Sorry 4 The List - My Favorite Albums of 2015

In 2012, as I was calling it a day with my radio show, and was just beginning to think about starting this blog, I made a big deal out of sharing my favorite records of the year on Facebook—using the underrated ‘notes’ tool, I wrote very long, labored over pieces on my top ten favorite songs and albums of the year, as well as my favorite reissues of the year, and a bonus ‘best new artist’ piece as well.

The problem with these lists is that you put pressure on yourself—you pressure yourself into picking ten albums, because you just HAVE TO have ten of them and you succumb to the pressure of naming ten albums that you liked, and putting them in some kind of numerical order in a list. What makes number nine slightly better than number ten? And what was number eleven? What didn’t make the cut? What makes any of them worthwhile in the first place? Are they records you’ll be listening to a year from now?

That’s why I stopped naming ten records. Last year I only picked eight. This year I couldn’t even name that many, but these are at least records that matter—not dumb bullshit I am just naming arbitrarily to fill up a list to an even number, and trying to pick things that are both very timely (an accurate reflection of 2015) as well as timeless (meaning I won’t be cringing by this time next year, and I’ll actually still be enjoying these in 2016.)

7. Failure- The Heart is A Monster
Not exactly the sonic sequel to Fantastic Planet that some fans may have hoped for or wanted, but The Heart is A Monster is proof that time, if nothing, has been incredibly kind to the perennially underrated alternative rock outfit Failure. Vocalist and mutli-instrumentalist Ken Andrews has spent nearly 20 years behind the boards producing, mixing, and engineering for myriad other artists, honing in on a specific sound quality—the one he brings to the crisp and pristine production values here. A weighty affair, anchored down by a heavy amount of new material, old songs that have been revised, and a fair share of instrumental breaks, The Heart is A Monster finds Failure focusing on maintain its pop sensibilities while still having an edge—a delicate balancing act that is welcoming to new listeners but doesn’t alienate old fans.

Stand out tracks include the reworked unreleased demo “Petting The Carpet,” and slow motion piano ballad “Mulholland Drive,” and the album’s second single, “Counterfeit Sky.”

6. Annabel (lee) – By The Sea…And Other Solitary Places
Truly the heir to the trip-hop throne, By The Sea seamlessly blends elements of jazz and electronic music to create a haunted, evocative, and cohesive landscape. The work of multi-instrumentalist Richard E and soul vocalist Annabel Lee, By The Sea takes listeners to a place they’ve probably never been before with an album—coming across like old warped vinyl records being used to conjure up specters from a lifetime ago. If it sounds unsettling—good; that’s the point. It’s the kind of beautiful, unnerving listen that you can’t pull your ears away from.

Standout tracks include the oscillations of “Breathe Us,” the creeping acoustic “Invisible Barriers,” and the dusty, piano driven “(1849.)”

5. Earl Sweatshirt- I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
A stark and bleak meditation on grief, fame, and growing up, Earl Sweatshirt came into his own this year with his second album, the aptly titled I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Short to the extent that you feel like you may have been ripped off, this lean album has a razor sharp focus as Earl, a voice wise beyond his years, both confronts and embraces his demons. Lyrically, it’s relentless in its urgency and desperation, and the murky, claustrophobic production only helps drive that point home.

Standout tracks include the album’s trudging first single, “Grief,” the call and response of “Mantra,” and the slithering bass and slow motion funk of “AM // Radio.”

4. Kamasai Washington- The Epic
After listening to The Epic (nearly three hours in running time) I feel pretty stupid for having slept on this for most of the year—repped by Pitchfork, I questioned why they were reviewing jazz records, and scoffed at the fact that Washington was the artist responsible for arranging a bulk of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, aka the most overrated album of 2015 (controversial hot take, I know.)

Also, I think that cover art may have kept me away.

Recently, I had a dream recently where I was purchasing CDs at a Best Buy—one of was a ‘best of’ Elliott Smith CD, and the other claimed to be John Coltrane, but when I played it, it turned out to be some kind of very raw funk/R&B.

When I woke up from the dream, and after reading that P4K named The Epic one of its top ten records of the year, I couldn’t shake the notion that I should give it a listen.

Does it nearly collapse under its own ambitions and weight? Yes of course. Does it occasionally wander into Weather Channel ‘local forecast’ music? Yes, almost all too easily sometimes, but that is okay.

Despite some minor missteps, it’s a big, bold, innovative statement, and when it works (which is usually does) it’s a captivating marrying of a classic jazz sound with a very modern edge, effortlessly blending multiple eras and genres to create something unique, timeless, and invigorating.

And, it’s a debut release that’s a triple album, and it doesn’t get more declarative and auspicious than that—yet somehow, despite its imposing size, still manages to be incredibly accessible and even catchy in its grandstanding and song structure.

Standout tracks include Washington’s stunning turn on “Clair de Lune,” the warm and somber “Seven Prayers,” and the frenetic, rhythmic “Askim,” featuring a choir and string arrangements reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?

3. Sister Crayon- Devoted
As cold and mechanical as it is full of warmth and life, Devoted walks the line between confessional and confrontational songwriting juxtaposed with a heavy electronic sound. A stark and honest look at the difference between love and lust, and all of the complexities of a modern romance that fall between the cracks, the post-trip-hop duo Sister Crayon fulfill the promise that they showed on both their 2011 debut Bellow and the 2013 follow up EP, Cynic.

A less organic sound in comparison to their previous releases, and backed by lush and thoughtful production, Devoted showcases the natural songwriting talent of Sister Crayon frontwoman Terra Lopez, who bottles up her nervous angst until it explodes in an otherworldy howl.

Standout tracks include “To Show You Violence,” the frenetic pounding of “Night Totem,” and the album’s stunning closing track, “Hell in My Head.”

2. Joe Goodkin- Record of Life
Brutally personal, naked, and honest songwriting can blow up in your face if you aren’t careful. Thankfully, in this six song, self contained cycle on life, death, love, loss, dogs and cats, and fragmented childhood memories, Chicago based singer and songwriter Joe Goodkin tackles his divorce and subsequent second marriage, the death of loved ones, and a brief reunion with an estranged family member.

While it all sounds almost too personal to share outside the confines of a journal or a late night conversation with a trusted friend, Goodkin handles the subject matter with an unrivaled eloquence, shaping evocative narratives with skeletal, spectral arrangements.

 Standout tracks include the reflective “Gray,” “Dog and Cat,” and “My Friends,” a dedication to two of Goodkin’s closest childhood friends, and the struggle it is to maintain those relationships in adulthood.

1. Ryan Adams- 1989
Was there ever any doubt that this would be my number one album for 2015?

The album that launched a thousand internet thinkpieces on if Adams was ‘mansplaining’ Taylor Swift’s 1989 was a polarizing listen to say the least—people either got it, or they didn’t. There was no room for a casual listener with these songs, placed into the hands of a more cognitive songwriter who saw the value in them—something I did not with my attempts to enjoy the original source material.

Adams has always had a knack for earnest heartbreak, and here, it’s no exception. Stripping away the bubblegum pop trappings designed to move units, he finds the somberness within arrangements akin to his own best work (Love is Hell serves as the primary point of reference.)

It also served as a reflection of his own emotional state at the time—fresh from a divorce from Mandy Moore, Adams sings these all with a straight face, effortlessly making you believe in him, in what he’s doing here with the songs of someone else, and more importantly, for at least an hour, believe in music in 2015.

Standout tracks include the devastating turn on “This Love,” “All You Had to Do Was Stay,” and Adams’ sparse, twangy take on “Blank Space.”