It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The time when we round up the albums that we found the most favorable. 2015 has been an impossibly good year for music. From the surprisingly raucous new Built to Spill to the delightful sounds of Jimmy Whispers and the aural-destroying awesomeness of Houndmouth, trying to pick the top five is difficult in the least and subjective-unfairness in the most.
But with that in consideration, let’s jump into the top five albums that made the most distinct impressions on this particular reviewer.
5. Natalie Prass’ self-titled album. 2015 started off with the elegant and ethereal crooning of Natalie Prass’ retrospective and soulful pop songs. The dreamy combination of Prass’ rich vocals, orchestral instrumentation, and lovelorn lyrics made for a wonderful musical introduction to the year. In the nine-song album the listener is treated to complex pop arrangements and the skill of a lyricist that has the courage to sing about desire and pain with a considerable amount of sweetness and a lack of cynicism. All of the tenderly crafted songs on the eponymous album feel like musical confessionals. The intimate lyrics combined with the skillfully crafted song sequencing makes for one of the more stimulating debut albums in recent memory.
4. Jimmy Whispers. Summer in Pain. Moniker Records. In March Jimmy Whispers released his collection of ten lo-fi pop songs that are at times reminiscent of the warbled vocals of Daniel Johnston, early Ben Kweller, and something your dad probably listened to in the 70s. Summer in Pain owes a great deal of its raw nature to the liberal use of the Thomas Californian electric organ, and a recording process that supposedly involved Whispers singing directly into his iPhone. The mixing bounces the listener through all of Whispers personal thoughts and feelings, nothing about Summer in Pain feels formulaic. The sincerity of this project is innovative in both the newness of its sound, and surprising lacking of pretension. The energy from his live performances, as well as the introspection of his street art, translates into an entirely new artistic experience within the album.
3. Kendrick Lamar. To Pimp a Butterfly. Interscope. Generally speaking, as a reviewer, I would prefer to focus on indie outfits and solo musicians that don’t have the entirety of the music industry as a resource for their exposure. But Kendrick Lamar’s third studio album transcends my own personal bias about what should go on a year end list. From beginning to end, this album is addictive-ly listenable.
2. Father John Misty. I Love You, Honeybear. Sub pop. The album, sweetly and perhaps also sardonically titled I Love You, Honeybear, is a dizzying mix of cynicism and passion by a beloved folk musician who likes to use a wide rainbow of curse words to illustrate his points. The album is equal measures bark and bite, with a liberal usage of warbling banjo. I Love You, Honeybear is complicated and complex, blending emotions and serving them to the listener in finely arranged and occasionally delicate musical composition. The result is conceptually fascinating, frustrating, and, in the end, infinitely listenable and thoroughly enjoyable.
1. Hezekiah Jones. In Loving Memory of oosi Lockjaw. Woodfarm Record. Hezekiah Jones has released their latest album. And it is as lush, experimental, weird, and beautiful as you want it to be. The motley crew of Philly artists continues to create warm, folk-ish refrains and memorable melodies. But they’ve expanded on their previous aesthetic, and the new album is filled with an even richer and more cohesive sound. In its entirety, the album is layered, exquisitely crafted, and sincere. The journey of In Loving Memory of oosi Lockjaw is a genuine testament to finely hewn musicians making nostalgia-tinged music in modern and remarkable ways. The only problem with oosi Lockjaw is that it’s so good you’ll want it to go on forever. The scope, ambition, and imagination of this album is the best thing this reviewer got to listen to all year. Do yourself a favor and ring in 2016 with oosi Lockjaw on repeat.
See y’all on the other side of the year.