Top Albums and Songs of 2015 (Sam List)

Inspired by Todd and a really great year for music, I’m coming out of hibernation with my tops of 2015…

Top Albums

Jamie xx In Colour (Young Turks)
I figured this collection of dancefloor etudes wouldn’t hold up to repeat listens but here I am, on the last day of the year, still unable to shake the hooks from my head.

Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment Surf (self-released)
A remarkably eclectic and powerful album. The fact you don’t see any of the guest stars credited in song titles tells you everything you need to know about how this “experiment” fared.

Protomartyr The Agent Intellect (Hardly Art)
Riveting post-punk from Detroit; kinda like Interpol without the pretense.

Young Guv Ripe 4 Luv (Slumberland)
Ben Cook set out to satirize bands like Cheap Trick, Big Star, Marshall Crenshaw, etc. only to end up creating a completely epic power pop album of his own.

Jose Gonzalez Vestiges and Claws (Mute)
I respect Jose’s absolute commitment to the whispery folk formula that made him famous, especially when it produces a gorgeous album like this one.

Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
Like Jose, Sufjan keeps doing his thing and it keeps getting better.

Thundercat The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam (Brainfeeder)
Yearning, confident, proggy, funky – like nothing else out there.

Colleen Captain of None (Thrill Jockey)
An art album that plays like a pop record.

Kamasi Washington The Epic (Brainfeeder)
I may be the only so-called music snob who thought Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was just okay (or is that just me being extra snobby?) – but if the Kendrick Lamar phenomenon means former studio musicians like Kamasi see more sunshine, I’m all about it.

Beirut No No No (4AD)
Even a B+ record from Beirut will make my top 10.

Top Songs

Young Fathers “Shame” (Big Dada)
Nosaj Thing feat Chance the Rapper “Cold Stares” (Innovative Leisure/Timetable)
Baio “Sister of Pearl” (Glassnote)
The Arcs “Stay In My Corner” (Nonesuch)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” (Jajaguwar)
Lonelady “Groove It Out” (Warp)
Bicep “Just” (K7)
Swervedriver “Last Rites” (Cobraside)
Spectres “Where Flies Sleep” (Sonic Cathedral)
Beliefs “Tidal Wave” (Hand Drawn Dracula)
Low “What Part of Me” (Sub Pop)
Helen “Motorcycle” (kranky)
Four Tet “Morning Side” (Text)
William Alexander “Strangest Things” (Yellow K)
Open Mike Eagle feat MC Paul Barman & Milo “Trickeration” (Mello Music)

My Brightest Diamond

Ypsilanti, Michigan, usually has trouble measuring up to its neighbor to the north, Ann Arbor. The bar and restaurant scene is less vibrant, the clubs a bit dirtier, and Eastern Michigan University is no U of M, period. The brightest spot, perhaps, is Materials Unlimited, a salvage shop extrordinaire, filled with eclecticism and rare gems. And so, the analogy should be obvious — the music of former Ypsi-kid Shara Worden, a.k.a. My Brightest Diamond, is like something out of the finest architectural antique shop. Her stylized and orchestrated pop experiments are structured compositions, full of nuance, and her voice reflects he Pentecostal church choir childhood. Too bad for Ypsilanti she moved to New York. Her debut ablum on Asthmatic Kitty, Bring Me The Workhorse, comes out August 22nd.

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Shapes and Sizes

Victoria is a charming London in miniature (even the police sirens have that European wail rather than the standard North American whistle) carved into the brilliant and wet wilds on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The subtexts for the city, if you’re into that kind of thing, abound: a bite-sized cosmopolis carved into the heart of darkness, a town with the will of a city, a beachhead in the Garden of Eden. Shapes and Sizes are fantastic at finding that subtext, whether they’re trying or not. They hit rhythms and mimic styles like urbane pros, but they experiment like small-town kids with only themselves as inspiration. “Wilderness” lumbers along like a pessimistic comedian, hinging itself on a medley of downer horns, a charmingly amateur chorus of whistles, and the line “Susan, you can’t be tribal leader ‘coz your personality’s wrong.” It provides the perfect segueway to the melancholy opening (but not so down that it can’t hold a few handclaps!) to “Island’s Gone Bad,” but halfway through a party breaks out to the exuberant shout “I like eating fruit off of trees when I’m with you!” Aw shucks, guys, the feeling’s mutual.

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While he may share the same record label as pop revivalist Sufjan Stevens, Castanets’ mainman Raymond Raposa creates a space of his own with what his bio calls “mutant country” — somber tales of heartbreak spread over wonderfully sparse, ecclectic instrumentation. Let those slow embers burn and keep your days warm and hopeful (those who have already started to see snowflakes swirl in the air know what I’m talking about).

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A playful, boy/girl pop duo from San Diego backed by members of area scene stars: Pinback, Black Heart Procession, Rocket From the Crypt, and Castanets. This is a band who, in the album credits, refers to drums as “boomkadittles” and bass and guitar as “thunderstick” and “lightenin’ stick” respectively. Not sticklers for spelling, but sticklers for something much more important: making music that makes you laugh and dance and in the case of the ending of “Yes/No,” check outside your windows for UFOs.

Continue reading “Bunky”