The grand finale is here. Leave your top albums list in the comments.
5. Kendrick Lamar-good kid m.A.A.d city
While not every artist Dr. Dre has backed has panned out (see Truth Hurts, RBX, Hittman), the good Dr.’s latest protege Kendrick Lamar has the makings of a special artist. good Kid m.A.A.d. city is narrative of Lamar’s past life from young love and gang life to regret and the loss of a friend. Cuts like “B****, Dan’t Kill My Vibe” and “m.A.A.d. city” are reminiscent of West Coast’s past, but Lamar puts his own spin with vocal distortion and delivery. With the majority of the album set to relaxing, downbeat production, it sometimes takes the intermittent skits to remind a listener of the serious nature of the story. One theme that continuously surfaces on the album is peer pressure. Tracks like “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, “The Art of Peer Pressure” visualize the true struggle Lamar went through encountering drugs, guns and robbery before finally overcoming it on “Sing About Me, Dying of Thirst”. This type of honesty is rare in hip-hop and should be celebrated.
4. Father John Misty-Fear Fun
Josh Tillman often downplays his former role in Fleet Foxes, but that might because he is so good on his own. Fear Fun seemed to come out of nowhere as an album full of folk/indie rock with Tillman’s new moniker and outlook on life and songwriting. Tracks like “Funtimes In Babylon” and “Nancy From Now On” skew towards the sounds Fleet Foxes’ material, while the rest of the album showcases’ Tillman’s confidence as a storyteller (“Hollywood Cemetary Forever Sings”, “O I Long To Feel Your Arms Around Me”). “Only Son Of A Ladies Man” manages to sound triumphant over the hilarious narrative.
3. Lord Huron-Lonesome Dreams
My love for this Cali by way of Michigan act has been well documented, but their debut full length album exceeded even my expectations. Ben Schneider’s omnipresent vocals emit a halo-like quality that cascades songs like “Ends of the Earth” and “Lullaby“ with a spectral hue. “Time to Run” jitters with Americana flavor, while “Brother” dabbles in Fleet Fox-esque folk rock with harmonies that excellently match the feelings of brotherhood. If you need a soundtrack to accompany your next journey across the country, look no further than Lord Huron’s Lonesome Dreams.
2. Santigold-Master of My Make Believe
Santi White set out to create an album focused on being a “ruler of your own reality” and certainly succeeded. Master of My Make Believe continued to show White’s pop songwriting acumen over a diverse collection of tracks touching reggae/dub (“Fame”), electro and more. Nearly every track has a memorable hook, but tracks like “This Isn’t Our Parade” and “The Riot’s Gone” shine above the rest. One “Parade” Santi allegorically pines to help a peer in trouble repeating “Won’t you come down, this isn’t our parade”, while on “Gone” she stands up for a mysterious cause she’s been endlessly fighting. Even with challenging subject matter, Santi rises above as one of the top songwriters in music today.
1. Frank Ocean-channel ORANGE
When I started this list I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t make channel ORANGE #1, but I couldn’t resist. Much like free offering nostalgia Ultra, Ocean expertly paints portraits of love, heartbreak, drugs and wealth, but has a whole new palette of original production to work with. Sounds range from neo-soul (“Thinkin’ Bout You”, “Lost”) to Motown (“Forrest Gump”) to chillwave (“Sierra Leone”), but work cohesively as a deep dive into Oceans psyche. Guest appearances are few but potent with a rare Andre 3000 sighting on “Pink Matter” and a stellar verse from Earl Sweatshirt on the Elton John-inspired “Super Rich Kids”. This is Ocean’s show though and he makes it apparent on “Bad Religion”’. The orchestral backing and Ocean’s pained vocals might make for the most honest confession ever on record.