Any year-end “best of” list is going to contain its fair share of surprising omissions, and my coverage of 2015’s music output is no different. I wanted to take a moment (or several moments?) to discuss some notable albums that failed to make an appearance on my personal top 20 or my 10 honorable mentions list. While there is a wealth of music that I didn’t hear in 2015, there is a also a great deal that I spent plenty of time with and didn’t feel like I wanted to celebrate on high. Hell, there are a lot more of these albums than the ones that I wrote up in this very space.
I consider these albums I chose to discuss today notable for a variety of different reasons. In one case, an album simply came out too late in the year for me to evaluate it properly in time. In others, there are albums that have dominated the critical and/or popular landscape for some portion of the last 12 months that I simply didn’t like. Maybe I even hated them. Maybe they can go fuck themselves. Then there are albums by artists I really do like, but for whatever the reason their most recent efforts lacked something when they hit my ears.
Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
Look, I totally get it. Courtney Barnett is one of the most talented lyricists in music today, and she deserves to be celebrated as such. Her considerable gift makes Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit an album I still return to even if I never have managed to bond with its creator’s sonic proclivities. Many who didn’t find Barnett’s latest to be one of the best of 2015 were probably put off by her near-spoken delivery, but that wasn’t an issue for me. The repetitive bluesy rock of Sometimes simply doesn’t carry the power for me that it does for others. The music always comes first for me, and that means this otherwise excellent effort loses something in its lasting value as a result.
I’ve been a Baroness fan for a long time now, but it still seems like yesterday when my brother and I discovered the southern-fried metal band with the wonderful Red Album. I remain hazy on the details of how one of us stumbled across them, but Baroness have yet to sully their discography by releasing anything less than gut-punching. Purple is no exception, as Baroness have dealt with the aftermath of a serious bus crash by birthing an album of seriously life-affirming rock music that narrows the band’s focus into their most razor sharp songs to date. Unfortunately, Purple was released on December 18, so I just didn’t feel like I knew the material well enough to comfortably slot the record on my 2015 list despite the fact that it certainly would have been included. You’ll see Purple on my list this time next year, as it is more than deserving.
Destroyer: Poison Season
There are countless occasions over the course of weirdo Dan Bejar’s career that I’ve found him downright charming. He’s always reliable for a solid album, and his work with The New Pornographers injects a sense of shifty nonsense into a power pop band that usually aims dead middle. Poison Season is also complete with good songs, chief among them the gleeful squall of “Dream Lover,” but the album as a complete entity featured plenty of material that I just didn’t find all that engrossing.
Drake: What a Time to Be Alive
Drake is the biggest goddamn deal in the world. He has the highest level of mainstream success, he’s shown himself capable of crossover success, and he’s adored by most casual listeners and reputable media outlets alike. I don’t really care, though, as even his most heralded songs have never held any weight with my ears. I often find his voice annoying and his music staid, and in a world full of dynamic hip hop with a lot of important things to say, I have a lot better ways to spend my time.
Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free
During his time with Drive-By Truckers and as a solo artist, sometimes Jason Isbell will write a song or deliver a turn of phrase that makes me take note. More often, however, I just don’t get it. Isbell’s music feels like a whole lot of other White Dude With Acoustic Guitar music that’s out there right now, and I have yet to find much in the way of a reason to give a shit about him more than any of his other boring contemporaries. Cool guy, but I’ll treat my ears to something else instead.
Janet Jackson: Unbreakable
Nope, not even going to explain this one. Why in the fuck do I have to?
Joanna Newsom: Divers
The musical landscapes Joanna Newsom creates are vast; she’s a woman of boundless vision, she plays the fucking harp, and she’s married to Jake Peralta himself. Problem is, I’m a poor Midwesterner seldom flush enough to actually purchase an album, and her stuff isn’t available on Spotify. I whole-heartedly support your decision to not be stripped clean, Joanna, and I fully intend to spend some time with Divers when it becomes possible. I just haven’t yet.
Protomartyr: The Agent Intellect
I want to like Protomartyr more than I do. I’ve read interviews with frontman Joe Casey and found him to be both interesting and entertaining, and there are flashes of brutal brilliance in the band’s stone cold interpretation of post-punk. Even the band name is cool! The Agent Intellect lacks the hooks or staying power to keep me in the fray, although I’ll definitely come back to check out anything the band does in the future. Maybe this album is just going over my head or something, but it won’t stick.
Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife
SremmLife is an acclaimed hip hop album likely to appeal to most anyone who listens to it, but my attempts at doing so left me jaded and disinterested. This is obviously by design, but SremmLife is such a broad and radio-friendly hip hop explosion that it comes off sounding like any nameless song that had kids doing stupid dances in stupid clubs at any point over the last decade. Yuck.
Tame Impala: Currents
Kevin Parker is a genius, and when I made a similar list on a different blog in 2012, his immersive Lennon pop on Lonerism made that album an easy choice for my top 20. The one-man force came back hard in 2015 with Currents, a meandering album that embraces fully every fiber of Phil Collins’ being. There are some standout moments, but I yawned even those moments away within the individual songs that contained them. I don’t know what it is, but the ’80s-drenched Currents proved far more puzzling than inspiring for me. I respect Parker’s immense talent and willingness to change on a dime, but this time around it didn’t translate to an album that I actually enjoyed.
Wilco: Star Wars
I was pretty fired up about Wilco’s surprise reveal that not only did Star Wars exist, it was available right away. I spent several listens getting to know the new album, and I came to enjoy it from a bit of a distance. Wilco are having a good time throughout the album, and I plan on still returning to it from time to time, but this isn’t really anything new for a band that once released Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot back-to-back. That shouldn’t even be fair. The moral of the story is that Star Wars is pretty good, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go.