(Guest post written Mr. Johnny Hollick Co-owner/Director of Hashtag Gallery )
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Good Kid Ma.a.D. City will go down in history as one of the greatest rap records of all time, and certainly the crowning achievement of this era of pop hip-hop — lyrically complex, bangin’ and incredibly accessible despite the heft of its subject matter. Kendrick is a modern-day bard, telling the stories of our streets and struggles as a community. To Pimp A Butterfly is an expansion in ever scale. This is Kendrick’s concept album (and it is most DEFINITELY a concept album), where he himself plays almost each and every one of the varying saints & sinners. Rich, deep characters with unique voices (literally), battling their demons and others in this dark modern world, in a quest to survive and maybe even thrive (“Alright”). The only real guests we hear from are Brainfeeder monsters Kamasi Washington, Thundercat & Flying Lotus, who hardly count as anything other than extensions of Kendrick at this point (fleshing out his dark, twisted fantasy). This is Kendrick’s show, Kendrick’s epic mic drop: TPAB will stand the test of time as something that seen as a time capsule of this moment; a dissertation on race relations, our struggle with faith, addiction, and money. Did it have a legitimate single? Probably not. Is the the easiest or the first thing you pull up on your iPhone for the subway ride? Probably not. But years from now, we’ll never forget it.
Disclosure – Caracal
Much like Kendrick, the second effort from the brothers Lawrence had an insane amount of pressure, after their debut Settle changed the sound of dance music in 2013. How do you follow that? With an immaculately produced collection of similar minded gems, featuring the whos who of upcoming musicians (count em: Lorde, The Weeknd, Sam Smith, Miguel, Lion Babe, Nao, Jordan Rakei + more). The album doesn’t challenge at all, but I’m fine with that. I didn’t fall in love with Disclosure because of the complexity and depth of their music; I fell for them because they make the easiest music in the world to dance to. And they delivered that to us with pleasure. But please don’t let that be a knock against these guys. Do yourself a favour and grab the Target exclusive version of this record, and listen to demo for what became the club banger “Holding On”: a heartwrentchingly soulful ballad of struggle. But with pieces and structure so sound, it can be manipulated and processed into arguably the dance track of the year. These guys are masters at work, and both still under 25…
(The Rest of the Top 10)
03 Madeon – Adventure
Youth is thing, this year. At just 21 years of age, Madeon has brought us Adventure: an absolute technicolour bath, in bright crunchy retro synth noises — the sounds of a generation raised on video games, ringtones and VHS recordings. Born in 1994. (Yeah, you read that correctly. Born. In. 1994. But I digress…) Adventure is the epitome of an album, where each song bleeds into the next with incredible consistency, from my track of the year “It’s On” through to the record’s giant “Finale”. Actually shocked more of the world didn’t take note of our French wunderkind, especially with a few high profile guest vocalists in Bastille’s Dan Smith, Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, and Foster The People’s Mark Foster.
04 Mutemath – Vitals
Been a couple albums since I dug deeply into a MuteMath record, but upon listening to Vitals for the first time, was immediately returned to memories of a band I so adored years ago (“Monument”). MuteMath are finely tuned performers and it shows here, delivering amazing track after amazing track, lyrically driven by one of the truly great voices in music. Welcome back, old friends.
05 Jamie XX – In Colour
Jamie XX never disappoints, delivering yet another solid mix of dark club noise with sublime soul samples, and easily the best crossover track of the year in “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times”, mashing electronica with nasty steel drum-based dance-hall (Jamie’s calling card, natch). And don’t even get me started on the tracks featuring his XX band-mate (“Loud Places”)…
06 The Neighbourhood – Wiped Out!
Broodingly dark and sexy hybrid rock band, taking pages out of both Frank Ocean and Drake’s books, while still maintaining a slinky rock and roll vibe (which is not an easy feat — just ask Lil Wayne). I have a hard time describing their sound to people who haven’t heard of them, which I suppose makes them relatively unique? Somehow their music sounds familiar anyway. Great borrowed sounds, ideas, and dark side of California living on this record. Very cool. “Daddy Issues” continues to climb my list of best tracks each day.
07 Alina Baraz & Galamatias – Urban Flora
The sexy rasp of singer Alina Baraz combined with the slow waves of Danish electronic producer Galimatias is a perfect match. Droning yet soft, Urban Flora might as well just be one long song. One can barely tell each song apart, which is the album’s pinnacle and also its poison. Hard to think of another album that had a more chill and atmospheric vibe. (Check out “Fantasy” and “Show Me”, for a sampling.)
08 Miguel – Wildheart
On his second album, his intention to be this generations Prince are on full display: Wildheart is a great, but inconsistent mixed bag of raunchy R-rated tracks about sex, sprinkled with sweetened beautifully intimate portraits of love (…and who are we kidding — sex). On Hollywood Dreams, Miguel is the former; riding hard baselines and explicit gangster-isms, holding back no detail about an encounter. On ‘Coffee’ (one of this years best tracks and easily the best of Miguel’s young career) we see the soft and incredibly real side of Miguel, yearning to “paint our love/these moments in vibrant hues”, forgoing the play-by-play of the night before in lieu of a soft and real bit of sticking around for “coffee in the morning”. When Miguel is on his game, there isn’t a much better singer/songwriter out there.
09 Tame Impala – Currents
That aptly titled Currents brought us a much more electrified Tame Impala, forging deeper into new-wavey prog rock, and away from their gentler, Beatlesque jangle they’ve become known for. The psyche elements remain however; the added synth and droning moments really showcase how incredible & versatile a band Tame Impala really is, moving seamlessly from 8-minute opuses (“Let It Happen”) to 2 minutes of dreamy fuzz (“Nangs”) , and culminating in the sexy, & oddly comedic anthem “‘Cause I’m A Man”. More of this, please.
10 Grimes – Art Angels
A Grimes album is always a battle, and Art Angels is no different. As her album art suggests, each track is a character of its own. Here we see the poppiest we’ve ever seen Grimes (“Realiti”), and possibly the most manic (“Scream”), even touching down on borderline “Torn”-era Natalie Imbruglia (“Easily”). 60% of this album is great for me, 40% I’m not into AT ALL. But each person who listens to it will tell you a different mix. Is that the sign of true artist fearless into the great dark future, or someone who just can’t decide what they want to be?
Tom Misch – Beat Tape 2
Wasn’t sure whether to include this mixtape release, but it really does deserve mention. Misch bridges a gap between hip-hop and jazz guitar (which, in hindsight, doesn’t seem like something that needs much help bridging). But seriously, its like John Mayer meets Questlove, and chill AF. But better than that. This probably should have been ranked higher now that I think of it. Start with “Wander With Me” (Feat. Carmody), but really just hit play and finish this treat of a tape.
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
A great album, if a bit too over produced – I’m not into any of the features on this one (Labrinth? Lana Del Rey? Ed Sheeran? I think I see a pattern here…), but I can still certainly appreciate “Can’t Feel My Face”. Went full-tilt for pop stardom and he got it though. Still got his darkness, too (“The Hills”, “Tell Your Friends”). Can take the boy out of Scarborough, but not the Scarborough out of the boy…
Skrillex & Diplo – Jack U
Really satisfying power-up dance tunes, if a bit empty. Can’t beat that Bieber track tho — best sample of the year (“Where Are U Now?”).
Toro Y Moi – What For?
Feels like it should have come out in the basement-recorded era of DIY rock (Pavement, etc). Really fun, and interesting departure for Chaz. Standout track: “Buffalo”
Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Simultaneously the biggest disappointment, and most easily enjoyed album of the year. I feel like young Leon shoulda knocked this out of the park after the first couple leaks (“Coming Home”, “Better Man”), but ended up simultaneously the biggest disappointment, and most easily enjoyed album of the year. I feel like young Leon shoulda knocked this out of the park after the first couple leaks (“Coming Home”, “Better Man”), but ended up just ho-hum. I mean, don’t get me wrong — the record is a sweet love letter to soul music, that I often find myself listening to in the kitchen and around family. I just pinned every hope (perhaps unfairly) that Leon would deliver a soul record for the ages, rather than a (perhaps rushed) mixed collection of malt-shop love songs.