016: The Essential 15 Albums of 2015
A round-up of the top 15 albums released this year that I feel had the biggest impacts on society (and on me), had the freshest sounds, and helped push the artists into new musical realms.
15. The Mouse Outfit - Step Steadier
My favorite on the British hip-hop scene this year, Step Steadier ticks all the boxes of funky, tight production, solid guests and thoughtful, clever lyrics. A really positive energy comes out of this album, one you can use to dance, chill or simply nod your head to. British hip-hop making international waves.
14. DRKWAV - The Purge
John Medeski on keys, Skerik on sax, Adam Deitch on drums. Can a line-up get any better? This one-off album from the funk/experimental/jazz supergroup takes you for a ride. At times quite noisy and slightly abrasive, and at others groovy, funky and sly. These are some of the most progressive, modern jazz musicians in a room together.
13. Tame Impala - Currents
The third (and my favorite) studio album by Tame Impala brings some dreamy vocals, psychedelic interludes, fuzzy synths and an overall desire to slow things down rather than speed them up. This is a good thing.
12. Gilles Peterson Presents: Sun Ra and His Arkestra - To Those of Earth...and Other Worlds
One of the greatest selectors of our time curating a compilation of delightful, 'cosmic' jazz recorded by one of the most expansive, prolific, (strangest?) musical geniuses of the 20th century. Deep cuts from the man from Saturn. Essential listening.
11. Khruangbin - The Universe Smiles Upon You
Hailing from Houston, Texas, but tinged with streaks of 60's Thai psychedelia and retro funk, Khruangbin is worth your time. After a series of EPs, The Universe Smiles Upon You is their debut LP and makes a strong case for leaving work, finding a quiet beach and never looking back.
10. Amara TourÇ - Amara TourÇ (1973-1980)
'Latin music, is it really foreign to us Africans? I don’t think so. Listen to the drums, to the rhythm. It all seems very close to us - it feels like it’s our own culture' says Amara TourÇ, discussing the sounds heard on this compilation of singles that was collected and re-issued this year by Analogue Africa. Funk and soul connecting Cuba and West Africa.
9. Mbongwana Star - From Kinshasa
Members from the late Staff Benda Bilili compile a new ensemble and some very fresh sounds. Driving, unapologetic rhythms and vocals that sound like they might be coming from a pirate radio station make this album memorable and unique. In my mind, this is a Congolese gem.
8. Kamasi Washington - The Epic
It is albums like this that will help hook the youth of today on jazz. Washington's sound resonates as a vital, contemporary voice of where music may be going, be it jazz, hip-hop or electronic music. A contributor to Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp a Butterfly', Washington knows how to bridge stylistic gaps and attract diverse audiences with his expansive sound. 'The Epic' is exactly what it says it is: epic.
7. HNNY - Sunday
Swedish producer HNNY delivers his first full-length LP, drenched with hazy, soulful beats, emotional samples and a sense that music does not need to be complex in order to strike a lasting chord with the listener. The sound is mature but playful, at times minimal but always fresh.
6. Daymé Arocena - Nueva Era
Pushing Cuban music into the 21st century with style and grace, this album pairs traditional Cuban styles with contemporary R&B, jazz and other global sounds. Arocena's debut album is soulful gold.
5. Damiano von Erckert - Also Known as Good
The best 'electronic dance' album of the year. Residing in Cologne, Germany, Damiano von Erckert approaches dance music with a hip-hop mindset, with a bursting appreciation of funk and soul, sampling, and quality percussion that often make this album feel more like a funk band mixed with J Dilla-esq samples than a modern German DJ. With an exploding line-up of guest producers, musicians and DJ's (Tito Wun, Hodini, Retrogott to name a few) this album will get you groovin'.
4. Nicola Cruz - Prender el Alma
Debut album from Ecuadorian percussionist, producer and DJ Nicola Cruz is a journey through time and space. Fusing traditional Andean instruments and rhythms with contemporary production tools, voices and aesthetics creates a sound that transports you to some strange, modern Incan-empire of a parallel universe. 'Prender el Alma' helps define the beautiful state of modern South American music.
3. Vakula - Voyage to Arcturus
Deeply philosophical, beautifully presented and impossible to categorize, 'A Voyage to Arcturus' will wash over you and create an atmosphere like no other. The easiest album to listen to of 2015. Press play, sit back, and let the music do the rest.
2. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
What can I say? This album changed the way hip-hop albums will be made, talked about and thought of forever. The voice of a movement, a star-studded cast, a bridge between old and new, this album brings it all and then some. Kendrick and company prove that hip-hop is far from dead, in fact it's pounding at your door.
1. Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon
'Choose Your Weapon' - the mesmerizing, complex, dangerously cool LP from what is possibly the most idiosyncratic band I have ever heard in my life is the best album of 2015. From Melbourne, Australia, Hiatus Kaiyote delivers polyrhythmic funk, neo-soul and unique psychedelia that will make you question everything you know about music and everything you've ever listened to before. Seriously.
Abra - Rose [Listen here]
DJ Khalab & Baba Sissoko - Khalab & Baba [Listen here]