Blade of the Ronin (2015)
Cannibal Ox return with a record that feels not out of place, but under-done. Their previous beat-maker El-P's absence is blatant and telling. When the beats work, they are stunning, and Ox is best when they are working with a concept, such as on Solar System or Gotham. Give them free reign and they drift too far into obscurity.
Best song:Gotham (Ox City)
Mr. Wonderful (2015)
This is a messy record. The chef-turned-rapper doesn't even rap on 2,5 consecutive tracks, but when he does, his personality is undeniable. He's tough yet lovable. Action doesn't make the transition to full length without pretentions or flaws, but thanks to his one-liners, a handful of incredible beats and live instruments, there's just enough to love.
Best song:Actin Crazy
Strangers to Ourselves (2015)
It isn't the mid 00s anymore, so the Mouse have updated their sound, making it bigger and denser. It works and it doesn't. There's still that effortless swagger, yet the spontaneity that they once utilised is gone, replaced with a sensibility and a knowledge of what works and what doesn't. It breeds a slight vein of cynicism.
Best song:Lampshades on Fire
If I Was (2015)
Three sisters harmonizing makes for gorgeous sounds, but it doesn't neccesarily result in exciting songs. On their fragile Justin Vernon-produced record, the Wisconsin cold is almost audible. The folky Staves sometimes even punch in the way Bon Iver can. There's beauty in certain subtleties, but the passion to make this album memorable is missing.
Best song:Blood I Bled
Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)
The strain of consciousness is an untamed, unfiltered internal dialogue that is interesting if only for its accuracy and dry wit. Barnett doesn't actually impart much knowledge until Kim's Caravan, but her potent Aussie accent over the top of the fuzziest of guitar noise (and some damn good grooves) is a marriage of a formless, functionless fun.
Best song:Pedestrian At Best
You're Better Than This (2015)
Since the late 80's, Boston has been a city plagued with Pixies clones. I can imagine that some would point their sickly fingers at Pile and scream for Doolittle covers. On You're Better Than This, there are multiple moments that Pixies tried to achieve in their entire career, especially length of "Mr. Fish," this year's best track so far.
Best song:Mr. Fish
Tobias Jesso Jr.
An album full of classic sounding piano pop, perfect for a Sunday morning. Tobias' personal lyrics add to the warmth of the songs, that range from small and intimate to grand and sweeping. Horn and string arrangements make for a subtle broadening. At its best moments almost (McCartney-) Beatlesque with a touch of Harry Nilsson.
Best song:Just A Dream
City of Diamonds EP (2015)
A breath of fresh air in a smog filled city, this EP comes with crisp vocals, a touch of Macy Gray swagger. Still, it's an incredibly enjoyable (if a touch short) mix of laid-back production and 'girl in the big city' themes that, more often than not, pre- and conclude a career. Here's hoping this is a beginning and not an end.
Best song:NYPD Blues
A Place To Bury Strangers
By taking a right turn and cleaning things up a considerable amount, A Place To Bury Strangers make their worst album, an album that neither squeals nor screams at you. Fury - once a quality trait of this band - has now been avoided and channeled into weghtless precision, evident on "Straight." It's easily possible to go back to glory, but glory may not be the goal.
To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
From every single angle, this record is perfect. The concept is perfect. The execution of that concept is perfect. The way in which the listener is drawn in through warm funk and jazz influence, but kept just far enough away via aggressive lyrics to heed a message from higher knowledge, is perfect. It is bravery personified. 2Pac would be in awe.
Best song:The Blacker The Berry
BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah
Sour Soul (2015)
Ghostface spits harshly over the soul-inflating instrumentals from BADBADNOTGOOD, the forefront reason to listen to this album. Creating and manipulating the vibes of their kaleidoscopic force for one of Wu-Tang's strongest soldiers is no easy task, but BBNG manages to take the entire album by storm, leaving Ghostface to putter three steps back.
Best song:Six Degrees (feat. Danny Brown)
I like that there are still electricians out there making bog-standard, mid 2000s underground dance music. You'd be forgiven for thinking they're an 80s Kraftwerk student making a comeback (think Vangelis). They are in fact into their 3rd album of inoffensive but wholly immersive dance music, and this is their best offering yet.
Best song:Glass Lake