#LongPlayLove: The 15 Finest Albums of 2015 So Far by Justin Chadwick [FULL ALBUM STREAMS] @justin_chadwick

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_Main_Image

Just a few weeks ago, we took a glimpse into the musical crystal ball to preview the most anticipated new albums set to arrive in 2015’s latter half. Today, we take a look back to the LPs that have tickled our ears and blessed our souls during the first six months of the year. The records selected here represent a diversified spectrum of some of today’s most charismatic artists—from mainstream to underground, veteran to newcomer, US-bred and beyond—spanning a broad range of musical styles. In other words, these albums exemplify the music we love and live for here at soulhead. So without further ado, here are the 15 finest albums of 2015 so far…

Kendrick Lamar | To Pimp a Butterfly

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_KendrickLamar_1

Arguably the leading contender for album of the year honors amid stiff competition, Kendrick Lamar’s tour de force of a third studio LP is a modern-day masterpiece in every sense of the term. The unparalleled power and introspective poignancy of the effort derives from its uncanny ability to simultaneously stimulate the cerebral, the visceral, and the corporeal—a rare feat that few albums ever made have managed to pull off successfully. Upon its release back in March, soulhead’s Yvorn Aswad contended that “To Pimp A Butterfly is not so much an album as it is a very public conversation with Black people, Brown people, poor people, and indeed, all who have ears to listen.” Whether you relate to Lamar’s messages directly or indirectly, the multidimensional and intricately orchestrated To Pimp a Butterfly is vital, soul-affirming music that must be heard by one and all.

Notable Tracks: “Alright” | “i” | “King Kunta” | “These Walls” | “The Blacker the Berry”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Bilal | In Another Life

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_Bilal_1

Arriving nearly fifteen years after his seminal debut album 1st Born Second, Bilal returns with his fifth studio LP sounding as fresh, confident, and impassioned as ever. Produced by the supremely gifted sonic adventurist Adrian Younge (who makes another appearance in this best-of list) and featuring contributions from Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T., and Kimbra, the 12-song set is psychedelic soul at its very finest, gracefully straddling the line between old- and new-school inspirations. And while the strength of the Philly-bred singer’s vocal chops have never been up for debate, In Another Life showcases his dynamism and versatility beyond standard neo-soul fare, particularly evident on the heavy-rocking “Lunatic” and jazzy “I Really Don’t Care.” Bilal’s sound has always been founded upon substance and sophistication, but Younge amplifies these qualities in crafting one of the most consistently rewarding listening experiences to emerge this year. Indeed, In Another Life has all the makings of becoming the Soulquarian alum’s career pinnacle, and that’s quite an impressive feat considering his already stellar discography to date.

Notable Tracks: “Bury Me Next to You” | “Lunatic” | “Pleasure Toy” | “Satellites”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Joey Bada$$ | B4.Da.$$

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_JoeyBadass_1

If you keep even the most casual of tabs on the underground hip-hop scene, you’ve been familiar with Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$ for a few years now, due in large part to his solid 1999 and Summer Knights mixtapes. But for many, his debut LP provides a welcome introduction to the 20 year-old emcee’s precocious rhyming skills. Unfairly criticized by some for being too derivative and nostalgic, Joey succeeds in balancing the throwback mid-90s vibes with more contemporary fare throughout the album, as he explores the trials, tribulations, and ultimately, the joys, of following his musical passions. Propelled by an impressive production roster that includes DJ Premier, The Roots, the late great J Dilla, Freddie Joachim, and Statik Selektah, B4.Da.$$ is the sound of a promising young wordsmith developing his musical identity on wax and paving the path for even greater achievements to come.

Notable Tracks: “Escape 120” | “On & On” | “Paper Trail$” | “Piece of Mind” | “Teach Me”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Hiatus Kaiyote | Choose Your Weapon

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_HiatusKaiyote_1

If you enjoy unconventional music that challenges you—in a good way—then Choose Your Weapon belongs in your collection. A progressive potpourri of styles—from soul to funk to jazz to breakbeat and beyond—the sophomore LP from Australian quartet Hiatus Kaiyote demands to be played multiple times, so as to repay the listener’s dedication by gradually revealing its myriad sonic nuances and delights. Reminiscent of Jill Scott’s commanding presence, lead vocalist Nai Palm is a dynamically versatile singer who skillfully navigates the many twists, turns, and pivots embedded throughout the album’s nonlinear compositions. So-called experimental music often has a tendency to sound contrived or forced, favoring innovation at the expense of pleasure. But in the case of the inventive Choose Your Weapon, the results of Hiatus Kaiyote’s ambitious experiments simply sound superb.

Notable Tracks: “Borderline with My Atoms” | “Breathing Underwater” | “Jekyll” | “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah | Sour Soul

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_GhostFaceKillah_1

On paper at least, the unorthodox pairing of three scholarly Canadian jazz musicians and the Wu-Tang Clan’s master storyteller Ghostface Killah might not make intuitive sense. But take one listen to the excellent Sour Soul and you’ll recognize just how natural and stirring of a collaboration it is. In fact, the formation of BADBADNOTGOOD in 2010 was largely inspired by the intense passion for hip-hop shared by group members Matthew Tavares (keys), Chester Hansen (bass), and Alexander Sowinski (drums). Taking cues from the Blaxploitation film soundtracks of the past, the trio’s haunting leftfield grooves supply the perfect soundscapes for Ghostface’s super-charged rhymes to shine. An enchanting listen that only gets better with each subsequent spin.

Notable Tracks: “Food” | “Gunshowers” | “Nuggets of Wisdom” | “Ray Gun” | “Sour Soul”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Leon Bridges | Coming Home

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_LeonBridges_1

You’d be hard-pressed to find many R&B artists working today—let alone those featured here in this column—that don’t infuse some modicum of vintage soul within their music. But few embody the retro-soul sound and aesthetic as devotedly and unabashedly as the 25 year-old Texas-bred crooner Leon Bridges does. Propelled by a balanced mix of earnest doo-wop ballads, melodic gospel hymns, and gently swinging-and-swaying jams, Bridges’ meticulously crafted debut LP sounds as if it was made fifty-five years ago, and it sounds divine. While it’s obvious that Bridges has mastered the throwback style to glorious effect, it will be interesting to observe if and how he embraces less nostalgic, more contemporary fare as his career invariably progresses.

Notable Tracks: “Better Man” | “Coming Home” | “Lisa Sawyer” | “River” | “Smooth Sailin’”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Georgia Anne Muldrow | A Thoughtiverse Unmarred

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_GeorgiaAnneMuldrow_1

Since unveiling her debut EP Worthnothings in 2006, the progressive and prolific Georgia Anne Muldrow has released sixteen albums, two EPs, and one mixtape, by my count. That’s right, twenty different projects—all worth exploring and enjoying—in just ten years. While her previous works and collaborations have certainly incorporated elements of hip-hop, A Thoughtiverse Unmarred is the Los Angeles native’s first rap album explicitly billed as such. A self-proclaimed “seeker and truth-teller,” Muldrow’s eloquent rhymes are as provocative and incisive as any top emcee in the game today. An album primer explains that “beyond identifying worldly inequities, this record details one woman’s quest to improve things for herself, her children, and everyone else. It’s about finding universal truths, while staying true to one’s essence—transcending the hate and slowly starting to heal.” Indeed. But make no mistake, the album is far from just an intellect-stroking head trip, as producer Chris Keys’ inspired beats make this a thoroughly engaging listen from first song to last. If you’re like me, once you enter Muldrow’s provocatively profound Thoughtiverse, you’ll never want to leave.

Notable Tracks: “Fifth Shield” | “Great Blacks” | “Pop Iconz” | “Tungsten Babalawo”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Robert Glasper | Covered: The Robert Glasper Trio Recorded Live at Capitol Studios

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_RobertGlasper_1

Unquestionably, two of the most thrilling records of the past five years arrived courtesy of the Robert Glasper Experiment. Boasting an impressive roster of collaborators and an abundance of absorbingly futuristic compositions, the genre-bending and Grammy Award-winning Black Radio (2012) and Black Radio 2 (2013) introduced the acclaimed pianist to a broader hip-hop and neo-soul devoted audience. Here’s hoping that many of Glasper’s recent converts have taken it upon themselves to dig deeper into his recorded repertoire and discover the four excellent jazz piano albums he delivered between 2004 – 2009. Released just two weeks ago, Covered revisits the acoustic trio structure found on those earlier LPs, while simultaneously incorporating echoes of the more iconoclastic spirit that defined both Black Radio efforts. Featuring rousing reinventions of songs by Radiohead, Bilal, Kendrick Lamar, Joni Mitchell, John Legend, Musiq Soulchild, and Jhené Aiko, Covered is an exhilarating return to Glasper’s musical roots and compelling testament to the unassuming beauty of his ever-expansive musical palette.

Notable Tracks: “I Don’t Even Care” | “Reckoner” | “So Beautiful” | “The Worst”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Linear Labs | Los Angeles

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_AdrianYounge_1

Producer extraordinaire Adrian Younge’s second project to crack this midyear list (see Bilal’s In Another Life), the critically-acclaimed Los Angeles was released without much fanfare and has flown a bit under the promotional radar. No matter, as this is one of the most intriguing and ultimately rewarding albums you’ll hear this year. While Linear Labs directly refers to the audiophile record label imprint that Younge founded, it also represents an ambitious philosophy of songcraft dedicated to making “music only recorded to analog tape with no digital plug-ins” and “fully composed music in an era of mass-produced drivel.” In simpler terms, Linear Labs makes music that sounds awesome. This commitment to superior sound quality was first manifest last year on Souls of Mischief’s excellent Linear Labs LP There Is Only Now, and Younge continues his noble mission on the Los Angeles compilation. Showcasing tracks slated to appear on forthcoming Linear Labs releases, Los Angeles is a cohesive and gripping 10-song set bolstered by stellar contributions from Laetitia Sadier (of Stereolab fame), Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Souls of Mischief, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, among others. Have I mentioned that it sounds awesome?

Notable Tracks: “Feel Alive” | “Memories of War” | “Return of the Savage” | “The Last Act”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Slum Village | YES!

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_SlumVillage_1

Nearly fifteen years to the day since Slum Village’s first official album release Fantastic, Vol. 2 hit store shelves, the Motor City trio dropped their impressive eighth studio LP YES! to the collective delight of their committed fanbase. The 12-song set features the rousing rhymes of T3 and Young RJ, the production wizardry of the late great J Dilla on nine tracks (four of which are co-produced by Young RJ), plus stellar collaborations with De La Soul, Bilal, Phife Dawg, Black Milk, Jon Connor, BJ the Chicago Kid, Illa J, and J Ivy. Comfortably straddling the line between old-school and new-school hip-hop sensibilities, YES! is proof positive that Slum Village’s knack for crafting memorable tunes shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Notable Tracks: “Expressive” | “Love Is” | “Right Back” | “Too Much” | “Where We Come From”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Wyles & Simpson | Wyles & Simpson

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_Wyles&Simpson_1B

Arguably the most obscure of the fifteen artists featured in this list—at least to those of us stateside—the dynamic English duo of Abigail Wyles and Holly Simpson make shimmering, elegant electro-soul of the most enthralling caliber. When I first heard the group’s seductive lead singles “Light and Dark” and “Stormy Skies” earlier this year, I was unequivocally hooked and eager to hear much more from them. My curiosity was handsomely rewarded in the form of their dazzling eponymous debut album, which I’ve played in heavy rotation for a few months now. Wyles’ elegantly soulful vocals juxtaposed with Simpson’s mellifluously moody soundscapes makes for an intoxicating pairing that you won’t be able to resist. Wyles & Simpson is the kind of under-the-radar album you’ll want to tell all of your friends about, not because you crave the credit for being among the enlightened first-to-know, but rather because you wholeheartedly believe in its brilliance and want others to indulge in it right along with you.

Notable Tracks: “Impermanence” | “Light and Dark” | “See I’m Calling” | “Stormy Skies”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Van Hunt | The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_VanHunt_1

Ohio Players. Zapp & Roger. Slave. Lakeside. Heatwave. What do these legendary bands have in common, beyond their shared penchant for crafting memorable soul-funk? All are connected in some way, shape or form to the underrated Dayton, Ohio music scene. Thankfully, Dayton’s rich musical legacy is alive and well today, due in large part to the immensely talented singer and multi-instrumentalist Van Hunt. While Van Hunt unquestionably draws inspiration from the forefathers of the Dayton sound, he injects his own unique personality and voice throughout his music, and nowhere is this more evident than on his gritty yet gorgeous fifth studio LP. The “Fun Rises” first half of the 14-track set is defined by a handful of multi-layered, midtempo funk grooves, and the “Fun Sets” latter half is comprised of more subdued and contemplative ballads. With Van Hunt’s versatile vocals and confessional narratives shining bright throughout, The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets is a thoroughly imaginative and inspired effort that provokes your mind, body, and soul in equal measure.

Notable Tracks: “If I Wanna Dance With You” | “Pedestal” | “Teach Me a New Language” | “Vega (Stripes On)”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Shamir | Ratchet

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_Shamir_1

One of the more idiosyncratically charming artists you’re bound to hear this year is 20 year-old Las Vegas native Shamir Bailey. A nominee for BBC Music’s prestigious “Sound of 2015,” Shamir describes his playfully countertenor voice as “not feminine, not masculine. It’s a happy medium … I feel like if the world was more like that, our problems would be gone.” A melodic mélange of house, funk, soul and pop, Shamir’s envelope-pushing debut full-length is vivacious, buoyant and quite simply, wonderful. Without a doubt, Ratchet is the most fun you’ll hear on wax all year from an arresting artist that will surely continue to evolve in exciting ways in the years to come.

Notable Tracks: “Call It Off” | “Head in the Clouds” | “On the Regular” | “Youth”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Oddisee | The Good Fight

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_Oddisee_1

During the past 13 years, the workhorse Oddisee has released a few dozen recordings spanning studio LPs, EPs, compilations, mixtapes, and guest cameos. The Good Fight is the glorious culmination of the DC-bred, Brooklyn-based Oddisee’s unparalleled work ethic and reinforces that the quantity of his output has in no way compromised his steadfast commitment to making quality music. While the LP keeps Oddisee’s underground cred and independent spirit fully intact, it’s also more universally accessible than any other album he has released to date. Oddisee explains that “The main objective of this record is not about a struggling artist in the underground. It is about the things in life that are worth fighting for. The things that you don’t mind fighting for. The things that are so good that it doesn’t feel like you’re fighting. It just feels like something you must do.” Replete with lucidly introspective rhymes that glide atop breezy, rhythmic melodies, The Good Fight is a career watershed, to be sure. And we all should be grateful to Oddisee for fighting the good fight to keep great music alive.

Notable Tracks: “Counter-Clockwise” | “That’s Love” | “Want Something Done” | “What They’ll Say”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

 

Andreya Triana | Giants

soulhead_LongPlayLove_Best2015SoFar_AndreyaTriana_1

Following guest vocal spots on Bonobo, Flying Lotus, and Mr. Scruff tracks, Andreya Triana debuted in 2010 with her excellent Bonobo-produced Lost Where I Belong LP. Gestating for nearly five years, the London-bred singer-songwriter’s sophomore album is a revelation, one that warrants a substantially wider audience than she has cultivated thus far. Loosely reminiscent of such vocal powerhouses as Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, and Lauryn Hill, Triana’s bewitchingly beautiful voice is unquestionably the main attraction here, though her songwriting acumen should not be undervalued. A good portion of her contemplative lyrics revisit her upbringing in South East London and reflect her observations of modern-day London existence. Triana explains, “I’m always on the lookout for inspiration and living in London it’s everywhere. I keep a book of ideas, words and phrases and it’s always interesting to look at life through other people’s point of view.” With sparkling soundscapes courtesy of producer Matt Wales, there’s zero filler to be found across the album’s 12 tracks, which combined amount to one of the year’s most graceful and consistently gratifying efforts.

Notable Tracks: “Everything You Never Had, Pt. II” | “Gold” | “Lullaby” | “Paperwalls” | “That’s Alright With Me”

BUY via Amazon | iTunes | Stream Here:

Related Articles