In 2015, I did most of my focused music listening while walking the dog. Here are the albums that were playing on my iPod as I took Sadie around the neighbourhood. In alphabetical order…
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Whether admiring the pressed-metal ceilings in a piece of suburban real estate or referring to roadkill as “possum Jackson Pollock”, this Australian indie-rock songwriter finds poetry in the boring minutiae of everyday life.
Now 10 albums in, Dan Bejar still bravely refuses to settle into a comfort zone. This time around, he delves into smooth-jazz balladry, stomping glam, clattering salsa, and sweeping neoclassical, making this his most amibitious masterpiece yet.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Drizzy has perfected the art of glorifying hedonism while poignantly highlighting the superficiality of his lifestyle. Here, he spends nearly 70 minutes bragging about how famous he is, and yet I come away from it feeling sorry for him.
Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear
Equal parts cynic and romantic, former Fleet Foxes member Joshua Tillman conjures up lavish baroque-folk arrangements and discovers that true love means finding someone who hates all of the same things that he does.
When did it suddenly become cool for underground artists to start embracing slick-sounding mainstream pop? Art Angels is simultaneously one of the catchiest records of the year and one of the weirdest, as Claire Boucher sounds equally comfortable dabbling in Swiftian country-pop (“California”), Taiwanese rap-metal (“Scream”), and everything in between.
To Pimp a Butterfly
The year was sadly filled with reports of race-related tensions south of the border, and King Kendrick captured the times with this dizzying, masterful rap opera. It’s both an autobiographical tale of Lamar’s struggles with fame and a scathing social critique. I can’t remember ever hearing a more visceral lyric than this: “I’m African-American, I’m African/I’m black as the heart of a fucking Aryan.”
It took the Superchunk frontman until his late 40s to finally release an album under his own name. He doles out advice to troubled youngsters (“Real Darkness”), reminisces about the old days (“Your Hologram”), and joyfully rages against the apocalypse (“Come Upstairs”), making Non-Believers a touching and multifaceted portrait of middle-aged maturity.
Meets the Grim Reaper Animal Collective’s yelpy neotribal shtick sounds woefully outdated in 2015, but Panda Bear’s affinity for luminescent pop melodies and squalling synth weirdness has his solo work holding up quite nicely.
Carrie & Lowell
Once known for ornate orchestral arrangements, Sufjan Stevens strips down on this folksy eulogy for his long-troubled mother. It’s a stark reflection on the emotional scars left by death and bad parenting, and yet its quiet beauty is comforting rather than harrowing. For all the morbidity, my favourite lyric is, “My brother had a daughter/The beauty that she brings, illumination.”
These locals used to be the twee-est of the twee, but they’ve since gone in a grungy direction. Every track here takes its title from someone’s first name, and personal tributes like “Olga” and “Andrew” show that Thee AHs have shed their cuteness without losing their heartfelt sweetness.