Our Favorite Albums of 2015

Our Favorite Albums of 2015

Here are our thirty-something favorite albums of 2015. This list also appears in AdHoc Issue 10 alongside essays reflecting on 2015's musical trends, developments, phenomena, etc. Order a physical copy of the zine here and a digital one here.

Alex G: Beach Music (Domino)
Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Alex Giannascoli, better known as Alex G, has been composing simple, lo-fi numbers from his bedroom for years. In 2014, he began work on his first record for Domino, which wouldn’t see release until October of this year. Beach Music, as the album is called, is as poignant and personal as anything he’s ever written, but it’s also a departure from his previous fare, seamlessly weaving together abrasive noise, wailing trumpets, and pop melodies. The first single, “Salt,” overlays bitterly honest lyricism on pitch-descending electronic drums, plunging the listener into a crippling desolation before rising into the mellow buoyancy of “Brite Boy.” The result is a cohesive masterpiece that mirrors the sweeping ups and downs of human emotion—and a powerful depiction of isolation and loss. —Meilyn Huq

Arca: Mutant (Mute)
Mutant, Venezuelan producer Alejandro Ghersi’s second full-length album as Arca, follows last year’s Xen, named after Ghersi’s childhood alter-ego. Both albums dwell in indeterminate spaces—between masculine and feminine, fragile and aggressive, grotesque and beautiful—but Ghersi’s work doesn’t pitt these so-called “contradictory values” against each other. Instead—like collaborator and friend Jesse Kanda, who provides much of the visual artwork for Arca releases—he seems to revel in their instability as categories, as manifest in the mutability of sounds. On Mutant, his synths quaver, poised and shimmering, as if perpetually on the precipice of a deluge; his drums knock and twitch, explode, and stop suddenly. As Ghersi explained it in a November interview with Pitchfork, “If Xen was me sending a letter into the depths of myself, then Mutant is a big celebration.” —Joseph Ocón

Björk: Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
On Vulnicura, Björk offers us an intimate view of the dissolution of a marriage, cataloguing the slow, painful dissolve of intimacy built over decades. Production flourishes by Bjork herself, The Haxan Cloak, and Arca—whose presence on “History of Touches” can be heard with each wavering synth tone—add to the otherworldly aura of the album’s intricate string arrangements. Despite the personal turmoil she professes, her vision seems as strong and as focused as ever. Of course, with Björk, an album is never just an album, but also a set of sounds waiting to be reconfigured. Following the album’s release, she offered up three installments of Vulnicura remixes, including notable reworkings by Lotic and Juliana Huxtable, along with Vulnicura Strings, an acoustic version of the album featuring the viola organista, a keyboard-driven string instrument designed by Leonardo da Vinci. —Bianca Giulione

Circuit des Yeux: In Plain Speech (Thrill Jockey)
Haley Fohr’s voice is the anchor of her Circuit des Yeux project. The Chicagoan’s blustering baritone often draws comparisons to Nico’s register and timbre, though her delivery can sometimes feel even more forceful. Much of Circuit des Yeux’s Thrill Jockey debut, In Plain Speech, feels like a healing ritual. On “Do the Dishes,” Fohr sings, There is something inside of you. Something that’s worth reaching into. Elsewhere, these sentiments appear more energetically than lyrically—especially in passages like “Dream of TV,” which inundates the listener with layered instrumentation and larger-than-life chants. Fohr enlisted the aid of some fellow Chicagoans to record In Plain Speech—a gesture that is pragmatic but also poetic, in that Circuit des Yeux is open receive signals in order to continue to sending them. —Jeremy Purser

Container: LP (Spectrum Spools)
Spending nigh zero time fucking around, Ren Schofield starts LP with a squall of feedback to orient us—then he unsettles us once again with a flamin' hot kick line. 2014’s stellar Adhesive EP marked a major progression for the Container project, with Schofield's decisions to up the pace and blow out his timbres proving modest on paper alone. The palette is economical, and during moments when Schofield works in some non-percussive element—like the siren synth on the exemplary “Cushion”—it feels like emergency glass has been smashed so he can flick the switch labeled “Jack All Bodies In The Vicinity.” But after a few listens to LP, when you've been desensitized to the gleeful romp of quantized ultraviolence, marvel at how much drama Schofield can build, how much variety he lends these tracks, using an array of sounds you can more or less count on one hand. —Mike Sugarman

Dawn of Humans: Slurping At The Cosmos Spine (La Vida es un Musica Discos)
Dawn of Humans was ripe, or perhaps rotting, for a full-length record. After several tapes and 7”s, the band has become more refined—at least as refined as a band with a perpetually naked frontman could be. It should be obvious that Dawn of Humans will never be a pretty face for the press or make catchy tunes to appease the airwaves. The catchy rhythm on “Horse Blind,” for instance, is countered by a gloriously off-putting, mutant vocal effect. The melodic experimentation on “Mangled Puzzle” and “Fog Sclope” is in each case sandwiched between bursts of classic Dawn of Humans auditory ferocity. Even the most sprawling track on the album, “Secretion / Grapitudonce of Hinsenctor,” is pure ooze, no air sockets. The band has dragged the torch this far for NYC punk; they might as well brandish the beat-up thing proudly, because they know by now how to do it without burning their hands. —Maddie Rehayem

Destruction Unit: Negative Feedback Resistor (Sacred Bones)
Both as a band and as some of the chief instigators behind the Ascetic House imprint, Destruction Unit has been quietly influential in integrating like-minded scenes of harsh music that were otherwise somewhat divided. It’s no coincidence that NYHC kids started mingling with the power electronics peeps and Summer Scum attendees after these guys started their hard-working tour of diplomacy. At first I just thought of them as the resident psych rock band who fell in with that crowd. But if Negative Feedback Resistor is any indication, the situation is much more complex. The wild boys from the desert out west have crafted their magnum opus, and it’s a weird, perversely exhausting blast of hallucinatory near-hardcore. This one’s a dragon-breath’d culmination of this band’s first era, and a fitting tribute to a scene they helped build. —Matt Sullivan

Dilly Dally: Sore (Partisan)
Sore is technically Dilly Dally’s second debut full-length since the band’s initial formation in 2009; they scrapped an earlier effort. Fortunately, the end result obliterates any frustration about the wait. Dilly Dally’s incarnation of grunge-pop is both angry and playful, and laden with sexuality. Sore’s energy and whipsmart sensibilities are sincere, unaffected. On the album’s lead single, the aptly-titled “Desire,” singer Katie Monks howls, “Desire, inside her/ It's calling all my ladies”—a burning, albeit ambiguous, couplet. “Snake Head” riffs on Medusa and menstruation in the line “Snakes are comin' out of my head/ And there's blood between my legs.” As Monks’s voice cuts through the scintillating guitar riffs, Sore’s stories of yearning for love and change, even with their wide-ranging fantastical images, run parallel with our everyday experience. —Dani Narins

DJ Paypal: Sold Out (Brainfeeder)
The masked Teklife impresario's latest, Sold Out, doesn’t necessarily break away from what you might expect from a Teklife release. The concept is the same: a mix of impressive solo work and a slew of collaborations for support. But by contrast with the delirious soul of DJ Taye and the genre soup of DJ Spinn, Paypal's tunes are straight up cosmic and lush, often hiding a different song underneath the one that starts. On all of the album's eight songs, Paypal never brings a single one to a climax, instead letting the tunes unspool their hearts out. Of course, the goal here is the same as with any Teklife record: to let love come down and get you out on the dance floor. But this just might be the most emotional footwork record ever released. —Brad Stabler

DJ Richard: Grind (Dial)
Though DJ Richard is currently based in Berlin, his debut LP is influenced by the coastlines of  his home state of Rhode Island. After losing the stems and tracks intended for his debut album last year, he was forced to start from scratch. Despite only taking three months to produce, Grind is meticulous and considered, its melodies melancholic and euphoric by turns, but consistently brilliant. Although it’s a far cry from the grittier material he’s produced for White Material, the album’s more polished sounds lend themselves to a glacial atmosphere that’s equally compelling. “Bane,” with its shimmering arps, is simply one of the best electronic music tracks of 2015. —Bianca Giulione

Downtown Boys: Full Communism (Don Giovanni)
If punk’s primary objective is to light a fire under your ass, to make you feel forceful and radical and angry, then Downtown Boys’ Full Communism is punk incarnate. The sextet’s debut album is 23 minutes of riotous crescendos and sociopolitical vitriol—in other words, punk readymade for 2015. Downtown Boys may rally against apathetic music, but the group’s brand of politically-minded punk is far from sanctimonious; it’s inclusive, educational, and, should you get a chance to see them live, fun as hell. Alongside danceable rhythms and groaning saxes, Victoria Ruiz’s lyrics are essential to Downtown Boys’ mission. Her words are a bilingual call to arms against privilege (Taking up the front/ so we can’t dance), hegemony (We must scream at the top of our lungs that we are brown, we are smart, that nothing that they do can push it away!), and ingrained power structures (Su poder es nuestra ignorancia). —Julia Selinger

Eartheater: Metalepsis (Hausu Mountain)
On Metalepsis, Alexandra Drewchin's voice—enveloping and versatile—is the centerpiece on a table resplendent with unearthly synths, plucked guitar, and sumptuous lyricism. Like its sister album, RIP ChrysalisMetalepsis emanates deep corridors of sound—baroque and twisted, like the hallways in a gothic maze. The songcraft is rich throughout, but the palette is totally alien, and the result is something akin to what Björk would sound like if she grew up in rural Pennsylvania. —Cash Bundles

Floating Points: Elaenia (Luaka Bop / Pluto)
Feeding off the quietest moments, Elaenia never gives in to even its most melodic elements. It's a quiet record best heard loud—to make its themes really resonate. Notes cling together at random like manic atoms bringing water to a boil. The record’s temperature rises and falls depending on each pulse of the Fender Rhodes piano, or some arcane synth stabbing through the mix. Thematic elements return and fade over the course of Elaenia, bridging gaps between the impulsiveness of traditional western jazz and more ambient, textural compositions. It's an album that finds itself freed from the claustrophobia of any genre rubric, and subtly asserts that freedom using only the most punctuating silences. The most poignant moment might exist in album closer "Peroration Six," during which the album reaches its most ecstatic, tense moment, only to cut mid-measure, leaving you buzzing in a quiet void, like a dream upon waking. —Philip Neil Lord

G.L.O.S.S.: Demo (Not Normal)
My good friend and colleague was recently assaulted by an unruly drunk guy in a setting that we considered a safe space and a second home. The man asked her again and again, “Are you a woman or a man, anyway?” He called her a “dyke cunt” and shoved her. I would always stand by my friends in peril, but for whatever reason the fact that we’re both queer added an extra shade of crimson to the red I saw. I knocked his ass out even though violence disgusts me. How long can you sit around quietly,“behaving” yourself to appease an intolerant sect of cruel, demanding people? How long do you wait to be treated with respect? In the short span of this demo, an easy candidate for the most important hardcore demo of the year, G.L.O.S.S. tells the world “fuck waiting.” —Matt Sullivan

Helen: The Original Faces (Kranky)
Following 10 years of output under her Grouper moniker, Liz Harris linked up with members of Eternal Tapestry and Eat Skull to form the pop outfit Helen. Released on Kranky, the label behind Grouper's last two LPs, The Original Faces opens with some ethereal echoes floating above a wobbling guitar riff—then the full band takes over, pretty much for the rest of the record, which feels pretty shoegaze most of the time. Where Grouper frequently centers around the velvet hush of Harris's vocals, Helen utilizes the voice as just another instrument, her words so obscured and effects-laden that you can barely make out a single syllable. Of course the record credits a mysterious guest vocalist, also named Helen—so for all we know, that might be who we’re listening to the entire time. —Tyler Richman

Holly Herndon: Platform (RVNG Intl. and 4AD)
On her second full-length, Bay Area-based composer Holly Herndon crafts ten distinct and detailed vignettes, riffing lyrically and sonically on internet fads, accelerationism, feudalism, the present, the future, and much more—all with a singular post-internet sheen. As impenetrable as all this might seem, however, Platform derives its power from its palpable humanity. Note the inclusive, multi-voice uplift of "Morning Sun" (Herndon's best-ever pop tune); or the intimate, affirmative, slightly unsettling, ASMR-like "Lonely at the Top." Coated with uneasy mixtures of sincerity and irony, and organic and synthetic sounds, Platform dissects cultural affinities (pop culture, Greek yogurt) and personal preferences (ASMR, cyber relationships) in order to explore  the boundaries and limitations of IRL and URL identities—both of which, of course, in 2015 and beyond, are simultaneously permanently on display and hard to make out. —Joe Bucciero

Jenny Hval: Apocalypse, girl (Sacred Bones)
The irony and great innovation of this album is that Jenny Hval’s confident and muscular pop cadence gives her an edge over mainstream and underground songwriters alike in conveying deep-seated cultural anxieties. Apocalypse, girl is full of resonant juxtapositions—of Hval’s direct confessions against her fragmented lyrical structure, of the triumphant (“The Battle is Over”) against the self-doubt (“Angels and Anaemia”), and of queasy dronescapes against stirring and sophisticated pop craft. Alienation from society’s gender roles has been a central theme for Hval over the course of all three of her albums. On Apocalypse, girl, she writes about what it’s like to have internalized that tension to the point where she feels at odds with herself: a Cronenbergian detachment from her body on “Sabbath,” or her conflicted idea of wellbeing on “Take Care of Yourself.” In this sense, the album’s shifting approach to structure is a perfect parallel to Hval’s message. —Max Parrott

Jim O'Rourke: Simple Songs (Drag City)
In January, Stereogum asked, "Will 2015 Be The Year Of The '70s Singer-Songwriter?" At the time of publishing, the publication seemed to be onto something. Their list of artists indebted to that golden era included several worthy inheritors of a particular Nilssonian or Mitchellian tradition, and for better or worse, they ended up being more right than they could've known. Two months later came the announcement of Jim O'Rourke's Simple Songs, the artist’s first solo album since 2009's The Visitor. On the level of ‘70s charm, Simple Songs outdid Natalie Prass, Jessica Pratt, and Tobias Jesso Jr. in its first thirty seconds. The melodic, James Taylor-esque stomp that introduces album opener "Friends With Benefits" puts O'Rourke's myriad gifts on display: his precise guitar, his simple but lavish strings, his unconventional but accessible harmonies, and above all, his voice—barrel-aged and warmer than ever. O'Rourke's bombastic pop chops have never been so concentrated, but Simple Songs also preserves his impeccable attention to detail and ineffable weirdness. —Joe Bucciero

Jlin: Dark Energy (Planet Mu)
Jlin’s take on footwork is refreshing—one that forgoes the typical Chicago model of samples upon samples in favor of a more minimal approach. Hypnotizing yet threatening, her work is a dangerous combination that somehow manages to be symphonic, statically charged by the ominous tension of a lightning storm. From the menacing burble that signals the beginning of “Erotic Heat” to the choral vocal loops of “Expand,” a collaboration with Holly Herndon, Dark Energy presents 40 minutes of some of the most dramatic, left-of-center dance to emerge from the Chicagoland area since DJ Rashad’s own. Throughout the album, there’s a darkness—so raw that it has to lurk in the shadows. However, as Jlin told AdHoc earlier this year, there’s nothing negative about this simmering narrative of blackness; to her, the complexities related to the concepts of dark and chaos can give rise to something truly beautiful. —Sandra Song

Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness (Domino)
Before Have You in My Wilderness saw the light of day back at the tail end of September, Julia Holter shared a swinging, elegant take on Dionne Warwick’s “Don’t Make Me Over.” In hindsight, the choice of this classic Bacharach/David song foretells what was to come on the California auteur Holter’s fourth album. For an academically-trained pop songwriter with a penchant for classicism, Holter had never, before Wilderness, come so close to that early-1960s, heart-on-the-sleeve ideal of the melding of pop and classical. While some of Holter’s go-to devices of dramatic allusions and unconventional play with texture prevail, Wilderness stands out thanks to the sheer, naked beauty of its rich harmonization and emotionally-charged feasts of melody. Walking a thin line between tenderness and grandeur, it was the among the boldest pop or experimental statements 2015 gave us. —Patryk Mrozek

Kamasi Washington: The Epic (Brainfeeder)
Ornette Coleman once posed a simple yet crucial question: “How can I turn emotion into knowledge?” The late composer’s death came just a few weeks after The Epic’s release, and Californian virtuoso Kamasi Washington’s magnificent debut seems to invert Coleman’s conundrum. How can jazz be reinvigorated without relinquishing its immediate appeal? How can giants like Charlie Parker (not to mention, in The Epic’s case, Malcolm X and Debussy) be summoned without resembling a wax museum tour? The answer lies in these 17 colossal tracks. Throughout 170 minutes, Washington takes us across the purlieus of bebop, R&B, funk, and soul, without forgetting to continuously explore uncharted territory. This is an odyssey, sure, but Washington’s too busy creating new standards to be yearning for Ithaca. The Epic is a record celebrating the here and now. —Jean Burset

Kara-Lis Coverdale: Aftertouches (Sacred Phrases)
Kara-Lis Coverdale has proven herself an artist consumed by polarities. If anything, that point is proved by this year’s Sacred Phrases release, Aftertouches, an album that perfectly combines an ethos of pure classical structure with a modernist approach. It’s an album that finds itself at the point of singularity, and leaves the listener dwarfed in their own small humanity. Songs like “Touch Me & Die” and “Icon /c” represent Coverdale’s more traditional tendencies towards western music, with choral arrangements stabbing through the mix, processed through her amorphous sampling that turns the arrangements into liquid sci-fi nightmares. As exhibited elsewhere on her A 480 (Constellation Tatsu) and Sirens (with LXV, on Umor Rex) tapes, Coverdale has an adept awareness of both the natural and processed, the physical and mechanical, and has harnessed an exceptional expression of what it means to exist in between. —Philip Neil Lord

Khaki Blazer: Moontan Nocturnal (Hausu Mountain)
This past May, AdHoc brought Khaki Blazer to Chicago for a night of the You Are Here Festival, where musicians performed in a maze constructed from wood frames loomed with yarn. During Khaki Blazer's set, I saw a couple exchanging saliva, two people exit in distress, and one guy walk into the yarn and struggle to get out. Love, pain, confusion—it's the stuff of life, it's the stuff of Moontan Nocturnal, a long tape of short pieces which pits new material against some of the best from the Blazer's spate of Bandcamp releases dating back to March 2014. Like with his band Mothcock, Patrick Modugno's M.O. as Khaki Blazer is blurring the line between schizophrenia and mirth via psychedelic jest (see: track titles like “Reiki Martin,” “Reggae Tony 2”). Applying this tactic to something that resembles hip hop, Khaki Blazer makes the case that Madlib's Beat Konducta Vol. 5–6 and Black Dice's Broken Ear Record are closer kin than genre suggests. —Mike Sugarman

Kode9: Nothing (Hyperdub)
To get inside the initial head space required for Kode9's latest, you have to ponder death. Recorded in a two-week, locked-door span after the Hyperdub boss's rollercoaster year—which included the deaths of DJ Rashad and Spaceape, timed with his label's tenth anniversary—Nothing resulted from Kode9 working through it all from the inside out, beaming years of genre-tooling into a taut whole. But it's a simultaneous renewal as well. All the tracks are locked at 150 bpm, a sweet spot between dubstep’s 140 and footwork's 160. Kode9 remixes himself on "9 Drones," expanding the original Seven Samurai sample into a more triumphant anthem. Spaceape re-emerges on “Third Ear Transmission.” Nothing combines a palette old and new, making it Kode9's most danceable record by far but also his most personal. Best part is, it's designed to go both ways. —Brad Stabler

Krill: A Distant Fist Unclenching (Exploding in Sound / Double Double Whammy)
Towards the top of 2015, the now-defunct Krill released its strongest collection of songs to date, A Distant Fist Unclenching. The record taps into the band’s reservoir of unapologetic self-examination, while simultaneously expanding the group’s willingness to push its own musical boundaries, expanding track lengths and musical forms. Committing to your strangest impulses is a risk, of course—but it was why Krill thrived. Though long by the standards of Krill’s pop-punk peers, the five-to-seven-minute tracks on the record are some of the most compelling in the band's discography. From the ominous, demented introduction of "Phantom" onward, the trio builds up a nervous energy that bristles with an irrepressible sense of determination. Not only does A Distant Fist Unclenching wind up being the band's most coherent offering, it's also the most impressive showcase for each individual member’s talents. While the group may have called it quits this fall, at least they left behind this monumental gift. —Steven Spoerl

Lee Noble: Un Look (Patient Sounds)
Filled with negative space but brimming with disarmingly vibrant, emotional sincerity, Un Look is Lee Noble's unassuming masterpiece. The album comes after half-a-decade of Noble's striking brand of quiet, almost murmured experimental pop, highlighting a songwriter whose style is an amalgamation of cues and ideas while retaining a wholly personal quality. Undeniable oddball anthems ("Out of Town," "Valley View") sift up through haunted, listless bedroom sketches ("A Few Better Than Some," "Lock-Breaking By Magic"), flanked by southern gothic avantisms ("Pink Laser," "Light Death") and flecked with bizarrely celestial noir ("Pearl Divers," "Waves Wash the Windows," "Holy Ghost People"). The 10-minute closer "Marble Shroud" meanders through its extended scene with solemn introspection, leaving a sordid trail of glowing embers in its wake. Un Look is a crowning achievement for both Noble and issuing label Patient Sounds Ltd. —Bobby Power

Lotic: Agitations (Janus)
It’s been Lotic’s year. Not least thanks to Björk’s endorsement, the Houston-born artist is finally receiving the recognition he deserves. More significantly, J’Kerian Morgan is one of the few Berlin residents who may legitimately claim to epitomize the sound of Berlin in 2015, a city whose scenes have been painfully reluctant to open up and move away from techno’s Teutonic bro continuum. Of Lotic’s two excellent releases this year—Agitations and HeteroceteraAgitations is the more significant. With track titles like “Trauma,” “Banished,” and “Surrender,” the mixtape must be read as a political statement, an intervention at the end of a year in which the non-cis, non-male, non-white, and non-hetero bodies have proven to be less safe than ever. While acknowledging the anxiety that is imposed upon the non-conformist, Agitations counters the omnipresent threat with arrangements that continue to be emphatically physical, reasserting the presence and voices of the margins. —Henning Lahmann

M.E.S.H.: Piteous Gate (PAN)
Former Janus head turned PAN mainstay James Whipple’s catalog has run the gamut when it comes to club-centric bass workouts in recent years. But Piteous Gate, his razor-edged follow-up to last year’s Scythians, sees the artist known as M.E.S.H. look well beyond his previous moorings, throwing his body into the ring of 2015’s proliferating conflations of dance musics and digital sound design. Intermingling the deep rumbles and jagged rhythms of contemporary club and dance music with moments of stark sonic abuse, Whipple separates himself from his contemporaries with a sense of balance and narrative. He lets the harsh, pounding climaxes of his pieces collapse in on themselves; he lets moments of silence and delicate ambience fill breath between the more brutal moments, or swell up into melodic asides that make his moments of intensity all the more starkly felt. His work all the more compelling for it. —Daniel Creahan

Oneohtrix Point Never: Garden of Delete (Warp)
Mutating, throbbing, perverse: all words that could just as easily describe most 13- to 15-year-old boys as they could Garden of Delete, Daniel Lopatin’s most recent album as Oneohtrix Point Never. The narrative around Garden of Delete is that it’s an album about adolescence. There’s even a protagonist: Ezra, an alien attempting to be a teenager (and music critic) whom Lopatin invented during the album’s PR cycle. The album itself—a twisted, spasmodic melange of rippling synth, blasts of alloyed nü-metal guitar, and surprisingly tender balladry—reads as an exploration of puberty, but more as an affect, as a sonic form. It’s a dense, masterfully-constructed world that captures the immediacy and shock of its subject—Ezra’s Twitter avatar shows him melting, after all—and the tangled contrails of obsession, mutation, and memory that attend it. In spite of its title, Garden of Delete is vast, composed in its decomposition, precise in its teeming life. —Joseph Ocón

Palm: Trading Basics (Exploding in Sound)
Philadelphia-based Palm’s debut LP Trading Basics is a journey that moves through tight polyrhythmic passages and atypical breakdowns, leaving one of the year’s most forward-thinking collections of rock songs in its path. With Trading Basics, released via Exploding in Sound and Inflated Records, Palm shatters the traditional clichés of post-punk orchestration, giving each instrument a distinct, autonomous line while maintaining instinctive, infectious grooves. From bangers with earworm motifs like “Ankles” and “Child Actor” to the mesmerizing commotion of jams like “Crank,” Palm provides a fresh look at an established form, imagining new tricks for the old electric guitar in 2016. —Mike Kolb

Royal Headache: High (What’s Your Rupture)
The most re-listenable album of the year, Royal Headache’s High is a half-hour tutorial in songcraft and raw emotion. In a world where rock music has been supplanted as a dominant force in culture, High’s opener ”My Own Fantasy” sets the scene: the album is a reverie where R&B, soul, and rock’s most enduring qualities aren’t just relevant, they’re amplified and exaggerated. They’re played with conviction, sincerity, and a perfectionist’s passion: a pharmaceutical grade antidote to cynicism. The bracing energy of High’s A-side commands your attention, but the heartrending trifecta of “Love Her If I Tried,” “Carolina,” and “Little Star” on the flip will keep you returning again and again. In the crowded, omnivorous music market of 2015, Royal Headache—tense and giddy at once, shot through with yearning and melancholy—make a strong case for being your new favorite band. —Max Burke

Sheer Mag: II (Katorga Works)
The second 7” from everyone’s favorite Philly rock group in 2015, Sheer Mag, was sourced by Brooklyn punk label Katorga Works. At first, it seemed a little bizarre how beloved Sheer Mag had become in predominantly punk and hardcore-focused communities. But audiences more interested in d-beat and noisecore were suddenly moshing to ‘70s-style riff rock; in some sense, then, Sheer Mag is emblematic of a greater shift in taste. On the group’s second EP, the tone is slower and icier than the on the first, the throbbing four-on-the-floor step closer to Black & Blue-era Stones than the Exploding Hearts. Though perhaps more restrained, it’s an equally gritty listen. The mood remains stubborn and sneering; the tales of personal abuse and corrupt human behavior reveal themselves in scenarios broader than private interpersonal relationships. We hear about crooked landlords trading favors, local aristocracies manipulating neighborhoods, individualism being censored—with lead singer Christina Halliday’s hurricane voice calling them all out. —Matt Sullivan

Wolf Eyes: I Am A Problem: Mind in Pieces (Third Man)
“Trip metal attempts to capitalize on confusion as a means of connection,” said Wolf Eyes vocalist Nate Young in Electronic Beats. “That isn’t a threat to authenticity.” Wolf Eyes offer similar definitions in other interviews. Still, what is trip metal? Is it the next thing in noise, or is it a red herring: a call to stop trying to fit in with the other so-called misfits and nonconformists, and instead create your own path? I Am A Problem is a surprisingly, perhaps reactionarily mellow and accessible album for the band that recorded “Stabbed In The Face” over a decade ago. Yet I Am A Problem stands out as one of their most poignant and nuanced records—a brilliantly dark and unsettling embodiment of the loose, undefinable, connected, authentic, and highly entertaining ethos that the members of Wolf Eyes have been living every day of their lives, even before they made a name for it. —Isaiah David

Xosar: Let Go (Black Opal)
Xosar is the solo work of Sheela Rahman, whose debut LP on Black Opal, Let Go, delves into a kinetically sublime propulsion. Vibrantly lucid atmospheres that wash against heavy walls of blistering percussion coalesce into astoundingly alien arrangements. Pulsing rhythms undulate beneath radiating oscillations. “Sail 2 Elderon” drifts in a haze of shivering ripples. Xosar then concocts a throbbing rhythmic patchwork on “Prophlyaxis.” The enchanting sample collage of "Gnome Circle" is as mesmerizing as it is haunting. "Hades Gates" is a blood curdling combustion of woven drones and dynamic beats. The hypnotic nature of Let Go lets the listener travel through a vastly differing collection of surreal sonic landscapes. Xosar's shifting patterns breathe together in unison, generating an individual complexity full of energy. —Joe Mygan

Young Thug: Barter 6 (Cash Money)
1) How often is radically fresh music the most fun music? and 2) How often does it blare from cars driving around your city? People like Arca and Giant Claw satisfy #1, but #2 is hard to come by. But in mid-2015, I could hear the sparse bass thud of “Constantly Hating” whizz by the crosswalk. I could coast on my bike alongside a car blasting “Just Might Be,” hearing Thug make an analogy between his girl's heart and an old diaper. The car stereos confirmed what the social media-driven success of past hits “Stoner” and “Lifestyle” suggested: Young Thug really is a people's champion. And given Barter 6’s supposed anti-commercialism—its lack of party anthems, Thug's disregard for lyrical legibility—you've really got to give it up to the people for their high weirdness thresholds. Many critics kvetch that the lyrics have no message, but with repeated listens, a dream logic unfolds, its narratives strewn across stray lines as opposed to delivered directly, through cogent verses. —Mike Sugarman

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