Across the Margin further dives into the Best Albums of 2015 with albums 30-21…
In case you need to play catch up, albums 40-31 can be found here. And now, the countdown continues…
30. Moon Duo – Shadow of the Sun
Psychedelia seems to be a prevalent thread running throughout this years best, with acts like Wand, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Shye Ben Tzur and even Courtney Barnett flirting with the genre. If the genre where a fertile field, then Moon Duo would be a tie-dyed, rainbow-colored bush rooted firmly in its earth, as Shadow of the Sun finds the duo crafting a visceral, otherworldly experience that dives even deeper into their characteristic drug-like haze. Masters of hypnotic, repetitive and droning soundscapes that lull the listener into eerie atmospheres populated by driving beats, ghostly whispers, and mesmerizing hymns, Moon Duo offer something new with Shadow of the Sun, exploring sonic avenues not previously entered by the psychedelic-Kraut rockers. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to another one of our favorite psychedelic space rock acts, Wooden Shjips (pronounced ‘ships’), when listening to Moon Duo, and there’s an easy answer why: Moon Duo’s guitarist Ripley Johnson is a founding member of that band. Initially, it seemed odd to us that an artist would play in a side project that sounded similar to their main focus, but then we figured what the hell, we’ll take as much of this brand of new-age psychedelia as we can get! With Moon Duo’s latest album flirting with elements of early punk that cast a tinge of darkness across its sound, Shadow of the Sun charts Moon Duo on a new course music-wise. But the band’s core fascination, and what draws us repeatedly to them – their ability to let the listener just get weird and float around in their headspace for a while – it still abundantly there.
Essential tracks: “Wilding,” “Animal,” “Slow Down Low.”
29. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
Ghostface Killah is a prolific artist. Over the course of his illustrious career he has released twelve solo albums. He has been featured on seven Wu-Tang albums and a whole slew of collaborations and mixtapes. That being the case, it has become hard for even the most ardent of Ghostface fans to get too hyped up about any new album he drops. But when Ghostface teamed up with the Toronto jazz/hip-hop band BADBADNOTGOOD and then word spread that the album would feature guest appearances from Danny Brown, DOOM, Elzhi, and Tree – there was indeed reasons to get excited, and stay excited. Matthew A Tavares, Chester Hansen and Alexander Sowinski of BADBADNOTGOOD love them some hip-hop and have produced tracks for Earl Sweatshirt (“Hoarse” from Doris) and Danny Brown (“Float On” from Old) and have even played live with Tyler the Creator and Frank Ocean recently. So when they were given the opportunity to work with Staten Island’s most accomplished Son, they dove in head first. Unsurprisingly, the pairing is a perfect fit, as Ghost’s theatrical punchline narratives meld seamlessly with the jazzy and soulful live instrumentation. Sour Soul is an achievement, and hopefully a sign of more collaborations of this nature to come.
Essential Tracks: “Ray Gun” (Featuring Doom), “Food,” “Mind Playing Tricks.”
28. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
Lupe Fiasco’s fifth studio album, Tetsuo & Youth, opens with an introduction, a “sonic palate cleanser,” called “Summer.” ((Tetsuo & Youth is segmented out into the four seasons, with interludes defining each section as the mood and tone of the album mirror the period.)) In it, you can hear children playing and waves crashing as the listener is lulled into submission, and pulled deeply into Lupe’s world. This is emblematic of where Lupe resides with his art, as he simply isn’t here to spit some clever rhymes, but to birth an mesmeric atmosphere to craft within. But while Lupe’s art resides on a higher plane these days, don’t get it twisted – he has bars for days (exemplified by the eight minutes and forty nine seconds of fire he spits on “Mural”) and he delivers them with his patented precision and purpose all over “Tetsuo & Youth.” Lupe has always been one of the most cerebral rappers in the game, and after a few subpar releases, “Tetsuo & Youth” finds Lupe at the height of his game. Whether he is using pizza as a metaphor for inequality, institutionalized racism, and a void of opportunity in “Deliver,” or weaving imagery of a gay wedding on “Little Death” while asking, “If that sickens you, you a bigot / If it doesn’t, well then you’re wicked,” Lupe’s skill set is matched only by his worldly understanding and social consciousness. Tetsuo & Youth is an 80 minute epic, an album we have been unraveling for months and remain focused on dissecting its nuances. It’s just that weighty, and that masterful.
Essential Tracks: “Mural,” “Prisoner 1 & 2,” “Body of Work.”
27. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
“The only reason for me to make a record now is to make the record,” Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox quipped in a recent Grantland interview. Of the mindset that we are living in the “decline of the music industry” or the “twilight of Rome,” Cox and Deerhunter appear to have made an album free of the influences of the industry’s more troublesome aspects and have instead created a collection of songs rooted firmly in their beliefs. On Fading Frontier, Deerhunter present an album steeped fully in themselves and their experiences. “I’m Living My Life,” a song that seems to exist as an ode to getting off the grid, the musical soundscape created is the sort of enjoyable, light-hearted odyssey that makes Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” so great. On “Breaker,” a song that orbits around Cox’s experiences with getting hit by a car, he sings of death and Christ, but in a light-hearted, poppy manner that seems to suggest he has somehow made his peace with the entire unfortunate ordeal. Drawing heavily from a concept map created by Cox last summer, Fading Frontier’s sound includes influences by INXS, Tom Petty, Tears for Fears and R.E.M. aligned side-by-side with the sway of cut-outs by Henri Matisse, Cox’s dog Faulkner, and the salt air of the Pacific Coast Highway. Fading Frontier is the sort of album you want to soundtrack your everyday. The sort of charming, pop-rock songs that dance around darkened themes of death and escape and survival but in a manner that is entirely enjoyable and uplifting, as if by touching them, Deerhunter have transmuted these inky topics into something entirely heartwarming and tame.
Essential Tracks: “Snakeskin,” “Breaker,” “Living My Life,” “Duplex Planet.”
26. Gary Clark Jr. – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
Gary Clark Jr. has been playing the blues guitar since the age of twelve and the dude can absolutely shred. In this 21st Century, it’s a rare talent to find a musician who can pay homage to the past, while so clearly stepping up and letting the world know that he’s the future. With The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, Clark brings his smooth-sounding blues guitar firmly into the present, channeling a wide-range of influences on an album that spans jazz, soul, blues, country and a healthy dose of hip-hop. Known most for his distorted guitar sound and a vocal delivery that has a smoothness to it a butter churner would die for, Gary Clark Jr.’s latest album finds the artist very much in control of both talents. Seemingly able to bend his guitar to the will of his voice, and vice versa, on countless tracks on The Story of Sunny Boy Slim Clark Jr. presents a level of sophistication and control not present in his earlier works. There’s not a song on the album that isn’t richly baptised in soul and emotion and an overwhelming wave of feeling. From the harmonica-laden “Church,” to the B.B. King-esque “The Healing,” every track is a musical revelation mixed with a healthy dose of sonic hallelujahs. Seemingly a musician very much in command of his talents, Clark’s latest album exists as an example, and a promise, of how the time-worn genre of blues in America can be pushed into the modern realm. If there’s anyone the ghosts of the great Southern blues legends would want to see deliver on this promise, Gary Clark Jr. is the one to get it done.
Essential Tracks: “The Healing,” “Grinder,” “Church.”
25. Helen – The Original Faces
Liz Harris’ latest project, Helen, was originally intended to be a thrash band but whatever the initial intent may have been, what stemmed from her collaboration with drummer Jed Bindeman (of Eternal Tapestry), bassist/guitarist Scott Simmons, and an anonymous someone named Helen credited with backup vocals, is an album rife with ethereal bliss. Each song on The Original Faces fluidly drips into the next, and while most of the soundscapes are creamy, there are moments of edge that invoke thoughts of My Bloody Valentine and harken back to the project’s original heavier ambition. Upon our first initial listens of The Original Faces we were certainly intrigued, but it was upon return where we fell under the spell of the deceptively sophisticated songs that nest under a bulbous cloud of reverb, and became addicted to the pulsating rhythms that continuously crash upon the listener like ocean waves.
Essential Tracks: “Covered in Shade,” “Ryder,” “Allison.”
24. Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful
The first half of 2015 belonged to Action Bronson. On the heels of the release of his long awaited major label debut, Mr Wonderful, Action Bronson was well in the mix and boisterous about it. Maybe it was just us, but between his beef with Ghostface Killah, his food-oriented web series, Fuck, That’s Delicious, crowd videos of Action tackling people onstage, or just the routine promotional appearances in support of Mr. Wonderful, it was Bronsolini’s world – and we were just living in it. But we were fine with that. Action Bronson is a fascinating character, and his rhymes are equally compelling. At the end of the day Mr. Wonderful is little more than some innovative shit-talking spit over laid back, roomy beats. But it’s also a one helluva good time. Music is about fun, and it’s hard to argue that anyone, anywhere, is having a better time navigating life than Action Bronson, and Mr Wonderful isn’t only the braggadocious story of Bron’s roller-coaster ride amongst the riches of success, it’s as compelling and unique of an experience you can have while rocking an album.
Essential Tracks: “Actin’ Crazy,” “Terry,” “Baby Blue (featuring Chance the Rapper).”
23. Parquet Courts – Monastic Living
Ever since Parquet Courts wowed us with 2012’s sleeper hit Light Up Gold and then followed that up with 2013’s Sunbathing Animal, the indie rockers from Brooklyn have had our full on attention. With 2015 comes Monastic Living, an experimental, mostly instrumental EP, and a departure from their familiar sound. On the album’s opening track, “No, No, No!” Parquet Courts’s Andrew Savage sings into what sounds like a fast food restaurants drive-thru microphone, singing “I don’t want to be called a poet / Don’t want to hang in a museum / Don’t want to be cited, tacked onto your cause / No, no, no / I’m just a man.” It’s one of the few songs on the EP with words, and it’s distinctive and removed from the rest of the album in that manner. On the album’s second track “Monastic Living I.,” the band offers up a repetitive, marching string of notes that threatens to go on forever, until the riff suddenly falls off its tracks one third of the way in. Dissolving into a weird, scratchy jaunt channeling something Hendrix would throw at you in the middle of a jazzy, blues number, the song rightfully realigns itself with its genesis a few minutes later, continuing its droning march onward, the songs pace gaining speed with each second until it suddenly just cuts out. We could go on and describe in every detail the sonic chance-taking and musical open mindedness present on Monastic Living’s every song, but we have neither the time or the space. What we can say is that this album isn’t for everyone, for it’s experimental and “out there,” and it makes no effort to hide that fact. You’ll find no toe-tappers on Monastic Living. No song of the summer or magical ballad that will change your life. What you will find is a band turning inward, embarking on a mysterious deflection, and expanding their musical forte, but in a baffling, creative and wholly bewildering way. And that’s a good thing….we think.
22. Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness
Julia Holter’s latest album, Have You in My Wilderness, made us fall back in love with Art Pop, a musical genre we usually reserved for listening to Bjork’s more formative years. This album is entrancing, Holter’s trusting voice leading you by the hand into a magical forested wilderness that you’re not likely to want to leave anytime soon. It’s a landscape populated by soaring voices and weirdly soothing string arrangements. There’s intrigue and warmth and there’s an honesty and brilliance existing just below the surface that is impossible to escape. But most importantly, there’s the experience of listening to this breezy pop album, a journey that you’ll have to take for yourself to truly understand how special, and altogether vital, Julia Holter’s latest album is to the future of music.
Essential Tracks: “Feel You,” “Silhouette,” “Sea Calls Me Home.”
21. Death & Vanilla – To Where The Wild Things Are
Death and Vanilla’s latest album, most obviously, is named after the Maurice Sendak children book, and this is apropos as one can easily imagine the trio from Sweden’s eerie, lush soundscapes providing the soundtrack to moonlit romps through the forest clad in a wolf costume, shaken but altogether alive. The haunted-pop duo produced and recorded the album by themselves using only one microphone, a vintage Sennheiser from the 70s, and an old library record. This is sort of their M.O., as in their music they aspire to “utilise vintage musical equipment such as vibraphone, organ, mellotron, tremolo guitar and moog, to emulate the sounds of 60s/70s soundtracks, library music, German Krautrock, French Ye-ye pop and 60s psych.” In To Where The Wild Things Are, a tapestry of warm and vibrant sound is weaved, and upon this fantastical canvas resides Marleen Nilsson’s hushed roar, a chill-inducing breathless whisper. To Where the Wild Things Are is easily one of the prettiest, and strangest, albums to be released this year, and we cannot imagine a more perfect record to drop the needle upon on a serene Sunday morning.
Essential Tracks: “California Owls,” “Arcana,” “The Hidden Reverse.”
To Be Concluded…