While taking an admittedly less involved role here at ye olde Braves General Store, there is one piece that I have been preparing for all year. After SRB trashed my choice of Hosier as having the #2 album of 2014 (I deserved that), I took a much more serious approach to the music I listened to in 2015. Surprisingly, two things quickly took over. Kyle and I started “The 500”, a podcast that ran on this until its untimely and lazy end. This project was partly born out of me wanting to have a better understanding of what truly made a great album so that I could be ready for this piece. I also truly discovered rap for the first time. The mixture of these two incidences resulted in me only really listening to new music if it was rap. So, I still have not reached top 10 nirvana, but some BGS writers, friends and I are going to give you the best picks that we can. Let us know what you think.
Kevin Jamison, friend of BGS, over our shit
10. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
9. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
8. Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife
7. Hillsong United – Empires
6. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
5. Future and Drake – What a Time to Be Alive
4. Travis Scott – Rodeo
3. Miguel – Wildheart
2. Of Monsters and Men – Beneath the Skin
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
David Douglas, writer, full time nerd
10. A$AP Rocky – AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP
9. Tallest Man on Earth – Dark Bird is Home
8. Lord Huron – Strange Tails
7. Florence + the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
6. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
5. mewithoutyou – Pale Horses
4. Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface
3. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Stephen Ray Brown, writer, son of Guitar George (real claim to fame)
10. The Devil Makes Three – I’m a Stranger Here
I had a pretty substantial stack of albums to choose from for the 10th album on the list, but I finally settled on this one from The Devil Makes Three. Guitar George put me on them back in October, but I didn’t get around to listening to their full album until November. Is it as critically good as some of the other I could have chosen for album number 10? No. But it’s honest, unique, and non-stop fun from start to finish.
9. Future and Drake – What a Time to be Alive
This tweet from @KyleKramer sums it up perfectly: “This album is hilarious because Drake is like ‘I have friends’ and Future is like ‘I’ve seen the deepest, darkest depths of human nature.'”
8. Ryan Adams – 1989
I’m probably never going to listen to the original album through once. I’ve listened to the cover album nearly a dozen times now. Call it a gimmick if you want, but Ryan Adams did a tremendous job and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
7. Tame Impala – Currents
It was hard for me to judge this album at first, because I don’t have a lot of familiarity with this sound beyond their first album, Lonerism, which is an unfair comparison. If your only exposure to baseball is 2001 Barry Bonds, then 2013 Freddie Freeman would look downright pedestrian. After listening to it more, I was able to pick up on a lot of the subtleties of their sound and came to really appreciate it more. It’s been on a fairly consistent rotation ever since.
6. A$AP Rocky – AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP
Here it is: the rare sophomore album that is every bit as good as the debut. You’d be hard-pressed to feature any more artists into an hour of music, and the guests run from Rod Steward to M.I.A. to Lil Wayne. I never lost interest over all 18 tracks.
5. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
If you want to know how to make something sound perfectly familiar yet fresh at the same time, look no further than Leon Bridges. No matter how many times I listen to it I have a hard time believing that it was released this year, let alone by a 26 year old.
4. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
This album features one of the best opening tracks of recent memory, followed by 43 and a half minutes of indie rock gold. The awkward, deadpan singer-songwriter schtick can be obnoxious when done for the sake of being awkward and deadpan, but Barnett’s is nothing but authentic. She has an attitude to her music that I adore in that she never seems to take herself too seriously while also being totally committed to making the best music she could possibly produce.
3. Chris Stapleton – Traveller
I’ve been a fan of Stapleton ever since he was the lead singer of Steeldrivers. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a better voice in country music today. Traveller cleaned house at the 2015 Country Music Association Awards this year, winning male Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Album of the Year. He also turned in one of the best live performances of the year at said award show, teaming up with Justin Timberlake to play Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” and Timberlake’s “Drink You Away.” He’s probably the only male mainstream country artist that gives me any hope for the major label side of the genre.
2. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Kendrick continues to be the best rapper alive. It’s different from anything else coming out in the genre, and there’s almost no “playlist music” on the album, but it’s a must-listen all the same. I don’t really have anything else I can contribute in terms of reviewing the album, but let the record show that I’m a huge fan and will be replaying this for years to come.
1. Jason Isbell – Something More than Free
Jason Isbell continues to be my personal favorite writer in country music, and his latest didn’t disappoint a bit. he has a rare ability to write lyrics with so much depth without obfuscating it by being overly poetic. It’s the classic southern-rock/country music themes we all know and love without ever dipping into cliche. “Children on Children” is my favorite track.
Kyle Norton, writer, probably shirtless right now
DISCLAIMER: I listened to a ton of rap in 2015.
10. Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife
This album is a celebration of being young and making the most of life. The lack of meaning is actually a strength of this album. It reinforces its themes of youthful ignorance and bliss. The album is fun, light, and happy. The deepest it gets is a song about the “This could by us but you playin'” meme. It channels the youth-driven “sex, drugs and rock and roll” culture for a whole new generation. Who knows if Rae Sremmurd will ever supply the world with another hit? Just like the fleeting happiness of youth they advocate, nothing lasts forever.
9. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Did anyone have a better 2015 than Drake? He dominated the charts all year. He was a fixture of pop culture, from his beef with Meek to vines about his Hotline Bling video. This album is some of Drake’s best work, in my opinion. He gets even further away from conventional hip hop by being more melodic and emotional. We get a very emotional track about his mom that made me shed a tear and call my own mother. Love him or hate him, Drake is a force in pop culture. Who else could make Canada look cool?
8. MisterWives – Our Own House
This was the only non-rap album I listened to all year. It was very good.
7. Dr. Dre – Compton
Dre’s final album was a fitting cap on a fantastic career. The production was standard for a Dre album, meaning it was absolutely outstanding. This album is retelling Dre’s story and celebrating his city. Dre brings back rappers from the last several generations of rap- from Ice Cube to Snoop Dogg to Eminem to Kendrick Lamar- almost as if to brag about his legacy and impact on the rap game.
6. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – Surf
This album shouldn’t work. It’s a jazzy rap album featuring a bunch of rappers on the fringes of the genre put together by Chance the Rapper. Busta Rhymes is featured on the title track. And yet somehow it works beautifully. It’s a joyous celebration of the non-mainstream. This album isn’t about being cool, it’s about being your weird self. Every song is interesting. You can’t call the album a rap album, and in my mind it defies classification. It’s strange, jazzy and fun.
5. A$AP Rocky – AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP
A$AP shows tremendous growth from his first album in his sophomore effort. The content is deeper and more introspective. Kanye’s influence on A$AP is felt in the much improved production. There is a heavy amount of soul music in this album mixed in with a bit of that old trap sound that made A$AP Mob successful. The whole album feels like a late night introspective drug trip and is best enjoyed when driving alone in the dark while it’s raining. Trust me.
4. Big Grams – Big Grams
Big Boi teamed up with Phantograms to make a new band; Big Grams. This album is a blend of electronic rock and rap. Its psychedelic nature reminds me of Trip Hop bands of old, but make no mistake this album has a feel of its own. The album is overly sexual, and like its subject matter, it leaves the listener with profound satisfaction coupled with a bit of “What the hell just happened?”
3. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
Vince Staples’ debut is incredibly strong. His voice is interesting and the lyrics are inventive. The entire album is a perfect picture of life in long beach in 2006. We get a window into Staples’ life as he confronts the tough realities of his own life, from gang banging to racial profiling and police brutality. There is real emotion on this album, and Staples makes you feel it. According to Staples, this album is about pointing out real problems he faced growing up (from his core group of friends growing up, around 10-15 people, he is the only one still alive today). Staples makes you feel his problems and start to grapple with them.
2. Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before the Dawn: The Prelude
Some of the biggest producers in the world came together to work on this album: Timbaland, Kanye West, Q-Tip, and The artist formerly known as P-Diddy. Not only is the production absolutely outstanding, but Pusha T’s rapping is impeccable. His punchlines have serious bite to them, and he freely switches up styles and tempos. The albums has had me addicted since its release a few weeks ago, and I have simply have not stopped listening to it. The style ranges widely from the spacey feel of “Untouchable” to the profoundly fun “FIFA”. “Sunshine” has real depth to it, and it is the perfect anthem for a 2015 where police brutality was such a huge topic of conversation. If this is just stuff that didn’t make it into King Push, then Pusha T’s 2016 album is going to be world-shattering.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
This album was simply beautiful. Kendrick Lamar pushes the boundaries of rap with his insightful lyrics and interesting bets. He switched voices and styles effortlessly. In an era where albums are becoming more like collections of songs than whole pieces of art, Kendrick spins a narrative throughout the entire piece. The individual songs are good enough to be enjoyed alone, but having the contest of the whole album exposes their true value. This album is just as much about how the songs are good as it is about how the songs work together. It’s weighty, real and relatable.
Harris King, writer, musical geography expert
EDITOR DISCLAIMER: You probably haven’t heard of many of these.
10. Blond:ish – Welcome to the Present
This Montreal duo put together an amazing full-length debut for Kompakt records out of Köln. The two women from Montreal are smart and extremely talented. Start with “Nada Brahma” and “Endless Games.”
9. Ought – Sun Coming Down
This is maniacal and frenzied rock n’ roll at its finest. This band has somewhere to be, do don’t dally, ya buncha hippies.
8. Lena Willikens – Phantom Delia
Lena is from Düsseldorf and is making some of the best unorthodox electronica around. “Howlin Lupus” and the title track are standouts.
7. Colleen Green – I Want to Grow Up
This album looks needing to grow up at age 30 square in the face, and it is sometimes difficult to hold eye contact. “Deeper than Love” is an anthem.
6. Matrixxman – Homesick
Matrixxman on Ghostly International put out both an outstanding EP and this full length this year. It imagines the postindustrial as we are all becoming increasingly machine-like. Embrace it.
5. Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness
Wow, I like this record. It’s smart, elegant and compelling. I also have a huge crush on her.
4. DJ Richard – Grind
What an unimaginative DJ name from a guy from Rhode Island. He now lives in Berlin (as you do) and has found that perfect space between house and techno.
3. John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
The former lead singer of Czars is from Denver. He now lives in Iceland, and to me this is modern Nordic Viking music. No prisoners.
2. Helena Hauff – Discreet Desires
Helena Hauff hails from Hamburg. I just discovered this record a couple of weeks ago and was immediately hooked. Give “L’Homme Mort” and “Tryst” a spin.
1. Scuba – Claustrophobia
This record grabs you from track one and will make you wonder why you haven’t been listening to techno all the time. This is IDM at its finest.
Bennett Garland, me, maker of #takes that Brad always loves
10. Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
After D’Angelo’s triumphant return with Black Messiah (its being included on a lot of these lists despite being a 2014 album – idk call me a purist), I couldn’t keep my hands off of music that likened itself to its neo-soul vibes. This is an excellent example of the beauty of the genre as it lulls you in ever so effortlessly. By no means is it for everyone, but if you like it, you’ll love it.
9. Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before the Dawn: The Prelude
The prelude to the 2016 Pusha T release is great. I’ve heard complaints about how he beats the drug dealing schtick to death, but it leaves you with no doubt that this was the only existence he knew for a time. I love that honesty, and it provides a sense of inescapability this is just raw. His rapping is also excellent, and in a year where rap dominated, his beats dominate.
8. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
The only reason this album doesn’t rank higher on my list is that I still don’t feel like I understand its greatness. I love it though. Is she mad? content? over your shit? I can’t tell, but its good stuff. It loses steam in the best way towards the end that is full of grace.
7. Thundercat – The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam
This is another taste of that neo-soul that I got hooked on this year. This is a short 6-song EP that feels like if their were woods in space, this would be the vibe. It is some truly trippy stuff, and is supposed to serve as an instrumentation of the journey from the moment before death into the afterlife. I don’t really get what that means, but this makes it sounds a lot less scary.
6. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – Surf
You heard from Kyle why this album shouldn’t work. It is just another entry in Chance the Rapper’s ridiculously impressive career. He continues to use his influence to do exactly the opposite of what people expect from a young superstar in rap. Instead of following Acid Rap with an aggressive claim on his place in the rap game, he assembles a band that he doesn’t headline. The album’s centerpiece is a bold claim that being cool is not on Chance’s agenda. Finally, the album seems to wrap up with the perfect “Sunday Candy.” However, Chance doesn’t care what you think an album should sound like, and follows it up with a song that seems outside of the narrative of the album, and it simply emotes that kindness and joy are contagious.
5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
Stevens has always seemed a little inaccessible to me. So, this is the first album of his that I have really sunk my teeth into, and it is gorgeous. Weaving a beautifully somber, but somehow optimistic about his step-father and the death of his mother. The atmosphere it creates is enormous, which is a true accomplishment for an album that is so stripped down, leaving just the lyrics to cut. The first lines of the album are perfect. “Spirit of my silence I can feel you/but I’m afraid to be near you.” Stevens talks about death with the confidence of a man who is familiar with death and its place in the natural progression of time, but with the fear of a mere mortal. So, that’s one thing you can say you have in common with this genius.
4. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Father John Misty sings like he would be an incredibly frustrating person to talk to. But, I’m not talking to him, and I freaking love the way he sings. This album is the tale of a person who is sick and tired with the joyless synthesized existence created by his status as an American in the 21st century. Then, this person falls in love. Its so layered and nuanced, and I am still picking out new things in the album. “Holy Shit” is the undeniable standout in my opinion, and this is an astounding album for how confused and pessimistic it tends to be.
3. Dr. Dre – Compton
I think Apple Music is pretty dumb. I don’t get the idea of paying twice as much as I do for Spotify for no significant increases in service. I am about to switch to Apple music, because this album is available on there, and that is an investment I am completely fine making. Dre releases his long-awaited follow up to 2001, an undeniable masterpiece. While not the album, people were always expecting, it is timely and beautiful in every way. Not only is it a serious look at what Compton means to America in 2015, a political haymaker about blackness in America, and good music, it is an unabashedly proud strut through the career of one of the fathers of modern rap. Dre leaves no doubt that he has made and produced music that will stand as a legacy for his now perfectly concluded career.
2. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
This album rocked me. It has the best beats and production of just about any hip hop album this year thanks to the genius of No I.D. The beats range from hard hitting to so mellow at just the perfect times for the young Staples to fill with one of the boldest narratives that I have ever heard on a debut album. There is so much here for every listener, targeting street punks, the police, the government, drug dealers, people who are trying to keep him from dealing, and the list goes on. However, the biggest callout comes in the last track. With the words “Next time on Poppy Street”, you realize this album is being framed as a episodic package of entertainment that you will stop listening to and move on unaffected by the tales of hurt, despair, and ruthlessness. After that, you can’t. This is real. This is dark. And oh so good.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
The task of representing what this album means or has done is impossible in such a small amount of words. Don’t look at the fact that it took the top spot for 4 of the 6 writers here. Don’t even mind the fact that it holds the number one spot on pretty much every other major music writing site (Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Album of the Year, A.V. Club, Clash, Billboard, Complex, and so many more). Ignore that it almost tied Thriller for most Grammy Nominations ever. There is even the fact that President Obama said “How Much a Dolla Cost” was his favorite song of the year, and “Alright” became the undeniable anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. Forget that. Just listen to this record and it drips with importance. And that’s why it tops my list. To Pimp a Butterfly has risen to a level ordinary albums never will.