Hey there club,
Thanks so much for letting me wander through this awesome conversation! Julianne, your live music question is a great one. About 16 months ago I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, and while the relatively small size of the town along with the demands of work mean I don’t see quite as many shows as I’d like, I’ve been reminded of the almost off-handed intimacy of live music in a college town. Probably my favorite live show I saw this year was Waxahatchee in a 300-person room on a random Monday night mere steps from my house. The place was packed, Katie Crutchfield and co. were sensational, and there was just a terrific vibe, the kind of show you end up actually making friends at, one of those periodic reminders of all the best reasons people go out to shows in the first place. (Thanks to the great Tom Breihan—friend, critic extraordinaire, fellow C’villean—for dragging me out to this.)
But most of my most memorable musical encounters didn’t happen at clubs but rather at home, and while normally this would feel like a lame admission, what a year it was for headphone masterpieces. I second the feeling of others that 2015 was unusually dominated by recording studio nostalgia, meticulous reconstructions of bygone sounds, times, and feels. There were Jamie xx and Carly Rae Jepsen making album-length love letters to hazy raves and proms of yesteryear, Father John Misty going back to White Album–era Cali (Didion, not Beatles) on I Love You, Honeybear, Rihanna channeling a young Bonnie Raitt on the wondrous “FourFiveSeconds.” Hell, Kendrick even scored an audience with Tupac in a stroke of hip-hop historicism to rival Hamilton, a musical I’ve yet to see in person but which, judging from the soundtrack, seems to have gotten multiple details of my life story wrong.
But for all this backward-gazing the artist who most riveted me was one making music like nothing I’ve ever heard before, a guy who resides at the intersection of voice, angst, and drugs (a busy intersection, that one). More than anything I’ll remember 2015 as the year Nayvadius “Future” Wilburn so resoundingly lived up to his name. Released in between the spectacular mixtape 56 Nights and What a Time to Be Alive, his chart-topping collaboration with Drake, Future’s ravishing, scorched-earth DS2 was my favorite album of 2015, the one I listened to, thought about, and talked about the most, if often in hushed terms since DS2 is, most basically, a post-breakup album about the particular brand of self-loathing apparently located at the bottom of an Actavis cough syrup bottle. From the sticky haze of “Thought It Was a Drought” to the paranoid portent of “Where Ya At” to the anthemic strangeness of “Fuck Up Some Commas,” DS2 alchemized personal and professional angst into a revelatory work. “Tried to make me a pop star/ and they made a monster,” spat Future on “I Serve the Base,” a gnashing buzzsaw of a track assembled by 22-year-old superproducer Metro Boomin, who increasingly feels like the other half of Future’s brain.
With Future’s triumphant 2015 and the continued ascendance of vocal shape-shifters like Young Thug, Chance the Rapper, DeJ Loaf, and of course Drake himself, along with their far-flung musical collaborators, hip-hop continues to wander unprecedentedly far from classicist notions of rapping. Future feels like the bleeding edge of this, a vocalist whose use of Auto-Tune—not so much as a melodic device as a timbral and textural one, the machine wielded not for our sake, but its own—sounds like a disruption in the ontology of the MC, if not the voice itself.
I also have a hard time thinking about the cultural logic of DS2 without invoking Skrillex/Diplo/Bieber’s “Where Are Ü Now,” which I’ll join Lindsay in declaring my favorite track of 2015. If everything about that track—its disorienting beauty, its churchiness, its strange dolphin utopia—felt like blessed redemption through vocal deconstruction, DS2 is new-fashioned devil’s music, all existential dread and thrill. Future’s voice is often likened to an android, but his music is too messy and bloody and soulful for that. To me DS2 and “Where Are Ü Now” both take the post-human and make it human, as opposite sides of a coin, or converging ends of a circular spectrum.
Like its title cocktail DS2 is a toxic piece of work, particularly with regard to its attitudes toward women. A few days ago Caitlin White published a piece over at Brooklyn magazine questioning the critical adulation of the album and calling out a particular mode of music discourse that bullies anyone who (rightly!) asks why a record so obsessed with its own pain often seems so intent on inflicting it on others. Her essay gives me pause about praising it so effusively here, especially when I know that as a straight white male critic there’s not all that much music that’s out to injure me (there should probably be more), and even when I know that an awful lot of music I love isn’t exactly stuff I’d want to go out to dinner with.
But to my ears DS2 is less an act of brutality than one of bloodletting; it’s what 808s and Heartbreak might have been if Kanye wasn’t so convinced he was always right. This feels like heresy but the comparison I keep returning to is Joni Mitchell’s Blue, another relationship autopsy record made by a person who, by its end, comes off as someone you’re pretty sure you wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with, which is probably the only real sign of honesty in the form.
Ultimately if there are people out there who listen to DS2 and think Future sounds like a righteous dude to hang out with, then I suspect those people are assholes. And while I do believe music can make some of us better people, I’m not sure it’s to blame for those it can’t, particularly when it’s music as inventive and challenging and beautiful as this. DS2 isn’t for everyone, but little is, except maybe Adele (whose music annoys me, so maybe nothing is). But to pose a parting question to the group: What music in 2015 did you feel most conflicted about loving? Or, alternatively, what music in 2015 did you feel most conflicted about not loving?
Till dolphin voices wake us, and we drown (or at least till someone gives me Hamilton tickets),
P.S. Here are 11 albums I loved because I couldn’t stop at 10, presented in no order:
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion
Vince Staples, Summertime ’06
Tame Impala, Currents
DeJ Loaf, #AndSeeThatsTheThing (EP)
Jamie xx, In Colour
Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp
Grimes, Art Angels
Drake, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
And 11 songs:
Skrillex and Diplo ft. Justin Bieber, “Where Are Ü Now”
Snakehips ft. Tinashe and Chance the Rapper, “All My Friends”
T.I. ft. Young Thug and Young Dro, “Peanut Butter Jelly”
Rihanna ft. Kanye West and Paul McCartney, “FourFiveSeconds”
Future, “I Serve the Base”
Missy Elliott, “WTF”
Carly Ray Jepsen, “Boy Problems”
Kurt Vile, “Pretty Pimpin’”
Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy”
Selena Gomez ft. ASAP Rocky, “Good for You”
Drake, “Hotline Bling”
To get each new entry in the 2015 Slate Music Club in your inbox, enter your email address below: