Every time a year ends, music websites and publications all around the world publish lists that feature what they consider the best albums that were released on that year. These albums come with great compliments and, usually, intriguing names and cover arts, tantalising me. This has always been a sort of shame to me, as I felt that I was missing on good music, year after year. So, I’ve finally decided to do something about it, and on February 2016 I started a sort of “Project 2015”, in which I would listen to a bunch of critically-acclaimed albums from last year, and decide which of them I liked and which I didn’t.
At first, it was more of a personal thing, just me writing on an excel file which albums I thought were worthy of further attention after a first listen. However, with the chat of the Only Solitaire group, it ended up getting bigger, as people would suggest me albums, or would ask to see my excel (this made me make it prettier and more comprehensive). By the time we did group-listens of some albums from the list, it was clear that it turned into more than that, and I decided to “publish” it on this blog post, as well as on my facebook account.
Throughout February and in early March I listened to 73 albums released in 2015. I didn’t listen to all of those from beginning to end, but I made sure to listen to each of them long enough to be able to make my opinion. I also want to make it clear that this is meant to be my personal reactions to these albums, shaped by my taste in music, and nothing more than that. Those albums got inside the list from many sources, most of them figured in Brazilian and international best-of-2015 lists, but some came from chat suggestions, and some came from stuff I happened to find and thought were interesting to be listened to. I didn’t get everything I saw on those lists either, only things I thought seemed promising to my taste.
On the excel tables, I did a small description of the sound of each album, and I gave each a one-line review, which was painted green for a positive reaction, yellow for a neutral reaction and red for a negative reaction. I also selected, like the (in)famous Pitchfork website, a few albums to receive a Best New Music award.
Of all the 73, there were only 7 albums which received a negative verdict, including the much acclaimed Kamasi Washington album, The Epic. I guess I just don’t like jazz, but I found the length of it personally offensive, it’s more than three hours long! The worst of the bunch, however, was Defeater’s Abandoned, which started with clichéd dramatic pianos, then a pathetic screaming started, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
22 albums got a neutral reaction. Cidadão Instigado, which is sometimes appointed as one of the best Brazilian rock bands of the XXI century, is yet to be able to touch me, their Fortaleza wasn’t bad but nothing that I would want to spend time listening to. Another disappointment was Frevotron, which promised a modern electronised update on the frevo genre, but sounded like anything but frevo. On the international side, Father John Misty sounded half as good as Elton John on his good songs, and was utterly boring on the others, coupled with pretty bad lyrics. I really wish Robin Pecknold would return to music, because the rest of the Fleet Foxes are nothing without him. The biggest waste of a cool cover belonged to this category, Kelela’s Hallucinogen EP, which was just one more album that followed this recent trend of beautiful arrangements and instrumentation coupled with a lack of good vocal hooks. Bike, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Passo Torto & Ná Ozetti were also guilty of that.
A special mention goes to albums that felt genuinely deep and intriguing, but just weren’t suited to my tastes, like the weird schizophrenia of Oneohtrix, the ambience of Nicholas Jaar and Mount Eerie, and the noise-plus-religious-chants duo between Cadu Tenório and my admired Juçara Marçal.
The last and largest category consists on albums I gave a positive verdict, 44 out of 73. Among those, it’s worth mentioning the great moment Brazilian music in general, and hip-hop, specifically, is living. Searching for inspiration in folkish afro-traditions, the 70s post-tropicália or on the sleazy brega, artists are mixing genres and producing unique albums. If one listens to Ava Rocha, Melodia Preto Bendi, Jonas Sá or Johnny Hooker, they would get an idea of how diverse and vibrant the Brazilian scene is.
International music, however, seems very fragmented, and the only visible tendency is a reduction on the use of guitars. But even those were put to good use by Courtney Barnett or Viet Cong. Many well-established artists did not disappoint this last year, with Magma, Joanna Newsom and Tame Impala releasing good follow-ups that add nicely to their discographies. Modest Mouse, on the other hand, disappointed me with their forgettable Strangers to Ourselves, which included a semi-rap-song with lyrics about cleaning his pistol!
Among the 44 positive albums, there were 12 that I considered the finest of 2015. Two were electronic pop: from the Brazilian state of Pará, Jaloo mixed pop with carimbó to make a very catchy and diverse album; while from overseas, Canadian Grimes wrote, sang, played and produced by herself a kaleidoscopic masterpiece. Still on the electronic world, but far more avant-garde, was Holly Herndon’s Platform, with dazzling vocals that reminded me of Stockhausen’s Stimmung.
The last two foreign albums that figured on this top 12 were both very personal, although they had very different moods. Sufjan’s Carrie & Lowell might not be as good melodically as some of his previous albums, but is incredibly touching, and pretty much bares his soul. To Pimp a Butterfly stands out for the stunning amount of different “voices” Kendrick Lamarr has.
Back to Brazil, Elza Soares’ Mulher do Fim do Mundo is also very personal, and through her coarse 70-year-old voice, and great arrangements, entrances the listener in her world. Great arrangements are also a feature of banda-fôrra’s debut EP, which left me with great expectations for their future. Bixiga 70 gives us another dose of great afrobeat, perhaps their finest.
Finally, on the hip-hop front, I loved particularly four albums. Or rather, three albums and one EP, as Senzala Hi-Tech amazed me with a new kind of afro-vodoo-hip-hop with 90s Native Tongues influences, and they only needed 6 tracks to do so! The Instituto collective called so many great artists to perform on the collaborative Violar, it just wasn’t possible for it not to be awesome. Rodrigo Ogi’s RÁ! is worthy of the capitalisation and exclamation, as it has great grooves, great lyrics, great hooks and a great variety of moods.
Last, but definitely not least, the album I consider the best of 2015: Emicida – Sobre Crianças, Quadris, Pesadelos e Lições de Casa…It can be touching, it can be scathing, it often is both, simultaneously, it is simply marvellous! One of those albums where I just felt the wonder that it music, and on the first listen!