Top 10 (so far)


Em­bark­ing on a mid-year run­down of 2015’s best pop al­bums so far is as much an ex­er­cise in mix-and-match diplo­macy as it is a de­fin­i­tive truth. Within the var­i­ous por­tals of “pop­u­lar mu­sic” in 2015 are so many sounds, ap­proaches, ac­cents, in­stru­men­tal va­ri­eties and ear-pop­ping en­gi­neer­ing feats that one tilt of the kaleidoscope yields wildly di­ver­gent pat­terns. I’ve con­strained my­self to fo­cus on voices push­ing at the edges of so-called pop­u­lar mu­sic. The 10 es­sen­tial records re­leased so far in 2015:

One Lit­tle In­dian

Bjork, “Vul­ni­cura” (One Lit­tle In­dian). It’s tempt­ing to de­scribe “Vul­ni­cura” as oc­cu­py­ing its own vir­tual re­al­ity, ex­cept the theme of the Ice­landic artist’s al­bum is dev­as­tat­ingly real. Its fo­cus is on her re­la­tion­ship with vis­ual artist Matthew Bar­ney, and the nine com­po­si­tions trace its begin­nings through to its (spoiler alert) dis­so­lu­tion. Ab­stract syn­thetic com­po­si­tions in­ter­wo­ven with mourn­ful strings move through var­i­ous stages with a lyri­cal sharp­ness un­in­ter­ested in tact. The re­sult is a record that’s so filmic that when it’s over your senses will feel height­ened, and you might need a few mo­ments to ad­just to day­light.

So­cial Experiment

Don­nie Trum­pet & the So­cial Experiment, “Surf ” (self-re­leased). Amid the gang vi­o­lence and poverty of Chicago’s South Side, a col­lec­tion of young soul, funk, hip-hop and jazz mu­si­cians has con­verged as the So­cial Experiment. Among the most prom­i­nent mem­bers are Chancelor Ben­nett, a.k.a. Chance the Rap­per, and his fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor Don­nie Trum­pet (Nico Se­gal). Trum­pet and com­pany are Chance’s tour­ing band, and “Surf ” of­fers a plat­form upon which all of them thrive. A snap­shot sam­ple of their skills can be found on “Sun­day Candy,” as lovely an ode to a grand­mother as you’re likely to hear.


Natalie Prass, “Natalie Prass” (Space­bomb/Star­time In­ter­na­tional). If we’re talk­ing ear-worm loops, Prass’ self-ti­tled de­but of con­fi­dent, mem­o­rable pop songs is my most spun record of the year. “My Baby Don’t Un­der­stand Me” mixes a mourn­ful ode to dis­in­ter­est that erupts at key mo­ments with brass and string ac­cents. “Christy” feels like a lost show tune from an un­sung mu­si­cal about lust, be­trayal and jeal­ousy, with Prass and co-pro­ducer/ar­ranger Matthew E. White steer­ing it onto a di­ver­gent path that ex­poses a new vista. That hap­pens re­peat­edly on “Natalie Prass.”


Holly Hern­don, “Plat­form” (4AD). “Plat­form” is a cu­ri­ous record, com­posed en­tirely on lap­top by sound artist and com­poser Hern­don. She has stud­ied com­po­si­tion at Mills Col­lege and sound at Stan­ford Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Com­puter Re­search in Mu­sic and Acous­tics, and her skills are strik­ingly ob­vi­ous. Through voice ma­nip­u­la­tion, a master’s un­der­stand­ing of her in­stru­ment and com­po­si­tional skills to match, Hern­don rev­els within a sonic space in which the hu­man voice is ridicu­lously elas­tic and mal­leable, and syn­thetic beats glow with warmth.

Af ter­math

Ken­drick La­mar, “To Pimp a But­ter­fly” (Top Dawg En­ter­tain­ment). A state­ment of pur­pose from an L.A. orig­i­nal, La­mar’s third al­bum al­ready has the mak­ings of a clas­sic, one cour­tesy of the most skilled, thought­ful and lyri­cally ac­com­plished voice in hip-hop to­day. A fo­cused record cre­ated by mu­si­cians brain­storm­ing in a stu­dio, “But­ter­fly” is both an or­ganic funk-jazz record and a new-breed hip-hop jam. Hot sin­gles such as “i” and “King Kunta” ex­plode with top-track energy and smart ex­plo­rations of pol­i­tics, while tracks like “These Walls” roam the ex­per­i­men­tal depths.

Asth­matic Kitty Records

Suf­jan Stevens, “Car­rie & Low­ell” (Asth­matic Kitty). An emo­tional ex­plo­ration of fam­ily, ad­dic­tion, sac­ri­fice and love, this is the pop com­poser and song­writer Stevens’ au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal look in­ward. It is named af­ter his late mother, a life­long ad­dict who left care of her son to Stevens’ fa­ther as she de­scended fur­ther into ad­dic­tion; and Stevens’ step­fa­ther. A gen­tle rock al­bum that hints at the work of Nick Drake and El­liott Smith, “Car­rie & Low­ell” high­lights an artist who ex­plores re­gret and loss, who uses his muse as a tool for mourn­ing.

Mercur y / Uni­ver­sal

Chris Sta­ple­ton, “Trav­eller” (Mer­cury/Uni­ver­sal). Nashville song­writer Sta­ple­ton wan­ders the ter­rain where coun­try mu­sic and soul in­ter­sect, an area oc­cu­pied at var­i­ous times by Ray Charles, the Band, Steve Earle and Wil­lie Nel­son. “Trav­eller” marks a kind of ar­rival; Sta­ple­ton is young, bearded and soul­ful, un­der­stands the im­por­tance of whiskey to his cho­sen field and sounds like a man in it for the long haul. “Daddy Doesn’t Pray No More” pon­ders faith, while “Why I Cry” is a wrench­ing weeper filled with angst and rev­e­la­tion.

ATO Records

Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color” (ATO Records). The sec­ond al­bum eases in, as if to be­guile its way into lis­ten­ers’ hearts rather than storm in un­in­vited. A breath­tak­ing state­ment that ex­pands on the band’s rock ’n’ soul break­through de­but in ways few could have pre­dicted, this is, at its base, a rock record but in ways that sound to­tally Now. That’s due in part to Blake Mills’ crys­talline pro­duc­tion. At the cen­ter, though, is singer-gui­tarist Brit­tany Howard, an un­de­ni­able force equally gifted at song craft and vo­cal per­for­mance.


Dam­aged Bug, “Cold Hot Plumbs” (Castle­face). “Un­der­ground rock” in 2015 is so chaotic that whole realms thrive out­side the purview of all but the most fo­cused scen­esters. The mu­sic made by Dam­aged Bug, the moniker of mu­si­cian (founder of Thee Oh Sees) and vis­ual artist John Dwyer, lacks com­mer­cial sheen, is fuzzy with grit and a gen­eral weird­ness that screams No Sell­out. But it’s a durable cre­ation, one rich with ’60s psy­che­delic ac­cents and ’80s new wave ap­peal.


Ka­masi Washington, “The Epic” (Brain­feeder). Is this breath­tak­ing triple al­bum from the L.A. jazz sax­o­phon­ist and com­poser an out­lier on this list? So what. “The Epic” is a fluid mix of free jazz, post-bop, fu­sion and hip-hop. An over­whelm­ing dis­play of rhythm, brass, strings, voices and key­boards, it’s also a tough record to crack. The scope fully re­vealed it­self to me only af­ter I saw the band live at the Re­gent. Since then, though, the cre­ation has more than lived up to its name.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.