From Tame Impala to Kendrick Lamar, 2015 has seen an unanticipated surge of ground shattering album releases.
There are many albums missing from this review. We’ve also seen some brilliant work from Earl Sweatshirt, Chromatics, Aphex Twin, Death Grips and many others this year. Whilst we are still waiting for many more and anticipating Frank Ocean’s album expected this month, here is a mid-year review of 7 albums that are exceptionally noteworthy, in no particular order.
Surfjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
When Steven’s was having troubles completing his new album, Justin Vernon invited the song writer to get some fresh air in his Wisconsin home. Named after Steven’s mother and step father, Carrie & Lowell delivers multi-tracked harmonies with humble purity, seemingly influenced by his time spent in nature, but primarily by his strong spiritual influences. The album takes Stevens back to his feathery and vulnerable vocals, with nostalgic lyricism reflective of Steven’s childhood supported by arpeggiated finger-plucking guitar.
“I think that music in general… it doesn’t really matter what you are communicating whether its sex drugs and rock and roll or transcendence, its always a religious experience,” Steven’s said.
Listen to ‘Should Have Known Better’ below.
Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
The artist behind Panda Bear and Animal Collective cofounder Noah Lennox hits the “psychedelic sweet spot,” as he says, on his immersive concept album Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper released earlier this year. Multi-tracked harmonies layered over crunchy electronic beats craft tactile soundscapes in the 13-track masterpiece, a testimate to the creative genius also behind the success of Animal Collective.
Watch the music video for ‘Boys Latin’ from the album below.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Compton-native Kendrick Lamar did not disappoint with the release of the critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly this year. Lamar has a strong reputation for producing groundbreaking music and has been a huge contributor to the recent renaissance of hip hop. His follow up from Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was released eight days early due to a technical accident, however immediately received raving reviews from critics, selling 325,000 copies in the first week.
Each track flows to the next in a seamless narrative structure patched with musical statements, mimicking a consecutive stream of consciousness from the deepest unfiltered creative workings of the mind. This musical transcendence is a platform through with Lamar has sparked critical conversations about race, sexuality, politics and beliefs whilst still reaching enormous commercial success.
Check out opening track ‘Wesley’s Theory’ below.
Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
In their sixth studio album, British electronic outfit Hot Chip capture the quintessence of pure joy following 2012’s In Our Heads. The band produced the tracks in Why Make Sense through concentrated creative bursts to “try to work really quickly so we don’t work the life and soul out of it.” In an effort to reproduce the directiveness of live music, the album is sans heavy layering and is stripped down to expose the vulnerability and senselessness of human relationships.
Watch the official video for opening track ‘Huarache Lights’ below.
Jamie xx – In Colour
The debut studio album by British music producer, remix artist and DJ Jamie Smith, In Colour is a wildly imaginative genre-blurring array of minimalist soundscapes. The album was constructed during Smith’s down time over seven year period, melding together only the elements necessary to create the euphoric soft-core rave vibe that weaves the album together.
Listen to ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) feat. Young Thug’ below.
Young Thug – Barter 6
Speaking of Young Thug, he also released his debut commercial solo album this year laced with an array of guest appearances. In Barter 6, William’s perpetuates his self-aware mysticism with an approach that has made it hard for listeners to tell whether he takes his music seriously. However, in the new album which received a wave of approval upon its release, William’s demonstrates that you don’t need to approach yourself with avant grade or reach towards high art for the creation of successful music. The album doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or try to be The Beatles of the 21st century (cough Kanye West cough). Rather, this is a performance of the raw quintessence of rap that explores the vulnerability and insecurities of humanity.
Watch the music video for its opening track ‘Constantly Hating’ featuring Birdman below.
Tame Impala – Currents
Kevin Parker’s personal growth translates seamlessly into the new musical approach of Tame Impala, straying from its psych-rock beginnings to explore the depths of synth drawn soundscapes grounded by immaculate drum filtering. The most recent release from this list, Currents is a stand apart for Parker with it’s a near absence of guitar layering.The clean guitar hook of “The Less I Know The Better” is the closest the Parker gets to revisiting their old style, however nothing sounds like “Elephant” in this album. The close relationship between synth and bass threads together this exposition of Parkers self-development and growth as an artist and individual that exposes the complexities human relationships.
Listen to the epic 8 minute opening track below.