The Spectrum Grammys: Highest rated albums of 2015
A comprehensive list of 2015’s most impressive LPs so far
Between Future and Drake, One Direction and Justin Beiber, Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepson, this year’s top albums were nearly impossible to narrow down to 25 LPs, let alone 10 standout albums.
But The Spectrum, we did its very best. Here’s our end-of-year, top-10 album listing.
Tame Impala, Currents
Kevin Parker’s introverted tendencies, expressed poignantly on Innerspeaker and Lonerism, have seemingly given birth to something great in Currents. The album, sonically, is a near-impossible blend of genres and styles, from dance and disco, to ambient progressive and psychedelic rock and even pop.
As always, Parker’s artistry forces boundaries to be redrawn – Currents is unlike anything else Tame Impala has released; its forceful redistribution of bass, drums and synths over guitar alone makes Currents incomparable to Innerspeaker or Lonerism.
But, that’s not a bad thing. All special albums have a quality about them that makes them incomparable to the artist’s previous work as well as any other artists out there.
For this reason, Currents stands alone – at the top of our list.
Jamie xx, In Colour
Jamie xx’s career, as a musician and especially a producer, has quickly blossomed into something noteworthy. It is almost as if Jamie xx is able to perfectly encapsulate the sound of emotion by adding loop after loop after loop.
In Colour blurs the line between producer and artist, to the point where they are indistinguishable.
But it hardly matters – his ear for sampling and fitting pieces of sound bytes together is unparalleled – and the result is In Colour, a strikingly complex, layered piece of work, that, through sampling and looping, comes as close to sonic perfection as humanly possible.
Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Light years apart from the sonic perfection that both Richard Parker and Jamie xx seem to chase after, Courtney Barnett is the contradictory force at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Devoid of heavy-handed synths, precise arrangements and intricate sampling, Barnett is the poster girl for the world of lighthearted, easygoing rock ’n’ roll. She doesn’t pretend to be, or even aim to be, the “next big thing,” which, ironically, has made her the next big thing.
Her music is never fussy or convoluted – its music a listener can slip in and out of with ease. Armed with a wry, direct sense of humor, Barnett’s tongue-in-cheek lyricism, combined with her classic rock ’n’ roll sentimentality, makes her follow-up to The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, a record that is guileless, frank and unpretentious about what it truly is: a great album from a good artist.
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities To Love
Including one of music’s most formative feminist rock ’n’ roll group’s 10-year comeback album on the list seems like a no-brainer.
But, its less of a comeback album than a complete reimagining of the formerly known ’90s DIY punk band into a modern, 21st century, fully-fleshed out rock band – a completely new organism from its early roots.
Its actually incredible, how the band is able to completely shift its genre, in a completely new timeframe and social context, and still be able to make an album that is sharply written and laden with personal and political influences.
In a way, No Cities To Love builds on the thematic foundations of its punk rock roots by extending the consideration of gender into an exploration of self-identity.
Grimes, Art Angels
Claire Boucher’s first real claim to fame- albeit underground, indie-level fame- came after the release of her third studio album, Visions.
But as much as Visions helped Grimes reach a certain level of fame previously unknown to her, it also pigeon-holed the young artist under the umbrella of experimental electro pop, as much a dismissal of her artistic conception as a write-off of her potential longevity. But, after a three-year hiatus, Boucher, with Art Angels, proves that her vision is more expansive and authentic than anyone could have ever guessed.
Her blend of ’90s and ’00s bubblegum pop, K-Pop, electronic and EDM music, anchored by empowering feminist ideals, forces listeners to not only redefine what “pop” music is and can be, but also consider what the entity known as Grimes is truly possible of.
Björk’s ninth studio album, despite her sighing, breathy voice and low-key, streamlined production, feels like an epic, exhausting emotional undertaking.
Centered on the timeframe of the fallout of a failed relationship, Vulnicura is heavy, vulnerable and sad. But, it’s also empowering, especially as a “feminist” work; vulnerability, long identified as a female sentiment, is the main driving force of this album and it serves to connect the themes of this album, far beyond Björk, to past and future generations of women seeking validity in vulnerability.
Production-wise, the coalescence of her simple, yet expert usage of traditional drum and bass only helps to enhance the emotional current of the album: a dense, hefty rip tide that pulls listeners underwater in a whirl of love, love lost, and female pain.
Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
Emotion serves as the underpinning for pretty much all of Father John Misty’s work, especially so in I Love You, Honeybear, the artist’s second studio album as his current artistic persona Father John. But emotion, as everyone well knows, can turn from happiness to sadness in the blink of an eye.
Its this contradiction that Father John plays on so well in I Love You, Honeybear, as he evaluates the connection between being an emotional train wreck and just being human.
His music is driven by contradictions – in one moment, Father John can be joking around and humorous, but still be self-depreciating and bitter at the same time. He’s only human, trying to get by the best he knows how, which means he’s just like the rest of us – caught between moods and moments that bring clarity and tragicomedy into our lives all at once.
Julia Holter, Have You In My Wilderness
Have You In My Wilderness, Julia Holter’s follow-up to her 2013 Loud Song City, is by far the artist’s most beautiful, intimate album to date.
Holter, a standout songwriter, deals with the impossibly intricate link between the ambiguity of emotion and the ambiguity of time – over time, emotions change and shift dramatically until they are no longer recognizable. Anger turns to acceptance or forgiveness and sadness is eased with the passing of time.
Holter, who said she wrote a specific story for each song, seemingly tries out the different personas and personalities throughout Have You In My Wilderness’s tracklist - each song a different getup, overlaid with Holter’s crooning, swooning vocals.
But it’s the ability to track the artist from story to story and from personality to personality amid the songs that makes this album exceptional. Each song adds to the album’s sense of intimacy, despite constantly holding the listener at arms length – Holter never gives too much of herself away but shows enough to entrance anyone into her world.
Drake, If You’re Reading This Its Too Late
No matter how you might feel about Drake or his latest solo project, If You’re Reading This Its Too Late was the undoubtedly the biggest album of the summer.
It was impossible to walk down the street or go into a restaurant or bar without hearing a song off of IYRTITL spun. And despite the heavy debate over which Drake album is indeed, the best, IYRTITL proves to be a crossroads for the now-iconic artist. Drake, forced to answer questions about his longevity as a rapper for the first time, is at a crossroads where the next couple musical projects will decide his fate as a good, great or potentially iconic rapper.
Its not the bars or the incredible lush production of IYRTITL that makes it so good – its Drake’s hunger, his ambition to be the greatest, so clearly evident in each song, that brings this project to the next level.
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
How legitimate would a top-10 albums list be without To Pimp A Butterfly? Listening to the album is like watching a talented artist live up to every inch of his considerable, world-class potential.
The album cements Lamar as, unquestionably, one of the most talented rappers in the modern era. Whereas in good kid, mA.A.d city, Lamar primarily explores the hyper-serious day-to-day struggles of growing up in Compton, Lamar broadens his artistic scope in To Pimp A Butterfly to create an expansive exploration of racial oppression and black culture within America. It’s an examination as tragic as it is inspirational, highlighting Lamar’s, and Black America’s, quest for individual empowerment and cultural freedom amid a dominant culture of white oppression.