In the words of the immortal songsmith James Blunt, “You’re Beautiful. You’re Beautiful. You’re beautiful, it’s true.” And by “You’re” I am referring to 2015. Thanks to my newfound relationship with Spotify, my ears took quite a trip through the various trends and styles of 2015. From the hipster R&B of The Weeknd, to socially conscious hip-hop from Kendrick Lamar and Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment to Grammy darling Adele, there was a lot to take in. I felt good about straying from my comfort zone. Sure, it didn’t always pan out (cough, cough, Mumford and Sons) but it was a journey I’d gladly take again. If not for the surprises for the lasting musical memories.
Jamie xx – In Colour
Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Tame Impala – Currents
I’ve always liked classical music. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, though I have seen Amadeus. Like most people, classical music helps me unwind. The only problem is sifting through three-hundred years of music to find what I like. Luckily, some modern cool people made a classical album. In this case, they’re Arcade Fire collaborators Colin Stetson (saxophone) and Sarah Neufeld (violin). The music is mostly laid back but still strikes some darker notes. It’s not too different from what you might expect on an Arcade Fire song, minus the everything else. Yet I keep coming back to it. Not to mention it makes me look sophisticated.
It doesn’t take Tahj Mowry from The Smart Guy to realize To Pimp a Butterfly is the best album of the year. Even Obama said “How Much a Dollar Cost” was his favorite song of 2015, and why not? It’s a rich blending of styles and gets right down to the nitty gritty of economic disparity and police brutality facing this country. To Pimp a Butterfly is a classic, backed by a real band, about real things. The only question is: “Why have it at 9?” Because I’ve never finished the entire thing in one sitting. To Pimp a Butterfly is a great album, but it’s a dense album. You don’t tiptoe around this one, you dive in, and seeing as I’m yet to dive in, it remains here.
This is another album I can imagine seeing on “Best of the Decade” lists in the future. A sincere and hard rocking debut from a unique, fun new artist. “Again, why so low John?” I need more time. Let me wait until the “Best of the Decade” list comes out and I can listen to it alongside such future classic albums as All Star 2.0 by Smash Mouth and a new Styx album featuring the long awaited return of Dennis DeYoung
This is where the list gets crazy. You’re not going to see this album on any top ten lists. Even fans of The Decemberists would probably rank this as the group’s weakest album. Yet thanks to some long work shifts and even longer car rides, I fell in love with Portland’s finest folk-quintet all over again. “The Wrong Year” has quickly become one of my all time favorite songs by the band. I love you guys, Don’t ever change.
Every day felt like the weeknd in 2015. Everywhere I went, Abel Tesfaye was there brandishing his moody pop. Look at all the hits! “Can’t Feel My Face,” “The Hills,” “Often,” “Earned it,” the list never ends. Listen to “In the Night” and tell me it doesn’t make you think of Michael Jackson. This guy is special, how special I’m not sure, but worth keeping an ear out for. If you can still feel it.
Does anyone rock more than Brittany Howard? It’s like Janis Joplin came back from the dead and moved to Alabama. Moving on from the more conventional roots rock of Boys & Girls, Sound & Color features more experimentation on tracks like the lingering ballad ”Gemini” and an awesome tempo change in “Gimme All Your Love.” “Don’t Wanna Fight” is the perfect single and the rest are welcome additions to an already eclectic catalog. Sweet home Alabama indeed.
Four years ago I went to a fashion show and saw a line of outfits inspired by Florence + the Machine. The style was earthy colored gowns worn by pale models, all of whom looked like they could have been Edgar Allen Poe’s dead wife haunting the runway. This experience had me write off Florence + the Machine as “Sad Girl Music,” a label I now regret. Was young John being a jerk, or was he afraid to embrace his emotions? Probably both, because four years later I fell in love with the song “Ship to Wreck” and now keep a Florence + the Machine CD in my car. The rest is good too. Maybe I’ve finally come around, or maybe, I’ve been possessed by the ghosts of the runway?
I’ve always wanted to listen to Grimes. Ever since the album with the skeleton I knew she was a presence I needed in my life. I mean, look at that skeleton! It’s so crazy and for some reason it has flames and Japanese writing. It feels very representative of what Grimes is all about, as does the weird anime-sprite-girl cover to Art Angels. Grimes is throwing it all out there. It doesn’t always stick, but when it does damn, it’s really good. I’ve been singing the spelling part to “Kill V. Maim” all week, and just after I had gotten “Butterfly” out of my head. Somehow she keeps sucking me back in with her ethereal punk electro pop—I don’t know what to call it. It’s what rock and roll is all about. Expressing yourself and paying no attention to what others are doing or what they will think. I think it’s awesome.
Often these kinds of Americana balladeers bore me to death. Father John Misty, aka Hipster Jesus does exactly the opposite. His songs are catchy and funny and everything in between. What’s most refreshing is Father John Misty’s willingness to switch styles. Whether it be electronic on “True Affection” or sad piano man music like on “Bored in the USA.” There’s a song for every mood. I’ll be listening to this on plenty of long car rides where I sit back and think about my whole life.
Hearing and seeing this album live in its entirety sealed it. Sufjan has always been a storyteller, but never has his music felt this personal and painful to me. He’s putting himself and his family all out there without any extra flourishes. It’s just him and beautiful string-picked guitars with the occasional moaning synth. This wasn’t a tough choice. Thanks Sufjan and thanks 2015.