Essays on Technology and Culture

My Top Five (or so) Albums of 2015

This year has been a remarkable one in terms of new music. I didn’t pick up nearly as many new albums this year as I have in previous years, but of the ones I did, I had a way higher hit-to-miss ratio than usual. I also had the pleasure of seeing some incredible live music this year, including seeing a handful of bands I thought I would never get to see. Of course, you don’t want the setup, you want the best ofs, so let’s just get to it.

Top Five Albums of 2015

Honorable Mentions

Like I said, 2015 had an insane hit-to-miss ratio of the music I checked out, and I need to single out the releases by Belle & Sebastian, Erase Errata, Hot Chip, New Order, Rocket From the Tombs, They Might Be Giants, Zhala, and !!! for some of the best music of 2015 for me. But, there can be only five top five.

Except this year, when there’s six, because there’s a tie for 5th. If we can do it in Competitive Air Guitar, I can do it in my best of list.

5. (TIE) – Eskimeaux – O.K. / CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye

I first heard Eskimeaux in a very different incarnation three years ago, and was blown away by the sparse, haunting beautiful of their music. It even made my Top 10 Albums of 2012 list, which is no small achievement. O.K. fills out the Eskimeaux sound, and brightens the palette, while keeping the emotion and the haunting beauty. “Broken Necks” is a brilliant piece of alt-pop, and a perfect gateway into Gabrielle Smith’s world.

Buy Eskimeaux – O.K. on iTunes

CHVRCHES might not need an introduction. Their breakthrough “The Mother We Share” was everywhere in 2013. Every Open Eye, their sophomore album, doesn’t quite hit the highs of their debut, but it also doesn’t hit the lows. Opting for a refinement of their sound, Every Open Eye is uplifting, danceable, feminist synth pop for the ages. I have to single out the song “Keep You On My Side” which is a dance floor rager, if there ever was one. I know I was moving constantly when they played it live in Central Park this year.

Buy CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye on iTunes

4. Princess Chelsea – The Great Cybernetic Depression

I’ve been waiting for a follow-up to Princess Chelsea’s debut album, Lil’ Golden Book for four years. It did not disappoint. Where Golden Book was a slice of childhood morality play in shades of grey, The Great Cybernetic Depression steps boldly into the modern era, with spacey synth-laden songs of digital social isolation. It works quite well, and the surprisingly blistering guitar solos from collaborator Jonathan Bree add just the right tones to ground everything. Guaranteed, you don’t have another album like this in your collection.

Buy Princess Chelsea – The Great Cybernetic Depression on iTunes

3. FFS – FFS

The team-up between Glasgow dance-punks Franz Ferdinand and Art Rock geniuses Sparks might have tied with Grimes for my most anticipated release of 2015. As soon as the debut single, “Piss Off” dropped, it was in near-constant rotation. Then came “Johnny Delusional”, and so much more. FFS manages to combine the urgency of Franz Ferdinand’s sound with the lyrical wit and musical cleverness of Sparks into something entirely unique. If you’re a fan of either band, you need this album in your life. If your just like amazing rock music with incredible lyrics, you need this in your life too.

Buy FFS – FFS on iTunes

2. Holly Herndon – Platform

Holly Herndon broke my mind into a million pieces when I saw her open for St. Vincent back in February of 2014. Not long after that show, the powerful video for her NSA breakup song, “Home” landed, and I was hooked. Imagine, if you will, Laurie Anderson coming up in the Berlin club scene, and you might have a halfway decent frame of reference for Herndon’s sound. Platform is a powerful statement of intent. Music for the Internet age, that somehow manages to maintain a pure listenability while communicating a powerful technological optimism.

Buy Holly Herndon – Platform on iTunes

1. Grimes – Art Angels

I still remember my initial suspicion of Grimes, the same suspicion that I have of anything and anyone that gets a lot of hype. Thank goodness I got over it. “Oblivion” was one of my songs of the year in 2013. I was hooked, and after picking up Visions, and her first two albums, I devoured what little she released in the interim, from the R&B-influenced “Go”, to the demo of “REALiTi” and enjoyed it all.

Then I woke up to the first taste of Art Angels, the music video for “Flesh Without Blood” and “Life in the Vivid Dream”. It was everything I hoped for from Grimes’s return to music. Everything I read about the album made me want to hear it more, and when I found out she was doing a song with Janelle Monaé, I went from hyped, to beyond hyped. This level of anticipation is almost bound to end in disappointment. Art Angels does not disappoint. Fifty minutes of pure electronic pop genius. The future of electronic pop is Grimes. It’s not too late to get on board.

Buy Grimes – Art Angels on iTunes

Song of the Year: Grimes – Kill V. Maim

This year has had some of the best single songs, and it’s hard to just pick one. I singled out some of them from the top five albums this year, but from the first notes of “Kill V. Maim”, I knew the competition was over. Not only is it an wild dance-floor rager, the backstory is just as wild. Grimes was inspired to take on the character of a mobster modeled after Al Pacino in The Godfather, Part II., only “he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space.” Sure enough, the song is pure swagger, and gender bending vocal fluidics. When I had the pleasure of seeing Grimes in concert—even sick with the flu, she’s an incredible live performer—“Kill V. Maim” was the encore. Exactly where it should be. It left the entire audience breathless.