The Best Albums of 2015 so far

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Best Albums of 2015 so far

sufjan stevens best albums of 2015 so farSufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)

Beginning with a song called “Death With Dignity,” continuing through some of the most painfully honest memories and narratives of Stevens’ discography, and climaxing with the second F-bomb of his career, Carrie & Lowell is one of the most brutal listens that Stevens has ever released. Of course, it also happens to be one of the most beautiful, the album itself an elegy to Stevens’ deceased mother, with whom he had a distant and complicated relationship. It’s such a gentle and mesmerizing set of music that it simultaneously makes the deep emotional wounds both more palatable to the listener and much harder to ignore. This is Stevens, without the whimsy and concept-driven hyperbole. It comes from the heart—that’s what makes it so devastating. – JT

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THEESatisfaction EarthEE reviewTHEESatisfactionEarthEE (Sub Pop)

In 2015, you’re gonna hear a lot about the revival of jazz and psychedelic soul, most likely in the form of praise for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, or discussions of Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington. And while their work is well worth the praise, we’d be foolish to forget about a couple Seattle-born collectives who have been melding together jazz, psychedelia and hip-hop for a hot minute already. The first is, of course, Shabazz Palaces, whose jazz-rap roots go all the way back to membership in Digable Roots, and who blew us away with 2013’s Lese Majesty. But the second of those groups, the shape-shifting duo THEESatisfaction, are just as much ahead of the curve. On EarthEE, Cat and Stas set a transcendental sonic space for their lyrical musings to roam free within. The songs here are more like meditations—in the analytical, soul searching way, not the ‘om’ way. They have an openness to them that resonates in ways that are simultaneously personal, social and political. This is sharp yet ethereal modern R&B that often vanishes to a new sonic territory as quickly as it stumbles upon the first one. – ATB

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Tribulation Children of the Night best albums of 2015 so farTribulationThe Children of the Night (Century Media)

Extreme metal has its limits. No, that’s not an oxymoron. Sweden’s Tribulation, whose past life as a death metal band led them through some strange pathways into ornate, epic and gothic heavy metal, essentially discovered that for themselves when they naturally drifted into a realm of melodic metal that took as much inspiration from the dark side of UK post-punk as it did from progressive rock. The Children of the Night is their best album to date, a masterwork of soaring hooks, dazzling riffs and theatricality. And have I mentioned just how catchy it is? The arty nature of Tribulation’s compositions inevitably means that these songs will never actually be hits, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have it in them. – JT

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Viet Cong self-titled best albums of 2015 so farViet CongViet Cong (Jagjaguwar)

Though Viet Cong is technically a new band, the Calgary quartet has a lot of experience crafting murky, angular rock, especially considering that half of this group used to be in indie/art-rock act Women. So it’s no surprise that Viet Cong’s debut performs a careful balancing act between gritty post-punk and catchy, cathartic moments of beauty. In just seven tracks, they cover a decidedly wide area, drawing more than a couple allusions to early work by bands like Wire, but also contemporaries such as Protomartyr and Ought. Still, Viet Cong aren’t imitators and there is a distinctly dreamy aftertaste they tend to leave on a track like “Bunker Buster,” which focuses in on a smashing groove that the band then tears apart, nuance by nuance. It’s a powerful record; dark, majestic and infectious to the core. – ATB

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best albums of 2015 so far The EpicKamasi WashingtonThe Epic (Brainfeeder)

Kamasi Washington wasn’t really kidding around when he named his studio debut album The Epic: It’s three hours and three discs worth of spiritual, soulful avant garde jazz that owes as much to friends and collaborators Flying Lotus and Thundercat (who plays on the album) that it does to the likes of Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, and both John and Alice Coltrane. OK, sonically, it does lean more heavily toward the latter group—this isn’t nu-jazz or glitch jazz or any such synonym for electronic music. It’s capital-J Jazz, stretching and soaring into realms both improvisational and orchestrated. It’s beautiful and unpredictable, melodic but never static. And sure, he’s played with Kendrick, but one listen to The Epic will make you forget about the name-drops and lock you into the cosmic vibe. – JT

Waxahatchee Ivy TrippWaxahatcheeIvy Tripp (Merge)

While the word “intimate” often gets thrown around a lot for female singer-songwriters, Katie Crutchfield’s music might be better described as “raw” or “exposed.” She has a tendency to expose vulnerable moments (both her own and others’) via powerful, well constructed verse, and it doesn’t hurt that she does it all with a powerhouse set of vocal cords. And there’s something truly enticing about how she morphs and melds those elements on Ivy Tripp, her finest set of pop-rock tracks to date. It’s a form of understated catharsis that hasn’t sounded this good since PJ Harvey mastered it in the ‘90s, and damn if Waxahatchee doesn’t wear it well. – ATB

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Hand.Cannot.EraseSteven WilsonHand.Cannot.Erase (Kscope)

Hand.Cannot.Erase. is Steven Wilson’s best solo effort to date, and one of the best progressive rock releases of the year.  Wilson uses the depressing story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a British socialite who pass on unnoticed in her apartment and wasn’t discovered until 3 years later, to explore themes of modernity—isolation, paranoia, and lack of community. The album features an incredible lineup of musicians that includes Marco Minneman on drums and Guthrie Govan on guitar, as well as a number of other stellar guest artists. Hand.Cannot.Erase is simultaneously creepy and beautiful, and is a moving indictment of the lack of community in the modern age. A must listen for fans of progressive rock. – TH

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best albums of 2015 so far Young FathersYoung FathersWhite Men Are Black Men Too (Big Dada)

When I interviewed Young Fathers’ G Hastings earlier this year, he described White Men Are Black Men Too as an attempt to prove that radio pop could be challenging both lyrically and musically—a populist attempt to bring difficult music to those without the time or means to seek it out on the Internet. And difficult the album is, from the unsolvable koan of its title (meant to foster conversation rather than to say anything specific, Hastings says), to the grimy lo-fi beats that seem to constantly fade in and out of tune. But Young Fathers have their cake and eat it too; this is an album that’s both difficult and compellingly listenable, with catchy pop hooks and hard-hitting harmonies from the band’s three members, all of whom share vocal duties. It’s confrontational, it’s self-assured, but most importantly, it connects. – SP

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best albums of 2015 so far Young ThugYoung ThugThe Barter 6 (Atlantic/300 Entertainment)

We were all expecting an epic takedown of Lil Wayne. Well at least that’s what we thought when it was going to be Carter 6. Instead we got something with much more depth than an album of battle tracks and takedowns. Barter 6 is the album that Young Thug proponents knew he had in him. The prolific and, let’s face it, sometimes uneven rapper has released tapes and singles, and countless guest spots, but none had quite the footing that Barter 6 does. Coming down off the high of the excellent collaborative Rich Gang, Barter 6 brings all of what Thug does into crystal clear fruition. His innate musicality, his charismatic delivery is coupled with a sharpness that surpasses his past efforts. His technique is thrilling as his shifts his flow, teasing and stretching out the transitions and syllables with ease. Thug comes across as a confident rapper, assured in his own voice. While often called unintelligible, Thug’s flow often rewards repeated and close listening. His lyrics and his views are clear, you just need to meet him on his own terms. – JI

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Interview: THEESatisfaction
Interview: THEESatisfaction
Kamasi Washington The Epic
Kamasi Washington and Brainfeeder’s jazz resurrection
Gut Feeling: An interview with METZ
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