Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Top 10 Albums of 2015

Each December I look forward to the AV Club’s list of the best albums of the year. In previous years, those lists have turned me on to some great bands like Japandroids, Dirty Projectors, and Cloud Nothings. This year, inspired by their recommendations, I’ve ordered the new records by Beach Slang and Julien Baker.

With a hat tip to the AV Club, here are my top 10 albums of 2015, and my vote for the best song on each album:

1) Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Lamar’s Butterfly has been billed as “a masterpiece of fiery outrage, deep jazz and ruthless self-critique.” In the course of its sprawling 80 minutes it offers a hip-hop exploration of the personal and political. President Barack Obama cited Butterfly’s “How Much a Dollar Cost” as his favorite song of the year. Lamar’s performance of “i” on Saturday Night Live left me in awe. The song’s defiant pride makes it the best song on the best album of 2015.

2) Chvrches – Every Open Eye
This fine sophomore record by the Scottish electronic-pop trio builds off the strength of 2013’s The Bones of What You Believe. Lauren Mayberry’s mesmerizing vocals and tight beats combine to make these eleven awesome pop songs one of the best albums of the year.

Best Song: Leave a Trace

3) Built to Spill – Untethered Moon
I saw my first Built to Spill show in my college Student Union sixteen years ago as they toured in support of their fifth album. Since then they’ve continued to build off their early success as alternative rock pioneers. Their latest album holds its own against their best and their show back in May at Cat’s Cradle showed them still in peak form.

Best Song:  Living Zoo

4) Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Titus Andronicus is just about my favorite band making music right now with their big, soaring punk rock anthems and Patrick Stickle’s spitfire vocals.  TA’s fourth album is a concept album without a concept, and its 29 tracks are, frankly, excessive. But, within the filler there is more than an album’s worth of great punk songs, the best of which is “Dimed Out.” “No Future Part IV” and “Fatal Flaw” also deserve a listen.

5) Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Critics have lauded Barnett’s debut record as of the best of the year. I agree. Her humorous, personal lyrics and electric guitar makes this album a joy from beginning to end.

Best Song: Elevator Operator

6) Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
Sleater-Kinney put out their first record in more than a decade in 2015 and it was worth the wait. No Cities to Love doesn’t transcend any of their previous efforts, but the album has finally given Sleater-Kinney the success and acclaim they’ve long deserved.

Best Song: A New Wave

7) Heems – Eat, Pray, Thug
As half of Das Racist, Himanshu Suri (Heems) collaborated with Victor Vazquez (Kool A.D.) to turn out rap songs that were part absurdist farce and part post-colonial deconstructionism. Heems’ solo debut finds him at his most political, exploring his racial identity in the context of America’s racism and violence against brown people.

8) The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
This album is a step down from The King is Dead, but it another great collection from this prolific band.

Best Song: Make You Better

9) The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ
Yes, this is a concept album about professional wrestling. But, let’s face it, John Darnielle could get up on stage with his guitar and sing the phone book and I wouldn’t mind. Heel Turn 2 is one of the better songs on the album and works as an exploration of being less good than you know you should be.

10) Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi
This is the second consecutive mediocre release by DCFC. There are some gems here, and “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” is first among them.

Best Song: The Ghosts of Beverly Drive