Hey guys! After collecting top ten lists from WUOG staffers and DJs, an editorial board of current music directors Brett and Trevor, current local music director Jonny, incoming music directors Camilla (and Jonny again) and incoming local music director Frances tallied the votes and created the WUOG top list. The list reflects what people at the station liked the most this year. The top ten each got their own write-up and the full top 50 list is at the bottom.
10. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Kamasi Washington has made a grand debut with this appropriately titled three hour jazz album. Jazz is rarely a popular music form, but there’s definitely a chance that Washington may re-inspire a love for this genre with his ability to incorporate a soulful, funky vibe into his music. Washington has undoubtedly made a name for himself through his own honest talent and through his role in helping get Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly off the ground; however, the fact that this album was released by Brainfeeder, Flying Lotus’ independent record label, is a major reason why this release is so successful. A modern three hour jazz album may sound intimidating, but it’s surprisingly accessible. The album starts off with two blaring, fast-paced songs that highlight Washington’s chops as an established jazz saxophonist. “Isabelle” is a little bit sexier of a track with a slower start that lays a nice foundation for the conversations heard throughout by the brass and piano. “Final Thought” begins with a gospel-esque organ, but gives way to what sounds like more classical jazz. Patrice Quinn’s voice is first heard on “The Rhythm Changes,” but is heard throughout the three albums in an almost comforting, motherly way. “Miss Understanding” is one of the more playful tracks with its fast-pacing and varied instrumentation. Apparently, “Leroy and Lanisha” was named as a sort of ode to Linus and Lucy from The Peanuts, and the rising intensity of Washington’s saxophone solo on this sweetly dramatic song make it an important one on the album. “Seven Prayers” is one of the more tender tracks on the album: its climax is supported by surprisingly soothing—rather than jarring— blaring brass section. The album’s loving rendition of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” is perfectly warm. The Epic is epic and hopefully the beginning of an upwards appreciation of jazz and soul.
9. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
Like many, I knew of Carly Rae Jepsen as the soul responsible for one of the decade’s most infectious songs, “Call Me Maybe.” I half expected her to fade into the one-hit-wonder abyss and for that reason ignored the release of Emotion for quite some time. Looking back on 2015, this may have been my greatest mistake of the year. Jepsen’s third album is an extension of her breakout single’s success – well crafted and articulated pop with an accessibility that can infect music snobs and casual listeners alike. As a whole, the album has few moments that lull, such as “LA Hallucinations,” but this is only because of the standard set by new pop classics like “All That.” Whereas she used to be known as an artist that made great songs, this could be the be the catalyst that makes Jepsen known for making great albums.
8. Jamie xx – In Colour
I was honestly surprised to see this one make the WUOG top 10, considering I had rarely heard anyone talking about it outside of the explosive (and deserved) popularity of “Good Times”. In retrospect, this probably has more to do with me working full time about an hour away from Athens during this summer where I spent most of my free time alone in my room, quietly dancing to In Colour. 5 years in the making, this electronic work goes everywhere from UK Bass to Deep House to Pop-Rap. The beauty of this work is how seamlessly most of the album flows, it feels as if you’re wandering around an excellent house party where every song is just a different room, with the exception of the Thugger verse taking place in outer space. Jamie xx has slowly expanded his pallet from his minimalist beginnings with The xx to create an album that conflates sentiment and vibrancy into a colorful package that can easily be digested by all.
7. 2 8 1 4 – 新しい日の誕生
Vaporwave as a genre has been labeled as a meme for the entirety of its short existence. And while a majority of releases that exist under the tag on Bandcamp could easily fit into this criticism, there’s much more to this style than “slowed down Diana Ross.” 2 8 1 4, the collaboration between vaporwave titans HKE and t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者, is the ultimate example of what vaporwave can be. Like its contemporaries, 新しい日の誕生 develops an aesthetic and then wanders around it, but 2 8 1 4’s choice of source material for samples deviates from the standard of 80s commercials and, well, Diana Ross. The duo instead opts for field recordings of soft whispers and the sounds of a city carrying out its routine activities, which creates an atmosphere that feels heavy and hazy when combined with the album’s murky pianos and trudging beats. I’d go as far as to say that this is an ambient album with elements of vaporwave, but that’s beside the point. 新しい日の誕生 acts more like a setting than an album, and it’s one that is easy to get lost in.
6. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
Julia Holter has sculpted an unsurprisingly coherent experimental pop album, one that Vampire Weekend wishes they had released. It beautifully mimicked the dreamy ebb and flow of fall-time emotions with its September release. Holter’s introspective and personal lyrical poetry make this album accessible, but it’s her incredibly composed experimental orchestration that make this album transcendent. The singer, song-writer’s dizzying inflections blur the separation of music and lyrics, so they work congruously in a non-competitive manner. Songs like “Feel You” and “Everytime Boots,” which sound more like sunny 60s French psych-pop are mixed with slower almost spiritual sounding ballads like “How Long?” which ends with the dark repetition of the words “All the people run from the horizon.” Every song feels purposeful in itself but also as a part of a more important whole album. Tracks like “Lucette Stranded on the Island” simply capture a nostalgic and upsetting longing for love while tracks like “Sea Calls Me Home” and “Night Song” are more involved with major symphonic-esc backings and jazzy undertones. Every song on this intimate album is capable of hitting a nerve; the intensity of songs like “Betsy on the Roof” and title-track, “Have You In My Wilderness” make this album one of emotional sanctity.
5. Beach House – Depression Cherry
Beach House’s Depression Cherry is just as warm as the red velvet sleeve adorning the album exterior. With lush synths, bright guitar, and fewer live drums as previous releases, it’s a hazy mixture of gloom and nostalgic pleasure. Victoria Legrand’s calm vocals are just as enthralling when she hauntingly sings of passion and its destructive nature. Each song is masterfully structured around a simple melody and grows into mesmerizing, warped out harmonies. Although their other 2015 album, Thank Your Lucky Stars, contains more recognizable Beach House traits, Depression Cherry has generally pulled through as the more alluring album. Best for huddling around a fire with friends or driving around at night thinking of loves lost, Depression Cherry is a compelling progression in the evolution of Beach House.
4. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
When If You’re Reading This Its Too Late came out, it felt like everyone was listening to it. Walking to class, in the car, at a party, Drake’s self-confident verses and hazy loops rang through speakers, creating new colloquialisms and cultural fads that are now just accepted phrases of millennial vocabulary. Although it was more of a mixtape than a cohesive album, each track echoed self-actualization and the strength of internal dialogue. This confidence is new to Drake’s music, where his trademark vulnerability usually takes the forefront. The beats are also more experimental than recent releases and feature more piano riffs. It’s an after-dark album that really has no radio friendly singles, but its sudden release catapulted Drake to cross-cultural pop stardom.
3. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett’s debut album has garnered well-deserved attention. The title alone sums up her unique rambling wit, in fact Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit seems to sum up her attitude about life in general. Her lyrics dip and weave like someone reading out of a journal, with emotional heaviness treated the same way as banal observations of spice racks and photos in a house. While some songwriters get acclaim from squeezing complex and confusing emotions into succinct poetic lines, Barnett opts for a sprawling acceptance of everything at once, as in “Pedestrian At Best” where she rambles, “I love you I hate you I’m on the fence it all depends whether I’m up I’m down I’m on the mend trendsetting on reality”. Other stand outs are “Depreston”, a song about buying a house, peppered with insignificant but detailed observations that feel pulled from her life. While these details give her music a specific and personal-to-her feel, there’s something instantly relatable about her slice of life descriptions of the mundane. Tucked between her wry observations of the world around her are moments of more melancholy introspection, from understanding why a seal would want to wash up on shore to taking the character of a businessman sitting on the roof saying “I’m not suicidal, just idling insignificantly.” These lyrics pair nicely with her bouncy straightforward electric guitar for an ultimately memorable and enjoyable album.
2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
Want to feel weird? I’m about to make you feel weird: the lovable indie-darling Sufjan Stevens is the oldest artist on this list. That’s right, Sufjan is 40, and in that time he has built up a lot of baggage. This is his most personal album yet, and in it he abandons the maximalism that has been such a large part of his sound for a decade. Instead, most songs are simply a reverbed acoustic guitar with backing from soft synths and air conditioners. A major theme is Sufjan coping with the death of his mother, whom he had a strained relationship with (more details of which can be found in an excellent interview with Ryan Dombal from Pitchfork), and he doesn’t stray from the uncomfortable details that accompanied his grief: “Get drunk to get laid/I take one more hit when you depart”, ”The only thing that keeps me from cutting my arm/Cross hatch, warm bath, Holiday Inn after dark”, etc. It’s very easy to understand the style change from the larger-than-life Age of Adz, this isn’t a societal angst, the pain is highly personal and Sufjan is alone. However, there’s more to this than sadness. There are glimpses of beauty and light that have always made Sufjan’s music so special and makes Carrie & Lowell a cathartic experience rather than a sob-story. The struggles and accompanying vices that Sufjan expresses are presented in a way that seems universal, and maybe by hearing someone who has seemed so pure and honest for so long hit such a low, we can all find enough hope in the world to move on from losing a loved one. Or at least hope to.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
There was no other album that could have been WUOG’s number one of 2015. Kendrick blended funk, soul, jazz, rap and even touches of spoken word in what was easily one of the most daring and remarkable albums of this year, and one that will certainly be remembered for years to come. The lyrics leave so much to be dissected and analyzed, from the politically charged Blacker the Berry to heart-rendingly personal u. With every listen you find a new twist of phrase or powerful comparison. But Throughout, Kendrick grapples with his fame, his success and his influence, and how he should handle and wield it. It’s a musically and thematically powerful album that deserves many repeated listens, and one that may end up being one of the most important and acclaimed albums of this decade. –Brett Bennett
So, you’re reading another music critic piece on this year’s most written about album. I’m not even going to talk about the social significance or the politics that makes To Pimp a Butterfly a cultural landmark, as I’m sure others have already said what I would say, and chances are you’ve already read it. There’s more than enough to talk about with the massive range of styles and sounds, ranging everywhere from G-funk to neo-soul to pop-rap to some kind of free jazz/spoken word hybrid. There’s even a damn interview. It’s not hard to see how another MC may have overstepped their bounds, or how another MC could have gotten bogged down in 79 minutes with few rap features. So how did Kendrick pull it off? The answer: an all-star cast of producers and live musicians (especially from the LA-based FlyLo-headed Brainfeeder), technical finesse that outclasses all competition, and a clarity of vision that makes Lamar feel as much as film director as a rapper. The contrast of the self-hating rants in “u” and the uplifting “Alright” are an example of this, the sweet offsetting the sour and vice-versa keeps the listener’s experience balanced throughout To Pimp a Butterfly. This is surely an album that will be written about for years to come, but the biggest question is the same as the one we were asking three years ago after good kid, m.A.A.d. city: how in the world Kendrick going to make a follow up to this? -Trevor Adams
I was more than nervous about the direction Kendrick Lamar was heading after hearing “i,” the first single from To Pimp A Butterfly. It was praised for its uplifting nature in a genre that’s flooded with negativity; and while I’m in full support of the track’s message, the execution was flat-out corny. Thankfully, my fears were alleviated some months later with the surprise release of the full product. It’s dark, impactful and unbelievably confessional. I was moved enough to shelve the album for many months after my initial listen – I just wasn’t sure if I could bear the emotional weight TPAB pours out more than once in a short span. It may not be my favorite album of the year, or my favorite rap album of the year for that matter, but it is without a doubt the most important album of the year and worthy of the cultural position it has amassed in such short time. -Jonny Williams
In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, To Pimp a Butterfly voiced the oppression that people of color experience day-to-day, and its cultural significance ranks it as one of the most important albums of the decade. Kendrick’s poetic, spoken-word lyricism tells parables of victory against overwhelming odds. The appearances on the album are also seamlessly integrated. The conversation with Tupac seems candid, and Thundercat, Robert Glasper, and sax player Terrace Martin add a jazz feel to the album. To Pimp a Butterfly inspired uplifting anthems of resistance and really was an album written for the people. -Camillia Grayson
This is a landmark album. It will go down in history as one of the most politically important albums of our generation. Kendrick Lamar has managed to beautifully craft an album that weaves multiple story lines into one great package. Unarguably, the most important storyline is the one that touches on the constant condemnation of the black minority in America with songs like “Alright,” “Wesley’s Theory” about the jailing of Wesley Snipes, “King Kunta,” and “The Blacker the Berry. This album, although it was released under Kendrick’s name, was a complete group compilation with over fifty other musicians contributing: by the likes of George Clinton, Snoop Dogg, Thundercat, Anna Wise, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, Bilal, and Dr. Dre, who like Kendrick came straight out of Compton, CA. This album is a jazzy, funky masterpiece that highlights Kendrick’s unique voice and rapping abilities. –Frances Newton
Top 50 of 2015
50. Toro y Moi – What For?
49. Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars
48. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
47. Palm – Trading Basics
46. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf
45. Palehound – Dry Food
44. i hate sex – Circle Thinking
43. Kelela – Hallucinogen
42. Linear Downfall – Sufferland
41. Justin Bieber – Purpose
40.Yumi Zouma – EP II
39. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
38. Shilpa Ray – Last Year’s Savage
37. Young Thug – Barter 6
36. Petite Noir – Le Vie Est Belle / Life is Beautiful
35. Ought – Sun Coming Down
34. José González – Vestiges & Claws
33. Joanna Newsom – Divers
32. FIDLAR – Too
31. Alex G – Beach Music
30. The Internet – Ego Death
29. Tory Lanez and WeDidIt – Cruel Intentions
28. Elvis Depressedly – New Alhambra
27. Destroyer – Poison Season
26. Mac Demarco – Another One
25. Skylar Spence – Prom Kind
24. Girlpool – When the World Was Big
23. Hop Along – Painted Shut
22. Future -DS2
21. U.S. Girls – Half Free
20. Björk – Vulnerica
19. Empress Of – Me
18. Erykah Badu – But You Cain’t Use My Phone
17. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
16. Neon Indian – Vega Intl. Night School
15. Roman à Clef – Abandonware
14. Tame Impala – Currents
13. Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
12. Grimes – Art Angels
11. Viet Cong – Viet Cong
10. Kamasi Washington – Epic
9.Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
8. Jamie xx – In Colour
7. 2 8 1 4 – 新しい日の誕生
6. Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness
5. Beach House – Depression Cherry
4. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
3. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Think
2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
1.Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly