December drops on us once again, and to wrap up year 2015 appropriately, B-Side Magazine presents your picks (thanks to voters) for this year's top 10 albums. Kick back, pop a beer and scroll through to appreciate the full run-down, reviewed by our writers. Cheers!
#10 "If You're Reading This It's Too Late" Drake
What a year for Toronto’s front man. From eviscerating Meek Mill on both twitter and the track, to the meme treasure trove in his Hotline Bling video, Drake proved his mastery of the social media machine time and again. It all started with a surprise bang in February; “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” was a powerful rap maneuver--a mixtape brimming with distilled paranoia and anger. Sing-songy Drake gave way to dark, minimalist beats, all the while treading the line between effortlessness and exhaustion. Whether he’s wallowing in the stresses of rap superstardom or doing a silly dance in a multi-colored art installation, Drake’s versatility has us captivated. Here’s to 2016.
- Evan Boyd
#9 "Beauty Behind the Madness" The Weeknd
Abel Tesfaye (better known by his stage name, the Weeknd) makes it a goal to sing filthy things in “the most elegant and sexiest way ever.” And if there’s one thing that the Weeknd is good at, it’s dressing up alarming themes behind the guise of his dark, infectious R&B grooves and buttery falsetto runs. In his latest album, Beauty Behind the Madness, he holds on to a lot of the style that made him the artist who he is today, but sheds the ambling, unorthodox songwriting conventions of his past mixtapes in favor of a tighter, more marketable sound.
Though it is considered by some to be a “departure” from his earlier, less commercially-viable work, Tesfaye has simply adapted his old sound to fit a new attitude towards his music--one that is more accepting of the idea of breaking into the mainstream. He started out as a mysterious, faceless persona, but he didn’t construct that enigmatic image on purpose; i+n fact, the reason that he refused to put his face on any of his albums or conduct any interviews was his crippling insecurity. Now, though, he wants to be heard by the world, and dares you to “go tell your friends about [him].”
- Yasmine Hassan
#8 "Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit" Courtney Barnett
On her charmingly named full-length debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Barnett announced her arrival as one of indie rock’s best storytellers and most formidable guitar players. Her plainspoken lyrics throughout the record cover everything from poolside flirting to environmental degradation, and she approaches each topic with a refreshing amount of colloquiality, humor, and directness. It’s a diverse album, containing quick, robust romps like “Pedestrian at Best,” expansive, dramatic tracks like “Kim’s Caravan,” and floaty, bittersweet tunes such as “Depreston.” Barnett’s personality and musicianship shine through on Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, making it one of 2015’s essential listens.
- Michael O’Neill
#7 "I Love You, Honeybear" Father John Misty
Josh Tillman, an American folk musician, best known by his stage name, Father John Misty, released his second studio album I Love You, Honeybear in early February of 2015. The title might suggest a collection of cozy love songs, but they are anything but sweet and shallow. I Love You, Honeybear is an album full of painfully honest, and often angry lyrics that define Misty’s outlook on love and life. The album’s playful acoustic sounds soften the sharp edges of Misty’s critical tone, but no one can deny the bluntness in his words when he sings: “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity” in his song “Hold Shit.” I Love You, Honeybear could simply be a musical diary of Misty’s personal musings, but through his wordy verses, Misty pinpoints issues we all face: disconnectedness, jealousy, and regret.
- Tia Forsman
#6 "Surf" Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment
Late last May, as the weather was finally warming up and the dust had settled from spring semester, a mysterious new group called Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment spontaneously dropped their debut album on iTunes--completely free of charge. Though its release tactics were pretty low-key, the album was pre-emptively perceived to be Chance the Rapper’s new album, and old fans and new listeners alike flocked to download it. As it turns out, the album is built around Nico Segal and his trumpet chops--hence the alias “Donnie Trumpet.” Chance, though integral to the album’s sound, is just another member of the Social Experiment, along with Peter Cottontale and Nate Fox.
Studded with high-profile guests (Jeremih, J. Cole, Big Sean, Busta Rhymes, Janelle Monáe, B.o.B., Erykah Badu) and hometown favorites alike (Raury, BJ the Chicago Kid, Noname Gypsy, Francis Starlite, Jamila Woods), the album has a decidedly nonlinear feel. Rather than follow any particular plot, its brassy jazz fusion/neo-soul/hip-hop tracks seem to expand outwards in a haze of warm, welcoming vibes. At times, it feels like basking in the comforting summer sunshine; at others, it’s like gulping a mouthful of iced tea and tasting its refreshing sweetness on your lips. All in all, ‘Surf’ is 51 minutes and 34 seconds of unabashedly positive, unapologetically self-affirming, feel-good music.
- Yasmine Hassan
#5 “Sound & Color" Alabama Shakes
If you’re like me, you went into the summer with a distant memory of Alabama Shakes from their song “Hold On” off “Boys & Girls” (2012). The song was good, sure, with Brittany Howard’s soul-drenched voice a clear standout, but the rest of the album didn’t really follow up, and for a regular non-country/Southern rock fan there wasn’t much reason to keep them in regular rotation.
Which is what made their April release “Sound & Color,” such a brilliant surprise. It’s the product of a year spent in the studio, and sees the band leaning more into the R&B and alternative sides of rock. The title track is an arresting intro to the new direction of the group, beginning with light xylophone chords before transitioning into a dreamlike melody. Throughout the album, Howard twists and stretches her voice into a shriek, a whisper, a sigh. The instrumentation plays between lo-fi lead guitar and energetic drum lines. It’s both fascinating and frequently heart-wrenching to listen to, from the pleading “This Feeling” to the wistful final track, “Over My Head.”
- Marcelo Rivera-Figueroa
#4 "Carrie & Lowell" Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan’s 12th, Carrie & Lowell, is a sad, deeply impactful, ethereal journey through his grief. When comparing this album to the rest of Steven’s discography, he appears to be moving in a less experimental, more acoustic direction than his earlier work, which had more sing-songy pop tracks like on Illinoise, or went very far into a chaotic experimental area on The Age of Adz. Carrie & Lowell is a raw insight into the complex range of emotion which Sufjan experiences in remembering his childhood and mourning his mother's passing. The authenticity and emotional depth of this album sets it apart from his other albums.
- Kaila Johnson
#3 "In Colour" Jamie xx
This atmospheric debut album was 5 years in the making, and manages to separate Jamie xx as an impressive independent producer while still honoring the pieces of his older work that were so successful. Jamie remains linked to his collaborative indie electro production group, The xx, in the best of ways, through collaborating with fellow bandmates on Stranger in a Room, and, arguably the crowning achievement of this album, Loud Places. In Colour shows his continual dedication to UK house, yet avoids exclusivity with hints of his obvious influences from American rap and international garage dance style. In referencing a 1980’s UK sitcoms on one track, and then featuring Young Thug on the next, this album perfectly synthesizes old yet still incredibly influential styles of music with his innovative and experimental style of music.
- Kaila Johnson
#2 "Currents" Tame Impala
Right from the opening seconds of “Let It Happen,” two things were abundantly clear about Currents: first, that this was not the Tame Impala we once knew, and second, that it was an absolute gem of an album. The decade-length leap from the ‘60’s psychedelia of Lonerism to the disco-influx on Currents transformed Tame Impala from a somewhat niche artist into one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Kevin Parker effortlessly fuses a newfound love for synthesizers and dancefloors with his long-established ear for hooks and his Lennon-esque vocals on the new LP; songs like “Eventually” and “The Less I Know the Better” demonstrate that his drastic departure of sound was absolutely worth the risk. Currents is a bold, gargantuan record, and it’s earned him a headlining slot on festivals for years to come and the runner-up spot on our list.
- Michael O’Neill
#1 "To Pimp a Butterfly" Kendrick Lamar
With the March release of To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar firmly established himself as one of the best MCs - and musicians, for that matter - of this era. He’s moved one giant step closer towards joining the pantheon of hip-hop greats with a record that is colossal in every way, whether it be in terms of runtime, sound, or ambition. On TPAB, Kendrick tackles everything from colorism ("Complexion") to classism ("Institutionalized") to his own insecurities about being an influential public figure ("Mortal Man") with energy and dexterity. He gives an incredibly raw performance, baring his soul on particularly emotional tracks like “u” and “The Blacker the Berry” while also preaching self-love on “i.” It’s a new take on the being-famous-and-not-knowing-how-to-deal-with-it angle, and sees the Compton rapper call on his family, contemporaries, hometown, and faith for support. The Kendrick Lamar we knew from good kid, m.A.A.d city has grown up, and the result is one of the most intricate, most loaded, and most compelling pieces of music this decade.
- Michael O’Neill