OH MY GOD THANK YOU 2015 FOR TAKING MUSIC OUT OF THE RUT IT’S BEEN IN FOR THE PAST FIVE YEARS.
An unfair statement, yes, considering that 2013 was pretty good. Still, 2015 was phenomenal. I’d choose any album from the top five on this list over last year’s number one, and I feel that I’m not even through listening to the good stuff that came out this year.
This is the year all the greats seemed to return with a vengeance. Most of my list is populated by old favorites, and most of the first-timers are artists whose previous albums should have been included (*cough*Kendrick*cough*). There are major returns as well, including a reunion from one of my favorite bands of all time and the follow-up to my favorite album of all time. One of them is a dud, while one of them ends up at the top spot. Let’s do this.
10.Disclosure – Caracal This could actually be a pity vote, or a guilt vote, because I didn’t include Disclosure’s brilliant debut albumSettle in my 2013 list. Since then “Latch” has become my favorite song of the decade (so far), I’ve become a fan of the Lawrence brothers, and I even co-promoted their DJ set in Manila. Caracal is honestly more of the same, just with bigger collaborators including The Weeknd, Lorde and a post-Latch Sam Smith. Still, there’s no doubt that Disclosure is the real deal, and they prove it by producing, performing and singing Jaded, the album’s best single.
9.BP Valenzuela – The Neon Hour
FRIEND: Any good new local artists you can recommend?
ME: BP Valenzuela. She’s fantastic.
FRIEND: Really? What does she sound like?
ME: Hmmm. Parang… Debbie Gibson.
FRIEND: Fuck you.
ME: No! I’m serious!
The irony of it all is that I meant what I said wholeheartedly. There is a lot of Debbie Gibson in BP Valenzuela’s work. And Janet Jackson, and Mary J. Blige, and Grimes, and CHVRCHES, and Prefuse 73 and a plethora of the most interesting pop musicians of the past two decades. It takes a lot of discipline and talent to not only combine those influences, but sift through their idiosyncrasies and come out with something uniquely your own. At the age of 20, BP has already evolved so much from her days as the nervous, awkward garage musician. Kid’s got a bright future, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
8.Colleen Green – I Want to Grow Up This year two of my favorite 90s Alternachick acts, Veruca Salt and The Juliana Hatfield Three, came out with albums that were…OK. I almost gave up until I discovered someone who packed the punch they did in the 90s and was probably only in her tweens when it all happened: Colleen Green. The crunchy guitars, the dissonant double tracking, the adolescent angst are all present in catchy pop ditties like “I Want To Grow Up”, “Wild One” and “Things That Are Bad for Me”. Sometimes I wonder if my love for 90s girl-fronted alternative music was just a teenage phase. I’m glad Colleen Green exists to remind me that it wasn’t.
7.CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
For their sophomore effort Every Open Eye, CHVRCHES does everything that worked with their phenomenal first record The Bones of What You Believe (still easily my favorite album of the decade): simple structures, catchy choruses, upbeat mini-anthems. Why, then, is it not the masterpiece TBoWYB was? My guess is that the trio is aiming for profundity while staying on safe musical ground, thus losing simple-but-fun songs like “Lungs” or electronic jamfests like “Tether”. In other words, they’re treading dangerous Coldplay ground. They still are CHVRCHES, after all is said and done, and their uncanny gift of combining bad vintage pop and punk rock sensibilities to make great music is still heavily felt in songs like “Leave a Trace” and “Rise Above”. Especially of note is “High Enough to Carry You Over”, Martin Doherty’s best song yet.
6.Grimes – Art Angels Last year Grimes released a collaboration with Blood Diamond called “Go”. It was horrible: a weird, try-hard single that tried to keep the Grimes aesthetic but incorporate dubstep and EDM. At that point I pretty much gave up on Grimes, figuring she’d go the Avril/Jewel route and water down her music to get a bigger audience. My bad. Art Angels is definitely a more audience-friendly album than 2012’s Visions, but is totally, completely, 100% Grimes. It’s also a different side of the artist – instead of the ethereal soprano we’re used to, we see the videogame playing, cosplaying, Game of Thrones fangirl she so often appears as on social media. The coup-de-grace comes in the song “Realiti’, when she starts using THE SYNTH THAT WAS USED IN ALICE DEEJAY’S “BETTER OFF ALONE”. Grimes aka Claire Boucher is the most talented troll I know, and I will forever love her for it.
5.Tame Impala – Currents Tame Impala’s album Lonerism was another unfortunate omission from my 2012 top ten list. Over the years I’ve come to really appreciate that album and its psychedelic Beatles-esque vibe. Imagine, then, my disappointment when I first heard Currents – an album that leans more towards disco and soul than the crunchy classic rock the band is beloved for. I didn’t want to let another possible gem pass me by, however, and decided to give it a chance. Sure enough, much like Lonerism, Currents is one of those albums that just grows on you. Plus, despite its retro feel, there are touches of cutting-edge genius, like the filter/looping combo towards the instrumental of carrier single “Let it Happen” and the multitude of instruments at work in the simple-seeming romantic masterpiece “Eventually”.
4. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly In the wake of Trayvon Martin, Ferguson and #blacklivesmatter, it feels like rapping about bitches and guns simply isn’t enough anymore. Enter Kendrick Lamar, who wowed the world with his sophomore album Good Kid M.A.A.D City: an earnest, real and heartbreaking account of growing up in Compton. He follows this up with To Pimp A Butterfly: more experimental in style and grander in scope. With lyrics like “ 2015—Niggas tired of playin victim, dog … the history books overlook the word and hide it, America tried to make it to a house divided”, Kendrick is the rapper Hip Hop needs right now—a man who is not afraid to take today’s issues head on and digs through the history of black music to create a stunning and game changing opus. And hey, the bitches and hos are still there, but at least he raps about that spoken-word style accompanied by an awesome jazz soundtrack.
3.Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell Sufjan Stevens can get really epic and experimental, and when he does he just gets annoying. After the last two albums, 2009’sThe BQE and 2010’s The Age of Adz, I was ready to forget about my favorite living folk singer completely. And then came Carrie and Lowell, an intensely personal album about Stevens’s mother, her boyfriend post-divorce, and eventual death. Its sparse, minimalist tone echoes my favorite Sufjan Stevens album Seven Swans, but has enough electronic undertones to be more than just a throwback. Stevens also proves that he is still one of the best lyricists working today, with lines like “Spirit of my silence I can hear you, But I’m afraid to be near you, and I don’t know where to begin” or “Tell me what did you learn from the Tilamook burn, or the Fourth of July? We’re all gonna die,” repeating the phrase more and more somberly until the very end of the song Fourth of July. Carrie and Lowell is that rare record that speaks about faith and family, mortality and death; and leaves you kind of just sitting there, thinking about the bigger questions in life.
2.Jamie xx – In Colour The xx’s debut came out in 2009, and their follow up Coexist came out in 2012. Following that pattern, this year should have been the year the London trio released a third album. Instead, we get something even better in the form of member Jamie xx’s first solo record, In Colour. Being the only one who doesn’t sing, Jamie Smith is usually the most underappreciated member of the band, but in this record his musical genius shines. A big reason is that Jamie xx is allowed to veer away form the minimalist arrangements that the xx is known for, and play around with house, garage, trance, hip hop and even reggae. Plus, you have “Loud Places” sung by The xx’s Romy Madley-Croft, which is not only my single of the year but the best song The xx members have released since their first album six years ago.
1.Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love Almost ten years ago, when Sleater-Kinney broke up, I wrote an essay about how much I love the band and how influential they were to me not only as a musician, but as a person. When they announced their return and released their 8th album No Cities to Love last January, everyone knew that I already had my album of the year. I’m relieved to say that almost a year later I still can’t stop listening to it, and it still is my album of the year. No Cities to Love is far from the best of S-K’s catalog, but it is a formidable addition. It’s interesting to see how the dynamic has changed after Corin Tucker became a folk singer and full-time mom, Janet Weiss became the most in-demand indie rock drummer working today, and Carrie Brownstein became a radio host/actress/rockstar/novelist/Portlandian. There is a lot of looking back, as befits a band aware of their legacy and importance, but there is also a certain humbling and acceptance of age. “We win, we lose, only together do we break the rules,” Tucker sings in “Surface Envy”, while Brownstein acknowledges the importance of friendship and camaraderie over genres and movements in “A New Wave”: “No one here is taking notice, no outline will ever hold us; it’s not a new wave it’s just you and me.”
Hannah and Gabi’s Years Gone is sweet and melancholic and wistful. My only problem with it is that it’s too short and leaves you wanting more. Purity Ring’sAnother Eternity almost made it to the list, but I got tired of it as fast as I fell in love with it.
There are two more albums that should be in Honorable Mention, but considering how much I love the artists they are now delegated to…
DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE YEAR
Despite all the great albums we saw this year, 2015 was also the year for major disappointments. After 21 years The Juliana Hatfield Three have finally released a follow-up to my favorite album of all time, and it doesn’t even make the top 10 of 2015.
Also of note is the absence of Death Cab for Cutie, one of my favorite bands OAT. Their albums usually end up at the number one or two spot of the year (and even number one of the last decade), and this year’s Kintsugi is their first album that doesn’t see the list. Ah, well. Wala na si Wallah, so it’s fine.
TRACKS OF THE YEAR
Oh, God. I’ve become one of those “hey OK ang mga kanta ni Justin Bieber ngayon ha” people, and it shows with the presence of “Where Are You Now” and “What Do You Mean” on my top tracks of the year. In fairness to me, my list is the most eclectic it’s ever been, littered with indie rock (Sleater-Kinney, Grimes), dance (Jack Ü, Jamie xx), hip hop (Drake, Kendrick) and pop (Taylor Swift, Carly Rae). My single of the year is Jamie xx’s “Loud Places”, which is beautiful and worth putting on repeat if you haven’t yet.
MUSIC VIDEOS OF THE YEAR
The less you know about Tame Impala’s video for “The Less I Know The Better”, the better. Just watch it and let it happen. Also, good stuff on the urban front like Vince Staples’ video for Señorita and my fave, Rihanna’s Bitch Better Have My Money ❤ ❤ ❤
BEST LIVE BAND
St. Vincent. Oh my God St. Vincent.
I was able to catch Sleater-Kinney at the Palladium last year, and that show was amazing. They did “One More Hour”, and I shed quite a few tears that night.
Tame Impala was great. They make you feel like you’re on drugs even though you’re not on drugs. Also, that chick from Sylvan Esso can really dance.