20. Julianna Barwick-Nepenthe
Ambient music is pretty difficult to tie with pop music. Enya gave it an impressive shot before and delivered albums full of beauty and melody. The ambient side acted as a finishing touch, however, and not always an initial idea. Julianna Barwick would be the result of an artist like Enya fully incorporating the workings of ambient music in such a combination. Songs will linger with specific sounds and tones to have ringing, abstract melodies come and go at the ear of the listener. This self discovery that can be found on pretty much every track makes this album an easy listen. However, it isn’t without its own depths. What exactly is Julianna Barwick singing on Forever? Why does she not sing on Waving To You? As you search within yourself, you search within Nepenthe. If you want to see the extent that ambient music can go towards pop music without being poppy in the slightest, Nepenthe is that mysterious experiment that works wonders.
19. Death Grips-Government Plates
Death Grips are those people that come to house parties without an invitation and steal the show. They do a lot that will leave you scratching your head, they often work on spontaneity (whether it be their surprise album drops or the radical shifts their songs go through), and they are impossible to control (and you are a bit scared to even try). They, much like the craziest of party animals, are impossible to forget. Hell, they don’t even seem like they’re having fun when they’re losing themselves (yet we sure as hell are). This is Violence Now (Don’t Get Me Wrong) is undeniably a song to dance to, but you get full of barbaric rage as well. Government Plates is Death Grips delivering the basics of human instinct yet again with effective results. The album came out of nowhere, it’s incredibly short, and we have no idea what to make of it after it is done. It may end up being your candy of the year, where you will pop it back in right after it is done just to experience the mayhem of songs like I’m Overflow and Anne Bonny all over again just to remember that initial reaction (regardless of what cavities it may leave).
18. David Bowie-The Next Day
There’s no better way for a rock legend to return than with a return full of wit. The album is a biblical reference to the act of resurrection, and David Bowie uses the concept of “the after” (whether it be here or in the afterlife) to push the way he feels about everything now. He is not Ziggy Stardust on here, yet he acts as an alien when it comes to the state of the world. He announces his holy return with the title track, discusses the death of celebrity image in The Stars (Are Out Tonight), braves the concept of death in Where Are We Now? and promotes trends in You Set The World On Fire. He may dabble in the way society is now. He may be turned off by it. This is the narration of a man who has been seen as an odd one having stepped back into familiar territory with much to say, and with the current-yet-classic Bowie melodies, The Next Day is one that will kick your ass until the day after that one.
17. Earl Sweatshirt-Doris
Earl Sweatshirt sparked controversy years ago with revolting lyrics and disturbing imagery (remember that nail being ripped off in his first music video? Cute.). When he was sent to Samoa to shape up, everyone awaited his return by yelling “Free Earl” at every instance they could. He’s finally returned. Well, his name has anyways. His old immature ways are gone. Here we have the candid reflections of a young adult with an imbedded anger. He discusses his grandmother being sick, his father’s absence and celebrity (his father is South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile. That explains a lot), and even his own image. He has a flow that could go all out but is contained much like the kind of rapping Rakim and DOOM would pull off. His words alone carry on all of Earl Sweatshirt’s emotions if his still expressions won’t, yet the rage he feels drips into the music as well, implying that his feelings are impossible to ignore. Doris is a promising album near the start of one of the rap game’s most gifted newcomers, and its messages will surely echo until his next album drops.
16. Caladan Brood-Echoes of Battle
The American black metal band Caladan Brood aren’t the first to take a stab at including folk elements into their songs. They are the best to have done so this year, though. When many bands have tried to create epic songs and instead have created boring tests, Caladan Brood have created novels that go from one event to another. Each passage flows into the other one naturally, and the long running times for each song seem absolutely necessary. When the clean vocals kick in, the songs become triumphant. When the screaming begins, the songs are suddenly exhilarating. Even the parts without vocals at all almost sound like narrations of old folk stories; Perhaps the music in between is the representation of the passage of time. The music always sounds victorious with its combination of cheerful instruments and metal intensity. For a new band to have such aspirations is promising. To have these aspirations work out tremendously is exciting. Caladan brood have bested many bands at a game that has been played for a while, and their blend of black and folk metal will have to answer to this bar they have set themselves.