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The Noisey Editors' Best and Worst of 2015: Andrea Domanick

This was one of the best years for music of all time. West Coast Editor Andrea Domanick tries to make sense of it with a look at her favorites.

If you disagree you are wrong.

It's a Thursday night in LA, and I'm watching Kamasi Washington hold court on stage at downtown's Club Nokia, surrounded by a choir and a few dozen of the best musicians in the country, and arguably the world. The evening celebrates the final stop on his extensive tour behind this year’s aptly-named three-hour debut, The Epic, and the spread of raw talent on the stage reads like a map of some of the best music that came out in 2015.

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There is, of course, Washington himself, who, in addition to his own solo contribution, shaped the sound and feel of our Album of Year. As did producer and saxophonist Terrace Martin, who this year also leant his talents to YG and Travis Scott. There’s bass genius Stephen Bruner, a.k.a. Thundercat, who featured on both of the aforementioned albums and put out a solo album we loved. Multi-instrumentalist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson has worked with everyone from Lana Del Rey to Father John Misty to Rihanna, and contributed to Lianne La Havas’ new record. Bruner's older brother Ronald destroys on one of two drums kits; their younger brother Jameel helped put out another Noisey album of the year as a member of The Internet.

The crew plays two sets, the latter being, in Washington’s words, the “party set,” and it’s so ridiculously good that I can’t help but laugh in delight. Upright bassist Miles Mosley leads them out of a free jazz meditation into a funk throwdown, with vocal chops to rival his bass playing. Atwood-Ferguson helms the orchestra, frantically scrawling key changes on torn notebook pages he holds up to the group as they keep up with the rapid improvisation. A few minutes go by until Washington, duke that he is, casually chimes in to elevate it all, each new bar a question mark, each sonic turn unpredictable, his panting sax leading the charge as the music hurtles forward, leading us together into the unknown.

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“2015 was one of the best years for music of all time,” Washington says at the end of the set. And he’s right.

I’m not telling you about this because it was the best show I saw all year—which it was—but because I think the dynamic on stage that night was emblematic of a larger shift that happened in music this year. It wasn’t a performance crafted for the audience to consume. It was present. Participatory. Challenging. It was people making music for the sake of making music, in a year of meaningless chart rankings, failed streaming services, and abysmal record sales. Maybe the music industry isn’t dead, it's just been decommodified.

This year in music raised the bar. Seemingly every genre can claim a record that helped it evolve, or, just as often, proved to be genre-busting. To Pimp a Butterfly and The Epic brought jazz back into pop consciousness, to say nothing of their social commentary (more on that in a second). Grimes cemented the return of the pop auteur. Father John Misty got called a troll, but he really just held up a mirror; if he’s not the artist white indie America wants, he’s the one they deserve. Courtney Barnett injected elegance, wit, and honesty into the well-worn boys club of existential angst rock, while Carly Rae Jepsen made loving pop cool again. Kelela consummated the electronic-R&B singularity, and Justin Bieber straight up pulled a James Bond.

Music got fed up in 2015. Our collective rage and isolation and anxiety condensed into a cold sweat that artists scraped off and poured back into some pretty incredible work, be it subtle and subversive or just straight up bangers. Political music today may not be as overt or prevalent as it was in its 60s rock, 70s punk, or 80s hip-hop iterations, but it’s there, now more often in form rather than function. It’s in the disconcerting humanity of Holly Herndon’s Platform. It’s in the unflinching conviction of Kendrick Lamar. It’s in the spit and vitriol of Dilly Dally and the raw intimacy of Autre Ne Veut. It’s in the unapologetic pop of Grimes and the knuckle-cracking ingenuity of Future. And it’s in the ambition of Kamasi Washington.

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Music in 2015 dared us to trust both our intelligence and our guts. To connect, both because of and in spite of the isolating wealth of information we’re inundated with every second of every day. It’s taking stock of our weird, curated, instant gratification post-internet existence. It’s taking on police brutality. It’s taking on racism. It’s taking on sexism and gender. It’s taking on corporatization. It’s still not enough, but we’re getting there. What a time to be alive.

Here's some music I loved in 2015, and a playlist:

Top Albums of 2015 That Made Me Feel Things, Unranked, I'm Probably Forgetting Some

Holly Herndon - Platform
Kamasi Washington - The Epic
Jamie xx – In Colour
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Chris Stapleton - Traveller - Pretty much a perfect album. Feelings.
Miguel – Wildheart: Brandi Carlile - The Firewatcher's Daughter - excellent but overlooked country rock record
Vince Staples – Summertime 06
Carly Rae Jepsen – EMOTION
Future – DS2
Kelela – Hallucinogen
Kehlani – You Should Be Here
Grimes – Art Angels
Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Torres - Sprinter
Quantic presents The Western Transient - A New Constellation
Future and Drake - What a Time to be Alive
Nicolas Jaar - Nymphs
Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete
Autre Ne Veut - Age of Transparency
Avid Dancer - First Bath - A totally overlooked indie pop delight from start to finish
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
HEALTH - Death Magic
Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness

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Top album I wish I heard sooner so I could've included it in my year-end voting:

Arca - Mutant

Top album that technically came out at the end of 2014, but just go listen to it, it’s great:

Mitski - Bury Me at Makeout Creek

Top album to listen to outside in the middle of nowhere:

Föllakzoid - III

Top album I got into at the last minute, literally while making this list:

Jeremih - Late Nights: The Album

Top song to feel numb to:

Car Seat Headrest - “Something Soon”

Top song I sobbed to:

Torres - “The Exchange”

Top remix that was way better than the original:

Florence and the Machine - “What Kind of Man” (Nicolas Jaar remix)

Top Song I danced to alone in my living room:

Avid Dancer - “I Want to See You Dance”

Top Song I danced to in my friends' living rooms:

Justin Bieber - "What Do You Mean"

Top Song I Raged Out To

HEALTH - “Stonefist”

Top song I can’t be in a bad mood to:

Jamie xx - “I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)”

Top song to feel lonely to:

Jamie xx ft. Oliver Sim - "Stranger in a Room"

Other miscellaneous songs that did not make our year end list but are Very Good:

  • Kroy - “River”

  • Pumarosa - “Priestess”

  • Serge Devant - “Fearing Love”

  • Colleen Green - “Deeper Than Love”

  • Thundercat - “Them Changes”

  • Dilly Dally - “The Touch”

  • Dom Dolla - “Love Like This”

  • Tyler, the Creator - "BUFFALO"

  • Savages - “T.I.W.Y.G”

  • BJ the Chicago Kid - “Church”

  • Destruction Unit - “Salvation”

  • Jazz Cartier - “Stick & Move”

  • Deap Vally - “Royal Jelly”

  • Tone of Arc - “Chant No.1”

  • Appendixes - “Swim Around”

  • Brandi Carlile - “The Things I Regret”

Top teens on drugs:

The ones I was supposed to look after at FYF.

Andrea Domanick is the West Coast Editor of Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.