In response to Noel's post in an OT, I typed this up. Since the comment wouldn't load, I figured I'd post here and maybe more folks can add to it as we count down the end of 2015. Share your favorite moments in music this past year, people!
(In no particular order)
I Love You, Honeybear - Father John Misty: To call a singer-songwriter album a "romp" might seem like overselling, but the swagger in J. Tillman's alter ego is obvious and on show. The standout tracks, though, are when Tillman allows you a tender look into himself - the soft surrender into love by a self-described cynic in I Went to the Store One Day (here's a nice live version) - or when he aims that confident wit at worthy targets like he does on Bored in the USA.
To Pimp a Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar: Don't go back to it as often as GKMC, but this was another important work from the most important rapper (for me) working today. As the Roots edge further into their art experimentation and with young socially-conscious MC's like Vince Staples not yet fully established (Summertime '06 is fucking aaammmaaazzziiinnng though), Kendrick stands as hip hop's conscience right now. Alright may have garnered the Grammy noms and Blacker the Berry might have been more visceral, but Mortal Man and i were my standout tracks. The latter for the counterbalance of positivity that Kendrick seems to bring and the former for the audacity to call his shot to claim WC hip hop's crown from its last king.
25 - Adele: The album that spawned an argument with my wife which turned into poll that revealed I have no friends (looking at you, G-Loff and PSB). Adele's performances are evocative, yet effortless but her every woman lyrics are what pin everything together. The strength of tracks 4-10 (and it's not that the others are poor, it's that the MIA-ish 2nd track is an interesting diversion and I've played "Hello" to death already) is Herculean. Water Under the Bridge is a great track that reminds me of production on Miguel's albums but really earns its emotional heft from the punch in Adele's voice.
1989 - Ryan Adams: Taylor Swift's pop opus was well-received by me in that the strength of her work has always been that, at their core, the songs are good. Now, the arrangement may not have been great (honestly do not enjoy her version of Welcome to New York at all) but the lyrical content and melodic structures were all very sound (if predictable). In the hands of another tune smith that appreciates the music, 1989 took on a whole new emotional coat as Ryan Adams took the Taylor Swift pieces and showcased that depth with his arrangements. Bad Blood now sounds like a pensive, Brit-Rock number (haven't tried it yet, but I'm pretty sure you could run this into a medley of Hey Jealousy and Wonderwall just based on the chord intervals I think I hear in the outro). All You Had to Do Was Stay ups the melancholy by stripping the sheen off of the original. One of the standouts, though, is how Adams takes the aforementioned Welcome to New York and reimagines it as a Springsteen-esque rocker. In this, Adams carries on a tradition of his folk-roots forebears by taking songs that he believed mattered and presented them in his own way.
Eponymous - Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass has a voice that seems to be made of putty. Capable of hitting standard singer-songwriter runs, she suddenly shifts into neo-classical warbles on the same album. Sounding very much like 70s AM on My Baby Don't Understand Me, Prass' versatility gets slow-rolled until the sudden shift in the final track where she sounds like she's auditioning for a revival of Disney's Snow White. Fragile, tender and honest, this album is a burner.
Songs of Interest:
Straight and Narrow - Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell: Two my favorite male vocalists around, their duet album is pretty astounding. Surprisingly, I seemed to enjoy the Ben Bridwell lead tracks the most with this one being the clear favorite of the bunch.
Her Mercy - Glen Hansard: He's my hero...just so damn good.
How Much Light - Ryan Adams: This is kind of cheating as I first heard it on his Live at Carnegie Hall album, but since it was released on a 7" this past April, I figure it's allowable.