Album Review: February 29 by Liza

February 29 by Liza

The debut EP from Toronto-based R&B singer Liza is decidedly without winter’s chill.  Clocking in at 13 minutes, February 29 is an effective presentation of Liza’s warm vocals and her ability to move effortlessly through pitch perfect melodies. February 29 showcases her technical precision rather than her range, favouring simple arrangements sung with mastery. As a result, the production emphasizes her voice. Absent are heavy synths and bass drops, as there is no need to compensate for vocal shortcomings. Instead, the listener is left in intimate reach of Liza.

Album opener “Let You Know What” is a mellow piano and synth track about desire. Liza’s mellow vocals are at odds with the intensity of the language she uses to express this lust. “I’ve been fiending for you,” she sings smoothly, quite unlike a woman who is actually fiending for her lover. On “You,” she sounds her longing in scales, articulating desire through both her words and a mounting crescendo.

In contrast with the EP’s first two tracks, which focus on Liza’s feelings in relation to her would-be lover, “All Alone” is introspective. Synth-forward “All Alone” is the EP’s lyrical standout. On this track, Liza describes feeling alone in a crowded room by using the month of February as a metaphor for her loneliness. Though this moment is the only explicit reference to the EP’s title, Liza does not extend the metaphor. In the second half of the song, she relates this alienation to the pressures felt in school and at home: to do better and to meet the demands of others. Despite the song title, Liza is not alone in her feelings of isolation; “All Alone” is equally relatable and personal.

On the album outro “Ride,” Liza returns to the theme of desire from the EP’s opening tracks. But this time, she no longer seeks the lustful relationship she describes on “You;” instead, she seeks a relationship built upon the slow bloom of love. “Ride” is the most instrumentally complex track on the album. Its style differs from the other three tracks and their predominantly electronic production. Quiet guitars and layers of percussion float through the song. As the best showcase of Liza’s vocal range, “Ride” is a fitting outro to the EP.

With one EP under her belt, Liza is on her way to establishing herself as a highly regarded singer-songwriter. She writes with commendable frankness and honesty. However, her style is overly simplistically at times, which lessens the intimacy of her expression. Creative production and further development of her writing style will push her vocals even further and encourage a deeper connection between the artist and her listeners.

This review was originally published in the April 2017 issue of Discorder Magazine.

Song of the Day: Ride by Liza

OR Into the Black by Chromatics

USS on Their Momentum Towards Connection Through Music

Photo from Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker

One day after the release of New World Alphabet, Ashley Buchholz of USS(Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker) feels so buoyant he’s at risk of floating away.

“I’ve been having to wear steel-toed shoes to make sure that I stay on the ground,” says Buchholz. “I’m in quite an ethereal [state]. This is the byproduct of catharsis, this lightness.”

Even though New World Alphabet is USS’s fifth album, the excitement Buchholz feels differs from their previous releases. His excitement is a testament to the work he and his bandmate Jason Parsons put into New World Alphabet. Now that the album is complete, Buchholz describes his emotions with metaphors of air and water. His predominant feeling is awe: “Now life is just floating.”

New World Alphabet represents a creative turning point for the Toronto-based duo. The album’s sound is the fusion of two-step, acoustic rock, and hip hop that is USS’s signature. The theme is a departure from the predominantly inward focus of their previous albums (the self-destructive mentality on their 2014 single “This Is The Best” comes to mind). Instead, the focus on New World Alphabet is external, with a goal of fostering connection. “Who’s With Me” is USS’s anthem for togetherness.

Conceptually, New World Alphabet begins after one resolves to make a change. Buchholz says, “[The album] boils down to the statement that precludes any great, true change in one’s life: ‘I’ve had enough’… All of a sudden you start acting differently, and you start talking differently, and you start being around different people and your life starts to change.” From there, says Buchholz, one starts to use language differently to communicate a changed perspective. This new language is a new world alphabet.

The shift from an inward to outward focus is indicative of Buchholz’s changed mindset. In USS’s 2008 single “Hollow Point Sniper Hyperbole,” Buchholz needs someone to save him from his sinking ship. Almost ten years later, he wants to act like a lighthouse for those who are feeling isolated by their depression and anxiety. “I want to be a lighthouse instead of lost at sea,” he says. “I’m tired of being the one who’s lost at sea.”

Buchholz is a self-professed introvert who, for a time, isolated himself because he felt uncomfortable around other people. Eventually he realized, “We get so sick when it’s just about us.” He made a decision to change his mindset and in so doing, he felt an energy that became the catalyst for his desire to connect. He says, “There’s this point in the process when it stops being so much about you… [It changes] to ‘How can I make you feel better? How can I help you?’ This whole album is informed by that momentum.”

A few dates into a Canadian tour that will take them across the country, Buchholz already knows what he hopes USS will accomplish in their performances: he wants to foster the maximum connection. For Buchholz and Parsons, the tour is an “opportunity to be able to connect with people.” When he performs, whether he is playing older USS material or songs from New World Alphabet, “I’m singing those songs to people that need that vibration, that comforting vibration.” His hope is that everyone – himself and Parsons included – come away from the show with feelings of togetherness and joy.

This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of BeatRoute Magazine.

Album Review: We Are The Halluci Nation by A Tribe Called Red

We Are the Halluci Nation is the most ambitious and cohesive album from A Tribe Called Red (or, ATCR) to date. The album is also their most explicitly political. On previous releases, their medium was their message: ATCR amalgamated traditional and contemporary culture to force their audience to rethink their perceptions of Indigenous Canadians. On We Are the Halluci Nation, they explicitly address the damages caused by colonialism.

The album is centered upon the concept of the Halluci Nation, a concept which activist John Trudell explains during the album’s titular and opening track. The Halluci Nation challenges the system into which Indigenous people have been forced. They oppose the Alie Nation, the system created by colonizers in attempts to force assimilation. The dichotomy between the two nations is reinforced by author Joseph Boyden’s interludes. He speaks as a prisoner incarcerated in the Alie Nation Correctional Facility, ruminating on the trauma caused by residential schools and colonial projects.

Halluci Nation is also a term for the collective of artists and activists ATCR brought together on their album. The DJ trio reunited with their frequent collaborators Northern Voice and Black Bear to create the fusion of electronic and pow wow dance music for which they are renowned. Tanya Tagaq is featured on “Sila,” in a track that melds electronic reverbs with Inuit throat singing. The Halluci Nation also includes Indigenous artists from around the world. Australian beatmakers OKA lend their reggae-infused didgeridoo to “Maima Koopi.” Swedish-Sami artist Maxida Märak’s joik-singing takes centre stage on laidback track “Eanan.” Colombian artist Lido Pimienta’s soaring vocals make “The Light” haunting, especially after the bass drops and her voice become dissonant.

With the support of the Halluci Nation, ATCR articulates their mission to eradicate the legacy of colonialism and the damages it has caused. On “The Virus,” MC and poet Saul Williams speaks to the many shapes that the virus of colonialism takes, and the diverse people the virus impacts as colonialism attempts to impose divisions. The Halluci Nation, however, does not recognize the limitations of borders.

Album single “R.E.D.” exemplifies the best of We Are the Halluci Nation. The track features Yasiin Bey, Narcy and Black Bear in a combination of hip-hop, pow wow and electronic dance music. With A Tribe Called Red as the producers, the Halluci Nation proposes a vision for a new society. Bey says of the shared vision, “[I]t was a dream / Now it’s a living thing.”

Song of the Day: “R.E.D.” by A Tribe Called Red feat. Yasiin Bey, Narcy and Black Bear

This review was published in the October 2016 issue of Discorder Magazine.

Best Albums of 2015

I have listened to over a hundred albums and EPs released in 2015, ranging from commercially and critically successful albums to obscure EPs. I have listened to the good, the bad and the inexplicable. Some albums I have listened to on repeat while others I left unfinished. A few weeks into 2016, I have compiled my list of my favourite albums of the year. I call them the best but really they are the albums I liked best, and the albums I most wanted to share. This is a list of forty albums and ten songs in alphabetical order so they’re easy to sort through. Some albums are repeats from my list of the best albums of 2015 so far, others are albums I returned to after I made my favourite songs list. I listened to Time to Go Home by Chastity Belt months ago and came back to it late in the year. Now the whole album is powerfully evocative. I also included a number of albums released late in the year, like Grimes’ Art Angels, and albums I didn’t get around to listening to until late in the year, like Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love. I made a full list of albums I listened to, both so I could keep track of the albums and so you would know that I didn’t include I Love You, Honeybear because I can’t take Father John Misty, not because I haven’t listened to the album. I included a Spotify playlist below so you can listen along.

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes – “Gimme All Your Love”

On Sound & Color, Brittany Howard‘s powerhouse vocals combine with the Southern blues revival sound Alabama Shakes became known for on Boys & Girls and electric, psychedelic instrumentation. The result is a dynamic and surprisingly modern sound. Alabama Shakes has received the most recognition this year for Howard’s ecstatic vocal climaxes on “Don’t Wanna Fight.” My favourite is “Gimme All Your Love” for the guitar solos and organ flourishes.

Dogs at Bay by Bad Dreems – “Paradise”

Adelaide, Australia based Bad Dreems made one of my favourite rock albums of the year. Their lyrical themes are quintessentially Australian, especially on “Bogan Pride.” Their garage sound is reminiscent of great classic rock and grunge rock bands. Rather than make Dogs at Bay predictable, it makes their songs sound familiar and intimate. “Paradise” reminds me of an Aussie rock rendition of the chorus of “Take On Me” by a-ha. (That’s about as high a compliment as I can give.) Bonus track: Bad Dreems did a great rock cover of “Can’t Feel My Face” for triple j’s Like A Version.

Depression Cherry by Beach House – “Sparks”

Beach House’s Depression Cherry sounds like music made on the edge of a dream, from the effervescence of “Levitation” to the melancholy vocals of “Days of Candy.” “Sparks” maintains an ethereal quality, while the drums and distortion led the song weight. The result is the most emotive song on the album.

Amanecer by Bomba Estéreo – “Fiesta”

Truthfully, I can’t speak more than ten words of Spanish so I can say little about the quality of Bomba Estéreo’s lyrics. However, even my lack of lyrical understanding doesn’t limit my enjoyment of Amanecer. The Bogotá, Colombia-based band’s name translates to stereo band but refers to a “a really cool, awesome, bad ass party.”  Amanecer is psychedelic cumbia or dance-oriented music with a full colour sound. On “Fiesta,” Bomba Estéreo’s party music is at its best. Bonus track: they remixed “Fiesta” with a Will Smith rap feature.

“Trying” by Bully

“Trying” is the strongest song from Tennessee-based band Bully’s debut album Feels Like. Vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Alicia Bognanno’s vocals are at their most forceful on the howling chorus of “Trying.” I like Bully’s grunge sound as much as I like Bognanno’s self-deprecating lyrics: “I question everything, my focus, my figure, my sexuality.”

Time to Go Home by Chastity Belt – “Time to Go Home”

Chastity Belt makes music with a surf rock sound and present day riot grrrl lyrics. On Time to Go Home they convey pain, poignancy and apathy all at once from Julia Shapiro’s vocals the chorus of “Drone’ — “He was just another man trying to teach me something” — to Lydia Lund’s softer vocals and questions on “Lydia.” The title track that closes the album is Chastity Belt’s strongest. The backing vocals float over the bass while the tempo changes and the urgency of Shapiro’s vocals rises to near panic.

When I posted this album cover as the lead photo for My Favourite Songs of 2015 So Far, my father initially thought it was a photo of me. He said, “I’m glad that isn’t you in the bucket hat and ghost sheet.” I replied, “I truly wish it was.”

Abyss by Chelsea Wolfe – “Iron Moon”

What makes Abyss compelling is the juxtaposition between Chelsea Wolfe’s vocals and the experimental metal instrumentation that back them. The album opens with the foreboding, distorted percussion of “Carrion Flowers,” and continues with a compelling mix of lightness and heaviness. On “Iron Moon,” Wolfe’s vocals are the sound of beauty echoing from the darkness. The song makes stunning use of moments of silence broken by dissonance. Thanks Patrick for introducing me to Abyss!

Traveller by Chris Stapleton – “Parachute”

Grammy nominee Chris Stapleton made my favourite country of the year. Traveller mixes country instrumentation with blues elements for a rich mix of sounds. The album opens with the traditional country sound of “Traveller,” made fresh by Stapleton’s wife Morgane Hayes-Stapleton’s backing vocals. “Parachute” has my favourite lyrics on the album, both affecting and quintessentially country: “You only need a drink when the whiskey is the only thing that you have left to hold.”

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett – “Dead Fox”

Melbourne, Australia artist Courtney Barnett has been nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys and for good reason. Barnett’s deadpan delivery, guitar riffs and dexterous lyricism make her music remarkable. Sometimes the album is caught up in its own cleverness but on its best tracks, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is witty and relatable. Barnett has received the most recognition for “Pedestrian at Best” because it’s her loudest and most quotable song — “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you.” “Dead Fox” is my favourite for Barnett’s riffs and truly funny descriptions of quotidian life and highway traffic.

Black Messiah by D’Angelo – “Ain’t That Easy”

Black Messiah is D’Angelo’s first album in fourteen years, released in mid December 2014 but  included on this list because it deserves more recognition. The lyrics are D’Angelo’s most overtly political in an album that is as much about black struggle against white supremacy as it is about love and sex. D’Angelo said the album was inspired by the people around the world who rise up and decide to make change happen. Questlove, who is featured on “The Charade” and “Another Life,” said of the album, “It’s beautiful, it’s ugly, it’s truth, it’s lies. It’s everything.” On “The Charade,” the sound is deep and the lyrics are at their most powerful. On “Ain’t That Easy,” D’Angelo mixes his smooth vocals with distorted guitar and walking bass.

“Omen” by Disclosure feat. Sam Smith

“Omen” from Disclosure’s album Caracal is one of my favourite pop sounds of the year. Sam Smith’s vocals perfectly compliment the melodic chorus, and a clapping rhythm maintains the song’s dynamic. “Omen” is an even stronger collaboration with Smith than “Latch” from Disclosure’s previous album.

Surf by Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment – “Slip Slide”

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment offer a blend of jazz, soul and hip hop. The band is made up of Nico Segal, a trumpet player who performs under the alias Donnie Trumpet, Peter Cottontale, Nate Fox, Greg Landfair Jr. and Chance the Rapper. Surf has the energy and lyrical play of Chance the Rapper’s best works plus fantastic jazz instrumentation. On an album full of fun tracks, “Slip Slide” stands out for its playfully harmonized chorus and guest appearances from B.o.B, BJ the Chicago Kid, Busta Rhymes, Janelle Monáe and Ady Suleiman.

“Hotline Bling” by Drake

Drake undoubtedly wins the award most memed song of the year. All jokes aside, “Hotline Bling” is worth listening to for its infectious tropical rhythms and Drake’s lyrics about his own damaged ego. Even better than the song is the video, complete with Drake’s dance moves and surprisingly charming exchanges with the women around him.

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late by Drake – “Know Yourself”

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late made Drake the year’s most memed artist even before the video for “Hotline Bling” was released. (I swear I read a review that described Drake as the sad Batman of the hip hop industry.) The surprise mixtape is as quotable as Drake’s previous releases but is a much darker album. The verses on “Know Yourself” are at once confident and paranoid, accompanied by heavy sounds and claustrophobic beats.  Though I doubt anyone actively calls Toronto The 6, everyone in the GTA has said, “Runnin’ through The 6 with my woes” at least once.

“Skank” by Duckwrth and The Kickdrums

Duckwrth is an inventive rapper and singer from Compton, California who released a solid debut album in 2015, Nowhere. The album has a number of high points, from the beat drop on “Lambo (Pt. 2)” to Duckwrth’s braggadocious/self-deprecating interjections on “Unagi.” Duckworth and The Kickdrums are at their best on “Skank,” Nowhere‘s most danceable track.

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside by Earl Sweatshirt – “Grief”

On I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl Sweatshirt further develops his dexterous lyricism while moving away from his Odd Future persona, proclivities and peers. His lyrics are articulate and honest. Earl continues the retreat into his psyche he began on Doris but with greater focus. (Gone are Taco Bell references and Tyler, the Creator skits.) On “Grief,” Earl is at his introspective best. As Rolling Stone‘s reviewer effectively said, “It’s amazing that music so claustrophobic can be this engrossing.”

But You Caint Use My Phone (Mixtape) by Erykah Badu – “Hello”

Erykah Badu’s But You Caint Use My Phone (Mixtape) is a spin off of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” complete with Badu’s remix of the song on “Cel U Lar Device.” At times, the jokes are obscure or ridiculous — the robotic “Dial’Afreaq” or the answering machine interlude “I’ll Call U Back.” Overall, But You Caint Use My Phone (Mixtape) is a fun and clever parody with undeniably strong moments. When Badu and Andre 3000 harmonize on “Hello,” it doesn’t matter that their use of the word squirrel is inexplicable; the effect of their combined voices is beautiful.

TOO by FIDLAR – “West Coast”

On their sophomore album TOO, Los Angeles-based punk bank FIDLAR adds greater lyrical depth to their skate punk sound. The album’s low points are nearly unbearable, particularly the spoken interludes on “Sober.” However, brutally honest lyrics from frontman Zac Carper’s about his drug and alcohol addiction on “Overdose” and a consistently solid punk sound make the album worth listening to. “West Coast” is a stand out track for its upbeat sound and beautiful disaster lyrics.

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine – “Queen of Peace”

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is my favourite of Florence + The Machine’s albums. Florence Welsh tempers her tendency towards melodrama without losing the swelling vocals and orchestral arrangements that are the group’s signatures. Her emotion on the second verse of “What Kind of Man” –  frustration rather than her usual unbridled passion – have greater emotional resonance than the moments when she is lost in allegory. “Queen of Peace” is my favourite for Welsh’s euphoric vocals.

Art Angels by Grimes – “Kill V. Maim”

My friend Alex compared Art Angels to a bag of Skittles: “multicoloured; saccharine; I feel sick after I’m done.” While sonically I agree, acerbic lyrics from Grimes’ sweetened voice add a necessary edge to the album. Off-kilter songs like “SCREAM,” featuring the incomprehensible vocals of Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, and the passive aggression of “Flesh Without Blood” make Art Angels more than a conventional electro pop album. On “Kill V. Maim,” electrified vocals meet heavier rock sounds; Grimes’ aggression reaches its highest pitch.

Ibeyi by Ibeyi – “River”

Ibeyi, which means ‘twins’ in Yoruba, consists of French-Cuban twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz. They sing harmonies in English and Yoruba and blend elements of jazz, soul and experimental electronic music with Yoruba, French and Afro-Cuban music. On “Behind the Curtain,” the blend of languages and sounds is beautiful. The rhythm and soft backing harmonies on “River” make it one of their strongest songs.

In Colour by Jamie xx — “Girl”

In Colour is a complex and emotive album that covers a spectrum of sounds. It’s one of my most played albums of 2015. On “Hold Tight,” Jamie xx uses sound as effectively as he uses silence and space. “Loud Places” features Romy’s swelling vocals and poignant moments of quiet. “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” featuring Young Thug and Popcaan is the album’s certified banger. My current favourite is the album’s brilliant closing track “Girl.”

“Easy Bake” by Jay Rock feat. Kendrick Lamar and SZA

90059 has its hits and misses but “Easy Bake” is a definite success. Jay Rock and fellow Black Hippy member Kendrick Lamar trade bars in the apex of the first half of the song. The beat changes and SZA delivers some of the best verses on the whole of 90059.

Reality Show by Jazmine Sullivan – “Mascara”

Reality Show showcases Jazmine Sullivan’s exceptional R&B vocals and her a character-driven lyrical narratives. “Mascara” is as much a commentary on Sullivan’s experiences in the music industry — experiences that prompted her to take a hiatus from the industry — as it is about a woman’s obsession with physical perfection.

Sprained Ankle by Julien Baker – “Something”

Sprained Ankle is a poignant acoustic album from solo artist Julien Baker. On the album’s title track, she compares heartache to the subdued pain of a sprained ankle. “Everybody Does” layers Baker’s vocals for a nearly triumphant acknowledgement of a lover’s inevitable departure. On “Something,” Baker describes her inability to move past a relationship to move past an ended relationship even though she knew her lover was gone months ago. Baker’s quiet vocals makes the pain and loneliness especially raw.

The Epic by Kamasi Washington – “Change of the Guard”

Composer, band leader and saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s three part album The Epic is indeed a jazz epic. The majority of the album is made up of exceptional jazz instrumentals, while several of the tracks contain solo or choral vocals. “Change of the Guard” is a modern jazz classic that showcases Washington’s own playing as well as his dynamic compositional style.

To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

To Pimp a Butterfly is my favourite album of the year. It is lyrically complex, sonically dense and most remarkably, socially relevant. Where Good Kid M.A.A.D City is largely retrospective, To Pimp a Butterfly explores issues of racism, discrimination, self-loathing and the necessity of self-love in present day American society. “These Walls” makes beautiful use of metaphor and of Anna Wise and Bilal’s vocals. The verses that close “Momma” are my favourite in Kendrick’s discography.  Few songs this year will be more important — and more sonically interesting — than Lamar’s criticism of colourism on “Complexion (A Zulu Love).” Ambivalently optimistic “Alright” has gained the most recognition for it’s huge beat and quotable chorus. Listen to the album start to finish then play it again and again until it really hits you.

b’lieve i’m goin down… by Kurt Vile – “Wheelhouse”

Kurt Vile’s guitar perfectly compliments his laid back vocals and stomping percussion on b’lieve i’m goin down…. “Pretty Pimpin” stands out for its lyrics; Vile asks what the hell he’s doing with his life in a way that’s both witty and relatable. “Wheelhouse” is notable for its instrumental depth and chord progressions that form a chorus without words.

“Terrence Loves You” by Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey has established herself as a queen of dramatized sadness. On her fourth album Honeymoon, she offers more of the same with icy downtempo songs like the opening title track. “Terrence Loves You” has earnestness and emotion that for all of Del Rey’s coolness, her music often lacks. Even more remarkable is her interpolation of  David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in the latter half of the song.

“River” by Leon Bridges

The closing track from Leon Bridges’ Coming Home, “River” pairs quiet acoustic guitar and tambourine with Bridges’ smooth vocals and a subdued gospel chorus. The effect is understated and powerful.

Escape From Evil by Lower Dens – “To Die in L.A.”

Synth-driven Escape From Evil provides a nostalgic backing for Jana Hunter’s androgynous vocals. The electro pop sounds are dreamlike and the emotions behind it are shifting.  Hunter explained the meaning behind the songs for NPR. “To Die in L.A.” is the poppiest track on the album, with a resonant chorus. Hunter says of the song, “Somebody doesn’t have to be your steady to break your heart.”

“Echo” by Lurch & Chief

I called “Echo” by Melbourne, Australia sextet Lurch & Chief my favourite song of the year in August and it’s still my favourite. It is powerfully evocative, with powerful vocals from Lilibeth Hall.

Sun Coming Down by Ought – “Beautiful Blue Sky”

Sun Coming Down from Montreal’s Ought is notable for its energetic post-punk sound and Tim Darcy’s off-kilter vocals. At over seven minutes long, “Beautiful Blue Sky”  stands out for its representation of modern commodity culture. In both sound and scope, the song reminds me of Television’s “Marquee Moon.”

The Agent Intellect by Protomartyr – “Ellen”

Detroit post-punk band Protomartyr created a complex, resonate album in The Agent Intellect. The album is named for an ancient philosophical question of how the mind operates in relation to being. Through his lyrics, frontman Joe Casey explores the question of why people do evil, and addresses the pain of mortality through character-based narratives. “Pontiac 87″stands out for its sound, but the album’s highlight is the penultimate track “Ellen.” The song is written from the perspective of Casey’s father, who died of a heart attack before the album was made, and addresses Casey’s mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His father promises to wait for her and to hold onto her memories. Pitchfork’s review does justice to the depth of the album.

1989 by Ryan Adams – “Wildest Dreams”

Ryan Adams’ complete cover of Taylor Swift’s album 1989 is my most discussed album this year. The albums share their shortcomings, most notably Swift’s overhyped and lacklustre “Bad Blood.” They also shine in the same places. Adams’ Replacements-esque guitar and androgyny make his cover of “Style” a fitting counterpart to Swift’s eighties pop sound on the original.  Adams’ cover of “Wildest Dreams” stands out for his layered guitar, which captures the sentimentality of Swift’s song with depth and sincerity.

No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney – “Bury Our Friends”

No Cities to Love is the return album of riot grrrl band Sleater-Kinney after a ten year hiatus. The album has the force of the band’s previous albums, driven by Corin Tucker’s wailing vocals. “No Cities to Love” has my favourite line on the album, “I’ve grown afraid of everything that I love.” “Bury Our Friends” is an instrumental stand out for Janet Weiss’ percussion and killer guitar riffs. The chorus is worth shouting along to.

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens – “No Shade In the Shadow of the Cross”

Carrie & Lowell is devastatingly beautiful. The album is named for Stevens’ mother and stepfather. The narrative of the album is based on Stevens’ relationship with Carrie, in his childhood, in adulthood and after her death in 2012.  “Fourth of July” is a heartbreakingly tender song in which he speaks to his mother just after her death. The only sounds on the album are Stevens’ voice and guitar, which create a sparseness that allow his words to resonate. The effect is most devastating on “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” when he says, “Fuck me, I’m falling apart.”

Universal Themes by Sun Kil Moon – “Birds of Flim”

Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon sings and speaks elaborate narratives on Universal Themes. He turns quotidian events to a surprisingly poignant story on “The Possum.” On “With a Sort of Grace I Walked to the Bathroom to Cry,” heavy guitar is accompanied by Kozelek’s howling vocals that are subdued by the song’s quiet interlude, only to have the howling verses repeat. “Birds of Flim” is a complex autobiographical narrative about Kozelek’s experience of loneliness while he was acting in the film Youth, accompanied by a soft melody of instruments.

Currents by Tame Impala – “The Less I Know the Better”

Currents is more a Kevin Parker solo work than a Tame Impala album. The album is based on effervescent synth rather than the psychedelic guitar of Lonerism and Other. The band has received the most recognition for the unapologetic chorus and electrified dynamic of “‘Cause I’m a Man.” “The Moment” recalls “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” in its beat and its upbeat electro pop. “The Less I Know the Better” combines the psychedelic bass work of Tame Impala’s previous work with a disco rhythm and Parker’s shimmering falsettos.

The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam by Thundercat – “Them Changes”

Thundercat’s electronic jazz sound on his mini-album The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam is wonderfully kinetic. He brings the funk in ways that only a bass player known as Thundercats can. “Lone Wolf” is the most instrumentally beautiful track on the album, featuring Herbie Hancock, Flying Lotus, Moguel Atwood-Ferguson and Mono/poly. “Them Changes” is a stand out track for its melodic groove that is at odds with Thundercat’s poignant, metaphorical description of heartbreak.

“Ratchet Commandments” by Tink

Chicago native Tink has unstoppable flow on “Ratchet Commandments.” For most of the song, she shames millennial women for seeking petty social media recognition. In the final verse, she subverts her female-shaming narrative to address disloyal men; men can be ratchet, too.

Hyperview by Title Fight – “Rose of Sharon”

Title Fight blend shoegaze melodies with post-punk distortion on Hyperview, in a combination that earned criticism from those who had come to expect punk music from the band. The pairing of soft melody with distortion is quintessential on “Liar’s Love,” with its smooth transition into the subdued sound of evocative track “Dizzy.” “Rose of Sharon” is a standout track for Jamie Rhoden’s howling vocals, accompanied by alternating heavy guitar riffs and softer chords.

The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus – “Fatal Flaw”

The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a five part punk opera from New Jersey band Titus Andronicus. The narrative, written largely by lead vocalist Patrick Stickles, is a metaphor for Our Hero’s manic depression. Surprisingly, given the length of the album, none of the material feels superfluous. Even thirty-second thrash punk interlude “Look Alive” is essential to the album for its simple, direct refrain. Multi-instrumental “Fatal Flaw” is my favourite track for its Elton John-esque piano, raging guitar solo and vocal performance that fades into the disturbing quiet of “Please.”

Sprinter by Torres – “Strange Hellos”

Sprinter is a heavy album from Brooklyn-via-Macon, Georgia artist Torres. She explores her Baptist upbringing, identity, family relationships and sexual intimacy with staggering honesty and haunting vocals. The album’s opening track “Strange Hellos” starts quietly but hits with hard riffs and powerful vocals that continue to build.

Viet Cong by Viet Cong – “Continental Shelf”

Calgary-based post-punk band Viet Cong plays with noise as much as they do instrumentation.  On their eponymous album, they mix garage rock guitars with sixties pop melodies, eighties synth and Bowie-esque layered vocals. Pitchfork‘s Ian Cohen writes that their opening track “Newspaper Spoons” “most closely resembles someone trying to punch their way out of a coffin.” Their eleven minute long closing track, “Death,” is just as forcefully percussive. “Continental Shelf” is a stand out track for its waves of shoegaze melody and dissonance.

Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples – “Norf Norf”

Summertime ’06 is Vince Staples’ debut studio album after several years of releasing effective mixtape and LPs. His lyrics offer an articulate, cohesive narrative about his early adolescence and experiences of loss in Long Beach, California. “Might Be Wrong” is an effective representation of present day American society. “Summertime” is surprisingly poignant and introspective. “Norf Norf” stands out for Staples’ critical lyrics and engaging delivery, and the song’s shifting staccato rhythm. The video reinforces Staples’ criticism of police brutality and racial profiling.

The Beauty Behind the Madness by The Weekend – “Can’t Feel My Face”

The Beauty Behind the Madness showcases Toronto artist The Weeknd’s lush vocals and dark lyrics.  The album reaches its darkest point with a heavy beat and a self-loathing chorus on “The Hills”: “When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me.” By contrast, “Tell Your Friends” and “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” are sexy tracks with old school R&B sensibilities. “Can’t Feel My Face” is 2015’s “Get Lucky. It stands out as one of the most fun, playful songs in The Weeknd’s discography.

“Moaning Lisa Smile” by Wolf Alice

“Moaning Lisa Smile” is from Wolf Alice’s debut studio album My Love Is Cool. The song is driven by grunge guitar but the standout feature is Ellie Rowsell’s vocals, which are made all the more compelling for her North London accent.

Harmlessness by The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “Haircuts for Everybody”

Harmlessness is an emotionally resonate and sonically deep album from emo revival band The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die. The album open sight the quiet acoustic guitar of “You Can’t Live There Forever,” that becomes full instrumental sound as the track progresses. On “January 10th, 2014,” David Bello and Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak’s lyrical exchange mixes with upbeat metal thrash, in constant with the darker metal of “We Need More Skulls.” “Haircuts for Everybody” exemplified the best of Harmlessness. In less than three minutes, moody instrumentation shifts into soaring harmonization. Bonus: Greg Herbal is credited on the album for “brought a dog.”

Barter 6 by Young Thug – “Halftime”

From his subversive persona to his idiosyncratic delivery, Young Thug has made himself known in the hip hop world. Barter 6 – so named as an indirect tribute to Lil Wayne, who forced Young Thug to change the album’s name from Tha Carter VI – is as notable for Young Thug’s wheezing delivery as it is his playful rhymes. “Halftime” is my favourite for the line, “Every time I dress myself, it goes motherfuckin’ viral.” Fitting for an artist who has received as much recognition for his androgynous style and penchant for theatrical dress as he has for his music.

2015 Albums Listening List

This is a list of all the 2015 albums I listened to, to go along with my midyear and full year list of my favourite albums.

Mr. Wonderful by Action Bronson

Sky City by Amason

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes


Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 by Aphex Twins

Study Music (Songs from High Noon) by Arkells

Sour Soul by Badbadnotgood and Ghostface Killah

Dogs At Bay by Bad Dreems

La Di Da Di by Battles

Depression Cherry by Beach House

Thank Your Lucky Stars by Beach House

No No No by Beirut

California Nights by Best Coast

Vulnicura by Björk

The Poison of Self Confinement by Blistered

Amanecer by Bomba Estéreo

RUFF by Born Ruffians

Deep In the Iris by Braids

Nothing Touches Me by British India

Power In the Blood by Buffy Sainte-Marie

Feels Like by Bully

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth by Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

Realise EP by Carmada

Time To Go Home by Chastity Belt

Abyss by Chelsea Wolfe

Traveller by Chris Stapleton

I Want to Grow Up by Colleen Green

Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

Black Messiah by D’Angelo

Club Meds by Dan Mangan + Blacksmith

Aesthesis by Dead Letter Circus

Pleasure to Meet You by Dead Sara

New Bermuda by Deafheaven

Black and Gold by Dear Rouge

The Powers That B by Death Grips

Florasongs by The Decemberists

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists

Fading Frontier by Deerhunter

Caracal by Disclosure

Surf by Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment

Compton by Dr. Dre

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late by Drake

What a Time To Be Alive by Drake and Future

St. Catherine by Ducktails

Nowhere by Duckwrth

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside by Earl Sweatshirt

Delirium by Ellie Goulding

But You Caint Use My Phone (Mixtape) by Erykah Badu

I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty


M3LL155X by FKA twigs

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine

DS2 by Future

The Positions by Gang of Youths

Before the World Was Big by Girlpool

Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress by Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Art Angels by Grimes

BADLANDS by Halsey

Dark Night Sweet Light by Hermitude

Platform by Holly Herndon

Little Neon Limelight by Houndmouth

Ibeyi by Ibeyi

Ego Death by The Internet

2014 Forest Hills Drive by J. Cole

Chaos and the Calm by James Bay

90059 by Jay Rock

Reality Show by Jazmine Sullivan

In Colour by Jamie xx

Dark Energy by JLin

B4.DA.$$ by Joey Bada$$

Have You In My Wilderness by Julia Holter

Sprained Ankle by Julien Baker

Can’t Fly Without Gravity by k-os

Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves

The Epic by Kamasi Washington

To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

b’lieve i’m goin down… by Kurt Vile

Honeymoon by Lana Del Rey

Coming Home by Leon Bridges

Los Hijos De La Montaña by Los Hijos De La Montaña

Escape from Evil by Lower Dens

Another One by Mac Demarco

Are You Alone? By Majical Cloudz

Uptown Special by Mark Ronson

The Wave[s] by Mick Jenkins

Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz by Miley Cyrus

Peace Is the Mission by Major Lazer

From Kinshasa by Mbongwana Star

MEG MAC by Meg Mac

Wildheart by Miguel

Beat the Champ by The Mountain Goats

Wilder Mind by Mumford & Sons

February 15 by Nao

Beneath the Skin by Of Monsters and Men

Garden of Delete by Oneohtrix Point Never

Sun Coming Down by Ought

Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper by Panda Bear

The Agent Intellect by Protomartyr

SremmLife by Rae Sremmurd

Tomorrow Is My Turn by Rhiannon Giddens

Wires by The Rooks

1989 by Ryan Adams

Taking Flight by Ryan Hemsworth

Jackrabbit by San Fermin

The Crush by Set Mo

Strange New Past by Seth Sentry

Ratchet by Shamir

No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens

Universal Themes by Sun Kil Moon

Currents by Tame Impala

The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam by Thundercat

Hyperview by Title Fight

The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus

Goon by Tobias Jesso Jr.

What For? By Torre y Moi

Sprinter by Torres

Free TC by Ty Dollar $ign

Evermore: The Art of Duality by The Underachievers

Viet Cong by Viet Cong

Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples

Ivy Tripp by Waxahatchee

Beauty Behind the Madness by The Weeknd

Star Wars by Wilco

She Could Tell by The Wild Romantics

Cascade by William Basinski

My Love Is Cool by Wolf Alice

Harmlessness by The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

Barter 6 by Young Thug

Genesis Series by Zhu

Split by 36?

Courtney Barnett’s album cover was taken from Pitchfork. I chose this album in Courtney solidarity and because sometimes I too sit and think, while other times I just sit.