Mini-reviews of 2015 albums

Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre 
New songs inspired by the film Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Has great production and amazing guests such as Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and Snoop Dogg, but the lyrics reveal nothing groundbreaking. Similar to the movie, it's entertaining, but sanitized. The violence of Dr Dre's past is not delved into, instead he is content to rap about what is already in the movie. The album goes for homage and not revelations. "Animals" has a bit on his childhood and on the strong closer "Talking to My Diary" he makes peace with Eazy-E.
On a few tracks Dr. Dre looks at contemporary life, but unfortunately this is not particularly interesting. His evaluation on today others have said before.
The album is well-produced and sounds great, but if you put the effort in to reading all the lyrics you may come away feeling a little cheated. Perhaps the autobiographical aspects can be found in the biography by Ronin Ro.
Favorite lyric:
 "Man this industry to me, it feels a little plastic. I ain't heard nothin' that I can consider classic”
Rating 7/10

To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
Not an easy listen. I'm actually surprised that this type of fast-paced and wordy hip hop is among the top 40 of the year's biggest commercial sellers, because it's quite demanding to listen to. In fact I can hardly keep up with this dude when he raps, even with the lyric sheet in front of me. Having said that, the album does have some outstanding moments.
"The Blacker the Berry" is a powerful call for race equality. "These Walls" is my favorite where I think the lyrics have substance and his vocal performance is the most pristine. "King Kunta" is maybe the catchiest offering, and "For Free? (Interlude)" could be a statement on how music is free today and the repercussions of that.
An album that will take a few plays to digest, so I'm hesitant to give it a rating at this time.
"You really think we could make a baby named Mercedes. Without a Mercedes Benz and twenty four inch rims"
"Been allergic to talkin', been aversion to bullshit"
"My rights, my wrongs; I write 'til I'm right with God"
Rating: undecided

B'lieve I'm Goin' Down by Kurt Vile
His sixth full-length solo studio release. The opening 4-5 songs are really good, with Outlaw the only misstep. "Lost My Head There" is the strongest tune from the second half of the album, a song that is quite different to the others in terms of production.
Right now #2 in my top 10 albums of the year. YouTube critic The Needle Drop was quite harsh in his assessment of the lyrics, which he deemed "empty and aimless". I don't think the writing is of paramount importance, it's the guitars and mood that are the biggest assets in his music.
Favorite tracks: That's Life, tho (almost hate to say), Lost My Head There, Pretty Pimpin, Wheelhouse, Dust Bunnies, Bad Omens,
Rating 8/10

Honeymoon by Lana Del Rey 
It’s pleasant, but a number of tracks failed to trigger an emotional response in me. For that reason it’s a patchy album where I pick out a few songs here and there I like: Terrence Loves You, The Blackest Day, and Salvatore. The latter I prefer the orchestral version of.
There's still hope that I may grow to appreciate the album in the upcoming months. I didn't connect with Ultraviolence (2014) right away either.
Rating 6.5/10

Have You in My Wilderness by Julia Holter
A critical darling. I like it, but I'm not as enthusiastic as others seem to be. I think Enya is the queen of this type of music and everyone else is fighting for runner up spots. Julia Holter's album does have value and I appreciate what she went for in terms of mood. Probably an album that grows on you with repeat listens, and there's more to it than simply the influence of Enya.
Favorite tracks: Feel You, Sea Calls Me Home, Everytime Boots
Rating 7/10

Depression Cherry by Beach House
Favorite album of the year! Good from start to finish. Songs work well as a cohesive whole. Goes for atmosphere, but I admit there aren’t any big hits. A change of pace compared to 2012’s Bloom, which went for a rockier sound. Depression Cherry goes for a softer, mellower approach, which is reminiscent of their earlier albums.
Rating 9/10

Universal Themes by Sun Kil Moon
Similar to Benji (2014), the confessional lyrics are like reading his diary entries. This time, the storytelling has its emotionally involving moments, such as the ending of "The Possum", and the track "Garden of Lavender", but overall feels too self-indulgent and not as deeply affecting as his previous album. You could call Universal Themes the B-side, and Benji the A-side.
Rating 6.5/10

E•MO•TION by Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen surprised me, because her old stuff didn’t really appeal to my taste. Her new album is so upbeat and happy and puts me in a good mood, and I'm a fan of the 80s pop vibe. I mainly have praise for the opening five tracks, as there are a few skippable tracks on the second half of the album. The stand-out of tracks 6-12 is "Let's Get Lost". I agree with those critics who say it's a superior pop record to last year's 1989 by Taylor Swift.
Rating 7.5/10

Vega Intl. Night School by Neon Indian
I don't understand the positive reviews this has received? I enjoyed his last album Era Extraña (2011) a lot, which had a great atmosphere and songs I still play.
The new LP again goes for an 80s throwback but failed to deliver music I would go back to, except "Smut!" and the Prince-like closer "News From The Sun", which are at least tolerable. I liked the intro on "Slumlord", but a disappointing album. Many of the tunes annoyed me.
Rating 4/10

Thank Your Lucky Stars by Beach House (released October 16)
I just listened to their new album on spotify, and while it has its moments (Elegy to the Void, The Traveller, Somewhere Tonight, All your Yeahs), there are other tracks that seemed too repetitive in terms of instrumentation. The album is quite good and better than I anticipated, but I prefer what the group did on Depression Cherry this year.
Rating 7/10

Have you listened to any of these albums? What did you think? Agree or disagree? As always, comments are welcome 


  1. On first listening to To Pimp a Butterfly, I wasn't sure if this was something I could get into. But it's up there as one of my favourite albums of the year. Realised it needed the right "scene" to be listened to in. Amazed at Kendrick Lamar's skills as a rapper and writer. Some impressive music videos too.

    1. @Jaina: I admire To Pimp A Butterfly, but might be too hard work for it to become a favorite. Glad you are enjoying the album after the initial doubt, that gives me optimism the same could be the case for me!

  2. Excellent assessment of To Pimp a Butterfly. It is a demanding listen. That's why I love it, but I'm also surprised it sold so well when the most of the hip hop world seems to be going in precisely the opposite direction of this album. However, I think a lot of that has to do with how popular Good Kid was. Kendrick is amazing and is the only rapper in the current climate that offers a real attempt at making sense of the world while managing mainstream success. J. Cole does this on a bit lesser level on both counts. I hope the two really do get together to make an album as rumored.

    I'll eventually give the Dre album a listen because I like the artists involved. Not in a rush, though. I'll also give the Land del Rey album a listen. I'm on the fence about Beach House because you're so high on it, but I have no idea who they are.

    1. @Wendell: To Pimp a Butterfly is demanding, so for me it's something I have to be in the right mood for. I'm no expert on hip hop so don't know how he compares with other contemporary rappers. I like what you say about Kendrick that he offers a real attempt at making sense of the world while managing mainstream success.
      I think there are others trying to make a statement, I loved J. Cole's "Be Free" tribute to Ferguson, Missouri which he did on Letterman ( ), and of course Prince made his Baltimore protest song (although he's not a rapper). Dark Comedy Late Show by Open Mike Eagle I thought was quite original, which in a humorous way comments on news events ( )

      Hope you enjoy the Dr. Dre, and I'd be interested to know your opinion once you have. Beach House you either like or you don't.

  3. Surprised that you bother to check Carly Rae Jepsen. From her hits song, they seem playful and cheerful, perfect for young hearts. Heard today that Lana Del Rey won on EMA, so congrats for her.

    I haven't heard much music lately except my old collection :/

    1. @Andina: I realize I am not intended audience, but lots of music is melancholy, so Carly is a nice change with her positivity, and I think her new album is her best! Thanks for the info about Lana, I missed the awards.

  4. Nice review here. "King Kunta" is one of the catchiest, most lyrically intricate songs I've heard in years. I literally had that thing stuck in my head for months. And the video rocks. But yeah, that's a heady, heady album there.

    1. @Alex Withrow: Thanks, agree King Kunta is very catchy and well-written. I intend to give the album a few more listens and maybe will end up in my top 10 by years end, we’ll see!

  5. You know I love Lamar and Jepsen's albums. :D But I never finished Kurt Vile's, and I didn't get around to Honeymoon or Thank Your Lucky Stars. I might give them a chance at some point.

    1. @Josh: Thank Your Lucky Stars has a few highlights. Of Beach House’s two albums in 2015, Depression Cherry was the more enjoyable for me on repeat listens.
      Kurt Vile’s laid back style is not for everyone, I really dug his latest. Honeymoon by Lana Del Rey is undemanding and relaxing if you just feel like shutting your brain off for a while.


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