Noisey's Favorite Records of 2015 So Far (We Think, Probably)
Holy freaking crap, it's been one helluva year for music. We attempt to name some of our favorites. And yes, we know, we missed some.
Image by Alex Cook
Lists are dumb. To quantify the months (or years) of hard work that a musician put into creating a piece of art into a numerical order (put together mostly by nerds who spend their days quietly sitting behind keyboards) isn’t really fair. However, it’s important to think about the music we like and why we like it—we’re a music publication, for Chrissakes!—and it's been a crazy year for music. So rather than attempting to put together the “best” records of 2015 so far, we here at Noisey just thought about what we listened to most and what resonated with us. These just happen to be some of our favorites albums of the year so far. Will this list change as the year goes on? Absolutely. Did we miss some key records for this list? Without question (Hi Kendrick! Hi Drake! Hi Miguel!). But fuck, when you’re living in a time that’s as fertile for music as it is now, it’s hard to catch ‘em all. So, let’s get to it. 2015’s been a helluva year already. We can’t wait for what’s next.
Jamie xx – In Colour
There’s a feeling that’s harder to come by in the internet era, when just about any fact is a Google search away and any song can be instantly Shazammed: enjoyment of the unknown. With all knowledge at our fingertips, the admission of a musical blind spot feels shameful. Yet often the most profound experiences come from situations in which there is no context or guiding hand. The way to respond to dance music is to dance, not to belabor the act of figuring it out. To see Jamie xx earlier this summer was to experience this idea in practice: Songs both familiar and unfamiliar floated through his set, perhaps never to be experienced again.
In Colour has been discussed ad nauseum as a tribute to club music, to the rave experience, to club culture, etc. But that’s not quite right. Although it’s an album rooted in context and although scenes and microgenres tend to dictate the way people approach music, In Colour is above all a tribute to music’s sublimating, transformative power over the subconcious.
The album’s best song and ideological centerpiece, “Loud Places,” begins with the line “I go to loud places to search for someone to be quiet with.” But the song isn’t so much about the places. The true heart of it is emotional: “didn’t I take you to / higher places you / can’t reach without me.” It’s a breakup song, a devastating one about establishing meaning in light of another person’s absence. It’s also a musically rich song, with an insistent, distant kick drum, a triumphant soul choir, and a keening undertone of guitars. It is, quite explicitly, a tribute to the uplifting power of music and the familiar but not-quite-traceable force it exerts on memory. It accomplishes what the straighter (and thus less effective) homage of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories previously set out to do.
As with much of In Colour, “Loud Places” sounds almost as though there’s another song happening in the background or in the next room. It’s music with the labels soaked off of the records, music for the sake of the moment, music about what music can mean to us. As for what specifically that might be, maybe you’ll recognize it in Young Thug or Popcaan’s voice floating down the block this summer, whether prompting a “pop quiz!” in a Jamie xx song or on its own terms, reminding you that, as promised, there’s gonna be good times.
Prurient - Frozen Niagara Falls
A double LP of noise, rhythmic or no, is a daunting task, but it gets especially hairy when it comes from a guy like Dominick Fernow. In addition to several different projects across as many genres, from the black metal of Ash Pool to throbbing war-and-terror-themed industrial of Vatican Shadow, Fernow may be best known as the founder of Hospital Productions. For close to two decades, Hospital has released music ranging from Sutcliff Jugend (Whitehouse) to Akitsa, and the label even ran a New York City storefront that specialized in only the most terrifying metal and noise releases. Fernow's efforts have been tireless in expanding the genre, and he may be the cultural heart of noise music in 2015.
Other projects aside, there is a vast ocean of Prurient material—well over 100 releases—but his latest effort, Frozen Niagara Falls, may be his greatest achievement. Operating within the realms of harsh noise, ambient, techno, acoustic instrumentation, industrial, and even some of the synth pop that marked Fernow's collaboration with Cold Cave, Frozen Niagara Falls is extremely dense and surely not for the faint of heart. But the gears switch enough during the 90-plus-minute effort that it doesn’t feel like an endurance test. It's more like an emotional wringer—one that you’ll want to go through again.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
There’s something so pure and elegant about the latest release from Sufjan Stevens that its simplicity immediately demands your attention. After he ventured into an experimental (and disco?) world with his previous release, Stevens returns on Carrie & Lowell to his purest form: a guitar, some pianos, and his arresting voice. There’s nothing complicated here. There aren’t any grand statements. He’s not trying to prove anything to anyone. These are just… songs.
Stevens has always written personally, but now he’s coming from the perspective of a man nearing 40 (who happens to turn 40 today) who’s seen some shit and who’s trying to figure out what that shit means. That’s it. Putting anything more on it than that does the record a disservice because it’s the straightfowarded nature of the record that makes it resonate so greatly. With his delicate yet fearless songwriting—examples include “there’s blood on the blade / fuck me I’m falling apart” from “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” and the blatant nature of “You checked your texts while I masturbated” from “All of Me Wants All of You”—he creates a mood for the listener unlike any other musician. The record’s success stems from his laser-focused vision, and the product resonates more than any of his past releases. Not only is Carrie & Lowell one of 2015’s best halfway through the year, but it very well might be the best record of Sufjan Stevens’s career.
Desaparecidos - Payola
Enough time had passed since the release of Read Music/Speak Spanish, the first and only album from the Conor Oberst-fronted, influential rock project Desaparecidos, that it was enough to make you wish they’d never follow it up. After 13 years, it felt like losing a loved one at sea—you hoped they were alive out there somewhere, but it started to feel foolish to hang on to hope. Just as they were about to be written off for dead, the Omaha five-piece washed up on shore this year with Payola. The long-awaited sophomore record, amazingly, sees the band even sharper and heavier than they were over a decade ago.
You don’t need to have Read Music/Speak Spanish memorized to appreciate this album, you don’t need to have an opinion on Bright Eyes, and it requires no background knowledge of the Omaha indie rock scene. Payola is a standalone monster; it makes you feel like you're floating up towards heaven on a cloud made of thick distortion. The band is still pointing a middle finger towards institutionalized greed, still pissed off about corporate hubris, and still self-aware about their place as a popular rock band in a dying monopolized music industry.
There are also little bonuses strewn throughout, like cameos from Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace and New York band The So So Glos. Payola is a crushing, bitter record that, if Desaparecidos’ history has taught us anything, will have a long shelf life.
Alpine – Yuck
They’ll creep up on you. Seduce you with cooey, close tones, synth pulses and clipped claps; woo you with deftly layered syncopation, and the clever way they tip their hat to 90s R&B—but do so by creating songs that are sparklingly high def and thus out of sync with all the cool kids pushing their lo-fi indie re-imaginings of the Frankenstein-ed genre. The Melbourne sextet are hardly new kids on the block: Their 2011 video for “Hands” has accrued nearly two million views and can best be summed up as The Virgin Suicides meets Girl, Interrupted meets Canada’s now iconic promo for El Guincho’s “Bombay.” But their debut album A Is for Alpine was not an adequate indicator of the sophisticated pop they’d deliver with this year’s follow up, Yuck. And therein lies the thrill. I had zero expectations for this collection and a passing appreciation for Alpine in general, in part because they delivered leftfield pop with a side of inventive, stylishly off-kilter visuals—and everyone knows a side order of tasty fries really makes a meal.
But Yuck is wall-to-wall wonder. Lead single “Foolish” is an obvious standout—a song that comes across both whimsical and sexily robust—but beyond that there’s much to fall for here. From “Shot Fox,” with its synthetic horns and militaristic ratatats, to “Up For Air,” which takes on that wordless dance between lovers. It also helps that “Jellyfish” contains one of my favorite misheard lyrics: “I want to be the knife / The fork…” which reminds me of Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita.” For many years I swore she sang, “Last night I dreamt of some bagels.” Turns out I’m incorrect on both counts.
But seriously, Alpine excel by applying layer upon melodic layer, yet their songs never sound cluttered. They’re the finest Scandi-pop band that grew up nowhere near the North’s frozen touch. Yuck is a record that sneaks up on you like a casual kiss on the back of the neck while you’re cooking: unexpected and stirring. And like that kiss, you’ll want to relive it again and again.
-Kim Taylor Bennett
Future - 56 Nights
When Future released Honest in 2014, it seemed like we were looking at a new, more polished artist than the one that came into the public eye with “Tony Montana” and “Magic.” Instead of making songs that made selling drugs and tipping strippers sound like the most fun a person could have, Future chose to focus on the beauty of finding fulfilment through a partner. But then Future broke up with his significant other, and his creative output shifted.
Starting from Monster and ending in 56 Nights, Future experienced a truncated trip through the stages of grief, moving closer from anger to acceptance on every project. 56 Nights has a drug-fueled artist performing on his own with no help from his peers but still finding solace in camaraderie. The name of the album was inspired by the period of time Future’s DJ, DJ Esco, spent in a Dubai jail, and you can hear how that experience affected Future when he raps "None of this money that matter / all of my niggas, they matter." This focus on brotherhood acts as a way for him to move away from a steady partner, resorting instead to casual, drug-fueled sex where women are viewed as disposable and one-dimensional. "Fuck a bitch on that shit, I don’t need her" raps Future in a way that elicits compassion for these faceless women.
Future’s trek through heartbreak may be rooted in misogyny and drug use, but it’s delivered in some of the most acrobatic wordplay he’s ever shown. From the opening bars of “Never Gon Lose” where he proclaims to be an alien rapping over an Australian beat, the surreality of the boasts never goes away until the final title track where Future talks about doing “56 bars all in one month” while still drinking. 56 Nights may be my favorite album that deals with moving on from a relationship and emerging from it a new person. But whether or not that incarnation is a better person, or simply more destructive and jaded, is up for discussion.
Saturnine - Mors Vocat
I’ve already covered a few of my favorite albums of 2015 on here pretty extensively—see Cloud Rat, False, Misþyrming, and the draft of a piece on Death Karma that I swear I’ll finish eventually—but Saturnine really crept up on me. They’re Italian—with members split between four different cities—and purposefully kept an all-woman lineup in an effort to maintain harmony. Judging by the strength and sinister perfection of their debut album, Mors Vocat, their system works.
With a name like Saturnine, one would hardly expect them to play grindcore. A soft spot for Electric Wizard is hardly a flaw, but they’re far more interesting than their Dorset namesakes; for one, they veer sharply towards the death metal edge of death/doom, and there’s a crusty feel to the album that’s surely thanks to its creators’ pasts. A varied pedigree works wonders here, as Saturnine lays claim to both Children of Technology bassist Jex—whose filthier inclinations make their presence known on the down and dirty likes of “Fangs in the Flesh”— and former Undead Creep guitarist Samantha, who adds plenty of gore to the proceedings. Vocalist Katrien honed her corrosive rasp in Belgian crustcore troupe Last Legion Alive, and those ragged vocal chords take a righteous beating here, too.
Mors Vocat reminds me a bit of Shever, the Swiss doom band Tom G. Warrior invited to play his curated event at Roadburn several years ago, and also of Derketa—both bands who utilize distinctly, unapologetically female harsh vocals, and who allow a dark, deathly vibe to settle over their compositions like grave mold. They share an affinity for witches with Shever—a self-proclaimed “witch doom” band who predate the current flowery “occult doom” trend by almost a decade—but ultimately, Saturnine stands alone. It’s difficult to put into words how great this album is; all I can really say is that I haven’t been this blown away by a debut in a long, long time.
Speedy Ortiz - Foil Deer
Great things happen when poets make rock albums, case and point being Foil Deer by Speedy Ortiz. Frontwoman and guitarist Sadie Dupuis continues her rightful reign as contemporary rock’s most thrilling lyricist with a game-changing sophomore record. What makesFoil Deer particularly next level is the way the songs seem to follow the words as opposed to a melody. DuPuis clearly understands the fundamental mechanics of language as sound, and that in itself sets Speedy Ortiz apart from other bands. For example, the stand-out track “The Graduate” completely redefines indie rock meter with its jilted riffs and staggering turns of phrase like, “I was the best at being second place / but now I'm just the silvery dread / and only in the shape of a bullet / am I ever the shape you see when you wake up dead.”
Foil Deer is a disarmingly intellectual LP. Its off-kilter math-rock dissonance and wry wordplay puts Speedy Ortiz up there with 90s indie giants like Pavement or Liz Phair. When you consider the breadth of material on Foil Deer, the songs on Speedy's 2013 debut Major Arcana feel like variations on a theme. The band’s sophistication has only grown over time. “Changing the Skate” and “The Graduate” are the essential tracks on this LP but for those wanting to spike the Kool-Aid, be sure to check out “Puffer.” The name speaks for itself.
Florence + the Machine - How Big , How Blue, How Beautiful
Now that she’s three albums in, I think it’s fair to say that Florence Welch is the pop equivalent of Pusha T. Much like Mr. Thornton who is a never ending spigot of drug references, Florence too has the uncanny ability to turn any story of scorn and heartbreak into epic tales about water without getting boring. Though not much has changed in How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence returns a more straight-shooting writer without doing away with her oft-maximalist tendencies. Album opener “Ship to Wreck” relies on simple guitar refrains while she howls on the hook “to WRREEEECCCK” lifting her voice into a near banshee-like register.
“St. Jude” is more subdued, calling attention to her lyrics and deeming herself “the patron saint of lost causes” when it comes in to love. In recent interviews, Florence has been open about the stormy nature of the last two years, which included breaking off a strained long term relationship and battling bouts of drinking and depression following her previous album. And while HBHBHB is very much an album that stews in what’s been lost, it provides more than just ruminative musings by Welch. Instead, it offers hope in tragedy by tracing what she describes as a “dark space in time” before finally reaching a sense of peace within herself. All of this give the album a sense of balance as it flows between high points like “Third Eye” and the subtler moments of “Mother.” Couple this with Florence’s already intimidating ability to consistently throw down track for track some of the best power-pop ballads anywhere, and it's clear why HBHBHB has had a longer shelf life for me than any other album thus far in 2015.
Thundercat - The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the movie/documentary Catfish. There’s a scene at the end where the woman who portrayed herself to be a much younger woman fully confesses to the man she catfishes while they’re in her shitty house in Gladstone, Michigan. One of the reasons she lures him in is so she can feel a connection to art and dance he photographs that she wouldn’t have access to otherwise. An artist curating different sounds and grooves to an audience that otherwise might not seek it out is a very welcome thing.
Thundercat does this expertly, both on his new mini-LP The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam and his contributions earlier this year on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. With Kendrick’s album being in everyone's mind, this was a perfect follow-up record for people like me who weren’t super familiar with Thundrercat's work or Brainfeeder’s output before this. The track that really stands out the most to me, “Lone Wolf and The Cub,” is like being lead through forests of different sounds and genres. It begins with super wobbly and vibrant guitar effects, while Thundercat’s voice floats off into the sky. The path then leads to Thundercat’s expert bass skills, creating a pattern that all other noise floats off of. It’s an incredible moment: You really believe Thundercat can take you to space or anywhere outside of your regular perception.
Kehlani - You Should Be Here
In a year of an absurd number of polished, ambitious albums from high-profile artists, Kehlani's slightly rougher-around-the-edges project You Should Be Here is something special. Kehlani, who is 20, is part of a movement that's really come into its own in the last year or two, one of relatively young kids taking their careers into their own hands, avoiding the slog of industry formalities, and making music that really beautifully reflects the odd bravado and eclecticism and wisdom that comes with that age. Collectives like Save Money and HBK have quietly created a new type of scene incorporating eclectic influences for an equally diverse, open-minded, smart, and creative audience. It wasn't always this way; just a few years ago, when I was in my early 20s, I was listening to music made by people in their 30s that other people in their 30s were telling me to listen to. Now a 21-year-old can listen to music made by someone their age, with their concerns, and it's amazing—as well as, one can imagine, inspiring.
You Should Be Here is, most immediately, a smooth, pleasant, easily listenable album. Kehlani has a voice that soothes. Her tone is honest, sincere, and dead serious but relaxed enough to never feel sanctimonious or overbearing. She constantly sounds like she's just cracked a joke but is ready to sit down for some real talk. She comes across like a long-lost best friend. The songwriting on You Should Be Here is tight—“Wanted” is a truly transcendent love song that is above all about self-love; “You Should Be Here” flips its postcard caption into a searing piece of heartbreak; and “Jealous” surely has the stickiest hook, liveliest beat, and most emotionally sophisticated conceit of any song yet written about social media. It can be a slightly heavy-handed album at times, but that adds to its allure. It's a document of Kehlani feeling her way through life along with her audience. At one point, on “Be Alright,” Kehlani sings “I'm just human / just like you are” and later adds “if you're feeling all confused no you are not on your own.” Sure, it's possible to make music that's perfect and always works flawlessly, but there's something really exciting about young artists making music that's just honest and earnest and totally awesome.
Vanity - Vain in Life
It’s totally a cheat, but one of the most infinitely repeatable records of 2015 slipped quietly under the radar in late 2014.
After a cassette demo in 2013, Brooklyn two-piece Vanity released their Vain in Life LP in middle December via Brooklyn’s Katorga Works—12 tracks of no frills, fun punk rock. Featuring current and former members of The Rival Mob, Creem, NYC Headhunters, and more, the band is propelled by Colman Durkee and vocalist Evan Radigan, who toes the line between punk and Lemmy-style sandpaper grit, even while singing their hyper-melodic tunes. And even though they haven’t played live enough to count on one hand, their stage show is motherfucker.
Vanity described themselves as “fucking beer music” in their first ever interview on Noisey earlier this year, but before you start thinking of working man jams that might appear on US rock radio, switch continents. Pulling from ’77 punk, Oi!, glam, and even secondhand influences like the Templars, the songs on Vain in Life are pure UK working man rock, the kind made for pounding pints and screaming along at the top of your lungs. Get your copy for the very affordable price of whatever you want.
Superheaven - Ours Is Chrome
I’m the target audience for the 90s revival. I was born in ‘92, and I only have brief memories of going into our living room to watch episodes of 120 Minutes. When I saw Superheaven last May, a friend even said to me “do you think this is what Seattle was like in the 90s?” It seemed kind really goofy to me, but I think that’s something a lot of people my age are trying to chase. All this aside, it’d be shortsighted to discount Superheaven’s new record Ours Is Chrome because it does so much more than rely on cheap nostalgia. “I’ve Been Bored” drives a killer chorus, their singer Taylor Madison yelling the refrain “I’ve been so sick of flowers, on everything.” The scene Superheaven has found themselves in is some kind of floral print hell of everyone doing the same shit. Some kind of hell of everyone trying to pretend they’re happy.
Ours Is Chrome finds the perfect sweet spot in fuzz and groove. “Downswing” twists off in the chorus, each guitar line heading in a different directions of riffing. The lyrics for penultimate track on the record, “From The Chest Down” invoke such intense feelings of regret and helplessness as the guitars sound larger and heavier than ever. This song makes you forget where you are and lay aside all the suppositions about the record. Sound is sound, and Superheaven have fine-tuned theirs as sharp as possible.
Bully - Feels Like
Feels Like is the the sophomore release from Nashville alt-rock outfit Bully, and it barks as hard as it bites. With perhaps the most arresting female voice in alternative music since Courtney Love, singer and guitarist Alicia Bognanno’s scraping highs and lows are no joke. Her harrowing wail will give you a chill so far up your spine you’ll have to cough it out.
Bully’s soft-to-loud dynamic makes a lot of sense given the fact that Bognanno was once an intern for grunge rock’s premiere sound engineer Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago. Let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree because this record was mixed to perfection. But Bognanno’s attention to volume and pacing carries over into her songwriting as well. “Trying,” which is by far the most interesting track on the LP, pummels into a chorus that could be its own record as far as I’m concerned. Kinetic, self-aware, and searingly personal, Feels Like cuts like a razor blade hidden in a slice of cake.
The Cribs – For All My Sisters
The Jarman brothers have been knocking around for 13 years, and they still haven’t hit 35. They survived electroclash, punk funk, the New Rock Revolution, England’s landfill indie era, Urban Outfitters appropriation of indie rock, and beyond. The Wakefield-born trio are upstarts who have remained staunch at the turn of every tide, unwavering in their mission to meld bratty punk sensibilities with pop choruses that constantly teeter—one stage invasion away from bloody-lipped chaos. Over the course of their career they’ve been consistently on the money and at many moments truly fucking amazing, but I’d be lying if I said I gave 2012’s In the Belly of the Brazen Bull a fair shake. Shame on me, really: This sixth record serves a clarion call to all who might have loved them way back when but somehow forgot. With The Cars' Ric Ocasek on production, For All My Sisters errs more on the pop side of their songwriting—for instance “An Ivory Hand” is ever-so-Weezer, and “Different Angle” finds frayed choruses juxtaposed with their trademark buoyant “Oo-woo” refrains.
The appeal here is two-fold. Yes, For All My Sisters is a profound reminder of the vitality of The Cribs, a nudge for you to reflect on their back catalogue and remember how fantastic it sounds to aggressively shout “Hey Scenesters!” till your throat aches. But primarily and most notably, they’ve gone and done it again. Beloved still and ballsy, too, because The Cribs have never been anything less than utterly and inspiringly true to themselves.
-Kim Taylor Bennett
Corrupted - Loss
Corrupted is perhaps the ultimate cult doom band. They’d probably chafe at being labeled as such, though, because their work tends to transcend genre. Prolific as they are, they remain a largely unknown entity, thanks to a zero interview, zero promo photo policy, zero official social media, and a barren tour schedule. Though more recent releases have featured English lyrics, the majority of the Osaka-based outfit’s catalogue is in Spanish—and occasionally, German. They have a North American booking agent, but it’s mostly for show; they haven’t darkened our shores since 2008, and they only sporadically play live in their native Japan. I’ve been lucky enough to see them play twice, in 2009, but I had to fly to England to do it (they played two dates with Thorr’s Hammer, and my heart basically exploded). They’ve also ignored advances from bigger labels, releasing even landmark recordings like 1997’s Paso Inferior on small DIY joints; this goes hand-in-hand with a tendency to release new material with little to no fanfare. One imagines Chew or Talbot hitting send on a single email in the dead of night, arming a trusted ally with the news and allowing a chain reaction to unfurl.
This time, the news came via Crust War, who’ve been tapped to handle Corrupted’s 29th release: a new two-song seven-inch entitled Loss. The band has been silent since 2011, and it shed longtime vocalist Hevi sometime between the release of that year’s Garten der Unbewusstheit and now. Along with the release details, Corrupted announced the addition of a new vocalist, Mother Sii; it’s unclear as to whether she appears on the new EP, though one assumes that tortured roar on Side A belongs to her.
Loss features typically abstract cover art that led one forum poster to wonder, “Is that a hairy asshole?” While Corrupted has long utilized bleak, war-torn imagery on their albums and are probably the last band in the world who’d think of trolling their listeners… our pal Goat Mask Replica here does have a point. Musically speaking, the EP runs a scant nine minutes split between a short, bracing blast of sludgy, tormented doom, and a quiet dark ambient track. Even with a corny fade-out and anticlimactic Side B, those three-odd minutes on Side A make this release more than worthwhile. When Corrupted sees fit to send a new song out into the world, only a fool would pass up the chance to listen.
Rae Sremmurd - SremmLife
While many will cite how much of a surprise and how great Rae Sremmurd’s debut SremmLife is, I would now like to take this time to stake my claim to superiority as the first “Naf Sremmurd.”
As far back as early 2014, I spread word of the whine-like ramblings of Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi over the throbbing bass lines of #MikeWiLLBeenTriLL mixtape cut, “We.“ But like many great thinkers of their time, my brilliant words fell on deaf ears. Instead, I was condemned for “stanning” over the Tupelo, Mississippi duo because of their lack of noticeable hits. And then they released ode to personal space and first objective hit: “No Flex Zone.” Yet still, the pair were jeered and booed, with many tossing them off as one hit wonders. Fortunately it wasn’t long before they washed non-believers and their ksubis with the infectious off-key banger “No Type.” Now almost six months after the release of SremmLife I ask you hate-mongers: What vile-imbued comments do you have left after listening to this 11-track fountain of youthful turn up?
From beginning to end, the album cements the pair’s spot in the rap scene as they seemingly invent cadences and phrases on the fly that will surely be pillaged by their peers over Mike Will’s varied instrumentation. “Unlock the Swag,” for better or worse, will be a catchphrase for years to come, as well as serving as the millennial gateway into chakra restoration and better living. “Up Like Trump” is not only a banger best enjoyed atop kitchen counters it also foretold the rise of presidential nominee, Donald Trump. More importantly, the album has its foot on doing one thing (having fun) without overstaying its welcome. Half way into the year, no other rap album has endeared and given rise to as many hits and sheer energy—and I’d wager that none will after this. SremmLife isn’t just a musical moment but an audio guide of swagger-inspired dogma only a chosen few can follow.
Hop Along – Painted Shut
Following the release of Hop Along’s sophomore album, Painted Shut, a lot has been made about singer Frances Quinlan’s voice. Vulture ran a photo of her face, a streak of her long brown hair covering one eye, and posited: Is This the Best Voice in Rock Music Today? The answer to that is your personal call, but the tiny bits of folklore floating around about her are all true: She can take your breath away with that thing. It can suck the air out of a room. And should you be in a vulnerable mood, it can bring you to tears.
Painted Shut is a beautifully crafted album showcasing Quinlan’s voice as the centerpiece. At points, like at the climax of “Waitress,” the band chases after her as she runs towards a full-volume scream. At others, like the album’s most minimal track “Happy to See Me,” they more or less get out of her way and let her crack and squeal over the silence. Years from now, this will be the band we will tell a younger generation about, bragging that we saw the mighty Hop Along, and that we remember Frances Quinlan’s voice, and how it knocked us to our fucking knees.
A$AP Rocky - At.Long.Last.A$AP
For all of the great things about the art of rapping, there aren’t a lot of places a rapper can go if they want to expand their artistry. Becoming an experimental rapper means that you sever a good portion of your potential audience—and funding—due to your weirdness. It’s one reason why, although he’s one of the most influential artists of the new millennium, Lil B still toils in relative commercial obscurity. Striking the middle ground that allows an artist to grow while still retaining fans means that they need to adopt new production or start singing, two things that can also be met with resistance by day one fans. But somehow A$AP Rocky managed to do both while still delivering a product worthy of the hype surrounding it with At.Long.Last.A$AP.
The album deals with loss but never outright. After Rocky’s mentor A$AP Yams died earlier this year, many feared that the newly rudderless Harlem rapper would drift into a sea of options. Instead, Rocky proved that he could be the captain of his own ship, recruiting Danger Mouse and street busker Joe Fox to help him bring his evolution to life. Gone are the too-big-to-fail posse cuts that dotted Rocky’s debut commercial album. Instead, Rocky feels self-assured in his talents, both in curation and in rap. On the opening track Rocky goes deep into himself to speak about his dead brother, before bouncing on to a song where his distorted voice slips into an MIA bridge that slips into a Future verse, before moving on to an acid-soaked hallucination with “L$D.”
For the most part these experiments work, with the only true missteps coming in the form of a Rod Stewart collaboration that seemed more catered to radio than fans. But most importantly, this album showed that Rocky’s future is still bright, despite the mentor that got his this far no longer being involved. The album is experimental and new, but it doesn’t feel out of place in Rocky’s catalogue. The A$AP Pescatarian can still rap his ass off when he needs to, but At.Long.Last.A$AP proves that he may not need his staccato delivery to be his primary weapon anymore.
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside
I Don't Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside isn’t a record for you, or for me, or even for its creator, Earl Sweatshirt. It’s a record that exists despite not really wanting to exist, and that’s what makes it so brilliant. The sophomore LP from the Odd Future (do we say former at this point?) member is a meditation on the trapped and fucked up feelings we deal with inside of our skulls as human beings. Earl’s baritone and technically sound flow over sketchy and stitched together beats presents immediacy for the listener—at times it’s almost uncomfortable, a sound that feels more like nails on a chalkboard versus a rap album—and forces you to understand loneliness. Because, really, that’s what this album is for. I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside isn’t subtle with its themes, and that’s why it works. It’s for those “fuck me what am I doing with my life” moments you have when you wake up at three o’clock in the morning. It’s for that 4:30 AM post-bar haze when you spark up a joint to close the night and attempt to understand the decisions you made. It’s for the self-aware yet self-loathing moments of walking through and feeling the literal sadness of water hitting you in the face. This record is like performing emotional surgery on your own brain—or in Earl’s case, his own brain—flipping what would be perceived as cliché coming of age realizations into smartass, snarky quips about the struggle of life in your 20s. It’s appropriate the album art is just a black empty mass. Nothing matters. Shit sucks. Let’s just not go outside. Forever.
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