and contemplative history of music and culture.

If this song were released in 1968, it would be “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Kendrick’s main brag equates having ‘the yams’ to the kind of confident self-belief name-checked heroes like Richard Pryor and Michael Jackson possessed.

It makes sense, but it’s not just a random phrase that sounds cool. Yams really are “the power that be.” Throughout African culture, yams are a traditional staple crop and symbol of power – ideas with which the song’s eponymous Kunta Kinte would be well familiar. On the surface, the song is a four-minute jam, but in every way it’s an examination of what it means to be young, confident, and black in America today.

For an album that reached more people than most music this year to declare that “Nazareth, I’m fucked up/ Homie you fucked up/ But if God got us/ then we gon’ be alright,” means something in today’s world. When we still have to delineate between descriptors like ‘thug’ ‘terrorist’ and ‘militia’ for describing incidents with guns, when the System still makes it clear that the color of your skin matters, and when cops can shoot 12-year-olds for playing in the park.

That’s when we need music like this.

That’s when we need albums that synthesize the history of jazz, funk, hip hop, R&B, and modern rap into one sprawling hour-and-a-half-epic. And that’s what To Pimp a Butterfly delivers. It’s the album 2015 needed, deserved, and got.

Noah Lamprecht is a scholar and a gentleman living in Cleveland, Ohio. If you’d like to contact him, feel free to email us at BackLogAdventures@Gmail.Com. 

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