T for Tom

2015 Music Review

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on December 31, 2015

Let’s get down to it:

  1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

It’s not about the music anymore, not with Kendrick Lamar. Where previously Kendrick used artisan tactics to display ghetto sentimentality, his second outpouring in the form of How To Pimp a Butterfly proves that his initial vehicle was merely a part of the transcendence, not the finished product. Disproving any detractors, Lamar has created a piece of protest at the height of his popularity – and with it’s sprawling, incoherent, often non-cohesive portrait of his struggles with an unnamed antagonist “Lucy,” he probably also has lost non-genuine fans along the way, a la closing with Mortal Man [embedded above] asking “”When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?” Because Butterfly is protest – it is Black Thought with a microphone, it is philosophy, and it is a window into manic, oppressed, crippling misfortune. It will not strike a melodic chord with many because its strongest moments are its credits: a 10-minute dialogue with Common Sense on the state of black public at large. Their comments are outrageous, and yet so within bounds. I wish everyone would listen to it in its entirety.

  1. Editors – In Dream

I was aghast at the dull artwork, and didn’t recognize the record by its opening track. But after a full play through, the Editors have achieved a sequence of songs that coalesce into a perfectly formed record – one that attains singular vision, construction, and flow by flowering its inspiration: dream. Starting on a near fairytale-esque brogue in “No Harm,” the second track (and my pick for song of the year) “Ocean of Night” lays down a melody that is both uplifting and rich while remaining grounded in layers of memory and solace – the keynotes of a beautifully formed dream within the mind. The album continues with this pace, tugging and swaying through the torrids of realized fantasy and somber regret, leaving only the impression that dreams are the story of life; rich, enveloped, and – as the record wraps with “All The Kings,” a heavenly stomp toward the light – worthy of celebration.

  1. Oscar Key Sung – Altruism

Sung is the new leader of the new classic, harking on elements of the middle generation to create nostalgia in things before seen as passé and laughable – the 90s. Utilizing structure and rhythm of such 90s heroes as Dru Hill, Brian McKnight, and Blackstreet, Oscar Key Sung reaches the pinnacle of modern music – combining the finest elements of modern alternative and indie with the most sincere moments of hip-hop and R&B, all while standing on the shoulders of giants.

  1. Reptar – Lurid Glow

There simply isn’t another band out there like Reptar right now, and all for the better. There will never be another David Byrne, but Reptar give it their best shot by crafting finely tuned, tightly wound, and rapidly moving rock’n’roll in the spirit of Talking Heads meets Yes. You don’t have to be a fan of progressive rock to appreciate the alternative simplicity that keeps this broad piece of work tethered to the ground. Get your feet moving.

  1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Carrie & Lowell is not meant to be understood, in every sense – it is a collection of mournings by one man upon the death of his mother. His pain is not ours, but it is shared. There are moments of sincere beauty and allocution among more expected songs of grief, but many more are there unidentifiable moments of honesty from the singer: “you checked your texts while I masturbated.” This line, from the third track, early on establishes that this will be a jarring experience. We are staring into the unpoured soul of a man in grief. You will be hurt, you will be pained, and you will be sorrowed. But these journeys are meant to be experienced.


  1. “Ocean Of Night” – Editors – In Dream

Part dance, part elegy, part dream, “Ocean of Night” is everything we want from a soaring, elegiac ballad. Built upon a repetitive swoon of piano and adding with shakers, tambourines, and added vocals without changing the structure, the emotions swell and swell until erupting in the most serene way – a full-bodied layer struck on by the snare, and followed quickly by Caribbean drums that brings it all back down into a falsetto-led breeze with only handclaps. It is everything that defines celebration in music form.

  1. “Should Have Known Better” – Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

This is a eulogy not of a person, but of a state of being. It is a lament for not having done more, and it is synthesized by a man and his guitar, plucking away through his sorrow. But, upon realization on the finality of life, it is picked up by a simple and slight keyboard melody that underlays a vocal harmony so pure and so buoyant, that only brightness can shine.

  1. “Haunt / A Light” – Seoul – I Become A Shade

Built for nighttime drives and long moments of thought, this Shoegaze classic is a masterform of rich, deep layering. Over a simply drum back beat of snare and kick, with a little bit of guitar plucking, caroms a breathy voice that nearly whispers – truly a haunt. It devolves slightly before landing on the punch, an empty room of singular piano notes that evoke the passing of time, with a melody meant for reflection. Beautiful.

  1. “Brush” – Oscar Key Sung – Altruism

Oscar Key Sung has many richer, varied songs to repertoire, but this is not one. This is a pop-rock anthem, one for the dance halls. Built around a simply key drive, it tells the story, finally, of a love not rushed in a world of immediacy.

  1. “Bluebird” – Beach House – Depression Cherry

Ticking and tocking its way to an industrial opening so mechanical that it sounds like a clock, “Bluebird” transcends quickly with a surprising, downward turn. From wispy breaths of vocals everything stops – we are left with a minor chord and a voice that weeps. From there it continues downward, searching for lost bluebird of titular name. This is the moment that encapsulates what is 2015’s best album title, Depression Cherry.

  1. “Kitty Kat” – Empress Of – Me

So goddamned powerful. An industrial blast of sound akin to Nine Inch Nails but preserved here in the form of indie dance, in nothing more than two-and-a-half minutes. Empress Of knows how to get in, say it all: “Don’t kitty, kitty cat me like I’m just your pussy, any other night you’d treat me just the same”, and get out. This is female provocation, and it is nothing less than the new royalty.

  1. “So There” – Ben Folds – So There

Simply the return of Baroque pop at its finest.  A shuffling, jazzy under-beat of piano and muffled drums, finishing with a full chromatic and the sounds of clouds opening up.

  1. “Alright” – Kendrick Lamar – How To Pimp a Butterfly

The keynote track of the album, and the likely winner of this year’s Grammy record of the year. Over a sampling of 60’s vocal jazz, with jarring cuts and slips in the beat, it is nostalgia used to evoke that things weren’t ever the way they seemed, but things don’t have to be going the way we fear: “When you know, we been hurt, been down before, nigga / When my pride was low, lookin’ at the world like, “where do we go, nigga?” / And we hate Popo, wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, nigga / I’m at the preacher’s door / My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow but we gon’ be alright.”

  1. “Gong” – Favela – Future Visions EP

Favela is the most creative producer in the game – layers of Atlanta hip-hop beats, melodies of Seattle shoegaze, and vocals from modern indie, to create something more of a painting than a song.

  1. “The Right Stuff” – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

Noel Gallagher has been and will continue to be the greatest writer of rock’n’roll we know today. With many odes toward the pop influence of Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac, “The Right Stuff” sails on dual male/female vocals, soft horn transitions, and tightly-wound piano notes, over a rolling, wave-like combination of drums and guitar. This is rock and roll fully visualized.


All New Releases I’ve bought/listened to So Far:

Ryan Adams – 1989 – For sake of the fact that he didn’t write the songs, I have chosen not to include any of this as record or song in the rankings. Otherwise, it’s one of the most enjoyable records of the year.

Atlas Genius – Inanimate Objects

Beach House – Depression Cherry

Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars

Belle & Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance

Leon Bridges – Coming Home

Gary Clark, Jr. – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim

Coldplay – A Head Full of Dreams

Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi

Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon

Disclosure – Caracal

Dr. Dog – Live At a Flamingo Hotel

Dr. Dre – Compton… A Soundtrack

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers

The Early November – Imbue

Editors – In Dream

Empress Of – Me

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Favela – Future Visions

Foals – What Went Down

Ben Folds – So There

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

Guy Garvey – Courting The Squall

Goldroom – It’s Like You Never Went Away

Jose Gonzalez – Vestiges & Claws

Guster – Evermotion

Cyril Hahn – Begin

The Helio Sequence – The Helio Sequence

Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell – Sing Into My Mouth

Jamie XX – In Color – Unlike every other publication, I don’t think this is the best record of the year; but it would be if it weren’t for the inclusion of Young Thug, whose appearance is like a small crack in a large, ornate hallway mirror. I can still see everything, but there’s a small impurity that ruins the overall purpose.

Kendrick Lamar – How To Pimp A Butterfly

Lord Huron – Strange Trails

Lovedrug – Notions

MeWithoutYou – Pale Horses

MuteMath – Vitals

My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

Of Monsters & Men – Beneath The Skin

Oh Wonder – Oh Wonder

Passion Pit – Kindred

Purity Ring – Another Eternity

Reptar – Lurid Glow

Seoul – I Become A Shade

Sleater Kinney – No Cities To Love

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Stone Foxes – Twelve Spells

Oscar Key Sung – Altruism

Tame Impala – Currents – For the record, this is the most over-hyped trash I’ve ever heard. Tame Impala is trying way too hard to do something that’s been done so many times, and what the fuck is a tame impala anyway?

Toro Y Moi – What For?

Twin Shadow – Eclipse

The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Mattress

Wilco – Star Wars

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