It’s been a great year in music thus far. Our exec staff weighs in on their favorite albums through the first half of 2015 (Spoiler alert: a lot of us like the Kendrick record).
Willy Evans – Production Director
5. Courtney Barnett- Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
I could have easily put Sleater Kinney, Drake, Sufjan, Young Thug, or even Shamir in this slot, but I decided to go with Courtney Barnett’s debut full length album. This album is the kind of post-grunge music that we here at KSDB pound back like an overweight tourist at an all you can eat oyster bar, but this oyster had just enough pearls in that I was forced to hack it back up and examine it more closely. Featuring some of my favorite tracks of the year, Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit is a wonderful album.
4. Vince Staples- Summertime ’06
Vince Staples’ followup to last year’s Hell Can Wait- EP is an hour long 20 track behemoth of an album, and its final track cuts Vince off mid-sentence. From start to finish this album is packed to the gills and it hits far more than it misses. I’ve had less than 2 weeks to listen to this album, and I’m sure it’s only going to improve with repetition.
3. Earl Sweatshirt- I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside
I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside is a completely different animal from 2013’s Doris. It’s almost like Earl is trapped in slow motion. By far the darkest album on my list, Earl is like the weird squid creature in The Fellowship of the Ring who is going to grab you by the ankles and drag you down into the depths. You can fight it all you want, but giving in is so much better. After all, if Inside Out taught me anything, it’s that it’s okay to be sad sometimes.
2. Bully- Feels Like
The first time I heard Bully was during their performance at Brooklyn’s Northside festival. They opened for bands like Alvvays, Built to Spill, and Best Coast and for me they were on par with (and occasionally better than) all three. Their debut album Feels Like feels like it was taken from 1990 and magically transported here. Frustrated and self depreciative while simultaneously remaining catchy and upbeat, Feels Like is a modern call back to what made 90s rock great. (Also not to brag, but Alicia Bognanno and I touched the same copy of Surfer Rosa
1. Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp A Butterfly
The moment the beat kicks in on the first track to Kendrick’s third album feels like sinking into a warm bath. The fluidity of the album consumes you and transports you to Kendrick’s wonderland. It’s a murky world of injustice and outrage, but there is also hope, love, and pride there as well. It’s a hyper-reality, but it never dips into fantasy because it’s always grounded in the real world. To Pimp A Butterfly is easily the album I’ve listen to the most this year. This album is so consistent from top to bottom that 11 of the album’s 16 songs are vying for my favorite track (on the album and of the year).
Ellen Collingwood – Promotions Director
5. Big Sean – Dark Sky Paradise
Sure, there’s not as much “maturation” as others were hoping from Big Sean on Dark Sky–but who cares. It’s Big Sean. While it may lack much depth, it’s a well-produced, cohesive unit; plus, I can think of few albums that are more fun listening to from start to finish.
4. Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
If my life was an 80’s movie about young love and heartbreak, this gets to be the soundtrack hands down. Although the themes Goon explores are indefinitely personal, the simplicity gives it an almost-nostalgic element that makes its universally relatable.
3. A$AP Rocky – AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP
Take the badass elements of Long.Live.A$AP that you loved, add experimental artistic influences, some outlandish cameos (Rod Stewart?), refined vision and depth, and you’ve got A.L.L.A. While there are some great singles, it’s better taken as a collective progression showcasing a little more grown-up Lord Flacko.
2. Jamie xx – In Colour
Completely, utterly caught off guard by this gem. I’ve never been this engaged/enthralled/entertained by a dominantly vocal-free record before–yet despite the lyricism, you can still find more emotion and expression packed into a mere transition than in some albums’ entireties.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Instead of dealing with the increasing weight of the world with destruction as most artists do, Kendrick vies for sheer honesty and vulnerability. The phenomenally written album transcends itself–it’s as much as a statement as it is an invitation to dissect and discuss the most critical issues of our current day through the lens of art (namely, hip hop.)
Andrew Shores – Incoming Program Director
5. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside
Things are really weird for Earl Sweatshirt right now, and that’s totally okay. After stepping out from the shadow of Tyler, the Creator and severing ties with Odd Future, Earl has dropped his most cohesive and convincing record yet. He did most of the production himself, giving the record a very melancholic vibe and allowing the tracks to add to the personality of the album. On “I Don’t Like Shit,” Early spends most of his time rambling about the confusion of being young and finding himself. While he may feel like he is absent from life, Earl’s voice is stronger than ever with a more convincing flow and sound of purpose. It’s not the offensive, trap-inspired assault on society that one would expect from a former Odd Future member, and that’s totally fine. Earl is growing up and finding his own identity.
4. Title Fight – Hyperview
Hyperview is the pinnacle of Title Fight’s well-established career and perhaps one of the biggest departures of sound a band has made in recent memory. They traded their distortion for flange, slowed down their tempos (though not entirely), and made an album that is a hazy, drifting, and dreamlike. It retains just a hint of their signature ferocity while flirting with ideas of shoegaze and ‘90s style post-punk, and really challenges the ideas of what punk is and is not (as if it really matters).
3. Hop Along – Painted Shut
Saddle Creek Records etched it’s name in stone throughout the late 90’s and early 2000’s by became the Mecca for indie rock in middle America, and it looks like the Omaha squad is returning to form after releasing Hop Along’s “Painted Shut.” The album is a variety of beautiful, quirky indie rock songs tied together by Frances Quinlan’s gruffly elegant croon. For an album about regrets and the struggles of being a woman, it is as infectious as it is sadly true.
2. Superheaven – Ours Is Chrome
Grunge may have lived and died in the 1990’s, but that didn’t stop Superheaven from making one of the best alternative rock records of the new decade. “Ours Is Chrome” borrows elements from Nirvana and Foo Fighters as much as it does from contemporary punk bands like Title Fight and Basement. While the album is more downtempo than 2013’s “Jar,” the choruses and songwriting are much stronger than before along with vocalist Taylor Madison’s baritone melodies. Just one listen to the lead single “I’ve Been Bored” will leave you wanting more, as Madison sings about topics from the boredoms of life to murdering his sister’s heroin dealer.
1. Turnover – Peripheral Vision
Turnover has made the transformation of a lifetime after getting their roots in the mid-Atlantic’s pop-punk scene back in 2010. Five years later, “Peripheral Vision” is a masterpiece with hints of shoegaze and dreampop elements flavored ever-so-slightly with moments of the emo-rock Turnover used to play. In 2015, we consume art at such a rapid pace that it is often impossible to digest a record and what the artist intended their audience to feel, but the album envelopes you from the hard hitting “Cutting My Fingers Off” to the biting and melancholic “I Would Hate You If I Could.” The Virginia Beach crew has proven what they are capable of in their reverb-drenched revitalization.
Jordan Swoyer – Outgoing Program Director
5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
After a 5 year break, Michigan native Sufjan Stevens returns to form on his 7th album. Sparse folk songs explore Stevens’ conflicts with his faith, something his music has done in the past. This time, though, Sufjan gets much more personal, providing autobiographical context to his inner turmoil. It’s devastating.
4. Death Grips – Jenny Death
Sacramento noise/industrial/rap/destroyer of worlds group Death Grips released what was supposed to be their final album this spring. Turned out not to be the case (they’re touring right now), but fans were treated to one of their best albums. 2012’s The Money Store
was the closest Death Grips has ever come to making a conventional rap album. Jenny Death
is hard rock, and features the most traditional song structures in their discography. Listeners are still in for a rough ride, though. They’re as challenging and as interesting as ever.
3. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
This album is still fresh, so I’m trying not to overreact too much. I’m tempted to call Vince Staples Summertime ’06 the best debut hip hop record since The College Dropout. The Long Beach rapper’s strengths lie in his ability to do multiple things at once. He fits in with OFWGKTA (his former pals) and with his new label, Dej Jam. He can convey anger while also seeming calm. He plays the villain while connecting with the listener. It’s a complicated release, and has been a lot to digest, but tracks like “Surf” and “Get Paid” prove that Vince is a new force in hip hop.
2. Torres – Sprinter
The Georgia singer-songwriter was raised by evangelical christians in the South, and uses her music as a means of rebellion. This makes for some powerful, personal songwriting, but it’s the unique song structures that really set Torres apart. Extended intros/outros and bridges galore make this a challenging, rewarding listen.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
I want to go to grad school and do my thesis on TPAB.
Nick Fief – Music Director
5. American Wrestlers – American Wrestlers
2015 has been a weird year in music for me. I’ve struggled with what I like and what I don’t more than usual, but this record jumped back out at me when I was looking through some “best of” lists for this year. After picking it back up, I haven’t been able to put it down. “There’s No One Crying Over Me Either” and “I Can Do No Wrong” are the perfect, lo-fi gems to cut loose to. There is something enticingly crunchy and memorable about this record that wouldn’t let me keep it off the list.
4. The Dodos – Individ
Songs like “Walking” from The Dodos’ 2008 sophomore record, Visitor
, are enough to make anyone a fan. But to keep putting out great music for as long as this San Francisco duo has is an accomplishment. The Dodos have always been able to maintain a unique sound that has never been distorted by their growth as a band. Individ
brings plenty of energy and fast strumming acoustic guitars. “Competition” is perhaps its brightest moment, and it burns hot and loud. Also, it has this strangely great music video to go with it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPQb6XkxNL4
3. Twerps – Range Anxiety
Range Anxiety was the first album of this year to really hold my attention for more than just a few casual listens. Sunshine beams seem to burst from this record when I listen to it. It’s the perfect album to road trip to the beach to. Each song is full of charming male and female vocals full of happy harmonies that just make you smile. The city of Melbourne and Merge Records have given the world a wonderful soundtrack to a summer day.
2. Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home
Time To Go Home
is sonically diverse, fun, and educational. It pokes and prods at some serious societal and personal issues while staying light and breezy all the while. It may have a surfy, laid back feel at times, but it doesn’t ever seem lazy. There is a layer of pain within this record that gives it a very human aura,
making it irresistibly easy to be drawn in to. Taking some aspects from grunge and some from a more riot grrrl origin, these smart pacific northwest natives know how to make a top to bottom excellent record.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
What can I say that hasn’t already been said? To Pimp A Butterfly is a masterpiece of an album, just as 2012’s good Kid, m.A.A.d city was. This time, Kendrick returns with what might be a more musically challenging record filled with jazz and soul influences. It’s as deep and dense as any record I’ve ever heard and there is simply too much to take in with just one listen, or even ten listens for that matter. It’s going to be nearly impossible to topple this giant off of anyone’s top lists at the end of the year/decade.
By: KSDB Staff