2015: Favorite 50 Music Releases

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series





The first time I heard UNFAITHFUL, I accidentally entered the Lincoln Tunnel toward Jersey, thus beginning roughly an hour of sitting in traffic trying to get back to NYC. I maintained a medium-level loathing for this album for a few weeks afterward, for no reason other than a vague mental association with that experience. On the bases of Hundebiss’s recommendation and Chicklette being half of perennial fav Angels in America, I decided to revisit this venus flytrap the following month. It was a wise move: a second, more careful listen cast on me a spell of sharp edges, ominous synths, and delightful wordplay under which I’m still hypnotized. Chicklette confronted every track with an entirely unique approach, but the album as a whole was thematically cohesive. As shocking/comforting as the riot footage that was playing nonstop when this album was recorded (and hasn’t really stopped), UNFAITHFUL was a never-boring, sometimes-unsettling, always-ass-kicking album destined to be one of 2015’s more memorable cassettes.




[Northern Spy]

Xe was martial artisanry. The defining statement of 15-year-old ZS was a tangible art object; it felt made of metal, with real weight, formed and assembled, brushed and heat-sealed. It was a realization of powerful avant-garde energies in a display of apprentice-worthy complexity, a perfectly captured performance of telepathic metallurgy; it’s what happens when extended technique becomes learned ability becomes muscle memory and then gains ecstatic purpose. Players Sam Hillmer, Patrick Higgins, and Greg Fox acted out an acrobatic play dependent on a near-psychic synchronicity: they accelerated, complicated, loosened, dissolved, and reconfigured effortlessly, overlapping, deconstructing, and rebuilding flow, suspending it infinitely, shrinking it, reversing it, repurposing it, a stunningly developed noise-rock routine that beckoned terror, catharsis, and deep admiration. Xe was a tripartite handiwork of sound-sculpting that was as much indebted to the legacies of New York jazz, rock, and no-wave as it was to the practices of glass blowing, calligraphy, and pottery — every note was finessed, serving an essential form, focused with the forethought of experience and navigated muscularly in a single perfect take by veteran players exploring the full capabilities of their instruments, their influences, and their physical limits. No other album moved me as physically as Xe did in 2015, and nothing else came close to matching its overpowering energy and sheer force of impact.


Amnesia Scanner

AS Angels Rig Hook

[Gum Artefacts]

AS Angels Rig Hook was self-reflexive and fragmented; a wreckage of sound, thoughts, and word — “an abandoned oil rig.” It sounds admittedly less weird now than it did then. A year of sonic contamination from “like-sounding” artists such as M.E.S.H., Lotic, or Arca has familiarized ears to the situation. However, “like all situations, this was several situations at once.” In any case, Amnesia Scanner were well aware; their act was always impatient with the present, their identity ever-evolving — Caiman Nearness; Arcane Sans Mine. Echoed in its curved, angular substance, AS Angels Rig Hook was more interested in reflection, in casting back. Dealing with language and codes, its goal was to make its own system that refers to itself. Overrode by the literary accompaniment of Jaakko Pallasvuo’s text, its device left it open to change and, rendered unstable, left us asking: “What was violence again?”


Autre Ne Veut

Age of Transparency


Arthur Ashin didn’t simply portray the Age of Transparency on his bold follow-up to 2013’s Anxiety. He didn’t simply use post-R&B to outline our current era of ubiquitous connectivity and inescapable media. But rather, he used it to project the histrionic consequences this era will bring to bear on our emotional lives and presentations of self. His vocal theatrics and warped keyboards were the perfect, hyper-emotive complement to a digital world where our constant visibility goads us into performing with ever-increasing melodrama for an ever-present audience. Across social media like the maniacally splintered “On and On (Reprise)” and the creepingly aggressive “Switch Hitter,” he didn’t simply lay his naked self on a plate for all to see; he also pushed this self from one height to the next in a bid to placate the expanding and intensifying hunger for “authentic” performances. In his expressionistic depiction of just how this growing pressure for authenticity will ironically push us to nearly absurd levels of inauthenticity, he lifted his unique take on simulacrum pop and future R&B to nearly absurd levels of brilliance, and in the process, he delivered one of 2015’s best — and most “authentic” — performances.



RELAXIN’ with Lolina


The arrival of RELAXIN’ with Lolina was preempted by yet another addition to Alina Astrova’s litany of pseudonyms, as well as a release date fake-out. So far, so Hype, but don’t get it Miss Understood; even by her own standards, these three delirious morsels constituted one of the year’s more confounding listens. It was a queasy fever dream swollen with broken pianos, throbbing bass, and mismatched vocals, one that seemed to take delight in perverting the logic of pop into a blank, anonymous gesture, all false starts and abrupt endings. And yet, Lolina never entirely committed to facelessness. There were enough glimpses of personality smattered throughout RELAXIN’ — the cynical spiel to a universal (or perhaps more direct?) “you”, esoteric compositional touches — to be examined, grasped onto, and made sense of, all the while knowing that the riddles they posed would remain unsolved. In all honesty, nothing needed to make sense; instead, we marvelled at Lolina’s myth-making and world-building, achieved with brevity and mystique unmatched in the past calendar year.


Holly Herndon


[RVNG Intl./4AD]

Building off the ontological work of Terry Smith, UK theorist Suhail Malik once famously asked, “What is contemporary art? What is contemporaneity?” Malik found that artists working today often “have a common question, but no common answer” and dubbed the “crisis of contemporary art” as one born from the “tenuous, hesitant, anticipatory” nature of our current institutional artistic climate, limited by the circular trajectory of our modes of power. On Platform, Holly Herndon challenged the complacency of Malik’s critique, becoming a bold, dynamic artist of now, shaken from academia into action. Track by track, Platform became “NSA breakup songs” in a sea of emoji-esque icons (“Home”), audio ads for Greek yogurt and aloe vera (“Locker Leak”), “net concréte” software turning keystrokes into sonic chaos (“Chorus”) and ASMR therapy for the “One Percent” (“Lonely at the Top”), as well as GIF art and aesthetic reimaginations like never before. Platform was equal parts dance and contemplation, “same, same, but different” in the way it reimagined speech, software, and aesthetics — every aspect of the artistic process built again, from the ground up, on a pyre of stuffy IDM corpses. Herndon crafted a diverse, stunning work that finally conquered the crisis of contemporaneity, a brilliant statement to the bleakness of our times, wrapped up in menacing bass, skittering rhythms, and ancient Gregorian chants.



RIP Chrysalis

[Hausu Mountain]

“Ethereal” is one of those words you start to hate. It’s used so often to describe things that are relatively normal — for instance, music that emphasizes texture or establishes a lethargic mood or flows in an airy sort of way. Alexandra Drewchin’s work as Eartheater is that, but also something more definitively ethereal: it is the music of the ether, the thick liquid through which we move in time and space like woozy thrombocytes, occasionally crashing sidelong into our purposes. RIP Chrysalis, released on Hausu Mountain (co-run by TMT’s Mukqs) posited this process of identity-making — the discovery of meaning that can make everything feel like the first time — as a kind of endless molting, an “Ecdysisophis,” a self-definition that continues on into infinity, perhaps even after “death.” Within the plasma of RIP Chrysalis also floated the sounds of ticking banjos, heaving strings, and Drewchin’s own yeeeows and prrrrrs multiplied and layered into a symphony like the multitude of voices we each keep in our minds. In its free-flowing expression of actualization, RIP Chrysalis was a snapshot of a mind delivered endlessly into and through the ether, right before our very ears.


Rabit & Chino Amobi


[Halcyon Veil]

The Great Game: Freedom From Mental Poisoning zeroed 2015. It reduced the year to zero. It killed it. It became an arbitrary reading point from which all other readings were to be measured. Itself had no measurable quantity or magnitude (none) — not because of deficiency, but because it was situated outside the dimensions. More accurately, it was the dimensions: the beginning and the end. For that reason, whatever number it features in this list is trivial; in short, The Great Game wasn’t a player, but the game itself — a simultaneous surrender and immersion, a mirror of political economy, a critique. The sonic iconoclasm of architects Rabit and Chino Amobi was like a monumental sculpture, such was depicted by its cover art, Rodin’s The Gates of Hell. At the same time, The Great Game itself became a gateway, a singular point of passage through which the year was distilled, purifying and concentrating its substance. And although 2015 has passed, we are inclined to agree that “every song from here on out lives in the wake of The Great Game.


Giant Claw

Deep Thoughts

[Orange Milk]

Keith Rankin, musician/artist/label owner/former writer, has been brewing some deep internet miasma for a minute now, but so far his investigations have been more cultural than musical. He hasn’t exactly been writing for the Great American Songbook here as much as chewing up the Billboard Top 40, guzzling it down with the latest trends from the electronic underground, and regurgitating it back to us in horrifically hi-def fashion. But Deep Thoughts felt like a sudden, magnificent leaf-turning for the Giant Claw project. It’s not as if making an album out of MIDIs straight from the Banjo-Kazooie OST was a bold new concept, but here the sound palette felt almost beside the point. Rankin was on some serious Einstein On The Beach shit here, crafting one dazzling symphony of xylophones and flutes after another, each track a more potent cocktail of emotional triggers than the one before. Deep Thoughts was a sentimental, mindboggling experience, an album with all the adventurous composition of Close To The Edge-era Yes that managed to be a completely inward journey. With Deep Thoughts, Rankin encouraged us to choose our own adventures and to let him color inside the lines of our own inner world.



Art Angels


Am I an art angel? Look at me. Watch me as I burst into flames and eat you alive. What if I pulled my teeth? I became a cheerleader. I became a superhero. I became an artist. I’ll never be your dream girl. I quit trying to be normal, because shapeshifting runs all the way through me. Bright and hot. This year I grew weird and ecstatic. I memorized bangers and lived my life as pop as possible. How could I run the world any other way? Everyone told me not to glow and not to scheme, so I made myself a princess. Everything I love becomes everything I do. Who needs anyone else besides best friends? We scream and invade and realize our fantasies. We sparkle and shatter for each other like stars. There is no time for anyone to be mean. Haters don’t get it. I don’t behave. No one ever gave me permission to act cute and powerful. But I took myself seriously. I did it anyway.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series

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