This year, the Arts & Entertainment section editors worked with our staff writers to come up with the best songs, music videos, albums, TV shows, and movies of 2015; however, not everyone’s favourite made the list. To let the close runners-up shine we’ve each picked our two most-beloved snubs that we felt deserved to make it into the final list.
This is something that shouldn’t have worked under any circumstances. Adapting an 800-page historical biography of relatively-obscure founding father, Alexander Hamilton, into a genre-bending hip-hop infused Broadway musical sounds like an exercise in creative hubris. Instead, it accomplishes the impossible by weaving a coherent personal narrative into the broader historical context of America’s founding and early years as a nation. Hamilton is an incredible synthesis of everything great about hip hop and history and musical theatre. It also reframes the narrative of American history, giving it back to the people who actually shaped it in the first place: Orphans, immigrants, rebels, and underdogs.
Writer-Director Noah Baumbach and writer-actress Greta Gerwig have proven themselves to be an unstoppable creative partnership. After Baumbach’s ho-hum While We’re Young, he returns to straight comedy, following a college freshman (Lola Kirke) in New York City who gets pulled into the orbit of her soon-to-be step-sister (Gerwig), an impulsive self-described ‘entrepreneur.’ Featuring one of the most tightly-written scripts of the year, the film nails the anxiety and possibility of starting university in a new city. Gerwig turns in a fantastic performance as Brooke, imbuing the character with the perfect amount of self-awareness and lack thereof.
Carly Rae Jepsen—E-mo-tion
Probably one of the biggest surprises this year, Carly Rae Jepsen’s second studio album, E.mo.tion, absolutely shattered her status as a one-hit-wonder. Packed with one masterful pop song after another, E.mo.tion surpasses its closest ‘80s-evoking competitor, 1989, with ease. Jepsen’s once-derided vocals now possess a noticeably smoky quality while the lyrics are both clever and witty. While her debut album, Kiss, felt immature and underwhelmed due to its uninspired lyrics and undercooked production, E.mo.tion absolutely wallows in its fabulously ‘80s retro vibe. “Run Away With Me” provides a screaming saxophone, “Warm Blood” is an irresistible journey into pulsing beats and synths, while the stunning highlight, “Your Type” is easily one of the finest pop songs released this year—E.mo.tion is the best album you didn’t know you needed to hear.
Jessica Pratt—On Your Own Love Again
Conjuring up a rather hazy, faded aesthetic on her latest album, San Francisco-based Jessica Pratt singularly wrote, recorded, and produced 2015’s most reminiscent record. On Your Own Love Again harkens back to an era in which simple, guitar-laced melodies bubbled underneath beautifully-crafted vocal melodies were all the rage. Pratt floats through the album’s short 10 songs, her striking Kate Bush-esque vocals drifting up and down an impressive register, and forces the listener to pay attention to the devastating, love-torn lyrics. Perhaps the standout is “Back, Baby,” in which the line, “People’s faces blend together like a watercolour you can’t remember,” provides more nuance and thought-provoking imagery than the rest of her pop peers could only dream of managing throughout an entire career.
Relative newcomers within the metal community, Deafheaven are continuing to expand and redefine the genre with its latest release New Bermuda. Alongside Jack Shirley, the sound engineer behind their breakout album Sunbather, Deafheaven further cemented themselves as the pioneers of a self-created sub-genre: A combination of black metal and indie-oriented shoegaze, known as ‘blackgaze.’ What results is an excellent slew of heavy-hitting noise.“Baby Blue” stands out as the strongest track on the record, showcasing the band’s aptitude for both calm and chaotic sounds. Vocalist George Clarke delivers an astounding performance, noticeably distorting his voice with more growls this time around, and is backed by an extremely tight band.
Despite the occasional anachronisms and minor tampering with chronology, Netflix’s Narcos still manages to tell a compelling and often overlooked historical tale. Interweaving actual news footage and political interviews in between fictionalized narratives, the show does a fantastic job displaying historical facts with enough creative license to generate emotional attachment and foster a more personal investment in said historical events. Given the unfortunate rise in international terrorism over recent years, Narcos offers an important historical window into the politics of fear and demonstrates how much a single group can threaten a state, without even the use of the internet.
Earl Sweatshirt—I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Earl Sweatshirt’s second album lives up to the title; most tracks are moody and introverted, with lyrics stark against a minimalist, yet sometimes messy background of sparse piano, synths, and drumbeats. Two tracks, “Huey” and “AM // Radio” have the assured attitude that Sweatshirt introduced in his last album, Doris, but I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside generally goes as twice as slow without losing any lyrical punch. In this pared-down style, Sweatshirt seems more confident and refreshingly, more honest.
Beach House—Depression Cherry
In its fifth studio album, Beach House delivers the newest installment of the soundtrack of a timelessly nostalgic and faintly adolescent daydream. The band hasn’t changed much in the past 10 years, but in Depression Cherry they seem to have perfected their formula for ethereal, sentimental tracks. Depression Cherry delivers the classic Beach House sound without being boring or repetitive: The choral opening of “Days of Candy” and the surprisingly harsh guitar in “Sparks” add exciting and new layers to the songs. With every release, Beach House seems to shape the landscape of people’s most elusive dreams. Depression Cherry is no exception.
Neon Indian—VEGA Intl. Night School
It flew under the radar, but Neon Indian took a massive step forward with VEGA Intl. Night School. By trading in acid-washed chillwave tracks for coke-fueled disco bangers, Alan Palomo has crafted his most thrilling album so far. Highlights include the reggae romp of “Annie,” the Moroder-esque “Slumlord,” and “Dear Skorpio Magazine,” a lighthearted ode to a 1980s Italian smut magazine. Don’t expect any lyrical innovations from Palomo here, but VEGA is one hell of a party record. A must own for Beegees and Daft Punk fans alike.
FKA twigs – “In Time” (Or anything off M3LL155X)
Following last year’s excellent LP1, FKA twigs put out another marvellous project this year with her M3LL155X EP. In contrast to LP1, these songs have a darker aesthetic. From the hypnotic groove of “Figure 8” to the new school vogue of “Glass and Patron,” the EP was just as boundary pushing as one would expect from an artist like twigs. The highlight might be “In Time,” a mind-boggling mixture of trap, pop and experimental electronica; however, you could really make an argument for any of M3LL155X’s songs to be in the top 10 of the year. Twigs is just that good.