Across the Margin commences its rollout of the 50 best albums of 2015, with albums 50 – 41…
Annually, as we present our list of the Best Albums of the Year, we find ourselves in exclamation of the year’s bounty. With animated exclamations of “What a year for music!” or “Twenty whatever was such a prolific year!,” we have found ourselves neck-deep in hyperbole surrounding the overwhelming wealth of great albums released during last few years. What we are now coming to grips with is the fact that this is nearly always the case. Every year artists new and old create, and because of this the abundance will always be overwhelming as long as you keep your ear to the ground. And that is what we make a habit of doing here over at Across the Margin, keeping our musical eyes and ears wide open, soaking in the beauteous sound waves resonating about. With that in mind, and after careful deliberation, we present to you our findings, Across the Margin’s comprehensive and definitive list of the fifty albums that affected us most deeply in 2015…
50. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
Freddie Gibbs’s brand of in-your-face rap leaves little to the imagination. You are never left wondering what Freddie is thinking and there is no need to read between the lines, as Freddie is going to tell you without mincing any words exactly what’s on his mind. But this is not to say that Freddie’s rhymes are elementary. Far from it, but it has always been his seamless, potent delivery that dropped jaws. But on his third album, Shadow of a Doubt, what shines is the gritty street narrative that wrestles with the gangsta lifestyle he thought he had left behind1. Shadow of a Doubt is Gibbs’ first album following his collaboration with Madlib, entitled Piñata, and the way in which he describes it, “Piñata was like I went in the gym with Madlib to train. Now I’m ready to box, like Apollo Creed.” Shadow of a Doubt is moody and gritty and entirely engrossing as you spend an entire album walking in Gibbs’ footsteps – a disarming yet captivating place to tread. The album also features beats by Mike Dean, Kaytranada, Tarentino, and Boi-1da, amounting to a dazzlingly produced album.
49. Faith No More – Sol Invictus2
Faith No More now has its own label, Reclamation Records, a sublabel of Ipecac, and after thirty plus years of music-making, the band has the freedom to put together an album the way they want to see it done. They are self-sustaining and self-reliant, and in retrospect it would seem that it was the added pressure of unnecessary rock-business types that contributed to Faith No More’s breakup in the first place. With Sol Invictus, Faith No More has gone against the direction of the wind. Whereas many artists and bands seem to be deadlocked in a never-ending cycle of accumulation (press, contracts, management, record deals, appearances, social media presence, outside collaboration, product lines, etc.), Faith No More seems to be shedding the pounds that weighed them down in the 90s, and emerging all the better for it. Sol Invictus was recorded in about as much garage-band style as any band could hope to pull-off in 2015, with longtime collaborating producer Matt Wallace providing some post-production mixing. “Superhero” is that hard-hitting and nefarious-sounding song that will stand out as Sol Invictus’ defining single. It is the album’s “Epic,” and rightly so, proving that today Faith No More are back, and still at the top of their game.
48. Girlpool – Before the World Was Big
There is nothing extravagant, technically speaking, about Girlpool’s music. The Los Angeles duo, comprised of Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker, achieve a heightened level of affectivity in their music with minimal chords. Stripped down hardly describes their sound, as Before the World Was Big is an incredibly vulnerable album, in sentiment and in the minimalistic musical approach. All missteps in life, and in composition, are exposed for all to see. And in that way, Before the World Was Big feels brave, awash with wonder and discovery, and existing in those defining and exhilarating, and oftentimes distressing, moments of revelation3. Tividad and Tucker often sing in tandem, compounding the affectivity and piercing nature of their vocals, such as in the way they ask their listeners in the unforgettable and poignant, “Chinatown,” “Do you feel restless when you realize when you’re alive?” Girlpool’s second album whirls you back to those points in life where everything was ahead of you, and also to that point in time when you noticed that just as much might be behind you.
47. Metz – II
We have been restless, sitting upon the edges of our seats awaiting the follow-up to the ferocious punch to the gut that was Metz’s self-titled debut. The Toronto trio decided to take their time with their second release, and after three years, what they have emerged with is a far more refined, meticulously-produced piece of art than their much acclaimed first release. But fear not, this polish we speak of is achieved without losing even a hint of the edge that makes Metz so exhilarating. It’s hard not to think of what Fugazi achieved with the release of Red Medicine, where they sidestepped from their hardcore roots and forged a much deeper and more atmospheric experience, when listening to II. Because like Red Medicine, the attention to detail manifests itself in crafting those spaces between the sonic wallops as interesting as the haymakers themselves. II displays keen-craftsmanship and a devotion to expansion that we don’t see everyday in punk bands. II is a calculated madness. It’s deliberate anarchy. It’s a captivating, perverted version of punk that we just can’t get enough of.
46. A-F-R-O – Tales from the Basement
A.F.R.O. is the Chosen One. If hip-hop needed saving, as many do clumsily claim, then A.F.R.O. would be the one to get the job done. Last year, at the young age of 17, A-F-R-O won a rap competition judged by the likes of Talib Kweli, R.A. The Rugged, Murs, and Jean Grae, and since then, R.A. has taken him under his wing and exposed this young phenom’s unfathomable talents for all to see. A-F-R-O is an absolute savant, and his talents truly must be heard to be believed. He is widely considered to be one of the most promising voices in hip-hop, and Tales fom the Basement acts as an expose of his talents. A-F-R-O has been rapping since he was 114, and since that time he has been inhaling the styles and techniques of hip-hop’s greatest mc’s, and then exhaling some of the most mind-bending and seamless rhymes we have ever heard. He spits with a powerful, bassy voice in the vein of Gift Of Gab or Method Man, and somehow displays a complete control of tempo, speeding up his rhymes at times to an unthinkable pace and slowing them down just as effortlessly. If you are not familiar with A-F-R-O, and his remarkable skillset, Tales from the Basement is an ideal launching point.
45. Shye Ben Tzur / Jonny Greenwood / The Rajasthan Express – Junun
Within this format, an end of year best of compilation, it would be futile to attempt to expound upon all the particulars that brought together Radiohead’s guitar virtuoso Jonny Greenwood, the Israeli composer, producer and poet Shye Ben Tzur, and a talented clan of musicians known as The Rajasthan Express. Luckily, this excursion into the Sufi devotional music called Qawwali was captured not only on an album, but also on film by none other than Paul Thomas Anderson. Although the name that attracts most of the attention towards this project is Greenwood5, he can more often than not be found contributing purely subtle guitar and bass riffs as well as nuanced electronic embellishments to the albums dynamic mix, as the heavy lifting is done by Shye Ben Tzur and the captivating six-piece brass section of The Rajasthan Express. Junun is a far more approachable album than many might assume, and giving yourself over to the alleviating complex rhythms and the hypnotic grooves is not only eye-opening, but remarkably psychedelic.
44. Mac Demarco – Another One
Mac Demarco’s intoxicating brand of whimsical, euphoric rock demonstrates the true power of music, which is to allow one to escape. With just the first dreamy notes of the opening track (“The Way You’d Love Her”) on Another One, Mac’s fourth studio album, listeners are transported to an enchanted sonic soundscape, one where even the one you love is blissfully unaware (“She’ll just go on living / The river keeps on rolling / Knowing all the time she’ll never understand just what it means to love her.”). As its title implies, Another One lives in the same space as its predecessor, Salad Days, and the fact that the album doesn’t diverge from what makes Mac great is fortuitous. Because while Mac Demarco is an anomaly, being the type of person who on “My House on the Water” shares his home address and offers to all those within earshot a cup of coffee, his music isn’t. Another One is a condensed eight tracks, but those songs are lush, beautiful, and offer the listener the departure from reality required from time to time.
43. Talib Kweli & 9th Wonder – Indie 500
Indie 500 is a collaborative effort in every sense of the word. Not only does the album boast a plethora of featured artists – including Pharoahe Monch, Slug, Rapsody, Problem, and Kendra Ross – but it also flaunts a profusion of ideas championed by Kweli, 9th Wonder, and their kindred for years now. Few stones are left unturned as Kweli and company delve into pertinent social issues, hip-hop’s evolution, and even labels fixed upon them such as “conscious rappers” (“They say consciousness mean a nigga ain’t rugged / Until they get beat within an inch of it / Self made niggas don’t get discovered”). Indie 500 marries one of the most skilled lyricist of all time (Talib Kweli) with one of hip-hop’s most dexterous producers (9th Wonder), and the pairing has crafted a patchwork of sonance that hits hard from start to finish. In Talib Kweli’s scathing review of Pitchfork’s review of Indie 500 he states,”How could a writer, any writer, take in an album that took us a year or two to put together, in one day? One week? They couldn’t.” This is certainly the case, as with the eclectic mix of beats, guest mc’s, and those poignant nuggets of knowledge Kweli casually drops that oftentimes take a minute to absorb, there is much to chew on here, fashioning Indie 500 into an album we will be unraveling for many moons to come.
42. Wand – Golem
It is impossible, when listening to the Los Angeles psych-rock quartet Wand, to not think of one of our favorite artists, Ty Segall. The comparisons are out there and they are plentiful. Yet, we fail to see this as a problem. Hell, we wish more bands were influenced by their contemporaries in the way in which Wand appears to be affected by Ty. Wand’s debut album, Ganglion Reef, was released on Segall’s Drag City imprint, God?, so there does exists a measure of synergy there6, but where Wand’s sound varies from Segall’s brand of psych-rock is in their ability to blithely unnerve. Golem7 is foreboding. Throughout the kaleidoscopic confines of Golem there exists the suggestion of a sinister force bubbling beneath the surface, just out of reach. Even the quietest moments in the album are weighty and full of potential. Even the gentlest of songs (“Melted Rope”) lure you in, and mold you vulnerable. And then there are the times were the menace is clearly discernable (“Planet Golem”), and it is in these moments where Wand’s capabilities become vivid, and where you come upon the realization that Wand is as skilled at gooey, discordant hard rock as anyone. Even, dare we say, Ty Segall.
41. Oddisee – The Good Fight
Washington DC rapper Oddisee (Amir Mohamad) has been crafting some of the most compelling rhymes we have heard for over a decade now, yet we are constantly happening upon people unfamiliar with his talents. This changed some as his third solo album8, The Good Fight, has garnered the sort of praise he deserves and word finally appears to be spreading. The Good Fight isn’t straight up boom-bap rap, but rather a complex and ultimately beautiful album that acknowledges the uphill battle of those struggling to make their way in a world not built for them, but without relenting to anger or losing the will to resist. Produced, mixed, and arranged entirely by Oddisee, The Good Fight features an organic mix of live instrumentation and soulful hip-hop beats and rhymes that are both strutting and contemplative. On “Book Covers,” he sings (you heard that right, sings!), “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover if you don’t even read / There’s no shame in saying that you’re not up to speed,” an example of Oddisee’s shameless desire to address his own shortcomings and in turn urge listeners to do the same. Although in the DMV, Oddisee’s star, being one third of the underground DC supergroup Diamond District, has burned bright for awhile now, it appears that his time has finally come with The Good Fight. Expressing his discontent with a music industry that has beguiled his efforts for some time, Oddisee states on “Want Something Done” that, “if you’ve got a message in your records then you’re collecting dust.” Somehow we don’t believe this will be the case for Oddisee anymore.
- On November 4th, 2014 someone tried to shoot Freddie as he sat in his car outside of Rough Trade record shop in Brooklyn, NY. [↩]
- Sourced from Douglas Grant’s review of Sol Invictus. [↩]
- “I feel safest in knowing that I am true / When I look in your eyes, the idea of you / I just miss how it felt standing next to you / Wearing matching dresses before the world was big.” [↩]
- “When I was 9, I heard Rakim, I heard the song “Microphone Fiend” and that was the one where I was like, Damn I want to do that.” [↩]
- And Radiohead’s producer Nigel Godrich who meticulously sculpts this intriguing soundscape. [↩]
- This past June, when Ty Segall embarked upon a series of acoustic shows throughout New York City, he was joined by Cory Hanson from Wand for the majority of his set. [↩]
- One of two albums released by Wand in 2015. The other being the excellent 1000 Days. [↩]
- But also, Oddisee’s tenth album in the last seven years. He’s been busy. [↩]