2015 put a little warmth back into my heart, one album drop at a time …
If there’s one thing about music that we can take away from 2015, it’s that the LP is alive and well. Between a revival in vinyl record sales, and both Adele and T-Swift crushing numbers, full-lengths have had a surprisingly impressive year. With that in mind, you can Google “Best Albums of 2015” and see the same, tired bananas on every list — or you can check out the albums that made my bitter, calloused soul feel alive and refreshed this year.
GRiZ – Say It Loud
Lordy lordy there is a funk revival afoot, and I love it. By far, one of today’s greatest purveyors of the funk has to be GRiZ. The best thing about him is that he gets better with every album he puts out: from End of the World Party (2011) to Say It Loud (2015), he’s done nothing but improve. If you ask me, GRiZ has found the sweet spot between electronic music and funk with his newest, Say It Loud — definitely his best record to date. This was easily the most fun I had listening to an album this year.
Best Track: “The Anthem”
Bassnectar – Into the Sun
Bassnectar is a god amongst mere mortals. Besides being one of the most prolific producers in the history of electronic music, he is also one of the most innovative. Into the Sun holds a special place for me this year, because it was a well-timed and welcome surprise when it came out in June. Ever since Bassnectar rocked our world at Electric Forest 2012, my wife and I have made it a tradition to catch Bassnectar at least once every turn of the calendar.
This past year, we had the sublime pleasure of seeing him on his third and final night at Red Rocks, unaware at the time that it would likely be his last appearance at the venue. Shortly after his performance that night, Lorin announced the surprise release of Into the Sun, including about 70 percent of the rollicking set we had just heard. Although I wouldn’t say this is his best album (see: Divergent Spectrum), it holds a special spot on this list because every time I listen, it takes me back to that night I spent raging face with my beloved.
Best Track (Tie): “No Way (Bassnectar Remix)” & “Dubuasca (2015 Version)”
Frameworks – Tides
Every now and then I hear a song or an album that has such an impact on me that I remember almost every detail of the moment when I first heard it. The first time I heard Tides by Frameworks is one of those times.
I awoke one rainy morning in May to a hangover and the unfortunate news that my wife’s grandfather had passed away. I listened to Tides on my way to retrieve our car that was left downtown and to pick up egg drop soup. While I was out, I passed not one but three dead dogs in the street. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best mood, but in spite of everything that was wrong that day, I felt revived by the time I made it home.
Tides consoled me without forcing feel-good vibes and happiness down my throat. It isn’t a happy album per se, but it is one of those albums that make it feel okay to wallow in darker emotions, knowing things will get better.
Best Track: “Old Friend feat. JP Cooper”
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats
There are two reasons why Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats sold out two nights at the Ogden and landed a headlining gig at Red Rocks next summer: Because they are one of the coolest new local bands, and because its debut album is fucking gold! The self-titled album is excellent, partially because of its nostalgic, analog sound, but also because every single track on it is dripping with heart and soul.
Although I love electronic bleeps and bloops as much as the next guy, I am also a lover of the past, and all of the wonderful sounds that came from it. This album gives a healthy dose of old-school blues, soul and RnB that satisfies nostalgic longings.
This as definitely one of the most refreshing things I heard all year.
Best Track (Tie): – “S.O.B.” & “Howling at Nothing”
Galimatias & Alina Baraz – Urban Flor EP
I have to give finder’s credit for this EP to those good ol’ Spotify suggestions. Noticing that I had been delving into quite a bit trippy, downtempo music earlier in the year, Spotify suggested I check out the Galimatias and companion vocalist Alina Baraz. At the time, I was only a few months away from being married, so as you can imagine, I was little tightly-wound.
The hauntingly beautiful and serene EP was the perfect antidote to all that stress. Alina Baraz’s voice is smoother than silk, and Galitmatias’s productions are so delicate and peaceful, that it’s sometimes hard to stay awake through the whole thing (in a good way).
Best Track: “Make You Feel”
Purity Ring – another eternity
Earlier in the year, I was getting tired of hearing the same kinds of electronic music over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, I love trance and house, but I found myself wanting to move past the tired untz untz and towards something a little more unique. I found exactly what I was looking for in Purity Ring’s February album, another eternity.
Though it’s a little darker than what I usually gravitate towards, the combo of such innocent vocals and emotionally charged instrumentals drew me in and wrapped me up in a blanket of feels.
Best Track: “begin again”
Nero – Between II Worlds
When dubstep first started taking its hold in the states (around 2010-2011), Nero was one of my first and favorite exposures to the genre. Like plenty of other people, I was entranced by the trio’s first album, Welcome Reality, and waited eagerly — for four fucking years — until another album drop. Fortunately, this is one of those increasingly rare cases when the follow-up to a great album, even years later, lives up to the hype. Between II Worlds continues the dark, futuristic sound Nero is known for, and is just as epic and cinematic as Welcome Reality — but also shows off the trio’s ability to move forward and make something new and fresh.
Best Track: “The Thrill”
Above & Beyond – We Are All We Need
Although some trance purists would probably disagree, I thought We Are All We Need exceeded expectations, and was well worth the 4-year wait. Sure, it’s a little poppy at times, and it definitely isn’t the 140 bpm trance record that some were hoping for, but the album is still undeniably uplifting. Part of the album’s success is due to the A&B’s genius production quality (they still got it), but the other part is the superb vocal accompaniment from Alex Vargas, Gemma Hayes, Zoe Johnston and Justine Suissa — all making the good vibes of the album completely infectious.
Best Track: “Peace of Mind (feat. Zoe Johnston)
Made in Heights – Without My Enemy What Would I Do
Since stumbling on their self-titled debut album last year (and listening to it repeatedly), I had been waiting for a follow-up album from Made In Heights. I got my wish in May and was not disappointed. Without My Enemy What Would I Do isn’t necessarily happy listening, but isn’t depressing either — perfect for days when you aren’t quite sure how to feel about anything.
Sabzi’s beats are simple yet inspiring, and Kelsey Burkin’s voice cuts remarkably damn deep; when that’s all rolled together, it makes for a stirring album.
Best Track: “Panther”
Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi
When I was in middle/high school, I was busy being angsty, hating the establishment and listening to too much punk to really get into Death Cab For Cutie — although that time is arguably the peak of their trajectory. My wife, on the other hand, is a big fan, and (re)introduced me to Death Cab this year.
Being older, wiser and way more open to “new” music, I fell in love with Death Cab’s music (Waaayy behind the curve, I know). Although I wouldn’t quite call myself a superfan, there’s just something about the innocence and vulnerability in every song that cuts me to my core. I’m sure there aren’t many who would suggest that this is the band’s best album, but it is certainly a pleasant listen.
Best Track: “Black Sun”
Wale – The Album About Nothing
Unlike just about everyone in the country, I’m not all over Kendrick Lamar’s dick when it comes to rap. To be honest, I used to really love rap, but I’ve kind of grown apart from it — mostly because, lyrically, it’s gotten pretty stale.
Wale has always been one of my favorites though. He can still rap circles around just about anyone, and his lyrical content is about as fresh as it gets. I’ve probably listened to his Mixtape About Nothing and More About Nothing a hundred times each, so when he released The Album About Nothing, I was all over it. True to form, Wale spits hot fire with his signature flow and crafty lyrics on this album. This album was so good that it made me want to get back into rap, but then I listened to Rae Sremmurd and thought: “Nah …”
Best Track: “The Success”