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Vince Staples

Saw a lot of live music this year, with well over 100 different bands represented.  These were the best of the bunch:

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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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Tame Impala - CurrentsTame Impala – Currents

Prior to his third album as frontman of Tame Impala, Kevin Parker collaborated with Mark Ronson on his mega hit Uptown Special (including singing lead on that album’s actual best song “Daffodils”), and it appears he learned a few things from Ronson.  Currents is still very much a Tame Impala record, but where InnerSpeaker and Lonerism were insular psychedelic rock made for putting on headphones and shutting out the world, Currents takes the band’s sound in a dancey new direction that begs to be played at high volume at BBQs and on beaches.  Whether it’s the sprawling jam of “Let it Happen”, the earworm hook of “‘Cause I’m a Man”, or the pure beauty of “Eventually”, Currents is, quite simply, the perfect summer album.

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Fucked Up - Year of the Hare

Fucked Up – Year of the Hare

Toronto hardcore punks Fucked Up have a tradition of an annual EP release based on the Chinese Zodiac.  Interestingly, despite being a hardcore band, each of the Zodiac EPs sees the band try out long, sprawling tracks and Year of the Hare is no exception.  Stretching to a mammoth 21 and a half minutes, the title track opens with nearly 7 minutes of guitar picking/strums and gentle piano before the band and Pink Eyes’ vocals enter in.  Even when they do, it is not a hardcore thrash (although Pink Eyes still sounds as guttural as ever until he drops out in favor of guest vocalist Isla Craig), but a fairly traditional rock song until about the 17 minute mark when the guitars ramp up, cut out completely at about 18:30, roar back with a vengeance, and then end the track the way it began.  It’s a fascinating listen, as is b-side “California Cold”, which features…flutes?  And drones?  This band is the best.

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The Tallest Man on Earth - Dark Bird is HomeThe Tallest Man on Earth – Dark Bird is Home

Swede Kristian Matsson has been making singer/songwriter folk as The Tallest Man on Earth since 2006, but Dark Bird is Home is easily his grandest.  Featuring a full band for the first time, including horns and even some electronics, Matsson has added a richness and depth to his music that often puts the album more in the vein of The Decemberists than his usual comparison of Bon Iver.  His true strength, however, remains as a poet, and the album is chock full of wordplay like “And I’ve already grown up here, here I might as well grow down” (from “Little Nowhere Towns”).  This combination of orchestration and lyrics makes Dark Bird is Home an absolute gem.

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Metz - IIMetz – II

The sophomore release from Toronto noise rock/hardcore punk band Metz, II picks up right where their self titled album left off.  It’s an Amphetamine Reptile-like mix of punk, grunge, and shoegaze with loud, fuzzed out guitars, crushing drums and bass, and emotive vocals.  Basically II is the epitome of what Robert Christgau derisively calls pigfuck.  As with most bands tarred (gifted?) with that label, however, there’s a melodicism to Metz that produces a true depth to their sound.  It’s not music to be played around the campfire, but II is perfect for anyone who likes their rock music with a whole lot of bite.

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Towkio - .WAV TheoryTowkio – .WAV Theory

Earlier this month, Towkio released the Chance the Rapper featuring “Heaven Only Knows” as a lead single to .WAV Theory.  The fantastic track was chock full of jazzy sounds, finger snaps/claps, and a gospel choir, but it was a statement from Chance at the end of the track that got people’s attention.  Just before the track ends, Chance says .WAV Theory would be the hottest mixtape of 2015, and anticipation for the tape skyrocketed.  Thankfully, we now know he wasn’t wrong.  With help from The Social Experiment, Vic Mensa, Kaytranda, and others, Towkio has created a tape that beautifully merges the disparate threads of Chicago rap into a cohesive (if experimental and maybe a little overstuffed) whole, that is most certainly the tape of the year so far.  Download it for free here.

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Speedy Ortiz - Foil DeerSpeedy Ortiz – Foil Deer

Coming out of Massachusetts’ prolific fuzzy, noise pop scene, Speedy Ortiz’s previous releases were enjoyable, especially the cryptic lyrics of frontwoman Sadie Dupuis, but lacked the hooks to take the band to the next level.  Foil Deer does not have that deficiency.  Instead, there are hooks as far as the eye can see in addition to the great lyrics (“I was the best at being second place/But now I’m just the runner up” is a contender for best line of the year).  Dupuis’ voice and the album’s guitar tones bring to mind 90s artists like Liz Phair and Veruca Salt, so the album is particularly recommended for fans of those artists, but really if you like guitar pop at all, Foil Deer (especially “Puffer” and lead single “Raising the Skate”) is for you.

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Waxahatchee - Ivy TrippWaxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

Philadelphia’s, by way of Birmingham, AL, Waxahatchee is the solo project of Katie Crutchfield, who makes DIY singer/songwriter, punk.  Ivy Tripp is Waxahatchee’s fantastic third full length album, first for the like minded Merge Records, and continues Crutchfield’s exploration of feminist ideas that goes back to her pre-Waxahatchee bands P.S. Eliot and The Ackleys.  Ivy Tripp‘s lyrics use Crutchfield’s experiences, or more specifically her mistakes, to demonstrate how a strong, independent woman is formed in today’s society, but it’s clear she’s just an example and makes no claim at creating a road map.  Even if you aren’t interested in the lyrics, though, (and really, whether you’re male or female, liberal or conservative, you should be interested) there is a lot to enjoy on Ivy Tripp.

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Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & LowellSufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

If there were questions as to the direction Sufjan Stevens would take after the departure from the norm that was Age of Adz, naming his new album after his mother and stepfather (his first album since his mother’s passing, mind you) answered those questions load and clear: Sufjan Stevens is looking back, which means a return to lovely, gentle indie folk.  Carrie & Lowell strips away both the electronics of Adz and the lush orchestration of Come on Feel the Illinoise, putting the focus squarely on Sufjan’s lyrics, which come heavily from his life.  This album is going inspire a lot of reminiscing, particularly amongst those who have lost parents, and is going to cause a lot of tears.  They’ll be happy tears, though, so it’s unlikely people will be complaining.

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