Cuckoo's Eleven - The Best of 2015

 

Top Eleven Songs of 2015:
Listen to Best of 2015 on Spotify

  1. Belle & Sebastian - The Party Line

  2. Courtney Barnett - Pedestrian At Best

  3. Kendrick Lamar - i

  4. Alabama Shakes - Miss You

  5. Beach Slang - Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas

  6. Sleater-Kinney - Surface Envy

  7. Tame Impala - Let It Happen

  8. Waxahatchee - Poison

  9. Sufjan Stevens - Should Have Known Better

  10. Torres - Sprinter

  11. Adele - Send My Love (To Your New Lover)

Honorable Mention:
Beck - Dreams
The Decemberists - Make You Better
Shamir - On The Regular
Beach House - Sparks
Jamie xx - Gosh
Ryan Adams - Bad Blood
Wilco - Random Name Generator
Mumford & Sons - The Wolf
Blur - Ong Ong
A$AP Rocky - Everyday

Guilty Pleasure:
Silentσ - Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)

 

1

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

"Put me on a pedestal, I'll only disappoint you / Tell me I’m exceptional and I promise to exploit you."

From the opening bar of the opening track, I knew I was going to love this album. An Indie Rock album with a stripped-down, I'm-no-Rockstar-but-yes-I'm-a-Rockstar feel, this 28-year old from Melbourne has been compared to John Prine and Kurt Cobain. That's a tough bill to follow, but I'll add two more: lyrically, she sounds like she could be the lead singer of Wilco in an alternate universe.

Penned over the course of a year, but only revealed to the band a week before going into the studio, this album feels like a live take. Not only that, an eight-day recording schedule meant some tracks came alive as the recorded them. "Pedestrian at Best" wasn't even sung aloud until she actually recorded it.

You officially have someone else to root for besides Meghan Trainor for Best New Artist at the 2016 Grammy Awards. You're welcome.

 
2

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

"where were you when I was walkin'? / Now I run the game, I got the whole world talkin'."

I've never had as much trouble picking between two albums for the Album of the Year than I did this year. Only time will tell whether I should have made this a tie.

If Barnett's album represents the heart of 2015 music, then this album represents its soul. Many (including contributors to this site) have argued that Kanye has "saved" Hip Hop. And from Afrika Bambaataa's definition, he could very well have accomplished that for the DJing pillar. But, in reality, this album presents four reasons why Kendrick Lamar is the person everyone has been waiting for - even if they don't realize it yet.

Musically, Lamar worked with producers like Pharrell Williams, Terrace Martin, Flying Lotus, and others to take listeners on a tour of African-American music: Jazz, Soul, Funk, and Afro Beat all find natural homes within the album. His samples center on music from the mid-70s, to which he was introduced by his parents growing up. What's more, he was so insistent on this direction that he personally visited Ronald Isley to gain permission. He received not only the Isley Brothers' permission to sample, but also Ronald Isley performing live for the album.

Vocally, Lamar is a chameleon, adjusting his own sound to emphasize themes within the tracks. Whether it be spoken word, conversation, live performance, drunken testimonial, or channeling James Brown, he shows tremendous range and artistry. While others have attempted (see: Chinese Democracy) with lukewarm results, Lamar thrives.

Lyrically, Lamar demonstrates continued growth, both as a lyricist and as a person. In his debut, good kid. m.A.A.d. city, Lamar spoke of his life in Compton and the prospects beyond the only world he knew. In his sophomore effort, Lamar has seen more geographically and culturally, reinforcing the notion that one can never truly go home.

Finally, it's Lamar's self-awareness which makes this album superb. In a time to which some (short-sighted) people refer as a Post-Racial, in a world plastered with headlines on Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless others, Lamar realizes the state of the civil rights movement. Further, he speaks with a voice of someone who is aware not only of his surroundings but of his own hypocrisy, "Why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street / when gang banging make me kill a n**** blacker than me?" I've never listened to an album which offered as much opportunity to deconstruct the lyrics. Allegory and symbolism are abound. To the casual one- or two-time listener, much of this will be lost. It is an album where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And if you don't believe me, perhaps someone else can sway you.

I admit, in full transparency, to not being fully able to understand the trials and tribulations of Lamar's world; to suggest that I could fully empathize would be downright foolish. But I know this: no other album in the past year has made me stop, listen, and reflect more than this album. In the closing twelve-minute track, a suppositional dialogue between Tupac Shakur and Lamar ranges from racial tension to poverty to survival. And its in these moments when we realize the Butterfly is Lamar - emerged from his cocoon, his creativity flourishing. The machine may be trying to pimp him, but he has found a way change the rules.

"My first album, I wanted to make an album like this. But I wasn't confident enough," Lamar told Fallon late last year. thank goodness that Lamar felt comfortable enough for album three. Kendrick Lamar is the voice Hip Hop has been waiting for. More people need to hear it. I'm feeling like Steve Harvey ... let's move on before I second guess myself more on which album is truly AOY.

3

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

"Maybe the stars aligned, or maybe I've just changed my mind."

Hailing from the OTHER Athens. No, not Georgia. Athens, Alabama. Lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard howled on the 2012 Song of the Year. In their sophomore effort, Howard's voice becomes a true lead instrument. I haven't heard pain in one's voice sound so beautiful since Tina Turner.

4

Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us

"I can't think with all this noise" / "Turn the amps up to nine / I don't want it too loud."

In the waning days of Grantland, Steven Hyden called his shot and named this album of the year. After fronting the punk rock band Weston for sixteen years, frontman James Alex formed this quartet in 2013. After two EPs, they debuted their first full-length album in February of last year. Less than 30 minutes long, but it harkens back to an era when Emo was more punk than Dashboard Confessional.

5

Adele – 25

"Let me photograph you in this light / In case it is the last time that we might / Be exactly like we were before we realised / We were sad of getting old, it made us restless."

Say what you will about this list being released January 29, but at least it gave me time to process where Adele fit in to 2015. Where does one go after a Mercury Prize nomination, two chart-topping albums, and a Bond theme song? Apparently, it's a hiatus to gather, continue to mature, and collect thoughts for yet another great album.

6

The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

"We know, we know, we belong to ya / We know you built your life around us / Would we change, we had to change some."

A long-standing perrenial to Cuckoo's Eleven, this Oregon-based quintet released their seventh album 20 days into 2015. What made this album such a long burn? For starters, how about the opening track, which is a tongue-in- cheek monologue from singer and audience, "So when your bridal processional / becomes a televised confessional / to the benefits of Axe shampoo / You know, we did it for you."

7

Telekinesis – Ad Inifinitum

"There's no fear of silence / We've got Mr. Bell to thank / I forget the feeling / I forget to look away."

After appearing in the 2012 playlist, I would have thought that this Seattle-based band would have truly taken off. Still flying below most people's radars. Get it together, Internet.

8

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

"I feel so much stronger now that you're here / We've got so much to do, let me make that clear."

The music world lost its collective you-know-what after hearing this band was getting back together. After a nine-year hiatus (and a great 2011 side project by Wild Flag), they sound like they never stopped.

9

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

"I should have wrote a letter / and grieve what I happen to grieve."

While Stevens subtlely still contributes to his fifty-albums-for-fifty-states campaign by slipping in references to Washington and Oregon, this album really isn't about that. It's him bearing the loss of his mother twice: first when she estranged the family, and a second time when she passed away. It's an incredibly beautiful album. If all of this turns you off, just listen to "Should Have Known Better" until the Bridge at the 2:40 mark. If that doesn't get you, then something is seriously wrong with you.

10

Torres – Sprinter

"Word of life on savagery / I picked it up and took a swing."

Singer-songwriter Mackenzie Scott speaks of her Southern Baptist upbringing. She's an artist who, while also scoring success on her 2013 debut, seems to be simmering and is destined for big things.

11

Tame Impala – Currents

"It's always around me, all this noise / But not nearly as loud as the voice saying / "Let it happen, let it happen (It's gonna feel so good) / Just let it happen, let it happen."

Making their third appearance on my EOY list, this Australian psychedelic rock band continues to evolve their sound.



Honorable Mention


 

 

HM

Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

"Ethereal, I'm in bloom / torturing the afternoon."

Indie songwriter Katie Crutchfield locked herself away on Long Island and penned a wonderfully subdued album, with just the right touch of fuzz.

 
HM

Beach House – Depression Cherry

"You go to school, you follow all the rules, you live inside / Realize there's something in your eyes, you're back again / From the spine rising through the mind, you give it up."

The fifth album by this Baltimore-based dream pop duo, and their second time making the EOY list.

 
HM

Mumford & Sons – Wilder Mind

"And the stakes remain too high / for this silent mind / And the shake, the lonely itch / that courses down my spine."

English Indie-Folk band plugs in! Okay, it's not a big a deal to do that. But it's clear that this band has extra gears and has created a great album.

HM

The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ

"March through the red mist, never get my vision clear / Learn to love this kind of atmosphere / Strike funny poses, keep my weapon hand low / Whip my head around a little, get blood on the front row / Gonna jab you in the eye with a foreign object / I will personally stab you in the eye with a foreign object."

An Indie-Folk band. From Durham, N.C. Who recorded a themed album about professional wrestling. I think the only extra thing they could have done to make the list was to preemptively thank me in the album liner notes.

HM

Ryan Adams – 1989

"Took our broken hearts and put them in a drawer / Everybody here was someone else before."

Cuckoo's Eleven has documented well my love of Ryan Adams' music and interest in Taylor Swift. Is it really shocking that this album made the list? Nope. What's that? You thought it might be my Guilty Pleasure? No, friend. I found something much worse. Or better. You decide.



Guilty Pleasure of the Year


 

 

GP

Silentσ – Watch Me (Whip Nae/Nae)

"Boom! Watch me, watch me!"

Let's be real. I turn 40 this upcoming year. The ability to evade the "middle-aged white guy" will become impossible. With a loving wife and three healthy, happy, beautiful children, I am one lucky guy. I am in full-on Dad Zone. And over the course of last year, I realized that being in Dad Zone, you can do some pretty simple things to make your kids think you are the funniest motherf***er on the planet. For instance, let's say one Fall Saturday morning you find yourself watching ESPN GameDay with your kids. They ask why do they talk about "Clemsoning" being a bad thing, and why head coach Dabo Sweeney dances so funny. Let me tell you: when I break it down in the living room, the kids think it's hysterica. Fast forward a few months, and our living room has become a dance-off: our son (6) prefers the Duff; while our oldest daughter (3) is a Stanky Leg kind-of-girl (she totally kills it, btw); our youngest (18 months) has evolved from clapping into some kind of Bop/Headbang combination. And I'm in the background, hopefully showing them that their dad may like to wax poetic about the importance of music, but it's totally fine to just want to kick a jam every now and then.

I like this song. Sue me.