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Top 50 Albums of 2015

on December 02, 2015, 12:00am
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Future Dirty Sprite 240. Future – Dirty Sprite 2

2015 was a strong year for hip-hop, but let’s be real: This was the year that Future became ubiquitous. At some point, it becomes just a numbers game. The Atlanta rapper dropped four (!) mixtapes this year, including a collaboration with reigning superstar Drake. All of this set up Dirty Sprite 2 to take Future to the top of the game. His codeine-influenced flow also set him apart, letting each word drip out of his mouth drenched in Auto-Tune. It can be off-putting at first, especially since it’s hard to understand what he’s saying half the time. But the brilliance in his performance is that he uses his voice more as an embellishment of the production. For those who were on the fence, DS2 solidified the approach as worthwhile. And if the title wasn’t clear enough, syrup is a big part of Future’s aesthetic. Opener “Thought It Was a Drought” is basically a thesis statement for his career as he mumbles, “I just took a piss and I seen codeine coming out.” It’s not a lifestyle anyone could condone with a clear conscience, but it’s fascinating seeing the world through Future’s oozing words and purple haze. –Dusty Henry

Listen: Spotify

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Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think Sometimes I Just Sit39. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

It’s tempting to dismiss Courtney Barnett as a novelty – a mellow, habitually t-shirted Aussie songwriter who talk-sings oddball observations and spouts seemingly non sequiturs about daily mundanity over indie rock guitars. But, as Adam Kivel notes in his review of her full-length debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, to reduce Barnett to a “Seinfeld-ian joker pointing out life’s little quirks” criminally misses the point. Just as she first gained our attention a couple years back with the single “Avant Gardener”, in which a do-nothing day in the garden leads to an uncomfortable realization and a panic attack, the very best of Sometimes I Sit locates the significance in the experiences that most of us ignore. For instance, album standout “Depreston” finds its narrator going on a humdrum house-hunting outing only to realize that she’s touring a “deceased estate” – that beginning a life in this new home would mean a kind of sad and cruel finality for those who lived there prior. Not what the real estate agent had in mind, I’m sure, but that’s how Barnett’s mind works. While the rest of us sweat life’s big stuff, she opts to count cracks on the wall, note the guy pushing the elevator button for the roof, or contemplate a stranger’s shower handrail. Her most affecting songs make us suspect that we’re actually the ones foolishly letting life pass us by. –Matt Melis

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kurt vile b lieve im down album stream listen Top 50 Albums of 201538. Kurt Vile – b’lieve I’m going down…

If Kurt Vile’s b’lieve i’m goin down has an issue, it’s Vile’s own consistency. Following Smoke Ring for My Halo and Wakin on a Pretty Daze, it’s easy to take an album like this for granted. But doing so is not fair to b’lieve, which does set itself apart in both arrangement subtleties and lyrical themes. “I think I do top every record, in just a matter of refinement,” Vile told Pure Volume after the record’s release. And from the foot-stomping single “Pretty Pimpin” to “Wheelhouse”, which Vile has said is the best song he’s ever written, the confidence of a mature artist aware he is reaching his prime shines through. But maybe the most important song comes last: “Wild Imagination”, where Vile looks at the past, both in photographs and in memories of believers, lovers, druggers, dreamers, drunkards, and schemers. He admits that his emotions are difficult to express because they are so complicated, but he also requests in the refrain to “give it some time.” It’s a captivating ending that suggests the stories and melodies of Vile are a deep well to draw from, with the consistent refinement of Vile’s skills something fans should grow to expect. –Philip Cosores

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Ratatat Magnifique new album37. Ratatat – Magnifique

Ratatat’s first four records will sound even better now that we know what they were leading up to all along. In “Loud Pipes” — the bulldozing bombastic twist of high-speed funk and churning machine screams that centered their second album — Mike Stroud and Evan Mast created the early ’00s experimental rock-electronic, an indie monster with rock guts and instrumental vocal chords. During Magnifique, especially the dreamy anthemic swirl of Springwater cover “I Will Return” and the grinding, steel-stringed disco-funk surge of “Cream on Chrome”, the Brooklynites go back to form, slicing and dicing complex arrangements stemming from a single sound blown to reconstructed shards. As a result, Magnifique captures Ratatat in all their dance floor-shaking ferocity, using every pluck of a guitar string like a cracked mirror, allowing them to reflect on every sound from different angles. It’s the sound of real musicians stuck on their own potency, building propulsive dance music that is a matter of both body and mind. –Lior Phillips

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Alabama Shakes Sound & Color36. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

From the first chime of Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes make it abundantly clear just how intertwined these two senses are. The listener starts out in between lush threads of vibraphone and tremolo, which hum and swirl into a fully realized quilt of texture and space. It’s an eclectic body of work, as much MC5 and Moon Safari as it is Superfly and Janis Joplin. When the Shakes broke out with 2012’s Boys & Girls, they were heralded as revivalists, champions of roots rock and R&B from their native South. But, for Brittany Howard, the term never fit. “I always knew we had so much more to offer musically. And it was exciting to have more time in the studio and to experiment and see where things would end up,” she explained in an interview with Vanity Fair earlier this year. Despite this, Sound & Color does not feel reactionary, but evolutionary, confirming the band as the torchbearers they have been all along. –Kevin McMahon

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deerhunter fading frontier Top 50 Albums of 201535. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

Some critics complained that Fading Frontier wasn’t weird enough for Deerhunter, not realizing that, when it comes to the music of Bradford Cox (and, to a lesser extent, Lockett Pundt), stability is the new weird. Serenity is the new weird. Relaxing at home with a dog is the new weird. I’ll admit, when I first saw that dog in the music video for “Snakeskin”, I assumed Cox was parodying the concept of folksy seclusion, never stopping to think that maybe he just likes lounging around an old, creaky house in his overalls. That’s what makes Fading Frontier as surprising and adventurous as Halcyon Digest or any of the other surreal high marks in Deerhunter’s catalog. It’s about settling down, even if that means swearing off sex, family, and your own traditional maleness, as the father does in opener “All the Same”. That may not be your version of happiness, but it’s definitely someone’s. And if you only pay attention to the music and not the lyrics, you get a more conventional idea of relaxation, from the dreamy tropicalia of “Living My Life” to the ’80s slow-dance of “Take Care”. Those titles are peaceful mantras to live by, too. –Dan Caffrey

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arca mutant album Top 50 Albums of 201534. Arca – Mutant

Nearly one year to the day, Venezuela’s Alejandro Ghersi (bka Arca) followed up his highly acclaimed debut, Xen, with the equally demanding Mutant. Growing up in a self-proclaimed bubble, and with initial difficulties claiming his sexuality, Arca’s tortured electronics have continued to represent the mystery, complexity, and hard-fought comfort of adolescence in our current digital era. Much like life, one must challenge her/himself to discover the beauty buried beneath the tumult. On a personal journey of acceptance, this aural diary offers a moment of reflection for all those in a similar position: tracks like “Alive”, “Sinner”, and “Gratitud” exploring the true nature of those sensations in a way language simply cannot. We have all felt like mutants — those moments when we just don’t fit into our own skin, the conversation, or our pre-determined surroundings. By owning those eccentricities in the artistic form, Arca has developed a production palette that is uniquely his. An honest outlet that has been amplified with his well-deserved Kanye West associations. And by choosing his own journey, Arca finds new bliss, best exemplified by the down-tempo sway of “Else” and “Front Load”. Please heed the message. –Derek Staples

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Sun Kil Moon new album33. Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes

Mark Kozelek has become a reverse-butterfly, a majestic being who once delivered beauty and has now retreated back into his cocoon to become a caterpillar — furry, warted, and ponderous of the world around him. While that sometimes results in ugliness, it always results in honesty. And honesty will always be interesting. So if Sun Kil Moon’s latest, Universal Themes, is an open wound that faces mortality head-on, it’s a wound we can’t stop looking at (or listening to), whether Kozelek’s screaming himself hoarse about a sick friend or going into a spoken-word interlude that empathizes with a dying possum. When revisiting that second song, I’m reminded that every creature is valuable because every creature has to fight for its life. So maybe some caterpillars are beautiful after all, just like some butterflies have to survive by eating shit. On Universal Themes, Kozelek does both. –Dan Caffrey

Listen: Spotify

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UMO album32. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love

Most albums about marital infidelity assume a wounded, bitter stance. Unknown Mortal Orchestra see no reason not to throw a dance party about it. The band’s third album is their most concrete and personal, as frontman Ruban Nielson parses his whirlwind polyamory to sticky disco beats. Nielson produced and mixed the entire album — his first time doing so — and its consistency in tone allows his voice and lyrics to push to the forefront. He’s conveniently got one hell of a story to tell while he’s at it. Multi-Love tells of brilliant, life-saving affection that also has the potential to break your mind if you’re not careful with it. Now that open relationships and polyamory are increasingly encroaching on the mainstream, UMO have made one hell of an ode to unconstrained devotion outside the hetero-monogamy model. And with the slamming “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”, they’ve also made one of the least corny tunes about cell phones in recent memory. Anxiety never sounded so fun. –Sasha Geffen

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Bell Witch new album31. Bell Witch – Four Phantoms

Four Phantoms is an album with presence. Or presences, rather. Here, the Seattle-based funeral doom duo Bell Witch have crafted four deeply haunting ghost stories that each detail the purgatorial plight of some tortured spirit caught within the natural elements of earth, fire, water, and air. Each engrossing visitation is filled with eternal sorrow, and with such atmosphere laid thickly throughout thanks to some heavy instrumentation and bone-chilling vocals, it is difficult to let this album remain independent of your thoughts. In our review earlier this year, we compared Four Phantoms to a paranormal experience, and that still rings true as no other album this year has maintained such a haunting quality. The stories of misery and loss evoke feelings of the inability to escape and, frighteningly enough, no desire to do so. With track lengths over 10 minutes, and two at twice that, Bell Witch’s purgatory becomes comforting in a way that you’d rather give up the ghost and join the spirits presented therein. –Sean Barry

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