TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2015

#10 Deafheaven/ New Bermuda

DeafheavenAfter 2013’s genre-bending Sunbather took the music scene by storm, creating a powerful discussion surrounding Deafheaven’s influence and positioning across the broad metal spectrum, most of the resulting excitement centered more around what direction they would be heading next than upon what they had actually created. That wait ended in early October, as the Bay area quintet delivered an album equally as difficult to describe in terms of genre, but that was most certainly an entirely different animal than its predecessor. Most notably, the “soft” interlude pieces that tied together Sunbather‘s four proper length tracks are gone, and New Bermuda instead contains five unabashedly brazen full-length songs that offer no come-down in between. Stylistically, a simplistic summary would argue that the “loud” segments of these songs are uglier, nastier, more harsh and more “metal” than they were on the last album, but that the “soft” segments are even quieter and less dependent on build and crescendo. Whereas the title track from Sunbather culminated with soaring, atmospheric guitars that beckoned post-rock and shoegaze elements a la Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky, Deafheaven seems content here to offer acoustic guitar codas that border on twangy and come closer to what one might expect from more rock-oriented metal counterparts like Pallbearer or Baroness. It’s purely a matter of preference, as these melodies are impeccably beautiful in their own right. But the contrast that they create when paired with such abrasiveness is a bit of a shock to the system and even more noticeable than they were on Sunbather, and dare I say, not what most fans were expecting or hoping for.

“Come Back” consists of three separate movements, as thunderous percussion meets an onslaught of powerful lead guitar, breaks down into more of a snarling, serpentine midsection before melting into a gentle acoustic riff. “Baby Blue” serves as the centerpiece and comes full circle as it reverses the formula a bit, opening with a gorgeously repetitive guitar riff up front for two solid minutes before shifting into darker territory, eventually escalating into a powerful, terrifying moment when all the elements come together. This track in particular shows maturity and patience, and while the drum work is top notch across the board, Daniel Tracy absolutely knocks it out of the park on this one over its ten minute length. This is probably the closest the band comes to genuinely soaring, as an industrial grind evolves into a heavenly electric guitar line and then collapses back upon itself. Some will find the contrast here more accessible and innovative than Sunbather was, while others will criticize the band for straddling the fence and trying to play both sides of the genre game even more egregiously than they were before. Whatever your take, New Bermuda is undeniably an ambitious record, the sound of a band organically coming into its own as what it is meant to be, for better or worse.

#9 Beach House/ Depression Cherry

Beach HouseThis isn’t the first time a Beach House album has dropped and struck a chord thematically during a particularly difficult time in my life, and come to think of it, this is a band that not only makes consistently gorgeous music, but one that makes music with broad interpretation possibilities that can be applied as you need it to be. Independent of that reality, the band has seemingly perfected its unique form of melancholy over its six studio albums into a sound that still braces with warmth and hope. Depression Cherry has all the lyrical nuance of a breakup album, with the same bittersweet, forlorn tone that has become the Beach House signature, but the music itself carries with it an element of acceptance and optimism. Take early highlight “Space Song”, where lead singer Victoria LeGrand sings in her trademark raspy vocal “Tender is the night/ For the broken heart/ Who will dry your eyes/ When it falls apart” but emotionally regroups through the coda, repeating “Fall back into place.” Airy Opener “Levitation” feels like a look back at what could have been but wasn’t, as Legrand whispers “You should see/ There’s a place I want to take you/ When the train comes I will hold you/ Cause you blow my mind.” Lead single “Sparks” boasts perhaps the prettiest slide guitar riff in a catalog jammed packed with them, again straddling the line between bliss and grief.

The repetitive, hypnotic melody of “PPP” combined with lines like “Did you see it coming/ It happened so fast/ The timing was perfect/ Water on glass” and “There’s something inside you/ It doesn’t sleep well” hit a stunning bit close to home for me at the time and is the sort of song you can just drift away to. And what more can be said about the gorgeous “Beyond Love”, the one true love song on the album, but one that shows an ambiguity of time and place that seems fitting for any stage of a particular relationship. Legrand hits a slightly off-key note near the end of the song as she sings “All I know’s what I see/ And I can’t live without it” that is just absolutely crushing. If Depression Cherry has a drawback relative to the band’s prior masterpieces Teen Dream and Bloom, it comes in terms of depth, as the shorter track length and relatively subdued centerpiece “10:37” and slowly-developing closer “Days of Candy” drag down the continuity a bit. Still, where it hits hard, it packs a punch.

#8 Vince Staples/ Summertime 06

StaplesThe brilliant 2014 debut EP Hell Can Wait showed a great deal of promise from Compton rapper Vince Staples, but few expected his debut full length to deliver a collection of so much depth and darkness. At its core, this is an album about fear, both in terms of both its creation and its acceptance. Its title focuses on a time in Staples’s life when, at the age of 13, he realized the importance of both of those things. Opener “Lift Me Up” is immediately gripping and engaging, exuding confidence beneath is dark bassline. Describing the song’s meeting, Staples was quoted as saying, “But that’s when we understood the power we had in fear, because it’s either they’re scared of you or they’re better than you. So we established fear, and the song is understanding that.” In terms of beats, there is a consistently chilly, spacious feel here; these aren’t your typical hard-hitting west coast rap beats, as paranoia, bracing tension and uncertainty lurk at every turn while bravado takes a back seat. There are sexual undertones beneath the almost tribal beats on tracks like “Lemme Know” and “Dopeman”, the arrangements on which demonstrate a unique understanding for space. “Senorita” takes that sound to another level with its eerie, haunting piano loop and thrusting bass line complete with an addictive hook from Future that contrasts nicely with Staples’ deliberately delivered rhyme tales of death.

At the end of its first half, Summertime 06 reaches its emotional climax with its title track, which feature Staples singing in a weary monotone over light autotune as the track builds with a mournful sense of dread, culminating with the line “My teachers told us we was slaves/ My momma told me we was kings/ I don’t know who to listen to/ I guess we somewhere in between.” “Get Paid” offers arguably the only truly club-ready moment here and stands alone as the clear highlight on the album’s back half, as a propulsive, driving beat supports Staples’ “money over women” narrative, getting straight to the point as it ends on the lyric “Money is the means of control.” While short on optimism, there’s plenty of melody underneath tracks like “3230”, “C.N.B” and “Like It Is”, which help to keep Summertime 06 at once streamlined thematically and diverse musically. These 20 songs seem to fly by as the album finishes in under an hour with relentless focus, a restrained, mature effort that shows massive breadth for such a young artist.

#7 Panda Bear/ Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

PandaReleased in 2007, Person Pitch is widely regarded as Noah Lennox’s magnum opus, but while that record was bursting from the seams with innovation and complexity at the time of its release, one could make the argument that with Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, he has created his most accessible and complete work to date. At the very least, it’s a big step forward from 2011’s somewhat meandering Tomboy, as melody takes center stage this time around, almost splitting the difference between the two prior records. Its early winter release caused it to become somewhat of a forgotten album as the year wore on, but there’s undeniable staying power here. Opener “Sequential Circuits” contains that familiar hypnotic Lennox vocal that builds softly and slowly, whetting the appetite for the explosion that follows it, while penultimate track “Selfish Gene” takes that similar tone to a higher level its isolated, jabbing synths and airy vocals. In between, “Mr. Noah” is as in-your-face and relentless as anything in the Panda Bear catalog and presents an immediate contrast with its abrasive, almost discordant buzz-saw synths and creative melodic tricks (“ay-ay-ay-ay!”)

The bright psychedelica of “Crosswords” bursts with optimism and is perfect for a sunny day, as Lennox seems to be looking in the mirror and talking to himself, singing “So good/ You’ve got it so good/ Day after day/ So good.” There’s sprawling synth fuzz and distant snare drum beats behind the incomprehensible chanting on “Boys Latin”, which creates an addictive if puzzling mood as it scales upward. At its center, the seven minute “Come To Your Senses” is the longest track on the record and stands an undeniable highlight with its bonfire beach party groove that builds behind a slowly escalating melody as Lennox sings repetitively “Are you mad?” before answering nonchalantly “Ya, I’m mad”, a response in certain contrast to the mood and tone this particular track establishes. If comparing back to Person Pitch one last time, it’s nice to see that Lennox continues to integrate the same relaxing, chill, almost tropical vibes into his music that were so evident and defining on that record, and when combined with superior melody and accessibility, the results equate to a career topper.

#6 Father John Misty/ I Love You Honeybear

FJMJosh Tillman was a former drummer in Fleet Foxes, and on his sophomore solo effort delivers a relentlessly charismatic collection of songs as his alter-ego Father John Misty. Here, Tillman finds the perfect balance between self-deprecating theatrics, genuine humor and honest discourse on a variety of topics, all of which seem to indicate and confirm his generally miserable worldview. Musically, it can best be described as some sort of other-worldy blend between folk-rock and baroque pop; lyrically it contains an ever-present injection of cynicism that seems never too much to be completely over the top, but never too little to be dismissed as anything less than unsettling either.

I Love You, Honeybear is a record decidedly honest, relatable and of-the-moment. Early highlight “True Affection” opens with the lyric “When can we talk/ With the face/ Instead of using all these strange devices?” In this day in age, who hasn’t had a regrettable text or phone conversation with a loved one that might have been completely different if handled in person, face to face? I for one don’t have enough fingers to count these instances on both hands. On the sarcastically self-loathing piano ballad “Bored In The USA”, Tillman demolishes the tedious nature of middle-class American life, hitting on everything from religion to cookie-cutter suburban homes, the middling benefits of a college education and the ever-present need to over-medicate.  Other songs are just downright hilarious even in their bitchiness, as “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment” completely eviscerates the personality of a prior love interest with lines like “And now every insufferable convo/ Features her patiently explaining the cosmos/ Of which she’s in the middle.” Everyone has dated THAT girl, and by the end of the song, he is quite literally choking her, and so are his listeners; Tillman has that same innate ability that so many folk singers possess that enables him to paint vivid pictures with his words.

Through it all, Tillman maintains meticulous attention to melody and arrangement. Centerpiece “When You’re Smiling And Astride Me” was among my favorite songs of the year with its lifted choral background vocals and pitch-perfect orchestration. The lyric “I can hardly believe I found you, and I’m terrified by that” is meant as a vulnerable admission in what was the year’s greatest love song, but for me at the time, it meant pure, legitimate fear. On the simple but addictive acoustic guitar ballad “Holy Shit”, Tillman delivers perhaps the year’s most poignant lyric as 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.” If there was an easier record to connect with in 2015 than this one, I am not sure what it was.

#5 Kendrick Lamar/ To Pimp A Butterfly

Kendrick2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was the best album of that year as well as the best rap album in nearly two decades upon its release, so it isn’t surprising that Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore full length effort was met with such a fever pitch of anticipation. The strangely titled To Pimp A Butterfly was originally devised as a tribute record to the late Tupac Shakur, but evolved into something much more timely and heavy on social commentary than a mere tip of the bottle to a highly influential, deceased Compton homie, and instead plays more like a broadly designed concept album. By the time Tupac makes a surprising appearance from beyond the grave at the record’s conclusion, it’s easy to have mixed emotions. Admittedly, Lamar’s knack for taking on tough issues in such a lyrically honest manner is part of what makes him such an important and exciting artist, but the general tone of this work does risk leaving certain listeners put off by its aggressive nature as it relates to race issues. That isn’t to say that Lamar comes off as racist here, but he does seem angrier than he did on his debut, and the bizarre poem that builds upon itself throughout these 16 tracks begins to border on repetitive and overwrought to these ears. To his credit though, and this is open to debate, his over-riding purpose seems to be one of unification and responsibility within the black community rather than division and finger pointing. Still, tracks like unsettling “The Blacker The Berry” hit hard, with its anxious, pounding percussion skeleton that underlie Lamar’s raspy vocal that has to be as angry as he’s ever been on record with lyrics like “I mean, it’s evident that I’m irrelevant to society
/ That’s what you’re telling me, penitentiary would only hire me” and “I’m African-American, I’m African
/ I’m black as the heart of a fuckin’ Aryan” that don’t leave too much open to interpretation.

Musically, this is an impressively diverse, if somewhat scattered collection of songs for the genre. There’s a lot of G-Funk influence early on as the surprising opener “Wesley’s Theory” begins the album with the lyric “Every nigga is a star” sung in a show-tune style that will leave initial listeners double checking that they are indeed listening to the correct album. After that, “King Kunta” serves as this record’s “Backseat Freestyle” as we get a rare dose of true bravado over the relentless energy and confidence demonstrated. Dark jazz tones dominate tracks like “These Walls” and the nightmarish “u”, the latter of which features Lamar screaming at himself in the mirror of a hotel bathroom over urgent, breathless, off-beat freestyle rhymes that turn into desperate wails. Lamar’s ability to combine and switch between different emoting personas is part of what made his debut so engaging and essential, and he has only built upon those qualities here.

Snoop Dogg makes an appearance on the airy “Institutionalized”, an early highlight that is sure to whet the appetite of anyone who enjoyed the laid back, suave grooves on tracks like “Money Trees” on his debut. Lamar appears to sample Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” on the powerful “How Much A Dollar Cost”, where he meets and chastises a homeless man who turns out to be God in disguise. At its center, “Alright” stands out here as the track that holds the album together with its optimism and razor sharp rhyme schemes all above a gorgeous horn riff. It’s as close to anthemic as anything else here, and offers a rare moment of hope amongst a collection of songs that burst with darkness and uncertainty elsewhere. To Pimp A Butterfly is hard-hitting, innovative and one of the year’s best albums, and while its relentlessly serious commentary is a lot to take in and not altogether enjoyable, I suppose that is the entire point. I’m still not even sure I completely understand the true meaning of the metaphor the album’s title bears even after it’s explained in the final track, which is one of any reasons that while listening to it, I don’t feel that this album was made for me, which is not a feeling that M.A.A.D. City gave me, but this effort has to be appreciated for its scope alone. Closer “Mortal Man” is the perfect sendoff, with its dark bass line and atmospheric horns above lyrics that show a clear admiration for Nelson Mandela and sympathy for Michael Jackson, among other things. Lamar is fighting demons, but he’s fighting them for peace and to create a better life for his community, and the aforementioned sendoff interview with the ghost of Tupac showcases the deep love and respect he has for where he came from, an admirable quality indeed.

#4 Kamasi Washington/ The Epic

KamasiAs aptly titled as an album will be ever be, The Epic is an absolutely sprawling expansion and re-invention of modern jazz over its three-hour length. As such, it’s a difficult album to digest in a single sitting, and describing it as simply ambitious seems to overstate the obvious. I feel as though I simply don’t have the historical jazz background to fully appreciate all of the nuances present here, but that’s exactly the point; this album should create interest within the genre from music fans that might ordinarily stray from it. Washington is featured as a saxophonist on previous Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar albums, and fans of the futuristic, post-come-down acid haze influences of those records will find much to like here, although these songs don’t fall into any one category, as there are moments of darkness, sunshine, melancholy and upbeat energy all in equal proportion. That an album of this length and overall breadth could be so inherently listenable despite the presence of hardly any vocals is a testament to the meticulous nature of the musical arrangements as much as it is a tribute to the memorable and engaging melodies. Only on Ray Noble cover “Cherokee”, “Henrietta Our Hero” and standout “The Rhythm Changes” do we hear vocalist Patrice Quinn. The rest of the album is strictly instrumental, and arguably better for it.

There’s constant energy, motion and build over the duration of behemoth tracks like the triumphant “Re Run Home” and “The Magnificent 7.” And, like a true jazz record should, it emotes powerfully. Listen to the final minutes of early track “Askhim”, and you can hear Washington’s discordant saxophone literally wailing. Early on, there’s impressive contrast between the dark lounge vibes of “Isabelle” as it morphs into the sunny, upbeat highlight “Final Thought.” Diversity abounds all the way through the opening piano chords and immediately catchy horn melody of “Change of the Guard” all the way through “The Message”, and everything in between. Accessible enough to attract listeners who may not normally be interested in jazz, while simultaneously changing the modern landscape of that genre, The Epic may have been the year’s most important album.

#3 Jamie XX/ In Colours

XXIn a year fairly devoid of strong electronic music, London producer Jamie Smith of The xx fame fit the bill with this brilliantly diverse debut hybrid of bright house beats and club pop. The upbeat, approachable highlight “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” served well as a primary summer anthem, combining rap verses from Young Thung with a Caribbean funk chorus courtesy of Popcaan. This track stood out like a sore thumb on a record that elsewhere was decidedly minimalistic and nuanced, just as the debut record from The xx was before it, and demonstrates eager risk-taking by the young producer. Its strongest tracks utilize vocalists from that project, namely Romy Croft on standouts “Loud Places” and “See Saw.” The former ballad showcases a lifted chorus that is remarkably gorgeous in its subtlety and nonchalance, falling back on Romy’s whispered vocal, culminating with the haunting lyric “You’re in ecstasy/ Without me/ When you come down/ I won’t be around.” The latter track swells with richness and desperately rushing synths that wash over the understated vocals and serve to create a vast, unsettling tone.

Oliver Sim makes an appearance on “Stranger In A Room”, a darkly lit slow burner that beckons that same spaciousness that made The xx such an engaging debut. Strangely though, the purely electronic tracks are the ones that truly separate In Colour from its peers in terms of the way it emotes. Opener “Gosh” is a true tone-setter, slowly building over a constant loop that picks up additional elements before exploding into a synthesized keyboard coda. Penultimate track “The Rest Is Noise” brings the party to a halt with its more melancholy tone even as it swells up and collapses back upon itself, almost as a wider metaphor for life that nothing lasts forever. Closer “Girl” almost feels like a wistful surrender to the night with its atmospheric acid jazz; the party is over, and it was fun, but it will never be exactly like it was ever again.

While the electronic highlights of recent years like Aphex Twin’s Syro, Fuck Buttons’ Slow Focus and Jon Talbot’s Fin relied heavily on iciness and distance to realize their full effectiveness, In Colour is an electronic record that bursts with warmth and embraces a connection with its intended listener, and is all the better for it.

#2 Grimes/ Art Angels

ArtAngelsWhen Claire Boucher released the single “Go” in 2014, the legions of fans she’d acquired following the release of Visions under her moniker Grimes began to fear that the quirky Canadian was losing herself and headed in a poppier, less original direction. To be perfectly clear, there was absolutely nothing wrong with “Go”, and to the contrary, it was the type of pop masterpiece that seemed to confirm the ascension of a rising superstar. Still, lesser attempts to create the same sort of sound were evident as she toured last summer, giving fans ammunition for their concern and general ire at this apparent new musical direction, and when the dust settled, Grimes had completely scrapped her album and decided to head back to the drawing board. The result, three and a half long years removed from Visions and released under a frantic amount of anticipation, is as honest and true to the artist as fans could have reasonably hoped for. Fourteen scattered tracks showcase Boucher in all her unique and lovable weirdness and combine into an album that is decidedly “Grimes.” What it lacks in cohesion it makes up for with creativity and immediacy, and Art Angels also shows a step forward in terms of musical acumen. The production is richer, the hooks hit harder, and her vocal range is more pronounced and impressive; where Visions relied on fuzz and nuance over its connecting tracks, this time around Grimes has created some genuine bangers that should be gracing club floors for years to come.

Stylistically, there’s a little bit of everything here, and the relative diversity of ideas combined with its upbeat nature makes this ideal party background music. “Realiti” builds upon a solid demo track single released earlier this year, playing heavy on bass synths and additional electronic jabs in this re-worked version. Its atmospheric undertones stand up well to previous favorites like “Genesis”, while “Flesh Without Blood” might just be the perfect pop song with its pulsating synths combining with one of Boucher’s best vocal performances to date. With lines like “I don’t see the light I saw in you before/ And now I don’t care anymore”, it’s a quintessential breakup track, but may be more directed at her fair weather fans than at any particular romantic relationship. No matter, as it works well lyrically in either context, and is every bit the equal of “Oblivion” in terms of its addictively catchy hook. Grimes certainly hasn’t totally abandoned her penchant for pure pop, and it’s all well-executed, sparingly used and carefully placed here, proving she has a real knack for it. On “California”, she shows off her trademark sugary sweet vocal over a chorus that veers halfway into country music territory, and seems blissfully aware of the line between where her voice escalates from pitch-perfect to downright shrill, and while she toys with that line immensely, she never crosses it. The contrast between “California” and the true “wtf” moment that immediately follows it with “Scream” showcases the true fearlessness and range of style present on Art Angels, as the abrasive electronic track features Mandarin vocals from Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes. The title track utilizes an accessible guitar line and wouldn’t be a surprise to see headlining the opening credits of a movie at some point in the near future, while “Pin” delivers one of the most simplistically poignant choruses of the year behind its catchy alternating chords and electric riffs as Boucher laments “It was too good to be true” with true pop precision.

Ballads like “Easily” demonstrate range, while “Belly of The Beat” is one of the most lovely and lush tracks in the Grimes catalog, with its gentle acoustic strum and subtly intertwined club beat over her rich vocal work. There are dance tracks galore here, and the back-to-back combo of “World Princess II” and “Venus Fly” (feat. Janelle Monae) work especially well. But the fascinating centerpiece “Kill V Maim” might be the first pure club joint that Grimes has ever produced and stands out here in a big way. There’s so much going on in this track that it often feels like it’s over before the listener’s head stops spinning or can even get a read on what’s happened. Huge, propulsive stadium beats support vocals that showcase high-pitched ferocity, constantly shifting between cheerleader chanting that is equal parts demonic and angelic, and all executed to immaculate effect. Grimes stated in an interview that the track was “written from the perspective of Al Pacino in the Godfather 2, except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space”, which makes it even more awesome than it already was. Closer “Butterfly” is a much more impactful sendoff than “Know The Way” was on Visions, with its confident, hushed vocal contrasting with intermittent screams, clap-drum percussion and dark trip-hop bass beats lurking underneath as Grimes taunts that “I’ll never be your dream girl” and the album concludes. Quite a mic-drop indeed from an artist that just defiantly made an album her own way under a frenzy of speculation and premature criticism, and may have forced an entire generation of indie fans back in love with her as a result.

#1 Tame Impala/ Currents

tameOn occasion, an album’s thematic content will hit you like a shot to the heart and you’ll wonder in baffled bewilderment, “were they writing this album about me?” In terms of pure timing, I can’t think of an album that better defined the entirety of my insane year of 2015 than this one did. As highly anticipated as it was and as clear a musical step forward for Tame Impala that it was, I couldn’t help but be amazed as I listened to these songs how closely the lyrical content was correlated to my current life events at the time of its release, and sometimes that counts for bonus points on lists like these. Currents is, at its core, a concept album structured roughly chronologically around a breakup, presumably due to having met someone new, and as such demonstrates highly charged moments through all the stages of excitement, confusion, fear, jealousy and acceptance, all set to a soundscape that comes closer to pop rock than anything else, but shows exciting innovation and creativity from leadman Kevin Parker. Sprawling opener “Let It Happen” starts the album with a bang. As the title implies, it’s a song about surrendering to chaos and learning to abandon logic and reason, and at nearly eight minutes in length, is a gutsy way to begin. It’s heavy and challenging both lyrically and musically, as complex a song as the band has ever recorded, building and swelling behind its intense disco loops and jabbing bass synths before breaking down into a thrilling crescendo.

A duo of tracks arranged back to back after that attempt to justify the end of the initial relationship via drastically different musical mediums. “Yes I’m Changing” is surely the softest, most melancholy piece in the band’s entire catalog, its deep, bittersweet bass notes supporting slow-burning lines like “I saw it different/ I must admit/ I caught a glimpse I’m going after it.” “Eventually” picks the pace back up with a catchy opening riff (one of the few times that happens on this album), but changes tempos several times and adds orchestration and Parker’s immaculate falsetto to dramatic effect. Aside from the fine-tuned precision of this standout, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more honest lyrical expression on any song this year. Parker described it as concerning “knowing that you’re about to damage someone irreparably, and the only consolation you get is this distant hope that they’ll be alright eventually, because you know they aren’t going to be now or soon.” On both tracks, Parker seems to be attempting to rationalize his reasoning for moving on, but doesn’t seem completely convinced; it plays more like a cry for help in a moment of intense confusion, and the next two proper tracks serve to confirm this.

There’s upbeat disco funk on “The Less I Know The Better”, as Parker takes a somewhat comical look at stumbling upon his ex with her new lover at a bar and attempts to ignore it as best he can, which of course is not very well. “Past Lives” focuses on a more ordinary run-in with his ex at the dry-cleaner that still completely encompasses his day. Do these run-ins serve as snippets of building uncertainty that might lead him to reconsider reconciliation? Or are they future visions of his new relationship ending before its time and the fear of being left with nothing? Which ex-lover is he running into that is making him feel this way? It is open to interpretation, and either scenario is powerful and affecting; in both cases, fear and discomfort seem to be driving Parker back to what he has lost even though he knows it’s too late.  There’s acceptance of blame and expression of regret on the atmospheric and aptly titled highlight and apology track “Cause I’m A Man” as Parker croons in a full falsetto “Don’t always think before I do,” again seeming to forfeit all preconceptions of control, practically throwing his hands in the air and blaming his DNA for his every weakness and transgression. I could go on and on at length about these lyrics and how closely they all mimicked my particular situation at the time, but when Parker sings “Trying to be patient/ but I’m feeling ancient” and “It made my heart run in circles and overflow/ And I was closer than ever to letting go” on “Reality In Motion”, it’s almost too perfect; time for me to throw in the towel and just enjoy the ride.

Penultimate track “Love/ Paranoia” takes an insightful albeit frightening look back at how new love often creates tunnel-vision that clouds normal thinking processes, and investigates the damaging effects of that behavior upon any future attempt at reconciliation.  The record sends us off with an ominous, unsettling dose of paranoia, as “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” leaves all possibility of future happiness completely up in the air behind a dense, dark, bass-driven R&B rhythm. Alternating between baritone and falsetto, Parker seems to be fighting internally with himself while delivering bone-chilling lyrics like  “I can just hear them now/ How could you let us down/ But they don’t know what I found” and “Feel like a brand new person/But you made the same old mistakes/ I don’t care I’m in love/ Stop before it’s too late/ I know there’s too much at stake.” The subconscious realization expressed here that the new love interest might not be what the protagonist initially believed her to be as well as the reality that those who don’t learn from their past relationship mistakes are doomed to repeat them are both things that will stick with me for a long time.

From a sonic perspective, as might be imagined from the above descriptions, Currents contrasts sharply with the band’s prior work. These songs are all bursting with lush warmth and richness, a paradigm shift from the reliance upon the lo-fi guitar-driven distortion and sunny psychedelica of Innerspeaker and Lonerism. There’s simply so much more attention being paid here to the percussion, bass and ethereal elements than there is to lead guitar riffs (which are virtually non-existent) that it’s difficult to even compare back to those albums. As a welcome result, Parker’s vocals float towards the surface and embrace the listener with an emotional connection that wasn’t present in his prior work. From the perspective of experimentation, Parker utilizes tempo shifts to enthralling effect here, often dropping out the beat altogether right in the middle of songs. Currents is also one of the most immaculately produced records of its era– Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and Bon Iver’s self titled masterpiece come to mind comparatively. In a year where there weren’t any world-altering releases like Swans’ To Be Kind was last year, Currents still towered above the rest in terms of melody, arrangement and lyrical execution, permeating with a constant theme regarding adaptation to life’s transitions, both musical and personal.

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