My Favorite Music of 2015

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I like waiting until the new year to finalize my music lists. You never know which album will make a late surge in the backstretch. This year that was Julien Baker’s spare, wrenching Sprained Ankle: great winter walking tunes. Here’s my genre-by-genre and overall breakdowns:

Rock Albums

  1. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
  2. Tame Impala, Currents
  3. My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall
  4. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
  5. EL VY, Return to the Moon

Folk Albums

  1. Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
  2. Julian Baker, Sprained Ankle
  3. Joanna Newsom, Divers
  4. Josh Ritter, Sermon on the Rocks
  5. Natalie Prass, Natalie Prass

Pop Albums

  1. Grimes, Art Angels
  2. Jamie xx, In Colour
  3. Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon
  4. Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion
  5. CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye

Rap Albums

  1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
  2. Vince Staples, Summertime ’06
  3. A$AP Rocky, At. Long. Last. ASAP.
  4. Drake, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
  5. Dr. Dre, Compton

R&B Albums

  1. Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show
  2. Kehlani, You Should Be Here
  3. Kelala, Hallucinogen
  4. The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness
  5. Jeremih, Late Nights

 

Overall Albums

10. Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show

Jazmine has one of the greatest voices in R&B, but her true strength is songwriting. Each track on Reality Show tells a humanizing story from a different woman’s perspective – from an Instagram model and bank robber, to a rapper’s ex-girlfriend and a heroin addict.

9. A$AP Rocky, At. Long. Last. ASAP.

Surprisingly experimental and searching, A$AP Rocky’s followup album pushes the boundaries of psychedelic rap.

8. Jamie xx, In Colour

Jamie xx put out a dazzling, moody dance music record tinged with sadness and nostalgia.

7. Vince Staples, Summertime ’06

The 22-year-old rapper dropped a stunning debut album that tells the story of growing up amidst Long Beach’s gangs.

6. Julien Baker, Sprained Ankle

This album stunned me with its heartbreaking depiction of addiction, hospitalization, and the loss and recapture of faith.

5. Grimes, Art Angels

A true pop record with a gritty, maximalist heart.

4. Tame Impala, Currents

The modern psychedelic pioneers shift from rock to pop but held firmly onto their blissed-out aesthetic.

3. Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear

At once orchestral and seething, airy and caustic, Father John Misty released an indictment of modern society and his own part in it.

2. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett’s debut is obsessed with the small things in life – a morning commute, driving on the highway, going for a swim – and she elevates this minutia with clever, humorous attention.

1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick’s jazz/funk/rap opus explores what it means to be black in 2015. Dark, challenging, furious–but also exuberant and ultimately hopeful.

 

 

 

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The Best Music of 2015 So Far (Pt. 3)

Looking for new music? Here are my favorite albums of the last few months.

10. Drake and Future, What a Time to Be Alive

This is a Drake-Future collab, but musically it’s all Future’s codeine-soaked trap atmosphere, with Drake showing off his chameleon-like adaptability.

9. Ryan Adams, 1989

You’ve never heard Taylor Swift like this. Ryan Adams turns her pop masterpiece from last year into a folk-rock tragic breakup album.

8. Kelala, Hallucinogen

A sexy, take charge EP from Kelala, delivering alt-R&B in the vein of FKA Twigs.

7. Big Grams, Big Grams

New music from the legendary Big Boi is always welcome. Here he teams up with Phantogram to explore where indie pop aligns with Southern rap.

6. CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye

CHVRCHES hasn’t stray too far from their alt-pop debut, but lead singer Lauren Mayberry has stepped up her vocals several notches.

5. Big. K.R.I.T., It’s Better this Way

Once again Mississippi’s Big K.R.I.T is rapping circles around his peers and not getting nearly enough love.

4. Foals, What Went Down

Less poppy than their last (truly awesome) album Holy Fire, this LP shows Foals’ raw side. If you have any angst you want to rock out of your system, check out this album.

3. Lana Del Ray, Honeymoon

Maintaining her status as the slowest tempo pop star of all time, Lana stays firmly in Hollywood sadcore but grows as a singer and songwriter.

2. Josh Ritter, Sermon on the Rocks

I’ve been a huge fan of Josh since I first saw him back in 2004. He’s one of the smartest songwriters working today, and it’s a lot of fun watching him take chances with a country-inflected album.

1. Joanna Newsom, Divers 

After a five-year break, Joanna has dropped her most accessible album yet. That said, the harpist/singer-songwriter still writes densely layered, byzantine lyrics that will take dozens of listens to unravel. If you’re in the mood for an epic album, this one’s for you.

The Best Music of 2015 So Far (Pt. 2)

Summer jams
Summer jams

If there’s one word for music in 2015, it would be trippy. Acid in the tap water? Or just hallucinogenic musical exploration? Your call.

10. Rae Sremmurud, Sremmlife

I was a late-comer to Rae Sremmurd (that’s ear drummers spelled backwards). But it’s a surprisingly strange album, and This Could Be Us is the catchiest thing I’ve heard all year.

9. Miguel, Wildheart

Trippy R&B from one of the best voices singing today. What more could you want? Maybe some radio singles, but I approve of Miguel mixing it up.

8. Young Thug, Barter 6

Why is Young Thug’s second album called Barter 6? Well, it was supposed to be called Carter 6 before lawyers got involved (Lil Wayne’s much-delayed Carter 5 is still tied up with label issues). Whatever it’s name, it’s a very fun album, powered by Young Thug’s up-and-down delivery that makes smart lines sound like complete gibberish.

7. Boosie Badazz, Touch Down 2 Cause Hell

After spending a few years in prison, Boosie is back. Is he the “Tupac of the South” like his fans say? No, probably not. But he did drop a fiery album that hits hard.

6. Kehlani, You Should Be Here

Usually R&B albums aren’t as cohesive as I’d like, and more like a collection of singles. But the 20 year old Oakland singer’s debut is top-to-bottom earworms.

5. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Colour

I didn’t think it was possible, but Britanny Howard’s voice got even better. Just listen to the pent-up yelp that s before she unleashes a new falsetto. Alabama Shakes moved out of the middle of the road and got a lot less retro and a lot weirder.

4. Jamie xx, In Colour

Even after several weeks on repeat I’m still unwinding this stellar album. Just listen as the samples and keys and synths wash over you.

3. Tame Impala, Currents

Ok this one hasn’t been officially released yet. But it debuted on NPR’s First Listen this morning and I’ve already given it a run-through 3x. The trippiest album in a list of very psychedelic releases.

2. ASAP Rocky, At Long Last ASAP

Second albums are tough, but ASAP over-delivered. I’ve fallen in love with every track on its own, and together they show a huge leap in talent.

1. My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall

Probably the upbeat breakup albums I’ve ever heard. Jim James sings shimmering, psychedelic songs that delve into spirituality and nature, and also dysfunction and disappointment.

The 10 Best Albums of 2015 (So Far)

Spring showers
Spring showers

We’ve only just wrapped up Q1 but I’ve already been blown away by music dropped so far this year. Whoever says that there isn’t any good music these days isn’t looking in the right places. Here are a few favorites I can’t stop listening to.

10. Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful

Bronsolino is back with more raps about food, vacations and obscure 80s sports stars, now with big money production (Mark Ronson), but maintaining his signature silliness.

9. Laura Marling, Short Movie

Prickly British singer-songwriter goes full Joni Mitchell.

8. Matthew E. White, Fresh Blood

Hushed vocals are paired with retro arrangements on this Richmond, Virginia-based musician’s followup record.

7. Tinashe, Amethyst

Filling in where Ashanti fell off; light-touch R&B mixed with The Weeknd-style darkness and carnality.

6. Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear

I was wondering what a post-marriage FJM record would sound like – turns out he’s just as acerbic, absurdist, and tripped out.

5. Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show

A Philly R&B singer with a lot of soul, Jazmine explores her vocal range and a variety of characters throughout this album.

4. Natalie Prass, Natalie Prass

Nashville singer with a dainty voice and intimate lyrics, backed by Matthew E. White’s lush strings and brass backing band.

3. Drake, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Delivering his slickest rapping yet, Drake plays around with new flows over signature murky, hypnotic OVO beats.

2. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Australian songwriter focused on the quirky, banal everyday details that make life profound.

1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

If Drake dropped a smart blockbuster, Kendrick put out the Oscar favorite: raw, powerful, and experimental, at once incredibly personal and furiously political.

Music Festival Beauty: What I Loved and What I Forgot to Bring

 

My first Coachella!
My first Coachella!

I returned earlier this week from my very first Coachella. While I’ve been to some other music festivals (Sasquatch, Outside Lands, Treasure Island), I wasn’t quite prepared for the scope and extreme weather of Coachella. It was amazing being able to wear a t-shirt and shorts at night, but the tradeoff was 100+ degree weather and hot, dry wind.

Because I was camping, I decided against any traditional makeup – no foundation, mascara, eyeshadow, lip color, etc. This was not the norm, but it was nice being able to reapply sunscreen without worrying about messing up my face. Here’s what I was glad I brought, and what I wished I had with me:

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