Review of the Musical Year & Our Chart Near-Misses

One man has dominated the musical end of year “best of” lists, in a way that I don’t think I can remember a single album doing for many years. Look at the Metacritic “list of lists” and around half of all the publications and lists they have tracked – from every musical genre - made Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly Album of the Year. That is remarkable.

So, spoiler alert, you may wonder why it does not feature in the Spend Matters top 40 at all? We’ll come back to that in a minute. But overall, it seemed to us that 2015 was a decent year for music – or the sort of music we like, anyway – rather than a truly great year. No single album stood out for us, no Vampires of the Western World, For Emma Forever Ago, or Funeral. “Indie” struggled a bit, and you will see some high placings for albums in our list that did not make the impact they deserved. Another theme was artists who previously lacked credibility (“pop-poppets” some might say) making huge steps towards critical tolerance or even acclaim. Step forward Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Carly Rae Jephsen and even Justin Bieber! You may even see one or two of those in our list...

Another trend was the dominance of female artists. It seems to me that a high proportion of the most interesting music is being made by women these days, from “pop princesses” like Swift and Cyrus, through the genres like country and R&B, to true uncategorisable originals like Bjork, Grimes, Julia Holter, Joanna Newson, Susanne Sundfor, EMA, Angel Olsen, Du Blonde ... And Adele of course who doesn’t feature here because I have not heard the album yet (not on Spotify), but out-sold everyone in 2015. Anyway, it is looking like more than half of our top ten and top twenty will be female / female-led acts.

Let’s come back to the critically acclaimed stuff that we didn’t quite acclaim in the same manner. Tame Impala with Currents and Surjan Stevens with Carrie and Lowell were both in that Metacritic top 6, but both just missed out on our top 40. Tame Impala I like but just find a little contrived and lacking passion with his retro psychedelic disco thing. Maybe a few more listens needed ... Stevens on the other hand has produced an album of excellent songs and real emotion – but I just found it a little too depressing personally, as the songs are largely about losing people close to you.

Now, back to Kendrick Lamar and To Pimp a Butterfly. OK, rap and urban R&B is not my thing really, although Kanye West is a genius and I love some of his work (Runaway is one of my top ten songs of this millennium). But whilst my liberal sensibilities do I hope allow me to emphasise to some extent, the plight of the black underclass in urban USA is hard to really get into and understand from Camberley. And a major and central element of this album’s appeal seems to be the lyrics and the social comment.

But I think what fails to appeal about this is mainly ... the jazz! Yes, large parts of this album are jazz, as far as I can see, some of it pretty unstructured, the type of music I hate above all others. I listen to a song such as “Alright” and I basically hear a guy shouting at me over a random free-form jazz backing track. It’s horrible, I can appreciate that Lemar is probably a genius but I just did not enjoy this. And the cynic in me does wonder whether all the critics raving about it feel they should like it rather than truly enjoying it in any conventional sense. The emperor’s new clothes? Probably not, I suspect I'm wrong and this will go down as an all-time classic, but it’s not for me. (I’m sure Lamar is deeply upset by that ... not)!

Anyway, we will be back in Monday with numbers 40-31 in our list, but to whet your appetite, and in case that just isn’t enough for you, here are our near misses; albums (in alphabetical order) we enjoyed this year but just did not quite make it into our chart.

c. Duncan Architect
Benjamin Clementine At Least For Now
Eska Eska
Eagulls Eagulls
Georgia Georgia
Ghostpoet Shedding Skin
John Grant Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
Jamie Carly Rae Jepsen E-MO-TION
Adam Lambert The Original High
Of Monsters and Men Beneath the Skin
Joanna Newsom Divers
Rachel Sermanni Tied to the Moon
Slaves Are You Satisfied?
Sleater Kinney No Cities To Love
Chris Stapleton Traveller
Tame Impala Currents

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