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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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Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable TragedyTitus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a double, concept album focusing on a protagonist dealing (like Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles) with mental illness.  Stickles has been actively working on TMLT for about the last 4 years, but in many ways the album has been foreshadowed (both thematically and musically) for the band’s entire existence.

Lyrically, TMLT is dark and beautiful, despairing and hopeful, and will move many to tears.  Divided into 5 parts, the lyrics follow the unnamed person through all the ups and downs of manic depression: Breakdown, treatment, prescriptions, the highs and lows that still affect everything you do, and how to connect with your loved ones who, despite their best efforts, can’t begin to understand what you’re going through.  Mostly, though, the album is about the internal war between a person and himself, and this war does not have a happy ending.

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Omar Souleyman - Bahdeni NamiOmar Souleyman – Bahdeni Nami

The best known Syrian dabke wedding singer, now based in Turkey due to the Syrian civil war, is back with his second studio recording following 147,692 (number approximate) tape releases in his native country.  Souleyman, who uses electronics and his soulful voice to craft fun, incredibly danceable tunes, again worked with Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden on Bahdeni Nami and the album does not disappoint.  Souleyman’s lyrics are, of course, in Arabic, so very few native English speakers will be able to understand them, but the sound of his voice blends so well the music’s high pitched keyboard sounds that their meaning is really irrelevant.  All that matters is the music irresistibly makes hips shake and heads bob.

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Vince Staples - Summertime '06Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

Summertime ’06 starts with intro track “Ramona Park Legend Pt. 1”, 35 seconds of idyllic southern California beach sounds mixed with a light beat.  There are waves crashing, a baby cooing, and a lone seagull.  The 36th second is the sound of a gunshot.  From there Summertime ’06, Staples’ debut full length (double album actually), opens up into a 13-year old Staples’ world trying to navigate growing up on the streets in the title season.  Staples has an easy flow, has no trouble sitting in the pocket of a beat, and even when a guest appears he never really turns the album over to anyone else.  This is without a doubt Staples’ memory of coming of age in a gangsta world.  Unlike YG’s My Krazy Life, which thrived in the gangsta life, or Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city that chaffed against it, though, Summertime ’06 simply tries to survive within its world.  Like those albums, however, Summertime ’06 seems destined for the West Coast rap pantheon.

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Desaparacidos - PayolaDesaparecidos – Payola

Conor Oberst is a busy man.  He has his solo work, he’s the frontman of Bright Eyes, a member of Monsters of Folk, a founder of Saddle Creek Records, etc. etc. etc.  His hardest hitting job, though, is as the front man of punk band Desaparecidos.  The band was originally formed in 2001 and released Read Music/Speak Spanish the following year before disbanding.  In 2010, the band reformed and started releasing occasional singles, which have been compiled (and added to) on Payola, an album of 14 2-3 minute bursts of pure punk rock.  A listener who goes into Payola expecting the gentle sounds and confessional lyrics of most Oberst projects will be taken aback by the distorted guitars and political ideas, but Oberst isn’t posing here.  He commits fully to the punk ethos and creates a record with depth, breadth, and a whole lot of fun.

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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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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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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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Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just SitCourtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett is part singer/songwriter storytelling and part punk ethos, which combine to form a fascinating whole appealing to fans of both clever lyrics and visceral noise.  Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is just her first full length (following her Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas), but following 8 shows last week at SXSW and features with seemingly every major music website in the last few weeks, it already has her poised on the verge of stardom.  Thankfully, Sometimes I Sit… stands up to the hype.  The guitars still cut, Barnett still sings like a slacker, and the lyrics remain charming, creating yet another entry on the already long list of great 2015 albums.

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