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Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - ARTS & LIFE -

AT this point, it’s pretty tough to re­mem­ber any al­bum be­ing re­leased this year other than Adele’s record-smash­ing 25. But, 2015 was ac­tu­ally an ex­cel­lent year for mu­sic across the board.

Pop was more clever and nu­anced than it has been in a long time, in­die-folk took a bit of a back seat and made room in the Top 40 for amaz­ing re­leases in hip hop, rock and elec­tronic mu­sic. Many artists made sharply dif­fer­ent work than they have in the past — mu­si­cians were tak­ing chances, and many of them were pay­ing off.

That be­ing said, an abun­dance of great work makes it even harder to cre­ate a “Best of” list of any kind — it’s a mam­moth task to fil­ter through a year’s worth of con­tent and pick only a hand­ful of wor­thy win­ners. So, af­ter hours of lis­ten­ing, note tak­ing, in­ter­nal ar­gu­ments, ex­ter­nal ar­gu­ments and some naps, it is with mixed emo­tion I present my Top 10 albums of 2015: 10. Alabama Shakes — Sound & Color Faced with the dreaded sec­ond al­bum slump, roots-rock out­fit Alabama Shakes blew away all expectations with their sopho­more release, Sound & Color. The Shakes don’t shy away from their blues back­ground, but they also don’t al­low them­selves to be pi­geon-holed into that genre, ei­ther, as they suc­cess­fully dive deep into un­charted wa­ters with soft, dreamy tracks such as Gem­ini and the ti­tle track. Singer Brit­tany Howard may be one the best vo­cal­ists on the scene right now, and this al­bum makes no qualms about show­ing that off; her tran­si­tions from soul­ful, smooth melodies to a full-out blues rasp are jaw-drop­ping. 9. Drake — If You’re Read­ing This It’s Too Late Though call­ing this al­bum a “mix­tape” is ques­tion­able at best, that’s pretty much the only com­plaint filed at Drake’s 17-song epic, If You’re Read­ing This It’s Too Late. Drake has the un­canny abil­ity to re­main re­lat­able re­gard­less of what he’s rap­ping about — we’re able to cel­e­brate his highs and wal­low in his lows de­spite the fact his types of highs and lows are likely very dif­fer­ent from our own. But, really, this is an al­bum fo­cused on com­plaints and anx­i­eties, two things ev­ery­one faces, ev­ery day. While If You’re Read­ing This It’s Too Late is less shiny and poppy than his past re­leases — or even his cur­rent smash sin­gle, Hot­line Bling — it still holds a cer­tain amount of ac­ces­si­bil­ity for those who aren’t nec­es­sar­ily the most die-hard hip-hop fans. He crosses gen­res and fan-bases flaw­lessly, and has more than a mil­lion copies sold to prove it. 8. Bjork — Vul­ni­cura Vul­ni­cura is prob­a­bly Bjork’s most ap­proach­able work to date. At its core, it’s a breakup al­bum; she ex­plores the stages of a re­la­tion­ship on the brink of fail­ure — the tense mo­ments be­fore the break, the con­fused mo­ments af­ter, and the even­tual heal­ing. Vul­ni­cura is lush in all as­pects; the ar­range­ments are full of soaring strings and in­tense beats, with Bjork’s vo­cals waf­fling be­tween danc­ing in the back­ground and ag­gres­sively stand­ing in the fore­front. Bjork has an in­cred­i­bly im­pres­sive voice, both in tone and power, and stripped down (rel­a­tively speak­ing, of course) Vul­ni­cura is the per­fect ves­sel to show­case that. 7. Tame Im­pala — Cur­rents Tame Im­pala, the psy­che­delic brain­child of Aussie multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist and pro­ducer Kevin Parker, took a turn to a softer side with Cur­rents. The lay­ers of bright and airy synths and sharp drums ebb and flow as Parker’s falsetto vo­cals wash over­top, a stark con­trast from his pre­vi­ously grungier work. There is a clear, but un­ex­pected, in­flu­ence of Motown and disco, though the lyri­cal con­tent is de­cid­edly less sunny as Parker ex­am­ines per­sonal change in the con­text of a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship. There is a lot of heart­break on Cur­rents, and the hazy, float­ing vo­cals only help en­cour­age a mourn­ful in­ter­pre­ta­tion. It’s a sat­is­fy­ing sad­ness, though; there’s some­thing very cathar­tic to danc­ing to lines such as, “There’s no fu­ture left for you and me/I was hold­ing and I was search­ing end­lessly/But baby, now there’s noth­ing left that I can do.” 6. To­bias Jesso Jr. — Goon Cana­dian singer-song­writer To­bias Jesso Jr. gar­nered a lot of praise for his de­but LP, Goon. It was short­listed for the 2015 Po­laris Mu­sic Prize and had fans such as su­per­star singer Adele tweeting about it (Jesso went on to pen songs with Adele for her record-break­ing al­bum, 25). And it’s all for good rea­son — Goon is a nugget of pi­anorock gold that sounds like it was ripped right out of 1975. Be­tween Jesso’s sweet and del­i­cate voice, his lovelorn lyrics of times gone by and ro­mances lost, and even his chord pro­gres­sions and ar­range­ments, the retro vibe pours out of ev­ery song in the best pos­si­ble way. Sim­ply put, it’s a beau­ti­ful record, from be­gin­ning to end. 5. Suf­jan Stevens — Car­rie & Low­ell Well, it wasn’t the next in­stal­ment of his state project, but that’s prob­a­bly for the best con­sid­er­ing the al­bum Suf­jan Stevens did release, Car­rie & Low­ell, is a stun­ning col­lec­tion of heart­break­ing songs pro­voked by the death of his es­tranged mother, Car­rie. Death is cer­tainly an over­rid­ing theme, but the twin­kling gui­tars, hazy vo­cals and whis­pered har­monies in­ject an al­most im­pos­si­ble beauty into his sad­ness. 4. Sleater-Kin­ney — No Cities To Love Af­ter a 10-year hia­tus, Port­land, Ore.-based rock trio Sleater-Kin­ney haven’t missed a beat. No Cities To Love doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily feel like a come­back al­bum, but a fun and pow­er­ful col­lec­tion of songs from three su­per-cool ladies with noth­ing to prove to any­body. Each track charges through with an an­themic en­ergy, tack­ling top­ics from cap­i­tal­ism and fame to their re­la­tion­ships with each other. Ev­ery note seems pointed and de­lib­er­ate, and even in the chaos of upbeat, dan­gling melodies and Corin Tucker’s un­mis­tak­able wail of a voice, there is still an over­ar­ch­ing feel of fo­cus and un­de­ni­able con­fi­dence. 3. Ken­drick La­mar — To Pimp a But­ter­fly To Pimp a But­ter­fly is a bit of a con­tra­dic­tory lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously a lively, dance­able al­bum and one that delves into deep and dark lyri­cal ter­ri­tory sur­round­ing race re­la­tions, un­just pol­i­tics and La­mar’s own in­ter­nal strug­gles with his fame and suc­cess. Mu­si­cally, To Pimp a But­ter­fly is an in­cred­i­bly ad­ven­tur­ous un­der­tak­ing, bring­ing in flavours from myr­iad dif­fer­ent gen­res; from the jazzy sax­o­phones on Al­right to the bass-heavy funk beats in King Kunta, each song takes on its own life but re­mains a co­he­sive part of the whole. There is an un­easi­ness to it, though, as there should be given the heav­i­ness of the lyri­cal con­tent and the un­cer­tainty that seems to plague La­mar as he ex­plores those themes. Any op­ti­mism turns sour, al­most haunt­ing, as the melodies drift into bleary, hor­ror-movie-esque tones as he searches for an­swers that may not ex­ist. 2. Adele — 25 It was no sur­prise to any­one that Adele man­aged to put to­gether a stel­lar al­bum, but it’s fair to say no one was ex­pect­ing it to be as amaz­ing as it is. With her third release, 25, Adele takes a step away from the non-stop de­pressed, heart­breakrid­den an­thems of 21 and ups the ante, craft­ing a col­lec­tion of thought­ful and di­verse songs that show­case all the tasti­est nooks and cran­nies of her un­be­liev­able voice. It’s clear she is in a dif­fer­ent place in her life and it is serv­ing her well; there is less anx­i­ety and self-doubt and more con­fi­dence as she re­flects on the tran­si­tion into adult­hood. Her songs al­most seem be­yond her years; as she re­flects on her youth and times gone by it’s easy to forget she’s a mere 27 years old. She’s hardly in her golden years, but she had the Mi­das touch when cre­at­ing 25. 1. Fa­ther John Misty — I Love You, Honey­bear Fa­ther John Misty is a weird guy, but he’s a weird guy who knows how to write an amaz­ing song. On I Love You, Honey­bear, he ex­plores the ideas of love, mar­riage and monogamy in a way that shines a light on his in­cred­i­ble wit and sub­tle hi­lar­ity, his self-loathing and his sar­casm, but also his soft­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Misty (oth­er­wise known as Josh Till­man of Fleet Foxes fame) is a sto­ry­teller in the truest sense of the word, build­ing odd and won­der­ful nar­ra­tives told with style and swag­ger, and his abil­ity to flaw­lessly com­bine an overt cyn­i­cism and an un­apolo­getic ro­man­tic streak is what makes him the in­trigu­ing artist that he is.


Brandi Carlile’s cover of Mur­der in the City doesn’t even need in­stru­men­ta­tion.

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