Jon’s Top Albums of 2015


Our writer, Jon Hecht, has
put together a list of his top albums of 2015 – featuring albums from Kendrick
Lamar, Neon Indian, and HEALTH among others. Check out his full list below!

20. Pusha T, King Push: Darkest Before Dawn

I’m not going to claim any
objectivity on this. Pusha T could cough up a ball of phlegm from his throat
and I would probably love it (and if you’ve listened to how many times he
randomly screams “Yechh” in his raps, one could argue that he has and I do). I
love his stuff in Clipse and Re-Up Gang from the mid aughts, I love his guest
verses on Kanye/GOOD Music songs, and I actually really liked…some of his
first solo album, My Name Is My Name in 2013.

The hit or miss aspects of
that album are addressed pretty clearly on this one. Whereas that album had
three songs (that encapsulated the absolute best of Terrence Thornton in
full-on attack mode (”King Push,” “Numbers On The Board,” and “Nosetalgia”),
Darkest Before Dawn showcases what he does best, with foreboding,
dangerous beats, and Pusha T spitting furiously on the mic. Surprisingly
enough, he doesn’t seem to be rapping exclusively about cocaine, which is very
surprising indeed. It’s also got “Sunshine,” which is the biggest departure
from Push’s normal style, a righteous polemic in the vein of Black Lives
Matter. It’s a weird fit—conscious rap from a guy who’s usually rapping about
putting other rappers in caskets—but when it comes down to it, I can’t make
nitpicks about the King. He’s Untouchable.

Rae Sremmurd, SremmLife
I made a mistake this year. I heard this album last spring when
it came out, and it didn’t really register. I checked out, and I missed out on
what could have been an incredible summer. I could have stood on sun-drenched
rooftops and screamed out “Safe
Sex Pay Checks”
like god intended. I did that once, when I had
finally realized how great this album was, but by that point it was a chilly
fall, and the roof was under a cloudy night sky. It was fun and all, but it
could have been so much better.

Party rap is one of the
most constantly evolving forms of music. It’s always looking for the next fix,
a new hook that lets people get even more down than ever before. These kids are
scarily young—young enough to make me feel like a grandfather at just 24. They
bring with them the best part of youth, the impossible innovation that the
older generation just can’t keep up with. The blend of rapping and singing,
backed by Mike Will Made It doing his best beats.

I missed this the first
time. When there were friends getting obsessed with these kids, I missed it.
Don’t make my mistake. This could be us.

Carly Rae Jepsen, E MO TION

I kind of love the fact
that Carly Rae Jepsen is 30 years old. She has the voice (and look) of a
teenager, and sings songs that lose all semblance of self-respect and maturity
under layers of cheesy synths. She is pop star artifice at its best, ignoring
the real version of herself, the Canadian musical-theater geek Idol
winner, in favor of a wholly created, almost doll-like persona, afraid of
maturity and enraptured by just the thought of love, built in a factory to
deliver the most perfect version of manufactured sugar.

Yeah yeah we’re all sick
of “Call Me Maybe,” which entered our ears and hearts for a whole summer and
never let us forget it. But that’s not on this album, and in its place is a
series of songs that manage to recapture the unabashed
without the oversaturated memes. Everything shines and
everything gleams, with the best Swedish (and this
) production that all that one-hit-wonder cash can buy. I
really really really really really really really like this album.

Jamie XX, In Colour

This is dance music for
people who don’t like dance music. Drum hits and bloopy synths that ease their
way into your heart more than your hips. No track exemplifies this better than
the opener, “Gosh,” which starts out as a thumping club banger and surprises
you, letting a small tone in the upper register, that seems like just a minor
detail, take over the song and turn it into a haunting and beautiful melody,
pure in its simplicity even if it started from much dirtier origin.

The whole album
exemplifies this feeling, that through the sheen of electronic music, of
crowded rooms of dancing people, late at night with energy that won’t let them
sleep, there’s still just you, surrounded, but just a stranger in a room. Jamie
can still make you feel the good times, getting something earnest and almost
adorable out of Young Thug in the process, but he never lets you forget the
human that builds these textures on a laptop and blasts them out to rooms full
of people trying their hardest to lose themselves for a night.

Future, Digital Sprites 2
To be honest, (zing,
though that was the previous album) I can’t really handle Future a lot of the
time. His beats are rough, and sometimes his autotuned barks just make it feel
like I’m being yelled by a robot. His raps are so devoid of the deft lyricism
that defines most of my favorite rap. When it comes down to it though, I think
the biggest issue I often have with him, and also the reason why this is
nevertheless so high on my list, is that I have absolutely no clue what he is

this rapping? Is this singing?
Hell, is this even music? Did
Nayvadius Wilson choose his stage name based on him actually being from the
future? I try not to make predictions about the future of music (because really
how disappointing would it be if we weren’t surprised) but I can imagine that
in ten years from now, Future is either seen as a genius or completely
forgotten. He’s changing the world of rap as he conquers it, with the best
up-and-comers ripping him off (especially the aforementioned Rae Sremmurd and
Young Thug, but also Migos, who are maybe
better than the Beatles
) and the elder statesmen are playing
catch up. In a decade, his influence will be so widespread that we’ll either be
shocked at how ahead of his time he was, or just treat him as a forerunner to a
completely new style that other people perfected way better than he could.

In the meantime, what a
time to be alive.

Joanna Newsom, Divers
It’s difficult for me to
write anything tangible about this album. This is not because this album is
anything less than tangible. It is so tangible. It is powerful and
intimidating. It’s a Himalaya, and I’ve maybe made it to camp two. It’s an
album that demands the kind of attention that I haven’t been able to fairly
give it.
It’s full of lyrics that call back to history and
poetry and life, and require more examination than any amount of Genius entries
can handle. It loops upon itself, ending with Newsom’s voice trailing off on
the word “trans…” and connecting back to the opening track starting with her
singing “send.” Surrounding her is this beautiful classical instrumentation
that accentuates her impressive harp skills, and sounds like music from a
forgotten time.

Joanna Newsom has never
made things easy. She was once a girl with a harp and a nails-on-chalkboard
voice, before she married Andy Samberg,* and started getting voice lessons and
symphonic arrangements to turn her still-weird vocal chords into an
otherworldly miracle. There was a time when she seemed slight, even cutesy,
singing about “Sprout and the Bean.” She spent the two intervening albums
exploding with ambition, releasing one of five epic
averaging in at above 10 minutes each, and another that
almost hits 4 hours of playing time. Arguably, Divers is her most
straightforward album since her debut (11 songs lasting just over 50 minutes),
but it also shows more ambition and maturity than anything she’s done so far.
She’s always seemed like a fairy princess, but in releasing an album that is so
powerful, so heavy, and so much smarter than I am, she has without a doubt
proven that she is the queen.

*I had to mention this
because it is without a doubt my favorite celebrity marriage of our time. The
rule that I have is that one spouse should be more famous and the other more
interesting, and this works for that perfectly. There was a while where Ryan
Adams/Mandy Moore was the gold standard, but then they got divorced, and I felt
way sadder than is reasonable about two people I’ve never met. Keep up the good
work Joandy Samson! Continue to be such a weird pairing that I can only imagine
you got together for no reason than because you legitimately love each other!

Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens is really impressively good at stuff. He made
his name for recording double albums full of gorgeously
orchestrated songs with endlessly memorable melodies (and some
occasional weird wordless segments). He plays what seems
to be a dozen and a half instruments, far better than I can play anything. He
writes surprisingly heartfelt lyrics that he draws from the most arcane trivia

But on Carrie &
he trades all that in, writing lyrics about the least trivial thing
imaginable—the story of his mother abandoning him as a child, and his struggle
as an adult to forgive her as they reunited shortly before he died. Just as he
did with his 2010 album, The Age of Adz,
Stevens shows that he’s at his best when he
lets go a little of the tight control and perfectionism of his albums about
states or Christmas. This isn’t to say that the songs aren’t perfect—he
definitely hasn’t lost an ounce of his talent for these exacting arrangements
or beautiful melodies—but they ache with the haunting voice of a man dealing
with more emotion than one person can live with. “Did you get enough love, my little dove/ Why do you cry?/ And I’m
sorry I left, but it was for the best/ Though it never felt right/ My little
he sings from the perspective of his mother on a hospital
bed on “Fourth of July,” and my heart

*Which, as someone who makes part of his living through writing
trivia questions for bars, is actually very appreciated

Jim O’Rourke, Simple Songs
I’m noticing a trend over the past three albums on this list. I
guess for me, 2015 was a year full of veterans of indie rock baroque
arrangements, maturing after a decade of lush instrumentation to focus and
strip down their ambitions to their core, with albums that are at least
partially about saying goodbye to the more childish bombast they had had
before. I’ve talked about how great that is with Joanna Newsom and Sufjan
Stevens, but of this trio, my favorite has to be Jim O’Rourke.

Unlike, Newsom and Stevens, Jim O’Rourke (who actually did work
as a mixer on Joanna Newsom’s 2006 album, Ys)
doesn’t have the same pedigree as a songwriter. His claim to fame (or whatever)
is mostly as a producer, most notably working as a full-time member of Sonic Youth for a few of their
critically-acclaimed albums in the early aughts, and lending lush
instrumentation and mixing duties to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. He also
has a few solo albums, which stand out with some
pretty astounding textures
more than for their songcraft.

Which is part of what makes the excellence of Simple Songs really shine through. This
is O’Rourke running away from the full-bodied sound that he’s perfected in the
studio to instead mostly stick to a basic band, led by his straightforward
acoustic guitar. As the album’s title suggests, this is Jim O’Rourke focusing
on the songs, and, you guessed it, keeping them simple. It’s an album that
reeks of the maturity and confidence of someone letting go of their flashiest
toys. The lyrics mostly reflect thoughts on time
and aging, and they do it so well.

This album is nuts. It’s barely even really an album. It’s two
songs, each 12-minutes long, but each consisting of dozens of segments that
warp, stop abruptly, change into each other, and worm their way into your head
just before disappearing for something new. As a producer, Iglooghost’s beats
skip and syncopate, full of drum kicks that whiz by too fast and at unexpected
moments, and synths that fizz and crackle, throwing you off guard.

This would all be hard to latch on to if Iglooghost hadn’t
found such a winning collaborator in the bass-voiced rapper Mr. Yote. Yote’s
voice is like a broken bass synthesizer in its own right. He changes flows
within a bar, speeds up and slows down, and manipulates his voice with any
manner of effects to match the production backing him up. Together, the pair
make a schizophrenic and deeply synthetic piece of music that gets through to
something human after all. The shifts and glitches make Yote’s voice, and
Iglooghost’s music, reveal a truer version of themselves than organic sounds
ever could.

The Weeknd, Beauty Behind The Madness
This has been a hell of a year for Abęl Tesfaye. It’s been the
year of not one but two number one singles, of the Fifty
Shades Of Grey
soundtrack, of
being profiled in the New York Times. It
was, pretty explicitly, the year that The Weeknd sold

Selling out has a long history in pop music. We’ve seen, in the past decade and change,
as it’s become harder (read: impossible) for musicians to actually make any
money through selling albums, we’ve begun to accept artists brazenly and honestly saying that yes, they want
money, and yes, they are willing to compromise some of their artistry for the
sake of getting it. If it’s not selling out for you to work for your money,
it’s not selling out for your heroes either.

Beauty Behind The Madness

manages to somehow take both sides of the argument on selling out. The Weeknd
first came up as a bedroom-produced, insular misanthrope, playing the most depressing songs to ever have incredible sex to.
His music has always evoked the numbness that comes with hedonism, the darkness
of a club, the drained-out feeling of drugs, the emptiness of casual sex. And
on this album, he takes that even further, out of his bedroom and onto the biggest stages. Whereas before his music
indulged in earthly delights, it’s now moved past earth completely.

There’s a case to be made that The Weeknd has lost something
since his debut in 2011, the radical newness
that came from House of Balloons, and
has left its mark on R&B since, even taking
over the mainstream version of the genre at
this point. But where that mixtape was The Weeknd changing the world, Beauty Behind The Madness is Abęl
Tesfaye letting himself get changed back. This is the soundtrack of selling
your soul for fame, money, sex, and drugs, and of course that leaves him
hollowed out and empty. But if you don’t have a soul, then you probably don’t
care about that nearly as much as the hedonistic pleasure.

Fred Thomas, All Are Saved
The effect of technology on music cannot be understated. We’ve
stopped cutting and pasting analog tape, and figured out how to digitally mimic
the kind of reverb people used to have to rent out concert halls to get. You
can do all of this on your laptop, in your bedroom, with a program that costs just $200 to
download immediately

This is such a good thing in so many ways. I am so very glad
that money, or connections, or any of the things that kept artists from
recording their masterpieces, have become so much less relevant. But I also
hold some nostalgia for the sloppiness that came with bad recording, for dive
bar bands that made albums that sounded like dive bars, for blown out and
distorted speakers, for albums that didn’t sound like they were trying to
recreate the sound of a factory. Of course no one has tape hiss anymore—it’s
not like anyone uses tape.

Fred Thomas is my favorite answer to this weird little
aesthetic issue. He’s not lo-fi in the way that those
90s indie bands
were. He’s got a distinctly modern sound of
sloppiness, the well-manicured recording of a computer program in a small room,
by someone who cares about the songs more than the post-production. The synths glitch
like they’re from a laptop that needs to be taken to the shop but isn’t really
urgent in its issues. The whole thing sounds like a wall-of-sound
for the multi-track age, each of these radically different tones blending
together into one background mess, leaving nothing identifiable but the skill
of the songcraft. And the songs are great. Not quite all of them. Some
of them stand out
. But the whole album feels of a piece with itself.
The highs and lows work together, because this album isn’t about perfection.
It’s a celebration of the true beauty that comes from a mess, the emotion that
can’t be sanded off with powerful weapons of technology.

9. Kamasi Washington –
The Epic
Yeah, guilty. I don’t know much about jazz in 2015.
I only really know about this album because Kamasi Washington is friends with
Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus and Thundercat, because this album is three
discs of orchestral jazz released by Brainfeeder, crazily enough. But listening to
this album makes me want to fix that, and reminds me why I haven’t checked in
on developments in jazz since fusion became a thing.

Somewhere along the line, jazz became nice music to listen to.
That’s great in a lot of ways. I love nice music. But the music that once was
dirty, and dangerous, and shocking in its newness and broken conventions, at
some point became the music of a cocktail party. And that’s great, but also,
god I love it when jazz just freaks me out, leaves me confused, and hurts
my ears.

Kamasi Washington doesn’t hurt my ears. He actually leaves them
feeling pretty adored. But from the drums roll that jab into the striking piano
chords that open “Change of the Guard,” the
34-year-old composer, bandleader, and energetically virtuosic tenor saxophonist
with the crazy hair grabs your hand and pulls you along for almost three hours
of energetic, explosive, incomprehensible pyrotechnics. Epic indeed.

Colleen Green, I Want To Grow Up
I do feel a little weird writing about most of these albums for
this site. We try to be versatile in our tastes, but when it comes down to it,
we know that most of our readership are fans of pop-punk, and now I’ve written
about the past 12 albums that are distinctly not that.

But this one sorta is. So I guess if you’ve been reading this
for a while and thinking that all of my recommendations sound terrible, well,
maybe you’ll like this one.    

I personally love this album. It uses pop-punk to its fullest
effect, evoking, as the title suggests, the feeling
of delayed adulthood that hits the American twenty-something. It’s the
sound of watching TV as an excuse for not
doing what you’re supposed to, of wanting something
more out of all of this, but being afraid
that you’re not going to get your shit together enough to reach it. The
lyrics throughout the whole album are bare diary of the most unadorned type,
caring less about rhyming, wordplay or even rhythm than about brutal
directness, and the excellent pop hooks and guitar stabs are stripped down and
rough. It’s a great mix, that feels less like an album by an artist in a studio
than a conversation with a familiar friend about everyday thoughts and anxiety.

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes
I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
I feel like there aren’t a lot of “rock stars” these
days—people who convince you that they’re here to save the world by just
playing their guitars loud enough. But the only way I know how to describe
Courtney Barnett (despite her not being especially successful commercially, or
selling out stadiums or anything like that) is that she is a bona fide rock

Sometimes I Sit and
Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
is an album with a powerfully pervasive
viewpoint, filled in by Barnett’s relentlessly witty and illuminatingly
detailed lyrics, sung in her thick Aussie accent in deadpan delivery. Her voice
is so specific, but it becomes endlessly relatable when her hard-rocking punk
songcraft is backed up by the arguments made by excellent guitar licks.

She hits hard when she wants,
she pulls back without losing the energy,
and she muses on the absurd in the face of extreme
circumstances. All the while she never stops being a personality, and
even more than that, a force. You listen to this album, and you start to think
like her, or at the very least, you try.

Tobias Jesso Jr.,
There was, at some point, a marketing campaign for Cheetos that
advertised them as being “dangerously cheesy.”  It was one of those 90’s advertising things
where a product was shown to be “Xtreme” or whatever, and that makes kids like
it. Now, while Cheetos are certainly a health risk
that people should probably be aware of, it’s nevertheless always struck me as
a laughable claim, that eating the most lazy of snacks is frightening. Really
though, when I think of the term “dangerously cheesy,” my thoughts just go to
Tobias Jesso.

Tobias Jesso writes piano ballads, with lyrics of the most
straightforward love-song variety. The first, and in my opinion best song on
the album is called, “Can’t Stop Thinking About
You” and features lyrics like “I
lost you in a dream/ But then the dream came true.”
From everything I can
tell about the guy, that comes with zero irony.

Who the hell writes lyrics like this in 2015? All I know is
irony! The bubblegum lyrics that once seemed like totally normal things to put
into songs in the 60s and 70s became stale in our mouths, like bubblegum always
does before too long. Jesso’s songs are so insanely retro, evoking the great
pop singer-songwriters of the early 70s—Randy Newman, Elton John, and Carole
King—except even they managed to include a wink and a nod here and there,
understanding the humor in the earnestness.

Now, that itself is enough for me to thoroughly enjoy this
album. I have a pretty extensive obsession with Todd
Rundgren, so anyone making songs that rip him off so well in 2015
gets my love. But it’s especially weird to me that apparently, Jesso isn’t
actually trying to pay homage. He says he’s
never had an especial love of the blue-eyed-soul, instead just trying to
emulate Stevie Wonder (and why shouldn’t he—Stevie’s the greatest—but honestly
he didn’t do that impressive of a job of emulating his style).

I have no choice but to believe him, and slowly start to
realize that Jesso is the most painfully earnest person in history. He has a
soft and heartfelt piano ballad called “Can
We Still Be Friends,”
and it’s not at all a reference to the much
more famous soft and heartfelt piano ballad already called “Can
We Still Be Friends.”

In the age of irony that I
was born into and live in, I spend a silly amount of time trying to understand
how to hold on to sincerity. There’s this idea of the “New Sincerity” that
incorporates the knowledge of irony, the belief that seeing the B.S. will allow
for a greater realization of truth. That’s awesome when it works (and it does
surprisingly often), but it’s also hard as hell to get right. Meanwhile, here’s
Tobias Jesso Jr. writing the most dangerously cheesy songs I’ve ever heard, and
seemingly not realizing how unstuck in time they are, and I remember that it
doesn’t have to be. Sometimes someone can just feel emotions and not worry
about overthinking them.

Neon Indian, Vega Intl. Night School
As an emotionally stunted millennial, I mostly understand life
through movies. And movies have taught me that clubs are way more awesome than they are. I’m not great with clubs. I don’t
even hate them, which would mean them evoking a real emotion. I sorta just find
them boring, which is a shame because movies have conditioned me to think that
the coolest thing a person can ever do is walk into a club
with style.

I don’t really know if Alan Palomo is especially into
nightclubs in real life. But this album evokes the version of it in movies from
the 70s, when floors flashed bright colors, people wore shiny suits, and
realized that cocaine and quaaludes screwed with your head but hadn’t really
figured out what they did to your body. It’s the sound of a truly intentional
cool, of a decision that looking good and walking with a strut are worth whatever
bad stuff comes with it.
It’s a perfect nostalgia version of
retrofuturism—it’s music that people 40 years ago thought would be the music of
40 years in the future. It drives through the ersatz narrative of the
nightclub, from the ecstatic highs to the foreboding and imperceptible change into a bad trip. It’s what being cool is
supposed to be like, even if it never works that way outside of the movies.

I’ve already ranted a bit about the magic of HEALTH in my review of their concert a few weeks ago, so
I’ll keep this brief. HEALTH are a noise band that fell in love with pop, and
didn’t find any contradiction in that. They blast out synthesizers that sound
like modem sounds plugged through distortion pedals, drums that sound like
robotic hammers, all at the loudest and scariest volume. But they do that in
service of melodies that would fit right in on the
pop charts.

HEALTH force sound through your ears with such intensity that
it doesn’t stop there. It echoes through your whole body and fills your soul.
It’s abrasive, but it’s in service of something more. It simultaneously hits
you with the fear and power of awesome loudness,
but also the defense-breaking emotion that comes with the best pop music. They
may be the best synthesis I’ve ever heard between experimental, abrasive music
and the future, and music of now that is just pure joy to listen to. And at
their best, you’re too consumed by the feeling to even notice.

Miguel, Wildheart
Miguel didn’t have to release an album like this. His previous
album, Kaleidoscope Dream, was a
major hit, and he even managed to get himself a well-earned Grammy for his
excellent single, “Adorn.” He could have
kept doing what it seemed like he was doing best, and made a ton of money as an
impossibly sultry soul singer.

But instead he made Wildheart,
an album that evokes more than anything the desire to be more than what he was.
He hasn’t lost the sexiness that made him famous, or the soulful voice. He
added to it. Now there’s rocking guitar all over this album, choral flourishes,
and a deeper emotional range. He goes straight from the brazenly graphic sex
jam “The Valley” to the ethereal and sweet
morning-after anthem “Coffee.” He brings in
Lenny Kravitz and the rapper Kurupt to help him, not as part of the
commercially-minded feature game, but for something unexpected that they can
bring to the project.

The rawest part of the album comes halfway through the album,
with the song “What’s Normal Anyway?” “Too immoral for the Christians, but too
moral for the cut-throat/ Too far out for the in crowd, what’s normal anyway?/
Too involved in my own life to spend time with my family/ Too concerned about
what others think.”
The song focuses on the singer’s feelings of isolation
growing up, of his inability to handle any of the labels he tried to put on

In the song, it’s a lament, a hope that there’s some place he
can find where he belongs, but it’s selling himself far too short. At one
point, Miguel fit perfectly into an archetype. But he understood that he was
more than that. He made this album instead, one that rocks too hard to be soul,
but has too much of a groove and silky voice for rock. It’s wanton lust and
caring love, energetic speed and slow moments. Its greatest strength is that it
doesn’t belong anywhere. It belongs only to itself.

Father John
Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
There are some geniuses that have a spark within them, a
collection of ideas waiting to get out, a true and powerful musical expression
that just needs to be accessed. They are prolific and consistent, releasing
song after song that open new horizons.

Josh Tillman is not one of those.

The guy has talent, yeah. Lots of it. He can write the hell out
of a folk song, and his lyrics drip with a relatable cleverness. He released
some pretty good stuff when he went by the name J. Tillman, when he was a
sensitive and quiet singer-songwriter, revealing emotion, and then released a
good debut album when he changed it to Father John Misty, and decided that he
was way too much of a sarcastic asshole to pretend to be all heartfelt.

But then he met the love of his life, and married her. He found
a woman that convinced him that there might be something worth being heartfelt
about. He’s still a sarcastic asshole, but he realizes that all his affected
detachment is irrelevant in the face of something so disarming.

“People are boring/But
you’re something else completely/Damn, let’s take our chances”
he sings on "Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins),”
as he lays bare the fear that comes with letting his guard down.

If music is, at its best, an expression of raw emotion, more
unfiltered than any word could ever be, then Father John Misty is a master,
even if he may not be a genius. This is his moment, one that transcends his art
and exists in life. He captures a feeling, one so rare but so real, with

“For love to find us of
all people/I never thought it’d be so simple,”
he says on the beautiful
closer, “I Went To The Store One Day,” and
he follows it with a moan, an aching “ohhhhhhh” that comes from some place much
deeper than his throat. This is his moment, a moment so powerful he can only
share it, and in that moment, he’s better than any genius.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
OK so maybe I’m not very creative. I’m not the first to sing the
praises of Kendrick Lamar’s bizarre, lyrical, angry, depressed, experimental
masterpiece, and I certainly won’t be the last. It was an album that exploded
the internet’s endless wave of music criticism, but for once, all those think
pieces felt like they had a purpose. They were dealing with a subject that was
so much bigger, and more importantly, so much smarter, so much more complex,
than any amount of dissecting could handle.

In the weeks after this album dropped, I spent enough time
reading hot takes and thought-provoking essays that it might have
gotten me fired from the office job I was supposed to be doing work at. And as
I read novels worth of words written about this nearly 80 minute album, I just
couldn’t help feeling like none of
them got what this album was trying to say. It’s not like I did, of course.
This album is huge. Every now and then I feel like I understand an individual
song, and then recontextualize it within the narrative of the album, the poem
Kendrick writes line by line in the outros of each song, and then realize I
didn’t get all the metaphors and references of that song in the first place.

It would be pretty impossible to point to one aspect of the
current unarguable holder of the Best Rapper Alive that makes him so
incredible, but to me, it’s the chameleon quality of his voice. He takes Biggie’s classic trick of changing up his flow to
depict a conversation and stomps all over it, able to inhabit a dozen or more
voices in one song. He’s proven himself equally untouchable on summer jamz, gratuitous
party raps, plaintive morality plays,
and possibly the greatest diss track of all time.
He used this to such incredible effect on his 2012 album, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, creating a novelistic rap opera about the
tragedy of his hometown of Compton, a high water-mark of a modern rap album
that seemed unbeatable.

But on To Pimp A
he blows that technique out of the water. He zips past inhabiting
the fictional characters that colored his previous album, and aims for the
whole of the American zeitgeist. He raps in the voice of black
history, reimagined as a baller
, in the voice of Black
Lives Matter protesters
, in the voice of big-name
comedians selling their auteur project
, in the voice of Tupac’s
. There’s no use writing about this album, because he knows,
dammit, he knows. He’s his own biggest critic, but he’s also the rap game’s best one.

Months after I first became obsessed with this album, listening
to it while working, listening to it while traveling, listening to it while
running, and trying to reach one more little understanding of the entire world
it contains, I’m afraid that I’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s an album
that has already seen its influence on my life and America become real, leading
to the implementation of live jazz into hip-hop (and the rise of jazz
appreciation among rap fans—see my previous love of Kamasi Washington, who
plays the hell out of his sax all over this record), or the growing resurgence
of the political polemic in hip-hop (see my above discussion of Pusha T).

Rap has often been an inward-looking medium. It’s a collection
of life stories, boasts, and personae, first-person accounts that act as verbal
shields for their speakers. To Pimp A
blurs that line of selfhood. It’s an album with a deeply personal
song called “u” and a universal statement of love titled “i”. It makes no distinction between history and
the present, between emotion and intellect, between private fears and public
ills, between himself and the population of this country. To Pimp A Butterfly is bigger than the collection of songs it
contains, and bigger than anything else in 2015. 

Gina’s Top Albums of 2015


Our photographer, Gina Garcia, has put together a list of her top albums of 2015 which features albums from twenty one pilots, CHVRCHES, and Tame Impala among others. Check out her full list below!

20. Grimes, Art Angles
Grimes is a creative and musical genius. Claire Boucher
taught herself every note on Art Angels,
playing every instrument and having written every word on the record. And it is
magnificent. Every song with a different tone, message, story and personality
of its own. My favorite being “Butterfly,” a quirky and soothing song that
contains a bit of elevator music.

Years &
Years, Communion
This dance and electronic trio is extremely unique; their
ace melodies, emotional rawness and dynamic tastes make them stand out. Their
hits “Desire” and “King” give just a glimpse on how beautifully they structure
and craft a song. There is really no one favorite track when it comes to this
album and not only are their songs meaningful in context, but their music
videos support those meanings perfectly (don’t believe me? Check out the video
for “Desire” here).

Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Carrie & Lowell is
named for Stevens’ mother and stepfather, the album consisting of larger
narratives of his life from his childhood. The album is a journey through
grief, family, depression, love and loss, and Stevens’ struggle of trying to
find beauty even in the ugliness of certain things. His most classic and pure
effort comes through in this record with beautiful wings of sounds and the
orchestra embedded in the instrumentation.

Mortal Orchestra, Multi-Love
Unknown Mortal Orchestra have reached a grand new level of
psychedelia with their latest album, Multi-Love.
This album is a melting pot of all sorts of sounds, mixes and restless
creativity. On Multi-Love, Unknown
Mortal Orchestra frontman and multi-instrumentalist Ruban Nielson reflects on
relationships: airy, humid longing, loss, the geometry of desire that occurs
when three people align. Where Nielsen addresses the pain of being alone on II, Multi-Love
takes on the complication of being isolated and lost as he longs for the
affection of others.

Newsom, Divers
Joanna Newsom’s Divers
is an album about a profound love, but it hardly features any love songs.
What I love most about this record and the way she writes are the references to
historical facts, people and places. She also uses several metaphors and
complex tales in her songs, making it fun to make out what it is she wants us
to know.

Surfer Blood,
1000 Palms
Surfer Blood have gone through major changes as a band –
personal struggles, changing of record labels (multiple times) and finding a
new sound. Five years after the release of their debut album, 1000 Palms is released. Though their
previous album have more of a bright and upbeat vibe, this record brings in
more mid-tempo songs with deeper and profound lyrics. Favorite tracks off this
album include “Grand Inquisitor,” “Feast/Famine,” and “Covered Wagons.”

Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think,
Sometimes I Just Sit
This is Barnett’s first album, which is a great follow up
from her beautiful EP titled The Double
EP: A Sea of Split Peas
. The tones and sounds of 1990s grunge garage and
psychedelia are evident in her new record. She moves back and forth with her
distorted guitars as she does with her thoughts and music. There are a few
times where she drifts away in a song as the music follows. “Small Poppies” is
my favorite track and really encompasses and brings together the album as a

CHVRCHES, Every Eye Open
CHVRCHES has had great success with their last album, having
been able to sell out shows around the world for two years and I think their
newest album, Every Eye Open, will do
the same for them. The hooks are clean cut, clear, very direct, and include
powerful riffs and synths. In the album, there is no bad or poorly done track.
Essential and favorite tracks are “Make Them Gold” and “Clearest Blue.” In
these songs especially, Lauren Mayberry’s vocals are unbelievably stunning and
make you want to replay them over and over.

Deerhunter, Fading Frontier
Fading Frontier is
Deerhunter’s seventh album and it continues to keep the same dreamy-poppiness
into a new twist in the indie rock kaleidoscope. The dreamy vibe parallels well
with the way he expresses and writes his lyrics, almost coming in as bubbles
that flow into the synths and guitars.

Foals, What Went Down
Foals have established a sound, fanbase and an image of who
they are since the beginning. They know how to put on a killer live show and
open their new record with a bang. The best element of his new record is the
dynamic diversity as some tracks start pure pop and end in a soft ballad then
transition into a rock song. My favorite track is “Mountains at My Gate.”

Maccabees, Marks To Prove It
Marks To Prove It is
definitely a solid masterpiece as a whole record. It has many hidden meanings,
texture in instrumentation and structure in context and tone. My favorite track
is “Ribbon Road,” a song that highlights Orlando Weeks’ amazing vocal strength
and rolling arpeggios. What I appreciate most about the record is the
exploration they did with their lyrics and sound; they changed up a lot of
things. Ironically, that is an underlying theme throughout the album: change
and its impact on people.

Swim Deep, Mothers
Swim Deep released their debut album a couple hears ago and
now have returned with their sophomore album. I recently saw them as an opening
act for The 1975 and I have got to say they’ve changed a lot, but in a good
way. Multi-instrumentalist James Balmont, recently joined the band making them
a five-piece. This new record left their psych pop waves and transitioned to
acid pop with grunge guitar and edgy synths.

Adele, 25
Adele is one of those vocalists and musicians who can never
disappoint. Her talent is undeniably amazing. This album can be compared easily
with her previous album, 21, however
its more diverse in contemporary pop, highly dynamic and contains more profound
lyrics. My favorite track on the record is a piano balled called “When We Were
young,” which was co-written with Tobias Jesso Jr., where she is a victim of
loss and mourns over that loss and the struggle to move on from it.

Tame Impala, Currents
The first two Tame Impala albums are very similar to Currents, though they all stand out
separately. They all focused on Kevin Parker’s absence from society and letting
himself be in his own world. On the new record, however, it’s a different type
of isolation and loneliness. Parker expresses his feelings of heartbreak,
regret, doubts and bitterness. He continues to mix and experiment musically and
yet stay true to his original vibe and sound. Ironically, the underlying theme
of the record is loneliness, yet instrumentally and musically it makes you feel
relaxed, at peace, safe and calm.

Tobias Jesso
Jr., Goon
Canadian singer-songwriter, Jesso Jr. debuts an epic album
of folk indie rock and some baroque vibe pop. The records rolls with emotional
and powerful lyrics, subject of hitting rock-bottoms, making the best of rough
patches in life and personal heartache.

Mac DeMarco, Another One
Mac DeMarco is a Canadian singer-songwriter,
multi-instrumentalist and producer. He is also one of the most quirky, silly,
talented, chill and down to earth musicians out there. His shoegaze and
soothing tunes get you hooked immediately. At the end of Another One, he personally invites you to take a long train ride to
his home in Far Rockaway, NY for some chats and a cup of coffee. DeMarco writes
in a blunt, straightforward and intimate form that makes you want to keep
listening to learn more.

Halsey, Badlands
Twenty-one year old Ashley Frandipane, known by her stage
name Halsey, released her awesome debut album this year with an already huge
fanbase behind her. Halsey gives us profound and detailed insight into her
graphic narratives of hookups and drug use. In my favorite track, “New
Americana,” she explains how those things made her feel empty inside and lost
of all the elements going on in her life at the time. What I appreciate the
most about the record is how honest and genuine she is with her lyrics and

Dragons, Smoke + Mirrors
Imagine Dragons create yet another amazing album. A band
that never disappoints, always experimenting with sounds and be courageous to
being fully open with their personal struggles and emotions. The record is
filled with jamming fist-pumping choruses and foot-stomping grooves. I’ve seen
them live a couple times, most recently on their last tour and their
performances just keep getting better and better. Seeing them live, especially
since they involve their fans so much, you feel like you are on an emotional
roller coaster or rally. This record is their more intimate and intense album
yet where the lead singer addresses family issues, society’s “picture-perfect”
ideals and Mormon religion that once restricted him to pursue his music career.

Fidlar, Too
Too is an album
that is the battle cry of boredom that is apparently in the lives of Max Kuehn,
Zach Carper, Brandon Schwartzel and Elvis Kuehn. One of my favorite songs is
the opening track, “40z on Repeat,” a song dedicated to substance abuse. A complex
and heavy subject matter, yet embedded in catchy and danceable music that makes
you want to crowd surf, jump around and scream. Most of their songs involve
topics of drugs, rock n roll and adventures on the road. For example, “West
Coast,” a track filled with uplifting ‘ahhhs,’ a memorable chorus and a
narrative about driving up and down the west coast and the fun adventures they
go on. The carefree punk garage sound and the “who cares” worldview makes their
music hard not to listen to.

twenty one
pilots, Blurryface
Tyler Joseph and Joshua Dun have been a duo since 2009 and
began playing to very few people as presented in their “Ode to Sleep” music
video. Ever since listening to the first track on this new record, I was hooked
and I knew I found my new favorite band. It’s one of the greatest albums I have
heard in a while and is consistent from start to finish. Filled with out of the
box creativity and a powerful concept, each song is incredibly strong in its
lyrics and instrumentation that it holds itself on its own. However, when they
all come together, it’s a masterpiece. The title of the album, Blurryface, is a character Joseph
created that represents his fears doubts and insecurities. The theme of
overcoming his own demons and the emotions when dealing with serious struggles
runs throughout the album. It becomes apparent in one of my favorite songs on
the record, “Stressed Out,” where Joseph expresses his insecurities about his
music by saying, “my name is Blurryface and I care what you think.” Another
favorite track is “Goner,” an emotional detailed ballad about not wanting to be
abandoned. There are so many interesting factors in this complex record, what
stands out the most is the emotional component. You dive into his deepest
thought and emotions behind sound jumps of hip-hop, pop, rock and some hints of
reggae. You gain several things from this album and I would recommend it to

Eric’s Top Albums of 2015


Another year nearly over means another album of the year list! Our Managing Editor and Senior Photographer, Eric Riley, has compiled a list of his favorite albums of 2015. To see which albums made the cut, check out the list below!

Honorable Mentions:
Sara Bareilles –  What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress
Spose – Why Am I So
Adele – 25

20. Ryan Adams, 1989
Much like I did a few years ago with Lights’ Acoustic, I feel like leaving reimagined/rereleased/retold albums
near the beginning of the list is fair. There are a few renditions here that give
Swift a run for her money – the soft, whimpering transformation of what is my
favorite from the original 1989, “Out
of the Woods,” stands out as another favorite here, while the dreary “Blank
Space” turns Swift’s original on its head.While Adams’ version is an entirely new piece of work, I’m
wary to truly rank it. Let the discussions on that begin, I suppose.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Dope Machines
As a huge fan of 2013’s Such Hot Blood, I was excited when I heard news of another album
and expected big things for the follow-up. While the album is far from perfect,
it offers a lot to be enjoyed. Opening with “Wrong,” the record starts on
sturdy legs, and the sunny “California” soon keeps things moving well. “Hell
and Back” is as close to a trademark TATE song as you could ask for, with dual
vocals leading the way. All that’s missing are Anna Bulbrook’s strings, and
where this song hits just barely outside of the bullseye, finale “Chains”
closes the record in perfect form.

18. The Ballroom Thieves, A Wolf in the Doorway 
The Ballroom Thieves were chosen as the
local opener for one of the May dates on Boston Calling this year, and anyone
who showed up early enough to catch them was treated to something special. The
Boston-based trio roared through the plaza, and their massive sound
impressively translates over to the album. Each member loans a distinct voice
to the music, and on tracks like “Oars to the Sea” or “Bullet” (which can be
downloaded for free on our Winter Compilation, a link will be on our site), the
various styles each have a chance to stand out.

17. August Burns Red, Found
in Far Away Places
Leaving August Burns Red in a spot that hardly cracks
the Top 20 seems odd, and I’ll admit it feels a bit strange. The ranking is
much less of a comment on them, but more of a further compliment to the albums
placed next. When it comes down to it, August Burns Red are one of the best
metal bands in the game, and their first Grammy nomination for Found in Far Away Places is
well-deserved and long overdue.

16. The Maine, American
The Maine continue to grow as one of the most consistent, well-rounded
pop/rock bands within the scene. One of those who were able to successfully
shed their neon of the mid-2000’s, American
is sweet addition to an already impressive catalog. (And with the
amount of Diet Coke that is usually running through me, I’m fairly sure “Diet
Soda Society” will be the title of my memoir.)

15. MC Lars, The
Zombie Dinosaur LP
Between seeing him in concert, talking to him about his
upcoming projects, and reviewing* this new album, I had a lot to say about MC
Lars over the summer – being one of the coolest, most genuine people in the
music scene, as well as putting out one of the most fun hip-hop records of the
year, meant all of these things were positive. The Zombie Dinosaur LP is a frantic, fast-paced romp through pop
culture, picking up as many books, movies, and shows as it can along the way.
Not everything is fun and games, however – Lars opens his mind and clears the
air with people from his past on closer “Triforce,” one of his best works
to-date. Whether it’s The Simpsons, Game of Thrones, Roger Rabbit, internet
dating tips, or an undead T-Rex tearing through the Bay Area, this album may literally have it all. 

* For a full write up of The Zombie
Dinosaur LP
, click here!

14. The Early November, Imbue
2015 was such a huge year for music, to the point where I almost neglected one
of my favorite bands releasing some of their best work. Ace Enders has always
been one of the most consistent songwriters around, with the uncanny ability to
write a new album almost annually without sacrificing quality. Their shortest
release (10 tracks) since the For All of
This EP
(8), Imbue gets the job
done in less time than usual. Sharper than ever, The Early November have been
continuing to get better ever since their reunion a few years ago, and it’s
safe to say that, with Enders’ unwavering pen and the hiatus’ dust fully shaken
off, much more is still to come.

13. Demi Lovato, Confident
Demi Lovato has always been that guilty pleasure of mine. Though, in this case,
rather than the “guilty” part, I just openly, constantly, shamelessly talk
about the pleasure part. Starting off as one of the faces in a crowd on a
roster of singing Disney actors and actresses, Lovato has clawed her way out of
that, becoming a genuine pop sensation along the way. On Confident, Lovato addresses her critics (“Confident”), her
doubters, her internal demons (“Old Ways”), facing them head-on and showing
them who is in control.

Like she says, what’s wrong with being confident?

12. Elle King, Love Stuff
If “Ex’s and Oh’s” is all you’ve heard from Elle King, you should
know you spent a year missing out on one of 2015’s breakout stars. Love Stuff is alt-country/pop with a
Southern touch, and King’s voice is a perfect fit. Where the aforementioned
single is one of, like, six songs on the radio at the moment, tracks like
“Jackson” and “Under the Influence” are more than worthy of the same airwave
presence, while “America’s Sweetheart” is one of the best, catchiest songs I
heard all year and one that finds itself on endless repeat. King hasn’t been in
the musical spotlight for long, but it has been a big year for her and I’m
hoping it’s not too long of a wait until we hear more from her.

11. Greg Holden, Chase
the Sun
Finding a new artist is always fun. Finding a new artist that
takes any expectations and blows them out of the water is way better. Chase the Sun is an album that came
along pretty early in the year, and right away it was one I knew would find a
spot on the list, it was merely a matter of where. After the first few plucked
notes and keys of the introductory “Hold On Tight,” I was intrigued, then the
first booming chorus had me hooked. Holden’s voice soars through the speakers,
and over the span of a dozen (well, eleven, whatever) songs, he doesn’t let up.
The upbeat pieces are fun and catchy, and when he slows things down, his
ballads are soft, sincere, and breathtaking. “Go Chase the Sun” relies on his
crooning voice and gentle piano, while the simple strum of acoustic guitar
backs the spectacular “Boys in the Street.” Holden’s songwriting and
musicianship are both on display throughout Chase
the Sun
, and given the right push, we could see him thrown into the same
rotations as Ed Sheeran or Gavin Degraw etc. etc. etc. Holden could be a
household name, and Chase the Sun
deserves to take him there.

10. Fall Out Boy, American Beauty / American Psycho
be the first to admit that, on first listen, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this
album. And I know I’m not alone in saying that – from message boards to concert
lines, the first few listens brought mixed reviews for many. But, as Fall Out
Boy do as well as anyone, they make music that both demands and deserves
further attention. Sure, there were the instant standouts (“Novocaine,”
“Favorite Record”) and the radio-ready, stadium-filling singles (“Centuries,”
“Uma Thurman”), and then there were the ones that felt like Pete Wentz came up
to you and personally hit you in the gut. Stump’s vocal power and range, (which
somehow continue to grow) take the writing on “Jet Pack Blues” and “The Kids
Aren’t Alright” and churn out a pair of the band’s strongest tracks. Even on
ones that I was almost entirely turned off to originally, like the title track
or “Twin Skeletons,” you soon come around and gain further evidence to support
that even when they aren’t at their highest, they’re still better than most,
and that doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.

9. Frank Turner, Positive Songs for Negative People
of what has been said about Frank Turner’s latest is something along the lines
of “if 2013’s Tape Deck Heart was the
breakup record, Positive Songs for
Negative People
is the comeback.” It keeps getting said because it’s very
true. Right away, the first two tracks following the opener are in-your-face
resurgence – “Get Better” is all about doing just that, and “The Next Storm”
assure you that even the darkest of clouds and the heaviest of rains will pass
– don’t wait inside for the storms to start again, go celebrate the sun while
it’s out.

To say the album is about optimism is redundant (hence the
title), but it should still be mentioned, because what the album does is remind
you that just staying positive is an important weapon.

For anyone who has gone through a hardship, take a page from
Frank’s songbook – open the shutters, raise up the mast; rejoice, rebuild, the
storm has passed.

8. Melanie Martinez,
Cry Baby
Everyone knows I’m a
sucker for a concept album. Pretty sure any time one comes along, I start off
by saying “everyone knows I’m a sucker for a concept album.” That being said
(over and over, actually), this year Melanie Martinez gave us Cry Baby, a substance-soaked sex-stroll
through your childhood storybooks – drinking syrup out of sippy cups, being
stalked during a game of tag, dolls coming to life behind your back and
spilling family secrets, sex is no scarier than taking off your training wheels,
Mrs. Potato Head has an addiction to plastic surgery and Alice needed some
stronger medication. The sample of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” used in the
chorus of “Pity Party” is infectious, and also acts as a generational gap,
bringing a song from her parents’ childhood into the character’s life. Cry Baby found its way to the top of the
Alternative charts this year, and rightfully so. On the surface, it’s bright bubblegum
pop waiting to be eaten up. Deeper down, it’s flowing with drugs, abuse,
infidelity, insecurity, instability, and violence; a dark, disturbed peek beyond
the perfect family portrait.

7. Bring Me the
Horizon, That’s the Spirit
getting to the point where I’m almost frustrated by what Bring Me the Horizon
can do. Suicide Season was brutal and
aggressive, There Is A Hell… was a
monumental shift forward in the band’s sound and style, Sempiternal turned them into a global superpower, and That’s the Spirit continues their
pursuit of world domination. Early on in their career, I enjoyed BMTH because
they were very good at being very loud and heavy. With each album since,
they’ve grown and molded themselves into a force to be reckoned with. Oli Sykes
has managed to truly harness the power within his voice, showcasing what he can
do on “Throne,” the roaring “Drown” and the soft ode “Follow You.” That’s the Spirit has them delivering at
full force, picking up steam with every step and deserving every ounce of fame
and admiration they have received.

For as long as I have been
following music, I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever seen an
artist make a debut like Halsey. In May, three months before her first record
was even released, she played a 1:00 set at Boston Calling (the third act of
the day) to a crowd that would make a headliner blush. That summer, she played
to a full crowd at Lollapalooza, still without an album on the shelves. By the
time BADLANDS was released at the end
of August, she was a pop superstar. And rightfully so.

On her website, you will only find three short sentences
written under her “Bio” section: “I am Halsey. I will never be anything but
honest. I write songs about sex and being sad.” And that is exactly what she
offers – honest, open music about the taboos others may be too bashful to write
on. An autobiography of sex, drugs, cigarettes, liquor, and heartbreak, BADLANDS
was probably the most fun you had this summer. If you need further
description of what you’ll get, I always give people the same answer: I say her
music is “dirty, sexy heist music,” and that seems to get some decent approval.

Grab a ski mask and your best outfit and press play.

5. Marina and the
Diamonds, FROOT
With the Electra Heart era coming to its end, a
lot of the Diamonds out there were wondering what Marina would do next. What
followed was FROOT, a sugar-sweet neon
dance party that showed that even the worst of homewreckers can still have a
bit of heart. Where Electra Heart
opens with the brash & bratty “Bubblegum Bitch,” FROOT starts with “Happy,” a bold piano ballad that plays to the
other side of her emotions – rather than going out and looking for fun, she
finds solace in herself. If the opening track makes you wonder if this record
is heading into new territories, the small bass rumble that kicks off “FROOT”
quickly shakes that away as Diamandis’ voice dances in. Much of FROOT is written on things like love and
sex and all that good stuff, with Diamandis’ confidence often shining through. In
other places, she deals with darker concepts – the state of humanity (“Savages,”
written following the attacks on the Boston Marathon) and uncertainty and the
past popping back up again (“Weeds”). The first time around, I wasn’t really as
much of a fan of FROOT as I was after
Electra Heart’s first spin, or so I
thought. The more and more I listened, each song became better and better.
While they may not have been as radio-ready as “How to Be A Heartbreaker” or
“Homewrecker,” the substance and strength of the newer works brought Marina to
the next level and FROOT has hardly
left my stereo since.

4. twenty one pilots,
Listening through blurryface, I’m sure I’m not the only
one who kind of worries about Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun…

When “Fairly Local” was first released, we got our first
taste of what was to come from the duo, and we were not disappointed. It was
darker than anything they had done, with eerie atmosphere and a haunting video
to boot. “Tear In Your Heart”, “Ride,” and “Stressed Out” have given them
mainstream success (the latter landing them their first #1), but the real gems
are the … less typical pieces. “Doubt,” with its horror film score and echoed
chorus, is a favorite, and the trumpets in “Not Today” are just cheesy enough
to be a perfect fit (and make it my favorite on the record). Grand finale
“Goner” is one that I still can only handle on my worst days, which is saying
something after five months of being exposed to it.

One of the darker, emotional albums you heard this year, hiding the pain
beneath the bright pianos, upbeat tempos, and plucky ukulele did exactly what
it was meant to – relate, with listeners realizing that the worst of us is
often given a separate face.

3. The Wonder Years,
No Closer to Heaven
Another year, another beautiful project from the pen of Dan
Campbell. Last year, Campbell’s solo work with Aaron West and the Roaring
Twenties landed him in fifth place, and I handed The Greatest Generation the bronze in 2013, so The Wonder Years
finding themselves within the top five is no surprise. On No Closer to Heaven, TWY released what, arguably, is their
strongest effort to date. Whether it’s the songwriting, the production, the
instrumentation, or how well it translates into their live show, the album
delivers on every level. While opener “Brothers &” melts into lead single
“Cardinals,” there’s a soft, haunting feel to start the record before the first
chorus kicks you in the teeth. “Cigarettes & Saints” is so brilliant that
it hurts, and much like Generation’s
finale “I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral,” choruses find themselves repeated
and reworked throughout various parts of the album, threading themes and
connections between songs across the album. It’s a writing choice that I
admired last time, and is equally effective this time around.

I say this with no exaggeration – at the moment, I think you
would have a hard time finding a better all-around band than The Wonder Years.
And what is even more impressive is that they continue to, somehow, get better
and better.

2. CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye
Part of the reason Every Open Eye finds itself in the
runner-up spot is because I purchased it blindly. I had just seen the band
perform the night before, had heard some great things about the album, and
found the vinyl for pretty cheap (and the cover was pretty, if I’m being
totally honest). Secondly, it’s marvelous. I probably should have started with
that. Lauren Mayberry’s vocals are razor-sharp from start to finish, and every
hook on the album is better than the last. If any one of these songs were on
any other album, it would be that album’s best chorus or hook. This makes
choosing one from this record very
difficult. But, if push came to shove, “Clearest Blue” would get my vote for Every Open Eye’s standout. Clocking in
at just under four minutes, the first fifty percent of the song is buildup
before eventually dropping off into the catchiest burst on the album. (Full
disclosure: this record should come with a warning label – I was running while
listening to this song and I almost got hit by a bicycle because I was too busy
dancing to the drop. So, listen at your own risk.) On Martin Doherty’s sole
vocal track, “High Enough to Carry You Over,” he plays the role well, dividing
up the album and breaking apart any monotony or repetition that could occur.

There was a third reason why Every Open Eye found itself in second place. It wasn’t anything
that the album did wrong, in fact, any other year, it would have won the top
spot. There was just one album that it couldn’t overshadow.

So here we are – the soundtrack to a Broadway show is
getting my Album of the Year. Simply put, the fact that it was hands-down the
best release of 2015 earned it the #1 spot, but if you need more, I’m going to
give you a whole bunch of reasons, so
buckle up.

Music fans are fickle. We want new, we want creative, we
want things we’ve never heard before but we want it to be familiar and we want
all of it all the time. As oxymoronic and impossible as that all sounds, Hamilton gives you all of that and then
some. A play adapted from the biography of a historical figure – not a
groundbreaking feat. A hip-hop musical based on the life and death of Alexander
Hamilton, with each Founding Father’s role, as well as any other principal
character (with the exception of Jonathan Groff as King George) played by a
person of color – that’s where things get a bit innovative. I’m sure that had
something to do with writer/lyricist/composer/star Lin-Manuel Miranda being awarded
a MacArthur Genius Grant this year.  

I could go on for much longer than necessary about this, so
I’m going to try and organize a few bullet points rather than go on a
longwinded rant.
– historically, the Cabinet meetings between Hamilton and
Thomas Jefferson regarding the National Bank turned vicious and often violent.
Miranda’s concept of turning these meetings on the soundtrack into extended rap
battles is incredible, and both are executed perfectly, with sharp wit, harsh
words, and just enough dissing to make things personal.

– “Wait For It”  and
“Dear Theodosia” are beautiful, soulful moments that could stand on their own
outside of the confines of the show.

–  the war scenes, “Guns
and Ships,” “Right Hand Man,” “Yorktown,” and “Stay Alive” are intense, brutal
and, more importantly and impressively, historically accurate. “Stay Alive”
leads into “Ten Duel Commandments,” a bulleted list of guidelines used to
settle feuds when words didn’t work.

– The idea behind the show itself – a hip-hop musical about
Alexander Hamilton – could have become nothing but nonsense. When Miranda first
discussed his concept, he explained how Hamilton was the epitome of hip-hop
culture – an orphaned child who never knew his father, who pulled himself up by
his bootstraps and worked to get to the top, facing any obstacle or opponent
head-on, taking names and leaving plenty of notches in his bedpost along the
way, eventually dying in a shootout and leaving a legacy. Sounds as hip-hop as
it can get.

– At one point, it was the #1 rap album on the Billboard

– That being said, the rhymes and lyrics throughout the show
are stellar, and each cast member delivers the performance of a career. Both of
the aforementioned Cabinet Battles are brilliant, “Satisfied,” “The Reynolds
Pamphlet,” and “The Adams Administration” showcase what some of the more minor
characters can do, and the best line in the show, arguably, comes during
“Washington On Your Side,” when Jefferson and Aaron Burr shout “show these
Federalists what they’re up against, SOUTHERN MOTHERFUCKING DEMOCRATIC

Okay. I think I’ve talked enough about this. If you haven’t
listened to this show, I’m hoping this will give you enough reason to do so,
and if you have listened to it
before, you can confirm everything I’ve said.

It’s a masterpiece, in the simplest form of the word.

When Miranda first debuted his idea in 2009, at the White
House Evening of Poetry, Music, and Spoken Word, he performed a rough version
of what would become the opening track “Alexander Hamilton,” which received an
applauding response, but not before some misplaced laughter. In the video footage,
you can see Miranda clench his lip and grip his microphone harder with each
muffled laugh, but he finishes his performance, and six years later, Hamilton is the biggest, most successful
show Broadway has seen in a long, long time.

Lucy Out Loud’s Top Albums of 2014

Our Senior Writer and Photographer, Eric Riley, has put together his top 20 albums of 2014. Click “Read More” to see his list and read why each of these albums made his year!

20. Nick Santino – Big Skies: On his first true solo record without an added title or tag, the ex-A Rocket to the Moon frontman showcases an impressive blend of bluegrass, country, and pop. Filled with lyrics that tell both sides to a life on the road, whether the sense of freedom that it brings or the longing for a familiar spot, Big Skies brings big, cheery hooks and bittersweet stories of love, loss, and looking for a place to call home.

19. Chiodos – Devil: As the first release following the return of Craig Owens, Chiodos knew to make this record a homecoming and a comeback, not just a follow-up or a continuation. Not ten seconds into the first (full) song on the record, the first trace of vocals we hear is a mad cackle from Owens behind dueling guitars. The balance of grandeur and grime that we’ve grown to love is present and in full force here, with “Why the Munsters Matter,” “Duct Tape,” and “Sunny Days & Hand Grenades” blending the cinematic with the creepy. “3AM” draws from Owens’ time in Cinematic Sunrise, and “Looking for a Tornado” grows from an acoustic introduction into a powerful full-band gem. Though the lineup has had its changes and continues to be a revolving door at times, it’s not a stretch to believe Chiodos are on their way back to the top.

18. Taking Back Sunday – Happiness Is… : Taking Back Sunday have leaders within this music scene for more than a decade. During this time, the band has faced its fair share of adversity and trouble, but they’ve always managed to persevere while remaining relevant and impressing. With Happiness Is…, they continue to dig deep. With Adam Lazzara’s lyricism as strong and severing as ever (see: the brutal “Better Homes and Gardens”), the album is a promising step on a band’s path that seems to always head forward.

17. Rise Against – The Black Market: There are very few who can captivate as wholly as Rise Against can, whether live or on record. After heavy, fierce beginnings, the group has grown and polished their sound further with each record. “Tragedy + Time” and “Sudden Life” showcase the cleaner work that the band can produce, as “The Eco-Terrorist In Me” proves they still have their original bite. Meanwhile, “Zero Visibility” shows them taking successful chances and “People Live Here” gives McIlrath’s songwriting skill a beautiful, chilling platform to present itself upon. There are always the Rise Against “purists” who long for a regression to the older albums, but this is some of the strongest stuff we’ve ever had from these guys.

16. We Are the In Crowd – Weird Kids: Barely sneaking Weird Kids into the Top 20 was a tough choice. As the earliest album on the list (released mid-February), its lasting value is what impresses me most. From the first notes of huge lead-in “Long Live the Kids,” the group’s growth is evident. Meanwhile, “The Best Thing (That Never Happened),” “Attention,” and “Manners” could all have arguments made to list them as some of the strongest pop-punk tracks from the year. We Are the In Crowd had a huge 2014, and it’ll be full speed ahead for them next year.

15. PVRIS – White Noise: I don’t think a band arrived in the same fashion as PVRIS did this year. Coming seemingly out of nowhere, it didn’t take long for them to grab focus. A sound this huge achieved by a three-piece band on a debut album is unheard of and deserves applause. The band benefits greatly from Blake Harnage’s (Versa[Emerge]) production skill, as his time spent alongside Sierra Kusterbeck surely helped in harnessing Lyndsey Gunnulfsen’s vocal power. The fact that this band is delivering this great of quality already is a good sign, but to think of what they could do next is what really has me excited.

14. Circa Survive – Descensus: For as long as I can remember, Circa Survive have been doing special things. Now, after ten years and on their fifth record, they show no signs of stopping. Their aggression, as always, is more than just loud noise, but rather their clever guitarwork, huge sound, and Anthony Green’s unrivaled vocals. Opener “Schema” does kick things off in heavy fashion right out of the gate, while “Only the Sun” and “Nesting Dolls” have Circa doing what they do best. 

13. The Ghost Inside – Dear Youth: The Ghost Inside are easily in the top-tier of live bands that I’ve ever seen, and 2012’s Get What You Give was one of my favorite hardcore records of that year. Now, two years later, two years wiser, and two years stronger, The Ghost Inside return for more. Jonathan Vigil’s passion and heart have always shone through in his lyrics and his performance, and here is no exception.

Even without the exceptional songwriting, the music could stand on its own. Heavy, melodic, and unrelenting, the album takes as many chances as I’ve heard a hardcore album take in a long while. “Phoenix Flame’s” shrill guitars echo throughout the song’s conclusion, leaving you in a quiet haze. Meanwhile, the breakdowns that you would expect to hear in every track on a heavy record are instead scattered, used sparingly to increase force (the second half of “My Endnote” proves the point).

Dear Youth took a listen or two to grow on me, as did Get What You Give. But I’m glad I gave it the time I needed and the time it deserves. This is the upper class of melodic hardcore.

12. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness: No matter the moniker, I will always expect something phenomenal from Andrew McMahon. Something Corporate’s Leaving Through the Window was my high school soundtrack (admittedly, nearly a decade late) and Everything in Transit is still one of the most perfect records I’ve heard to date. So now, on his first outing under a new name, I was equal parts intrigued and anxious for what was to come. Luckily, there is plenty more of what we’ve grown to love.

His trademark piano-pop is as sharp as ever, with his voice strong and crisp. Lyrically, there are still heartbreaks, memories, stories. But, where we had only heard the smooth synths in bits and pieces in previous works, they play a larger role here, adding a different feel to the style McMahon has always done so well.

… In the Wilderness is both a continuation of McMahon’s brilliant career and a new start to the next chapter. I have no doubts that whatever may come next will be just as special. 

11. Anberlin – Lowborn: 2014 brought us the end of one of hell of a band. On their swansong, Anberlin said goodbye on their terms, leaving when they felt it was time and that they still had what it takes to leave a mark. Lowborn is not a perfect record, but it is a very solid farewell from a consistently exceptional band. Opener “We Are Destroyer” leads off the album with one of its better songs, aggressive and powerful. “Atonement” and “Armageddon” are both highlights in their own aspects – dark and moody rather than loud and fast. Closing with the eerie “Harbinger,” the record (and the band) comes to a close with Christian singing “I don’t wanna go now, but I know I’ve got to / For you to remember me.”

We didn’t want them to go either, but we’ll be sure to remember this band.

10. St. Vincent – St. Vincent: For her 4th LP, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) takes some wild chances and achieves them all spectacularly. Firstly, a self-titled 4th LP will always seem like a risky choice to me, for some reason. But, if you can pull it off, it’s this way of self-identifying who you are rather than giving others the chance to (see Paramore’s S/T last year).

The aptly-titled “Rattlesnake” convulses the record into fruition, while “Birth in Reverse” and “Digital Witness” are electric, lush and extravagant. When she slows things down, like on the eerie “Prince Johnny” or with the beautiful “I Prefer Your Love,” Clark shows that she doesn’t need upbeat hooks or busy synthwork to electrify.

St. Vincent is dreary and upbeat, elusive and tangible, unsettling and irresistible, but above all, bold, brave, and unapologetic. 

09. Taylor Swift – 1989: Did you see the Saturday Night Live skit where people had a sudden realization over how much they liked Taylor Swift and it hits them like vertigo?

Yeah. That’s what 1989 feels like. Now, finalizing her transition from country singer into full-fledged pop superstar, Swift welcomes the genre with open arms, carrying along a handful of #1 hits. “Shake It Off,” “Out of the Woods,” and “Blank Space” have dominated since their releases, while “Style” is instantly catchy and resilient closer “Clean” shows off her songwriting chops. Taylor Swift is, hands down, one of the biggest icons around and there’s every reason for that.

08. iTCH – The Deep End: Vocalist of the disbanded The King Blues, iTCH exported more of his ferocity and rage over from the UK to bring us one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. With help from a few friends, including producer John Feldmann’s soaring vocals through the chorus to “Life is Poetry,” Megan Joy’s doo-wop contribution to “Another Man,” and Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara on lead single “Homeless Romantic, iTCH makes The Deep End a team effort. Where the album shines brightest are in its darkest, grittiest moments – the hold-nothing-back exposure of “Not My Revolution,” with BC Jean helping iTCH battle his personal demons, or the dirty, racing “Like I’m Drugs” to get the blood rushing. It’s impressive to hear an artist attempt a handful of wildly varied sounds within the confines of the same album and manage to succeed this well. 

07. Lights – Little Machines: For her follow-up to 2012’s Siberia and its subsequent acoustic reworking the following year, Lights returned this year to make her way back to the electro-pop throne. On studio album #3 (and now a mother), nearly every aspect of Lights’ music is sharper than ever. Singles “Up We Go” and “Running With the Boys” were both received with positive reactions, while “How We Do It” could arguably be one of the catchiest songs the year produced. In the moments when she gives her synth a rest, like the tracks that bookend the record (“Portal,” “Don’t Go Home Without Me”), her vocals and key-work are given the spotlight at very opportune times. As both the first and last encounters of the album, both songs make an impact and leave an effect. Motherhood and marriage both seem to be doing wonders for Lights, in both her personal and professional lives. When the two mesh together, Lights fires on all cylinders and jettisons to the front of the pack.

06. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other: Few do lyrical storytelling as well as Dan Campbell. Fronting The Wonder Years, Campbell has never pulled punches in regards to his words. And here, on his first solo record, he continues to hold nothing back. Stylistically, the record isn’t too much of a departure from some of TWY’s softer moments (“There, There” or “I’ve Given You All” or even “Madelyn”). But where those records have plenty of faster, full-band tracks to support these gentler bits, this relies mostly on Campbell’s powerful voice and lyrics.

If the subject matter and the soft tone weren’t enough, Campbell’s inclusion of vivid detail pile on the impact – from the introductory “Our Apartment,” which mentions how the washing machine makes the shower run cold and how he has “enough of her hairpins to build a monument,” or drunkenly recalling the pinkish-orange color of their child’s bedroom in “Grapefruit.”

There are moments when We Don’t Have Each Other is a bit difficult to digest. Even the title speaks of abandonment and loss, and the tracks don’t offer any shelter. But for as “real” as these fictional characters’ lives may be, they give the listener the potential to have someone to relate to. Things aren’t always pretty, and Campbell doesn’t avoid speaking about the awful parts that come with life. Like I said, the record pulls no punches, and by doing so, is an absolute knockout. 

05. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt: Hey, look – The Gaslight Anthem produced a Top Five album again. Shocking. With each album this group releases, there is a constant worry over what to expect. As fans, there is always the fear that this could be their last, or that they’ve hit their peak and will start their downslide, or we’ll get more of the same. Before the release of Get Hurt, there were stirs and murmurs warning “things could get weird.” Some welcomed this, some grew worried. The previous Handwritten was arguably their cleanest album, which was a relatively noticeable shift from the nicely-unpolished sound of its predecessors. Here, the first notes of “Stay Vicious” are an instant recall to the coarseness of the band’s earliest work.

“Stay Vicious” is probably the furthest, most noticeable departure from what we’ve come to expect, and opening the record with it is an easy decision. With tracks like “1,000 Years,” “Red Violins,” or “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” leaning closer to the “classic” Gaslight sound (and “Dark Places” closing out the album nearly as well as “The Backseat” brought The ’59 Sound to and end), there are still senses of commonality or familiarity. Where the album shines, like it often did with older releases as well, are its slower pieces. The murky “Underneath the Ground” takes a page from The Horrible Crowes’ playbook, standing out as an album highlight. The soft, somber “Break Your Heart” is on-par with Handwritten’s “National Anthem,” in function, position, and impact. Both act as useful buffers between faster, heavier pieces, boosting their impressions.

Get Hurt plays, somewhat, as a culmination of the various stages of the band’s past works. Which, depending on how you think about it, could be taken as very strange – considering the reception Handwritten received, or completely understandable – taking the successful parts from past lives. It isn’t a perfect record, and it may not have been the wild departure from the norm that it had been advertised to be, but it is still a fantastic collection of songs from one of the most consistent, talented groups around. To think that there was a time where the future of the band was in question, I’ve always made an effort to look for the highlights from this band. But, with the caliber of work that they continuously put forth, we don’t need to look very far. Is Get Hurt perfect? No sir. Is Get Hurt the band’s greatest? At times, possibly. But, we end up saying this with every record. The next Gaslight Anthem album will always be the best Gaslight Anthem album. But until then, enjoy. 

04. Bleachers – Strange Desire: I can admit that, at first, I was guilty of referring to Bleachers as a side-project. But, to refer to it as such would lessen the importance or the impressiveness of it. After two consecutive years of receiving Grammy nods in one way or another (fun.’s Some Nights getting recognition in 2012 and Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” last year, which he co-wrote), Jack Antonoff shifted to center-stage to front Bleachers. Though it isn’t his first rodeo, clearly, it’s his first run as frontman. If that worries him in real life, it doesn’t seem to faze him on record.

Strange Desire is as crisp and clean of a pop album as you could hope for, and its mid-summer release date certainly did no harm. While lead single “I Wanna Get Better” was probably the best song you heard this summer, its success and hook don’t overpower the other bright spots here. “Shadow” and “Rollercoaster” are each killer pop anthems on their own, and the echoing “Wild Heart” kickstarts the record after only a few seconds.

I’m not sure what else we’ll hear from Bleachers following their next tour (with new music from fun. surely in the works), or if this is Antonoff making a “one-and-done” type statement, but I’m sure that this won’t be an album that goes away any time soon. 

03. La Dispute – Rooms of the House: There has always been this sort of haunting, almost uncomfortable beauty that comes along with La Dispute’s music. Sometimes voyeuristic, other times violent, always relentlessly captivating, this is a band that has always left everything on the table.  Jordan Dreyer’s ability to pen stories of heartbreaking accounts and tragic events is nearly unparalleled, and is as extraordinary as ever, if not more. Here, the accounts are varied and more succinct, with the album clocking in around ten minutes shorter than their two previous releases without sacrificing an ounce of power.

The band’s music has always forced a reaction from its listeners, and Rooms of the House continues to demand it. “The Child We Lost 1963” is a brutal story of a child learning of a stillborn sibling. “35” recounts the events of a bridge collapse in 2007, repeating rewritten lyrics from opener “Hudsonville, MI 1956.” Recalling a horrific event such as this is no new endeavor, bringing up thoughts similar to that of “King Park” from Wildlife. “Woman (in Mirror)” and “Woman (Reading)” follow the same formula, both narrated by a man surveying, studying his wide. Neither are as frantic as the rest of Rooms, but both still possess a certain chaos, this time domestic and internal rather than environmental.

I always need a listen or two to really begin to appreciate the work these guys produce, and Rooms of the House continued that trend. At first, sure, it was good and it sounded like what I’ve always liked from La Dispute. But, just as it always goes, each listen began to bring out bits and pieces, certain lines that would get heard after being missed the first time through. This is what I have always admired about La Dispute – on the surface, they’re a great band. But as you listen deeper, they grab hold and there is no letting go.

02. The Collection – Ars Moriendi: My first time listening to this album broke my heart. Written in the aftermath of a friend’s death, the North Carolinian group composed one of the most emotional, impactful, honest albums I’ve heard to date. The title shares not only the name of Latin texts from the period of the Black Death, but also the values – both works detail the instructions for dealing with death and “dying well,” for finding the positives within tragedies, for recognizing the chance at redemption and consolation and growth. It’s the art of dying.

The band itself, which can feature upwards of thirty members at any given time, produces one of the largest, most intricate sounds around. On the first real standout, “The Borrowers,” you’d be hard-pressed to find something lacking. It features a male/female duet, shouted gang vocals, swirling strings, stomping drums, and whatever else they could throw at you. There are interesting uses of instrumentals throughout, often given more focus than the vocals and lyrics. This, however, is no dig at either. David and Mira Wimbish’s performances are both spectacular at each turn, no matter the backing music. They never overshadow, nor are ever truly washed out. “The Middle One” is a perfect example of this – a 5-and-a-half minute explosion of sound, both vocalists are given spotlight before a minute-long instrumental avalanche midway through.

It’s a good thing that the best song on the album happens to be the shortest, because it is also the most brutal. On “Some Days I Don’t Want to Sing,” after an album that uses a cheery atmosphere packed with upbeat tempos and joyful music to help ease the blow of its painful subject matter, the band strips away the curtain. With a nothing more than slammed piano keys, jagged violin, and a broken voice, Wimbish cries “So carry my heart home or just leave me alone / just don’t be in between reality and me. … if my friends rise from graves, will they still have to die again a second time? / Or will we rejoice when they rise?”

Much of this record came to be after something unspeakable. In a time of uncertainty and doubt and heartbreak, something beautiful and triumphant arose. The record is a metaphor of itself – the songs preach lessons on facing life after death, and doing so with honor and bravery, which is what the artists had to do in order to create it.

There are plenty of reasons this was the highest rating I handed out this year.

Ars Moriendi is more than just a brilliant album. It is an album that needs to be heard.

01. LP – Forever for Now: For a second straight year, a female solo pop artist earns my Album of the Year crown. Following Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest last year (and yes, I am still bitter about the Grammys), LP (Laura Pergolizzi) took her major label full-length debut and knocked it out of the park. And then into another park, and out of that one as well.

After little success with two previous albums, LP spent time as a songwriter for other well-known artists, notably Rihanna, Christina Aguilera. and the Backstreet Boys. With Forever for Now, she decided it was her time to shine.

Right away, as the booming “Heavenly Light” begins, there is an immediate hook that never lets go. Pergolizzi’s voice is a lethal combination of sharp, strong, and unique. This, coupled with the bright, thumping music, starts the record on a high. Leading directly into the stomp-along “Nights Like This,” she lets simple songwriting guide a chorus that engrains itself after one listen, helped along by charming whistles and a trouble-free doo-doo-doo.

Just as the first two tracks are close in hook and tempo, yet still each their own, “Tokyo Sunrise” and later “Your Town” share similar traits, but are distinguishable from one another. The first, an acoustic track with swirling violins and ukulele, features Pergolizzi’s voice at its finest to this point in the record, while the latter starts gently before dropping into a booming chorus.

Midway, “Levitator” is a standout in every aspect, placed between the racing “Free to Love” and the sweet “Someday,” whose message of staying youthful matches its bubbly sound. As the album closes, it brings along two of the most interesting, most notable pieces.

“Into the Wild” is the best all-around performance on Forever For Now. Soft and contained, it starts with a simple ukulele strum before Pergolizzi counts down into a massive chorus that bursts through the speakers. Untamed and huge, the song soars, with much thanks given to her spectacular voice. As the song comes to a close, “Forever For Now” carries over its predecessor’s playful whistling, darkening it into the weakened cry of a caged songbird. Pergolizzi softly sings “Hush, hush, don’t say a word” as eerie, ominous piano keys dance in the background. The freedom and limitlessness that “Into the Wild” boasted has been confined and condensed, now presenting to the haunting rise and fall of her shrill voice. The album ends with the faint echo of a single piano key, leaving you shaken and a bit troubled. It’s a stunning close to the album, though not conventionally beautiful.

From start to finish, Forever For Now tackles new territories without missing a step. This may have flown under a lot of radars, but it should make some serious waves if it gets the chance.