2015: Pop

Tue Feb 02 2016

In the interest of making the end-of-year process less intimidating to you readers, I’m not doing the usual massive top-twenty piece. Instead, I’m dividing things up between genres. Maybe people will be more likely to read a handful of smaller pieces; what do I know? Maybe, if you're good, I'll put a list at the end, since I think there's at least one person who is curious as to what it might look like. If you're good. Anyway, let’s not get hung up on specific genre definitions, okay? The purpose here is to point out some albums from 2015 that I loved, and in some cases, albums other people liked that I didn’t like so much. Please read on if my opinions on such things interest you.

I'm not giving up on Twin Shadow just yet. There's a pretty good chance that George Lewis, Jr. peaked with his very first album, 2010's haunting/heartbreaking Forget, but each successive album has yielded at least a couple bona fide gutwrenchers. As I kept revisiting Eclipse over the course of the year, I found that as cheesy as it is, more of its tracks stuck in my gullet than of those on its predecessor, Confess, which only featured two songs I ever get a hankering for. Besides, even though Lewis has upped the production values over the years, you can't argue that Forget wasn't pure hook-driven pop. Critics, always abandoning artists once they can afford professional equipment. At the very least, "Flatliners" is one of the best songs of the year. Still, I do hope Lewis decides to get back into playing guitar at some point, because, um, he's really good at it.

The other brain-fryingly irresistible pop album of the year was CHVRCHΞS' Every Open Eye. It's the kind of album that will turn the heads of even staunch anti-pop curmudgeons, if they at least have a soul. In a sea of disposability it was the single undismissable sugary treat of the year, burst after burst of eye-opening positivity and joie de vivre. I can't come up with any cause for guilt concerning the pleasure of listening to it.

I will freely admit that everything FKA Twigs does musically is alluring to me. Her sound is like liquid seduction, not necessarily in an emotional sense, but sometimes. Even when she’s singing about painful and abhorrent things, her dissection of these issues, her poetry, her rhetoric, it’s all psychologically and intellectually compelling to me, and her music is the perfect intoxicating blend of seediness and sensuality and violence and longing that you don’t find in many other places now that The Knife is defunct. Still, her latest EP, M3LL155X, seems a bit of a retread of LP1 and lacks the razor-sharp hooks. It succeeds on style and substance, but I feel like she’s got more potential to push into uncharted territories than she reveals on this release. Hopefully it’s a tidy wrap-up of her initial career phase.

Grudgingly, I'll mention Tame Impala's Currents. I'm not in the camp that thinks Kevin Parker has glommed onto the synthpop bandwagon; he has spoken openly about his love of extreme cheese at least since the release of Lonerism, and besides, this album isn’t really as accessible as its singles would have you believe. It is a super-slick production job, though, a Parker hallmark and not a detriment. I do think “Let It Happen” is a great song in every aspect, and the cumulative skip effect that Parker uses to lead into the jam section is absolute genius. The bass groove of “The Less I Know The Better” is amazing. I think the pure depressive pop nuggets “Eventually” and “’Cause I’m A Man” are gorgeous, fully immersive emotional experiences, and I also like the lyrics and intent of “Yes I’m Changing”. However, overall, Parker’s lyrics, which walked the tightrope of universality without becoming mundane on Lonerism, have tumbled into pointlessness in some cases on Currents. I can’t find much underlying wisdom. “Past Life” in particular is really, really stupid, and after a lot of focused listening—come on, Lonerism was life-changing for me—songs like “The Moment” and “Reality In Motion” are still very forgettable. On the plus side, I didn’t have my hopes up; there was no way it could measure up to its predecessor, and I applaud Parker’s stylistic departure. I hope he comes up with some more thematic depth for his next record, though, whatever genre it happens to fall into.

Finally, there’s Grimes, who seems to be taking on the accidental-Ani

role in pop-culture feminism these days; everyone seems to be discussing her image and second-guessing her intentions more than they consider her actual music, even though she’s hardly famous enough to demand such superficial scrutiny. I’ve never cared for her singing style in the past, but I’m somewhat impressed with her efforts to branch out on this Art Angels release. “Kill V. Maim” is a good example, although the heavily-treated chipmunk-style parts are grating. “SCREAM” is pretty interesting, almost startling, although musically it doesn’t do much for me. Like a lot of the songs on the album, the core sample is so simplistic and repetitive that it’s tiresome, and the various embellishments don’t embellish it enough. Some of the tracks are downright nauseating to me, like she’s channeling Natalie Imbruglia (full disclosure: I love her big hit “Torn”, because it reminds me of living in Ireland, so there) but without the organic charm. I don’t fault Grimes for going pure pop now music, and if I’m in the right mood, I get more enjoyment out of this album than any of her previous ones, actually. I'm not sure why, though, because sometimes I listen and it all feels cobbled together and very plastic and not very often rhythmically infectious. And now that I've got this thing written, I doubt I'll feel like listening to it any more. I'm sure you can dance to it if you want to, though.

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