10. Peace is the Mission // Major Lazer
Diplo’s collaborative project, Major Lazer, has been adding its own reggae infused flavour of EDM since 2008, and it certainly hasn’t slowed down since it started. EDM has been tarnished with a lot of mainstream manufacture of cookie cutter dance tracks that water down the influencing genres to boost accessibility, but Diplo seems to be able to keep the accessibility to the mainstream while exploring different sounds and styles and that extends to Peace Is the Mission, Major Lazer’s third album. You won’t find anything deep or inspirational here, but if you’re a fan of some variant of EDM, there will probably be something catchy here for you, and with 27 million Shazams for Major Lazer this year, people seem to agree. It looks as though Major Lazer will only continue in its peace mission to free the universe.
9. The Powers that B // Death Grips
Outside of the music itself, I tend to stay away from the antics of Death Grips. Whether the break-ups and label feuds are instinctual acts of sincerity or just curious attempts at self-promotion is irrelevant to me; it’s their wild, adrenaline-fueled sound that I return for. The Powers That B is a double album that shouldn’t be a double album, but does exhibit some of Death Grips’ most satisfying content yet. Jenny Death is the most focused work since The Money Store, adding a newfound rock influence whilst reminding you of what made them so appealing in the first place, and Niggas On The Moon remains an abstract diversion that would be infinitely more rewarding if it was separate from the rest of the record. It’s a clusterfuck, essentially, but then it’s Death Grips, so what do you expect? Bottomless Pit will drop soon enough, and we don’t have long to prepare ourselves for our next prescription.
8. Jackrabbit // San Fermin
San Fermin’s Jackrabbit was one of the not quites of the year. So close to being superb, it settles for being really good. I appreciate it when an artist treats an album as a chorus of voices, and Ellis Ludwig-Leone certainly does that. Few works this year were as intelligently made as Jackrabbit, and I have revisited it often since its release. It is baroque pop at its best; cerebral and gorgeous. Frustratingly, though, it never quite hits the heights its quality promises. To be clear, it is a very good album, and absolutely merits repeat listens; I only whinge because it flirts with being truly top drawer. André was right in saying there is a masterpiece brewing in the mind of Ludwig-Leone. For the time being, we have the meticulous artistry of Jackrabbit.
7. Garden of Delete // Oneohtrix Point Never
Garden of Delete is organised chaos of the most thrilling variety. Oneohtrix Point Never combines elements of EDM, metal, and industrial music to produce a complex portrayal which is both wonderful and sad in equal measure, and there’s really nothing else quite like it. It’s bizarre, because whilst Garden of Delete will not be for everyone, there is something here for almost anyone to latch onto, such is the quality of the job Lopatin has done of evoking the best and worst aspects of a huge assortment of styles and genres. It’s a challenging album, and certainly took me a number of listens before I connected with it. However, when it happens, when everything suddenly clicks, you find yourself trapped in a fragmented world of warped soundscapes and hypnotic rhythms. There’s no escape; you’re under complete control of a weird and wonderful spell that is dictated by a supreme, higher power. A G.O.D, perhaps.
6. In Colour // Jamie XX
Another artist that has continued an already very successful career in 2015, Jamie XX, albeit bereft of a debut album until now. In Colour saw huge amounts of anticipation, only spurred on by teaser tracks throughout the first half of the year. With his mix of post-dubstep, trip-hop, and house intertwined with the “tropical” sounds that have been so popular in the mainstream this year manifesting themselves in the steel drums that have featured in his tracks for years, this was prime time for him to release an album. In Colour features a variety of tracks that make the album just as applicable in a club or the dance tent at a festival as it does in a chilled setting and it can only have helped the album’s success. Another great debut and another artist I can’t wait to hear more from.
5. My Love Is Cool // Wolf Alice
You can’t argue with the mystery of a new kid on the block, can you? Wolf Alice’s My Love Is Cool is an enticing debut, brazen and teasing. The sound is rich and fresh and everyoung, and even now I am left quite dazzled by it. That vain poise so unique to youth pervades the album and often makes it very beautiful. Wolf Alice are clearly a talented bunch, and they richly deserve the plaudits they have received this year. This isn’t to say the album is not not flawed — it is — but its imperfections only add to its allure. I said in my review and I’ll say again now that My Love Is Cool is defined by its potential. There is a place for the candid and unpretentious. Rough diamonds have a grace all of their own. Wolf Alice will release better albums than My Love Is Cool, but they certainly won’t be as fresh-faced.
4. Blood // Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas has had a good year in 2015, releasing her second album which reached number 2 in the UK album charts, and performing throughout festival season and second tour for the album. Blood evolves from the acoustic sound of her debut album and takes on bigger and bolder soul and jazz influences, as well as clear developments in production. During our review of Blood, I took issue with the level of polish and production on each track, commenting on the instrumentation lacking dynamic range in places. Since then, we’ve seen La Havas perform live twice and my opinion has totally changed, with a live band and Lianne allowed to show off her superb voice, the tracks on this album really shine. Buy this album, but make a Lianne La Havas gig an essential to do!
3. Compton // Dr. Dre
One would do well to find Compton anything other than splendid. It’s one of those lovely instances of a celebration where the host knows how to throw a party. Wielding a staggering spread of talent, and pieced together with real savvy, Compton stands tall as one of 2015’s most thickset, well-rounded releases. Handily, it also serves as a useful companion piece for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly; a cultural backdrop of sorts. Creativity sometimes festers in such a way that at its release it is already crystallised. Compton is a fine example of that, and a particularly welcome one given its author. Although my initial review was fairly frosty given the album’s quality, I have warmed to it since. Compton is by no means a classic, but it certainly has class, and deserves all the love it receives.
2. Divers // Joanna Newson
I’ll confess that Divers is my first Joanna Newsom experience. Initially, I was undecided; dazed by it’s surreal character rather than being totally infatuated. Upon a few more listens, I was totally hooked. The level of craft is exceptional, with a beautiful narrative that explores the book of love in a way that’s separate to Newsom’s counterparts. Throughout Divers is the lingering sensation that you’re listening to an audio representation of your most beloved childhood fairytale, helped no doubt by it’s graceful, yet playful character. It’s thoroughly gorgeous from start to finish, and undoubtedly one of the most well arranged, enjoyable releases of the year. It’s taken me far too long, but Joanna Newsom now has my full attention.
1. To Pimp a Butterfly // Kendrick Lamar
Nothing else came close. It’s almost a shame that we were treated to a masterpiece so early on in the year, as what came after soon seemed a total irrelevancy. This may seem slightly unfair, and in essence it is, but when one of the greatest rappers of the generation drops an album as striking as To Pimp a Butterfly, it’s practically impossible to follow (as the likes of Kanye West and Drake no doubt realised). The record exploded on release—it was, and remains, the album that hip-hop has needed for quite some time. The momentum carried on into the summer and beyond, which, depending on how you look at it, is either a wonderful or truly despairing thing. Despite being an enormous critical success, inevitably topping the majority of end-of-year lists, not everyone connected with Pimp in quite the same way. But it speaks volumes that even those listeners who felt that the message outweighed the musical content still thought it necessary to publish their views on the tragic realities it is born from. The record has naturally and organically inspired a sense of unity that we can only hope is not temporary. To Pimp a Butterfly was the cultural force of 2015, but Kendrick Lamar can only do so much—now it’s up to us to carry such powerful energy and turn it into something great.
Ironically, To Pimp a Butterfly will in all likelihood become one of those stately building type albums. It oozes cultural power, and commands reverence. Looking back on it now I remained astonished at how perfectly formed it is. A very exclusive club of albums beggar belief like To Pimp a Butterfly does. Channelling myriad creative and cultural energies, Kendrick Lamar commands a work that is immaculately mixed, deeply evocative, and—sadly—timeless. To Pimp a Butterfly serves to remind that great albums are ultimately a dime a dozen; Great albums are a different animal entirely, and of the purest heart.
2015 has been big year for hip-hop, with many calling it a breakout year for the genre. Hotly anticipated and incredibly well received, To Pimp a Butterfly only furthered the march of hip-hop into a wider populous of music lovers, and rocketed Kendrick Lamar to become a household name for many, featuring on a Taylor Swift track and arguably making some of the most memorable moments on Dr. Dre’s Compton. Besides its success, To Pimp a Butterfly covered some poignant themes across the album, mostly notably tackling the hatred and racism which is still present in modern America and the world, though also covering the hip-hop scene and his own self-critique. Both a brilliant and important album.