Top 89 Staff Picks: Scott Olstad, digital commerce


Top 89 of 2015
Top 89 of 2015 (MPR Graphic)

Two Rules: My list of songs doesn't include tracks from my favorite albums. Music from December 2014 is eligible for this list, just as music from this month will be eligible for next year's list.


10. Kendrick Lamar -- "Untitled"
To Pimp A Butterfly is widely recognized as one of the best albums of 2015 -- which is crazy considering Kendrick left this killer jam off the record. In one of the final episodes of The Colbert Report, Kendrick debuted this untitled track and then never played it again. I hope Comedy Central submits this video to the Library of Congress.

9. Lil B and Chance the Rapper -- "Last Dance (feat. Noname Gypsy)"
The Based God's free freestyle mixtape with Chance the Rapper is more silly than serious, and I love it all the more for it. Chance giggles his way through any freestyle faux pas, and makes the art form sound more accessible as a result. I was never brave enough to freestyle before this mixtape, but now I realize it's totally cool to try and screw up and laugh about it. It's just fun, like this song.

8. TALsounds -- "Talk Alone"
Natalie Chami's layered ethereal vocals sound underwater in this meditative recording that lumbers forward to the electronic thuds of a drum machine. I can lose myself in this song for hours.

7. Baby Baby -- "Teach You How to Dance"
This summer, my first Warped Tour since junior high jarringly reminded me of the inevitable passing of time. I felt like a college grad walking though the halls of a former middle school as I watched the future of America lose their minds over bands I didn't know. But then I saw Baby Baby perform and felt young again. This straightforward pop-punk anthem is so earnest, I was transported back to the joy and enthusiasm of my first trip way back when. May the Warped Tour endure forever.

6. Eartheater -- "Put a Head in a Head"
Am I drowning in acid? No? Just listening to Eartheater? I see. If my friends heard me listening to this song, they would ask me if everything is okay in my life. Friends are the best.

5. Disclosure -- "Magnets feat. Lorde"
Caracal is a quality record, but I've listened to this song more times than the rest of the album combined. That slide into the chorus is irresistible.

4. Gallant -- "Weight in Gold"
Frank Ocean, this could be us, but you playing. Dozens of remixes were constructed around Gallant's karaoke-forbidden vocal performance this summer, and I listened to every one of them. Gallant, I'm ready for a full-length release.

3. Chance the Rapper -- "Angels"
Chancelor Bennett is my favorite rapper alive right now. His time with Donnie Trumpet has taken his sunny, horn-filled production to a higher level. Chance's overwhelming positivity feels revolutionary in today's hip-hop environment. Only 22 years old, his message is increasingly focused on addressing Chicago's many harsh realities and celebrating the joy of religious community. His flow is singular; his rhymes oscillate between delightfully wacky and insightfully perceptive. Chance's hunger for collaboration is infusing his new music with fresh ideas and accelerating his growth as an artist. Sign me up for whatever he has planned next.

2. Thundercat -- "Them Changes"
Thundercat probably doesn't get enough credit for his role in To Pimp A Butterfly's bass-heavy production. His EP, The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, features the same nimble, syncopated, groove-heavy basslines that made his previous album, Apocalypse, one of the underrated albums of the past decade.

1. Oddisee -- "That's Love"
Now that I've put this list to paper, I'm realizing my favorite trend of 2015 was the fusion of soul, funk, jazz, gospel, blues, and hip-hop in various forms. The opener from Oddisee's fantastic The Good Fight showcases what I mean. The soul-jazz rhythms and tight lyrical cadence are enough to turn heads on their own, but I love Oddisee's exploration of the many forms of love in this song.


10. Jim O'Rourke -- Simple Songs
Jim O'Rourke's songs have never been simple. O'Rourke's signature combination of intricate guitar playing, rich instrumentation and emphatically mindful production elevates every tune into a dizzying vortex of sounds and ideas. And yet, presented without fanfare and registering at scantly over 30 minutes, the complete package is as uncomplicated as advertised. It's as simple as that.
Favorite Song: Hotel Blue

9. Sufjan Stevens -- Carrie & Lowell
Carrie & Lowell is an excruciating experience from start to finish. This isn't a regular on my turntable because it affects me so deeply. Sufjan's exploration of his unresolved feelings towards his parents is responsible for the only album released this year that will routinely bring me to tears. Call your parents and tell them that you love them.
Favorite Song: Fourth of July

8. JR JR -- JR JR
Sure enough, a rose by any other name smells as sweet. No longer Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., JR JR return after 2013's personally beloved The Speed of Things with the familiarly catchy synth hooks and dancing baselines that initially drew my love to their melodic electronic indie pop anthems.
Favorite Song: As Time Goes

7. Dan Deacon -- Gliss Riffer
I'm such a sucker for marimba-heavy dance music.

That Dan Deacon can make such an accessible record without compromising the soul of his wacky, frantic charm is a testament to something. I don't know what, but I'm in favor of it. I'm going to play "Wham City" at my wedding.
Favorite Song: Learning to Relax

6. BADBADNOTGOOD, Ghostface Killah -- SOUR SOUL
Ghostface Killah has one of the most recognizable voices in hip-hop. Take that iconic flow and set it to a soundtrack from Toronto jazz/hip-hop trio BADBADNOTGOOD and you have a recipe for one spicy meatball.
Favorite Song: Food

5. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment -- Surf
Favorite Song: Sunday Candy

4. Gary Clark Jr. -- The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
The Story of Sonny Boy Slim's 13 blues-roots guitar-laden burners all possess a strong case to be the record's "lead single." Blending elements of contemporary soul and hip-hop, every song features an earworm hook and distinctive flavor. The sonic consistency results in a superb record that is improbably more than the sum of its considerable parts.

Seriously though, how do you pick a favorite song off a record with this many jams?
Favorite Song: Can't Sleep

3. Tyler, The Creator -- Cherry Bomb
Tyler has stopped talking to his therapist and finally lost his mind.

I feared Tyler might be done with music after Wolf. There were hints. He seemed more interested in pursuing other passions, like production and film-making (and circus ring leading.) Then Cherry Bomb arrived out of nowhere.

Tyler's personal and artistic growth is evident throughout his four solo albums, but his biggest leap happened this year. After recycling sonic motifs through his first trilogy of releases, Tyler embraces a more expansive world of sounds. This record is bonkers. It's a carnival funhouse of joyful noise and energy. Tyler is your guide and sole unifying thread through a winding journey through NERD-rip-off rock heavy songs, jazzy digressions, drill 'n' bass tracks, pop melodies and I don't even know what. Tyler is stretching his wings.
Favorite Song: F**KING YOUNG / PERFECT

2. Kendrick Lamar -- To Pimp A Butterfly
What can be said about this album that hasn't been said before? Instead, here's a story:
On March 18, I sent an email to Managing Digital Producer, Brett Baldwin, which said "I have my Top 89 list done already." Attached was a Word document that contained a bulleted list with one item: Kendrick Lamar. Brett told me to check back in at the end of the year. Now that we're here, I'll admit to being a little surprised to find To Pimp A Butterfly as the runner-up, but that's less of a commentary on the Kendrick's opus than it is a testament to the album that comes next. To Pimp A Butterfly is an intoxicating adventure, with a twisting narrative that unfolds unexpectedly over the album's 16 burners. Kendrick Lamar and his partners-in-production - Soundwave, Terrance Martin, Thundercat - created a fusion of soul, jazz, funk and hip-hip that sounded simultaneously rooted in the past and completely fresh.
Favorite Song: Wesley's Theory

1. D'Angelo and The Vanguard -- Black Messiah
"Ever hit with a choice that you can't decide?" D'Angelo asks in Black Messiah's opening minutes.

Facing the choice for my favorite album, I can understand the sentiment. But D'Angelo told me to focus on what I feel inside. To Pimp A Butterfly sounds radically new; Black Messiah sounds timeless, as if it could belong to any era from the past half-century. I feel like I've lived with these songs for a dozen years. They sound worn in, like a cover of a song you can't name but have heard a thousand times. I don't know if I've given Black Messiah 100 or 1,000 spins this year, but it rings fresh and new, yet familiar, every time. This is an all-timer. Album of the year? That's an understatement.
Favorite Song: The Charade

Local Songs:

10. Doomtree -- "Cabin Killer"
9. Little Fevers -- "Can't Get Enough" 8. On an On -- "It's Not Over"
7. Craig Finn -- "Maggie I've Been Searching for Our Son"
6. Hippo Campus -- "Bashful Creatures"
5. kill the vultures -- "Jackal"
4. Koo Koo Kanga Roo -- " Poppin' That Zit" Full Disclosure: My brother is the one with the mustache.
3. Atmosphere -- "Finer Things (feat. deM atlaS)"
2. Sean Anonymous & Dimitry Killstorm -- "Big Bang (feat. P.O.S & Lizzo)"
1. Prince -- "Baltimore"

Local Albums:

10. Freez & Mike Frey -- Freez's Frozen French Freys

9. Sonny Knight & The Lakers -- Do It Live

8. Black Diet -- The Good One

7. Strange Names -- Use Your Time Wisely

6. John Mark Nelson -- I'm Not Afraid

5. Prof -- Liability

4. Bones and Beeker -- Bones and Beeker

3. Muja Messiah -- Angel Blood Soup

2. Greg Grease -- Born to Lurk Forced to Work

1. Bad Bad Hats -- Psychic Reader

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