The Agit Reader

The Agit Reader Top 10 of 2015

December 29th, 2015  |  by Staff

New Order, Music Complete#10
New Order
Music Complete
Mute Records

Music Complete marks the departure of Peter Hook, the founding member responsible for the signature basslines that helped define the sound of New Order (and, before that, Joy Division). But even without Hooky’s bass, the new record is undeniably New Order, from the soaring synths to the often dark lyrics that belie the danceable music. With Bernard Sumner’s predilection for electronics now more prominent, Music Complete has been drawing comparisons to 1989’s Technique, but you can also hear haunting guitar tones reminiscent of New Order’s earliest records on cuts like “Singularity,” for example. Ultimately, New Order delivers a triumphant collection of tracks as solid as the title suggests. JR


Grimes, Art Angels#9
Art Angels

Claire Boucher herself has used “A.D.D.” to describe the music of Grimes. Thus, it’s been hard for her not to flit between the many post-modern genres that fuel her subconscious. Art Angels, then, is a statement that declares her universe is of her own design. She doesn’t quite fit anywhere, and she is autonomous to the nth degree. Between K-Pop excursions, avant hip-hop beats, weirdo folk interludes, maximalist pop, and electric guitars, the album represents her artistic vision as euphoric amalgam of styles without borders. Where before Grimes bore a slight redundancy or an ephemeral flimsiness, Art Angels posits the young songwriter as terrestrial, confident, and unafraid to bend the limits of pop music to her liking. Art Angels is a blueprint to where music is headed, like it or not. KJE


Salad Boys
Trouble In Mind

That the Salad Boys are everything a classic New Zealand trio should sound like is almost a detriment to the transcendent songs that comprise Metalmania. They hail from Christchurch, back up the legendary David Kilgour when touring the homeland, and pack enough bittersweet, wandering guitar jangle into their music that they may as well be the second coming of The Clean. But somewhere a sense of modernity jars them to their senses, and the riffs get sharp, purposefully melodic, and urgent—all qualities that run counter to their brethren. Metalmania is not merely homage, it’s the natural evolution of “Tally Ho” to how these NZ kids think it should sound in 2015. KJE


Kamasi Washington, The Epic#7
Kamasi Washington
The Epic

No title could more accurately describe this album. It is an odyssey, a journey, and a rite of passage. It’s exciting, of course, to see a jazz album getting so much attention, and it’s difficult to remember the last time it happened. The bottom line, though, is that Kamasi Washington’s daring triple-album is stunning through and through. Recalling all the big boys, certainly, but also Gil Evans, Donald Byrd, Joe Zawinul, and Alice Coltrane, The Epic’s scope is as big as its ambition. Nothing about the music is modest. It features mostly 11-minute-plus tracks, a 32-person choir, guess spots from bass virtuoso Thundercat and R&B vocalist Patrice Quinn, and ecstatic, cathartic soloing by every player in the group. The emotions are big, the concepts are daring, and Washington makes absolutely no concessions to newcomers or nostalgia. The set opens with “Change of the Guard” and, as that title suggests, this is the sound of a powerful new voice making itself heard, loud and clear. MS


Consumer Complaints
Why Choose
FatCat Records

This year the world at large was introduced to British trio Shopping with not just one but two records: the reissue of the band’s self-released debut, Consumer Complaints, and the band’s follow-up, Why Choose. Though both are only about a half-hour in length, each record is stocked with a sparse take on the kind of funk-laden post-punk done so well in decades past by bands like Delta 5, Au Pairs, and The Slits, who Shopping most closely recall. Smart and brash, the London band is just as captivating live, exhibiting the kind of uninhibited joie de vivre indicative of an attitude of fun over fashion. SS


Various Artists
Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording
Atlantic Records

If you were to tell someone back in January that one of the hottest things to hit pop culture would be a Broadway musical that used hip-hop to explore the life and times of the first Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, you might get looks that were a mixture of confusing and pity for the hangover you’d be suffering through when you sobered up. Yet here we are with Hamilton, the show people just can’t stop talking about. For those who didn’t score tickets to one of the long soldout performances, the soundtrack is the next best thing; at two hours and 46 tracks, it’s the entire show. Overseen by Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots and the show’s creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s an ambitious mix of hip-hop, pop, R&B, jazz, and show tunes. It’s the rare Broadway album that plays just as well to both the hardcore theater geek and the pop fan and an impossibly audacious accomplishment. DSH


Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love#4
No Cities to Love
Sub Pop Records

In the year of our Lord 2015, bands reuniting is the least surprising aspect of the current music scene. After all, there are lots of festival stages that need populating. But reunion albums are nerve wracking. Usually, the best one can hope for is that it won’t be cringe-inducing. So when Sleater-Kinney announced that after a decade-long hiatus they had a new album coming out, there was cautious excitement. It turns out that there was no need for worry. No Cities to Love, the band’s eighth album and second for Sub Pop picked up as if no time had transpired. Revisiting some of the pop overtones of previous albums and adding some new tricks, it is the logical next step with no asterisk. The balance and chemistry is just as great as it ever was so hopefully the band is back to stay. DSH


Royal Headache, High#3
Royal Headache
What’s Your Rupture?

Though in terms of overall spunk I’d give the edge to Royal Headache’s self-titled debut from a couple years ago, the band’s follow-up is otherwise that record’s equal in nearly every other aspect. The Aussie four-piece matches soulful reveries to garage tattersall in a manner that hits on all visceral levels from the primal to the emotional. But that’s only half of it. There are tracks like “Wouldn’t You Know” that come off like they were torn from Dion’s songbook and given a modern updating with serrated edges. In other words, this is one for the ages. SS


Courtney Barnett- Sometime I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit#2
Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Mom + Pop Music

The Courtney Barnett hype train began sometime in 2013 with “Avant Gardener.” That song, which through gardening metaphors and an inexplicably relatable chorus of “I’m having trouble breathing in,” left us thirsty for more. And did she deliver. This year’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit picked up right where she left off. There’s nothing unexpected based on what we’ve heard before, but she delivers pure authenticity with great execution. As she did on “Avant Gardener,” she once again makes the mundane seem relevant and distressing on tracks like “Depreston” and “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party.” Then there’s the perfect “Pedestrian at Best,” which is a jaw-dropping, mosh-inducing anthem of apathy as good as anything we got from Nirvana in ’91. Rock hasn’t been in the limelight much this year—after all, who wants to hear another college rock revival—but damn if Barnett doesn’t make a case for the genre. ML


Run the Jewels, RTJ2#1
Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp a Butterfly
Interscope Records

Kendrick Lamar describes the movements of history, country, and community by laying bare his personal struggles. That’s Kendrick’s biggest strength on this record: while recording his own despair—that moment, repeatedly alluded to, when he’s screaming in a hotel room—he brings it all together, unmasking the forces that led to his strife over a soundscape that links genres and eras. That Kendrick has taken his place alongside Nas, Rakim, KRS-One, Chuck D, Biggie, and Tupac is now a given. What’s more amazing is that he’s done so with an album that cross-breeds the most challenging work of James Brown, John Coltrane, and George Clinton (not to mention Gil Scott-Heron and Amiri Baraka). In a year when there were not words enough to describe the never-ending horrors, when it was imperative to remind the world that Black Lives Matter, Kendrick Lamar (and his collection of widely and wildly talented collaborators) stepped forward with a masterpiece as gut-wrenchingly discordant as the darkest days of the year and as brilliant as the summer sun. MS

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