The Greatest Albums, EPs, and songs of 2015
2015 was a spectacular year for music. I listened to more music this year than I have during any other time in my life. I was overwhelmed by the quality, the emotional depth, and the innovation of artists across genres. There’s far more good shit than I can outline here. When I usually write things like this, I worry that it will disproportionately favor releases from later in the year that are more fresh on my mind or that it will not accurately reflect my listening habits. In this case, neither of those things are true. This is, perhaps, the most accurate “best of” list I’ll ever make in terms of reflecting what I actually listened to throughout the year.
Oh, and this also seemed like the year where everyone started talking shit on making best of lists. Enjoy.
Sicko Mobb - Super Saiyan Vol. 2
Generally, the kind of music I listen to is for a person of a specific disposition. Sicko Mobb’s second Super Saiyan mixtape, topping my end of the year list, is no exception. The manic “drill” (I guess — I’m not a scholar here) subgenre is not for everyone. Still, the most important thing about this record is every time I hear it I feel fucking incredible. A hybrid style of singing and rapping, autotune, and lyrics that are outrageous beyond my wildest imagination are all on my bucket list for a good rap record. Sicko Mobb delivers. And they delivered me through a year of emotional turmoil. Top marks. Standout tracks include “Drugs In Me,” “Own Lane,” “Trending Topic,” and “80s”.
Peewee Longway - The Blue M&M Vol. 2
I’m not a complicated person, so if a predictable pattern begins to emerge about the records I like, that is by design. Longway, like Trav and Ceno of Sicko Mobb, Longway is good at delivering arresting lines with melodic cadence. From there, however, Longway departs from any other rapper I’ve heard this year reaching heights only previously achieved by Future’s Pluto. Longway’s lines in the chorus of “No Squares,” alone, make this a perfect release. High profile features propel the listener through this mixtape and well-advised iconography of the blue M&M really draws a person in. Don Draper, eat your heart out.
tofubeats - Positive
tofubeats enjoys the rare honor of being an artist that dropped two classic albums back to back. While First Album (great name, guy) showcases tofubeats as a fan of all genres of electronic music, a true student of the game, Positive has tofubeats exploring a more consistent and self-defined style. tofubeats is the antibody to the lazy, formulaic j-pop production that luminaries (or, if you will, semi-annoying old fogies) like DJ Taku have complained about in recent years. A lot of samples of clapping, electric guitars, and weird noises really make this record stand out. Oh, and Skylar Spence flexing on the legendary track “Without U.”
Kamasi Washington - The Epic
As a truly not-knowledgeable person who sometimes delivers opinions on music out of habit and hubris, I’m immediately attracted to the ego of an artist who names their record The Epic. I don’t have the right vocabulary to describe the complexities of this album, but I can say Washington wrote a Real Jazz™ record. No pretend shit. The Epic seems to dance between styles and flirt with a format right before changing things up. One of the more outstanding features of the album is how exquisitely the tracks are ordered. “Miss Understanding” really gets the blood pumping, and closing with an arrangement of “Clair de Lune” is pretty fucking moving.
Purity Ring - Another Eternity
Sometimes when I am doing something, usually something creative, I get this weird feeling. It’s not really particularly pleasant. It’s like something is tugging on a loose thread of my brain and pulling and pulling and won’t stop until the project is finished. I rarely get that feeling when listening to music, but that’s how Another Eternity makes me feel. It’s filled with lyrics that are simple yet call for complicated thought and sounds that sound oddly familiar placed into an alien context. It’s an album that is always its best, whether the beats sound like they could be for a rap record or beamed to Earth from a spaceship. I listened to this shit so much this year that I actually got nervous when I realized I was up on it when it came out and I would have to review it in some capacity. I guess I did okay.
Drake & Future - What A Time To Be Alive
I gotta admit, I didn’t like this joint that much when it first dropped. I felt like I was listening to a bunch of Future b-sides where Drake hopped on every track. That goes to show how wrong first impressions can be. Even at my most charitable early listens, I thought to myself: “‘I’m the Plug’ sucks.” But I’m listening to that shit right now and it’s good. When you pair Metro Boomin and Future, a certain sound comes through and it causes many listeners to hear what you expect and not what is actually there. But Drake gets to be his Drake-y-est on “Scholarships,” “Plastic Bag,” “Change Locations,” and (obviously) “30 for 30”. There’s a lot of feelings lurking beneath the surface of this album and it deserves to be approached with fresh ears.
Capsule - Wave Runner
Yasutaka Nakata enjoys a rabid fan following primarily because of his production for Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Capsule, however, is where he cut his teeth. It’s the only project in which he considers himself a member and performs with, despite being the sole producer for both Perfume and KPP. Capsule, historically, has stuck pretty close to the sound of Perfume and KPP. However, Nakata departs from that convention with this album in favor of another — American “EDM”. Zedd and Nero can drop records all day and they’d never be as hot as this. Nakata is a master of his craft, and if he’s making shit that sounds like American electronic music he might as well be doing a public service.
Negicco - Rice&Snow
I actually wrote about the first single off this record, “Triple! Wonderland,” last year. I called it one of the best songs of all time, so it only makes sense the record that it leads into is superlative. This is classic j-pop for the OG heads, with very little hip-hop, R&B, or electronic music influence to be found. Well, except that that one song, “Futari No Yuugi,” that channel’s disco in a similar fashion to Daft Punk’s Discovery. Actually, things do get kind of funky later in the album, with moments where it’s more Halcali or Vanilla Beans than Morning Musume. The style is life-affirming, there are a lot of pianos, violins, and children’s toys to be heard, and there’s probably a sick ass dance that goes along with every track.
Justin Bieber - Purpose
At this point, it’s pretty redundant to talk about how good of a record this is. Everyone is in agreement. But you know, it’s a little bit annoying for long time Justin Bieber fans. Annoying in the way that it was annoying for me to be mocked endlessly for reading A Song of Ice and Fire and then when the fuckin TV show came out… well, everyone knows how this story ends. But, still, this album is the shit. It might not be better than Journals, but it’s pretty damn good. I could make all the predictable Michael Jackson comparisons but it’s pretty hard to feel sympathetic for people who are rich and famous. Maybe not the best strategy, Justin. But I’ve never been a fan because I liked him as a person, I’m a fan of the art. “No Sense” is the sleeper hit. Why isn’t that a single? A question for the ages. Oh yeah, you all heard Travis Scott’s Rodeo? That shit was pretty good too.
Father - Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First
When I put that Jeremih and Shlohmo record on my list last year, I wrote this long anecdote about a specific sexual encounter but decided that would be too explicit, so I replaced it with something really boring about “sensual R&B.” I think Father would be really upset to have his record described in that way, so I’m not going to do that. But I’m not going to talk about my sex life, either. I guess if you put Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First up next to Bryson Tiller’s T R A P S O U L, they are two albums uniquely suited for engaging in particular types of activities. Besides the fact that Father is a rapper and Tiller is a singer, they describe two different dispositions toward sex. So what I’m saying is, these albums are mirrors where one might find their self reflected… sexual mirrors.
No Tolerance - You Walk Alone
A lot of people think straight edge hardcore is pretty one dimensional. But I’ve never agreed with that. Floorpunch addresses a lot of different topics. Friendship, one’s community, personal choice, and proportionate reprisal for wrongdoing. Twin Killing might as well be an ethical treatise. But, You Walk Alone isn’t about any of that. Nor does it really sound too much like Floorpunch. For me, this record captured specific feelings I’ve had about being straight edge at different moments in time. Also, the songwriting which is at various times parts Brotherhood, YOT, and Confront (among other things) is unreal. I’ve always thought hardcore was a genre ill suited to the LP, but I’ll set You Walk Alone next to Twin Killing as two of the greatest long sequences of straight edge hardcore songs (because Twin Killing is a CD comp of previous material — but still adequately serves my analogy) to come out since the 1980s.
Dempagumi.inc - WWDD
Time is a flat circle… or some shit. So to close the list of long records, it’s nice to have an album that is so generically dissimilar to Sicko Mobb and yet draws from an identical emotional palette. Dempagumi.inc plays a genre of music called “Dempa” which is best left to readers to research themselves. However, I will concede that this album could probably go on one of those Guantanamo music torture lists. Many friends who ride in cars with me can attest to its efficacy in that regard. This album is upbeat to a fault and obscenely catchy. But for people who keep cinematic sounding anime openings from the 80s and 90s on rotation, this album is worth checking out.
ILoveMakonnen - ILoveMakonnen 2
When this record dropped, I was compulsively reloading Makonnen’s Instagram in a car with my friends listening to WWDD. Thank Apple Music that I was able to listen to it immediately. There are very few albums with the power to move me so deeply in the presence of my peers. They, too, were equally moved. I could write a book about how good this EP is, but I’ll try to stick to the highlights. Makonnen alternates between introspective tracks about lost love and upbeat club-intending joints about flipping all night and having a lot of money. “Flippin All Night” into “Being Alone with U” is the most explosive sequence of songs ever conceived. Both hit so hard in regards to their respective subject matters. I also really enjoy songs with signature onomatopoeia (see Speaker Knockerz: “skrrt”) so the “HUAGH” of “Where Your Girl At” really pushes the EP over the top. Once I was done listening to the album, a friend who had just done the same sent me a text that said, “life is a gift.” Yes, yes it is.
Tomggg - Butter Sugar Cream
This EP is another one I have a lot of difficulty describing. Maybe another predictable pattern of the music I like is it involves samples of weird noises that sound somewhat like various children’s toys. In this regard, Tomggg excels. Butter Sugar Cream is an accurate inventory of how this album sounds. The influence of hip-hop production is strong, but these songs have their roots in the Shibuya-Kei style of acts like Macdonald Duck Eclair, Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, and Strawberry Machine. Happy music to be happy to.
Dame - Charm School
Ugh, I have been dreading writing this one. Dame is a cool band because their fanbase has involved a bunch of people getting exposed to a type of music they’d never listen to and realizing they love it. Charm School is a good record for this purpose because the songwriting and lyricism are exquisite. As with Makonnen, sometimes I hear things and I find myself so stirred I just have to stop everything and take a deep breath to figure out what the hell is going on. That’s how I feel when I hear this. Uh… yeah… it’s good… listen to it.
Firewalker - Demo
One of the least surprising things in this random, apathetic universe is when a smart person who is in good bands and listens to good bands writes a bunch of songs that are really good. So, in that respect, Firewalker was probably the least surprising thing to come out this year. That is not to detract from how incredible of a demo this is, but merely to recognize my own incredible powers of foresight. I have a list of the greatest hardcore songs ever written, and alongside Warzone - “Face Up To It,” Unified Right - “Joke After Joke,” Crucifix - “Skinned Alive,” and Hoax - “Leech,” I put Firewalker - “Nothing Left”. Or maybe I should put “Sicker Than You”… or maybe “Scorcher”! I just can’t decide.
Exit Order - Exit Order
I like hardcore records with a good drum sound and crazy guitar tone and Exit Order really delivers on those fronts. Everything about this record is just perfectly executed and mixed, it really stands up to detailed scrutiny. The vocals are just dripping with the contempt and intensity that many fail to channel. I also really like the pick slide in “Begging.” Once, in my own band, our guitar player, a pathological pick borrower, got yelled at for doing a pick slide where the pick just so happened to split in two. I imagine that Exit Order recording probably sent a lot of picks to the rock n roll graveyard.
Zedd - “Done With Love”
Zedd is an adequate producer, but this song is really an opportunity for Jacob Luttrell to belt out some choice bars about the hope of mending the heart of a potential romantic partner. Among all the previous conditions I’ve mentioned that make a record hit for me, the most crucial is how it makes me feel. And boy does this track make me feel. Zedd does an admirable job here, though. The song is infectious, and the upbeat melody paired with the more melancholy lyrics make for a memorable mixture.
Drake - “S.O.Y.”
Drake has taken a lot of heat for the lyrical content of songs like “How About Now.” “S.O.Y.” is a leaked track along the same lines, about overwhelming success in the face of a naysaying ex lover. But you know, everyone needs songs like this from time to time. And doesn’t he have reason to be frustrated? After all, he was told he’d never be as big as Trey Songz and that he wasn’t as good as Ludacris! It’s true, “S.O.Y.” is a lot more low key than my other most listened to Drake tracks like “Legend,” “Know Yourself,” and “Preach” but something about the Jordan Vega feature really puts this on some “greatest of all time” shit. I can just feel myself cruising in that unspecified expensive car. Thanks, Drake.
ILoveMakonnen - “2 Phones”
You know what the definition of injustice is? The definition of injustice is when Drake releases a new song on OVOSound Radio, the entire internet fucking explodes and that shit is ripped onto youtube in five seconds… but when Makonnen drops a new song on the 11th installment of OVOSound Radio, nobody even fucking notices. I wish I could listen to this song more often without having to fucking search the entire OVOSound episode 11 bullshit and listen up until the point it comes on. This song is fucking good. What is wrong with people!?
Santigold - “Who Be Lovin Me”
I love when you can see a friendship between musicians unfold across a feature exchange. “Who Be Lovin Me,” then, is the sequel to Makonnen’s “Forever.” After Santigold’s magnanimous feature, Makonnen returns the favor for Santigold’s first LP in a minute due out in 2016. But thankfully, we get this beautiful glimpse into the future. Santigold and Makonnen send a message just like Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” If we out here making moves, there’s no time for the romantic dilly-dalliers.
Kero Kero Bonito - “Picture This”
I love taking photos with my phone. It’s a useful exercise to remember what I like and what I don’t. Brand names, restaurant dishes, articles of clothing, snack packaging. I can use these photos as touchstones to recall what I did on a given day. Considering how widespread my feeling is, it’s surprising that more songs like “Picture This” haven’t been written. Sarah raps her way through the virtues of snapping pics of anything and everything, although with a small touch of cautionary irony. Still, songs that let us revel in the quotidian things we like to do that our parents scoff at is important. But this is a song that also cautions people against living too much in the past. True artistry if I ever heard it.