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This Lollapalooza 2015 coverage is presented by the JVC XX Elation

It’s weird: Ten years ago, Lollapalooza found a new home in Chicago’s Grant Park, and the whole festival atmosphere felt so fresh and exciting. Now, it’s second nature. The pre-gaming starts Thursday night, the following three days whiz on by, the cleanup begins, next year’s dates are announced, speculation heats up, a headliner surfaces, those two-weekend rumors pop up again (only to be quickly squashed), another headliner leaks, and finally, the full lineup drops. No matter who’s on the poster — it could be The Cure or Kings of Leon or Lady Gaga or Paul McCartney, whatever — people moan and groan and smash their keys in anger. It’s all for naught, though, because the damn thing sells out in five minutes anyhow.

Times have certainly changed since those salad days of 2005. What was once Perry Farrell’s traveling festival of alternative oddities has now instead become a lucrative global brand, thanks to thriving installments firmly established in Santiago, Chile, and São Paulo, Brazil, with two more on the way for Berlin, Germany, and Bogotá, Colombia. And considering that Live Nation has a controlling interest in C3 Presents, this aggressive expansion should only continue, which means, hey, maybe we’ll finally get that oft-rumored Lollapalooza Toronto. Or Lollapalooza Israel. Wouldn’t that be wild? Roger Waters could headline!

Photo by Philip Cosores

Jokes aside, there was something curiously nostalgic about this year’s Chicago installment. While it’s technically the 11th time Lollapalooza has taken over (and strangled) Grant Park, it’s actually been a clean 10 years since the fruitful partnership began. Walking around, I tried to remember that understated first year, back when only the south fields were in operation and acts like Weezer or Death Cab for Cutie could headline over Arcade Fire and The Killers. Late Saturday afternoon, I stood under the same friendly trees behind the Sprint stage, where I watched the madness ensue around me, recalling a time when there were four stages blasting music at hour-long intervals and the record heat was keeping everyone away from Ben Kweller.

Squint hard enough and you can still see fragments of that era in today’s festivities. It’s just bigger, louder, and overstuffed with younger audiences starved for every “button-pushing” act at that one-time little tent called Perry’s. Some might also argue there’s an assault of corporatization, and they’d be right, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Late Friday evening, Contributing Editor Philip Cosores remarked on how the glut of corporate sponsors wasn’t offensive enough to detract from the bolder and more useful amenities on site. The food’s more affordable and diverse than most destination festivals, the security’s startlingly efficient and effective, and there’s an arguably strong commitment to everyone from GA to VIP to Press.

Photo by Philip Cosores

One of the reasons I’m always drawn to Lollapalooza is because it’s so synonymous with Consequence of Sound. This site wouldn’t exist without that make-it-or-break-it year in Grant Park. The brand’s Chicago resurrection came with a lively message board that connected me with my colleague and partner Alex Young, and the rest is as you see it today. And so, each passing year feels like a new step we’re also taking. But, let’s be real: We’ve also changed drastically. We work with more and more sponsors each month, and we’ve expanded and experienced a variety of face lifts, too. There are always going to be ugly factors with regards to change, but I’d like to believe that change only works if the positives outweigh the negatives.

Once again, Lollapalooza proved just that. Did the undercard suffer from having both Sir Paul McCartney and Metallica on the bill? Sure, but over 80,000 ecstatic fans walked out of the park singing “Hey Jude” or screaming “Master of Puppets” as they flooded the streets of downtown Chicago. Sure, that tense and unexpected evacuation was hardly ideal on Sunday afternoon, but somehow over 48,000 festival-goers and 4,000 staff, artists, and vendors were safely evacuated and then reentered into the park in under an hour. To their further credit, the organizers were even able to rearrange the splintered schedule and accommodate the early close in preparation for the next storm.

Photo by Heather Kaplan

There’s something remarkable about this 10-year-long winning streak of Lollapalooza, even to a cynical dickhead like myself. Forgive me for getting a tad sentimental about the proceedings, but as someone who’s only missed one year in Grant Park — the great lineup of 2007, all because of a negligent landlord (it’s a long story) — I feel comfortable in saying I’ve seen all the ups and downs of this polarizing franchise. I’ll agree the festival’s long been removed from its original roots and will also contend that there’s something depressing about this, but for all of its radical changes, whether it’s the cheap assault of EDM or the Live Nation takeover, the honest echoes are still vibrant enough to keep considering this a must-see event.

To paraphrase the weekend’s third headliner: “How Big, How Shrewd, How Beautiful.”

–Michael Roffman
Editor-in-Chief

Artist Who Benefitted Most From Their After-Show

ODESZA

Photo by Philip Cosores

ODESZA’s set got off to a promising start when the duo emerged wearing matching Chicago Bulls jerseys and was followed by the team’s official drumline. It was a bold move that played to local sports sympathies, and it succeeded in working the sweltering crowd into a fervor. As soon as the drumline dispersed, however, reality set in. ODESZA really has no business on any Lollapalooza stage not named Perry’s, as their music is only a few shades removed from EDM, and none of those shades are particularly interesting. Their hour-long set seemed interminable, and it didn’t help that the oontz-oontz beats acted like a siren song to all the worst kinds of bro. The drumline came back out for a viscerally satisfying conclusion, but it all boiled down to two great moments sandwiching a thick slice of crap. –Collin Brennan

Most spontaneous on-stage marriage proposal

White Sea

Photo by Philip Cosores

Okay, so no one actually got engaged on Saturday that I know of, but White Sea’s Morgan Kibby came close to wedding the BMI stage’s biggest hype man on the spot. “I’m so excited that you’re here,” said Kibby, and in response, a guy in matching Hawaiian shirt and cargo shirts nursing spiked Gatorade hollered back, “We’re so excited for you!”

“I will marry you later,” Kibby promised, and her number one fan agreed: “I will marry you!”

Kibby, who’s known for her vocal work with M83, strained a little sharp on her own songs’ high notes, but her anonymous fiancé cheered fiercely all the same. “Future baby daddy right here,” she said. I hope they’re very happy. –Sasha Geffen

Most Overcrowded and Underplanned Stage

Young Thug

Photo by Philip Cosores

For some reason, Thugger landed on the BMI stage on Friday evening. This doesn’t make sense because Young Thug has a bunch of hits, and hits draw fans, and fans take up space. The BMI stage is a shady grove to the east of Grant Park by the lake, and when Young Thug took the stage, the whole area got clogged up with a whole lot of people smoking weed. It seems that more than a few people were there to see if he would even show up, given his recent run-ins with the law, but show up he did to rap through tracks like “Stoner” and “Danny Glover”. It was a fun enough set if personal space isn’t really your thing and you like your secondhand smoke fresh and bountiful. –Sasha Geffen

Cheapest Cover of Cheap Trick

The New Pacific

Photo by Heather Kaplan

The early afternoon slot on Friday is not particularly enviable, but The New Pacific brought all the energy they could muster to the sparse crowd at BMI. The Los Angeles band walked out to the tune of Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba”, and lead singer Alec Strickland proceeded to punctuate every other verse with a cry of “Let’s go!” Sheer willpower, however, wasn’t enough to elevate an eight-song set of mostly ho-hum pop punk, and Strickland’s brief forays into the crowd were more clumsy than endearing. Ditto for the cover of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender”, which felt like a, well, cheap way to garner some Chicago-area good will. You can’t say anything bad about these guys’ gamesmanship, though. When Strickland broke a string mid-set, he had to duck behind the stage and grab his own backup while the rest of the band filled time. It was a nice reminder that not everyone playing at Lolla is a rock star, and some of these bands are still trying to make their own luck. –Collin Brennan

Worst Pairing of Band and Festival

Wet

Photo by Heather Kaplan

Brooklyn dream pop trio Wet didn’t bring super soakers like Mick Jenkins and his crew, but they still lived up to their name during a sleepy afternoon set. “Let me see you drink water,” singer Kelly Zutrau asked the crowd between songs, as underwater visuals played behind her band’s sparse setup. Wet’s version of R&B is a hypnotic one, highlighted by the interplay between Zutrau’s voice and Marty Sulkow’s slippery riffs. Everything’s drenched in reverb, as the genre’s rulebook dictates, and it makes for a contemplative listen that lends itself more to headphones than to a mid-day festival set. The Pepsi crowd was amped up after the back-to-back combo of Jenkins and human firework Raury, and Wet felt more like a wet blanket than a revelation. –Collin Brennan

Most accurate simulation of literal hell

Carnage

Evangelists warned me of eternal damnation as I made my way back through the gates to Perry’s stage Saturday evening. I had no idea I would get a glimpse of it so soon. Peter Rosenberg introduced DJ Carnage, and then the man himself lorded over us like Lucifer over stacks of flame-red screens. Jets of fire launched into the air, while people screamed and bodies writhed against bodies. Every time the beat dropped, the whole crowd jumped until we all sank one level further into the unholy deep. –Sasha Geffen

Next on CBS: Big Stage, Small Band, Problematic Sound Guy

Glass Animals

Photo by Philip Cosores

If this set was on the Pepsi stage, that would have been fine. Palladia? Overjoyed. But the Samsung Galaxy? Give me a break. Glass Animals has one album to date (see: 2014’s Zaba). And while they still managed to snag a fairly large crowd, the Oxford quartet was inevitably swallowed up by the amount of vacant space. Also, what the hell happened to the sound guy? Frontman Dave Bayley was hardly audible, and his lyrics came off as mostly gasps and moans, which is a damn shame given the guy’s vocal range. Still, their performance and cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” was as good, if not better, than their Triple J performance from last year. –Phillip Roffman

Worst Bass Mix

Charli XCX

Photo by Philip Cosores

Technical difficulties are nothing new at music festivals, but no Lolla platform has shittier sound than the Sprint stage (or whatever corporate moniker it’s slapped with on a given year). Facing the Field Museum and the Samsung Galaxy headliner stage, Sprint keeps the volume of nearly every band in a perpetual state of flux, with everything fading in and out with the wind. Bass remains the one exception to this rule, somehow staying consistently cranked and swamping everything else in the mix. This became a huge problem in the middle of Charli XCX’s set, when, during “Doing It”, her bass player repeatedly hit the same sour note in the chorus.

It happens all the time — you think you’re playing the right note or chord, so you keep plunking away at it until it’s too late. But rarely is your mistake so loud that an entire baseball field can hear it. Outside of that, Charli XCX attacked her Sucker-heavy show with trademark club aggression, thrusting her hips, pumping her fists, and constantly working the crowd. But — and through no fault of her own, it’s worth noting — her charismatic showmanship ended up looking slight and silly when driven by such weak sonics, as if the whole thing was a static-barred TV show rather than an outdoor concert. –Dan Caffrey

Worst Band Name!

The War on Drugs

Photo by Heather Kaplan

Note: This entry was written by 56-year-old guest reporter, Gunther Guthrie.

Hey, hey, readers! It’s your old pal Gunther Guthrie, back on the music beat again after a successful first year of Lollapalooza coverage. Read about last year’s adventures here! First off, I want to thank Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman for letting an old warhorse like me give his perspective on things. He’s a gentleman and a scholar (and a gentleman again, for that matter!), and I couldn’t thank him enough. Love ya, Mike!

Alright, so first thing’s first. My bosses at Prudential wouldn’t let me leave work early, and I had to pick up my daughter Jordan from school so she could meet her friends at the festival (some stage called Perry’s — never heard of it!), so I didn’t get to Grant Park until pretty late. I knew from last year not to bring any suntan lotion, lest the gestapo that is Lollapalooza security make me unload my fanny pack, so I got in pretty quickly. But I still didn’t have any time to hit the media tent for a kobe slider or two. (The free food in the press area is the highlight of the festival, and I’m sad I wasn’t able to sample it on all three days. Oh well.)

25. Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
Choose Your Weapon is the 2nd official release of this Melbourne based band, and it’s an eclectic barrage of ferocious yet soulful vocals and guitar from the wonder, singer Nai Palm. Backing Nai Palm is Paul Bender (Bass/Programming), Perrin Moss (Drums/Percussion), and Simon Mavin (Keys) who all make up Hiatus Kaiyote. Bringing together some smooth chords, intense licks, odd time signatures, and relentless grooves, the band composes some of the most beautiful music that’ll have you bobbing your head until you’re permanently hunched-back. Not only do rappers like Chance the Rapper and Q-Tip count themselves as fans, but “Breathing Underwater” is nominated for a Grammy. Not to influence you or anything… – Kamaron Black (Listen)

24. Skylar Spence – Prom King
Ryan DeRobertis, the artist formerly known as vaporwave sensation Saint Pepsi, went through the same sort of crisis that other artists like Neon Indian and Jamie xx did, who felt confined by the trappings of the genres that were assigned to them, and decided to break free. In DeRobertis’ case, it resulted in a poptimist re-invisioning of his sound. Prom King conjures images of 80s disco and school dances, but the key to its success lies in just how fun of a record it is. Never feeling nostalgic or hackneyed, DeRobertis took what he was best at, and ran with it, deciding to have a blast in the meantime. – Yusof Nazari(Listen)

23. Girlpool – Before The World Was Big
The debut album from the Los Angeles punk-rockers saw them strip their minimalist sound down even more and play up their folk-punk sound. From the cover to the lyrics, nostalgia is the key here. The duo convey images of childhood and simplicity. It can all seem a little twee at times, but not in an annoying way, in a way of recalling the good times when your whole life was ahead of you and childhood seemed like it would go on forever. Before the World Was Big takes a feeling and runs with it, exploring ever nook and cranny of how it feels to grow up, fall in love, realize life is complicated, and become anxious, overwhelmed, and humbled. – Yusof Nazari (Listen)

22. Dilly Dally – Sore
The Toronto band’s debut album is filled with shredding guitar chords and breathy, guttural, disaffected vocals by singer Katie Monks, but it never takes itself too seriously. Preoccupied with love, loss, and the romantic awkwardness of it all, Sore is a record about taking control. The meeting of grunge-chords and pop structures are rarely done well, but Dilly Dally have mastered that balance perfectly to create a rarity in the modern age. An engaging and inventive rock record. – Yusof Nazari (Listen)

21. Astronauts etc. – Mind Out Wandering
The side project of Toro Y Moi’s touring keyboard player Anthony Ferraro takes full form in the brilliantly mastered and ambiently tuned full length release Mind Out Wandering. Ferraro’s falsetto voice eases you in accompanied with gentle chords on various instruments and smooth drums, relaxing to listen to and yet exciting at the same time, and ends just the same way. The distinctness of the group’s West Coast flavor overlaps on various boundaries of music, including lounge rock, singer-songwriter ballads as well as smooth synth pop. The culmination of these makes for a fantastic release that not only impressed, but will keep us listening no matter the time of year. – Demir Candas (Listen)

20. Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer
Joanna Fields’ cover art for Gliss Riffer captures a silly Yo Gabba Gabba-esque creature in a state of misery, green puke oozing from its’ laffy-taffy tongue. This juxtaposition of retro-futurist whimsy and all-too-human emotion perfectly captures the record as a whole. Deacon’s blend of stuttering samples and yearning melodies both tugs at your heartstrings and urges you to shake your hips. The astonishing “Learning to Relax” sounds like Kraftwerk after gorging themselves with an entire Halloween candy stash. You can hear elements of The Knife, Phillip Glass, and even Steely Dan in some tracks, but it remains a wholly unique album. Deacon’s “20-tabs-open-at-once” aesthetic might be sensory overload for some, but Gliss Riffer remains one of 2015’s finest electronic albums. – Daniel Valdez (Listen)

19. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox has always been the least abrasive of the bunch. Warm synths and Pet Sounds influences permeate the band’s work, but are even more pronounced in his solo efforts. For his 4th proper solo album, Panda Bear decided to talk about what he knows best, the small things in life. A newly minted father, Lennox’s conversation with the grim reaper is one about the most basic question’s in life. Why are we alive, what happens when we die, and how can we make a better future for our children. It doesn’t hurt that these subjects are handled with a light touch and the experimental instrumentation we’ve come to expect from Panda Bear. – Yusof Nazari (Listen)

18. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
After a decade-long hiatus, the Northwest punk pioneers prove as vital as ever. The trio tackle income inequality (“Price Tag”), disillusionment (“Fangless”), and other weighty issues without devolving into empty sloganeering. Of course, it helps that the album is catchy as hell. No Cities To Love drops the psych-rock of their previous album for a streamlined post-punk party. This triumphant return cements Sleater-Kinney’s place as the best rock band of the past 20 years.  Daniel Valdez (Listen)

17. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Former Fleet Foxes member Father John Misty is an absolute character. His second album is a revelation, and to describe it as folk music would be reductive. There’s splashes of electronica, pop, hip-hop and everything else, but what comes out of the vortex is a completely fresh and beautiful album. A concept album about “engaging in all manner of regrettable behavior” and courting his wife Emma, I Love You, Honeybear is a completely sincere look at the strange and modern conditions in which we fall in love, and why we stay in it. – Yusof Nazari (Listen)

16. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
Have You in My Wilderness deviated from Julia Holter’s previous approach of creating an album with one overlying theme to ten songs telling ten different stories. While it needed a concentrated listen to fully appreciate, the album’s sweeping melodies were embellished with luscious orchestral arrangements that never overpowered the songs, but teased at her characters’ psychotic breaks. Her genius was in her lyricism, songs such as “Silhouette”, “How Long”, and the title track hosted many allusions to popular short stories with Holter’s own humorous and dark twists. Her ability to describe scenes and characters within a few verses is definitely a testament to her ability, and resulted in her most mature album to date. – Maham Tirmizi (Listen)

15. Thundercat – The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam
The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam is Thundercat’s (Stephen Bruner) first mini-album after two critically acclaimed full-lengths. This Flying Lotus-produced masterpiece is one of Thundercat’s most arresting works. With features from Herbie Hancock, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus, and an Isley Brothers sample to open “Them Changes”, Thundercat pushes himself from his fusion and hip hop background on some of the tracks. However, he still calls back to funk roots, which makes this release such a joy to listen to. This album gives the listener a chance to get a peek into his own advancements as a composer since he’s been working with other artist like Kamasi Washington and Kendrick Lamar who released their own respective albums this year. – Kamaron Black (Listen)


14. Death Grips – The Powers That B
Originally announced as the last album from one of this decade’s most insane band’s, the double album (consisting of the earlier released first disc, Niggas on the Moon, & second disc Jenny Death) from the experimental hip-hop trio is more extreme, loud, melodic, and extreme than all of their previous efforts combined. All of their latest efforts are more extreme than all their previous efforts combined, but The Powers That B sees Zach Hill, MC Ride, and Andy Morin recognizing their peculiar position in the music world and deciding, once again, that they don’t care. Amongst the cancelled shows, Björk samples, sporadic release schedules, pictures with Beyoncé, and overall insanity, the number one thing that people keep fixating on is the music. That’s gotta mean something in 2015. In fact, it probably means a lot. – Yusof Nazari (Listen)

13. Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect
Whether one’s interest in Protomartyr is sparked by their backstory, whose roots to the historic and rich music scene of Detroit give them a mythical allure, or by the underdog tale of 38-year old lead-singer Joe Casey, who could be seen as an anomaly in the current musical landscape obsessed with youth and aesthetics, one thing is certain. The sound of Protomartyr is one that begs for legions to be swallowed into their grim vision of the world. At 43 minutes, The Agent of Intellect, feels hardly so, the urgency with which the band plays can deafen the listener with it’s throbbing guitars and insistent drumming that leaves no room for filler noise and aptly compliments Casey’s often bark-like vocals. On the track “Why Does it Shake” Casey snarls “Sharp mind, eternal youth, I’ll be the first to never die” and the record’s sound is living testament to the this claim. – Erika Bocanegra (Listen)

12. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
Sunbather was one of my favorite albums of 2013, but I never understood why Deafheaven was constantly labeled as a black metal band until I heard New Bermuda. George Clarke’s vocals fit that description much better this time around, sounding wonderfully cold and bleak on top of thinner layers of the band’s signature shoegaze atmosphere. While the guitars may not be quite as lush on New Bermuda, Deafheaven maintains the emotional expansiveness of their previous work while expanding into different facets of metal. New Bermuda has punchy rhythms, heavy riffs, heart-wrenching melodies; it’s warm and cold at the same time and commands a huge aural space. Deafheaven has mastered their balance of delicacy and aggression — dreamy, emotional atmospheres swell into raw, driving energy flawlessly. You’ll feel like floating away before they pull you back in and crush you. – Savannah Sherer (Listen)

Empress Of – Me
The debut album by Lorely Rodriguez, who goes by the pseudonym Empress Of, was entirely self produced in Mexico, where Rodriguez found a reprieve from the over-stimulating lifestyle of New York that was causing a certain “haze” over her music. Rodriguez aimed to create an album that would be direct and moving. Her goal was accomplished, as Me served as a catharsis for anyone going through a journey of self-discovery. Songs like “Water Water” and “How Do You Do It?” were punchy bangers splashed with robotic sounding synths and 808 drums. Her vocals took the main stage, as she sang over her kaleidoscope-like beats about independence and finding herself. Rodriguez’s unadulterated lyrics offered a huge insight to her self-reflection, a musical selfie if you will. Her audacious project rose to a well-deserved critical acclaim. – Maham Tirmizi (Listen)

10. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
E•MO•TION is a grand love letter written to epitomize love itself. From those gargantuan, crippling rushes of anxiety swallowing you up by being in the same room with the one and only “crush”, the exhilaration of developing tenderness that’s so intricately intimate, and that swift swoop of bittersweet heartbreak all entail the contradictingly simple yet complex feelings Carly Rae Jepsen inhibits. E•MO•TION is exactly what the album name describes: how feeling in the present is dire to being and, most importantly, living. There are many moments in one’s life where vocal articulation cannot touch on all bases on the feelings people are responding to, and Jepsen is not concerned with that. Jepsen advocates pure kinesiology and for pathos to persuade, in every way possible, getting a sense of feeling comfortable in one’s skin by treasuring what is going on at this exact moment. That’s the awe-inspiring universalism of how love is an E•MO•TION. – Tony Nguyen (Listen)

9. Beach House – Depression Cherry
The strangest thing that Beach House did this year, and maybe in their whole career’s, is release two albums. The music on Depression Cherry however, isn’t that surprising. More luxurious, reverb-drenched, dreamy synth-pop from the Maryland duo. Here, it’s even more stripped down and melodic, so this is Beach House distilled and purified. What you will get from Depression Cherry is another collection of beautiful songs about love and loss, and instrumentation that will make you feel like a teenager who’s head over heels. – Yusof Nazari (Listen)

8. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
Vince Staples’ Summertime ’06 is an exhaustive look into one young adult’s life growing up in Long Beach, California, around drugs, violence, and poverty, and it’s because of this 1st person narrative that Staples so vividly recreates the intimate streets of Long Beach, whilst also touching on these greater topics with a wisdom and perspective beyond his years. Equally removed from and implanted in his situation, Staples does what very few rappers can do, and really haven’t done since 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. Grand political statements derived from microcosms of life, a sense of urgency, all adding up to an album that can truly be described as “cinematic”. It doesn’t hurt that Staples’ knack for song-writing and him feeling at home over both darkly sadistic and hopeful beats make him rap’s most promising young star. This ambitious double-album never feels like it’s overstayed it’s welcome, and yet the last track sees Vince still being left with more to say. What the next album will be focused on we can only guess, but if Summertime ’06 is any indication of his creative energy, it will be just as revelatory. – Yusof Nazari (Listen)

7. Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School
The return of one of chillwave’s finest and favorite synth guru Alamo Palomo and his Neon Indian group project was abrupt and unprecedentedly different. No one could have guessed such a novel way for a come-back as Palomo executed, but the uniqueness and genuine fun displayed in VEGA INTL. Night School is truly unlike anything previously released, particularly in 2015. The whimsical, dissonant use of synthesizers Neon Indian is notable for driven towards stage rock, pop in nature and funky in vibe, created a space for innovation not yet discovered and for that kept us bumping through the track list. The range of songs is also impressive, such as the single “Slumlord” and it’s sequential reprise with progressive lyrical take on song writing, to the nu-disco vibe from song “The Glitzy Hive,” to the quirky and rough track “Smut!,” all keeping the energy as much as the last. Overall, Neon Indian took the risk of pairing their avant-garde production style with fun and dancey lyrical and it paid off in 2015. – Demir Candas (Listen)

6. Jamie xx – In Colour
What a banger. Jamie Smith of popular UK alternative group The xx outdid himself on his solo debut album. Following a series of deep and nuanced dance tracks, collaborations and remixes, Jamie xx brought out the refined and easily accessible production that is In Colour. Reminiscent of work done in The xx, Jamie xx’s album has been described as “dance tracks for the faint hearted,” those that are dancefloor shy with a yearning for grooving. This theme is wrapped around melancholy atmosphere and yet juxtaposed with good vibes simultaneously. Jamie brings forth his bandmates on several tracks for lyrical assistance, but what the album excels at are the dark, dank riffs in the slower songs and pure dance beats. In Colour isn’t a dance album though, per se, but an attitude that Jamie Smith seems to express as an artist that carries between projects. With a debut album under his belt now, we can forever rely on Jamie xx to supply great bits of musical prowess in his own way. – Demir Candas (Listen)

5. Grimes – Art Angels
In what is probably the boldest and most divisive move of 2015, Claire Boucher (pretty much) did a 180° turn and made a pop album. Whatever you may think of Art Angels, it experimented in ways that few others dared to do this year. Held up as an electronic music darling, Grimes decided to embrace her love of early 2000’s pop stars, K-Pop, anime, and whatever the hell else she liked and put it in one complete, disorienting package. For all the wild ideas displayed here, some of the best work is when Grimes makes a pure pop song with her own subversive twists. “Flesh Without Blood” in particular is one of the most exciting, energetic, beautifully realized songs of the year. If this is the new Grimes, then I don’t ever wanna go back. – Yusof Nazari (Listen)

4. Tame Impala – Currents
Anyone who expected Kevin Parker to do more of the same that brought his band Tame Impala universal acclaim with 2012’s Lonerism was probably shocked upon the release of Currents. Sure, there’s still psychedelic grooves and reverb drenched lyrics about love and life, but at the core of this album are drums. Hip-hop break beats, electronic music drums, and a focus on beats. It might not reach the same peaks as Lonerism, but it’s still a wonderful, kaleidoscopic journey through the mind of a band that doesn’t want to stay as “pretty much the only rock band that matters” on music’s weighted scale, but wants to ascend to even higher hight’s. – Yusof Nazari (Listen)

3. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens’s ode to his late mother rose to universal acclaim upon its spring release. Perhaps the most strikingly emotional albums released all year, Carrie & Lowell made an impact with impassioned lyrics paired with soft chord progressions. Stevens’s modest instrumentals and hushed singing set a fair stage for his lyrics, which circulated around one theme: his mother. He created songs that expressed his frustration at her cyclical disappearance in his life, nostalgia for the summers he spent with her in Oregon, loneliness he felt for her abandoning him, sadness for her death, and overall the love he felt for his mother. For someone known for such musical prowess, one would expect Stevens to back his album with a grand orchestra to demonstrate his sorrows, yet he chose the less ostentatious approach of acoustic guitars and ghost-like synths, which made the album the most pure and honest we’ve ever seen from Stevens. – Maham Tirmizi (Listen)

2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett tackles songwriting like a great stand-up comic writes their set, finding deeper meaning in the minutiae most of us skim through in our daily lives, be it the cracks in a hotel ceiling or “a possum Jackson Pollock painted on the tar”. Barnett’s debut album is a fantastic mix of humor and empathy rarely found in rock; on “Nobody Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party”, she sympathizes with introverts while also poking fun at how silly their fears can seem. The music itself is a raucous mix of 90s indie rock and country-tinged folk (“Depreston”). “Pedestrian at Best” is a ferocious headbanger, featuring one of the best kiss-off lines in recent memory: “I think you’re a joke but I don’t find you very funny”. On that track, she warns “put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you”, but it’s hard to walk away disappointed from this modern classic. – Daniel Valdez (Listen)

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Here it is. The year’s most grand artistic statement, by a long shot. 2015’s most expansive, complex, intimate, and overwhelming record. Kendrick Lamar’s struggle with personal demon’s of doubt, self-hate, depression, and his place in the world became the soundtrack for a whole generation of displaced children. A soundtrack for black lives, black pain and anger, black hope and solidarity and love in a world that increasingly violent and marginalizing towards black bodies. An album that begins with the declaration that “every nigger is a star” in neon lights and exclamation points and ends with a conversation with the ghost of Tupac who doesn’t have all the answers we’re looking for. Lamar’s complicated relationship with fame, depression, and race couldn’t have come at a more pivotal moment in American history. The jazz, funk, R&B, hip-hop, and “everything else” influences here are presented flawlessly, creating a record that breaks beyond everything expected from this generation’s greatest musician. We’ll be digging through it, writing thinkpieces about it, dissecting every bar and memorizing every note it contains for a long time to come, and we’ll enjoy every moment of it. It feels like a living, breathing document of our time, and that’s why it’s the best album of 2015. – Yusof Nazari (Listen)

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