While 2014’s year-end album list straddled six months of final renovations and six months of finally being open, this year’s rundown represents the soundtrack to our first continuous year of operation. We faced the inevitably increasing chaos of 2015 with a team that was larger, tighter, and more diverse – a team that all added their collective musical tastes into the mix, bumping some killer tunes in both the brewhouse and taproom alike.
With the selection committee expanded from just Matt and myself to feature our brewhouse staff (Zach and Rob) as well, we discovered a running theme about our music consumption in 2015: the secret to making the softest, juiciest, and haziest hoppy beers – the absolute antithesis of West Coast brewing philosophy – is, in fact, a steady diet of West Coast hip hop. But without further ado, here’s the 5 Albums We Played The Hell Out Of in 2015.
1. Jamie xx – In Colour <2015>
Finding its way onto many a year-end top albums list, the massively impressive first solo album from The xx‘s percussionist / producer Jamie xx flows with surprising coherence for being such a varied patchwork of sounds and styles. Rich, densely layered arrangements glide seamlessly into airy open space without ever losing their forward momentum – gritty synth basslines and choppy, glitched-out beats seep into lonesome muted tones, taking countless thoroughly unexpected turns throughout its journey. Even while utilizing such a massive, seemingly disjointed variety of sounds, samples, and instrumental choices from the internet age’s near-infinite catalog, the parts all add up to a singular architecture.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Gosh <4:52>
2. Coheed and Cambria – The Color Before the Sun <2015>
Coheed and Cambria’s long history of bending genres tends to alienate purists, mixing in too much pop for the post-hardcore crowd and too much metal for the pop crowd. Further raising the accessibility barrier is the fact that all of Coheed’s releases to date have been a series of concept albums, each an entry into a complex sci-fi epic that even some longstanding fans struggle to navigate. The Color Before the Sun is their first departure from this mythology, and while you probably won’t find it on many publications’ year-end album lists, we all fell in love. No longer bound to a fictional backstory, frontman Claudio Sanchez’s compositions become far more human and personal, with topics like relationships, fatherhood, and uncertainty about the future finding themselves at home within the band’s characteristic brand of sweeping, expansive prog-rock ballads.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Atlas <6:03>
3. Dr. Dre – Compton <2015>
A cinematic, orchestral intro sets the tone with a narrative about the decline of Compton, CA from picturesque middle-class suburb to hellish ghetto, slowly pressing the accelerator to the floor as it transitions to a verse/hook combo delivered by a pair of little-known newcomers. As the beat drops out, a brief pause clears the air, and the booming voice of the undisputed king of West Coast hip hop lays down a succinct overview of what he’s been up to since his last major-album release sixteen years ago: “I JUST BOUGHT. CALI. FORNIA.“
Every aspect of Dr. Dre’s impressive career – a transition from rapper to producer to label executive to rap-game Obi-Wan slash billionaire entrepreneur auteur – is somehow incorporated into Compton, his pseudo-soundtrack to the summer’s blockbuster N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. As a man whose resume is just as legendary as his net worth, the 50-year-old industry god has certainly amassed enough thematic material (read: bragging rights) to make his lyrical contributions shine, but Compton‘s defining factor is Dre’s ability to function as director, deftly conducting an ensemble cast of veterans and rookies spanning three decades of history and a wide array of styles. He may not actually physically own the state of California, but he most definitely owns California hip hop.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Genocide (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius & Candice Pillay) <4:27>
4. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream <2014>
A sharp stylistic departure from the rest of this list, The War On Drugs’ critically-acclaimed third LP is a Sunday morning type of album. Lost In The Dream is an apt title for such a dreamlike album – stoned-out Americana recalling the sounds of Springsteen, Dire Straits, and Infidels / Oh Mercy-era Bob Dylan, all viewed through the lens of an artist emerging from a crushing stretch of depression and loneliness. It’s by no means a sad album, but sadness is most definitely its muse. It’s a simple concept whose masterful execution isn’t immediately apparent, developing into something that’s both warmly familiar yet deeply personal and unique.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Under The Pressure <8:52>
5. Dr. Dre – 2001 <1999>
Although his seminal 1992 debut The Chronic solidified the genre of G-funk and cemented him as a central figure in West Coast hip hop, his follow-up 2001 saw a transition that would, sixteen years later, manifest itself as Compton. This marks the perfect midpoint between Dr. Dre, The Rapper and Dr. Dre, The Director; though the verses he throws down are far more impressive than those of Compton, the man did not become one of the most dominant forces in hip hop by way of clever lyricism, but rather as a musical architect with both a deep rolodex of friends and an uncanny ability to coax out their best qualities. Thematically, it’s par for the gangsta-rap course: violent, lewd, profanity-ridden, and chock full o’ misogyny. But Spin put it best, arguing that “whatever one’s opinion of the sexual politics and gun lust of Dre’s canon, his ongoing commitment to formal excellence and sonic innovation in this art form may one day earn him a place next to George Clinton, if not Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, or Miles Davis”. A safe bet to make, and a prophesy well-fulfilled.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: The Next Episode <2:42>
Honorable Mentions: Our Individual Picks
ASA’S PICK: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata <2014>
Madlib is a veteran producer known for his masterful use of silky-smooth 60s/70s soul instrumentals. Freddie Gibbs is a gritty lyrical photorealist with a deep cadence and an awe-inspiringly fluid delivery. Both legitimate artists in their own right but absolutely shining when feeding off of one another’s craft, their 2014 collab Piñata creates a whole that’s far more complex and enjoyable than the sum of its parts.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Thuggin’ <4:31>
MATT’S PICK: Lane 8 – Rise <2015>
If the mission statement of Above & Beyond’s progressive trance / deep house record label Anjunadeep is “to release timeless, soulful and melodic electronic music”, the debut album by Lane 8 (DJ Daniel Goldstein) illustrates that mission perfectly. Hazy and atmospheric yet never losing momentum, Rise is a sort of digital anesthetic that seeps into your core, reminding you that the drugs are, in fact, kicking in.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Diamonds <5:19>
BREWHOUSE PICK: Dirt Nasty & Smoov-E – Breakfast In Bed <2015>
Breakfast In Bed is the critically acclaimed (false) return of the great white dirty hype (true), a truly cracker-ass collaboration (true) between thoughtful contemporary renaissance man (false) Simon Rex (a.k.a. Dirt Nasty) and electro-funk god (false) Eli Meltzer (a.k.a. Smoov-E). Much like Piñata, this album’s strengths lie in the marriage of smooth, old-school beats and well-crafted lyrics (true), but with only the most serious and politically correct subject matter (false). The ultimate brewer’s soundtrack of 2015 (true).
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Poolside <3:19>