2015 OP! Nerf 2015!!
Seriously, just look at part one... New releases from Heems, Panda Bear, Sufjan, Earl... Julia Holter, Lil Ugly Mane, and Hop Along making their best albums yet... In most other years, I'd be content with this alone! But no, that's just half, that's just the first half, like, it just gets better from here. Ridiculous. It's not like 2014 was particularly lacking, and 2016 is shaping up nicely (Blackstar and Heaven is a Place already, and SWISH approaching fast!) but 2015 was just nuts. Perhaps not since 2010 have we had a year this stacked. Thank whatever stars aligned to make it happen, and let's get into our top 7!
7. Dr. Dre - Compton
Okay, okay, of all the miracles of 2015, of all the prayers that finally went answered, the dreams that became reality, could anyone have predicted this? A new Dr. Dre album? After "Detox when???" had decayed into lameness, had sat in the dusty bin of dead memes with "Half Life 3 Confirmed" for like, a decade, after even the craziest conspiracy theories had become routine, after every leak was dissected to atoms and reassembled, after claims of planets-based symphonies and octuple-albums, ... it emerges! The followup to 2001! The lack of ceremony and sudden rebranding gave some people pause, including me... I thought maybe this was gonna be some "talking about my feelings", especially after seeing a tracklisting that concluded in "Talking to my Diary". It really seemed like it had every right to suck, to be the melodrama of "I Need a Doctor" extended over a dozen tracks, or to be some bland movie promotion, or cash grab, or...
Basically, I forgot about Dre. In retrospect, it seems obvious that he would never lose his edge, would never compromise on a musical project, really has no reason to do anything besides personal fulfillment... but I never imagined it could be this good! Like, how is it that his piano sound is still so much better than everyone else's? How has no one replicated it between "Still D.R.E." and "Darkside/Gone"? How is his bass so low, so heavy, and yet so crisp, so clean? Why can't anyone else make anything that sounds like "Genocide"?
Or how about the supporting cast? How did he get Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, The Game, and Ice Cube to rap like young hungry rappers with something to prove? How did he make rising stars Anderson .Paak and King Mez sound like confident vets? How did he get Kendrick to drop three verses of absolute fire, each hotter than... oh, wait, wait, that's the default for Kendrick now. But still, this is just beyond the pale. There isn't a single filler verse on the album, not even a filler line... And Dre himself goes hard too. It's telling that in a year where hip hop's biggest beef was about ghostwriters, still no one bothers to call out Dre's continual outsourcing of lyrics. The key is that he's still saying things that only he can say: 30 years in the game, the richest man in hip hop...
Really, this attitude is actually the power behind Dre's music - the willingness to gather the most talented people available and push them to the best of their ability, all to realize his vision. In this sense he's more like Dir. Dre than Dr... do you see? Director Dre? Ahh. It is this sort of lameness that is totally absent from his artistic landscape. Instead, there's a feeling of cinematic prowess, of things moving and shifting through not just sonic dynamics, but dramatic ones too... I mean, this is somewhat obviously the case, as he describes it as a "soundtrack", was inspired by the Straight Outta Compton movie, the album begins just like a movie would, with the first flourish and the narration... but it exerts itself in subtler ways, too. When Eminem shows up on "Medicine Man", the way of the beat shifts around him, it's like... you can picture the exact shot they'd use in the music video, right? The exact lighting, the exact angle, the exact timing of the pans and zooms, you can see it all so easily. That's the depth of realization of this project.
But what vision is it exactly that Dre wants to create? On one level, it's a tribute to everything Compton - from the hopscotch chalk to the body outlines, to paraphrase Cube. In this, it's like GKMC, but from a radically different perspective: one that's far above the streets, but can still see the path he paved from it. That narrative is compelling, too, and on another level this is mainly Dre's story of success. His constant reinforcement of the value of hard work is genuinely motivating, when you know you're hearing it from an actual billionaire. But, most importantly, it was to create an album of bangers, to make every track, every verse, every line exciting, to make it all addictively catchy and smoothed with the highest possible precision money and expertise can buy. It's an unqualified success.
Recommended tracks: Darkside/Gone, All In a Day's Work, Deep Water
6. Young Thug - Barter 6
Original Live Review
2013 was the year that brought us 1017 Thug, still his high water mark, and 2014 was indisputably his breakout, when "Stoner", "Lifestyle", and Tha Tour Pt 1 brought him to international prominence, 2015 but still ended up being Young Thug's pivotal year. Everything was stacked against him: feuds tearing apart YMCMB burnt bridges between him and some of his most potent collaborators, haters were ready to dismiss his successes as fluke memes, and Gucci Mane was still in jail. But now? Now, we live in an era where articles like this or this or this or this or even things like this aren't surprising or overkill but obligatory. And sure, lots of that was due to the unending stream of singles, the crossover hit Good Times, and his establishment of Slime Season as the definitive mixtape series of the year, but at the core of it was Barter 6.
Although maybe not actually an album (he seems to be reserving the album title for the oft-delayed HiTunes), Young Thug's first commercial project is his most complete and album-like release yet. He's traded some of his more extreme aspects for a consistency of sound and quality that allows total immersion in the cloudy world of Barter 6 for the duration. You know it from the first seconds of "Constantly Hating", that subdued, swirling melody. And then, from his first lines - "Hopped out the motherfucking bed, hopped in the motherfucking coupe", and the accompanying "skirrrrrrt" - you see a microcosm of everything Thugger, the rapper's rapper, the first one to really figure it out. If you don't get it, then "really what is it to do?".
It would be good enough if he could maintain this energy for another 12 tracks, but instead his natural eccentricity, insatiable flow fetish, and immaculate ear for beats win out over any temptation to coast. The result is an album as hungry as it is filling... Every track offers some new direction or escalation, some flourish or daring new flow that sets it apart. Despite being so packed and potent, there isn't any jaggedness in the track to track development. Thug puts in serious work on each and every track, but the result is something hypnotically effortless and smooth.
That isn't to say there aren't some standout moments, though. The magic of Thug is that his most memorable moments can spring from almost nothing. Sure, the beginning of "Check", or his flow on half-time, or the way he trades verses with Duke on "Dome" "make sense" as especially brilliant points, but you'll find that it's just as easy to get addicted to the tiniest of things, like the way he ad-libs "nerdy nerdy" on "Can't Tell" or the vaguely sacred intro to "OD", where he asks for a lighter. The fact that these arbitrary addictions are wholly inexplicable only adds to the appeal, as it feels like everything has the potential to appeal on this level, every verse, every line, every syllable...
But the best moment on Barter 6 isn't minor, but perhaps the largest artistic arc of Young Thug yet, the one that emphasizes its album-like qualities more than anything else: the three song run at the end, beginning with the immaculate "OD". After giving us a grand tour of the highs of his lifestyle, Thugger shows a dark and vulnerable side on this ambitious finale... the plea of "OD" into the despair of "Numbers" into the triumph of "Might Just Be" is manifested not just in the lyrics, but the flow and feel on every level of each song. It's one of the most powerful arguments yet for the sheer genius behind Young Thug, the liquid fusion of rhythm and melody, beat and voice, feeling and meaning. He's probably the best rapper alive, the first one to truly figure it out, trap-DOOM, limitless potential.
Recommended tracks: Check, Dome, OD
5. Kendick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
Original Live Review
And then there's this. Hands down the highest rated, highest ranked, and most discussed album of the year, basically the indisputable masterpiece of 2015. I feel like it'd be more interesting to justify my having it "only" at 5th than trying to defend having it on here at all, but I can't bring myself to even try to articulate any superficial flaw or gripe. But in praise of it, what could say that hasn't been said by dozens of reviews before? There's uhh, the way he blends soul and funk and jazz into hip hop. There's the fact that half the tracks are straight bangers and other half might make you cry. There's the way he goes absolutely jaw-droppingly hard on every verse, looking like physically can't give anything less than 300% at all times. There's the unstoppable groove of "King Kunta", the uplifting anthemic change of "Alright", the explosive pain of "The Blacker The Berry", the masterful short fiction of "How Much A Dollar Cost" - Obama's favorite track of 2015. There's the genius of the greater dynamics of the album, the paired tracks, the repeated poem, the endearing (but a little corny, c'mon) outro conversation with Tupac... We all know these things by now. These qualities are facts about the album now, that will tag along with TPAB's legacy for years to come. I don't think I need to go through them anymore than I already did. The true beauty of the album is that even though they've been repeated across every blog on the internet, it's still exciting to reconfirm them on every relisten.
So instead I'll just focus in on a few aspects and elements of the album that I haven't seen other people talk much about, things that I feel ought to be brought into the enduring conversation of the album. Like... does anyone else realize that the last verse on "These Walls" is maybe the best one on the whole album? It's him talking to the man who killed his friend, the central murder on GKMC. Holy shit, it's so good... never have I heard such a powerful and brutal and complete condemnation, but you can feel him reeling from what he's saying as he says it, it's so real... Or, uhh, does no one else think "u" is hands down the best song on the album? This thing is completely unlike anything I've ever heard. It's like rap's "The Glow Pt 2"... absolutely brutal to even get through. Just him using the same voice on Dre's "Deep Waters" was enough for me to clench up when I heard it.
Looking at these two examples outlines what I think the overarching message of the album really is. I emphasize that this is just what I think, because this proved to be a very contentious issue across the internet. For months we were subjected to "The TRUE meaning of TPAB!!!" clickbaity articles that seemed to delight in reductive reasoning and simple dot-connecting. And the threads on /mu/, oh God, the hours I wasted reading and (whyyyy) engaging in arguments about the meaning of this album... I've seen /pol/tards stumble in and claim that this album is Kendrick blaming everything on white people, and then people counter (sometimes with pretty legitimate arguments, such as the one raised by Karl in the comments of my review) with the exact opposite, that Kendrick is blaming everything on black people. I have been in 300 post threads arguing about the meaning of the line "Black as the heart of a fucking Aryan". He's obviously talking about the Aryan Brotherhood, jfc. It has been a struggle. Luckily, the best remedy is just to listen to the album itself.
So what do I think? I think To Pimp a Butterfly is an extremely personal album, one that is entirely about his personal struggles in the aftermath of his explosive fame and acclaim. Sure, it relates to greater social issues, but primarily through the way that he personally feels responsible for engaging with them. His experiences can prove to be a valid model for our own lives, and certainly are on many levels, both direct and abstract, but I really believe this is supposed to just be his story. Like, look at GKMC... that was never meant to be "the" story of a young kid in Compton, not the definitive, not the archetype, but just his story. The ability for it to relate to others is proof of the authenticity and power of his message, but shouldn't make any demands of him beyond his own personal expression. Of course, the spread of application is also a testament to his strength as a storyteller, so I'm not necessarily surprised that people are parsing TPAB as an ur-story of a people, but I think it also does disservice to some of the most powerful moments of the album.
I think people are hesitant towards this "personal" reading because they see it as reductive, simplistic: if it's "just" Kendrick's story, then what could it really say about anything else? I mean, as a typically
"a-political listener" (in that I don't really care so much if I agree with musicians morally or w/e as long as it "bangs") I may inherently lean towards a reading that is simply compelling instead of a more complex one that's more socially responsible... It's not that I disagree with those readings, and I certainly don't want to dissuade social change, but I really don't want people to overlook just how much of an absolute personal triumph this is for Kendrick. This is someone who achieved as much as anyone could imagine a rapper could in 2012, but then was devastated by the wrongs this could still not right. This is someone who was pushed to the brink by inner conflict, feelings of hypocrisy, self-loathing, and endlessly hungry ambition. And this is someone who transformed all of that into a mindblowingly beautiful creative product and completely redefined the power of a hip hop album. I hope we spend a little time thinking about that.
Recommended tracks: King Kunta, These Walls, u
4. Death Grips - the powers that b
niggas on the moon Original Live Review
Jenny Death Original Live Review
So I think Kendrick's narrative of working through agonizing internal strife by producing the beautiful TPAB is nice and all, but how could it top the story of Death Grips and TPTB? Here it is, in brief: Be mysterious and/or insane. Release a mixtape that quickly garners a devoted cult fanbase. Release an album that broadens your sound just enough to quadruple your fanbase while signing to a label. Seem somehow poised to truly break out into mainstream success despite still sounding mostly mysterious/insane. Later that same year, cancel all your concerts, drop off your label, and release an album with a dick on the cover. Release another album and make half your fans think you're back to being a semi-normal band and the other half think your frontman is dead. Release another album that has Bjork on every track. Distract everyone from how completely insane that is by immediately announcing that it was just one half of a double album, oh and that you broke up. Say absolutely nothing about the second half of the album. Meme on everyone with an instrumental album at the start of 2015. Then, after 284 days, release the second half of your double album. It's amazing. Somehow have more fans than ever. Go on tour. Say you didn't break up after all. Announce another album. The ride never ends.
That's the story of Death Grips, perhaps summarized best by "fuck the fame, fuck the money, fuck the fans, fuck any sort of rationale, fuck all logical consistency, just make good music". It feels like the band is engaged in some struggle, perhaps interdimensional, that we can only understand one facet of, manifested in this erratic behavior. At the same time, it feels like they're just sorta screwing around and doing things at their own pace. It's the stuff of both legends and memes. If you want to talk about /mu/, if you want to talk about shitstorms of dozens of threads a day, each decaying into 200-post bickering, Death Grips still owns the throne. It isn't always easy being a Death Grips fan, and that 284 day wait got excruciating at times, but now, listening to it, having all 1h20m of it, the only question is: was it worth it?
Uhh, yes. Absolutely yes. This is hands down the best project they've released and if you don't agree you're a pleb. Unless you don't agree because you think NLDW is the best. That's acceptable. A lot of people dislike notm because they aren't patrish enough... Sorry, my rhetoric around this album is mostly /mu/-based. Lemme try again: some people find niggas on the moon overwhelming, and it's understandable... I referred to it as "spasms on a Bjork sample pad" at one point. Everything about it - the beats, the vocals, the drums - all surge on this skittering implacable energy. The lyrics, too, are some of Ride's strangest; surreally clear images of delirium and violence have been replaced with cryptic abstraction and bizarre tangents.
But what might seem like supercharged nonsense is loaded with an emotional aesthetic that seeps into gradually, subtly. I think you can hear it most clearly at the start of "Have A Sad Cum", listen to that arhythmic repetition of that descending Bjork sample... the out of context "spamming" of a moment with clear emotional power, now juxtaposed with MC Ride's all-out vocal attack... you can just feel the obliteration of meaning in it, right in your bones. This is the very sound of insanity.
And then, at long last, Jenny Death. Whether or not it ends up their actual finale remains to be seen, but you know they believed it when they recorded it, that this would be the end. If niggas on the moon was just sheer insane energy, then Jenny Death is an unprecedented look at the raw humans behind it. That isn't to say it's at all lacking in energy - the album opens with Ride repeatedly screaming "I break mirrors with my face in the United States!", then following it up with "I don't care about real life!" and you believe both. "Why A Bitch Gotta Lie" and "Pss Pss" rank up with their most fun and bizarre songs, but there's something lurking beyond it, some growing horror...
It's exposed in the last few songs of the album, when the band shifts the furthest they've been from hip hop, and into... and this still hard for me to process, let alone articulate... classic rock? Well, classic rock with MC Ride on the mic and Zach Hill on drums, which is pretty far from what you might be picturing. Still, though, this is guitar music, this is sometimes even organ music. After the "last salvo" of sheer bombastic energy that is the title track, the band seems shift back into the garage, and starts making what is almost certainly the music they grew up listening to...
"Beyond Alive" and "Centuries of Damn" are catchy, powerful, head-on semi-trucks of songs, but it is with "On GP" that Death Grips truly cements their legacy. One of the most haunting and powerful songs about suicide this side of Phil Elvium (wait, did I already give that distinction to "u", earlier in this post?), it pivots your entire understanding of the band... the power that surged through them in every screamed syllable and drum hit since Exmilitary now feels so external, so fragile, and underneath was this fractured person, this person more "on the edge" than "edgy", this person that, all along, was your inner demons as much as your animal id...
I cannot think of many career sign-offs that would be as potent as that, but maybe instead Death Grips is a bottomless pit? The title of the instrumental outro - "Death Grips 2.0" - was a hint already, but others claim their recent announcement is a red herring, that it was a final joke to befit the legacy they had built with their fans. Regardless, there is a ghost born by the end of the powers that b, there is something exposed that can never be taken back, there is something very real that cannot be undone. It is powerful.
Recommended tracks: Have a Sad Cum, Why a Bitch Gotta Lie, On GP
3. Sun Kil Moon - Universal Themes
Original Live Review
Ahh, okay, that was maybe a bit intense. Let's scale it back with something more melodic, gentle... maybe no much less depressing, lol, but a little more down to earth. Last year, Sun Kil Moon's Benji turned heads with its beautifully sentimental narratives and gorgeous sound. It was enough that I put it on my 2014 list even though I had spent most of the year listening to "Flava" on repeat. There was something about it that seemed so different than most other acoustic guitar white guy singing music, something special I couldn't quite put my finger on. And although the rest of 2014 found Mark Kozelek in one bizarre scandal or beef after the other, it was "The Possum", which he dropped last November, that really caught my attention.
On "The Possum", the magic of Benji became clearer to me, as it seemed like everything I loved about the album had been concentrated into those nine minutes... The pure, rambling storytelling lyrics, the way meaning unfolded naturally from memory, the focus on sensory details... And the dynamics, oh my God, the way he works himself into a fervor about the Godflesh concert, and then that absolutely stunning shift back down to neutral as he recounts coming home again, it's like a perfect audio representation of that very moment you feel the weight shift off you in bed after a long day. It felt like the musical equivalent of Proust or Knausgaard, just this massive experiential thing, a total shift into the mind of another, the feelings of another, the memories of another...
But that wasn't the best moment of Universal Themes. The best moment was when the second track started, "Birds of Film", and his opening line was "Damn if I didn't just go walking and find some horses, a man-made lake and some trolls/Came back to my room all covered in sweat, here at the Swiss Waldhaus Hotel", and I realized that the whole album could be like this. By the end of the song, I understood that yes, the whole album was going to be like this. It was just going to be Mark recording whatever he thought and did in the months in and around the time he spent in Switzerland, appearing in Youth, set to gorgeous intricate shifting guitarwork. I'm not sure if I can make that sound "objectively exciting" but this was basically the best possible thing I could imagine. It was like I was talking about with Hibike!, in the anime list... the feeling of seeing whatever particular facet you happened to like of something suddenly bloom into the entirety of the next step... it's so wonderfully rewarding.
Of course, not every track was exactly like "Birds of Film" or "The Possum". Sure, "Garden of Lavender" and "This Is My First Day And I'm Indian And I Work At A Gas Station" (song title of the year 2015) are in this mode, but many other tracks feature Mark branching out with raging electric guitar, intricately layered "wall-of-sound" on "Little Rascals", and whatever the hell is going on in "Ali/Spinks 2". These shifts make the appeal of the core "narrative" features and attitudes all the more clear, as they emotionally colour Mark's message but never distract or deter his ceaseless memorializing.
I think I'm making it sound a little negative, and yeah, the sentiment that Mark is getting to be a "bit much" is one shared in many reviews of the album. By the nature of his unrestrained mental wandering, Mark veers between sweet heartbreaking sentimentality and bitter pettiness. His vicious mockery of a critic on "Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues", based on the argument of "ha, you think you've got it bad??", is particularly indefensible, but I'm not really interested in defending him. The rambling, aimless, jumpy feeling, where no detail is beneath mention or memory too personal to share, to me, beyond any sort of critique, is human, is just the story of a human, is so compellingly beautifully and tragically human that it cannot be ignored.
You may think you have little in common with a successful musician/actor who "ends up playing himself in an Italian film set in a ski town in Switzerland", but really listen to him. Listen to how he looks around his imagined farm and names the colours of all the animals. Listen to how he sings like six verses about Switzerland and then starts another with "Never mind all the other verses I've written about Switzerland". Listen to how he remembers being at the lake on "With a Sort of Grace I Walked to the Bathroom to Cry" (song title of the year 2015 runner up, potential song of the year). It is rare to ever come this close to another human being, let alone in music.
Recommended tracks: The Possum, Garden of Lavender, With a Sort of Grace I Walked to the Bathroom to Cry
2. Various Artists - ONE MINUTE OLDER
Virgin Babylon, my favorite record label, has been slowly but steadily growing a catalog of some of Japan's best post rock, idm, neoclassical, and any other weird genre that catches their eye. For their 10th Anniversary, they got fifty artists to each submit a track under 2 minutes long, which they arranged into ONE MINUTE OLDER. You can listen to the whole thing here, which of course I highly recommend because I love this album. The premise might sound kinda gimmicky, and you might not see the possibility of lasting appeal, even if you love these artists (although you likely have never heard of many of them... I had only heard of about half and I listen to degenerate amounts of music). I'll admit it seems strange that such a project would take my number 2 spot. But, after dozens and dozens of listens, I have determined that there are possibility infinite cool unique things about this format. In the spirit of the album I am going to list them out.
1. It makes you really appreciate how much can be done within 2 minutes, how much of an arc you can still achieve (just look at how many things crammed in to weg's insane "FOOL'S MATE")
2. It also makes you see how little needs to be done to reach a minute, as many tracks are basic single-element loops
3. But, no matter how repetitive a track might get, it never has the time to overstay its welcome
4. That goes for abrasive tracks, too - "ciel" and "One Thousand Gorges" stray towards noise territory, but not so long that casual listeners could get a headache
5. Or even just annoying ones? "60秒で○チャ○チャしたい" and "Cats are scrapping a Vocaloid" are fiendishly addictive at around a minute, and you never need to know if that holds true for any longer
6. The best, though, are tracks that simply couldn't exist beyond a minute, like the aptly titled "noisy one minute clock", which functions through a novelty that couldn't be extended indefinitely
7. These sorts of unique experiences can really be enjoyed in their full novelty, with listeners able to engage in whatever elements they find interesting without feeling committed to any larger project with them
8. It also frees the artists to go "all out", without having to worry that they won't be able to sustain the complexity or freshness of any particular element, as seen in the clockwork overload of "Im Wald" and "VIRGIN STEPS"
9. This also allows for metal-ish bands to never hold back on screaming and go MAX GUITAR
10. Or ambient artists to do anything beyond the purest tone
11. Or post rock artists to capture only what facet of the "post rock" experience they feel most motivated to make
12. The sheer power of this unrestrained, no-commitment creativity makes these tiny songs have as much impact as ones many times their length
13. Other times, though, the short length feels hauntingly incomplete, like with "Etude For Twelve Fingers" a short offering by matryoshka, probably my favorite artist atm
14. This haunting feeling carries into the following tracks, blending your imagined extensions into the next songs
15. Virgin Babylon has wisely facilitated this, by ordering the tracks in such a way that each transition is significant
16. Sometimes it functions through contrast or relief, like the frenzy of "Organfish" after the calm and delicate "Im Wald", or the sudden disorientation of "blue no season" after "DIABOLICA"
17. Sometimes it functions through escalation, like the ever-charging power of "docomo" into "Hell Yeah" into "Noxious"
18. And then that leads into the crystalline "Ophelia", in a feeling that doesn't seem so much like juxtaposition as transformation
19. Beyond track-to-track transitions, there's also general patterns to the album... stretches of mostly ambient songs, stretches of more aggressive ones... that help you get more comfortable and deep into a given mood
20. And beyond that, there's a feeling of an arc over the whole album, where things at the end seem to be getting more "extreme"; the weirder tracks get weirder, the pretty tracks prettier, the noisy tracks noiser, and there's a general sense of "endgame" to it all
21. This feeling of escalation can be applied to almost any given song pair across the whole album, with really interesting results, like, in what way is foodman's bizarre "レゲエ" a mutation of Ms. Bigelow's earlier "HELLO"? It's very fun to think about
22. Basically any thought experiment you have is fun and fruitful to apply to these tracks because of these general patterns and some tonal commonality
23. That tonal commonality happens to be just like the absolutely most beautiful inexpressible thing, a mysterious quality of music that almost everything on this label shares and is rarely seen outside of it... okay, this is more a Virgin Babylon thing than a thing about this format, but whatever
24. But no really, we can't ignore what something of this format is representing, too... a collection of artists from all sorts of backgrounds, making all sorts of weird music, celebrating the success of the people who laboured to share their music with the world, and that's really beautiful
25. And there's just so many of them! Isn't that beautiful too, that there's so many people making great music? It's sometimes easy to forget just how many musical artists exist in the world, but you can't avoid it on this album
26. Like, there's FIFTY of them! For a non-Lil B album, that's just a crazy amount of tracks, and what facilitates all these transitional and comparative aspects
27. And it just lends the album this incredible variety... it's like a cake viking of all these little microgenres and movements that you might otherwise never hear of... some you might like, some you might hate, and some you might love
28. If you do love anything you hear, the music you can find from that one discovery expands out fractally. I think exploring all of these artists and the scenes behind them would be a full time job. One I'd gladly sign up for.
29. The way that, after all that craziness, it ends (spoiler alert) on the simple, beautiful, piano-solo outro of "午後" is a form of poetry wholly inaccessible to traditional elements
That's probably enough. I was gonna go for fifty, but fifty is A LOT, and I gotta get going with the NUMBER ONE before everyone completely loses interest. I'm sure a lot of you saw this coming, it's...
1. Gucci Mane - East Atlanta Santa 2: The Night Guwop Stole X-Mas
Nah jk it's Divers. This mixtape is super sick tho check it out.
1. Joanna Newsom - Divers
Yeah, it's Divers, of course it's Divers. The fourth album by Joanna Newsom, the Young Thug of baroque folk, was basically guaranteed the spot as soon as it was announced. Actually, if at any time in the last five years you asked me what my AOTY 2015 was, and you told me a new Joanna Newsom album would come out then, I would have known. That's like, kinda stupid, right? That level of fanaticism? Hmm, I dunno. Should you really strive to be unbiased in what you like? Is there any problem with going into an album thinking "this is going to be amazing" and then it's actually amazing? Why would you not want to experience an amazing album? Cause don't get me wrong, for all the "memeing" of my love for Joanna Newsom, this is hands down the best experience I've had listening to music in 2015.
I'm not sure really how to go about talking about this. Usually I'm content to just ramble on until I feel that I've said enough, but I'm not sure if I'd ever hit that point with this album. I've written separately about "Anecdotes", "Sapokanikan", "Leaving the City", "Goose Eggs", "Time, As A Symptom", already totaling over 4000 words... and that's like, not even half the album. And I probably didn't even say half the things I wanted to say about each of them. Even if I did at the time, each time I heard the album since would have added further insights, further points... And that isn't even mentioning all the stuff I'd want to write about the album as a whole... I mean, if the central image of this album is the diver, deep underwater, wondering how long they can stay down before having to surface, then I must take this as a personal warning. I have yet to see the bottom with this one.
So we'll do the quick scuba tour instead: unlike Ys and Have One On Me, which were both written in an almost adversarial place of memory, Divers emerges from a time in her life when she is, as far as we can see, wholly content. This doesn't represent an end of the tension that underlies her best work, but a shift to more existential, rather than interpersonal, questions. Namely, she is concerned with time. It's uh, a pretty weighty subject, but one that springs perennial for people from toddlers to stoned undergrads to legitimate academics. It strikes even those most disinclined to abstract thinking in both the highest and lowest moments of their life... "oh, this is so beautiful, why does it have to end?", or "where has the time gone?", all of these questions that suddenly make you aware of this shifting fourth dimension, this omnipresent quality that flows indifferent to...
Oh, wait, no, no, if I start philosophizing myself, we're definitely doomed to some twenty page mess. Let's focus on the album. Her examination of time is unique, to say the least. She casts the album first as a Finnegans Wake-esque loop, setting up the idea that the album itself is a transmission made to rebel against time, to defy its forward-only progression. However, she doesn't shy away from the other associations working in the mode of the Wake entails, specifically the idea of stories that are simultaneously personal and archetypal on many levels. The story of a great war, where the territory gained isn't geographic but temporal, weaves through many tracks... it's at once a war to reclaim time, to restore forgotten history, to ensure the persistence of happiness in one's life... but also a war of birds hunting just before dawn?
Okay, if that isn't enough, how about the way this central narrative unfolds into the stories of a diver and his wife, pottery making, urban exodus, a history lesson of New York... Or the way she addresses loneliness, antinatalism, Levinasian ethics, quantum physics, memento mori... I think you'll just have to trust me that they're in here, we don't have the time to get into it. And really, although this stuff is super interesting to think about, is it really the main thing that keeps me returning to the album? Like, y'know, I could just read the lyrics if working through it was all I wanted to do, that'd be a lot faster...
But no, it's the music, it's the stunningly gorgeous, immaculately arranged, dynamic and inventive, radiant seraph music. Ahhh, this album sounds so good. Every track has at least one thing that just knocks you off your feet every time you hear it. Forget everything I wrote about something being "the best moment of music in 2015", or even "one of the best", they're all on here. 3:15 in "Anecdotes", 2:40 in "Sapokanikan", 2:25 in "Leaving the City"... I don't even have to look these up, lmao. You might call it "obsession" but it really is fun loving something this much.
Alright I think that's it
Gonna call it right there before it gets out of hand. I hope you enjoyed it, though, and maybe tried out some music you may have overlooked otherwise. Let me know if there's anything you think slipped past me. I really can't overstate how crazy impressive 2015 was. Almost every week had some new album that had me addicted so much that I'd easily miss something else. I'd honestly be fine if we cut 2016 down to like, half... I think it'd be better for my productivity, or sanity...