10 Underlooked Albums from 2015

A look into the music you didn't hear last year...

In 2015, it seemed like every week there was a new album that changed the game or flipped a genre on its head. The unfortunate side effect was that many artists who were equally worthy of acclaim or exposure didn’t get it. Below are 10 albums that were tragically ignored, misunderstood by critics, or created by underground artists who are sure to gain recognition in the years to come.

 

“Nephew In The Wild” by Advance Base

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Owen Ashworth first gained recognition in the early 2000s under the  astoundingly accurate pseudonym Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. On Casio keyboards, he spun lonesome tales about what it is to be in your lonesome 20s aided by simple compositions. The nom de plume’s accuracy slowly wore off, however, as his arrangements grew more lush. After 2009, Ashworth started recording as Advance Base. Nephew In The Wild is his second album since the fully-warranted name change. Nephew In The Wild is more of a typical indie folk album, albeit with more vintage keyboards and drum machines. Ashworth’s lyrical ability is at full force on Nephew In The Wild. While not exactly a concept album, each track paints sad and beautiful depictions of various Midwestern lives. Here and there, Ashworth takes off his storytelling cap to deliver lyrics about himself, which are both heartbreaking and life-affirming.

“Age of Transparency” by Autre Ne Veut

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After his fantastic 2013 release Anxiety, collaborating with artists like Flume, Mykki Blanco, and Fennesz, as well as signing to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management, it seemed like Arthur Ashin – the R&B singer who performs as Autre Ne Veut –was destined for indie stardom. Autre Ne Veut’s 3rd album, The Age of Transparency, which in many ways was a conceptual follow-up to Anxiety, didn’t make the splash it should have however. Ashin succinctly puts the concept of the album in a press release as a meditation on the paradoxical artificiality that comes when a musician claims to be revealing their true self, that “truth and transparency are just ways to sell things and honesty is its own kind of performance.” R&B has been boundary-pushing ever since its inception, although it rarely ever gets the credit for it, and Ashin continues the genre’s tradition of combining experimentalism with time-tested conventions in The Age of Transparency. Compared to Anxiety, the album has a slightly more avant-garde edge to it, although it is just as catchy and soul-bearing.The album was self-produced by Ashin, and he compiled sessions with a jazz band and orchestra and combines them with an electronic edge. Many of the songs have dramatic intros, explode into glitchy breakdowns, or sound like long-lost classics from another dimension. As with Anxiety, the album’s anchor is Ashin’s voice, who alternates between a raspy confident normal register and a heart-wrenching falsetto. The Age of Transparency might not be easy listening, but if given the time to ruminate, it’ll stay with the listener for a long time.

“100% Electronica”  by George Clanton

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George Clanton first built a fanbase under two pseudonyms: the synthpop Mirror Kisses and the vaporwave ESPRIT 空想. His debut album under his real name, 100% Electronica, which is in fact almost 0% Electronica, is more or less a continuation of the music he made as Mirror Kisses, but it takes influence from both projects. While it leans more heavily towards the synthpop side, the vaporwave is apparent in its woozy synths and chopped-up vocal samples. Despite Clanton presenting the album to be very internet-minded – the album art is a mirror selfie with a “100% Electronica” sticker on his phone’s case – many of the hooks sound like they could have come straight out of 1987. Unlike many modern artists who are quick to crib ideas from synthpop greats and do little to add their touch to it, Clanton has developed a style that is wholly his own. Amidst the haziness and catchiness, 100% Electronica has a violent and aggressive edge that sneaks up on the listener when they least expect it. Lyrics like “someone else can make you happy” are followed by “someone else can make you bleed,” and when a song follows a naming trope such as ending with “___ In Bed,” that blank is filled by “Kill You.”

Deradoorian – The Expanding Flower Planet

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Fans of the 2009 Dirty Projectors album Bitte Orca should find familiarity in Angel Deradoorian’s voice and guitar playing, both of which she demonstrates in full force on The Expanding Flower Planet as she creates the complex polyrhythms and harmonies for which she is acclaimed. After leaving the band in 2011, Deradoorian has since played keyboards in Animal Collective member Avey Tare’s side project Slasher Flicks and provided her voice to a range of projects, including Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! and Killers vocalist Brandon Flowers’ debut solo album. Finally, last August, she released her debut LP The Expanding Flower Planet. Deradoorian clearly shares the same love of psychedelic and progressive rock that her former bandmates had, but she manifests these influences in a completely different manner. The Expanding Flower Planet is meticulously layered and mellow, delivering an earthy feel appropriate for its title and often locking the listener into a hypnotizing groove. Despite the album being washed by a 70s-styled, stoned atmosphere, Deradoorian explores many different styles, often on the same song. Much like it’s 20th century  psychedelic counterparts, The Expanding Flower Planet delivers itself in a wide range of contradictions. Who knew something so chilled out could rock this hard?

“FFS” by FFS

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A collaboration of two very well regarded bands – ‘00s alternative rock (back when people called it that) superstars Franz Ferdinand and cult legends Sparks – failed to make a dent in the public consciousness last year. Despite it getting positive reviews, the album seems like it was mostly forgotten just a few weeks after its release, which is a huge injustice considering that this is the freshest both acts have sounded in a good while. To be sure, some songs on the album are better than others, but on the album’s strongest moments it is a perfect blend of what the two acts. The songwriting errs more on the Sparks side, with the irreverent lyrics and the theatrical new wave/glam rock/disco leanings that they became known for in the 70s and 80s, but the overall sound of the band is very Franz Ferdinand, using their modernization of post-punk and everything surrounding to full effect. FFS is what a supergroup should be, familiar flavors used to create something entirely new. Both acts have said that this isn’t just a flash in the pan and that they will make more music together, which is definitely something to look forward to.

GABI – Sympathy

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Gabrielle Herbst’s Sympathy is a surprisingly self-assured debut. While it fits fairly well within the realm of dream pop, recalling contemporaries like Julia Holter as well as genre classics like Julee Cruise, she isn’t wont to merely stick to genre conventions. Aided by a backing band that recalls an orchestral minimalism akin to Philip Glass, Herbst uses her ethereal, whispery voice to full effect — often looping and layering it on top of itself to create landscapes and harmonies worthy of awe. Produced by Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) and his engineer Paul Corley, Sympathy doesn’t sound much like anything that has come out of an Oneohtrix Point Never album, with the exception of some booming bass and synth shrills. It is, however, aided by their excellent spatial awareness and sound design.

“Broken Flowers” by Danny L. Harle

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It was a landmark year for PC Music, the London-based label/collective that specializes in abstractions of pop and electronic music. Not only did they sign with Columbia Records, effectively making them major label artists, nearly all of their flagship artists had significant releases. Many producers who seemed to be in their “second tier” came to the limelight, and they put out plenty of mixes and singles that enforced and re-evaluated why so many call them “the future of pop music.” Their first longform release with Columbia came in the form of an EP from Danny L Harle. A classical composer who has scored documentaries for the BBC and Vice, Harle clearly has a knack for whatever it is that makes a good pop song. Equally talented as a producer and songwriter, his signature massive synths (for which his fans call him “Huge Danny”) and catchy melodies combine to make something that sounds brand new but fits right into today’s musical ecosystem.

“Chinese Nü Year” by Iglooghost

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Flying Lotus’  Brainfeeder label had a banner year in 2015. They released Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, which single handedly reminded the public that jazz hasn’t stagnated, Thundercat came out with his The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam EP which contained his biggest hit yet in “Them Changes,” among many others. Every Brainfeeder release in 2015 was a distinct take off the labelhead’s multi-faceted music taste, and none came quite as unique as Iglooghost’s Chinese Nü Year. A 19-year-old producer hailing from England, Iglooghost’s production is manic, three-dimensional, and playful. Every listen reveals a new layer, whether it’s the Aphex Twin-esque neck-breaking beats, the SOPHIE-esque squelchy synths and pitched up vocals, or the leftfield take on hip-hop production in which Flying Lotus got his start. Chinese Nü Year is the musical meeting of body and mind, imminently kinetic and attention grabbing. Iglooghost claims that the EP tells the story of a worm named Xiangjiao, and while the little lyrics provided on Chinese Nü Year don’t necessarily tell any discernable narrative, listening to the EP still provokes the sense of having gone on a journey. Also worth checking out is the Milk Empire EP which Iglooghost made with rapper Mr. Yote, which is equally as surrealistic and chock-full of slappers.

“Inji” by LA Priest 

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Sam Dust can best be described as “post-genre.” Under his band Late Of The Pier, he combined the energy of mid-to-late 2000s British Rock (Bloc Party, The Klaxons) with loopy synths and contemporary electronic breakdowns. After their dissolution in 2010, Dust kept silent and moved to Greenland. Last year, he finally emerged as LA Priest, an amalgamation of almost any facet of popular music deemed forward-thinking. The debut, Inji, has a little bit of Prince, a little bit of Pink Floyd, a little bit of Daft Punk, etc. Each track on the album has its own identity, hopping from ambient instrumentals to emotional ballads to 8-minute long house/funk odysseys. Almost everything on the album, from production to the instruments being played, are done by Dust, and he has crafted a sound that effortlessly blends the old with the new and the new with the futuristic. Take for example, the track “A Good Sign,” a song that sounds just like a psychedelic rock song straight out of the 70s with some modern sounding bleary synths in its undercurrent. As the song goes on, the synths take control, turning the song into a banger, only for those elements to recede into a psychedelic jam once again, this time sounding utterly unique.

“So The Flies Don’t Come” by Milo

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Ever since the release of his 2012 mixtape I Wish My Brother Rob Was Here, Milo’s career has followed an underdog story that has become all too rare in hip-hop these days. His plain-spoken style, filled with hyper-literate references to things ranging from 13th century poet Rumi to 1980s anime, has gained him a considerable fanbase. So The Flies Don’t Come was  the prolific rapper’s second full-length release of 2015 and is his most impressive work to date, using his trademark self-awareness to look inwardly and assess his character in depths never achieved in any of his works before. His lyricism is as witty as it has ever been as well. In between layers deep wordplay, Milo delivers a political bend that is rarely seen in his work. Whether talking about the systematic racism minorities face everyday or the discomfort of being a person of color in the predominantly white independent music scene, Milo delivers intelligent and eye-opening lyrics in a way only he provide. The production is handled by Kenny Segal, who delivers a perfect foil for Milo’s flexible and punctuated meter. Fan reaction to So The Flies Don’t Come was so positive that it beat out To Pimp A Butterfly in Mass Appeal’s fan-voted Best Album of 2015 bracket.