Posted by: tdennis2011 | January 3, 2016

The Best and Worst of 2015

This is my third annual year-end list since I started this blog. For the past few years I’ve been somewhat disappointed; not only by the mediocrity of mainstream music, but how the fresh, innovative artists of the past 10 years began spinning their wheels. Legitimately brilliant material was buried beneath trendy, hipster one-hit-wonders and obnoxious club fodder. The bad music was horrendous…and became smash hits. I cannot think of a time period that compares to this era. In all probability we may have witnessed the dark age of music.

If you were as depressed as I was, fear not. I am proud to announce that the dark ages may be declining. Quality has slowly been making a comeback. Even the bad stuff was at least interestingly bad. Young talent sprang up from everywhere with new styles. Some artists reinvented themselves and put out some of their best work to date. People I despise started releasing quality products. The best holdovers from last year remained popular and became some of the year’s biggest hits. Songs from a year or two ago finally gained notoriety. Legends from the past returned and proved they were still relevant and just as good as when they debuted. And to top it all off, for the second time in her career, Adele saved the music industry and made albums feel important again.

2015 was a watershed year that will be remembered as the return to artistry, innovation, skill, and quality. Without exaggeration, this could have been the best year of the decade so far, and I can’t wait to share what I experienced with you all. No more stalling. Let’s dive into the best of 2015.

 

THE 20 BEST ALBUMS:

  1. Have You in My Wilderness – Julia Holter

What sold me on this one was the style. Holter is one of those artists who can perfectly mix poetics with eclecticism. Her voice, which sounds like Lana Del Rey if she swallowed Annie Clark, only adds to the atmosphere.

 

  1. E•MO•TION – Carly Rae Jepsen

I was surprised by how much I liked this one. I fully expected Jepsen to fade into one-hit-wonder obscurity after “Call Me Maybe”. Instead she released a listenable album full of fun songs. E•MO•TION contains a mix of 80s synth-pop and modern beats that, for some reason, made me think of True Romance by Charli XCX.

 

  1. 25 – Adele

It broke records 1 week into its release and continues to do so now. Having listened to it for myself it’s easy to see why. Adele is an extraordinarily gifted singer…and she knows it. The hoopla surrounding 25 is well deserved. The only drawback: “Hello” set the bar so high that the rest of the songs couldn’t quite follow it.

 

  1. Traveller – Chris Stapleton

Just a few months ago nobody knew who this man was. Now he’s the most celebrated country musician of 2015. Traveller is an album in the same vein as Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, in that it called attention to the artist’s wonderful voice and used a retro sound to support it. It wouldn’t surprise me if other country musicians change their style to match.

 

  1. California Nights – Best Coast

I had the same feelings for this as I did for Wolf’s Law by The Joy Formidable. I always knew Best Coast was good, but this was the first time they really got my attention. The atmosphere in California Nights is so thick you can cut it with a knife, and it’s a relatively easy listen. Just when you’re about to get bored, a good song appears. Try it.

 

  1. Compton – Dr. Dre

The long overdue album from Dr. Dre was worth the wait. He gathered together his friends and frequent collaborators and made pure rap music again. Compton brought energetic, gritty rap back to the mainstream in a way that hasn’t been heard since the 90s. Unfortunately there were some moments of mediocrity sprinkled throughout, but the rest was sheer brilliance.

 

  1. Before This World – James Taylor

It’s comforting to know that James Taylor hasn’t lost his musical touch. He has the special ability to make reminiscent memories feel special. I loved this album’s mood and the warm environment it created. The atmosphere from beginning to end was marvelous. The production was solid. The vocal harmonies were great. What else can I say about it? If you’re a fan of the classic Americana sound, you should definitely check this one out.

 

  1. Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes

No wonder people got excited about this band when they came out. This was an awesome rendering of soulful southern rock. Brittany Howard knocked it out of the park and the rest of the band deserves applause for successfully blending the stylings of Creedence Clearwater Revival and The White Stripes. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

 

  1. No Cities to Love – Sleater-Kinney

There wasn’t a dull moment here. Sleater-Kinney came back from hiatus and proved they haven’t lost their edge. They are one of the last remaining female rock bands and I hope we get to hear more soon.

 

  1. Drones – Muse

Imagine for a moment that Pink Floyd, U2, Rage Against the Machine, and Queen pooled their talents and recorded an album. That’s exactly what Drones sounds like. It also managed to recapture the kind of rock that disappeared about 10 years ago. My only gripe is that it was based on an Orwellian dystopia to push a political message; a concept that is obscenely overused.

 

  1. Mr. Misunderstood – Eric Church

In 2015 bro country seemingly vanished and was replaced by good old-fashioned country music. Drop to your knees and thank God for that. Eric Church is one of the few modern country artists I respect because he consistently releases well-crafted songs that aren’t about girls and trucks. His lyrics are so much deeper than that. Mr. Misunderstood could be his best work yet.

 

  1. The Magic Whip – Blur

It sounds like Blur has changed with the times. The Magic Whip was pretty subdued. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t exciting. It was an interesting mix of songs that reminded me of everyone from Gorillaz (obviously) and Radiohead. I really don’t have much to say about The Magic Whip except that it’s good!

 

  1. Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves

Again, thank God for real country music. Lyric-wise Musgraves is a little more innovative than her contemporaries. She is such a skilled lyricist that she can make you think and laugh at the same time without ever once coming across as preachy. Pageant Material is a very approachable album and I have fond memories of it.

 

  1. B’lieve I’m Goin Down… – Kurt Vile

Laid-back and pleasant describe this album. B’lieve I’m Goin Down… is an excellent guitar-driven effort. Kurt Vile knows how to play guitar and makes it sound like the easiest thing in the world to do. There isn’t much to complain about in terms of quality here. However, B’lieve I’m Goin Down… has the same problem as Adele’s 25: the opening song was so good that none of the other songs could beat it.

 

Now we get to the really good stuff. I have an unprecedented 6 top recommendations for the best albums of 2015. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said this was a good year. These albums represent the very best of 2015 and, as always, your collection is incomplete without them.

 

  1. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett released one of the most unique albums I heard all year. This solid collection of songs showcases awesome garage rock with funny, witty, interesting lyrics. The lyrics stole the show. I heard someone describe Barnett as a cross between Bob Dylan and Jerry Seinfeld. That’s so true. She has a distinct personality that comes through in each song. It’s exactly the kick in the pants that indie rock so desperately needed this year. This album totally restored my faith in indie rock and I’m genuinely excited for what Courtney Barnett does next.

 

  1. To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar has done it again. He’s only been around a few years and only has 2 albums to his name, but you would never know that. He sounds like he’s had decades of experience and yet he is one of the most exciting young talents in all of rap music. There hasn’t been this much buzz surrounding a young rapper since Nas and 2Pac. For me he is already at their level. To Pimp a Butterfly puts Lamar’s mastery for music, production, flow, and lyrics on full display. He’s clearly smarter than his peers and there’s nothing lame about him.

 

  1. The Clearing – Rachel Grimes

Rachel Grimes’ unique touch is what made this album shine. This is an instrumental album full of experimentation and it remarkable. I love instrumental stuff if it can keep me entertained. The Clearing is so good that even the cover art conveys as much emotion as the songs. That’s how great it is. If instrumental albums aren’t your thing, give this one a listen and you may like it.

 

  1. The Longest River – Olivia Chaney

The Longest River is a testament to craftsmanship and minimalism. It proves you don’t need gimmicks or glitzy production to make a classic. Chaney recorded an absolute masterpiece that would make Joni Mitchell and Carole King proud. Looking back on my listening experience, I can honestly say it was one of the most beautiful albums of the year. I love thinking about how it made me feel.

 

  1. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – Florence + The Machine

I’ve been a fan since Lungs and I was reminded why when I heard this one. Florence + The Machine has only gotten better with each release and has almost reached Van Morrison status. Every member played to his and her own strengths and complimented each other perfectly. The result is one great song after another and their most cohesive effort to date. It’s great to have them back.

 

  1. The Epic – Kamasi Washington

There is no reason The Epic should have succeeded in this day and age. It is 2 hours long, takes up 3 discs, and only contains 4 tracks on which people sing. It doesn’t matter though. This is some of the finest jazz I’ve ever heard. The Epic highlights everything I love about the genre: unpredictable mood shifts, synchronized rhythm and wind sections, a wide range of moods and flavors, and catchy melodies. I remain in awe of how much press this album was given. Not since the days of Miles Davis has jazz felt so relevant. Congratulations to Kamasi Washington for going the unconventional route and for grabbing my attention from start to finish. This was an absolutely magnificent album and I have nothing bad to say about it.

 

THE 50 BEST SONGS:

  1. Hello – Adele
  2. Tennessee Whisky – Chris Stapleton
  3. 100 Lovers – Tennis
  4. Pretty Pimpin – Kurt Vile
  5. Dead Inside – Muse
  6. Angels of Fenway – James Taylor
  7. Strange Encounter – Father John Misty
  8. Queen of Peace – Florence + The Machine
  9. Cherokee – Kamasi Washington
  10. California Nights – Best Coast
  11. Renegades – X Ambassadors
  12. There’s Not a Swain – Olivia Chaney
  13. Far Afghanistan – James Taylor
  14. Nobody to Blame – Chris Stapleton
  15. Touch the Sky – Hillsong UNITED
  16. Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes
  17. E•MO•TION – Carly Rae Jepsen
  18. God Knows I Tried – Lana Del Rey
  19. Animals – Dr. Dre & Anderson .Paak
  20. Lonesome Street – Blur
  21. What Kind of Man – Florence + The Machine
  22. Stay on My Shore – Joan Shelley
  23. Send My Love (To Your New Lover) – Adele
  24. Pedestrian at Best – Courtney Barnett
  25. Hey Darling – Sleater-Kinney
  26. Various Storms & Saints – Florence + The Machine
  27. River Lea – Adele
  28. Holy S*** – Father John Misty
  29. Dear Nora – Girlpool
  30. Today Today Today – James Taylor
  31. Silhouette – Julia Holter
  32. Honeymoon – Lana Del Rey
  33. Alone All the Time – Sick Sad World
  34. Feel You – Julia Holter
  35. Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd
  36. Biscuits – Kacey Musgraves
  37. Kill a Word – Eric Church
  38. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – Florence + The Machine
  39. Your Fool – Natalie Prass
  40. Dopamine – DIIV
  41. This Town – Kacey Musgraves
  42. Magnets – Disclosure & Lorde
  43. Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party – Courtney Barnett
  44. Bird Set Free – Sia
  45. Music to Watch Boys To – Lana Del Rey
  46. Ice Cream Man – Blur
  47. Good for You – Selena Gomez (music video version)
  48. Don’t Wanna Fight – Alabama Shakes
  49. Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves
  50. There Are Too Many of Us – Blur

 

THE 10 BEST HIT SONGS:

  1. Hello – Adele

Not only is this the best hit song of the year, this is the best song period. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect, emotional pop song last year. What a comeback. What a voice. What a song.

 

  1. Uptown Funk! – Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars

I said 2 years ago that Bruno Mars has found his niche as a throwback soul singer. He’s the real star of this song. The vocals match the smooth funky music exactly, which made this song addicting.

 

  1. Renegades – X Ambassadors

I usually don’t care for hipster guitar tunes, but these guys did it well. This is a bouncy song with cool production and it will not leave your head.

 

  1. Don’t – Ed Sheeran

This is still my favorite Ed Sheeran song so far. It made my top 10 list last year, too.

 

  1. Style – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has officially cemented her status as a pop legend. She practically owned the charts for over a year. Simply put, style is a very well made pop song. It’s becoming clear that I made a huge mistake by not listening to the 1989 album last year.

 

  1. Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd

I can’t say I’m a fan of The Weeknd, but I did legitimately like this song. Michael Jackson was an obvious influence. In fact, there are moments where “Can’t Feel My Face” sounds like a new Michael Jackson song.

 

  1. Love Me Harder – Ariana Grande & The Weeknd

You may remember this song made my top 50 list last year. “Love Me Harder” feels genuine and it’s Grande’s best song. It’s pretty catchy, too.

 

  1. Girl Crush – Little Big Town

This is a slow, steady, stripped down, somewhat emotional love ballad about jealousy and self-doubt. It’s a very refreshing angle, especially from a country act.

 

  1. Sugar – Maroon 5

Say what you will about Maroon 5, but they are capable of producing solid pop songs. That’s all this is. It gets the job done and it sounds fun.

 

  1. I’m Not the Only One – Sam Smith

In my opinion Sam Smith is overrated. His voice has tons of potential, but his lisp is a serious hindrance. This is the only song I’ve heard from him where I wasn’t distracted by that lisp. As a result you can hear the emotion in Smith’s voice.

 

Even though music stepped up its game last year, the sad fact is no year can be 100% great. It is now time for my picks for the worst of 2015. The good news is there isn’t much to talk about.

 

THE WORST ALBUM:

Garden of Delete – Oneohtrix Point Never

I always appreciate when an artist thinks outside the box, and I get what this guy wanted to do, but this was not a good album. It had plenty of weight and experimentation and had one or two impressive moments. However, the execution of the final product was all over the place. Nothing felt cohesive and each song felt choppy and cluttered.

 

THE 10 WORST HIT SONGS:

  1. Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae) – Silentó

Uninspired, clichéd, and aggravating are just 3 of the negative adjectives I use to describe this train wreck. Everything about this song from Silentó’s nasally delivery to the synthetic music is terrible. Even the dances he name checks aren’t any good. None of that stopped this song from becoming a smash hit though.

 

  1. Coco – O.T. Genasis

Here is yet another lazy, idiotic hip-hop song that raked in lots of money. “Coco” is so ineptly made that I found myself laughing hysterically at it. I don’t know if that was the intention of the artist or not. If it was meant to be serious then he failed miserably.

 

  1. My Way – Fetty Wap & Monty

This is another hip-hop hit that had me giggling. How can I take this guy seriously if it sounds like he’s talking with his mouth full?

 

  1. Trap Queen – Fetty Wap

Same as the last 2 songs, except this WAS supposed to be taken seriously. The subject matter, music, and Fetty Wap himself are not redeemable. I don’t understand why “Trap Queen” became as big as it did.

 

  1. Where Are Ü Now – Skrillex & Diplo & Justin Bieber

Can you say ‘trying too hard’?

 

  1. 7/11 – Beyoncé

One of the few low points in Beyoncé’s admirable career. “7/11” is as bad as it gets and it’s on an album that was supposedly a game changer. What was Beyoncé thinking?

 

  1. 679 – Fetty Wap & Remy Boyz

See number 3. (Can you tell I don’t like Fetty Wap?)

 

  1. Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh) – Rich Homie Quan

See number 3.

 

  1. Post to Be – Omarion, Chris Brown, & Jhene Aiko

I can’t quite put my finger on why I hated this song. All I know is Chris Brown was in it and he does a terrible job at trying to be sincere.

 

  1. Fight Song – Rachel Platten

I am not a fan of self-empowerment anthems. They all sound the same both musically and lyrically. We have already heard dozens of them in this decade alone (“Roar”, “Firework”, “Stronger”, “I Really Don’t Care”) and none of them were special. What made this one stand out from the pack is Platten’s shaky voice, but Florence Welch she ain’t. The music in the background, which is really just a series of beats and chords, does absolutely nothing to help.

 

There you have it: my year-end review for 2015. Do you agree? Did I miss anything? Let me know what you think and I’ll be back this time next year for my 2016 reviews. Have a great year, everyone.

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