Below, you can find lovingly crafted reviews for each of our Top 10 Albums.
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
By Harrison Hipp
Most of the world had heard of Kendrick Lamar before the March release of To Pimp A Butterfly. This isn’t saying much as his previous full-length album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, debuted at #2 on Billboard charts in the fall of 2012 and was the antithesis of a sophomore slump as it later achieved platinum sales. Now, however, Kendrick appears undeniably seasoned and evolved following To Pimp A Butterfly. A pool full of liquor was then, and high school English class visits are now. The Compton rapper personifies a few varying personalities throughout the record including a mix of conflicted and passionate on “u,” or clear and focused on “How Much A Dollar Cost.” The album achieved acclaim among listeners with a wide variety of tastes while also addressing ubiquitous social issues.
To Pimp A Butterfly features the likes of Thundercat, George Clinton, Bilal and Snoop Dogg, among others and definitely checks out on paper. The album begins with a psych-funk journey alongside Thundercat and Clinton on “Wesley’s Journey,” a track produced by Flying Lotus. It almost makes you dream of the conception of a hypothetical supergroup along the lines of FlyLo, Kendrick and Herbie Hancock or something; and only adding to the mystique, Kendrick hinted during a string of shows in early November that he may soon opt to no longer perform material from To Pimp A Butterfly on the road. This is surely due to the demanding nature of the material as Lamar turned in a performance on the album as versatile as any.
The listenable quality is inherently here with all hits like “Alright” and “King Kunta,” and deeper cuts like the jazzy “How Much A Dollar Cost” that belongs on a Robert Glasper album or “The Blacker The Berry” that reminds us hip-hop came from reggae. Kendrick is a conscious minority in his industry and has cast a ripple of influence that will affect generations to follow. At 28 with three studio albums, the acclaim of Kendrick’s career rests somewhat squarely between the shoulders of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp A Butterfly, more so on the latter.
Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
By Kayci Lineberger
Many artists, one could argue almost all, craft their work to create the true representation, the pinnacle of what they’re experiencing; they want to translate the wordless movements of soul and emotion into text, sounds, visions, media that others can see and understand. Inarguably, J. Tillman is doing the same thing with I Love You, Honeybear, he’s just covering a hell of a lot of ground. Each song on this second LP under the Father John Misty moniker stands strongly alone instrumentally and thematically, from heavy rock tracks like “The Ideal Husband” where Tillman unfolds his self-loathing and doubt as someone’s other half, almost chastising and definitely questioning why someone would make him their betrothed, to the symphonic folk ballad “Bored In The USA,” in which Tillman tries to tackle the consumerist, racist, superficial culture and lack of eternal love in the USA, complimented with a laughing track and crooning string and choir sections.
Reflecting back on this LP and the spins I’ve given it in the last ten plus months, I’m finding it interesting this album found a concrete place in my heart. Tillman is known for creating facades, playing a character on and off of the camera — it’s hard to discern where the satire ends and begins with the self expression and commentary on love of I Love You, Honeybear. I’m not usually a fan of music that puts on an act, or music created by someone that acts like an ass, but between the moments of satire and self deprecation moments of vividly true, visceral emotion shine through. It may be that encapsulated by wordplay and instrumental bravado, those poetic moments come through stronger.
There’s also something to be said for Tillman’s analysis of love in our 21st century society. How many of these modern loves are true, how genuine are our interactions, not just with lovers but with friends, colleagues, family? An unanswerable question, but Tillman tackles it all the same, erring on the loveless side of caution. This topic is torn apart in “Holy Shit,” one of my personal favorites on this album. Tillman validates the love he has for his Honeybear while questioning it, and all love really, when he sings “Oh, and love is just an institution based on human frailty / What’s your paradise gotta do with Adam and Eve? / Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity / But what I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me.”
Truly, each aspect of this album is wonderfully refined. The weaving of different genres into one cohesive sound, diverse instrumentation, poetic lyrics, intelligent satirical commentary, and most importantly the artistic vision and overarching themes creates a diverse, entrancing listen. I Love You, Honeybear could be an album that you crank up as you lay your love down next to the fire, in theory at least. In execution, it is anything but. It is a visceral, twisted, affection drenched exploration of the concept of loving another person in this strange age, loving so deeply it’s terrifying. Love is not always smooth or comfortable, and neither is I Love You, Honeybear. J. Tillman is at times abrasive and painful; he is concerned more about creating an honest letter of love than a soothing one, and for that, he has my respect.
Tame Impala, Currents
By Dylan Fox
Tame Impala is an Australian rock band out of Perth formed in 2007. Beyond that, it proves quite the challenge to describe them any other way than calling them complex. Founded by the ever-gifted Kevin Parker in 2007, their debut, Innerspeaker (2010) was met with wide spread critical acclaim and eventually certified gold in Australia. Impala’s sophomore album, Lonerism (2012) busted out the gates, taking a more organic approach and then received a Grammy for Best Alternative Album. Naturally, many fans were cautiously anticipating Currents – would this be their dud after a history of bangers? The Internet was abuzz with rumors and speculation. So imagine the relief and delight when Tame Impala pulled a triad of golden albums by releasing Currents this year, sweeping its fans fears off of their feet and pulling them down the rapids.
The album starts off with seven-minute synth wizard magic, “Let it Happen.” This sets the mood for the rest of the album with an assurance that front man Kevin Parker has retained many of Tame Impala’s qualities, some picked back up from Innerspeaker and many new. “Nangs” softly pulls the tone into a more upbeat track, “The Moment.” Though this song resembles ‘80’s pop rhythm and synth bell rings that sound like a cover of a Culture Club, Squeeze, or Joe Jackson, these three distinct tracks all keep to this theme of an impending calamity. In particular, the lines “I heard about a whirlwind that’s coming ‘round / It’s going to carry off all that isn’t bound,” which is followed by the mysterious repetition in “Nangs” of “but is there something more than that?” This is finalized in “The Moment” when the chorus chides, “…oh it’s getting closer.”
“Eventually” is a relapse in a crashing sound similar to Lonerism supports this as Parker is informing a lover that he will inevitably be the cause of pain at some point. Through the relentlessly funky “The Less I Know the Better,” the more conceptual “Past Life,” and “Disciples,” the trouble being delineated becomes more specific. By the tenth track, “‘Cause I’m a Man,” the album blends both the conceptual and funky tones and it becomes clear this impending whirlwind was an inexplicable crack in a relationship. “Love/Paranoia” is the first of the two final introspective tracks – one that tries to work beneath the urges that caused the two lovers to part ways. In “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” the nail in the coffin is “…you’ve got your demons and she’s got her regrets.”
Admittedly, like many other Tame Impala fans, it gets easy for me to obsess over the meaning of these songs. I believe this is what made Currents stand out a head above its competition this year. Further, this is what I believe makes Tame Impala stand a head above competition in general. Very few songs retain such an avant-garde individuality while still being captivating enough to listen to when you’re not looking to think. The group struck dynamism in this album similar to Radiohead’s Kid A. There is so much layered into this album both lyrically and musically – from that extra dribble of the snare in between the song’s regular kick to the subtle hints dropped in the vocal tone as the songs progress. In summary, Currents is well worth your time. It has just about everything for everybody – a little Beatles, a pinch of Toro y Moi, and maybe a hint of Michael Jackson. These songs will rudiment in your mind longer than you’ll be willing to admit.
Viet Cong, Viet Cong
By John McCain
Viet Cong’s self-titled debut full length album has persistently enthralled me more than most any other piece of music to come out this year. Matt Flegel’s voice presents a visceral, bitter, and world weary tone, and the record has a beautiful balance of experimental abrasiveness and catchy not-quite-pop melodies which keeps it equally accessible and captivating. Dark and grainy textures permeate through the entire album, and gratifying and catchy songs like Continental Shelf and Silhouettes give relief between wonderfully indulgent songs like Death, the album’s 11 minute long closer. Viet Cong is certainly sonically reminiscent of its progenitor, Calgary based art rock/math rock group Women, another personal favorite of mine. Despite this, the core soul and sound of the band shines through as refreshingly original, and Viet Cong has certainly earned its place as one of KJHK’s favorite albums of 2015.
Jamie xx, In Colour
By Pat McQuillan
At the age of 27 Jamie Smith has built quite the repertoire. In 2005 he and his London school mates came together and became the indie darlings of The xx, quickly making waves across the UK. While on the road with his band Jamie managed to remix Gil-Scott Heron’s record I’m New Here into the beautifully evolved We’re New Here. As he balanced both The xx and Heron’s projects, he was dropping remix after remix of his favorite tracks. This kid just wouldn’t quit. Even with all of this going on, he made time to gear up for his first studio effort. On May 29th, just in time for summer, Jamie dropped In Colour. The first time I heard this record my friends and I were cruising around Lawrence aimlessly. There’s no better way to hear an album for the first time then sitting shotgun in your friend’s car. It took about 30 seconds and instantly I was hooked. The first words spoken on the record are “Oh my gosh!” Fitting. That’s exactly what I was thinking.
The album feels less like a record and more like a burnt CD from Jamie himself. His tracks are dripping with influence. Trance, grime, rave, breakbeat, reggae, dubstep, U.K. funky, and pop are just a few of the seemingly endless genres he weaves in and out of his tracks. Every song on In Colour could stand alone if need be, but his transitions give us no reason to play one song at a time. This record is at its best when played from start to finish. Jamie XX certainly didn’t forget where he came from. He features The xx bandmates Romy and Oliver on three of his eleven tracks and they fit ever so perfectly. Other noteworthy collaborators include Alicia Keys, Young Thug, Krucial, and Hugh Masekela.
Some stand out tracks include: Loud Places (featuring The xx bandmate Romy Madley Croft), I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times (featuring Young Thug and Popcaan), and my personal favorite Obvs, a tropical track made up almost entirely of steel drums. (YouTube this now and thank me later). I can’t tell you how many unnecessary car rides I’ve taken just to hear this album front to back. It’s study music. It’s pregame music. All in all, it’s a delicious record. For good vibes all around, check out In Colour.
Oneohtrix Point Never, Garden of Delete
By PJ Moon
Imagine this: The year is 1994. You’re a delicate young flower, 6 years old, and Bill Clinton is the president. Everyone is wearing ugly jeans, Green Day just released a good pop album, McDonalds still sucks, and the blockbuster film Speed is still new and people can’t get enough of it. Your parents are pretty dope. They listen to good music, your mom puts Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill tape in the car’s tape deck every day on the way to school. Good memories. Every light has its shadow though and the shadow always following the light in my childhood was hair metal. My parents, although having decent tastes for the most part, were hair metal fiends. I know more hair metal hits than I should. By 1994, hair metal was already long dead but they still played it on Kansas radio like it was alive and well. I knew these hair metal memories weren’t completely unique but I never expected anyone to derive inspiration from them in the way that Oneohtrix Point Never has with his new album, Garden of Delete.
Garden of Delete is a haunting listen that picks through a lot of trashy late `80s and early `90s guitar hits. Listening to this album, I can hear ghosts of my musical past possessing Oneohtrix Point Never’s muse. Sometimes obvious, sometimes not so much, the influence of crappy tunes like Queensrÿche’s 1989 hit, “I Don’t Believe In Love” and 1989’s other slam dunk hit, “Close My Eyes Forever” by platinum blonde big hair duo, Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne, are heard by the heedful ear that knew these songs when they were still being played on the radio with some regularity. These two songs employ a ridiculously big guitar sound that accompanies lyrics also ridiculously big and shallow. Neither Queensrÿche nor Litad Ford and Ozzy are the subject in focus though; we are talking about Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden of Delete.
Using a guitar high in the mix for the first time in his recording career, Daniel Lopatin (the man behind Oneohtrix Point Never), has emulated the darker tone created by the production behind those two hits. No sweat though, he has abstained from the hair metal vocal work. It’s such an uncanny thing and that’s what, to me, is my favorite thing about this album. There’s something strikingly familiar about Garden of Delete yet at the same time it isn’t a stale mess of rock guitar worship. Utilizing dreamy samples in his sound the same way he did on his 2011 release, Replica and the crystalline synth work featured in 2013’s R Plus Seven, Daniel Lopatin has created a sound that’s altogether new and reverent of the past without being completely derivative. Even if you aren’t old enough to remember hearing moody, late era hair metal hits semi-regularly on the radio, Garden of Delete is an expertly crafted album and a rewarding listen.
Browse the web, sift through the piling detritus of an absurdist’s pop culture dream and at some point you’ll reach a feeling of being overwhelmed. Everything sucks, right? Now, back away from the computer and put on Garden of Delete. Crank it up though. Grab a drink. Return to your computer and type “www.oocities.org” into the browser’s web address bar, hit enter. The ugly web page on the screen before you is the optimal visual accompaniment to Garden of Delete. Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden of Delete is essentially “Delete me from this website, please. I don’t like it here” set to music.
Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
By Caroline Roe
For the second year in a row, Courtney Barnett has made KJHK’s Top Ten list, which helps folks realize that it’s completely deserved. Her fantastic debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, recently earned her a Grammy nomination and landed her on numerous “Best Of” lists, just like this one. The most noticeable and revered aspect of Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is the witty, personal, poetic, and comedic lyrics that have come to define Barnett. Similar to Ben Folds in that “how many words can I fit into eight bars?”way, Barnett’s songs are equally vague, humorous, and relatable, but never appear rushed or overthought. Her deadpan delivery coupled with her ability to shred like no other embody an emerging genre of musician, along with Mac DeMarco and essentially anyone who lives in a 20 miles radius from Los Angeles, that subscribes to a DIY ethos and makes the listener think “Hey, I can do that!” This reputation makes her the perfect candidate to be this generation’s “next-door cool girl” like Kim Deal was in the 90’s.
The album’s biggest single, “Pedestrian at Best,” is a dive into Barnett’s feeling towards her newfound fame and success, and it captures a sense of uncertainty without sounding too self-critical or ungrateful. The specificity she evokes out of everyday struggles, the repetitive bass line, and the frantic guitar all contribute to an overall feeling of anxiety, which is a common theme throughout the entire album. Other songs like “An Illustration of Loneliness”, “Small Poppies”, and “Boxing Day Blues” are more sentimental; quieter, with obvious tones of depression and self-doubt. These are balanced out with funnier, wittier songs like “Elevator Operator” and “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party.” Barnett found the perfect balance and kept her album from becoming either too gloomy or carefree, which is obviously appealing to her audience.
Barnett’s music is some of the freshest on the radio today. It takes cues from ’90s salt-rock heroes like Pavement, the Breeders, and Husker Dü but is also reminiscent of ’60s pop and early blues-influenced rock. This mix of sounds, along with her ingenious crafting of lyrics, help Barnett stand out from the electro-heavy and arguably emotionally detached music that’s gained popularity recently. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is effortlessly conscious and cool, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she landed herself on next year’s Top Ten list once again.
Drake, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
By Emily Davidson
Oh, Drake. I’m really not sure how to write this review for your “mixtape” album put out this year…
Honestly, I have always been hesitant to admit that I like Drake, his lyrics having often been whiny and egotistical, lacking a depth or substance of content, qualities which other rap artists capture with ease.
That being said, I love Drake. Yes, that statement comes from my white-girl perspective on rap, but I do. Even if at times I find myself rolling my eyes at the lyrics, this album somehow ends up on my stereo on repeat with the bass vibrating my apartment. This album, or mix-tape as Drake would prefer us to call it, is well put together. Drake is consistently good with slow lyrics and moody beats, which are approachable to anyone. He makes rap that is easy to listen to, typically including catch-phrase choruses that stick in your brain.
My favorites on the album are “Know Yourself” and “You & The 6.” Both tracks are on the introspective side for Drake and seem a little less egocentric and more honest than others. They capture the essence of Drake’s style with memorable, catchy choruses slowed to an approachable tempo, and utilize repetition so the listener sings along and remembers it later.
Moody beats with harsher vocals and hook filled choruses like “Energy,” “10 Bands,” and “6 Man” get your adrenaline going and make you feel part of the hype and the angsty ‘under appreciated genius’ of Drake. Slower tracks with softer rhythm like “Legend,” “Madonna,” “Used To,” and “Now & Forever” give the listener something to vibe to. He loses something in the middle though, when Lil Wayne joins for a few tracks. This is the part of the album, for me, that feels similar to a mix-tape, seeming less explored / put-together. To end the album, of course, he had to add something for the ladies. Like a seductive lullaby, “Jungle” softens the album, capturing your attention (and your heart). This was the song I came back to the album for after playing it for the first time.
All in all, I do love this album. At the expense of losing my credibility as a lover of rap and hip-hop, I do have to admit… Drake is one of my favorites, and this album was definitely, for me, one of the best of 2015.
St. Germain, St. Germain
By Shane Blair
St. Germain’s self-titled album is a spectacle of talent that is filled to the brim with addicting percussion beats, features of endless tasteful solos using every jazzy instrument Ludovic Navarre (the man behind St. Germain) could get his hands on, and incorporates subtle house elements that add a texture to each song they couldn’t live without. It’s a melting pot of an album that blends many cultures of music into one soulful stew. I like to imagine that Ludovic took a trip around the world in preparation for this album. Visiting Ghana to play Djembe rhythms in drum cirlces, flying to St. Louis to listen to a piano solo in a jazz club, then heading back to France to hit a club then go directly to the studio. St. Germain is amongst the worldliest albums out there and it succeeds in encapsulating as many distinct sounds from as many cultures as possible.
Unlike Tourist (St. Germain’s third album), this album separates house from nu-jazz and more heavily incorporates the latter. The electronic elements seem to serve as a compliment to the jazz until it can fully manifest in the later stages of a track. When the bass drum kicks in it arrives with the rest of the party. “Mary L.” is an especially interesting track that takes on drum patterns reminiscent of those featured in trip-hop while maintaining a smooth jazzy feel. I swear, when the rhythm hits on that song the lights in the room will dim and tinge themselves blue. “Family Tree” starts as a sweet piano solo that, over the course of 7 minutes, turns into a house tune with a saxophone jamming in between. “Sittin’ Here” hits off with a solid deep jive and sustains both a guitar solo and frequent vocal inputs from a Malian singer. Each song has pieces of the world in it, and it sounds great on a technical level, too. The recording and mastering engineers knew what needed to be done to achieve a great sounding album with solid dynamics.
This album is a ticket to Brazil, Mali, Kansas City, and France all at once. Though St. Germain is on the softer side energy-wise, it still has the ability to get you dancing if you let it. It’s clear that the main focus of this album was to be subtler in its execution than in his previous works while squeezing in as many elements as he could and I admire his success. The album as a whole came across as clean and mellow; a perfect stage for all of the solos that jumped around the entire soundscape. The return of Ludovic was, indeed, well received here at KJHK. Hopefully next time he plans a visit, and we don’t have to wait 15 years before he arrives.
“Oh yeah, uh… I’m stuck in Peru! Just uh, give me a month and I’ll be there, I swear!”
Kamasi Washington, The Epic
by Kayci Lineberger
It’s times like these, when I’m staring down a piece of art that is expansive, humble in it’s obvious magnificence, and appearing almost eternal and godlike, that I realize that I don’t know enough. In some areas, I feel competent. Wanna talk about The Goat Rodeo Sessions, Chris Thile’s mandolin shreds? Let me tell you about Nickel Creek’s ode to The Lord of The Rings that I’m still not over, 15 years after it was released. But ask me about Jazz? I’ll shirk away, afraid of being run over by those obviously more knowledgable, many of them eager to tell you just how much they know. Kamasi Washington takes this pomp and side-eyeing into account, then shatters it with his debut solo release, The Epic.
It’s important to pay respect to Kamasi’s work outside of this album. Kamasi has been playing tenor saxophone professionally for over 10 years, collaborated with Kendrick Lamar to do a large chunk of the arranging for the groundbreaking To Pimp A Butterfly, and has worked with a spectrum of artists from Herbie Hancock to Chaka Khan to Nas. He composed and played keyboard and sax on Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead!, as well as sax on Thundercat’s Them Changes. Kamasi also plays with his modern 10 piece big band, The Next Step.
These musical companions, specifically Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and The Next Step find their way into the sounds of The Epic naturally. Spanning 3 discs and over 2 hours, The Epic explores innumerable influences. The drive and encapsulating biblical chaos of You’re Dead! can be found in tracks like “Miss Understanding”, and brooding Thundercat bass opens up “The Magnificent 7.” While the album’s emphasis is Washington’s saxophone, The Next Step was with Washington every step of the way, creating the nestling sounds needed to let the saxophone shine.
What I find so entrancing about this album is the way it’s goliath and heavenly in expansiveness and content, yet remains humble. Washington gives every musician that lent a hand in the composition of The Epic the space they deserve. This gives the listener a plethora of musical experiences, treating you to funky bass riffs, The Bad Plus esque piano sessions, and soulful vocals. But in it’s two plus hours of run time, The Epic doesn’t drag or fall in on itself; it provides even the most unexperienced ear an infinity of sounds to grasp onto. It is a virtuosic debut solo album unlike any that many contemporary jazz musicians will ever find, and explores the modern day concept of jazz, rewriting the standards with ease and warmth. A beautiful album to round out our Top 10, The Epic is purely, a pleasure.