Tame Impala

We’re back again and this year going straight for the heavy hitters. Amongst our 10 favourite albums of the past year you’ll find American rap finding a new voice and hitting its poetic stride, both timeless and timely mini-symphonies, stripped-back and emotive electronic albums from England and Australia, and your required dosage of slacker rock. Without further ado, please enjoy Ca Va Cool’s best albums of 2015.

Kurt Vile

10. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…

At Pitchfork Festival this past summer, after torrential downpour followed by inhumane sun, Kurt Vile attempted to reclaim the mood from a harried audience. Despite an equipment malfunction, he still took time to greet his audience down in the muck, shaking hands and sharing smokes. It’s this personal appeal that fills his newest, most accessible record, b’lieve i’m goin down. On standout track, “Pretty Pimpin”, Vile rides a cascading guitar riff and speaks of his inability to recognize himself in the mirror and his detachment from the world around him, as swirling keyboards contemplate his panting vocals. Despite this emotional jumping off point, “Kidding Around” then talks about the meaninglessness of his lyrics and the importance of the “sound of the song.” True, his guitars twang and echo through the ambient heartland Vile has cultivated over his career, but his stinging sentiments about his place in the world are impossible to ignore. Despite his protests (or relentless rain), we can’t help but “care about the meaning of [his] songs”; Kurt Vile is here at his most affective and personal. — Anthony Boire

YouTubeKurt Vile – Pretty Pimpin

Vince Staples

9. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

Years ago Chuck D of Public Enemy famously said, “Hip Hop is the CNN of the ghetto.” In an era where hip hop has become so much more than a mouthpiece for the streets, 2015 was historically exciting because alongside blockbuster hip hop acts conquering the charts (Drake) and critical hits shaping popular culture (Kendrick Lamar), there were a number of new and powerful voices surfacing from ghettos and suburbs across North America. One such voice was Long Beach, California’s Vince Staples, whose debut album quietly dropped to no radio play, but quickly developed rabid levels of acclaim online. In a venn diagram of 2015’s hip hop universe, Staples is at the intersection of Kendrick, Earl Sweatshirt, and early Jay-Z. He’s politically-minded in a time when conscious dialogue is most needed. He’s a prodigy who gets lost in his head and dismayed with society’s fallacies. He’s a street poet who, better than anyone else this year, effortlessly deglamorized the life of a gangster. Summertime ’06 manages to distil all of what we loved most about hip hop in 2015, into one 20 track album. It’s not a concept record. It’s not-not a club record. It refuses to be categorized. It’s hip hop in 2015. — Sal Patel

YouTubeVince Staples – Norf Norf

Photograph by Fernanda Pereira

Photograph by Fernanda Pereira

8. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

I’ve been trying to figure out why Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper hasn’t received the attention nor acclaim of Noah’s Lennox’s previous solo album Person Pitch or Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Maybe it’s that foreboding title, a nod to Augustus Pablo’s King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown: a seminal recording of Jamaican dub music, whose innovative instrumental “remixes” were the genesis of all sampled music genres, and no doubt Lennox’s music itself. Maybe it’s the psychedelic production; the label “acid pop” wouldn’t be a stretch as his grooves on “Crosswords” and “Come to Your Senses” bubble to the surface and the vocal harmonies of his Roland sampler loop in and out like restless thoughts. That sounds like quite the trip, but the best part is how rhythmically grounded the music remains paired with ‘90s East Coast boom bap drum breaks. It could also be the grim subject matter; before the swirling funk reaches a boiling point, the plaintive, lovely “Tropic of Cancer” offers a brief respite as Lennox contemplates his own mortality while eulogizing his deceased father. With or without universal praise, Grim Reaper is my favourite Noah Lennox album, because it epitomizes music distilled from a record collection while remaining flawlessly personal. — Daniel Hernandez

YouTubePanda Bear – Crosswords

Joanna Newsom

7. Joanna Newsom – Divers

Joanna Newsom’s Divers arrived in 2015, but surely could have been written and recorded in any age. Its central idea of love stretched over time and space makes for a truly expansive work by the folk artist. Whereas Bob Dylan used contemporary slang to create new meaning, Newsom creates words and meanings independent of modern culture. In the record’s most obviously narrative track, “The Waltz of the 101st Lightborne”, she even creates a new word – ‘simulacreage’. On “Sapokonikan”, a bouncing Joni Mitchell-esque piano ballad, Newsom references architecture, ancient civilizations, and historical American figures. Its bells and percussion lead the track into a heavenly march, tying together previous themes before she cracks the soundscape wide open with the harmony line, “we all raise a standard to which the wise and honest soul may repair.” On “Leaving the City” dextrous harp arpeggios lead into stomping snare and bass drum which disappear suddenly, leaving Newsom alone with her strings and voice once again. Consequently, her harp work has never been more tasteful, and for her first time as the sole arranger of her music, she excels and proves that there is one, single Queen of Folk. Divers is a masterpiece of ideas, sounds, and feeling. — Anthony Boire

YouTubeJoanna Newsom – Sapokanikan

Photograph by Emma Tillman

Photograph by Emma Tillman

6. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

In the simplest terms, I Love You, Honeybear is a record about love. But love, while the most common topic in music, can be the most complex thing in the world. Josh Tillman takes a long, hard look at himself and how something as simple as falling in love can transform even the most cynical, self-loathing yet narcissistic person. There are two main ideas about love here, that it’s finding someone who is miserable in the same way you are, and it’s learning that love isn’t for anyone who isn’t interested in finding a companion with whom to undertake a total transformation. In these transformations, we hear of jealously, hate, ego, consumerism, corporate America, and living in the digital age. One minute he sings about a fear of intimacy, and the rewards of it in the next. He sings of contrived ideals of the American dream on “Bored in the USA”, and how none of that can mean a thing to someone who is in love on “Holy Shit”. Such grandiose topics are given the perfect treatment with sweeping string arrangements that give certain songs the heaviness their writing provokes. Tillman bares his soul on this record, and sings his ass off to let us hear it. — Kyle Sikorski

YouTubeFather John Misty – The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment

Jamie xx

5. Jamie xxIn Colour

In Colour succeeds as one of the important dance records of this year because of what it does not do: it does not build from one “drop” to another, it does not play like a DJ set, nor does it bombard you with bone-rattling bass. All of this is not to say that In Colour forgoes these elements completely, but that it opts to arrange and develop these components in a fashion that is immensely intimate and open rather than trite and homogenizing. Romy Croft and Oliver Sim feature prominently on a number of tracks, yet Jamie’s inclination for experimentation and meticulous ear for detail differentiate In Colour’s warm, vibrant tone from the xx’s otherwise muted and atmospheric production. Throughout its eleven-track duration In Colour does not misstep, it flows seamlessly in an emotive and joyous deluge of break beats, pitch-shifted vocals, and minimalistic 2-step samples. Ultimately, Jamie’s attempt to craft an album without reference to any particular era may have fallen flat insofar as In Colour’s glimmer of beats, captivating richness, and wide open spaces have come to define this one. — Jan Kucic-Riker

YouTubeJamie xx – Gosh

Photograph by Leslie Kirchoff

Photograph by Leslie Kirchoff

4. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett has been dubbed slacker rock’s new priestess, much to her surprise and occasional dismay. Why would the 28-year old Aussie, who has toured relentlessly since her 2013 EP, be considered a slacker? Perhaps it’s because she responded to the news of her Grammy nomination for her debut album with polite disinterest. Maybe it’s rooted in her dismissive, grunge-reminiscent refrains, like “don’t put me on a pedestal, I’ll only disappoint you” and “I’m not fishing for compliments”. Or her knack for twisting wry observations of mundane thoughts with threads of bigger themes; flashes of death and loss, capitalist exploitation, environmental destruction, and mental illness peak out among the drudgery. These forays into depth are more of a sardonic wink at heaviness than a calculated examination. Take “Depreston”, where even the title’s portmanteau is a tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition of an Australian suburb and the malaise it provokes, not just by the neighbourhood, but by the hidden stories of loss contained within its burgeoning real estate. Paired with a backing band who can match her tone with driving beats, slow builds, or catchy licks, Barnett makes cool music look too easy. — Sabrina Diemert

YouTubeCourtney Barnett – Pedestrian at Best

Kendrick Lamar

3. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

It’s impossible for me to take an album that effectively spurned a social movement, an album that is already being heralded as one of the greatest albums of the decade, and condense it into a 200-word blurb without leaving a couple of stones unturned. Instead, I write to spark your curiosity or reaffirm what you already know. To Pimp a Butterfly is a hip hop album by convention, but unravel it a little further and you’ll discover a series of songs about self-love and self-hate. You’ll witness a tale of personal growth and maturation that rises from a cesspool of excessive fame and complacency. Above all, you’ll peer into the mind of a man who has proven again and again to be a beacon of creativity in hip hop but, more importantly, a genuine human being who cares immensely about his community. If good kid, m.A.A.d city was Kendrick Lamar’s story, To Pimp a Butterfly is his narrative poem. — Sahil Parikh

YouTubeKendrick Lamar – Alright

Photograph by Danny Renshaw

Photograph by Danny Renshaw

2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Stepping back from the bombast and scale of 2010’s The Age of Adz and returning to a simpler, quieter sound more reminiscent of his earlier work, Carrie & Lowell is Sufjan Stevens at his strongest. Named after his mother and stepfather, the album is largely inspired by his estranged mother’s death and the childhood memories evoked by that event. At once haunting and heartbreaking, the complicated relationship is laid bare over eleven tracks. With sparse instrumentation, typically Stevens’ voice accompanied by piano or acoustic guitar, the lyrics take the forefront. As the ending refrain of “We’re all gonna die” during “Fourth of July” suggests, themes of mortality and loss pervade the album, lightened by Stevens’ characteristic sense of melody. Songs like “Should Have Known Better” and “All of Me Wants All of You” stand among Stevens’ best. Carrie & Lowell is by far the most emotional and cathartic listen of the year; though dark, it’s immensely rewarding. — Kevin Kania

YouTubeSufjan Stevens – Should Have Known Better

Tame Impala

1. Tame Impala – Currents

Changes are going to happen. Currents is a record about changing, and Kevin Parker’s changes are on full display on this record, both in the music and lyrics. The first thing I noticed on the opening song, “Let It Happen”, is that Parker’s vocals are front and centre. No longer hidden under layers of psychedelic effects, he wants you to hear what he has to say and here that feels like a newfound peace with himself. A sense of comfort with the world around him comes through in the sonic landscape he provides. Though synthesizers have always been a vital sound of past Tame Impala records, they take the lead on Currents. Instead of throwing everything but the kitchen sink into each song, he’s stripped it back to the essentials of just what the track needs. He’s done what not many are able to do as he recalls Daft Punk’s ease of making electronic music sound natural and tangible. This time around, his ability to blur different genres into his own is what has turned Tame Impala into somewhat of a household name this year. It’s also important to note that the entire record was written, performed, produced, and even mixed solely by Parker. In a year where high profile albums feature a list of credits that feels like a Hollywood feature film, Parker has put himself into every bit of this record he could. — Kyle Sikorski

YouTubeTame Impala – Let It Happen

Tame Impala - Currents

Ca Va Cool’s Best Albums of 2015

10. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…
09. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
08. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
07. Joanna Newsom – Divers
06. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
05. Jamie xx – In Colour
04. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
03. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
02. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
01. Tame Impala – Currents

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— , December 30, 2015    No Comments
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