Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite Albums of 2015

My top three albums from 2015 

#1 - A Pimp to a Butterfly: Kendrick Lamar

When I found out that Kendrick Lamar was releasing his 3rd album earlier this year I vowed to buy it. Not digitally either. That's right. I still buy CDs.
Before I had even heard anything off of it, come March I had me a copy of Pimp To A Butterfly. I pretty much knew that it would be my #1 favorite album of the year as soon as I listened to it.
The first thing that hit me was the undertones of funk and the throw back sound of old 90's hip-hop. You just don't hear originality like that in hip-hop these days, especially hip-hop that gets air play.  The fluidity of these simultaneous beats is made even better by the pristine production of them. The amplification and sound quality is engineered so impeccably well that the whole album sounds clean and clear no matter how high you turn up the volume and/or bass.
The wisdom that come from this young lyrical genius proves he is wise way beyond his years and also a lot wiser than a lot of his peers. He raps in a way that is very narrative, intuitively raising important questions about race ("The Blacker the Berry"), politics ("Hood Politics"), class ("How Much A Dollar Cost"), today's society ("Wesley's Theory"), life ("Alright") and how he fits into all of it: how each of us no matter our race, class or beliefs are a part of it and how our actions determine the outcome of not only our life but the lives and life around us. These are important concepts people are afraid to bring up and Kendrick isn't trying to combat them, he's trying to understand them and he
does so with out preaching.

He also acknowledges battles with his own inner demons ("U"). In a society saturated with the idealization of  being happy all of the time and no-one wanting to hear any different;  it's sad, but true, that this along with a need to be successful in society's eyes while the fortunate happily turn a blind eye to the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the disappearance of the working middle class, self medicating to be better or to feel better is prevalent ("These Walls").  Kendrick bravely addresses why those demons exist(ed) and his battle with them.

None of these topics are easy or fun. He doesn't glamorize these personal and socitial struggles nor does he deny them.Yes, on Pimp To A Butterfly he raps about quote un-quote pimps and hoes as well as drugs but not in the way most probably think.

Though there are technically only two interludes on the track listing ("For Free?" & "For Sale") there are actually a few more through out the album: delivered in a  monotone spoken word style, each one has the same opening "I know you was conflicted" and the redundant repetition of these un-official interludes serve more as poetic stanzas. The use of line repetition in poems drives a point across, highlighting the importance of the writing's theme  and can also indicate an upcoming shift in or a development in emotion. The usage of this writing tool is a powerful one and a smart move on Lamar's part because it brings the listener back to the story he's telling with a driving force.
This album is so good, it's great.
It's relevant, smart, innovative, moving, powerful, inspiring and you can still get down to it! 
Kendrick Lamar received more Grammy nominations than any other artist this year, beating out Taylor Swift and Adele with 11 nods for Pimp To A Butterfly, including album of the year!
Good luck Kendrick, you deserve it!

My faves:
- King Kunta
- Hood Politics

#2 - Dodge and Burn: The Dead Weather

Even with the release of the single "Buzzkill(er)" late last year, there was only a little buzz surrounding the release The Dead Weather's long over due 3rd album. 2010's Sea of Cowards was the last time we heard from the blues-rock supergroup and Dodge and Burn was rumored to be released in 2014 but it actually, finally, dropped this September. The fierce, gritty rawness The Dead Weather is known for got an up grade on this album. 

On the surface is Jack White's undeniable distinctive taste of musical style: the lo-fi, grainy, organic distortion of true rock with blues roots and a prominent garage grunge reverb. Then there's Alison Mossharts' formidable wailing , laced with her substantial howls kicking everything up a notch with a burning passion, bellowing out from deep inside, painting each track with an even darker aesthetic. It all sounds more polished. Dodge and Burn is more heavily driven by mean guitar riffs and roaring solos than on the first two albums. Track, to track to track their sinister sound is amplified to a grandiose rock anthem, arena worthy sound. While the whole album possesses this quality, some tracks sound as if influence was drawn from the likes of  Queen on "Impossible Winner" and the Fun Loving Criminals on "Three Dollar Hat". As he's done in the past, drummer Jack White joins Alison Mosshart on vocals, either as back up or in duet fashion on a few tracks in a row in the middle of the 12 track album.
 My love/hate relationship with Jack White burns strong as there is no news of a Dead Weather tour in the works and for as good as this album is, it's most likely a whole lot better live!
It is truly heart breaking to know we probably won't be seeing their new material live anytime soon.

My faves:
- I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)
- Be Still

#3 - Love Stuff: Elle King

Tanner Elle Schneider is better known as her stage name these days, Elle King and thanks to her hit single "Ex's and Oh's" and her successful debut album Love Stuff, the 26 year old musician has become pretty well known.  I first heard said single on the radio and had to shazam it:  I needed to know what gravely voiced siren I stumbled on because I loved it and needed to know. That's when I fell in love with Elle King. I then came to learn that the saucy outspoken songstress is the daughter of local comedic legend and music enthusiast Rob Schneider! Her Dad is from my hometown of Pacifica and he started the Rob Schneider Music Foundation in Pacifica in 1997, offering middle school students a chance  to explore their creativity, learn how to play music and find a love for it. I think it's awesome that his daughter grew up to be a musician. Knowing this about her made me fall even harder for Elle King. Her outspoken edge characterizes her soulful sound of bluesy-rock with a country twang and a vixen swagger. The tempo of the album ebbs and flows evenly with faster, tempos and upbeat vibes and then slower tempos with almost melancholy feels.
Love Stuff is catchy, it's flirty, it's fun, it's unapologetic, it's empowering for ladies everywhere and it got Elle King a Grammy nomination for best song and performance for "Ex's and Oh's". Get it grrrrl! 

My faves:
- Kocaine Karolina
- See You Again

My favorite singles of 2015 

There's a reason why certain songs are plucked from albums or released early as singles, because they're good, they're catchy and the hope is when you hear one song you'll want to hear the whole album. 

"Sorry" - Justin Bieber 
"Downtown" - Macklemore
"Roses" - Chainsmokers
"First" - Cold War Kids  

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