by Mike Vinti
2015 has been a pretty incredible year for music, especially that of a socially conscious political nature. Kendrick Lamar cemented his position as the year’s GOAT (Great of All Time for you non-rap-nerds out there) with To Pimp a Butterfly, Sleaford Mods gave a voice to the victims of austerity with their acerbic, bassline backed rants and grime blew up so fast that half the teenagers in the country switched from Hypebeast to Road Man in the space of a month. As it’s the time of year where every goddamn publication lists their top 10, 20, 50, 100 etc. albums we figured we’d run through the year’s best moments, in no particular order, with a special end of year Radical Playlist.
Vince Staples – Señorita
Vince Staples’ Summertime 06 was one of the stand-out hip hop releases of the year. Exploring the troubles of life in Staples’ home town of Long Beach, California the album dealt with everything from gang violence to police oppression without missing a beat. Vince Staples’ flow is as tight as they come and his conscious gangsta rap demonstrated the power and importance of the genre fittingly for the year of Straight Outta Compton. The video for Señorita perfectly captures Staples’ ice cold perspective and frustrations with contemporary society.
Father John Misty – Blank Space (In the Style of The Velvet Underground)
Father John Misty’s I Love You Honeybear saw the former Fleet Foxes drummer finally find his true voice, and that was voice was in his own words ‘an asshole’. A collection of simply, if beautifully, composed acoustic guitar led tracks, it dealt with Misty’s disdain for the fact he’d fallen in love, walking a line between irony and soppiness so thin not even Misty really knew which side it fell. However Misty’s best moment of the year was his cover of Ryan Adam’s cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space.’ Adams’ decision to cover Taylor Swift’s 1989 in full was one of most nauseating moments in the seemingly never-ending Swift hype cycle and FJM’s cover in the style of the late Lou Reed shows it up in effortless style.
Courtney Barnett – Depreston
It’s a tough time to be under the age of thirty, rent in any major city is increasingly unaffordable, decent jobs are still scarce and the government is slowly but surely hacking away any claim you might have to state assistance. The same is happening across much of the western and English-speaking world and right-wing hysteria seems at a generational high, it’s easy to be glum. ‘Depreston’ takes that listless mundanity and spins into a subtle, bleak tale of moving to the suburbs. Sometimes you need the soundtrack to giving up on your dreams to remind you why you keep up the fight.
Kendrick Lamar – For Free?
Look, how many times do I need to tell you to listen to To Pimp a Butterfly? Every song on the album deserves to be on this list but ‘For Free?’ encapsulates everything Kendrick set out to achieve with it. Using a relationship as a metaphor for race relations in the US, Kendrick spits lightning fast bars over a rolling, wild bebop instrumental whilst dressed as Uncle Sam. No other artist could pull this off.
Sleaford Mods – No One’s Bothered
The Mods are a two-man punk movement in their own right. Frontman Jason Williamson has become something of an icon for his foul-mouthed, semi spoken-word tirades. Though the duo have been around for a while now, 2015 was the year they really gained mainstream attention, their performance of ‘No One’s Bothered’ from this years Key Markets on Jools Holland bringing their gobby, politically charged anthems for the downtrodden to a national audience.
Kojey Radical – Bambu
The UK’s rap scene is overflowing with talent at the minute, yet even with the UK hip hop underground Kojey Radical is slept on. Kojey is a painter, dancer and MC who combines his talents to create utterly unique, heavily poetic rap music. Bambu fuses elements of trap, jazz and hip hop to devastating effect, critiquing the ever-present austerity of modern life and the consequently ‘spiralling direction of self expression’. When Kojey spits ‘hungry stomachs will call our brothers to arms over pussy, money, weed, because it’s all we know’ his voice actually breaks from the frustration.
Slaves – The Hunter
Slaves are far from the most overtly political band recording right now, however the crossover success of their debut album Are You Satisfied? has got a whole new generation of kids listening to the genre and for that reason alone they deserve a spot on our list. ‘The Hunter’ is a populist punk anthem and it does the job perfectly. With its simplistic lyrics and blistering chorus it cuts straight to the essence of what punk always was; a rallying cry for the disenfranchised youth.
Pussy Riot – I Can’t Breathe
Sticking with punk, 2015 saw Pussy Riot release their first English language song, ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ A tribute to Eric Garner, whose death at the hands of police was one of a number that sparked the Black Lives Matter protests, and named after his last words, the track marked a new musical direction for the band/ art collective. Pussy Riot produced the track and directed the simple yet haunting video with guests on the track including punk legend Richard Hell and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner.
Kate Tempest – Europe Is Lost
The last weeks of 2015 look set to be tainted by the rise of the far-right in the wake of the tragic Paris shooting last month. Looking at a news cycle filled with Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage it can be hard to contain the desire to scream at the television. When so much of the media is obsessed with finding a miracle cure to ISIS its vital to know that there are others out there just as confused and frustrated at the world right now as you, especially when its Kate Tempest. On ‘Europe is Lost’ she spills her thoughts on the aftermath of that awful night in Paris, skewering society with barbed lyrics referencing everything from #PigGate to imperialism. This is the epitaph of the year.
Skepta – Shutdown
Ending on a more positive note, 2015 saw grime finally gain the credit it’s been due since Wiley started Eskimo Dance. It’s hard to pick just one song to represent the genre, especially given how many bangers it’s produced in the last year but Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ was the moment it became clear grime wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. Not only is black, working class music dominating the UK’s airwaves, its made that elusive journey across the Atlantic Ocean and is getting picked up in the US and Canada, something that would have been unheard of even two years ago.