So these lists are always late, but this is the latest they’ve ever been posted. I have my share of excuses – major life events (good and bad) occurred one after the other during the months of November-January when I am usually focused on getting these ready. I debated taking a page from Matthew Berry and writing several paragraphs about those life events before getting to anything music-related – and while that may have even been a good idea, as usual, I find myself completely exhausted at the end of this thing, so I can only half ass it. I’ll just say that if I took the time to explain it, you’d say something like, “Oh, well, no, of course you couldn’t possibly have completed your lists sooner if you were dealing with all of that.”
The very few people who read these posts know what I go through to create these lists each year, but I’m not sure I’ve ever written it out on the actual blog, so here goes: the first time I ever attempted to name my own Top Ten albums of the year, I quickly realized how stupid it was. When I would compare the list to those on popular music sites, I would realize how little of the music being lauded I had even heard. My list could never be presented as the best albums of the year, it could only be the handful of albums one person listened to the most, partially because those albums were great, maybe, but also partially because those happened to be the records that found their way into that person’s life. A few months later, I’d find five albums I forgot to put on my list, and five more that I was only just discovering halfway through the following year, and my original list was at once meaningless.
In my own twisted mind, this meant if I wanted to make a list, any list at all, it would have to be as back-breakingly thorough as humanly possible. I would have to listen to everything. All releases, big and small, across all genres. And over the course of the next several years, I honed in on a process that now has me listening to playlists of every single new release of every week of every year and putting them into other playlists that slowly get whittled down into a list of about 200-300 albums that I will sit down and go through, track by track, and drop into a ranking, one by one. At the end of the year, I’ll also add from other people’s top lists, and I’ll sort through all the music outside of Spotify that I’ve been putting off putting on. Repeat all of this for songs, too. And I still miss stuff, and it still makes me upset, but all I can do is tell myself that I’m covering as much ground as I can reasonably expect from myself.
This, of course, is insane. It takes literal months to complete. I will refuse invitations to go out and spend much of the holiday season ignoring my girlfriend, my friends and family, to work on this list. When I’m done, I post them on a blog that was never widely-read and at this point exists for no point beyond containing these lists. I’ll get something like 30 views per article. Less than 10 Facebook friends will actually be interested in the result, and some of them won’t even catch it appearing in their feeds. Sometimes it elicits a handful of five-minute conversations with a few of these friends. I get some sense of relief that it’s done, but then I have to immediately start getting into gear for the following year. I mean, it’s 2016, I have a new Kanye record to listen to.
Consider also what this means for my listening habits. I never listen to music more than a year old. Keeping on top of all new music means never getting nostalgic, never diving into a moment in music history decades past, never even continuing to enjoy an album that came out only a couple years ago. Once an album is posted on this list, I may never listen to it again.
The problem is… when I debated not going through this exhaustive process this year, I realized I was trapped. My whole way of listening to music now revolves around this process. I was letting records by some of my favorite artists pile up without playing them because I knew I would eventually listen to them when I did my rankings. I’ve gotten addicted to being up on everything, so I know if I take a break or say, listen to music more casually, I’ll be back to missing things. That shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it scares me. I know deep down this somehow has something to do with my fear of death – that I know there’s more hours of music to listen to than I have hours left to live, and every day there’s even more being released, and for some reason, even though I know it’s actually impossible to ever keep up, I believe that if I don’t try as hard as possible to hear it all anyway, I might as well be dead.
At least 2015 was a pretty great year for music. In all honesty, it was one of the best years for music ever, especially if you were me. I don’t know that hip hop has ever been braver, more creative, more diversely talented (hip hop makes up more than 1/3 of this list, including eight in the top 20). My favorite rapper released the best record of his career, three times. My favorite DJ released the two best albums of his career within a span of a few months. I’m once again overjoyed and excited by the direction of dance music, propelled by nightcore and future bass. Pop music’s golden era of the 10s is plowing forever forward. The genre-singularity is practically upon us. Grimes. Psychedelic rock. So many amazing records.
My number 1 is bound to be met with some eye-rolls, but unquestionably, my most controversial ranking this year is putting Kendrick Lamar at #51. And allow me to say this – yes, Kendrick Lamar is one of the most talented, creative, intelligent rappers making music today. Yes, To Pimp a Butterfly is an ambitious masterpiece of art and black culture. It is thoughtfully conceived and a true accomplishment of purpose, a powerful, cohesive statement, in ways few albums ever are. But here’s the other thing – this album is chock full of a few of the worst traditions of American music of all time, namely slam poetry, spoken word, and free jazz. In the contextual web that Kendrick weaves, their inclusion makes sense – they are signifiers to black musical history and culture and are part of the story he tells. So as much as I can admire the decision to put these elements onto his record, I do. But I still have to listen to it. I can’t rank an album in my Top 10 if I can’t resist skipping through large sections of it.
If I were a real music critic, maybe I’d feel like it would be “important” for me to recognize the brilliant work of art that To Pimp a Butterfly is. But as a regular old music listener, wanting to actually listen to your record comes first. None of these critics riding Kendrick’s jock would ever even think about putting on an album of any of these styles of music Butterfly pays tribute to. Nobody fucking likes slam poetry, and nobody likes free jazz. They are entire genres of garbage music, and I can’t stand for it.
Onto the list. As always, you can stream (almost) the whole thing on Spotify. Not included on Spotify are a few great records from Young Thug, Migos, Towkio, Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Tory Lanez, and iLoveMakonnen.
1. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
2. Young Thug – Barter 6
3. Grimes – Art Angels
4. Jack Ü – Skrillex and Diplo present Jack Ü
5. Major Lazer – Peace Is The Mission