Year in Review: 2015 Musical Superlatives

2015 EOTY List

Excited to spend the next couple weeks writing about my favorite underrated albums and songs. Here’s a few thoughts to kick it off before I go more in-depth with future posts.

Favorite Album
Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle

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If you haven’t listened to it yet, please do. My thoughts on the album are documented here.

Favorite Song
Jamie xx feat. Popcaan & Young Thug – “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”

Top 10 reasons I love this song:

  1. “Imma ride in that pu$$y like a strolla.”
  2. Opening chimes that immediately feel like summer, now and forever.
  3. The way Jamie xx flips the sample off and on again like a light switch.
  4. The sheer unexpectedness of this track in the middle of Jamie xx’s album. It’s so strikingly warm, especially in its place on the tracklist after the xx reunion track “Loud Places”.
  5. That little stacking melody under the hook.
  6. “And she gon’ squish it like squish.”
  7. Popcaan’s totally underrated vocal performance, just as catchy (despite being less intelligible!) than Young Thug’s rubber band voice.
  8. In a year full of increasingly weird collaborations, the song lived up to expectations of what each of its individual artist’s fans hoped it could be.
  9. “Pop quiz, it’s a pop quiz.”
  10. The amount of fun it sounds like they’re having in the studio. I always forget about that laughter off the back end of the track, and it always makes me smile.

Best Live Performance
Damien Rice – Academy of Music

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Simply put, I can’t think of a show that’s affected me more. Masterful singing, guitar playing, looping, and crowd participation combined for nearly two hours from a performer I’ve wanted to see from over a decade. Sixth row seats in a perfect venue for an emotional solo singer-songwriter show. I can vividly remember moments from every single song–the unmiked opening number; incredible harmonium swells; four-part call-and-response parts with the audience. I can only hope another show matches it down the line.

Best Album Title
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside

Honorable Mention:
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Most Ambitious
Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth

It pains me to say this, but Lupe might just be too far ahead of me. His January album is 80 minutes of incredible, versatile rap that packs so much wordplay, assonance, and parallel construction into each line that it  requires its own Rap Genius forum. It’s a gift that keeps giving if you invest the time, and for fans with shorter attention spans, he followed it up a month later with the EP-length Pharaoh Height 2/30, continuing his career renaissance in a much more manageable way.

Most Overrated
Drake – “Hotline Bling”

How did this castoff from Drizzy’s OVO Sound radio mix take over the world? It’s an earworm for sure, but (as a fan) this might honestly be the worst song he’s ever gotten into regular radio rotation. These repetitive, generic lyrics and uber-chintzy beat would never get a second look if it wasn’t for Drake’s name. I guess that’s a good thing; we always want our musical stars to pave new directions, and there’s more than enough indications that Drake is looking for new influences for his forthcoming Views From The 6. But you have to wonder if it’s a good thing that the memeification of the song’s music video has contributed more to the track’s chart successes than it’s actual quality.

Runner Up:
Adele – 25

At risk of sounding like a hater, Adele put out an album that’s filled with half-memorable songs and frustratingly safe melodrama. She sells it (literally and figuratively) because she’s an incredible vocalist and emoter, and that’s fine for the 7.9 million people and counting who received 25 as a Christmas present. Personally, would have enjoyed to hear Adele use her cultural cache to take few more chances like the gospel closer “Sweetest Devotion”, the poppier “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” and the acoustic bossa nova flavor of “Million Years Ago”. She’s one of the only artists who could potentially change what radio sounds like (see above), it’s a shame she stuck to something so middle-of-the-road.

Most Improved 
Big Sean

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I’ve always enjoyed Sean, but felt that his projects didn’t have much staying power. Dark Sky Paradise overcame its overwrought title with tight verses and great production, easily his best work yet. His live game has also skyrocketed; the performances I saw in Vegas and Philly this year proved he had the material and crowd control to be one of rap’s few festival headliners. Who knows where he’ll go in the next year or two?

Most Exciting Song :: Disappointing Album
Tobias Jesso Jr – “How Could You Babe” :: Goon

Jesus this song is good. I actually dig a few of the others on Goon as well, but he (fortunately or unfortunately) got such a huge prerelease push on his debut that it couldn’t help but feel like a letdown. Definitely a talented dude, looking forward to a little more variety on the next one.

Best 80s Inspired Standup Disguised As A Live Album
Ryan Adams – Live At Carnegie Hall

From Terminator references to meta “I’m a sad tortured genius” humor to on-the-spot songwriting, Ryan’s two-night stint at Carnegie Hall was perfectly irreverent.

Followup Album I Tried Hardest To Convinced Myself Was Good, Just Different, Before Going Back 3 Months Later And Realizing That No, It’s Actually Just Not So Good
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Sorry, it’s really hard to follow up an album as raw as Southeastern. There were some decent songs on this release (“Speed Trap Town”, the title track), but the overall hopeful tone just didn’t cut as deep as I’d hoped.

Honorable Mention:
Modest Mouse – Strangers To Ourselves

Most Apt Album Title
Kamasi Washington – The Epic

Not sure what to say about this three-hour jazz tour de force that hasn’t been said. It’s much better to absorb.

Most (Over)Thought-Out Album Title
Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.$$

Triple entendre, don’t even ask me how.

Best 5-Song Stretch
Legend -> Energy -> 10 Bands -> Know Yourself -> No Tellin’
Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

An absolutely silly 20 minutes of music. There’s other great songs on the project, but if he kept this quality going for 12 straight tracks it might’ve been my album of the year.

Best Taylor Swift Cover (Non-Ryan Adams Division)
Ingrid Michaelson – “Clean”

Best Lyrics
Kendrick Lamar

Sorry, there’s no other option this year. To Pimp A Butterfly is political, personal, and poignant in ways that have literally kept me up at night. We’re lucky to have this man’s words and thoughts.

Honorable Mention:
Courtney Barnett

Most Compelling Direction For An Album That Wasn’t Carried Out
Nate Reuss – “AhHa”

Ah, man. The leadoff track from Nate Reuss’ solo album doubled down on the autotune freakout of Some Nights, with a spastic, overcrowded clusterfuck of a single that crammed way too much of everything into 4 minutes and change. Unfortunately it was a one-off closing chapter of fun.’s last album instead of the continuation of something truly special.

2015 Album That Most Makes Me Feels Like I’m 15
Desaparecidos – Payola

Saw Conor last year spitting political venom during his solo tour. Little did I know he’d be doing it 8 months later in a full album.

Biggest Tease
This is a hard call between Kanye West’s constant stop-and-start hints for SWISH, Frank Ocean’s July date set and flake on Boys Don’t Cry, and Rihanna’s endless pushbacks on Anti. Gotta give it to Kanye because he officially released three incredible tracks this year, constantly talked about the album, apparently played it for a bunch of people, and we still have no idea what’s going on with it or what it sounds like.

Most Anticipated
The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It 

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The 1975’s next album is either going to be a colossal failure or a masterpiece. Singles “Love Me” and “UGH!” are the first two songs released from the 17(!)-track followup to my favorite debut of the last five years. They’re going in strange directions, stretching to create some awesome, catchy music. It’s my favorite thing to watch  a band do.

Honorable Mentions
Everyone on this list is rumored to be in the studio or ready to release their album in 2016, so I did not include someone like Bon Iver:

  • Kanye West – SWISH
  • Brian Fallon – Painkillers (March)
  • Drake – Views From The 6
  • Brand New – TBD 5th Studio Album
  • Frank Ocean – Boys Don’t Cry
  • Kendrick Lamar + J Cole – Untitled Collaboration (March)
  • Japandroids
  • Rihanna – Anti
  • James Blake – Radio Silence
  • Strand Of Oaks
  • Vampire Weekend
  • Run The Jewels – RTJ3
  • Haim – Untitled 2nd Album
  • Tinashe – Joyride
  • Tove Lo – Untitled 2nd Album
  • The Wrens
  • Animal Collective – Painting With
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