Staff Picks: Best Albums of 2015.5

2015 has been an amazing year for music. The amount of music that has come out over the last six months has made in near impossible for any one person to keep up. Thusly, the Radio UTD staff has taken some time to pick our favourite albums of the year thus far.

Humza Khan, Station Manager

Björk // Vulnicura 

Icelandic singer, songwriter, and producer, Björk, is back with her ninth studio album, filled with romantic heartbreak and whimsical instrumentation. Vulnicura details her seperation from artist Matthew Barney, and considering Björk’s career, a breakup album seems all to simple for an artist of her caliber. Yet it’s dark tone is only enhanced by the production of both Arca and The Haxan Cloak, filled with high-drama string arrangements over the boom-clack of electronic beats. You could say their is something sharp-sighted about a person who realizes her relationship is crumbling and automatically thinks: still, great material. But it’s nothing if not honest.

Samo Sound Boy // Begging Please

Dance music has a tendency to value function over emotion, but you couldn’t say that about Samo Sound Boy, Sam Griesemer, who makes tearjerkers out of mushy R&B vocals and soaring synthesizers. Sculpted after Marvin Gaye’s iconic ode to lost love Here, My Dear, the grace and speed of Begging Please emulates the pacing of a relationship and its demise in a heady narrative of house music and soul samples. But where this theme could have led to 10 tear-inducing cuts, hyperactive synth work, gospel-like vocals and dance-floor suited percussion ensure the feeling of lost hope is given a buoyant remedy.

Jlin // Dark Energy

Footwork lost its best-known proponent when DJ Rashad died last year. He did more than anyone to push and promote the juttering, rapidfire Chicagoan form of dance music. Jlin continues that lineage with a debut album that moves the genre beyond the dance-floor. The core paradox of Dark Energy, and its real strength, is its closeness to, and distance from, the Footwork scene and its politics. This is no sanitized version of footwork, though: the sound palette is still unremittingly brutal, with bpms whirling around the 190 mark.  If the Chicago dance-floor is cluttered with contention, Jlin has provided us with evidence of veins untapped, an obscure map of zones still to be colonized in the name of the dance.

Jamie Park, Programming Director

BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah // Sour Soul

Toronto-based jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD has made a name for themselves covering and collaborating with some of the best rap artists in the game. Sour Soul is no exception. The collaborative album with Ghostface Killah melds modern jazz and laid back hip hop into some of the year’s most distinct sounds yet. “Six Degrees” featuring Danny Brown and “Ray Gun” featuring MF DOOM are easily my favorites.

Miami Horror // All Possible Futures

Although we’re only about a month in, All Possible Futures has already become my go to summer album. Five years after their debut LP, Illumination, Miami Horror are back and just as dance-y as ever. Every single track on here delivers, from the straight up poppy goodness of lead single “Real Slow”, to the more funky “Love Like Mine.”

Penguin Prison // Lost In New York

Chris Glover, aka Penguin Prison, swiftly avoids the sophomore slump with this follow up his 2011 self-titled release. This album has been long awaited (by me at least) and the four years have paid of in this bundle of danceable grooves. Though more mellow in places than his previous release, Lost In New York still brings the heat with tracks like “Try To Lose” and “Don’t Tell Me How It Ends.” Glover seems to be taking Penguin Prison in a more mature direction, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for the project.

Angel Roa, Promotions Manager

Courtney Barnett // Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Think

Mundane, but lovable lyricist from the down under, Courtney Barnett, took us by storm with her debut studio album, just one year after A Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. Barnett writes about what other people never seem to mention, such as road kill and sitting and thinking. Needless to say, she’s nailed this, making her a true storyteller with her lyrics, while staying true to her throwback guitar licks and her laid back style. It shouldn’t add up but in summation, Barnett has a way of exciting the crowd and leaving us wanting more. We just can’t understand how.

Waxahatchee // Ivy Tripp

Allison Crutchfield’s third release as Waxahatchee was released in April this year. Crutchfield, who has been connected to so many artists through projects such as Great Thunder and P.s. Eliot, has probably outdone herself with one of her most important releases to date. Ivy Tripp sports a more experimental feel from her regular twee-pop/alternative vibe on the electric guitar by branching out and using more organ/keyboard sounds. Although, one thing that seems to stay consistent throughout all of her projects is that she is never forced and is always raw. Her lyrics are ambiguous and easy to relate to one’s own experience, and brings to surface the journey we all go through life. This album is literally therapy, and if you don’t believe me, listen to it yourself.

Pile // You’re Better Than This

Over the past 5 years, Post-hardcore/punk band from Boston, Pile, has consistently released some solid albums. They finally came out with their 3rd release this March, with the always seamless flow from one album to the next we’ve come to expect. Their off kilter sounds are dramatic, but never overly-theatrical. The beauty of Pile is their flow and ability to go from the beautiful jangling sounds, to a chugging buildup, and to a busy climax with a still distinguishable melody, that could only be accomplished by Pile. You’re Better Than This shows that they have no plans of slowing down or changing who they are for anyone.

Kevin Barahona, Music Director

Young Fathers // White Men are Black Men Too

Scottish alternative hip-hop trio Young Fathers decided to take a new route with their latest album White Men are Black Men Too. Scraping away with most hip-hop qualities of their past projects, the trio heads into territory of lo-fi pop and soul. Attempting to follow-up their last album Dead is no easy task, but Young Fathers was more than up to the task with their new creative venture. Fuzzy/lo-fi aesthetics laid atop of sweet and soulful vocals make quite the potent combination. The album is not only beautifully sonically but it is also full emotional and introspective depth. Thoroughly deserving the name the album ask questions about status of race in a modern society adding another layer introspection to the album.       

Father John Misty // I Love You, Honey Bear

Plucking at the strings of the listeners’ hearts Father John Misty delivers some of the sweetest vocals heard all year. His twisted songwriting and powerful vocals listeners kept those of the faint of heart on the verge of tears and begging for more.  The somewhat skeletal instrumentals allowed the angelic vocals to be the center of attention, and with good reason. The vocals delivered on this album are riddled with angst, sadness, and saturated in a plethora of other emotions.

Kendrick Lamar // To Pimp a Butterfly

Southern California native Kendrick Lamar delivers what could be the best hip-hop album of the decade. If not the best album of the decade, this album has put the last nail in the coffin of the bling-era of hip-hop. Both conceptual and sonically To Pimp a Butterfly excels. Kendrick Lamar took a lot of creative risks with this new project and all of those risks pay off. Kendrick Lamar’s west coast roots show with his flow and the production on the album. The production of the album is fresh and funky, with soulful chorus and infectious beats.