Mia Mala McDonald

The 25 Best Albums of 2015
The 25 Best Albums of 2015

15

Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone

No one finds more beauty in the words “work in progress” than Erykah Badu. She flourishes in the rough draft, generously and directly inviting those on her wavelength to share hers. A mixtape mostly in name only, as it’s as much guided by concept as almost any of her legitimate albums, But You Caint Use My Phone is the closest Badu has gotten to pure artistic improvisation since her underrated, amorphous jam session Worldwide Underground. If that flip-phone-era EP marked neo-soul at a crossroad, this hasty set (almost certainly conceived to buttress Badu’s visionary cover/reworking of Drake’s “Hotline Bling”) is the free-associative equivalent of a session hunched over your smartphone, rouletting your way from New Edition to Groove Theory, sending bees weaving aimlessly away from your honey. Henderson

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

14

Viet Cong, Viet Cong

From the crystalline, cavernous timbre of their sound, to the empty signifier of historical violence they chose to go by, Calgary’s Viet Cong has rendered comparisons to Joy Division unavoidable, and now, mere months after their self-titled debut, they’ve announced they’re retiring the moniker, just as Joy Division did after Ian Curtis’s suicide. It’s a sign of the times that Viet Cong did so in response to public censure of the sort unseen by their arguably more odiously named forebears. Also, while the production is pure Martin Hannett, the songwriting is equal parts Brian Eno circa Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy, Thurston Moore via mid-’90s Sonic Youth, and Spencer Krug of any instantiation. It’s a sign of the band’s ingenuity that these disparate parts are streamlined with as much brittle, nihilistic swagger as on Viet Cong. One can only hope they have at least a Closer in them before their inevitable synth-pop rebirth. Benjamin Aspray

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

13

Janet Jackson, Unbreakable

The last legitimately worthwhile Janet Jackson album was going on 15 years ago, and the last great one closer to 20. Even “No Sleeep,” Unbreakable’s lithe lead single, didn’t signify any grand ambitions so much as an amiable meeting point between Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s Minneapolis sound and a contemporary R&B that happens to resemble it without much effort. But as is the case with many of Janet’s best albums, the whole is more compelling than the constituent parts—specifically, the democratic parceling out of its roiling 4/4 rave-ups and clubby midtempo dance tracks. The best section is a three-song ballad suite toward the end that harkens back to the continuous play of The Velvet Rope or even Rhythm Nation, but throughout, there’s nary a moment wasted on this graceful legacy album. Mac

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

12

Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion

Carly Rae Jepsen’s sophomore effort, Emotion, has rightfully been compared to Taylor Swift’s 1989. Both draw on the music of the years their creators were born to craft near-perfect pop albums that somehow manage to sound contemporary. There are few key differences, however, that distinguish Emotion from Swift’s similarly retro blockbuster. For one, songs like the sax-fueled “Run Away with Me” and the sublime R&B slow jam “All That” (a collab with Dev Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid that sounds like it was recorded in 1985) revel in the glory of the ’80s in ways 1989 only hints at. Jepsen’s album is more evolution than reinvention: While Swift’s country roots were effectively scrubbed from her latest album, songs like “Boy Problems” and “I Really Like You” will sate Jepsen’s fans who have a hankering for a sugar rush a la “Call Me Maybe.” And with its breathy verses, deep-house groove, and pitched down vocals, the standout “Warm Blood” also affords Emotion something conspicuously absent from 1989: sex appeal. Cinquemani

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

11

Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique, Love Is Free

Unlike 2010’s Body Talk EPs, where the frustrating sense of an abbreviated creative statement could be forgiven by the assurance that Robyn’s vision would be fulfilled by further volumes, or last year’s Do It Again which served as a complement to Röyksopp’s The Inevitable End, Love Is Free feels comparatively tossed off, merely a bridge between Robyn 2.0 and an incarnation of the dance-pop icon we—and she—haven’t yet imagined. But if there’s a distinguishing feature that differentiates Love Is Free, a collaboration with keyboardist Markus Jägerstedt and the late Swedish producer Christian Falk, from both Do It Again and Body Talk, it’s that the songs on the singer’s latest mini-album take a decidedly more purist approach to the retro stylings that were hinted at in her previous work. Whether it’s the acid-house “Love Is Free,” the Italo-disco “Got to Work It Out,” or a cover of Loose Joints’ “Tell You (Today),” the five tracks here allow Robyn to dip more directly into her influences than ever before. Cinquemani

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