best of 2015: honorable mentions

casio vsco 1the list of our hands-down favorite albums of 2015 will drop tomorrow.  to sate your appetite for the time being, digest the work of the following five artists; each offered up a project that informed the tone of music this year, continued to shape their own artistic personae, or contributed heavily to social commentary.  a few hit all three categories.  links to stream are imbedded in each title; dig in below.

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black messiahd’angelo & the vanguard – black messiah

without black messiah, kendrick lamar’s to pimp a butterfly would exist in a very different capacity, or perhaps not at all.  d’angelo’s first album in fourteen years so profoundly affected producer terrace martin at the tail-end of 2014 that he immediately began to retouch and rework tracks on lamar’s impending release to integrate its sound into a very similar contemporary social commentary.  black messiah exists in much of the same vein as sly & the family stone’s 1971 classic there’s a riot goin’ on and innervisions-era stevie wonder, with near-flawless levels of funk arrangements and intra-ensemble musicianship (questlove and pino palladino contributed heavily; d’angelo’s near-virtuosic vocal abilities and synth construction are incredible in their own right) compounded by a mixture of romantic odysseys and searing examinations of race relations.  indeed, d’angelo bumped up the release date of the album he had so painstakingly labored over in direct response to the death of eric garner, the decision in ferguson not to indict darren wilson in the death of michael brown, and the protests that surrounded these events.  the urgency of black messiah only became more pertinent, as 2015 ticked off killing after killing of unarmed black citizens at the hands of law enforcement; in forty years, the album will undoubtedly be one of the more salient cultural snapshots of the persisting racism in early twenty-first century america.

ds2 futurefuture – ds2

after a lackluster outing in 2014, you’d be slightly forgiven for assuming that nayvadius wilburn would post a similar performance this year.  but only slightly.  the artist better known as future instead turned in a critically-lauded résumé of two solo mixtapes (with a third purportedly on its way before the year’s end), a high-profile collaboration with drake, and his third studio album, ds2.  future relies heavily on atlanta mainstays metro boomin and zaytoven to craft the dystopian harmonies that accompany his codeine-laced trap hymns on ds2 as he weaves through chest-thumping accounts of bravado (“i serve the base”) and drug-fueled debauchery (“freak hoes”) to balance out the perpetual bleakness of his persona.  future could have hung his head and feebly released snippets of material after failing to live up to his expectations last year; instead, ds2 triumphantly caps off a quest for redemption that has reinstated future as a viable frontrunner for trap’s iron throne.  what a time to be alive.

eat pray thug coverheems – eat pray thug

 “i’m so new york / i still don’t bump tupac,” himanshu suri brags at the outset of “so n.y.,” the second track on eat pray thug.  performing as heems while a member of das rascist and now on his own, suri has made a name for himself with brazen, laugh-out-loud statements like this one, but you can usually bet on there being underlying context.  suri embodies a very particular subset of new york identity: coming of age as a brown man in post-9/11 america.  on eat pray thug, suri relies on personal anecdotes to drive home the laundry list of domestic injustices faced by residents of southeast asian and middle eastern descent in the wake of the attacks, from forced assimilation (“flag shopping”) to heartbreaking consequences of racial profiling (“patriot act”).  the album is a long-overdue narrative in hip-hop, one that is – in a cruel twist of events – still incredibly salient in the face of renewed xenophobia incurred by the attacks in san bernardino and paris.

honeymoonlana del rey – honeymoon

lana del rey has absolutely no qualms about burning slowly for an entire hour on her third major-label full-length.  honeymoon arrives on the heels of last summer’s ultraviolence and sinks even deeper into the realm of full-blown noir, a territory elizabeth grant has been meticulously constructing since the birth of her alter ego.  now it’s just flat-out extravagant.  the central thesis of “high by the beach,” a rare, trap-inspired moment of momentum on the album, comes off as the furthest thing from ridiculous precisely due to the effortless elegance del rey has slowly woven into her music; cinematic centerpieces “music to watch boys to” and “salvatore” follow this rationale closely as well.  it speaks volumes to her artistic growth and confidence that lana del rey no longer has the proclivity for the blatantly provocative.  instead, she just buries them in confessionals against a backdrop of polychromatic orchestration.

tame impala currentstame impala – currents

don’t kid yourself that currents bears any semblance of a revolutionary or landmark album; it doesn’t.  but once you put it in its proper place, this year’s model of tame impala does turn into something special.  kevin parker’s psychedelic magnum opus “let it happen” was one of the most immediately impressionable tracks of the year; the opening number on currents trudges resolutely through a succession of lush soundscapes before reaching an extended epiphany, but it’s parker’s ability and willingness to extend his odyssey that makes the album truly worthwhile.  every wandering, slow-burning moment (ie. “yes i’m changing,” “past life”) is balanced out by adroit slices of straight-up pop (ie. “the less i know the better,” “disciples”), adding a crucial third dimension that’s ultimately responsible for binding currents together.

mixtape sunday – best of 2014

 

on friday we published a list of our ten favorite songs of 2014.  naturally, we’ve compiled those tracks into a concise mixtape for your listening pleasure, which can be experienced above.  our picks run in reverse order and feature offerings from alvvays, caribou, ricky eat acid, fka twigs, and more.  check back tomorrow for continued coverage of our year-end best-of lists.

best of 2014: songs

welcome to day three of our year-end best-of week, an especially interesting day in which we attempt to choose, dissect, and justify our favorite songs of 2014.  obvious pop heavyweights like sia’s “chandelier” and taylor swift’s “shake it off” were removed from consideration in order to recognize some lesser-known artists, the ultimate ethos of dimestore saints.  we’re pretty satisfied with the following ten tracks, but we’d love to hear arguments for any we may have neglected in the comments section below.

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pillar point album cover10. pillar point – “cherry”

scott reitherman’s first solo venture as pillar point touched on nostalgia in all the right ways, with sleepy pop music powered by vintage roland synths and drum machines that still retained an acute sense of originality and inventiveness.  all nine songs on pillar point are earworms in their own right, but the album’s third track, “cherry,” particularly stuck with us throughout the year.  a punchy, fluid bass line pulsates underneath a stuttering vocal sample before finally giving way to the song’s verse, which finds reitherman’s understated approach to lyricism thrust into the spotlight.  an influx of rich, gorgeous textures often distracts from pillar point’s lyrical content, but the hesitant, poignant examination of a blossoming relationship found in “cherry” just can’t be ignored.

jamie xx sleep sound9. jamie xx – “sleep sound”

the xx have been taking their sweet time writing and recording the follow-up to 2012’s coexist, but apparently jamie xx is very skilled at multi-tasking.  the brooding sound architect has yet to release a solo full-length of his own, but the three tracks he did offer up this year were nothing short of monumental.  while “all under one roof raving” drew the most attention, jamie xx’s absolute best work came in the form of “sleep sound,” an aptly-titled nocturnal journey with a punishing subterranean bass line countered by very patient drum programming, which waits nearly four minutes before guiding in the song’s crucial segue to its b-theme material.  if “sleep sound” is any indication, both the xx and its most prolific member are slated to have a very rewarding and important 2015.

8. alvvays – “adult diversion”

molly rankin’s apathetic drawl is one of the most endearing traits of fast-rising toronto upstarts alvvays, but it’s not the band’s most important.  the quintet’s wonderful self-titled debut largely hinges on the stellar guitar interplay between rankin and alec o’hanley, and “adult diversion” sets the tone.  it takes multiple close listens to discern where the song’s main riff splits off into separate countermelodies, and rankin & co. move on to new ideas and arpeggiations before true appreciation can set in.  and then the final component of the alvvays trifecta settles in: rankin’s blunt, polarizing lyrics.  “adult diversion” clearly outlines unrequited love – at best a crush, at worst a full-blown case of stalking – but its delivery is tongue-in-cheek, its trajectory unpredictable, its content slightly morose.  after all, not many college-radio bands can get away with singing about dead girls in closets, even if it’s only a passing reference.

cloud nothings album cover7. cloud nothings – “just see fear”

dylan baldi is dangerously close to becoming an infallible voice in the modern alternative rock climate.  whether or not that voice is discernible is another question entirely.  baldi’s fourth round at the helm of cloud nothings yields an intense but concise result, and “just see fear” is a perfect snapshot of the visceral nature of here and nowhere else.  seemingly over before it even starts, the song finds baldi singing confidently, almost gently at times, though the accompanying onslaught of buzz-saw guitar and drums immediately offsets any potential vulnerability.  the fact that cloud nothings has slimmed down to a power trio doesn’t seem to phase baldi, either; he points to the absence of a second guitarist with the unabashedly thin melody in the first half of the chorus before reminding listeners that a wall of distortion is truly the only indispensable member of cloud nothings.  oh, and his screams never fail to send shivers down spines.

shyne coldchain ii cover

6. vince staples – “nate”

vince staples has come a long way from his earliest role as earl sweatshirt’s especially vulgar side-kick, far enough to coax def jam into releasing his excellent debut ep hell can wait earlier this fall.  despite its warm reception, staples’ pivotal fourth mixtape, shyne coldchain ii, was arguably his most critical effort of 2014.  staples paints blunt, vivid images of less-than-ideal experiences throughout the mixtape’s ten tracks, and it peaks with “nate.”  visceral accounts of an abusive, drug-dealing father resound in his lyrics, but an inner conflict arises inside staples; though he concedes that “all i wanted was a hundred grand,” staples aptly recognizes the consequences of his father’s lifestyle.  the bridge on “nate” is crucial, as james fauntleroy essentially functions as an objective third party, summing up the cyclical hopelessness staples witnesses and examines in his music.

caribou our love cover5. caribou – “our love”

dan snaith spoke of the profound impact stevie wonder had on the creation of our love, his latest effort as caribou.  though their work couldn’t be more different from an aesthetic standpoint, snaith did manage to capture the sheer grandeur that wonder routinely brought to pop music.  our love is an unabashed pop record, and its title track is the surging centerpiece.  hell, the back half of the song is better than 95% of music released this year, but the importance of the front half’s static build elevates “our love” into the ninety-ninth percentile.  the bass line that snaith twists and warps into the song’s prevailing theme is just a measly four notes, but it’s his treatment and intense delivery that make it stick to whatever crosses its path.  ever the master of tension, snaith refuses to resolve the theme at the song’s close and leaves the fourth and final note hanging in the balance, forever tonicizing the figure in everyone’s heads.

lana del rey west coast cover4. lana del rey – “west coast”

lana del rey played us all.  an artist once dismissed as vapid and of middling talent was, conversely, lauded this year, thanks in part to her excellent sophomore effort ultraviolence.  but focus also shifted towards the understanding that lana del rey is a character, interested in exposing gender-based double-standards by fully indulging in them, forever daring us to critique her, to tear her to shreds.  most took the bait.  ultraviolence largely found del rey moving away from the technicolor hip-hop that dotted born to die, instead favoring a more nostalgic monochrome aided by dan auerbach’s production.  amidst ballads and grandiose ambitions lies “west coast,” an understated yet compelling song that is by and far del rey’s best piece of work to date.  she pushes ahead in earnest during the verses, but a little palilalia and a descending guitar lick is all it takes for her to lay back into a gorgeous half-time chorus, laden with reverb that figuratively recalls the hazy, beach-centric imagery conveyed on the single’s cover.

three love songs cover3. ricky eat acid – “god puts us all in the swimming pool”

the entirety of ricky eat acid’s arresting three love songs is emotive, but “god puts us all in the swimming pool” is especially heart-wrenching.  the song is a polarizing contrast to its predecessor, the drake-sampling, house-indebted “in my dreams we’re almost touching,” with its static motion pumping the brakes on any semblance of momentum the album had managed generate up to that point.  this poignancy is crucial, as it allows ricky eat acid’s mastermind sam ray to a moment to breathe before ushering in the erratic final quarter of three love songs.  all functions aside, the manipulation of the vocal loop on “god puts us all in the swimming pool” is one of the most beautiful musical moments of the year.

fka twigs lp1 cover2. fka twigs – “pendulum”

in theory, about half of the ten tracks on fka twigs’ stunning debut lp1 could occupy this slot; only one song really stood in the way of her total conquest of this segment.  tahliah barnett’s artistic persona transcends both her initial career as a backup dancer and the current temptation to lump her in with other singer-songwriters.  her output is largely autonomous, sure, but what sets her apart from those who might be considered her peers is her unabashed dedication to center her music around female sexuality.  and as a wonderful article on no fear of pop pointed out earlier this year, that focus on sex and sexuality is so large that it can’t be confined to twigs’ lyrics; it has to consume the rhythm and tonality of her music and the visual aesthetic and tone of her videos.  “pendulum” winds up in this slot because it directly embodies so much of that mentality.  the even-keeled, predictable beat that pans from one speaker to the other is as repetitive and reliable as a pendulum, while the song’s opening lyric clearly establishes sex as the lyrical catalyst.  but there’s a searing presence of cynicism as twigs ultimately is using “pendulum” as a platform to call a vapid, unresponsive lover on his shit.

a toothpaste suburb cover1. milo – “objectifying rabbits” (ft. open mike eagle)

milo’s career over the past two years has been fairly well-documented here at dimestore saints.  from his pair of eps to his cavalcade mixtape to his side-project scallops hotel, we haven’t missed much.  while milo’s first proper album, a toothpaste suburb, delivered some incredibly satisfying moments, it ultimately felt drawn-out and a bit uneven, perhaps because we’re used to consuming his thoughts in more concise doses.  that being said, the highlights of a toothpaste suburb are some of the finest works found in milo’s catalogue.  “objectifying rabbits” arrives just past the half-way mark of the record, and is the second part of a sequential triptych milo previewed before the album’s release date.  following the positively tender “you are go(o)d to me,” “objectifying rabbits” immediately reintroduces momentum into a toothpaste suburb with swelling synth progressions, setting up milo to deliver the finest opening line of 2014: “echolalia / lisztomania / i played my ukulele on the way to la grange, bruh.”  the non-sequiturs are there, but the lyrics are best-examined as an introduction to the song’s subject matter, which seems to find milo advocating for an appreciation of art and a positive outlook on life above all else.  milo dissents against hedonists and plato in his never-ending quest to convey his philosophical views, and open mike eagle’s closing verse compounds these thoughts in falsetto.  milo is a young artist with very complex thoughts, thoughts undoubtedly watered down to fit within the lyrical confines of a song.  although intensely personal songs radiate across a toothpaste suburb, “objectifying rabbits” is milo’s best effort in proclaiming his philosophical ethos.

 

listen to a new song from lana del rey

lana del rey continues to improve her stock with “shades of cool,” the second single from her upcoming album ultraviolence.  a bonafide slow-burner, “shades of cool” embodies del rey’s nostalgic persona with woozy guitar arpeggios that eventually swell into a wondrous string section.  take a listen below.