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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2015 (20-11)

20. Caracal---Disclosure
        So what if I like this album way more than anyone else? It's perfectly sunny out here on Caracal island, just in case you were wondering. Disclosure's follow-up to their 2013 smash Settle was forgotten almost as soon as it met the world, and I'm still not sure I understand why. Despising anything resembling fuzz or clutter, the Lawrence's brothers' latest is far and away the cleanest album of 2015, each and every sound exactingly selected and immaculately mixed. One of the only artists working today capable of putting on a legitimate variety show, these House music luminaries cross paths with the likes of Lorde, Miguel, Nao, and, of course, Sam Smith, but what makes it all so riveting is their ability to perfectly tailor a track to its respective singer. There's still space for you out here on Caracal island, and let me tell you, the dance floor's water's fine.

19. Escape From Evil---Lower Dens
        We're now at least a solid decade into the music industry's fascination with emulating and updating the sounds of the 80's, yet there's still something about Escape From Evil that feels markedly different. Hailing from Baltimore, the four musicians who make up Lower Dens craft songs that seems to locate a place of rosy, reverberating beauty, and stay there for longer than most outfits would have the courage. Tunes like Sucker's Shangri-La and Your Heart Still Beating find a riff or rhythm that cradles the ears, wherein each strum bounces endlessly off of studio walls, and are as happy to stay put as we are. The soaring breakthrough moments of To Die in L.A. and Company certainly rebut this notion, but they too owe their power not only to the LP's masterful sound mixing, but also Jana Hunter's soaring voice, one of the most unique to enter indie music in quite some time. Escape might not leap out of your car speakers at first, but it's one of the year's only albums that I've liked more each and every time I've heard it.

18. Individ---The Dodos
        Early press releases for The Dodos latest likened the album's sound and feel to that of their break-through 2008 LP, Visiter, which immediately proved to be little more than an olive branch reached out to fans. Individ is a compact 38 minutes compared to Visiter's sprawling hour, and features Meric Long finally switching over to electric guitar as his primary six-string. Perhaps the comparison was simply short-hand for 'really damn good,' because the San Francisco two-piece's latest is certainly that, nine straight tracks that bounce off one another without ever losing momentum. The knotty, rapid-fire guitar-and-drums interplay that formerly defined these guys' sound is frequently sidelined in favor of pure, basic songwriting, putting Long's intuition for melody on full display. It's yet another step into the future by one of our most consistent bands, but if you really need to look back on the past a bit, they've got Competition waiting right there for you.

17. Dumb Flesh---Blanck Mass
        In the very same fashion in which Martin Courtney's Many Moons served as an excellent stop-gap until the next Real Estate album comes out, Dumb Flesh is one hell of a way to pass the time until the next Fuck Buttons record. Benjamin John Power, one half of the aforementioned psychotic electronic music project, goes solo as Blanck Mass, and his songs remain just as distinct even without his partner in crime. Dumb Flesh might employ the general rhetoric of dance music, but the album uses it to bully your ears into submission, every sound and shift heightened to near-terrifying levels of intensity. If Power is actually this dude's given name, the universe is truly onto something, because the music he makes is almost tyrannical, so strange, full-bodied, and imposing as to become awe-inspiring.

15. *tie* Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars
        Beach House usually takes about three years between the release of their albums, but they shortened the cycle in 2015... to one month. Depression Cherry, which had been promised and promoted for months, was released on August 28th, and while the disc is as lovely and etherial as we've come to expect from these Dream Pop pioneers, the effort felt like a second consecutive drop in greatness (Following on the heels of Bloom, which itself couldn't quite live up to Teen Dream). Then news came of yet another full-length, Thank Your Lucky Stars, set to arrive at the start of October. I for one was immediately more taken with the surprise LP than the foretold one, but time and distance have allowed my brain to accept that anticipation might have had a liiiiiiittle bit to do with that initial reading.

        What drew me to Stars initially was its relative mean-streak; this is certainly still the very same Beach House you've always known, but She's So Lovely and Rough Song allow a darkness in that feels fresh, not the mention that squealing organ note that redefines closer Somewhere Tonight wholesale. Cherry is comparatively billowy, and while I still believe Stars to be the more consistent of the two, their first release of the year can boast of higher high points. Sparks employs that jaggedly-distorted guitar for which Alex Scally has a new fondness to marvelous effect, and the way Victoria Legrand guides us on Levitation's other-worldly ascent is as sumptuous as it is captivating. Deciding on the superior disc has has become increasingly difficult, but there's good news: you can have both!

14. MCIII---Mikal Cronin
        As aggrandizing as this might sound for a guy still toiling in relative anonymity, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better American songwriter that Mikal Cronin. Don't mistake this for the sort of prodigy/game-changer tag applied to artists like Radiohead or Animal Collective; Cronin's gift is in finding unnervingly immediate melodies and undeniable guitar riffs within established boundaries, not outside of them. MCIII can hardly contain the beauty of his craftsmanship, sumptuous strings and lovely keys pouring out of opener Turn Around from the moment you hit play, slipping into the background to support I've Been Loved's comely acoustic lament. He even manages to step on the gas from time-to-time, Say launching off the blocks into distortion-covered, horn blowing triumph, Ready serving as its pounding, urgent late-album counterpart. The songs Cronin pens and plays pull off that most elusive of musical magic tricks; even on first spin, you feel like you've been listening to these cuts for as long as you can remember.
13. No Cities to Love---Sleater-Kinney
        And suddenly, they re-emerged. In the ten years that have passed since these indie punk titans last released an album, vocalist Carrie Brownstein became more famous as 'the woman on Portlandia' than as a genuine musical pioneer, a travesty that is made that much clearer by the greatness of No Cities to Love. Though the trio can still rock just as hard as ever, as witnessed on the bookends of Price Tag and Fade, 2015 found Sleater-Kinney at their most melodic, the screwy A New Wave driving straight into one of the catchiest choruses in recent memory, while the buoyant Hay Darling is the kind of rack that turns off purists while delighting new fans. It's a pop-punk album to be sure, but it's most often only one or the other at a time, creating a sonic sampler platter that just about anyone with ears can agree on.

12. New Bermuda---Deafheaven
        Every once in a while, a band comes along from a largely esoteric genre that manages to attract listeners who would usually run for the hills. Like Bob Dylan or Eminem before them, Deafheaven has officially pulled off just such a trick, their caustic, booming metal music drawing in a decidedly more vast audience than usually acknowledges these pummeling drums and screaming vocals. It's easy enough to point to the intermittent post-rock passages as the reason for their crossover appeal, and while the ravishing nature of these movements certainly helps, it's the way they bounce off of the gloom-and-doom thunder storm of everything else that really makes their aesthetic uniquely alluring. Add to this the vocals of George Clarke, which are just as raspy and indecipherable as any Cookie Monster growler out there, but hit noticeably higher pitches, furthering distancing Deafheaven from the sound of their peers. Whatever it is, New Bermuda is an experience, at one moment looking to the stars with a sense of wonder, and then mercilessly leveling an entire city in the next.

11. Ego Death---The Internet
        Before encountering Ego Death, all I knew about The Internet was that they (or was it he? She?) were a part of the Odd Future collective. And while this may be true, finding a more misleading context for their music would be a tall task. Led by vocalist Syd tha Kyd, The Internet craft sultry R&B that's lightyears removed from the wanton aggression of OF's most famous output, Ego Death consisting of one smooth, pleasure-positive winner after another. The group enlists fellow 'alternative R&B' star Janelle Monae for breezy highlight Gabby, but requires no assistance on Just Sayin'/I Tried, one of the album's only moments of true aggression, wherein Syd scolds a former lover with a calm the belies fire. It's a rare moment of tension in an album deeply defined by its sexy saunter and mellowed-out worldview, so much so that when Tyler, the Creator shows up on two-part closer Palace/Curse, he not only sings instead of raps, but acts as a jovial MC to an imaginary dance party. If Ego Death can get that guy to calm down and have a good time, imagine what it can do for you.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2015

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2015

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