While everyone is wrapping up presents and scrambling around stores for the rest of them, I went through my own December pastime, which is examine my favorites/what I’ve missed from this year’s music and see which ones really grabbed my attention. I also have a Spotify playlist of songs from 2015 that I’ll put up later as well. But first, here are my albums.
Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
This year’s last fifth spot was a bit tough, as I had to choose between this album and Blur’s The Magic Whip. The Britpop gods put out a solid album, I cannot deny that. But this is a punk opera with a veneer the band has not shown since The Monitor. Between their anthem-ready songs like “Dimed Out” and “No Future Part IV” are many others that create a tapestry of mania, drugs, and separation from oneself that is are ambitious as they are kick ass. You can lose yourself in the sound as much as you can the pit.
Favorite Song: “Dimed Out” is pretty much your tried-and-true punk rock Titus Andronicus. That driving drum intro and Patrick Stickles’ screams bring the fun, but the underlying violin give it more of a body.
Björk- VulnicuraI had the pleasure of seeing Björk live at Governors Ball this year. The juxtaposition of the Icelandic singer in a bizarre dark butterfly costume with a string orchestra all dressed in white garb seemed odd, but that combination was a fitting representation of the album – a dark, pained voice using violins, cellos, and sundry instruments in expressing the dissolution of a relationship reaching for change. The production work from Arca and The Haxan Cloak, whose challenging atmospheric work made them perfect as Björk’s co-producers, accentuated her singing.
Favorite Song: “Lionsong” The combination of asynchronous beats with forlorn strings matched the turmoil inherent in her voice on this song.
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
If Trilogy was Abel’s nascent triptych of dark R&B longing, and Kiss Land a spirited attempt at a cohesive effort, then Beauty Behind the Madness is the true nocturnal-yet-universal product of the two. It is The Weeknd’s detached drug-infused sex vibes laid bare for everyone, not just the indie crowd. You want an example of this – his mega-hit blatantly plays with cocaine use, and it still works. The Weeknd brings us all into the darkness of his R&B and you want more.
Favorite Song: “The Hills” is emblematic of Tesafaye’s evolution from House of Balloons to Madness. It’s just enough of the sex-fueled tryst you would find in a song like “Wicked Games” but with a flair heard in any club banger.
Grimes – Art Angels
I am of the minority opinion that think Visions is not Boucher’s strongest work. It’s understandable how there’s an accessibility inherent in that album compared to the previous two that made it very popular, but it was too twee for my tastes. However, Grimes put out songs on Art Angels that expands her pop repertoire, each with a cleverness to them that help the album surpass all her previous work. And so many of the songs are as catchy as they are different. upbeat vibes hiding pained lyrics in “California” are not like the ecstatic ode to her city of Montreal in the title track. Grimes truly pushed herself on this one, and it was for the better.
Favorite Song: “Artangels” is a Grimes taking K-pop/90s pop styles and using it as the bedrock for a happy jam about her musical hometown. It is a tight upbeat machine so far removed in sound from Visions that you can almost dance to it.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
I am really leery of conscious rap nowadays. Back in college it was my go-to, but many eventually trade their rhymes for ham-fisted messages that lose their potency if the song, you know, sucks. Kendrick infused some of that spirit within the prevalent soul/funk mood of the album while retaining his rapper virtuoso skills on those bars. This album is a body, made the story-rap of good kid, m.A.A.d city into a sprawl where Lamar shows us the weight of his fame and blackness coming down on him for all to see (see “Blacker The Berry”). But he shows the beauty in it as well in songs like “i” and “Alright”, the latter so much so that it’s now become a chant of sorts for the Black Lives Matter movement. King Kendrick, indeed.
Favorite Song: “How Much a Dollar Costs” is Kendrick’s storytelling par excellence. In that narration between him and a beggar we find Lamar creating a modern-day version of a parable, and it rides out with Ronald Isley singing in penitence.
Blur – The Magic Whip
Lupe Fiasco – Testuo and Youth
ASAP Rocky – At.Long.Last.ASAP
Florence + The Machine – How Big How Blue How Beautiful
Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
Chvrches – Every Open Eye
BOOTS – AQUARIA
Sexwitch – Sexwitch
Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Arca – Mutant