5. M3LL155X – FKA Twigs
Though I’ve come around since, back in 2014, I was not riding the hype-train of LP1. In my mind, I had already written off Tahliah Barnett’s FKA Twigs project as another dull, ethereal neo-R&B thing that Pitchfork gets excited about for no reason. Fortunately, after listening to this EP, I’ve realized this is untrue. FKA Twigs’ music is far more experimental and playful with genre and form than most of her peers, and M3LL155X showcases that. From the haunting-yet-sharp melodies on “Figure 8,” to the vaguely trap inspired drums and chorus of “In Time,” this release cements Barnett’s role as one of the forerunners of modern R&B.
4. The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam – Thundercat
When I originally witnessed the release of this EP, I was a bit disappointed. Fans of Thundercat (AKA Stephen Bruner) and other Brainfeeder artists were hoping for another full length release. Despite the fact that I don’t personally find Thundercat’s two previous LPs (The Golden Age of Apocalypse and Apocalypse,) to be all that compelling, a lot has changed since the release of the latter in 2013. Between the last two years, Bruner has played a critical role in the creation of three of favorite albums of, likely, the past decade: Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead!, Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, and the universally-loved To Pimp a Butterfly. It seems, here, that all of this playing has resulted in a creative renaissance for Thundercat. I found this EP to be far more complete than anything else he has released under his own name thus far. The tracks comply to a musical theme, which is uniquely “Thundercat” in sound. The lead single “Them Changes” is as catchy and danceable as any chart topping hit, and the project’s centerpiece “Lone Wolf and Cub” takes the listener on a smooth, six-string-bass-fueled journey. The Beyond… continues Brainfeeder’s already size-able winning streak.
3. Chinese Nü Yr – Iglooghost
Shit, wasn’t I just talking about Brainfeeder? Besides every great R&B/Jazz release from the label this year, they’ve also proved that they can make successful forays into experimental electronic music with this EP. Up-and-coming producer Iglooghost comes through with possibly the most confusing, intense, enthralling 20 minutes I’ve experienced this year. The track listing is there more to help you grasp the music than for any practical reason. The sounds range from breakbeats, to PC Music-style vocals, and everything in between; yet it sounds remarkably consistent. One of the most unexpected and energetic release of 2015.
2. February 15 – Nao
I had never heard of Nao until her appearance on Disclosure’s (pretty good) Caracal. Because of the Lawrence brothers’ affinity for crafting tracks with extremely talented vocalists, known or unknown, I decided to check her out. Even though R&B songstresses are a dime a dozen these days, Nao’s most recent project stood out to me with its interesting infusions of pop and electronic. Songs like “Inhale Exhale” were just too catchy and well-written to pass up, and the variety and flow of the tracks here make February 15th feel much more realized than most EPs. This, and her 2014 EP So Good (take a hint from the title,) have made Nao a neo-soul singer to watch.
1. A Special Episode Of – Open Mike Eagle
Hellfyre Club has been, excuse the pun, on fire this year. The collective boasts some of the biggest names in underground hip hop, and together, their projects this year have rivaled the biggest names in rap. Michael Eagle’s latest release is no exception. It continues many of the themes found on his 2014 LP Dark Comedy, lyrically and musically. However, it also expands on them. The beats on this EP are textural, groovy, and layered. They fit perfectly with Mike Eagle’s heady, melodic flow. Each song expands upon a theme and gives insight into his mindset and musical process. If Eagle can maintain the trajectory he’s on now, we may see him stepping out of the underground soon, and taking the rest of Hellfyre with him.
Written by Preston Fulks