Pazz and Jop 2015
10. Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (RCA) - "Stanley" should've been a single.
9. Downtown Boys: Full Communism (Don Giovanni) - And nothing less.
8. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) - A great fortysomething album. Ten anthems about wanting no anthems, no new wave, no cities. Just some good friends, decent weather, and a job to weather The New Gilded Age.
7. Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce) - The former Das Racist rapper's first non-mixtape sounds disjointed at first. "Flag Shopping" and "Patriot Act" evoke the terror of post-9/11 racism so indelibly that you wonder why the entire album isn't devoted to the theme. But the love songs and virtuosic boasts restore the humanity denied in "Flag Shopping" and "Patriot Act" with everything feeding into an indelible evocation of one gloriously confused soul. All that's missing is a flat-out monster hit and "Pop Song (Games)" is so transcendently stoopid that he should have no problem sneaking up on himself to record one next time out.
6. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop) - No surprise I first encountered (and fell in love with) this Australian avant gardener on NPR for this is the class of NPR rock - well-made and never too hard/formally exciting. She's a helluva rhymer and drops specifics like a seasoned country pro. She does stream of consciousness as well as a young you-know-who. And she's always cognizant of how economics impinge on our every relationship, especially when she's trying to hit on a gal in a public swimming pool: "It's a curse, my lack of athleticism/Sunk like a stone like a first owner's home loan."
5. Future: DS2 (Epic/Free Bandz) - Right, he serves the base. But everyone wants to know if he serves the superstructure as well. (Answer: Of course he does. But how?)
4. Tame Impala: Currents (Interscope) - They need to lay off their Synergy albums and start inhaling some Tantra because a masterpiece like "Let It Happen" deserves to shift on for fifteen or twenty minutes.
3. Le1f: Riot Boi (XL/Terrible) - Finally, Khalif Diouf finds the right unfocus. This is avant-rap as Swatch watch and its phantasmagoria promises years of cataloging.
1. Odwalla88: Earth Flirt (Ooga Booga) - Vinyl only, one side only. 11 songs in 14 minutes, the worst the last at over 3 minutes. Two arty Baltimore gals create skeletal tracks with cut-up poetry, looped vocals, and occasional scuzz guitar. Think Sonic Youth or Big Stick with most of the space carved out. The deadpan voices, looped and not, are at turns haunting and fun. Subjects include lipgloss, purses, blush, how to wire wrap a stone, Holly Hobby, Jack Skelly, and not wanting to do your hair today. The future.
10. Fleur East: "Sax" (Syco) - Not as chorusless as Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" but close enough to make pop radio sound a bit fresher for four minutes. In compensation, we get three middle eights (or is one actually a pre-chorus?). And check out this X-Factor graduate's debut album Love, Sax and Flashbacks which is often too eager to please but has the distinction of featuring not a single ballad.
9. Sakanaction: "Shin Takarajima" (Victor) - I'm at a loss to determine why I've gone absolutely gaga for this alt.rock theme song (translation: "New Treasure Island") to a film adaptation of a manga series called Bakuman. With a vaguely proggish sensationalism, it seems to be in love with its own brilliance as the guitar solo riffs off the koto-like hook and a delayed ending conveys the feeling of not wanting the song to end. The amazing video (which is unavailable on Youtube in the States but try here) parodies an old sketch show and will convince you that you'll never attain such heights of coolness.
8. Taylor Swift: "Style" (Big Machine/Republic) - I admit that it took the Superfruit/Pentatonix boys for me to hear the majesty of the chorus through the neon noir production. But once there, it became clear that this was her most assured and mature work yet with the auteur getting as horny as the listener. Special thanks to whatever machine allowed her to sing the "take me home" section so powerfully.
6. Travi$ Scott: "Antidote" (Grand Hustle/Epic) - The Houston rapper suffocates himself willingly in weed clouds as several different messages in a bottle wash up on shore in lazy surf. Each verse has its own unique identity (with the second a masterpiece of changing same) and would throw everything off balance were it not for a luded-out Lee Fields sample holding it all together. A track with no windows but many doors.
5. Macy Rodman: "Lazy Girl" (self-released) - Wow! Judith Halberstam's The Queer Art of Failure (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011) has it own soundtrack now! Rodman is a transgender woman who documents a trans reality with high humor - avoiding the work that goes into getting ready for the public sphere in the hopes you're not misgendered (or worse). She certainly didn't avoid work on this track which gets busy in dance, dream, and exhausted rap modes.
4. Odwalla 88: "What The" (Vague Reference) - And Věra Chytilová's Daisies has a new soundtrack! Their greatest hit. Check it out here.
3. Years & Years: "Shine" (Polydor/Interscope) - Stuart Murdoch's twee-as-fuck film version of God Help the Girl was so winning, so mouth-foamingly irresistible that the principals were bound to do something remarkable on their own. But lead art dork Olly Alexander is savvy enough to know there's no longevity in twee. So he hires Greg Kurstin, formerly of Geggy Tah and currently enjoying the spoils of his co-credit on Adele's "Hello," to doctor up this song for his new wavey dance outfit and aims right for the top of the charts (almost got there too as it stalled at number two in the UK). The result is a pop formalist's delight - wordless hooks as mnemonic devices, soul amped in the second pre-chorus, a middle eight which cuts the second chorus in half. Worth every gotdang point.
2. Naomi Elizabeth: “The Topic is Ass” (self-released) - Where once the bird was the word, now the topic is ass. Ms. Elizabeth does something of the impossible here - she rejuvenates swear words in an era of overuse by accessing a child's misuse of them ("What’s the ass that runs the country?/The President of Ass!") and comes up with a nonsense classic in the process. And what music would score this project most appropriately? Why, an electroclash update of "Baby Wants to Ride," of course!
1. Odwalla88: Earth Flirt (Ooga Booga)
2. Makaya McCraven: In The Moment (International Anthem)
3. Le1f: Riot Boi (XL/Terrible)
4. Tame Impala: Currents (Interscope)
5. Future: DS2 (Epic/Free Bandz)
6. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop)
7. Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce)
8. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)
9. Downtown Boys: Full Communism (Don Giovanni)
10. Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (RCA)
2. Naomi Elizabeth: “The Topic is Ass” (self-released)
3. Years + Years: "Shine" (Polydor/Interscope)
4. Odwalla 88: "What The" (Vague Reference)
5. Macy Rodman: "Lazy Girl" (self-released)
6. Travi$ Scott: "Antidote" (Grand Hustle/Epic)
7. Keith Ape featuring A$AP Ferg, Father, Dumbfoundead and Waka Flocka Flame: "It G Ma Remix" (Hi-Lite)
8. Taylor Swift: "Style" (Big Machine/Republic)
9. Sakanaction: "Shin Takarajima" (Victor)
10. Fleur East: "Sax" (Syco)
Svantana: "Working as a Waitress in a Cocktail Bar" (self-released)
Missy Elliott feat. Pharrell Williams: "WTF (Where They From)" (Goldmind/Atlantic)
Lil Mama: "Sausage" (WorldStarHipHop)
Ata Kak: Obaa Sima (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Janet Jackson: Unbreakable (Rhythm Nation/BMG)
Labels: Pazz and Jop