Before we enter the final, release-heavy months of 2015, we take a look back at some of our favorites from the last few. And compared to the first two quarters of the year, there was much less consensus this time around at TMT. While Elysia Crampton’s American Drift and M.E.S.H.’s Piteous Gate were near-unanimously praised, albums like Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION and Titus Andronicus’s The Most Lamentable Tragedy were refreshingly contentious. Call it an inconsistency of gluttony: from Chief Keef’s devastating weightiness on Bang 3 and Phil Minton’s bold voice experiments on A Doughnut’s End, to the indelible dream pop of Helen’s The Original Faces and the critical esoterica of albums by Yves Tumor, In Media Res, Khaki Blazer, and Eyeliner, the last several months saw our attention being pulled in wildly different directions, our quixotic outlooks stretched out and fried under the hot, boiling sun.
And before you freak out, it should be noted that we were too late to vote on newer releases like Julia Holter’s Have You In My Wilderness, Young Thug’s Slime Season, and Drake & Future’s What A Time To Be Alive, among others. But that’s why we have a year-end feature coming up soon, right?
Scope our favorite 20 releases from the third quarter of 2015 below, followed by a bunch of others that didn’t quite make the cut.
At a time in history when even our selves have been spectacularized into a bricolage of alienating images, Berlin’s M.E.S.H. is forging a way out, by forging a way in. The arrhythmic tech-neurotics and disembodied haze-tronics of his debut plunge him further into the artificial tropes that reduce lesser mortals to piles of homogenized click-fodder, yet in his case, they’re melded with such inimitable finesse and singular determination they endow him with more individuality, not less. The explosive clicks and synthetic whoops of an “Epithet” distinguish him from the faceless huddle, while the digitized throbs of the title track imply that behind such manufactured distinction there beats a genuine heart. Yes, a genuine heart, since even if the spectacle may have M.E.S.H. in its clutches, the Berlin-based producer has used it to his advantage and for his own ends, thereby neutralizing its de-individuating effects at the same time as producing what no doubt will prove one of the strongest electronic records of the year.
Future drinks two ounces of codeine and then claims to feel better, over and over. We don’t believe him. We imagine his personal abyss of equal opportunity drug use, new toys, and rich sex, and maybe we avoid glorifying his lifestyle. Or, with DS2 as the twisted template, maybe we aspire to it on some miniature scale. We come back again and again to spend time in the abyss. Over some of the most atmospheric productions to date from Atlanta mainstays like Metro Boomin and Southside, Future lays out every verse as a stream of earworm moments, every chorus an anthemic mantra fit for an infinity of memes and Vine edits. Baroque synth arrangements chime behind foregrounds of crushing percussion patterns. Future hammers his preferred subject matter so consistently that his boasts and his grievances blend together, track after track, into a thick thematic murk that hangs over the album — at once binding it into a remarkably cohesive listen and alienating those who would seek some variety, some reprieve from the purple haze. To the invested, DS2 captures our prophet at the peak of his practice, suspended in liquid, gazing down through the glass at his empire.
Jerusalem In My Heart
If He Dies, If If If If If If
With yearning vocals sung in Arabic and an array of Arabic instruments, the most powerful element of Jerusalem In My Heart’s latest release ends up being its commitment to specificity. Centered around highly expressive playing of an acoustic buzuk and wisps of Arabic pop, the album eschews the universalizing and atheistic spiritualist tendency found in much of drone music’s integration of non-Western musical elements, with central musician Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (who splits his time between Montreal and Beirut) approaching this synthesis from a perspective that utilizes globalization as a reference point, not as a justification or summation. This allows the historical antecedents of its sounds to come to the forefront in a manner that’s at once powerfully political and deeply moving, situating real historical legacies in a contemporary context. Less fragmented than its predecessor, the album shows little clear divide between “songs” and “soundscapes,” resulting in a tensely heterogeneous and melancholy fabric that feels acutely keyed to a neoliberal age. Treating its production elements as markers of tension and charting its geopolitical context through pools of accumulated static and moments of clarity, If He Dies, If If If If If If earns its title: anxious and committed, desperate and fierce.
The Most Lamentable Tragedy
No need to dance around it: The Most Lamentable Tragedy is Patrick Stickles’s Notes From Underground. Similar in themes and construction to Dostoyevsky’s novella, the album could be described as a semiautobiographical tale of Stickles’s struggles with mental stability. Thus, fitting a five-act metaphorical dive into manic depression, TMLT is built around cycles and mirrored structures: represented by sunrise and seasons, or a medication-addled doppelgänger who encourages the album’s hero to “look on the bright side,” with the songs moving from punk tirades ready to soundtrack a low-serotonin day, through classic-rock vignettes and downright subdued interludes — callbacks to +@’s past work aplenty. Those who have perceived such characteristics as flaws seem to miss that the album (excessive, laborious, self-sabotaging) could not be any other way, for it essentially is a Menippean satire. Take it from a bipolar, Catholic-raised, 30-year-old punk with an eating disorder — shit, Stickles and myself even look alike. Few works of art could approximate our(?) experience as this album does, but that’s incidental. These songs have the potential to reflect any human being with an inconvenient passion, willing to journey into the subterranean spaces of the self, no matter if the proverbial canary has long fallen dead. And that’s what makes TMLT a work of gnothi seauton for the ages.
The Original Faces
The best argument made for why albums withstand our fabricated constraint of time often boils down to… well, time and place. Helen clearly have knowledge on the subject, because what makes The Original Faces seemingly “timeless” just a few weeks after its release is how detached it is from the current timeline. The product of a happy accident at thrash, The Original Faces turns out to be the best case for why dream pop always comes back in fashion. The Chitlin Circuit bass (“Grace”), splashy Frankie-and-Annette drums (“Covered in Shade”), and otherworldly vocals appear out of thin air: a best-case Doc Brown experiment. Take a little of this, a dash of that, and you have Wyld Stallyns. It may seem a weighty proposition, but we’ve been waiting 25 years to escape this bogus journey. Turns out, enduring that interim mad world was well worth it.