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25. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchee - Ivy TrippIvy Tripp is DIY singer/songwriter that draws on Katie Crutchfield’s punk past.  Lyrically, the album continues her exploration of feminist ideas, and uses her experiences, or more specifically her mistakes, to demonstrate how a strong, independent woman is formed in today’s society.

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Here is my top 20 music releases for 2015, with no claim that they are somehow objectively the best or that I listened to everything anyone else did. I have found things that delighted me on other people’s lists, and the point of the exercise is not to replicate or compete with those lists but to highlight some things you may not have found, things that might delight you. The sequence changed every time I made a shortlist, so take the numbers with a pinch of salt – all of them could be at least plus or minus 5 on a given day.

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Arovane - dwell_tevvel_structure

dwell_tevvel_structure by Arovane

Germany’s Arovane has been putting out some striking ambient material of late, including the recent dwell_tevvel_structure on the UK label …txt recordings. I have no idea what a tevvel is, and neither does Google; it’s an anagram of velvet and bears a passing resemblance to the Dutch teviel (“too much”), but who knows if that is relevant. Dwelling, in the sense of settling down and taking time, and structure, here in the form of careful layers of sound, are both terms that illuminate the music on this album. The album consists of four long sound pieces (ranging from 14 to 20 minutes), each with its own distinct character yet tied together sonically in an arc that suggests four movements of a whole. The first opens with a gently undulating drift and fluttering patters of brightness – perhaps it’s the cover art, but I find it hard not to think of sunlight sparkling on waves.

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Jenny Hval - Apocalypse, girlJenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl

Norwegian Jenny Hval makes experimental music made up of gentle, often ethereal, synths and uncompromising lyrics focusing on sex, gender, aging, religion, and other deep personal subjects (the word “cunt” is startlingly used on multiple tracks).  This combination of the otherworldly and fully human creates an unsettling, fascinating whole.  Apocalypse, girl, Hval’s third release under her own name, she previously recorded as Rockettothesky and along with Håvard Volden as Nude on Sand, is her best work to date.  In fact, much of Apocalypse, girl merges all the above topics into one massive exploration of the female condition.  This is not music for idle listening, but requires time and focus.  That time and focus are rewarded, however, with one of the most lyrically interesting albums of the year thus far.

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BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah - Sour SoulBADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

Combining an avant-garde, instrumental jazz and hip hop trio and a brilliant MC with a love for soul/jazz samples is a no brainer.  So, it should come as no surprise the combination of BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah works so well.  Throw in guest verses from guys like Doom and Danny Brown, and Sour Soul is an embarrassment of riches.  The album sounds exactly as you would hope, with unmistakable Ghostface rhymes (in both topic and flow) sitting on top of a bed of soulful piano/synths, live bass, and drums.  The artists all have such a wonderful feel for each other it seems they’ve been working together for years.  Sour Soul is a great album.

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Drake - If You're Reading This It's Too LateDrake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Drake has jumped on the release an album by surprise bandwagon with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.  Unlike Beyoncé’s and D’Angelo’s big, blown out surprise albums, however, IYRTITL is really more of a mixtape than a studio album and finds Drake at his most stripped down and emo.  Most of the album is just Drake rapping over spare beats (primarily from Boi-1da, but Noah “40” Shebib is obviously here, too), with only the occasional feature from the likes of Lil Wayne, Travi$ Scott, and PARTYNEXTDOOR.  Essentially, IYRTITL is an album chock full of the most divisive aspects of Drake’s music, so if you’re already a fan you’ll love it, but if you aren’t it’s best to skip this one.

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Father John Misty - I Love You, HoneybearFather John Misty – I Love You Honeybear

If you like the sound of soulful 70’s singer-songwriters, but think their lyrics weren’t nearly sarcastic, caustic, or angry enough, I’d like to introduce you to Father John Misty.  I Love You Honeybear is the real life Josh Tillman’s sophomore album as Father John Misty, and while it replaces a lot of the anger of its predecessor with sincere sentiments of love (he met his now wife after Fear Fun was written) he hasn’t lost all of it (the lines “Save me white Jesus” and “Save me President Jesus” from first single “Bored in the USA” are early contenders for my favorite line of the year).  More importantly, there’s a rare depth to this album that takes several listens to reach.  Once it has been reached, however, I Love You Honeybear opens up and shows it is well worth the time.

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Rae Sremmurd - SremmLifeRae Sremmurd – SremmLife

SremmLife is the debut album from Rae Sremmurd (‘drummers ear’ spelled backwards for…reasons?) a Mississippi rap duo currently based in Atlanta.  Comprised of brothers Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee, Rae Sremmurd made waves in 2014 with hit singles “No Flex Zone” and “No Type” and a sound bridging the gap between chart rap and the ‘weird’ rap currently coming out of Atlanta.  Produced by Mike WiLL Made It (and the first release on his Eardruma label), SremmLife is bouncy southern trap highlighted by those previous singles and the Nicki Minaj/Young Thug collaboration “Throw Sum Mo”.  The rest of the album doesn’t quite rise to those heights, but remains an enjoyable listen and makes for a very promising debut.

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I listened to a lot of music this year.  According to last.fm I’ve listened to around 30,000 tracks, or an average of about 84 a day, in 2014.  A whole lot of those listens weren’t close listens and a lot of them were songs released prior to 2014, but a good number of them were released in the past year.  So while I certainly haven’t heard everything released this year, I’ve heard quite a bit of it and the below list is what I believe is the best.  Unlike most of the writers here at MiG I don’t focus my listening on one or two genres (unless you want to define my listening habits as “blog pop,” which is kind of accurate), so there should be something for most people here.  The blurbs about each album only scratch the surface of them, but I’m hopeful they will lead the reader to explore a couple of them more fully and that you find something you enjoy.  Happy holidays, and here’s to an even better 2015 (Sleater-Kinney is back, so that’s a good start).

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I didn’t listen to everything this year. Neither did you. I have no objective way of knowing that these are (or are not) the 20 best albums released this year. Neither do you. But these are the ones I most loved and most want to spend more time with next year, and who knows, maybe you’ll find something special here too, something you missed but can connect with and find riches in, something off your usual menu that you might come to be thankful for. If that happens even once, the list will be worthwhile. And as always, if any of the musicians drop by, thank you for the work, care, commitment, and creativity represented below.

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