25 | Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Born in Fort Worth Texas, 25 year-old Leon Bridges went from washing dishes to opening for Sharon Van Etten and being signed by Columbia Records in the span of two years. An Otis Redding-like throwback to 60’s soul, Coming Home feels warm, nostalgic and inviting. Smooth and soulful, the title track “Coming Home” really shows off his vast knowledge of classic soul music, and throughout the rest of the record as well. With tons of natural talent, a great recording & production house, and a debut album gaining more and more traction by the day, I hope we’ll see more of Leon Bridges in the future.
24 | Mac DeMarco – Another One
DeMarco is a weird guy, from the twang of his guitar that’s always a bit out of tune, to his “I can pretty much sing” vocal attitude. His material is so innocent – songs about young love and break-ups, but his personality is that of a guy who offers up $0.69 as a grand prize to his cover contest and calls his style of music, “jizz jazz.” It’s hard to take anything he does seriously. Nonetheless, I really enjoy this record, so it’s a conflicting feeling, but in all actuality, really not that conflicting. There’s been plenty of musicians making great music who are even odder than DeMarco. Ozzy Osbourne ate bats on stage for god sakes. He’s the kind of guy to not only name his record Another One, but then follow it up with Another Two. As far as we know, that’s not the name of his next record, but the point is that I wouldn’t put it past him, and that’s what I like about him.
23 | Ghostface Killah & BadBadNotGood – Sour Soul
There’s just something about Ghostface Killah’s voice that makes it seem like it was made for rap. His flow is so controlled, and the collaboration with Toronto outfit BadBadNotGood’s “70’s gloom funk/jazz” was a perfect fit to lay under Ghostface Killah’s vocals and bring him back to what he does best. Ghostface Killah, now at age 44, draws away from the girls and glocks, and talks more about his mortality and actually shows some maturity. As Josh Kennedy of Billboard put it, “age can wear you down, but Ghost remains as strong as ever.” The presence of BadBadNotGood and some show-stealing guest verses from MF Doom & Elzhi are reason enough to face the prospect of Ghostface in second gear.
22 | The Dead Weather – Dodge & Burn
The Dead Weather is what the music industry calls a “supergroup,” with Alison Mosshart (of the Kills) on lead vocals, Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs bassist, as well as the bassist for City & Colour), Dave Fertita (The Raconteurs guitarist, and Queens of the Stone Age guitarist/keyboardist), and Jack White (of The White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and Third Man Records fame) playing drums. White’s presence and impression on Mosshart is undeniably active, and the driving force of The Dead Weather. Hell, Mosshart even sounds like him. His influence on The Dead Weather dominates most of the record, from the guitar licks, to the hard hitting drums, to the ridiculous insensible lyrics. The mesh of White and Mosshart seems to be a perfect meet-up.
21 | Gary Clark Jr. – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
For someone most people I’m sure aren’t too familiar with, Gark Clark Jr. has been around for longer than you might think, he just hasn’t been the main attention. Playing guitar for acts like B.B. King, Foo Fighters, Sheryl Crow, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and Dave Matthews Band, it wasn’t until he played for Alicia Keys and her tweet about his upcoming new album Blak & Blu, that Gary Clark Jr. took the spotlight for himself for a change, as well as his signage with Warner Bros. Records. But that was all back in 2012, and while Blak & Blu proved to those that didn’t already know that he was a fantastic guitar player, it didn’t necessarily pull through on the songwriting aspect of the material as well. This is where, three years later, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim prevails. Gary Clark Jr. shows us he has more to prove than being a fantastic guitar player, something he never had to do, but one that I’m glad he did.
20 | Bjork – Vulnicura
On Vulnicura, Bjork’s 9th studio album, she details her relationship and break up with her long-term boyfriend, and her raw lyrically style is coupled with classic Bjork orchestration and hard hitting drum rhythms. On her official Facebook page, Bjork posted a statement that described the album, something she could do way better that I could: “I guess I found in my lap one year into writing it a complete heartbreak album…. First I was worried it would be too self indulgent but then I felt it might make it even more universal. Hopefully the songs could be a help, a crutch to others and prove how biological this process is: the wound and the healing of the wound, psychologically and physically. It has a stubborn clock attached to it, but there is a way out.”
19 | Oddisee – The Good Fight
After some research into who he is, and after listening to the record, I truly do believe more people should know who Oddisee is. He’s got great ideas, he’s a clean rapper, he’s from the Washington D.C. area, and his material for The Good Fight is all songs on love, the industry, socially conscious efforts, and it’s all got heart to it. Not to mention the backing music and drums, which is jazzy and has a real nice groove to it. The only problem is, out of all the albums on this list, this’ll probably be the one that no one had heard of. Check it out, Oddisee – The Good Fight, it deserves the recognition.
18 | Czarface – Every Hero Needs A Villain
Czarface, the Brooklyn rap trio of Inspectah Deck (of the Wu-Tang Clan), 7L & Esoteric, formed along the method’s of MF Doom’s Operation Doomsday, Mm.. Food, & Ghostface Killah’s Iron Man, to make comic character sampled, boom-bap produced, hip-hop. “The whole Czarface thing was supposed to be a hero to save Hip Hop,” said Inspectah Deck, “I really don’t think there were a lot of goals or things like that. For me right now, it’s taking off better than anticipated because I guess I underestimated the people’s need to hear something worth listening to.” Groups like these make rap seem easy, and most importantly, as evident on Every Hero Needs A Villain, fun.
17 | Joey Bada$$ – B4.Da.$$
Joey is surprisingly young, about the same age as I am. Throughout his career thus far, being part of Pro Era, and gaining traction off of rapping over beats made famous by J Dilla and MF Doom, he’s been kind of either loved or panned by music listeners. Turning himself into a real serious project, he released B4.Da.$$ in January of this year and his wordplay, comparable to abstract lyricists like Jay Electronica, Common, and Talib Kweli, remains integral to his approach. He might be young, but backed up by a focused flow and beats that give Bada$$ the freedom to run amok, whether you’re a fan of his vintage-yet-new style or not, he won’t be just another fleeting MC.
16 | Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
“It’s an interesting album because it’s a transition,” says Lupe Fiasco, the now 32 year-old rapper, “I’m much more mature in my representation in public. I’m not as relevant as I was before. I think I had my peak and now I am coming down in relevancy. It’s not a sad thing for me. I don’t want to be the go-to guy for the club song or to speak on all the dumb shit that’s going around. I’m happy being that somewhat sophisticated, overly deep weird guy making powerful music — but just two or three degrees away from the center of attention.” Humbling as it is, it still takes nothing away from the power, talent, awe, and performance Lupe Fiasco still commands in 2015. Known for being one of the best socially conscious rappers inventively and lyrically, Lupe said in an interview earlier this year, that what inspired Tetsuo & Youth, was a moment when two teachers came up to him and said, “We are grading essays about your music and teaching you in our class,” and Lupe thought, “Oh maybe I do have a little more fight, a little more gas in the engine.”
15 | EL VY – Return to the Moon
EL VY is the project of Matt Berninger of the National, one of my favorite bands of all time, and Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls & Menomena). This record is a weird project where Berninger can be more of a nerdy goof than he normally is in the National. What might be defined as “lounge rock,” the record has a kind of a wearily traveler who’s really into creepy harpsichord-like synths and blues progressions vibe. Tracks like “Silent Ivy Hotel,” my favorite track on the record, pretty much epitomizes that whole EL VY sound, which is an interesting turn of digital synth use that Berninger has never experienced with the National. If you like the National, you’ll probably like EL VY, and if you like just listening to new records, you might like EL VY.
14 | Beirut – No No No
Despite previously loving only two or three songs per album, I actually am a big fan of Beirut, the solo-project -turned-band of Zach Condon, whose real name I didn’t even have to look up (see I’m a fan!). No No No is mainly a minimalist project, with the horn flourishes filling up the rest of the arrangements and really giving it that Beirut feel. At 29 minutes long, No No No is very susceptible to barely be considered a full album, and while there’s no #1 hits, or huge vocal breakout performance (none of that stuff that modern day pop or radio friendly exec.’s look for), No No No does has a very unique and fantastic sound that’s throughout all nine tracks. Surprisingly enough, No No No is the first Beirut record that I’ve really enjoyed all the way through.
13 | Adele – 25
While it would have been a good pun to place this at the 25 spot, it wouldn’t have done the record the justice it deserved. At around 4.2 million album sales now, Adele is a tour de force unlike no other. It’s been four years since 21 was released and it still feels like the songs are only a year or two behind us. She’s won pretty much every award that she’s been nominated for since 2012, and her last album, 21, is only one of two records to ever be the highest selling record of the year two years in a row; the other record being Thriller by Michael Jackson. Tackling similar themes as 21, Adele deals with heartbreak, and having to say goodbye to past lovers, with the vocal intensity she’s always been known to deliver. Maybe the best track on the record, the fantastic “All I Ask,” written by Bruno Mars, seemingly draws inspiration from Grease’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and Shirley Bassey Bond Themes, while also possibly showing Adele’s greatest vocal delivery yet.
12 | Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
The best way to describe the mindset of Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett would be “ambivalent”. Releasing her first studio album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, Barnett is reminiscent of the wit of Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch with the grunge influence and album name wit of Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan. In an article for the New York Times, Britt Daniel, of the band Spoon, had said: “There’s something about the way she sings where I feel like I know that person, just from her inflection… her songs are fairly simple in their construction, and they’re carried by her lyrics, the way she finds humor in the mundane. When she sings, you can see the rhythm of her language, the way it expresses her personality. And it wouldn’t be right if it were all exactly on pitch.”
11 | The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd, is another example of internet triumph – the idea that you can post a song on the internet somewhere, someone high up will find it, promote it, and make you famous. Posting three songs to YouTube in 2010 with nothing but album artwork and a name, “The Weeknd,” these tracks were then featured on a blog run by the OVO Camp, Drake’s people, and then subsequently received coverage from Pitchfork, because of their One Direction-like Drake fan-girl obsession. The thing with The Weeknd is that it’s so unabashedly un-apologetic. He knows exactly what he’s doing, never ashamed, never thinking it was wrong – it’s just his life. On Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd starts to self-reflect, and it’s kind of a huge breakthrough for him. And that’s what is so great about Beauty Behind the Madness; not that “Can’t Feel My Face” is a great song, that’s he’s trying out a more pop sound, that The Weeknd is becoming huge, or that he’s got some Fifty Shades of Grey song, but that it’s the first time we really see him try to evolve emotionally.
10 | The Internet – Ego Death
Syd the Kid and Matt Martians, members of Odd Future, formed The Internet back in 2011, and their debut album, Purple Naked Ladies, was the first release for Odd Future Records. Originally, the band was profiled due to Syd tha Kid’s lyrics and sexual orientation, but while the singer is, “totally supportive of the movement,” she never meant or wanted to be considered a “gay icon.” “It’s flattering,” she says, “but I want people to love me for my music.” Although Ego Death isn’t supposed to be all about Syd’s sexual orientation, the album is definitely full of songs about love and lust. Synth sound walls galore, Ego Death is very chill and Syd the Kid’s vocals are a perfect fit for the style and feel very natural. The Internet have always had a particular sound, utilizing Odd Future boom-bap style distorted drums in new-wave R&B music, and here on Ego Death, they do it as seamlessly as they always have.
08 | The Arcs – Yours, Dreamily,
The Arcs is essentially Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, their touring bassists, Richard Swift (who plays drums on this record), and Nick Movshon, the guy who played bass on Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” as well as some other people I’ve never heard of. When it all comes down to it, with the main presence of vocals and songwriting from Auerbach, as well as two other members used to playing with him on tour with The Black Keys, The Arcs is basically just a Black Keys record minus drummer Patrick Carney. “I just wanted to do my thing,” says Auerbach, “I wanted everything to flow, be cohesive. A lot of the songs bleed one into the other, a lot like the Grateful Dead – my favorite records that they did. So I’ve got a lot of connected songs. It’s basically everything I love about music all wrapped up into one record – that’s all!” The recordings are incredibly crisp sounding, as expected from 2013’s Grammy Award winner for Producer of the Year. But the real winner of the Arcs’ Yours, Dreamily, is that there’s something about Dan Auerbach’s voice that just works for me, just fits into whatever my brain chemistry is where I hear it on a track with Jack White-esque guitar licks that just clicks right. And I don’t think I’m alone on that.
07 | Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Alabama Shakes is a real “band”. I was just about to give up on rock music’s return, Brittany Howard’s wind-up screech leading into the hard panned guitars of “Don’t Wanna Fight,” had me stepping back from cursing EDM and the year 2015. The sound Howard makes kind of hurts a bit. It starts at the top of your head and kind of slowly moves down to the bottom of your stomach until the guitar lines kick back in. As oddly placed as the winding screech is, it’s straight up rock n’ roll. And that’s what I love best about Sound & Color, that Alabama Shakes was able to grow as a band and really shed away any doubts or misgivings I had toward them and really deliver a solid album. The rest of Sound & Color continues to be very diverse; and still solidly so.
06 | Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf
The Social Experiment is a jam band. With Chance fading back into the group’s ranks, and the lack of featuring’s listed on the original tracklist, Surf isn’t about spotlighting artists or trying to follow-up Acid Rap. The ideas and lyrics residing on Surf encompass a comfortable environment and the kind of joy that comes with getting together with all your friends and loved ones and just enjoying life. On the other side is the inner comfort finding Social Experiment, which switches right after “Slip Slide,” into “Warm Enough,” with music stylings sounding like if Andrew Bird got into Hip-Hop (not a bad idea…). Surf isn’t the kind of album to be socially aware, or mind blowingly inventive, past providing the soundtrack to a great summer. Surf is a feel-good, comforting record, and an extremely enjoyable listen from beginning to end.
05 | Tame Impala – Currents
Currents is more electronic and digital than their last record, seemingly drawing inspiration from the more lush tracks off Daft Punk’s Discovery and most of Phoenix’s discography. Currents is all about change; from the altered-genre and Parker’s desire to hear Tame Impala music in dance clubs and more commercial radio, to the lyrical content, which centers around the process of personal transformation. Regardless if it’s actually a breakup record or not, the main theme of personal transformation is enough to be able to fully connect to the lyrics of the record. And that exact ability is the reason than Currents is such a fantastic record. Not because Kevin Parker can write Panda Bear / Beach Boys – esque pop hooks and choruses, or because the sound of Parker putting a phaser effect on the whole track, even the drums, their signature unique sound which comes back on track 8, “Past Life,” but because the lyrics and themes of Currents are universally relatable, and the previous two reasons certainly help as well.
04 | Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
Amid heartbreak and disillusionment, Tobias sits at the piano and sings with honesty and innocence, seeming wise beyond his years, with a McCartney-like propensity towards melody and a Randy Newman/Billy Joel style of chord progression and balladeer vocal tendencies. “In L.A., I was doing it for success,” he says, “I wanted to be in the studio writing songs for pop artists. But that time in L.A. was also like a wake-up call that that’s not going to happen. Everything came down to a point where I was like, ‘I’m not that guy! I’m the guy that makes those guys coffee, and that’s that.’ And my record is about exactly that: Los Angeles and failing and a breakup. Shortly after, Tobias found himself writing the songs he always wanted to. Not for “success,” like he strove for in L.A., but for him this time. A therapeutic and honest work from a young heartbroken man with nothing to lose. The result is Goon, a beautiful and heartbreaking yet simultaneously heartwarming debut, that makes simplicity seem so dense and powerful.
03 | Kamasi Washington – The Epic
At age 34, Kamasi Washington has come a long way from Inglewood, California, where he then studied saxophone and ethnomusicology at UCLA. The record, called The Epic, is a jazz, quote-on-quote “epic,” amassing a total of three discs and three hours worth of music, joined by a band notably of Thundercat on bass, Grammy Award winner Ronald Bruner Jr., Thundercat’s older brother, on drums, and amazing instrumentalists that deserve the attention for their insane performances like Cameron Graves on piano and Igmar Thomas on trumpet, not to exclude Kamasi himself on tenor saxophone. We’ve always just done whatever we want to do,” says Kamasi, “you’re gonna get what we have in our hearts to give. I think that’s important.” The artists here on The Epic are insanely intelligent and masterful at their instruments and craft and for anyone looking to get interested in jazz or already enjoy jazz, The Epic is a fantastic fast-paced mind-fuck of creation and amazement. I honestly sat mouth agape during 80% of the record.
02 | Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Kendrick brings to rap a story, personality, truth, and a message. Kendrick Lamar did the impossible in 2015: follow-up Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. On To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar’s 3rd release, he is once again the narrator; haunted by his past and the events described to us in Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, Kendrick deals with his new life and must find himself again. “Wesley’s Theory,” the opener, details the new emotions and struggles that followed him from Compton. “To Pimp A Butterfly,” meaning both, that Kendrick has risen as a butterfly from his cocoon, the transition from his caterpillar-state of Compton, and that black artists are being “pimped” by the record industry, and not showing their true beauty, creativity, and message, but instead falling into the stereotypes of rap, To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t just a black pride album, it’s also focused on the effects that Kendrick’s past and new life have had on him.
“It’s thought-provoking — and I miss that in music,” said frequent collaborator, Bilal. Equal parts black pride and self discovery, To Pimp A Butterfly was incredibly powerful and honestly, important. Kendrick puts meaning to his music, and his incredible mind for flow and intensity is always surprising and yet refreshing at the same time. I have no idea where he’ll go next, but what I do know is that I sure as hell won’t ever doubt him again.
01 – Album of the Year | Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
What makes an album cute, cliche, corny, cheesy? Is it the title? The lyrics? The theme? How does Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, drummer for Fleet Foxes, release an album named, I Love You, Honeybear, about his newly married wife, and perfectly blend the corny-ness with deep, interesting music? He’s in love, don’t get me wrong, but lyrically, he expresses concern, as any anxious or worried individual would ponder about the unknowing future, hoping it all works out great from here on. I Love You, Honeybear is really sweet. The album is musically huge, instrumentation wise. Tillman is a great storyteller, and it’s very warm and welcoming. It’s raw, real, personal, and emotional. On I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman turns what would have been a cheesy large orchestral singer-songwriter love-ballad concept album into an introspective and meaningful record that absolutely just kills me every time. Honestly, for every other list, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly should be on top, but personally, I Love You, Honeybear was such an important record for me at the time of its release that it became one of my favorite albums of all time. It had to be my #1 album of 2015.
Well that’s it for 2015 everyone! Hope you enjoyed this first real year of the Roseandblog, and here’s to a great second. If you have a Best of 2015 list you’d like to share, write it up and I’ll format it and post it to the Op-Ed section! See you in 2016!