The Best Albums of 2015 so far

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Best Albums of 2015 so far

KEN Mode Success reviewKEN ModeSuccess (Season of Mist)

Thanks to KEN Mode, punk rock is alive and well. Success is the most punk album I’ve heard this year, simply because punk is an attitude, and KEN Mode has been bulldozing over proverbial shit with that frame of mind for more than a dozen years. From the opening crunch of “Blessed” to the Slint-like dissonance of closer “Dead Actors,” Success is a sensation. Noise king Steve Albini was behind the boards of the record, and it’s clearly a successful union; KEN Mode sounds impressively tight here. Brothers Jesse and Shane Matthewson are former accountants, so it’s no surprise that their blistering rock is so correctly calculated. However, it’s artistic success that KEN Mode have pursued with a greater fierceness here, and right now, KEN Mode is winning more than they ever have. – JJM

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Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a ButterflyKendrick LamarTo Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg Entertainment)

Every once in a long while, certain artists find themselves in the eye of a perfect storm: fresh enough to tackle challenging subject matter in an informed and progressive fashion both lyrically and musically, and already credible enough that people are willing to take that difficult journey with them. Kendrick’s second album proper builds upon good kid, m.A.A.d city‘s complex storytelling structures, and infuses a melange of contemporary jazz and Clinton funk (courtesy of luminaries such as Kamasi Washington and Thundercat) to make one of the most thrilling, profound and socio-politically relevant artistic statements for a generation. – MP

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Metz IIMetzII (Sub Pop)

Metz’ 2012, self-titled debut introduced the young post-hardcore trio via a set of pummeling, noisy tunes. But on II, the Toronto band introduces an aura of darkness and intensity via studio experimentation and a major step up in their songwriting prowess. Highlight “Acetate” tears forth with just as much bravado as anything on Metz, but with double the precision. As for the rest of the album’s 29 minute run? Metz pull from grooves and breakdowns from guitar rock’s recent history, sewing them together to create a patchwork of noise-punk fury. This album kicks ass, but without sacrificing anything in terms of musicianship or replay value. – ATB

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Panda Bear meets Grim ReaperPanda BearPanda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (Domino)

Ironically, Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox) has never sounded as alive as he does on Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. While he’s had his fair share of acclaimed records, the Animal Collective member has usually attempted to separate his solo efforts from whatever yarn his full band was spinning at the time. This time around, Panda Bear channels the experimental, dance-oriented pop that spun both his recent collaboration with Daft Punk and AC’s magnum opus, Merriweather Post Pavilion. The result is charmingly accessible yet still chock full of delightfully oddball twists and turns. Despite the potentially morbid title, it’s a fun frenzy of a record, delivering Panda Bear’s usual dose of quality songwriting with a little more exhilarating punch than usual. – ATB

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Natalie Prass album reviewNatalie PrassNatalie Prass (Spacebomb)

Twenty-nine-year-old Richmond native Natalie Prass arrived in the year 2015, fully formed—perhaps because she finished making her self-titled debut with producer Matthew E. White more than three years ago. After a long wait while White promoted his album Big Inner, Prass’ time finally came, and she is finally, rightfully riding the same wave. Her country-inflected songs range from the Dusty Springfield soul of “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” to the longing of “Christy,” reminiscent of Sharon Van Etten’s most devastating moments. White’s production saturates the tracks with lush, soaring strings or Muscle Shoals brass, whatever is required to draw every last drop of drama and emotion from Prass’ beautiful, frequently heartbroken songs. A warm, embracing album that is sure to grow with age. – MP

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Jessica Pratt new album best albums of 2015 so farJessica PrattOn Your Own Love Again (Drag City)

Jessica Pratt has always been an impressive singer and songwriter—her 2012 debut was more than proof enough of that. But her sophomore LP seals the deal, showcasing Pratt’s eccentric-yet-sincere style of minimalist folk and embellishing it with the occasional instrumental overdub, which gives the record just enough variety to merit multiple listens. But, aesthetic aside, where Pratt really soars is in her songwriting and vocal control. She constructs intimate-yet-alien ballads like “Back Baby” and contrasts her delicate strumming with a sometimes invasive vocal phrasing and heart-melting execution. It’s an evocative piece of work that might borrow from the past, but winds up as a masterwork of its own. – ATB

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Prurient Frozen Niagara FallsPrurientFrozen Niagara Falls (Profound Lore)

Frozen Niagara Falls really isn’t an album someone would put on for a group of friends. No, Prurient’s overbearing noise art opus is best suited for a pair of headphones and some personal reflection. And at 90 minutes long, you’ll have plenty of time to think about life, even though some of Dominick Fernow’s inhumane sounds may make you want to curl up and die. It would be totally understandable if the listener simultaneously screamed, cried and slept through Frozen Niagara Falls. It’s like a nightmare within a dream, or a horrific story with pleasant touches of hope. The true definition of Frozen Niagara Falls is unknown, but it is unique, and must be experienced in full with no stoppages. Here’s the best part: There’s a reward for your endurance and patience at the album’s end. – JJM

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Shamir RatchetShamirRatchet (XL)

We’ve entered the age where today’s young artists are being influenced by the music of the aughts, and you can hear those reference points fairly easily in the music of 20-year-old Las Vegas artist Shamir Bailey: LCD Soundsystem, M.I.A., Scissor Sisters. But the eccentric, angel-voiced, sass-mouthed singer is really playing part in a new chapter of a long line of weirdo art disco that goes back to Grace Jones, Arthur Russell and Talking Heads. Some of that is thanks to production from Nick Sylvester, but Shamir’s such an outsized personality that he’s keen to steer the ship himself; you can’t contain someone with this much flair and charisma so easily. If this is Shamir on the regular, he’s pretty much unstoppable. – JT

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Sleater-Kinney No Cities LeftSleater-KinneyNo Cities to Love (Sub Pop)

Treble is home to more than a few rabid Sleater-Kinney fans so, to be honest, we were always bound to fall head over heels for the trio’s reunion. But even we were surprised by the finesse and originality that S-K infused into this new record. Sonically, it straddles an interesting middle-point between the succinct songwriting of 1997’s Dig Me Out and the chaotic explosion of 2005’s The Woods. But lyrically, it’s a record that both embraces and questions the idea of growth and change, an epic collection of songs that break boundaries in a way that can only be done after time has been taken for reflection. (Oh, and there’s mad guitar riffs too.) This one feels as visceral and immediate as an indie rock debut, but with the talent and experience of one of the best bands alive. – ATB

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best albums of 2015 so far Soft MoonThe Soft MoonDeeper (Captured Tracks)

The Soft Moon put a glossy glaze of weirdness over the ’90s industrial sound, with chanted and droning vocals. That ’90s feel is smashed against the roughened up distortion that haunted witch house. And that drugged, spectral, sluggish feeling floats out of a throbbing krautrock star system. Not many of these tracks would raise an eyebrow if a DJ worked it into a goth night—and a brief Internet search shows that some already have. Fans of bands ranging from Cold Cave to Skinny Puppy can find something to move them on this album. – WL

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Speedy Ortiz Foil DeerSpeedy OrtizFoil Deer (Carpark)

It has taken only four years for Speedy Ortiz to become one of the best alternative rock bands in America. And for as excellent as 2013’s Major Arcana was (and still is), Foil Deer is just as great, with even more detail built on top of its melodic complexity. Guitarist Matt Robidoux, who once tried to put himself and his guitar into a guitar case during a live rendition of “MKVI,” is replaced by Devin McKnight, and charismatic leader Sadie Dupuis—check out her Twitter account, it’s funny—commands with a charming, albeit authoritative wit. Foil Deer is inviting on the outside and dark on the inside—a diverse collection of songs that gets better with repeated listens.- JJM

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