The summer of 2015 in music was both aggressively uncompromising and positively strange. From the Drake and Meek Mill Twitter beef and Fetty Wap’s domination of the Billboard charts to The Weeknd’s evolution from R&B vanguard to pop superstar, this summer more than made up for last year’s generally disappointing selection of warm weather music. Here are the five most impressive albums of the summer.
5. In Colour- Jamie xx: If you haven’t heard “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” featuring Young Thug and Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan, you’ve missed out on the summer’s most sublime and inventive affair. “Good Times” is par for the course on Jamie xx’s (of The xx) debut album, In Colour. The usually reticent frontman of The xx has never been bolder than on In Colour, by drawing from an eclectic array of hip-hop, R&B, and house inspired influences to create something truly spectacular. There are two songs, “SeeSaw” and “Loud Places,” featuring xx’s bandmate Romy, that are every bit as impressive as “Good Times,” but almost polar opposite in both tone and instrumental arrangement. From the harsher industrial notes of opener “Gosh,” to the final soul-ed out notes of “Girl,” it’s clear that Jamie xx is locked into his comfort zone, which is to say that he is unwilling to become repetitive by duplicating any one particular sound.
4. Wildheart- Miguel: Over the past five years, R&B has become a decidedly hyper-masculine and druggy affair. Led by artists such as The Weeknd and Future, the genre has expanded into never before seen experimental territory. Still, a chasm harkening back to R&B’s soul roots has remained. Enter Wildheart, Miguel’s follow-up to his 2012 breakout album, Kaleidoscope Dream. Wildheart expands upon the fuzzed out and dreamy landscape of Kaleidoscope Dream by providing a bolder and more complex scene for Miguel’s musings. Set in the backdrop of Los Angeles, see “the valley,” Miguel is able to retain the aura of mystique and technical sophistication that permeates so much of modern R&B, but injects into it a far more complex portrayal of sex in the 21st century. From the sweet (“Coffee” and “face the sun”) to the more aggressive (“NWA”), Miguel presents the tribulations of love as a two-sided affair with genuine sacrifice on both sides. While the album is rawer and less heavily produced then Kaleidoscope Dream, it helps that Miguel has assembled an expert class of producers such as Raphael Saadiq, Cashmere Cat, and former Amy Winehouse collaborator Salaam Remi to guide the production away from languishing in its own importance or becoming pretentious. Put simply, Wildheart is Miguel’s most enjoyable release yet.
3. DS2 (Dirty Sprite 2)- Future: From the first hilariously ridiculous line Future warbles on album opener “Thought It Was A Drought,” (that’s, “I just fucked your bitch in some Gucci flip flops,” in case you didn’t know), it was clear DS2 was going to be both an ignorant thrill ride and the soundtrack of the summer. And what a summer it has been for Future. The Trap&B star has risen from the ashes of both his breakup with R&B singer Ciara and the critical failure of his major label debut Honest to become hip-hop’s most improved talent. His rediscovered sound combines hedonistic tales tied together by jarring lyrics, his distinctively woozy flow buoyed by a heavy dose of Actavis, and a renewed creative energy. Compared with the sonic pileup of Honest, DS2 has a surprisingly cohesive feel, primarily due to the efforts of frequent collaborator Metro Boomin, who produced most of the project. From show-stealing performances at festivals such as Governor’s Ball and OVO fest, to the plethora of vines that showcased Lebron James’ affinity for DS2, the album’s uncompromisingly nihilistic sound was inescapable this summer. As Future says himself on “Kno The Meaning,” “The best thing I ever did was fall out of love.”
2. Currents- Tame Impala: With Currents, Tame Impala, the brainchild of instrumental virtuoso Kevin Parker, mastered the art of subtle adaptation. Devoid of the hazy guitars that made debut Innerspeakers a hit with critics and the festival flock alike, Currents is a polished breakup album heavy on experimental synths and pop riffs. An homage to 70’s and 80’s funk inspired dance music, instrumental transitions such as “Disciples” and “Nangs” display Parker’s technical acumen. The album’s cover art, a swirling purple vortex shredding, is a nod to both the album’s themes of personal and spiritual transformation as well as Parker’s relentless drive to reinvent. Current’s real charm resides in the quality and depth of its writing. For a musician as adept as Parker to also possess such impressive songwriting chops is almost unfair. When Parker croons in anguish, “I can just hear them now, how can you let us down,” on “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” it’s clear the “them” he’s talking about isn’t going to be his audience.
1. Summertime ’06- Vince Staples: Finally, politically conscious hip-hop music is back in vogue. Catalyzed by socially aware releases from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and career recluse Dr. Dre, rap’s revolutionary revival culminated this summer with two main focal points: the release of the N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton” and Vince Staples’ debut album, Summertime ’06. Staples is an apt proxy to assist in carrying on the vision of legendary West Coast rappers such as N.W.A. and MC Eiht. Not one to back down from a challenge, Summertime ’06 is a 59-minute double album heavy on concept. Staples ups the ante by displaying a knack for street storytelling reminiscent of an N.W.A-era Ice Cube. A sneering virtuoso on the mic, Summertime ’06 succeeds primarily because of Staples’ focused intelligence and the clarity through which he is able to depict a worldview that has been warped by chaos. The tale of Staples’ destructive and often fatal summer as a 13-year-old growing up in Long Beach, CA, Summertime ’06 is a vivid update of the hellscape N.W.A depicted on “Straight Outta Compton.” Overseen by producing guru No I.D., Summertime ’06 is filled with raw, unfiltered meditations on police brutality, rioting, poverty, and black-on-black crime. On tracks like “Senorita,” Staples’ hard-hitting questions cut the deepest: “What means the world to you? Is it fast life, money and clothes? Or what would you murder for? Will your name hold weight when the curtains close?”