Top 10 Albums of 2015

Penultimate list of the year! Movies will be coming soon…

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10. Carly Rae Jepsen Emotion

A lot of people were really surprised by this record, but I never really was. I championed (and still do) “Call Me Maybe” as a perfect pop song and placed it as my number one song of 2012. Emotion is a strong pop album that never made much leeway on the radio despite its catchy 80s influenced style. Jepsen is our best pop star, you all just don’t know it.

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9. Titus Andronicus The Most Lamentable Tragedy

A 90-minute plus punk rock opera that filters the band’s punk influences through Bruce Springsteen’s everyman representation with an added experimental edge. It certainly doesn’t have the highs of The Monitor, but it is pretty consistent from beginning to end. Patrick Stickles brain will always come up with raging rock songs, intricate and complex enough to inspire a plethora of think pieces and this is everything I love rolled into one giant album.

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8. Julien Baker Sprained Ankle

Quite the opposite of The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Baker’s debut album is quiet and sparse. There are only nine songs here, most of which only feature Baker singing and playing guitar , but boy are these tracks affecting. She has claimed these songs represent her coming out of a place of depression and abuse and one can certainly see the inner-monologue taking place. It’s an internal struggle, with Baker battling over her own soul and just when you think the darkness will overcome, grace shines through.

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7. Future Beast Mode

A lot has been written about Future being the saddest rapper to brag about drugs, partying, and sexual affairs and this has certainly been the case across his two mixtapes (Beast Mode, 56 Nights), his full length (DS2), and collaboration with Drake (What a Time to Be Alive). There’s a weariness to the way he raps, an autotuned slur, that makes you wonder if he’s really enjoying any of it. DS2 was the most critically acclaimed of the bunch, What a Time had the most hype surrounding it, but my favorite was Beast Mode which I think shows Future at his most sincere.

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6. Grimes Art Angels

On Art Angels, Grimes takes pop music and puts it through the most eccentric filter it could probably go through while continuing to be pop. It’s pure bubblegum pop, but is also very weird. Grimes takes a page out of K-Pop–electronic pop songs that are given the spirit and enthusiasm of a high school cheer team. It works surprisingly wonderful and is so much fun to listen to.

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5. Vince Staples Summertime ’06

Staples’ studio full length debut is a biographical double album about one of the most important summers he ever had. It tells the tale of Staples growing up, learning who he was, and the outside factors imposing in on his life. There are stories of adolescent love, of depression, and of extreme violence. It’s one of the most complex coming-of-age stories I’ve ever experienced. Staples is one of the best young voices making music out there and he may have just come up with a masterpiece here.

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4. Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

It’s hard to say what the best thing is that Barnett does, is it her ability to come up with rollicking rock songs? Her clever wordplay? The fact that she came up with the introvert anthem (sorry Alessia Cara)? All of these things point to why Sometimes I Sit is an amazing album. It’s funny, it’s thoughtful, it can be blasted on any road trip. Women are crushing it in indie rock and Barnett is there at the top.

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3. Tame Impala Currents

Currents shows Tame Impala at their most accessible, like Grimes their sound perfectly mixes their more experimental tendencies with mainstream pop’s aesthetic. Currents is a blend of EDM with a singer-songwriter’s vision. Kevin Parker has created dance music for indie rock kids, blending in disco and R&B influences to make an album that grew with every listen.

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2. Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly

This was probably the album of the year, with Kendrick building on all the goodwill of good kid, mad city to make one of the most ambitious, sprawling, and important albums maybe ever? It’s funky, jazzy, and altogether not what you’d expect from the most hyped person in rap music. But that makes it even better, showing Kendrick as a true artist, one that pushes the genre forward. To Pimp a Butterfly was a necessary album in a year filled with racial strife and police brutality at the forefront of our national conversations. It’s celebratory of black culture, comforts all the pain, and is also deeply critical of inner-city violence. Kendrick is never what anybody wants him to be and I think that’s what makes him all the more important.

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1.Sufjan Stevens Carrie  & Lowell

While Kendrick spent time analyzing the affairs of a nation, Sufjan spends his time processing his inner-self, responding to the loss of his mother. It’s painstakingly personal, littered with references to the loss and the deep depression he went through as a result. Most of Sufjan’s work features beautiful, stripped down folk songs but these are usually places between quirky chamber pop tracks. Here we essentially get sad, contemplative Sufjan for 43 straight minutes, and as much as I love the baroque Sufjan, slowed down it is so beautiful.

Honorable mentions: Young Fathers White Men Are Black Men Too; Hop Along Painted Shut; Sports All of Something; Panda Bear Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper; Drake & Future What a Time to Be Alive

This May Sound Sexist, But Women Are Just Better Than Men at Rock Music: A Playlist

NOTE: This list is uh not safe for the whole family.

Rock represents (or at least one point did) rebellion, a pushing of boundaries beyond the mainstream. It has consistently expanded, pushing beyond itself when it was the status quo, through its sub-genres: psych-rock, punk, metal, new wave, grunge, emo while at its core remaining the same.

The oppression of women and their treatment is broad and long and does not need to be discussed here–their role in rock music is more the exception than the rule with a select few carrying the torch through a field of men. Even now, a struggle for recognition exists, though more underlying than explicit: women are accepted in rock music, but women are not in rock music. Of course rock music exists strangely today–it’s dominant, but those who dominate radio play are one-hit wonders rather than super stars. Mainstream rock is stale, as a 60 plus year genre should be, but as always there are great bands making great music on the fringes.

Women are making the best rock music right now–there is no question in my mind. There are so many little scrappy bands right now throwing together rock songs fit to be listened to in crowded garages–with short, speedy, belted out jams that are purely delightful. They tell stories akin to those in rock (and especially punk’s) early days, expressions from the fringe, taking angst often birthed from a sexist society (Trump anyone?) and turning into a musical rebellion, sometimes crass, but always creative.

Here is a wide, yet non-comprehensive playlist of what is currently happening–jump on board.

Sleater-Kinney

Foremothers (if you will) of sorts to this whole thing, Sleater-Kinney have been making rock jams for a long time. This year saw the release of their eighth album, showing that the group has not missed a beat.

Courtney Barnett

A singer-songwriter who leans toward punk-tinged rock music, Barnett’s specialty is her wit where she is a master at crafting lyrics. Tongue-in-cheek songs about making excuses to get out of going to a party and lawn mowing techniques–she’s very observational, creating stream-of-consciousness songs about what she sees around her and relating it to deeper personal tensions and insecurities.

Makthaverskan

A Swedish punk band whose name translates to “women with power”, they combine forward moving punk songs with a sort of 80s synth melody. Living up to their name, Maja Milner gets personal about her experiences with men, fighting through them in explicit and passionate ways.

Potty Mouth

Sounding like they’re coming straight from the garage, Potty Mouth embodies a sort of low-key aggression common amongst most the bands present on this playlist. Their guitars are fuzzy, the lyrics are straightforward, and the songs are catchy without ever getting poppy.

Ex Hex

Singer/guitarist Mary Timony has had a long road to the 2014 Ex Hex debut album Rips, as a seminal part of 90s noise pop group Helium and later super group Wild Flag in 2010. The Ex Hex debut was a wonderful rock and roll album filled with quickly paced and very catchy songs. It’s a perfectly capable album that anyone who enjoys guitar driven rock songs could definitely enjoy.

Screaming Females

Leaning on a more heavy sound than most of the groups listed here, there are moments on their most recent record Rose Mountain that are shockingly intense. This is lead by Marissa Paternoster’s strong vocals which are powerful enough to knock you back at any moment. The breakdown toward the end of “Burning Car” is pretty epic, reminiscent of those days I was super into metalcore.

Savages

Also a group that trends heavier and more serious, Savages burst onto the scene in 2013 with a very anti-technology/social media/distracted youth message. While they lack the sort of tongue-in-cheek attitude of a lot of these groups, they make up for it with the passion of their message, as lead track “Shut Up” shows, Savages are not afraid of confrontation.

White Lung

Definitely not for the faint of heart, White Lung leans toward the more old school side of hardcore when it comes to punk. These songs are aggressive, filled with quickly paced guitar solos, and pounding drums.

Hop Along

A group that probably rides or dies on the talents of its vocalist, singer Frances Quinlan goes all over the place showcasing a raspy yell backed by a tight backing band. Most of the labeling of Hop Along is as a folk rock group, likely because of the group’s origins (a solo project by Quinlan), but at this point they are definitely a rock band, fitting in quite nicely to the modern day emo revival.

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz has revived the alt-rock of the 90s, giving it a modern indie rock feel, with definite punk influences. Another group that started as the solo project of its lead singer (Sadie Dupuis) and grew into a full-fledged critically acclaimed rock group (does this lead us into female rock star auteur theory?).

Tacocat

Taking on The Ramones’ at their most surf rock, Tacocat goes full tongue-in-cheek, exploring the female perspective with a full blast of irony. These are perfect beach songs, even if “Crimson Wave” isn’t as pure a surf song as it might seem upon first listen.

Alvvays

Indie pop filtered through a slacker rock aesthetic, from their purposefully misspelled name to their songs about getting married and grappling with the irony of growing into an adult, and Molly Rankin’s voice which always features a wink to it.

Chastity Belt

Reappropriating a device typically used to inhibit and to censor, Chastity Belt takes it on with a badge of irony, letting their feminism shine through the mores of old. Musically the band very much fits into a punk vein, but does so much more slow and pronounced than typical.

Perfect Pussy

Confrontational to its core (as their name might suggest), they originally started as a fake  band for a movie, but now are here to provide the most blatant and in your face group of the bunch. Their debut album clocks in at a brisk 29 minutes–nearly all of which is distorted and screamed.

Childbirth

https://childbirth.bandcamp.com/track/cowling-at-the-moon

Childbirth actually features two members from groups listed above (Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt, Bree McKenna of Tacocat) and takes on the same comic feminism as both of them. Their new album is aptly titled Women’s Rights, is filled with brash lyrics, more obscene than thoughtful reflections about feminism, but punk has always been brash, and Childbirth do it more hilariously than most.