When it comes to entertainment, August is a tacit line in the sand: When September comes rolling in, so will the “important” content — the Oscar-bait movies, the shiny new TV season, the honking big reads. But before we get there, we want to look back on the goods that the first eight months of the year brought us, and they were plentiful. To wit, here’s the best of 2015 (so far) in Music.
10. THE BEST OF THE BEST SHOW, SCHARPLING & WURSTER
Well, it’s almost music: a 16-CD boxed set of the amazing phone conversations between Tom Scharpling (Greg from Steven Universe) and various characters played by Jon Wurster (The Mountain Goats/Superchunk drummer) that aired on Scharpling’s radio call-in show. Some of the best are in fact about music, like the legendary “Rock, Rot and Rule” call above — an interview with the author of a book that claims to be “the ultimate musical argument settler.”
9. KOES BARAT, KOES BARAT
What fun would a best-of-the-year list be without a total obscurity? This vinyl-only Record Store Day release features Alan Bishop (formerly of free-form rock oddballs Sun City Girls) and members of the Spoils playing rough, garage-y covers of songs by the ‘60s Indonesian psychedelic band Koes Plus. It’s an act of devotion, and a very clever concept: Western rock adapted into a Southeast Asian idiom, then reinterpreted by Americans.
8. CORN, ARTHUR RUSSELL
The singer/cellist/experimental composer/disco producer Arthur Russell made music unlike anybody else’s, and left behind a small mountain of unreleased material when he died in 1992. Corn, an album he assembled in the early '80s, is eccentric and meditative, a set of fragile grooves and drones that’s a soundtrack for late nights when you can’t dance any more but don’t want to surrender the beat.
7. “WHERE ARE Ü NOW,” SKRILLEX & DIPLO W/ JUSTIN BIEBER
It’s always a treat to watch the underground and the mainstream crash into each other. Seeing dubstep icon Skrillex and scene-hopping DJ Diplo get huge in subcultural terms is one thing; realizing that they just made a hit single with The Biebs is quite another. And that little off-key whine in the refrain of “Where Are Ü Now” is the spirit of 2015 in four notes.
6. “CRAZY,” 4MINUTE
A lot of the best, freakiest dance-pop of the past few years has been coming from South Korea. The girl group 4Minute (there are five members; don’t ask) dropped this bonkers great-grandchild of “Jumpin’, Jumpin’,” “Toxic” and “Stupid Hoe” earlier this year. Yes, it is mostly sung in Korean, except for a couple of rapped verses in English. Good luck getting it out of your head anyway.
5. “SHIP TO WRECK,” FLORENCE & THE MACHINE
Florence Welch’s idea of what pop aspires to is, apparently, a song that is as huge and dramatic as possible, with garment-rending sentiments and a chorus that arrives like the conquering legions of Caesar. There’s something to be said for that, of course, and this is as close as she’s come to that ideal so far.
4. “CAN’T FEEL MY FACE,” THE WEEKND
Yes, as a matter of fact, the world did need a party anthem about feeling physically and/or emotionally numb and assessing the advantages of an early death. Former mixtape king Abel Tesfaye totally gets the song’s tone of glazed-eyed erotic addiction across, too. Worth noting: its co-writers include master song-doctors Max Martin and Savan Kotecha.
3. NO CITIES TO LOVE, SLEATER-KINNEY
They never said they were breaking up, as such, and for Sleater-Kinney, that wasn’t a euphemism–they just took roughly a decade off. And they recorded their new record secretly, so they could scrap it if they decided it wasn’t up to their standard. It totally is, fortunately: ten taut, tense, inspired little songs that build on the trio’s inalienable punk chemistry.
2. “LET IT HAPPEN,” TAME IMPALA
Kevin Parker and company took a few unexpected turns to get to their new Currents — burbling, keyboard-heavy dance-pop with a drum machine and a Vocoder isn’t what their fans anticipated — but the album’s eight-minute centerpiece is a jewel, and its unconventional three-measure phrases are a simple but ingenious trick.
1. TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY, KENDRICK LAMAR
2015 is the year when the standard line on Kendrick went from “all that talent, hope he figures out what to do with it” to “WOW.” To Pimp a Butterfly is so dense and thoughtful an album that it’s going to take years to unpack. It’s vicious, wry, deeply reflective about its artist’s place in the musical and political landscape, and super-fun to play really loudly.