Ethan’s Top Ten Albums of 2015
After a year to reflect, my annual tradition of correcting mistakes I made on last year’s list. In my defense, D’Angelo dropped after I posted last year’s list and I hadn’t heard of Betty Who yet.
UPDATED 2014 RANKINGS:
10. Future – Honest
9. Betty Who – Take Me When You Go
8. YG – My Krazy Life
7. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
6. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
5. Taylor Swift – 1989
4. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
3. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
2. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
1. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
And now onto 2015, one of the strongest years for music in recent memory.
Honorable Mentions. Demi Lovato, Dr. Dre, Future/Drake, Future, Action Bronson, Alabama Shakes.
Alabama Shakes is one of the liveliest LOUDEST bands you can see live right now. Granted I’ve only seen them live on streamed festivals because I’m cheap, poor and friendless; but still. As with all Dr. Dre albums, the focus isn’t the host’s lyrics, but the lyrics of his guests. Dre is more of a curator than a rapper. I could stand to go without the scene of Dre shooting a pleading woman, especially in light of recent allegations; but there will never be a completely 100% non-problematic rap album that’s also listenable. Dr. Dre creates cinematic soundscapes. Granted, the diminishing returns from The Chronic to Chronic 2001 to Compton is glaring, Compton still surpasses most present day production. Compton & GTAV greatly allieved my West Coast homesickness. Dr. Dre’s production always just *sounds* like Cali. Dre is successful despite his rapping. Production outshines poor lyricism. Future’s DS2 & Future/Drake’s WATTBA (which was really just a Future tape featuring Drake) had strong singles, but weren’t as complete a project as the following ten albums. Bronson disrespected Ghost, so he can’t crack the top ten. With the amount I’m listening to Demi’s new album, she might slip into the top ten by the time I revisit this list in a year.
10. Chvrches – Every Open Eye
I’d put Lauren Mayberry up against practically any living singer not named Adele right now. This album is practically flawless, except for the track that dude sings on. Get outta here, dude. Nobody buys a Beatles album to hear Ringo sing.
9. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
Another album that took a few re-listens to truly appreciate. Could rise higher on the list after I have another year to scour every corner of this tape. The production is like a more inaccessible Odd Future album, which is a compliment, I swear. Inaccessible is good and greatly lacking in current hip-hop. Some of No I.D.’s best production work since early Kanye.
8. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt
The production almost sounds like Viktor Vaughn-era MF DOOM. Rainy day depression rap. Earl is possibly never going to top Earl, especially that opening track, and that’s okay. Earl is the Ghostface of Odd Future, he’s got a million stories to tell and I’m looking forward to the next one.
7. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
The album cover that launched a million memes. A mixtape dropped in the middle of the night, with seemingly not a single weak track. The gun shots sound a bit cartoonish on a Drake mixtape, but other than that this is a solid follow-up to Nothing Was the Same.
6. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
Two straight years of top ten Gibbs albums. The realest rapper in hip-hop right now. SoaD doesn’t have the level of production of last year’s Piñata, without Madlib; but Gibbs lyricism keeps improving. “Extradite” is a throwback to early hip-hop with Black Thought & Gibbs trading verses back and forth over Bob James’ “Nautilus”, one of the most heavily-sampled tracks in hip-hop history, used by luminaries from Slick Rick to Run-DMC to Eric B & Rakim to Ghostface. “10 Times” is the smoothest beat on the album with fellow heavyweights Gucci Mane & E-40 riding the wave with Gibbs. #FREEGUCCI
5. Tyler the Creator – Cherry Bomb
Cherry Bomb might be Tyler’s weakest album, which says a lot about where he is production-wise; because it’s still a phenomenal album and the second-best hip-hop album of 2015. YEEZUS was arguably Kanye’s weakest album, but it still bangs. Tyler’s worst stuff is better than many rappers’ best stuff. Tyler’s the RZA of Odd Future; he’ll never have the lyricism of Earl, but he’s arguably the greatest producer in hip-hop right now not named Kanye. Cherry Bomb follows in the footsteps of that classic Neptunes In Search Of… sound.
4. Adele – 25
Fank you! As good as “Hello” is, “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” is the best track on the album. Adele is music’s Steph Curry. Kids shouldn’t try hucking threes in the gym, because there will never be another Steph Curry. Kids shouldn’t try to belt it out in music class, because there will never be another Adele. At her current release rate, looking forward to Adele’s fourth album 31 in 2020.
3. Lin-Manuel Miranda – Hamilton
If I did my rankings based solely on what new album I listened to the most in a given year, Hamilton would win in a landslide. Lin-Manuel brought voice to a historical figure who most people just know as a dude who lost a gunfight. Renée Elise Goldberry & Daveed Diggs are gonna be huge. Who knew the theme of immigrants coming to a new nation and making a positive difference would become so relevant and prevalent. Talk about ripped from the damn headlines.
2. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
This review may be biased since Carly Rae is my girlfriend. As CRJ’s boyfriend (I call her that for short, because I’m her boyfriend) it’s both startling and humbling to have an entire album written about you. Now I know how Joey Gladstone felt! Cut it out!
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Any best-of-2015 list that didn’t have To Pimp A Butterfly in first is inherently wrong. Music is subjective. But this album is objective. That it’s #1 is just fact. Mixes of funk, jazz, slam poetry. A return to the early nineties, as close as any current rapper will get. Chronic-era mixed with Native Tongues. Native Tongues consciousness mixed with G-Funk era Death Row attitude. The album leads off with George Clinton for crying out loud, the very man who inspired the G-Funk era. Appearances from Dre & Snoop, West Coast godfathers co-signing/endorsing their protege and natural successor. The Tupac interview epilogue over a smooth jazz beat is surreal. TPaB is the spiritual successor to The Chronic. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was about him. To Pimp a Butterfly is about us.
Early predictions for Best Album of 2016: Gorillaz TBA; Kanye West SWISH; Drake Views From The 6; Frank Ocean TBA; Boosie Badazz In My Feelings; Cam’ron Purple Haze 2; Pusha T King Push; De La Soul Premium Soul on the Rocks; Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 3; Haim TBA; Little Brother TBA; Tenacious D TBA; GZA Dark Matter; Method Man & Redman Blackout! 3; and YG Still Krazy.