Best Music of 2015... So Far
Based on 44 critics, 17 gave it a perfect score of 100. Prior to the album's drop date, Lamar won two Grammy Awards for it. He won Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for his single "i" that he promoted last year. The song in many ways was a reaction to the Ferguson protests and the shooting of Michael Brown, as well as the killings of many unarmed, black men at the hands of the police. Lamar also received the California State Senate's "Generational Icon Award." Lamar even landed on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Speaking of songs that comment on the recent protests of police killings, Prince released the song "Baltimore," which came in the wake of the riots in the Charm City earlier this year and the death of Freddie Gray. At the heart, the protests are all about underlying, tense, race relations, and we're seeing songs, particularly rap songs start to reflect that.
Take the lyrics of "Old Rock N Roll" by Young Fathers, a hip hop group based in Scotland. In the first verse, they say, "I'm tired of having to hold back. I'm tired of wearing this hallmark for some evils that happened way back. I'm tired of blaming the white man. His indiscretion don't betray him. A black man can play him. Some white men are black men too." It's as much an expression of anger over inequality as it is a recognition of a need for reconciliation on both sides.
Other than Lamar though, there are two other albums that seem to have stolen the hearts of music critics. The first is Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens, the singer-songwriter from Detroit. The record is a return to the more folk-rock sound for which Stevens was initially known.
The other album with a lot of great reviews is No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney, an all-female, punk rock band that's been around for 20 years, but this is its first album in about a decade. Out of 39 reviews on Metacritic, it got five scores of 100. The most ardent defender was Helen Clarke, writing for musicOMH, when she says, "Its sheer ferocity gives them an edge beyond even what they'd achieved before... and this record plays like a triumphant middle finger salute, coolly showing everyone how it's done..."
Other critically lauded albums include Vulnicura by Björk and In Colour by Jamie xx. Both albums didn't win me over, but I could see the appeal they might have in others. For me, the album that did win me over totally and completely was Reality Show by Jazmine Sullivan, the R&B singer from North Philadelphia. Not only is Philly my hometown, but I'm a sucker for pointed R&B and Sullivan does that spectacularly.
Speaking of R&B, Janet Jackson made headlines this year. She announced that she was going to release a new studio album, which she hadn't done since her tenth album Discipline was released back in 2008. The new album will be released later this year under her own label called Rhythm Nation Records, thus making Jackson the first, female, African-American artist to form her own record label. She added that there will be a series of concerts called the "Unbreakable World Tour."
Currently, Taylor Swift's 1989 World Tour is the leading music tour of the year. Everyone knows that with her album 1989 Swift has crossed over from country music to more pop music. Another artist who has done a crossover, mixing country and pop is Steve Grand.
Grand released his single "All-American Boy" in the summer of 2013. He released a music video, which he financed himself. He then uploaded it to YouTube where it went viral, mainly in part because it heralded Grand as the first openly gay male country musician. This year, he released his debut album All-American Boy, which was financed through a Kickstarter campaign that became the third-highest funded music project on the site. It's since fallen to #5.
|Shawn Mendes joins Justin Bieber|
and Stevie Wonder as youngest artist at #1
On another note, Paul McCartney made his first visit to the First State, that of Delaware, for the Firefly Music Festival. The event hosted a lot of great bands and crowds in the thousands. The festival is now in its fourth year.
Dan Deacon who was an act at the Firefly Music Festival back in 2013 released his fourth studio album this year. Derek Staples of Consequence of Sound writes, "On record or in concert, Deacon offers escapism at its finest." Based in Baltimore, he is renown for his live shows, but I was quite taken with a music video he did for his song "Feel the Lightning," which looks like it was inspired by Pee-Wee Herman's TV show.
Unfortunately, one of my favorite songs of the year isn't available for download. It's the song "You Got to Learn" by Raphael Saadiq. The song is performed in the film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, directed by Spike Lee. Sadly, the song was not put onto the soundtrack being sold on iTunes. The only way to hear it is to download, stream or buy the movie on physical media.
Leanne Macomber of the band Young Ejecta wins the Shia LaBeouf award for nudity for the sake of music. Remember, LaBeouf went totally naked for the Sigur Rós video, "Fjögur píanó" and partially naked for Sia's "Elastic Heart."
Lastly, Cannibal Ox, the Harlem hip hop duo, sampled audio from the movie Minority Report on their album Blade of the Ronin. On the the brief track, "Pressure of Survival," audio from the film is taken directly. I thought this was interesting because also this year, a TV adaptation of Minority Report is set to premiere on FOX.
There's so much good music out there that I find it hard to narrow down a concise list. It's either that, or else I'm not that discriminating when it comes to the recording arts. However, here's my list of the 32 albums and 19 individual songs that are the best music of 2015... so far:
Best Folk / Country
CARRIE & LOWELL by Sufjan Stevens
I LOVE YOU, HONEYBEAR by Father Misty John
TOMORROW IS MY TURN by Rhiannon Giddens
I CANT IMAGINE by Shelby Lynne
THE FIREWATCHER'S DAUGHTER by Brandi Carlile
WILDER MIND by Mumford & Sons
Best Rock / Alternative
SOUND & COLOR by Alabama Shakes
DEEP IN THE IRIS by Braids
VAMALA by Champs
EVERMOTION by Guster
AMERICAN BEAUTY / AMERICAN PSYCHO by Fall Out Boy
RUN by Awolnation
Best Pop / Electronic
MERCY by Active Child
RATCHET by Shamir
THE DESIRED EFFECT by Brandon Flowers
SUNDAY DINNER by Keath Mead
REBEL HEART by Madonna
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY [OST] by Various Artists
SOFT CONTROL by Laura Welsh
Best R&B / Soul
REALITY SHOW by Jazmine Sullivan
THE FUN RISES, THE FUN SETS by Van Hunt
BLACKHEART by Dawn Richard
WILDHEART by Miguel
LOOK CLOSER by Saun & Starr
TRUE ROMANCE by Estelle
YOU SHOULD BE HERE by Kehlani
Best Rap / Hip Hop
TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY by Kendrick Lamar
SURF by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
WHITE MEN ARE BLACK MEN TOO by Young Fathers
EAT PRAY THUG by Heems
HAVE A NICE LIFE by Murs
THE ALBUM ABOUT NOTHING by Wale
Best Song from Non-listed Album
"You Got to Learn" by Raphael Saadiq
"Young Blood" by The Districts
"Baltimore" by Prince f/ Eryn Allen Kane
"Baltimore" by Jazmine Sullivan (cover of Nina Simone)
"Frederick Douglass" by Rumer
"What is Love" by V. Bozeman
"Conqueror" by Estelle f/ Jussie Smollett
"Sequential Circuits" by Panda Bear
"Devil in My Veins" by Yelawolf
"Play for Today" by Belle and Sebastian
"Wild Bush" by Howlin Rain
"Buffalo" by Toro Y Moi
"All in Cahoots" by This is the Kit
"When You Comin' Home" by Gretchen Peters
"Till the Water's All Long Gone" by The Decemberists
"Bridgebuilder" and "Precious" by JD McPherson
"Bug" by Boxed In
"Tape 2 Tape" or "Shame on Me" by Aqualung
"It Is You" by Natalie Prass