Photo courtesy of Wake Radio
Photo courtesy of Wake Radio

Top Ten Albums of 2015

Wake Radio recommends that you check out these albums from last year.

Grimes – Art Angels

Art Angels is an authentic look inside the head of Claire Boucher’s who is professionally known as Grimes. The selfmade album includes original recording and album art. Art Angels is different from her previous releases because it is mostly a pop album, while retaining its unique creativity. There are a wide variety of songs on the album from the aggressive dance song, “Kill V. Maim,” to the synthpop “Realiti,” to the dancy pop songs “California” and “Art Angels.”  Despite being very eclectic, Art Angels is very coherent. Grimes also features other outstanding artists, Janelle Monáe, and Aristophanes on the songs “Venus Fly” and “Scream,” respectively. Art Angels will make you want have a wild dance party with your friends. 

New Order – Music Complete

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The band that pioneered electronic-rock music is back. Music Complete is New Order’s 10th studio album and their first new recording since 2005, but it sounds like they never left the 1980s’ club scene. The dance band goes back to their roots on the 11-track album, blending classic New Order dance beats with moody Joy Division melodies and lyrics. Music Complete makes New Order current again by featuring guest vocalists Iggy Pop, La Roux’s Elly Jackson and The Killer’s Brandon Flowers. Music Complete has reaffirmed New Order’s legacy, but don’t call it a comeback – they’ve been here for decades.

Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer

Dan Deacon brings us into his bubbly, fun universe in this experimental pop album. Most of the songs are dancy and electronic, centered on carefully crafted, unique sound design and exciting rhythms that make use of vocoded vocals. Many of his songs are intricate, yet playful, such as the feel-good song, “Ride the Lightning.” Other songs such as “When I was Done Dying” tell strange narratives that seem to take place in another plane of existence. Gliss Riffer is definitely worth a listen if you enjoy having fun. 

Youth Lagoon – Savage Hills Ballroom

In his third album as Youth Lagoon, Trevor Powers rests in the aftermath of tragedy from the disappointment following a failed night of romance in “No One Can Tell,” to the consequences of police brutality in “Highway Patrol Stun Gun.” Though the album contains more pop melodies, orchestration and clearer vocals than previous projects, Powers stays dark by focusing on the emptiness of the human condition. “The Knower” describes the dejection of growing up to realize that “everybody wants to think that their luck will change when there’s no such thing.” Take that with you when walk across the stage in May.

Tame Impala – Currents

Distorted synthesizers hummed back into our hearts in 2015 with Tame Impala’s newest album Currents. Frontman Kevin Parker took to writing the record completely on his own again, but unlike past works, he allowed more genres to influence the album’s songs.

The psychedelic 60s’ vibe is still present on tracks like “Eventually” and “Disciples” that feature the signature oscillating synthesizers and Parker’s impressive John Lennon-esque voice. Yet, Impala took a step in a new direction last year, opting for more electronic production techniques that are ever apparent in songs such as “Let It Happen” and “Past Life.” Parker took it a step further with “The Less I Know The Better” and “‘Cause I’m A Man” by focusing on bass lines harking forward to 70s disco beats.

Songs like “The Moment” and “Reality in Motion” sound like 80s pop songs performed by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album covered a vast spectrum of styles and had a huge impact on the music industry, even going so far as to inspire Rihanna to cover “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” on her newest 2016 release. Impala’s music may be changing, but with this record they made quality music.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly          

When Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly released, there was immediate buzz about it being the best hip-hop album ever made. That is a huge allegation placing Lamar’s against contenders like Dr. Dre, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Notorious BIG and Madvillain. But, regardless of different opinions, there is substance to these claims.

The album opens with some classic sampling and immediately pulls a fast one, introducing the first of many impressive funk bass lines by Thundercat. Production on this album is everything. Lamar’s verses are as reliable and impactful as ever, and skits and multiple personas make their return. More imporrtantly, there is a huge culmination of music that would not exist without African American culture.

To Pimp A Butterfly is a celebration of what it means to be black in America, a coming of age story much like Good Kid M.A.A.D City and a call to arms to end the senseless, tired fighting among all races. Lamar appeals for peace on this album, as well as releases the pent up rage within his soul. There are too many songs to analyze aptly in this space, but the influence of To Pimp A Butterfly is huge. President Obama listed “How Much A Dollar Cost” as his favorite song from last year and the late David Bowie listed the album as a major influence on his final opus released this year. Lamar has also been nominated in 11 categories for the upcoming Grammy Awards. Although the album is not conventional, it demands to be heard in full, from start to finish.

Jamie xx – In Colour

Six years in the making, Jamie (Smith) xx’s debut album In Colour embodies a burst of energy and vibrancy unlike any of his previous works or any of 2015’s other albums. Smith initially established himself within the melancholy, minimalist work of The xx, an English indie pop band, had other members contribute vocals to three of the album’s tracks. Throughout the album, this minimalist influence is apparent even as Smith expands his emotional spectrum in creating this soaring record. He uses his debut to pay homage to producers before him while remaining contemporary. And the result is innovative London dance music that cannot be overlooked.

Sufjan – Carrie & Lowell

This album is a return to Sufjan Stevens’s stripped down, folky sound after the more electronic Age of Adz. In keeping with his previous works, Carrie & Lowell is utterly sad and incredibly beautiful. Stevens’ soft, narrative vocals blend elegantly with mournful piano and string instrumentation as he deals with the recent loss of his mother. Others songs are more folk centered, such as “Eugene,” while focus on a more somber sound, such as “Fourth of July,” and “Drawn to the Blood”. While the lyrics in “Fourth of July” are pessimistic, stating “We’re all gonna die,” the music is beautiful enough to counteract the lyrical darkness. Stevens also makes artful use of synthesizers in some songs, such as the title track, “Carrie & Lowell,” but keeps them subdued, and generally more atmospheric. “Carrie & Lowell” is expertly crafted and is recommended if you need a good cry. 

Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

The Most Lamentable Tragedy is an epic 29-song punk opera with vocals reminiscent of Fugazi or the Clash and solid instrumentation. Like a real opera, it even contains an intermission. The album follows the story of “Our Hero”, his journey being a metaphor for the struggles of bipolar disorder. The album features many straight forward, aggressive punk songs, but is not afraid to dip into other genres. For example, “More Perfect Union” features folky guitar riffs, and “No Future Part V: In Endless Dreaming” is unique in that it contains punk vocals over soft piano. There is even an awesome guitar solo in “I’m Going Insane”. Up the punx and listen to this album.    

Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

Panda Bear amplifies the experimentation exemplified in his band, Animal Collective, in his album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. Despite its dark title, this album is very spunky and rhythm heavy. “Mr. Noah”, the album’s single, is bouncy and fun, as are most of the songs on the album. However, a few songs, “Come to Your Senses” and “Tropic of Cancer” for example, offer a reprieve from the brilliant craziness of the rest of the album with their relaxes, ethereal sound. “Boys Latin” offers call and answer vocals that immerse the listener into the song. Listen to Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper next time you go on a bike ride.   

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