The Best Albums of 2015

It’s that time of year again. Time for me to add my contribution to the seemingly endless supply of end-of-year “Best Of” lists. Now with a fancy graphic. Boom.

2015

For 10 consecutive years, compiling this list has been a labor of love. Here are the previous ones:

2014  |  2013  |  2012  |  2011  |  2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006

It’s neat to go back and see how many of my previous “favorite” albums are still in my listening rotation. Quite a few, actually. So here’s 2015!

Warning: You won’t find any Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, or One Direction on this list. If that’s your idea of the best that 2015 had to offer, this list is not for you. How the heck did you find this page anyway? What are you, 12 or something??? OK, enough stalling. Here we go. No excuses. No explanations. Just my favorite albums from the past 12 months:

 

10. Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now

At Least For Now

Clementine will no doubt be polarizing for many listeners. There is no question, however, of his raw talent, poeticism, and knack for beguiling melodies, and in this oversaturated market, the true mavericks will always rise above the din. [AllMusic]


9. Jamie xx – In Colour

In Colour

Its 42 minutes are comparatively modest, sure, but there’s no question that the man behind the boards here has his finger on the pulse of what may be missing most in electronic music right now–a central reference point. In Colour is that star, the record to hold everyone else’s narratives together. [Dusted Magazine]


8. Adele – 25

25

Whether she’s holding notes with the strength of a suspension bridge or enjoying a rare lighthearted “whoo-hoo!” on “Sweetest Devotion,” her incredible phrasing – the way she can infuse any line with nuance and power – is more proof that she’s among the greatest interpreters of romantic lyrics. [Rolling Stone]


7. Kamasi Washington – The Epic

The Epic

Holistic in breadth and deep in vision, it provides a way into this music for many, and challenges the cultural conversation about jazz without compromising or pandering. [AllMusic]


6. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

I Love You, Honeybear

Honeybear is rich with sarcasm, flagrant in some places and barely discernable in others. It is impossible to take seriously, but too damn compelling to be dismissed. [The 405]


5. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

No Cities To Love

Though some of their peers may have waned on their long, drawn out returns, Sleater-Kinney have only grown stronger in their time off. Ten years away has made them more essential than ever. Nostalgia be dammed. [DIY Magazine]


4. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Somehow, the Australian singer-guitarist has made something fresh out of everyday vignettes performed on everyday instruments (guitar-bass-drums). She sounds like she’s day-dreaming out loud instead of singing, but she’s deceptively incisive as a lyricist. Her guitar-playing, while never particularly showy, can be subtle or scalding. [Chicago Tribune]


3. PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries

Ugly Cherries

It’s fun, it’s queer and your straight friends will like it too because, ultimately, it’s about being less alone. Everyone can relate to that. And the world genuinely feels like a brighter place with PWR BTTM in it. [The 405]


2. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

Sound And Color

Each passage on Sound and Color feels organic, like it pushed its way out of southern soil or floated into someone’s mind on a back porch breeze. [PopMatters]


1. Hamilton – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Hamilton

A vital companion to the most creative, most talked-about musical to hit Broadway this millennium… Hamilton’s stage production should be required viewing for every American citizen, but this exhilarating listen is a much more practical, and every bit as enjoyable, stand-in. [Billboard.com]


Honorable mention:
Tame Impala – Currents
Zac Brown Band – Jekyll + Hyde
Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
Grimes – Art Angels
Rhiannon Giddens – Tomorrow Is My Turn
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Joanna Newsom – Divers
Björk – Vulnicura
Destroyer – Poison Season

Do you have any favorites from this year that I may have missed? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Synchronized Zamrycki Diving Show

I love this.

I love that Emily enjoys diving and trusts me to teach her how to do it better. I love that she agreed to make it into a little show for the family. I love the little comments from Nana and Aunt Ruthie in the background (“Boy-o-boy!”). I love that Rebecca thought to start recording this just as we started the exhibition. I love that Sebastian is so excited by the spectacle that he had to hurl himself into the action (twice). I love that I’m pushing 40 and can still pull off a front flip. I love summer.

Emily’s Music

Emily has her own phone, which – without a sim card – is really a glorified MP3 player. On this phone, Emily has curated a playlist that serves as the ongoing soundtrack of her life. Every couple of weeks she may request a new song be added. She may delete a song (though not often). But she’s always listening.

Her song selection is mostly influenced by what her mommy and daddy play in the house, by what her gymnastics team warms up to, by songs she hears at school, and by the background music she hears on YouTube videos of hamsters eating carrots.

These are the songs that have spoken to her.

ABBA – Dancing Queen
Adele – Chasing Pavements
Adele – Cold Shoulder
Adele – Daydreamer
Adele – Make You Feel My Love
Adele – Rolling In The Deep
Adele – Rumour Has It
Adele – Set Fire To The Rain
Adele – Someone Like You
Adele – Tired
Adele – Turning Tables
a-ha – Take On Me
Anna Kendrick – When I’m Gone
Ariana Grande – Break Free (feat. Zedd)
Barenaked Ladies – 7 8 9
Bat Boy – Comfort and Joy
Bat Boy – Hold Me, Bat Boy
Beastie Boys – Intergalactic
Beyonce – Halo
Beyonce – Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Three Little Birds
Bruno Mars – Count On Me
Bruno Mars – Grenade
Bruno Mars – Just The Way You Are
Bruno Mars – Locked Out of Heaven
Bruno Mars – Marry You
Bruno Mars – The Lazy Song
Bruno Mars – Treasure
Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
Clean Bandit Ft. Jess Glynne – Rather Be
Enrique Iglesias – Bailando (feat. Gente De Zona y Descemer Bueno)
Enrique Iglesias – Bailando (feat. Sean Paul)
Feist – 1234
Feist – Mushaboom
Feist – My Moon My Man
Feist – One Evening
Glee Cast – Defying Gravity
Glee Cast – Halo Walking On Sunshine
Hairspray – You Can’t Stop The Beat
Hozier – Take Me To Church
Isley Brothers – Shout (Parts 1 And 2)
Ivi Adamou – La La Love
Katrina and the Waves – Walking On Sunshine
Katy Perry – California Gurls (feat. Snoop Dogg)
Katy Perry – Dark Horse (feat. Juicy J)
Katy Perry – Firework
Katy Perry – Hot ‘N Cold
Katy Perry – Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)
Katy Perry – Roar
Kelly Clarkson – Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)
Lady Gaga – Alejandro
Lady Gaga – Bad Romance
Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Lady Gaga – Poker Face
Lady Gaga – The Edge Of Glory
Legally Blonde – Omigod You Guys
Loreen – Euphoria
Madonna – Express Yourself
Madonna – Vogue
Mahna Mahna and The Two Snowths – Mah Na Mah Na
Manu Chao – Bongo Bong
Mark Ronson – Uptown Funk (featuring Bruno Mars)
Maroon 5 – Animals
Maroon 5 – Maps
Maroon 5 – Moves Like Jagger (feat. Christina Aguilera)
Maroon 5 – Payphone (feat. Wiz Khalifa)
Matilda the Musical – When I Grow Up
Meghan Trainor – All About That Bass
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Mickey Rooney, Feist, Amy Adams, Jason Segel & Walter – Life’s A Happy Song
Miley Cyrus – Party In The USA
Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball
Miss Piggy & Amy Adams – Me Party
Nico & Vinz – Am I Wrong
Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Olly Murs – Troublemaker (feat. Flo Rida)
One Direction – Live While We’re Young
One Direction – What Makes You Beautiful
Outkast – Hey Ya
Paul Simon – Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard
Pharrell Williams – Happy
Pink – Raise Your Glass
Pitbull (feat. Jennifer Lopez & Cláudia Leitte) – We Are One (Ole Ola)
PSY – Gangnam Style
Queen – Bicycle Race
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now
Rihanna – Diamonds
Sia – Chandelier
Sia – Elastic Heart (feat. The Weeknd & Diplo)
Taylor Swift – I Knew You Were Trouble
Taylor Swift – Shake It Off
Taylor Swift – Style
Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
The Automatic – Monster
The B-52’s – Love Shack
The Beach Boys – Surfin’ USA
The Beatles – Hello, Goodbye
The Beatles – I Want To Hold Your Hand
The Beatles – Yellow Submarine
The Police – Walking on the Moon
Tito Puente – Mambolino
TLC – Waterfalls
Tom Jones – Sexbomb (feat. Mousse T.)
Train – Hey, Soul Sister
Vampire Weekend – Horchata
Wicked – Defying Gravity – Idina Menzel
Zac Brown Band – Chicken Fried
Zac Brown Band – Mary
Zac Brown Band – Toes

Plus songs from Disney movies, The Muppets, Sesame Street, and the soundtrack from Grease.

I am very very proud.

The Best Albums of 2014

It’s that time of year again. Time for me to pretend like I’m not the only one who actually still listens to complete albums anymore instead of just clicking on The Happy Hipster playlist on Spotify ad nauseam.

This is the ninth year I’ve compiled such a list. Here are the previous ones:

2013  |  2012  |  2011  |  2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006

It’s neat to go back and see how many of my previous “favorite” albums are still in my listening rotation. Quite a few, actually. So here’s 2014!

Warning: You won’t find any One Direction, Iggy Azalea, or Ariana Grande on this list. If that’s your idea of the best that 2014 had to offer, this list is not for you. How the heck did you find this page anyway? What are you, 12 or something??? OK, enough stalling. Here we go. No excuses. No explanations. Just my favorite albums from the past 12 months:

 

10. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

St. Vincent

Her guitar may be her primary tool for shaking up and complicating otherwise strictly defined songwriting, but Clark’s voice remains the thing that defines her material, the glittering lynchpin of the glorious, ever-expanding world she’s created. [Slant]


9. Beck – Morning Phase

morning (Custom)

There’s an eerie blandness to the mood that is initially off-putting but turns into a surprisingly compelling, subtly evocative combination of sadness and contentedness. [NOW Magazine]


8. Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End

alright (Custom)

Everything Will Be Alright in the End doesn’t just transport us to Weezer’s younger days–it ushers us into their future. And for the first time in a while, it’s looking pretty bright. [Consequence of Sound]


7. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

dream (Custom)

To those of you out there who crave immediate, wistful pop music that will make you smile about the future and make you cry about the past, you won’t find a better album this decade. [musicOMH.com]


6. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye

hypnotic (Custom)

If Hypnotic Eye was just about the snarl, it’d lose steam fast. Instead, it’s only one element of a story that’s bigger and richer, which is how a storied American band returned to the core principals of yesteryear without having to pretend to forget all they’ve learned in the meantime. [Uncut]


5. The Black Keys – Turn Blue

blue (Custom)

El Camino was the sound of The Black Keys flexing their muscles as they reached for that sword, but Turn Blue is the sound of The Black Keys baring their soul and testing the parameters. [Pretty Much Amazing]


4. Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters – Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar

lullaby (Custom)

He’s building upon the past, both his own and the larger traditions of his homeland, both spiritual and actual, and that gives lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar a bewitching depth. It’s an album to get lost in. [All Music Guide]


3. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

dead (Custom)

It’s heavy in concept but sprightly and reverential in its execution, its hallucinatory breadth reminiscent of the outre jazz of Sun Ra and the wily funk of Parliament, of mid-’70s Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. [Dusted Magazine]


2. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

everyday (Custom)

It’ll take some time to get to grips with, and requires input–this isn’t a passive album–but you reap what you sow, and if you take enough time with Everyday Robots, you’ll be rewarded with a dazzling LP that’ll lodge itself in your mind from now until your last breath. [musicOMH.com]


1. Jack White – Lazaretto

lazaretto (Custom)

A confident, brash, inventive collection featuring songs that lock into the psyche after only a few listens, the White-produced creation is lyrically and musically challenging and filled with many fresh avenues of exploration, even as it nods to key tones and ideas from throughout the history of pre-rap American music. [Los Angeles Times]


Honorable mention:
The Magic Numbers – Alias
Original Broadway Cast Recording – Hedwig and the Angry Inch
La Roux – Trouble In Paradise
Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything
U2 – Songs of Innocence
Future Islands – Singles
FKA twigs – LP1
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For no Witness

Do you have any favorites from this year that I may have missed? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Ice Bucket Challenge

Looking back on 2014, there were a number of projects that I was proud of. But one that I feel the need to document here on the ole’ blog for posterity (before it disappears from my short-term memory) is our Ice Bucket Challenge video.

Everybody and their brother was doing it. Most had no idea why they were doing it. I was happy that my geography put me off most friends’ and family’s radar so I had escaped being challenged for the longest time. Long enough to watch everyone(!) else in the world post a video of themselves dumping a bucket of water on their heads. Long enough to start thinking about what I would do if I were to make a similar video. I secretly hoped someone would challenge me. Of course I did! We’re all attention whores.

It took an online friend from Greece (thanks, CK!) to finally tap me on the shoulder. I had 24 hours to make the video. No time to waste.

I knew I wanted to involve the kids. I’m always wanting to create video projects with them but we never seem to get around to it. This was the perfect excuse. I started brainstorming with Emily and scripting rough drafts. Yes, it was meticulously scripted. She enjoyed the planning stages, but balked when it came time to perform. Some paralyzing terror took hold of her and she convinced herself that she didn’t want to participate. She got really upset. But I needed her. And I wasn’t about to let her work herself into a tizzy for no reason. She has a bad tendency to do that. I try to get her to put it all in perspective. This was one of those times. And I did. And she did. And it was great.

We packed our costumes and props in a bag and walked to the nearby Parc de les Aigües (an appropriate place to dump a bucket of water), picking up a bag of ice on the way. We found a secluded corner of the park and did a few dry(!) runs. Emily was having trouble memorizing her lines – especially CK’s full name – and Sebastian was having trouble staying still and waiting for his cue to enter. But it got better and better with each subsequent rehearsal and we finally recorded a couple of rehearsals when it looked like we were almost ready. There was only one chance to film the good one. I wasn’t about to change clothes and try again if it didn’t come out right. But we nailed it. And everyone had a good time.

Smelling Hands

Sebastian is in a new phase where he smells his hands. All the time. He does it after pretty much any event. Like doing a cartwheel, watching TV, taking a turn in a board game, or receiving an awesome high-five. Jan says it started while I was away in the U.S. a few weeks ago but has gotten more and more frequent. I looked it up and it turns out that it could possibly be either a sign of autism, a heightened sense of smell, or an inhibited other sense that he is compensating for. Or he’s just weird. I think he might be doing it to commemorate a moment, and add detail to the memory of it. I caught him smelling his hands today and outright asked him, “How do your hands smell?” He looked at them as if he had never considered judging the actual smell before and said, “Bad. And good”. Then he ran out of the room.

Halo Choreography

This video is from almost a year ago (and yet Emily was wearing the shirt from this video today, now all stained and yucky but still one of her favorites).

When Emily feels like dancing, she does.

El Meu Cargol Sense Nom

I got home from work yesterday and found the following typed on my computer:

EL MEU CARGOL SENSE NOM

Hi havia una vegada una NENA que es deie MARIA,
La MARIA era una NENA que volie una MASCOTA, Pero la seva MARE era una de les MARES que no li agradave les MASCOTES. Un die la MARE de la MARIA VA DIR-FILLA MEVA DEMA anirem al BOSC, I ENS DIVERTIREM MOLT.
Al die despres la MARIA es va DESPERTAR, Core FILLA MEVA que anem al BOSC!
I VAN MARXAR PER EL BOSC. Van arrivar a un LLOC AMB MOLTES FULLES, ARBRES I BRANQUES PER EL TERRA. La seva MARE va purtar 2 entrapans, Una per LA MARIA I UNA PER LA SEVA MARE.
La MARIA va anar per el BOSC, Mirant a les FULLES I BRANQUES IVA TRUVAR ASOBRE UNA BRANCA, UN CARGOL!!!
MAMA MAMA Mira!!! Que es? Es un cargol! que bunic. M’alampuc amporta a casa? Si.

Conte Contat molt felice s’a acabat.

It would take less time for you to learn the Catalan language than for you to attempt to decipher whatever might be dished out after entering this into Google Translate. Just trust me, it is very cute.