Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Playing along at home with Pitchfork's top 50 albums of 2015


Last year I modified the process of this prediction so that I’d start by estimating, on the day prior to Pitchfor­k’s release of their annual Best Albums list, which 50 albums would populate the list—and in which order. I feel like last year was a notable success, given that it wasn’t a complete disaster. To reiterate, I have seen the Pitchfork list for albums worth Honorable Mention, but that’s it—as was the case during my songs list read-through, I basically have had to force myself off social media and most of the music-related internet in order to not have anything spoiled. OK! A few of the best contenders from the many, many albums I had to nix from this because I had to cut something: Thank Your Lucky Stars; Sprinter; Apocalypse, girl; Poison Season; E•MO•TION; Jenny Death; and Ivy Tripp.

The “Maybe 50” for 2015:

50. Beach Slang – The Things We Do to Find People … 8.0 NM
49. Archy Marshall – A New Place 2 Drown 8.6
48. Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife 7.8 NM
47. Erykah Badu – But You Caint Use My Phone 8.1 NM
46. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside 8.0 NM
45. Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass 8.3
44. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material 8.0 NM
43. Kelela – Hallucinogen EP 8.3
42. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy 8.1 NM
41. Thundercat – The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam 8.3
40. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone? 8.0 NM
39. Chvrches – Every Open Eye 7.7 NM
38. Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs 8.6
37. Jeremih – Late Nights: The Album 8.3
36. Baroness – Purple 8.5
35. Nao – February 15 EP 8.4
34. Floating Points – Elaenia 8.4
33. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment 8.3
32. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down 8.4
31. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness 8.4
30. Empress Of – Me 8.2
29. Young Thug – Barter 6 8.4
28. Shamir – Ratchet 8.3
27. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier 8.4
26. Arca – Mutant 8.4
25. Kamasi Washington – The Epic 8.6
24. Beach House – Depression Cherry 8.4
23. Jlin – Dark Energy 8.5
22. Holly Herndon – Platform 8.7
21. Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School 8.6
20. Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon 8.5
19. Dr. Dre – Compton 8.8
18. Joanna Newsom – Divers 8.5
17. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late 8.3
16. Björk - Vulnicura 8.6
15. FKA twigs – M3LL155X 8.6
14. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love 8.7
13. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper 8.7
12. Deafheaven – New Bermuda 9.0
11. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sit 8.6
10. Miguel – Wildheart 8.9
9. Future – Dirty Sprite 2 8.4
8. Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete 8.7
7. Grimes – Art Angels 8.5
6. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear 8.8
5. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06 8.8
4. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell 9.3
3. Jamie xx – In Colour 9.3
2. Tame Impala – Currents 9.3
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly 9.3


50. Dawn Richard – Blackheart
Alright! Off to a great start. I haven’t heard of Dawn Richard. I do have a number of “maybe” slots reserved for the bottom 10 of this list, so it’s not too bad a surprise to see something new here. (not listed)

49. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
So underrated! This reminds me that I still haven’t really dug into Matthew E. White’s discography. (-4)

48. Shamir – Ratchet
Wow! I was expecting Shamir’s album to be one of the few each year that’s bumped up to the 20s or 30s from a low 8 score. This is a bungle—almost as bad a mistake as my worst last year (two picks which were 22 places off). (-20)

47. DJ Koze – DJ-Kicks
I was very close to putting this on the list given his inclusion on the tracks list, but I’m just not 100% into the idea of listing a mix in the albums list. (not listed)

46. Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
Wow, here’s another early upset. I suppose I should have seen this coming in that despite earning a great review upon release TJJ didn’t have a single song on this year’s songs list. Here’s a new low—the furthest I’ve ever been in making these predictions. (-26)

45. Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs
Here’s a textbook example of a glowing review with zero follow-up in news reporting getting a placement in the lowest ten slots on the list. (-7)

44. Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show
An early contender for this list that I begrudgingly removed (to make space for what, Beach Slang? What a mistake! (not listed)

43. Destroyer – Poison Season
And this, which was the final thing I swapped out from slot #50 in order to make space for Archy Marshall. (not listed)

42. Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl
Why am I even trying! (not listed)

41. Jeremih – Late Nights: The Album
I still haven’t heard this album, but given the blurb I am eager to. I’m going to play this album while reading the rest of the list. (-4)

40. Jlin – Dark Energy
Noo! Bummer, Pitchfork. This was your chance to not blow it. I didn’t place Jlin’s album in the slot DJ Rashad’s Double Cup took in 2013 for no reason—Placing Dark Energy at least as high would have been a great opportunity to A. Show a terrific album respect / B. Honor that a WOC from Gary can make [at least] as substantial footwork as the most popular dude making it in Chicago / C. Indicate that your site’s [very selective] reporting on footwork in the past three years hasn’t been hype-riding. All respect & RIP to Rashad, but he wasn’t the only person to make great footwork music. (-17)

39. Holly Herndon – Platform
Um, everything I just said about Dark Energy, again. (-17)

38. Arca – Mutant
Alright, Pitchfork. I see you. You’re say, “It’s not just Jlin—we’re just not feeling very adventurous this year. Don’t worry! We’ll have token 0PN up top—but not that close to the top.” (-12)

37. Empress of – Me
Honestly, what is going to be in the top half of this list? (-7)

36. Janet Jackson – Unbreakable
I had JJ in my earlier draft of this list, but I removed her because I didn’t remember Pitchfork paying her much attention outside of giving very positive words to the terrific “No Sleeep”. (not listed)

35. Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School
See #37 (-14)

34. Carly Rae Jepsen - E•MO•TION
Thank you! Like Janet’s album, I had this in my earlier draft of predictions, but removed it because P4k panned it in their review. This was one of my very favorite piece of music to come from 2015. I’m happy to see it here. (not listed)

33. Archy Marshall – A New Place 2 Drown
Hm, it’s fair, but I find difficulty in ranking an album that came out less than a week before this list at the 33rd best record of the year. This is why we should be making best-of lists the following year, but that doesn’t set sites up for more ad revenue, so what do I know. (+16)

32. Dr. Dre – Compton
I’m happy for this album’s placement in this list. It’s ok. (-13)

31. Kelela – Hallucinogen EP
Nice! Wow, I really blew it on this list this year. I didn’t even know how good I had it in 2014! (+12)

30. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
I saw Deerhunter last night and it was a real experience. The new songs sounded great. I hope his back feels better soon. (-3)

29. Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife
Rae Sremmurd’s album so greatly overshadows their live performances (sorry) that I don’t even mind it any more—instead of catching them the next time they come through your town (and I never say this about anyone and don’t even mean it as an insult) I recommend playing this album straight through while jumping around to it at your house. (+19)

28. Beach House – Depression Cherry
Depression Cherry was a fantastic record. I think (/hope, lol) that the wild gaps between predictions and actual placement on this list will tighten up as we enter the top half of this list. (-4)

27. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
How can Sleater-Kinney reunite, have an amazing year, and put out a terrific record that ranks in the upper 20s while Aphex Twin and My Bloody Valentine get their come-back records at #3 and #4 on their years’ lists, respectively? Bogus. (-13)

26. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
It’s a long fall from the top, guys. Hope you enjoyed your album sales! Wait, Sunbather really didn’t sell that well? Welp, sorry! (-14)

25. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
There’s got to be some reason why this year’s predictions are so far off. Maybe I was too reliant this year on comparing review scores. (+21)

24. Thundercat – The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam
The first time I tried to play this on my streaming service of choice, I was bummed that there must be some rights issue that only allowed me a few of the album’s tracks. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that that was the whole thing. (+17)

23. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down
Track titles on this album are fire. (+9)

22. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
A sure victim of the long gap between release date and list creation. Where would this album have placed if it came out on Archy’s release date? Or in July? (-9)

21. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment
The best songs on Surf are so good that I can almost get behind this ranking despite the fact that there’s so much fat to cut on this album. (+12)

OK, so this has been a bit of a mess, but there’s not much room for switch-outs at this point. 15 albums from my forecasted top 20 remain, and enough great albums weren’t included in the bottom 30 (Julia Holter, Floating Points, The Epic, Barter 6) that I imagine there’s pretty slim room for surprises at this point.

20. Floating Points – Elaenia
Aside from E•MO•TION or Bury Me At Makeout Creek, this is the album I earnestly played for the most people this year. It’s been a very long time coming, and I could see FP becoming a favorite artist of mine if he continues to release albums like this. (+14)

19. Future – Dirty Sprite 2
Future was robbed!!! (-10)

18. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
Another of my very favorite releases of the year, this was a wonderful step in her career output. (+13)

17. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Finally, my first spot-on placement! (0)

16. FKA twigs – M3LL155X
Hitting a stride… (-1)

15. Björk – Vulnicura
On second thought, it’d have been wrong to place twigs over Björk considering the unidirectional influence at stake with those artists.

14. Young Thug – Barter 6
This breaks the stride, but it does remove the possibility of this cracking my hardly-touched top 11. It’s better that way! At this point, we just need to get Joanna and Kamasi in here. (+15)

13. Joanna Newsom – Divers
Here’s the first of those! Unfortunately I did get the feeling she wouldn’t get a top 10 slot this year. (+5)

12. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Aha! I thought this’d be higher for sure. Also, lol at Pitchfork being the one to call Josh Tillman “blah” in this blurb. (-12)

11. Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
Another from the top ten! Considering this lists’s scope, I can’t say I’m too surprised. (-3)

With only ten entries left and nine from my forecasted top 34 records, which album will be the surprise inclusion? Adele? Majical Cloudz? Erykah Badu? I’m expecting someone major-label, because that’s how Pitchfork tends to work. Kacey Musgraves???

10. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Q: Does this bode well for jazz’s inclusion on future Pitchfork coverage? A: snark snark but really (+15)

9. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
WAIT! Something just occurred to me. Is Pitchfork going to include Black Messiah on this list? It’s a worthy contender, and a top-tenner to be sure, but they set a clear precedent when Beyonce’s s/t did not rank on 2014’s list. Beyonce came out on 12/13; Black Messiah came out on 12/15. To include it here would be easily the most exciting thing about this list.  (+2)

8. Miguel – Wildheart
Yeah Miguel! Not bad, not bad, which also brings us very close to the end of the list  and my initial suggestions. Any differences greater than 1 at this point will be pretty exciting to me. (+2)

7. D’Angelo / The Vanguard – Black Messiah

6. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Wow, that got a little wild! Good to have something quiet to follow that up with. I want to hear a Sufjan Stevens + Majical Cloudz collab in 2016. (-2)

5.  Tame Impala – Currents
Wow, this is a big surprise! I thought for sure that Pitchfork would latch onto this for the #2 spot. It seemed for a while that one song from this album would get Best New Track each week. (-3)

4. Vince Staples – Summertime ‘06
Everyone’s talking about how great Vince Staples is and I’m just happy someone finally made an album about the season I spent in Fond du Lac at marching band practices. The difference between our summers is striking. Vince was A+++ live last week. Highly recommend catching him next time you can. (+1)

3.  Grimes – Art Angels
Spoiler Alert: This list’s blurb for Art Angels kicks off with lyrics from Kill V. Maim that I haven’t ever understood and have been trying to decode without looking up lyrics for the past few weeks. Oh well! I’m very happy to see this ranking #3 for the year after its relative pan (8.5, smh) in the album review.

2. Jamie xx – In Colour
This album is immaculate. Listening to it straight through (loudly, if possible) it’s clear that this could easily be the crowning musical achievement in a year that didn’t have a release like To Pimp a Butterfly. (+1)

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
It could have been amazing; it ended up nearly perfect. To Pimp a Butterfly isn’t a fitting soundtrack for 2015—it is 2015. Universally held in iTunes libraries across the world, this album is a key complement to the Ta-Nehisi Coates far too many people “haven’t gotten to yet.” It’s essential for white people to work to be cognizant of the myriad dimensions of African American cultures in our country so that we can collectively work to stop the direct and systemic efforts currently we’ve put in place to disadvantage them. It’s hardly the first piece of music to address Blackness in a revolutionary way (though far too many white fans will regard it as such), but To Pimp a Butterfly is a truly striking achievement in the canon of Black art created during this decade.

As a product it is impenetrable; more than with albums like 2010’s P4k top pick My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I just can’t imagine starting with a blank slate after good kid, m.A.A.d city and ending up with this record. It could have been so many different things, many of which could have been as relevant and essential as this album turned out to be. What other records could Kendrick Lamar have written for this year? Surely the answer isn’t “none”. Here’s a New Year’s toast towards Kendrick’s future direction, but not after first spending yet another 79 minutes immersed in the world of this album: our own. (0)

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