**Ed. Note: Given that last offseason's lists seemed to be pretty popular, we thought we'd bring them back in a more weekly format -- Billy.
Oh, it's not like you didn't see this coming. This year was an absolutely huge year in music, probably the biggest of the 10's thus far. So in order to break from the non-stop thinkpieces about Miles, let's have a fun little debate and rank our top 10 albums of the year. There were sophomore albums that lived up to or exceeded the bar set by their predecessor, there were debut albums that shattered the glass and demanded attention, there were artists who have maintained the quality of work they have released during the years, and there were surprising, out of the blue drops that gave everyone whiplash. And they're all included below. To make sure this isn't just one person's opinion, Poseur will be joining to share his list and nominations.
Of course, this list is subjective, and yours will probably look different. There's going to be something you loved that I didn't include or ranked too low, just as there's bound to be something I put high that you absolutely hated. And that's fine. It's quite fine to disagree with something.
With that said, let's start cracking heads.
Honorable Mentions (no order)
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful | Florence + The Machine; AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP | A$AP Rocky; In Color | Jamie xx; Surf | Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment; Emotion | Carly Rae Jepsen; Our Love | Caribou
Wow. Something I just learned by putting this list together, don't judge a year based off of what's on top of a list, but rather the bottom. I personally love every single one of those albums and it pains me to leave them off. But that's how stacked this year is, that Florence Welch, the best dang vocalist on this Earth, and A$AP's Rod Stewart feature psych rap albums don't even make the cut. Yes, you read Carly Rae Jepsen, we'll get to that later.
#10: 2.0 | Big Data
#10 is a 10 track debut from Big Data, spearheaded by the bass-heavy Dangerous. This is a feature heavy piece, but that's far from a bad thing, especially when your feature list includes Joywave, Jamie Lidell, Rivers Cuomo, and Twin Shadow. Dangerous is the standout of the album, but Snowed In and Perfect Holiday are not far behind. Every song on this album sounds so incredibly distinct (due in no small part to the different features for vocals), but at the same time so coherent. The best way I can describe this album is what you think electronic music should sound like, very bold and purposeful, yet intricate and layered.
#9: Kindred | Passion Pit
This is without a doubt Passion Pit's worst offering, and that speaks volumes. After Lifted Up (1985) and Where The Sky Hangs, my excitement for this album was through the roof. In return, I only got the 9th best record of the year. What a shame. More downtempo and happier than previous Passion Pit (much of which has to do with front man and songwriter Michael Angelakos' bout with bipolar disorder), Kindred offered a more personal touch than Manners or Gossamer, which helps balances out the departure from the traditional Passion Pit style. Dancing On The Grave serves as the most intimate and well...passionate look into Angelakos' psyche where he begs the listener to "come and celebrate, we're dancing on the grave".
#8: Something More Than Free | Jason Isbell
Jason Isbell, formerly of the Drive By Truckers, reached widespread critical acclaim with
his solo debut previous album I thought was his debut, Southeastern. Two years later, and Isbell produced something just as great. For my money, this is what country could and should be and is the runaway country album of the year. If you're from a small town like I am, Speed Trap Town is likely the most relatable song you've heard all year, down to the 5A bastards running a shallow cross. There's also Flagship, a future first dance song that's just absolutely beautiful. It's not all slow songs, Isbell flashes a little DBT flavor with Palmetto Rose, a song about Charleston that had the misfortune of being released just a month after the shootings.
#7: To Pimp A Butterfly | Kendrick Lamar
No, this isn't a typo. Kendrick's third album did not take my spot for AOTY. It was near impossible to follow up the success of good kid, m.A.A.d city, which I consider to be one of the three best rap albums of all time, and really Kendrick proved that by making an amazing, all encompassing record...that ended up being the worst of his three attempts. What a Greek tragedy, K dot's worst album is the 7th best of the year it came out in. Loving you is complicated, Kendrick. Really, TPAB deserves all the praise it gets though, from the live version of his smash single i to the funky fresh and demanding King Kunta and including the highly underrated u, every song on Butterfly in undeniably great and like GKMC, carries the narrative in form of the poem. The only thing holding To Pimp A Butterfly back to me is the fact that despite Kendrick's best efforts, it comes off a little, just a touch too preachy and paternalistic. Everything he says carries weight and purpose, but it just doesn't have the execution of good kid, m.A.A.d city or Section.80.
Also, the "shit don't change till you get up and wipe your ass" thing. That wasn't good. But the drunk verse on u more than makes up for it.
#6: Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit | Courtney Barnett
The debut album from Australian rocker Courtney Barnett is brutally honest and lacks polish on purpose. Lost in Barnett's monotone drone are thoughtful lyrics that cut to the chase. If it wasn't for the song to be named later, Pedestrian At Best, a song where Barnett has an auction of negativity, would be the runaway song of the year. Barnett carves out a distinctive style with her straight faced listing of facts, such as Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To The Party, but she proves she's well worth her salt as a guitarist, as displayed in the hollow, meticulous strumming in Small Poppies.
#5: Currents | Tame Impala
The opening track on Currents, Aussies Tame Impala's third album, Let It Happen, is a thesis for the rest of the album. Clocking in at just shy of 8 minutes, it's more synth based than previous Tame Impala releases, directly embracing the future and the changes it holds, and featuring a scale of growing and escalating skips that eventually reaches a climax so well executed it makes the listener think there's an error on their end. Currents isn't just an album, it's a confession. Bass-driven The Less I Know The Better, a song about liking a girl who likes somebody else, features the best line on the album when the perspective suddenly shifts (or does it?) and Kevin Parker rings out "come on Superman, say your stupid line" when our hero gets the chance to finally get his girl. 'Cause I'm A Man bluntly slams the truth on the table in this tale of changing with a stretched out chorus and guitars that don't fit the rest of the song perfectly.
#4: Summertime '06 | Vince Staples
Clocking in at 20 tracks long, Summertime '06 is a story about Los Angeles rapper Vince Staples' childhood halcyon days, only it isn't. Gripping, intense, and featuring Staples' slightly off-key delivery and sharp lyricism, this is really a double album that's a story of how Vince's childhood directly lead him to become the person he is today without directly referencing his childhood. Highlighted by the impossible not to yell out NORTH SIDE LONG BEACH hook of Norf Norf, Vince displays a raw flow that wasn't met this year. Even the album's token song about sex, Loca is a track that Vince shines on and features a spanglish chewing out that's actually pretty hilarious and well placed. And as a cherry on top, Future jumps on the hook for Señorita, lobbing up an alley oop that Staples breaks the backboard bringing down.
#3: Every Open Eye | CHVRCHES
If you know me, you know I absolutely love CHVRCHES. Their debut album, The Bones Of What You Believe was only outshined in 2013 by Run The Jewels wrecking shop with their debut album. CHVRCHES is the posterchild for synthpop, frosty as hell and highly energetic. The trio from Scotland burst on the scene with Bones, an album that exuded an underlying sense of doubt. After battling sexism and just being a general badass, Lauren Mayberry and CHVRCHES shed their doubt and became more fearless and bold, stating resiliently on the opening track Never Ending Circles that "I am braced for words that never come, but I choose to decide that I don't regret it", snapping out of the break of the song. There are really 5 songs I could talk about to no end, because CHVRCHES are simply that good, but the one song that stands above the rest out is Clearest Blue, a song that's about compromise Lauren doesn't expect to happen featuring a build up that is eventually released into a frenzy of synths that I have yet to not dance to. High Enough To Carry You Over showcases how much the band has grown since Bones when backup vocalist Martin Doherty takes over and proves there are no weak points in this band, with a continuation of the consistent sound CHVRCHES established throughout the entire record as well as set the stage for the second half. Contrast that to TBOWYB where Doherty's Under The Tide was the album's most noticeable low point.
#2: We Cool? | Jeff Rosenstock
Remember when I praised Courtney Barnett for being brutally honest? Jeff Rosenstock starts off We Cool? by singing softly "when your friends are buying starter homes with their accomplishments, drinking at a house show can feel childish and embarrassing" on the track's best song, Get Old Forever. Accompanying this honestly is a seamless transition between punk and rock, sometimes making the switch almost unnoticed in the middle of the song. This is placed on display on the second track of the album, You, In Weird Cities which starts off with a rapid fire and simple lyric structure that is influenced by Rosenstock's punk background before throwing it into reverse and driving into a rock-style breakdown with an echoed out backstrain. Hey Allison!, Rosenstock's humble attempt at a love song is short and to the point, almost incomplete, but that fits Rosenstock's direction. He's single in his 30's for a reason, this record is a look back at the life he's lived/is living dripping with honest sarcasm to drive home the point. He didn't get here by being a sappy, long winded romantic.
#1: Another Eternity | Purity Ring
I had no idea they had it in them.
Purity Ring's 2012 debut album Shrines was met with acclaim and by all measures it was a good album, so good it spawned it's own genre (ok, Grimes help too) called Future Pop. Shrines was a shrilly album that featured deep electronics and shy, quiet Megan James on vocals sprouting nearly nonsensical lyrics. That was fine, because they found a way to make it sound good.
In the two years between 2012 and 2015, Megan James spun a cocoon and entered a metamorphosis before Another Eternity. Almost immediately James sings louder and more proudly than she did with Shrines, with the busy and thriving instrumentals of Corin Roddick supporting her. James doesn't hit any Florence or Adele notes, but she bleeds confidence that was nowhere to be found on Shrines. Every song is James painting songs with emotion, making you go back in you library and check Wikipedia that this was the same band. Repetition is the song Drake wishes he could make, with my personal favorite lyrics of the year, featuring James claiming that watching her "is like watching fire take your eyes from you", hoping that it isn't repetition, "cause it's the only thing that keeps and takes you". Shrines Megan James would have never uttered that thought.
Oh, and Corrin Roddick is ridiculous as well. He completely steals the show on Stranger Than Earth, matching a snare count with a deep, towering bass, all while James reminds us there are no lessons in magic, there are only untimely dreams.
James and Roddick are at their best together on Dust Hymn and Flood On The Floor. On Flood, Roddick takes his instrumentals up with James' vocals, bringing the crescendo behind her. On Dust, he follows the opposite formula, taking more and more away until all that's left after James finishes the chorus are bells. It's a masterful performance for 10 tracks, and it's my album of the year.
Artist To Watch For In 2015: Marian Hill
In 2015, Marian Hill (composed of two different people, Jeremy Lloyd and Samantha Gongol) dropped Sway, one of the more interesting EPs of the year, mixing jazz and sultry as hell vocals together in a perfect marriage, and are releasing an album in 2016. Be careful though, they're not the kind of drum you play One Time.
Comeback Artist Of The Year: Carly Rae Jepsen
Biebs, you made a run for it, but Carly Bae Jepsen has this locked up. After being the punchline for an entire nation's jokes after Call Me Maybe (which I find to be so bad it's actually good, but that's a topic for another day) Carly sucked it up and shut everybody the hell up with one of the best pop albums of the year, Emotion, which barely missed the cut for my top 10. If you think I'm trying to pull your leg, listen to All That and then tell me you don't get a little Prince from it.
Breakthrough (AKA Best New) Artist Of The Year: Fetty Wap
Again, don't act too shocked. Fetty Wap came out of quite literally nowhere (New Jersey) with Trap Queen and never let go. Fetty did what every rapper brags about doing: shutting the down the summer. You could not go anywhere in public for long before hearing a Fetty Wap song, be it Trap Queen, My Way, RGF Island, Again, or 679. And he quickly turned those string of hits into a self titles debut, which I personally think was one of the funnest listens of the year.
Artist Of The Year: Future
"Artist Of The Year" does not mean "best artist of the year", although he has a strong claim to that. This goes to the artist that dominated the year and really made it theirs, and there's really no other choice.
Some background: early in the year, Future and Ciara break up. In March, Ciara drops I Bet, which first off is a pretty good song, but more importantly it serves as one huge subtweet to her ex. And for that, Cece, I thank you. Because of you, Future went on a scorch the earth campaign that started with a mixtape called 56 Nights just two months after he previous mixtape, Beast Mode. You may know 56 Nights' highlight, March Madness, as the song that got Johnny Manziel in trouble, but there's more going on here. Future's whole career he's been pigeonholed as a trap artist, making music that's only good for "turning up" to. That's actually true, and still is. Thing is, in the chorus to March Madness, Future sings "cops shooting ni**as, tragic". That's just one line, and if you don't pay attention to it, you'll miss it, but Future is doing something Kendrick Lamar didn't do, because or couldn't or didn't think about it: get people to sing about police violence in a club.
On July 17th, Future dropped Dirty Sprite 2, a full length studio album that had multiple phrases enter the pop culture lexicon, the most notable being a feature with Drake called Where Ya At, which was springboard for What A Time To Be Alive, a collaborative album where Drake teamed up with Future. Let me repeat that, Drake teamed up with Future, not the other way around. Drake will dispute this, but he saw Future's rise in the rap scene and decided he had to jump on it. And I probably wouldn't think that if Future didn't outclass Drake on literally every single song on the album, but he did.
Oh, and Leonard Fournette made My Savages his mantra for the 2015 season.
Song Of The Year: Get Good (Infinitefreefall Remix) - St. South
Big year for Aussies, with a breakthrough artist nominee winning song of the year. Well, technically. I was on the fence on giving this to a remix, but this was hands down my most listened to song of the year. As a sucker for a good sax, this remix was perfect and it is one of the most laid back and relaxing songs I have ever heard, with St. South singing about the day we stop reading into self-doubt.
So that's what I've got for my albums of the year and otherwise, now let's hear from Poseur.
Now that the kid has spoken, it's time for the grumpy old man to speak. There's an old bit of spoken word from Henry Rollins in the early 90s that I always think of whenever I talk music with Millennials, and it's when he said, "We're the first generation that's going to be more hardcore than our kids." He went on to bemoan the future in which everyone will be wearing helmets and listening to European techno pop.
So, he pretty much nailed the rise of Daft Punk. But it also speaks to a fundamental difference in the musical tastes of Generation X and Millennials. Gen X thrived on grime and distortion, and we recontextualized failure/success by essentially rejecting the old values. Sure, Nirvana was on the cover of Rolling Stone, but Cobain wore a t-shirt onto which he scrawled "Corporate Magazines Still Suck." Gangsta rap, lo-fi, grunge, early techno... almost every genre tried to redefine what it meant to be pop, and seemed to bend over backwards to alienate outsiders.
And now we have a bunch of fairly safe, professional-sounding pop bands. As the record industry goes through its death throes, it seems to never have had more power as taste-makers. If I could describe modern pop in a word, it would be "safe." There's not a raised middle finger, but instead a safe space for everyone. Luckily, there's still some buzz and howl left.
#10: To Pimp a Butterfly | Kendrick Lamar
I'll be honest, I'm not a huge fan of this record. That said, I wouldn't take any year-end list that omits it seriously. This is the album we'll be talking about in 20 years. It is an epoch defining record and it has already been slapped with the label of a Very Important Record. And there's genuine rage on the album, as Lamar has made the unofficial soundtrack to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. He deals openly and honestly with his disconnect from his own roots, and worries that he is nothing but a tool of a white, capitalist record industry. He feels that responsibility to speak out, blessed with as loud of a megaphone as he has. My biggest issue with it is that for such an openly political record about the experience of Black America, he essentially leaves out half of the equation. Misogyny in music, particularly hip hop, is not a new story, but it seems particularly out of place on an album that is about being marginalized for who you are. Women are ignored on this album, except as nagging obstacles trying to tear away his money and fame. That shouldn't bother me as much as it does, Lamar is hardly the worst offender, but given the political space this album inhabits, it matters more.
#9: Complicated Game | James McMurtry
"Honey, don't be yelling at me when I'm cleaning my gun. I'll wash the blood off my tailgate when deer season is done" are the lyrics which kick off this most country of country records. McMurtry is a legendary Texas country musician, maybe right next to Steve Earle in the modern pantheon, but he waited seven years before releasing this record. Worth the wait, as it is the best record of his career. He has the ability to describe small-town country life, and neither romanticize or condemn it. The characters in his song are trapped by time, circumstance, and geography, but each one makes the best of his or her situation and tries to find their own piece of the American dream. As his discharged soldier caustically notes in South Dakota, "I ain't dying in this shithole town for a soldier's pay." And then he re-ups his enlistment.
#8: Key Markets | Sleaford Mods
British hip hop has not exactly taken the world by storm, producing perhaps just one great artists (The Streets). Sleaford Mods have tried to make it two, but shift gears on their most recent album to more of a hybrid hip hop/post-punk amalgamation which suits their sound better. They now sound like the little brother of Mclusky, the unfortunately short-lived post-punk giants. However, these are weary fortysomethings still raging in a young man's game. Over simple yet relentless beats, the Mods yell, bitch, and rage against anything and everything. They are smart enough to analyze the current socioeconomic system and how it is rigged against the working class, but wise enough to know nothing they do matters. It's funky nihilism when they ask, "Is it right to analyze in a general sense the capital machine/Its workings and what they mean?/Passive articles on political debate/Its implications are fucking meaningless, mate." Like good British punks, they know the one real truth: there is No Future.
#7: Foil Deer | Speedy Ortiz
In a different world, one in which rock radio wasn't a lifeless corpse, Raising the Skate would have been a massive hit single. Call it bad timing, as literate power pop only had a very narrow window of popularity. Speedy Ortiz usually gets compared to Pavement because every marginally successful indie rock band gets compared to Pavement, but Speedy Ortiz's intricate guitar work and pop hooks backing witty lyrics reminds me more of Built to Spill. Well, with a little Throwing Muses thrown in, because every 90s indie band with a female lead singer gets compared to Throwing Muses. This is a record that takes me back to the 90s, like on The Graduates, "I was the best at being second place/But now I'm just the runner-up/At being the second one you think of every day/Before you go back to one." I'm a loser, baby.
#6: Surf | Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment
Jazz and hip hop have always eyed each other warily. Occasionally, the genres will use the other (hip hop will borrow jazz's respectability and jazz will borrow hip hop's cultural cachet with young people). But honestly, the two genres rarely mix well, and seem to resent the other's place in the cultural landscape. After a successful mixtape, Chance the Rapper could have signed with any label and done anything to cash in on his success. Instead, he forged his own path, stayed independent, and lent his talents as a supporting player to Donnie Trumpet's hip hop/jazz fusion project. His flow is still top notch, and instead of relying on layers of production, Chance and Donnie create a fun, hangout vibe on the record. It's almost impossible to listen to this and not bob your head and smile. It's jubilant hip hop, and it has infectious positivity without being hokey. It was such a gift to music, they decided to give it away on iTunes for free.
#5: Coming Home | Leon Bridges
This record sounds like the Muscle Shoals record that the studio never recorded. Leon Bridges debut album is the result of his collaboration with members of Texas post-punkers White Denim. They ditched the feedback and distortion for smooth guitar lines, a horn section, and an irresistible shuffle beat. Calling it retro soul is technically accurate, but it also short changes how great the album is. This isn't an affectation or an empty tribute to a long-since passed era, this is a record made in the now. Apparently, his mother never let him listen to music with profanity or disrespect to women when he grew up, so his record traffics in love and romance. It also has a timeless sound that feels like this record could have been made for 60s Motown. We just had to wait for it to finally come out.
#4: The Most Lamentable Tragedy | Titus Andronicus
The full name of the Shakespeare play from which the band takes its name is The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus. So, you can see from the outset, that this record was going to be a deeply personal yet expansive and ambitious. You don't namecheck the Bard unless you've got ambition. Patrick Stickles' stated goal was to tell the full story of his own struggles with manic depression with this album, and that's what he tries to do. All the listener can do is buckle in and try and survive the experience. Titus Andronics, right now, is the greatest rock band on the planet and even though I'd argue 2010's The Monitor is a superior album, this record is them at the peak of their powers. It is bold, ambitious, crazed, pretentious as hell, deeply flawed, and glorious. It's also loud as hell. It is a record that immerses you in the experience of being manic: the 3 LP set requires you to switch the record speed from the 33 to 45 back to 33 RPM, while the record itself swings wildly from amplifier busters like Dimed Out, I'm Going Insane, and Stranded (On My Own) to the more contemplative More Perfect Union and even an a cappella version of Auld Lang Syne. The record is so exhausting, it even comes with two empty tracks to serve as an intermission to catch your breath. You'll need it.
#3: Something More Than Free | Jason Isbell
The fight for country music's soul has been raging for quite some time now. Hell, it's actually been going on since the original Outlaw Country movement of the 1970's. But as pop country has gotten worse and worse, the pushback amongst fans has become more and more pronounced, so much so that even non-country fans notice it. A few years ago, Isbell's record would have been classified as Americana, and Nashville would've avoided the uncomfortable conversation started when Isbell's record debuted at #1 on the country music charts. The former Trucker has stopped drinking, gotten remarried, and generally slowed down his life, but he still knows how to tell a story. And the remarkable 24 Frames closes out an album full of songs about growing up with regret over all of the mistakes we've made, large and small. 24 frames is how long it takes a film projector to show one second at normal speed, and the point here is clear: slow down and notice those seconds. Things are happening, even in the small spaces in the background. This record is all about filling those spaces.
#2 No Cities to Love | Sleater-Kinney
This was a pretty great year for reunions and late career albums. Faith No More, the Indigo Girls (really!), Blackilicious, Iron Maiden, and Dwight Yoakam all put out records that rank among the very best work they've ever recorded, which is saying something. Bands aren't trading in on nostalgia as they grow older anymore, they are pushing forward and expanding their sound. But no one made quite the late career album like the women in Sleater-Kinney, who after a near ten-year layoff, surprised the music world with perhaps the greatest reunion album ever recorded. It's like they never left, and the album opens with a one-two punch of the scorching Price Tag (We never really checked, we never checked the price tag/When the cost comes in, it's gonna be high ) and the funky Fangless (Fight's over, but I'll fight on/Where's the evidence/The scars, the dents/That I was ever here?). Somehow, the record gets even better from there. Corrin Tucker can still howl like no one else in rock n roll, Janet Weiss might be the best drummer alive, and Carrie Brownstein is the modern day Keith Richards, minus the drug habit. Sleater-Kinney has always been great, but right now they feel essential. The fight might be over, but that's no reason to stop fighting the good fight.
#1 Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit | Courtney Barnett
There are few things more exciting than a great debut. The whole promise of their future career laid out before them and right now, it's nothing but possibility. First novels, first movies, first records... these things unreasonably excite me. It's like Athena busting out fully formed from her father's head, and that's just the first chapter. What's amazing here is not just Barnett's perceptiveness and clever wordplay, but the seeming ease and confidence she has. As she tells us on Pedestrian at Best, "Put me on a pedestal and I'll only disappoint/You tell me I'm exceptional and I promise to exploit you." This might be a debut, but she's got the cocky assurance of a veteran songwriter. She knows she's good. She takes the album title from A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh, and she's free and easy with the references. However, she's also trying to present herself as someone without an agenda. She's an observer of the human condition, and a liver of life herself, but she's not coming to anyone with the answer, or even the questions. She's still finding herself on Debbie Downer, "Sell me all your golden rules and I'll see/If that's the kind of person that I wanna be/If I'm not happy I'll be glad I kept receipts." Watching her try on each persona is a delight.
Artist to Watch: Sports
All of Something is an old school pop-punk record. No song checks in at more than three minutes, and the full set is over in just over twenty minutes. You can pop the record on and be done with it before you've even finished checking your email. It's got great hooks while still packing a big punch. Of course, this is a dirty trick, as the band promptly broke up after finishing their first release because everyone was getting close to graduation from college. So, expect in about ten years for Carmen Perry or guitarists Catherine Dwyer and Jack Wahsburn to show up in another band, and some pretentious reviewer name check their short-lived college band. Get in on the ground floor.
Comeback Artist: The Replacements
Clearly, I think its Sleater-Kinney, who I just finished telling you had the greatest reunion album in history. So, other than that, let's take a moment to appreciate the Replacements reunion. Now, they "reunited" back in 2013 when Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson announced new shows without drummer Chris Mars or either former guitarist (Slim Dunlop on account of illness and Bob Stinson on account of death) under the ‘Mats banner. They recorded an EP to raise money for Slim's medical bills, played some shows, and then went on a brief tour. This year, they entered the studio to cut a new album and then... stopped. The magic was gone and instead of forcing it, they called it a day, fulfilling their touring obligations in Europe. A much beloved band got back together for a well-received reunion by fans and critics alike and then walked away before wearing out their welcome. They took a well-deserved and much-delayed final bow for being one of the greatest American rock bands and for helping found American indie, and then they managed to not sully their reputation. And let's face it, sullying their reputation is sort of the ‘Mats specialty. This is band that was banned from NBC for supposedly taking a shit in the executive offices' freezer. Restraint was not a real big buzzword for them. They came, they rocked, they left. That's how you do a reunion.
Breakthrough Artist: Vince Staples
I'm going to quote GZA's open letter to hip hop:
I'm sure there are great lyricists out there today, but when you look at mainstream hip-hop, lyricism is gone. There are some artists out there that think they're great storytellers, but they're not. Nowadays there are certain things I don't hear anymore from rappers: I haven't heard the word "MC" in so long; I haven't heard the word "lyrical."
I'm with him. Hip hop went from being about the DJ at live street parties, to becoming about the MC in the mid-80s, to today's more producer-driven medium. I guess that's fine, but it doesn't interest me nearly as much. To boil GZA down, modern MC's can't rap for shit. Now, Wu Tang is one of the most lyrically gifted groups in pop music history, so that's an unfair standard, but come on. Give me something, y'all.
Vince Staples has pushed back hard against the label of lyrical rapper, but the label has stuck. While he doesn't like it, and I see his point, Staples is walking braggadocio right now. He's taken to gutting sacred cows by saying 90s hip hop was overrated and his off the record comments are as in your face as his rapping style. He's not afraid of anything right now, and I enjoy the hell out of his swagger. And Norf Norf is awesome.
Artist of the Year: Jason Isbell
The most interesting thing in pop music right now is the open fissure in country music getting exposed to outsiders. Country radio is doubling down on bro country while more and more artists are shunning the Americana compromise and standing their ground as real country. Jason Isbell doesn't really care about that, as he's carved a niche out for himself and his music that defies genre or industry support. Even before this year, he could show up to any town and sell out a decent sized room full of die-hard fans. Now that he's broadening his audience to soccer moms and NPR listeners, it doesn't fundamentally change his music. He's just as great as he was last year, it's just now people outside a few circles are beginning to notice.
Song of the Year: "Hello" by Adele
Let's put it like this: I don't listen to pop music radio. It could not interest me less. You name the biggest jams of the summer and I'm dead serious, I have no idea how they go. Even if you play them for me, I've mentally withdrawn by the end of the first verse. Also, with the balkanization of pop music, pop songs simply aren't as popular as they once were. Everyone hangs out in their own little circle, and there isn't much bleed over. The biggest pop songs have largely been conceded to adolescent girls who, as a historical fact, tend to have terrible taste. Pop songs are aimed at thirteen year olds, and I'm not going to pretend I have the slightest desire to keep up with tastes of children.
That said, I know how "Hello" goes. I can sing it right now. Adele's album sold more than three million copies in its first week, the highest total in history. She is popular in a way that no other pop star is popular. I talked about Kendrick Lamar's album is the most important record of the year. Yeah, it sold 642,000 copies. Adele moved that in a day. Adele is the most popular pop star since Whitney Houston (the only record released in the past 25 years in the top 10 in sales). She is the great middle ground, the place where we all come together and it doesn't feel like we're listening to someone's arrested development. She's actually popular outside of just children, the usual people who buy singles. Adele is the music industry right now.
This video has over 650 million views. Yeah, Adele owns pop music.
The punk rock guy just wrote 200 words arguing Adele is the greatest pop star in the world. You're welcome.