When it comes to year end lists, performers and artists are often given priority over producers and musicians. Despite being overlooked, a number of producers certified their place in music this year, and quite a few producer albums, EPs and mixtapes made compelling arguments for this year’s best release. With that in mind, I decided to make a list of my top 10 of this year. It’s in no particular order, and I strongly encourage you to check out all of the releases. Below, you will find my picks for Top 10 Producer Projects of 2015.
What are your top picks? Let me know in the comments section, or on Twitter at @seangran_.
1. Sam Gellaitry – Short Stories
If you use SoundCloud frequently it’s likely that you’ll recognize Sam’s name. Having produced for a number of years, the Stirling, Scotland producer’s sound exploded last year for various reasons, including Soulection co-founder Joe Kay pushing his music on his weekly radio show.
When it emerged that Sam would be releasing his debut EP through the LA collective at the top of the year expectations were high, but it’s fair to say Sam blew through them all with what has already become a seminal EP that remains a topic of conversation among producers and fans alike.
Short Stories was brilliant, and it’s release was preluded with glorious single “Temple,” a concoction of sounds that would go on to provide a blueprint for producers with it’s flawless transitions from intense trap to groovy house and beyond. Each track showed off Sam’s range and displayed his abilities in full view. Having been often compared to some of his influences like Mr. Carmack and Kaytranada, such conversations died out in the aftermath of Short Stories release, as the EP distinguished Sam’s sound from the rest.
Now signed to XL Recordings where he recently released the equally unforgettable Escapism EP it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing more of Sam soon, and that he’ll continue to capture our attention with his magnetic music.
2. MISOGI – PINK2
That gothic, dreamlike, Boards of Canada-influenced sound that people are pushing this year isn’t new. Acts like blank body and bones have been crafting that sound for years, but it’s only now that the mainstream media is catching on. TEAM SESH affiliate Misogi is another of the central purveyors behind this sound; from the days he produced under the name gxgeta. This year he’s taken it to new heights with PINK2 : a free, collaborative EP that paired him with other rising producers.
Across six tracks, Misogi and the likes of Cavalier, Dirty Chocolate, Josh Pan and Oshi created a memorable journey into the future of trap. From the bouncy Sosi-featuring intro “LUNAR” to the video-game inspired (and Navi-sampling) “MAGIC CONTAINER” and the haunting, ghastly “BEOWULF,” the London-based teen showed his wide-ranging flexibility all over the project.
Apart from the sounds, the project’s visuals were also beautifully crafted, with each song having it’s own artwork, all centered on an image that takes Adam and God’s hands from Michelangelo’s iconic painting, The Creation of Adam, and stretches the arms down beyond the end of the cover. The image is memorable, and made its way onto a T-shirt and baseball cap released by Detroit art and clothing brand Secret Stash.
In 2016 Misogi, will be releasing his long awaited and oft-delayed PLAYMISOGI® project, which features London rapper Danny Seth, Fifty Grand and more. Beyond the Misogi persona the young producer is currently at work under a number of different aliases, from Suicide part. 2 to ape, so expect more from those side-projects too.
3. Tennyson – Like What EP
I first caught Tennyson on SoundCloud when someone reposted a song called “Violet Alturas” and was struck by the tune, just because of how expansive it was in it’s three short minutes, incorporating hip-hop, downtempo and video-game styles into a very catchy tune.
Bubbly, jazz-influenced, videogame-like, electronic, hip-hop; there are a lot of ways to define the sound the duo are crafting. Originally a solo project from Luke Tennyson, last year his sister Tess, a drummer joined and the Canadian duo have been on the rise to prominence ever since, with Canadian king of kawaii Ryan Hemsworth featuring their song “You’re Cute” as the first release of his semi-label Secret Songs.
Releases have been fairly sparse over the last year or so in the form of a few loosies but that changed with the sudden announcement of the first official EP since 2012’s Blamer. Like What came and seized the attention of those caught sleeping on the pair. All of the things that make Tennyson’s sound so compelling are there – the warm chords, genre blends, the videogame-injected nostalgia that the SNES-esque sounds inspire. They’ve grown massively.
Across the project, Tess’ range as a drummer and Luke’s as a singer come out in full view, and the duo’s ability to craft timeless songs with roots in many places is unmissable.
4. Toro y Moi – Samantha
He’s not as unknown as some of the others in this list, but Toro y Moi’s free hip-hop mixtape Samantha was pretty much the biggest curveball in music this year. Proclaimed by the Internet as one of the primary acts behind the chillwave genre following his debut album Causers of This, Chaz would go on to break down any boxes ascribed to him, moving into neo-psychedelic, indie-pop, indie-rock, house and R&B in later projects.
With all that in the bag maybe we should’ve seen hip-hop as the next thing he’d tackle, but nobody could’ve expected the amount of variety and experimenting Samantha contains. Musically, it’s all over the place, but it’s still very much so a Toro project, with traces of past styles and albums everywhere. Half of the songs sound like they could be loosies from any of Toro’s past releases bar What For? due to it’s rock origins, and that makes sense as the songs were made between 2012 and 2015, evidenced by the track titles.
One of the best things about the project is Chaz’s confidence in taking the backseat vocally; Samantha is made up of fully constructed Toro pieces, instrumentals, concepts and a number of songs where the guests take the spotlight. Rome Fortune shines on two, with “Pitch Black” being one of the best rap-producer collaborations this year.
The project plays out like a series of loosely connected parts in one massive stream of consciousness, a microcosm of Toro’s albums in a sense, which are as much standalone releases as they are aural aspects of the man born Chazwick Bundik.
5. EASTGHOST – Omniscient, They
With an identity as harrowing as his music, Virginia artist EASTGHOST has taken his persona to another level this year, the crowning moment being his concept album Omniscient, They.
If you haven’t guessed it from the title, the concepts of God, existence and death feature heavily in the STYLSS member’s work, referenced in artwork, project descriptions and SoundCloud tags. It’s impossible to not think about said concepts while listening to his music, which goes between ambient, experimental trap and hip-hop at a fast pace. Omniscient, They embodies that variety well: the opening song, “Wraith” has a two-minute intro with delicate, clockwork keys before descending into heavy 808-trap, “Out of my Hands” draws from UK-garage and is reminiscent of Burial and Four Tet, “Flint Hills” is a restful, guitar-lead dream. Those are just the first three tracks.
If that sounds jarring, rest assured that working outside of genres is one of EASTGHOST’s specialties. The whole project flows from start to finish as an atmospheric journey, and offers numerous moments that have had me pining to listen to each song again and again.
What’s next for EASTGHOST is unknown, but he did just release A LIGHT AT THE END, an EP made of tracks written individually and produced in a single sitting. Due to that it’s a lot more raw and minimal than Omniscient, They, but it’s just as compelling. EASTGHOST also recently put out “No Resistance No Demons”; the third release on WEDIDIT’s side-imprint TOMBSTONE RECORDINGS.
6. submerse – Stay Home
Expanding your sound is something that an artist should always consider, but it feels like it’s been more of a reoccurring theme this year than most. submerse might be one of the best examples of it. Starting out as a garage producer years ago, the UK-born, Tokyo-based musician eventually moved towards a sample-based electronic hip-hop sound that lead to him being signed to German record outfit Project Mooncircle.
After hearing Knxwledge and Ahnnu come together and embrace footwork as VATOGATO&CAKEDOG for their DGM.VOL.1_ project, another great release from this year that you’ll find in the honourable mentions below, submerse was inspired to do the same, the results of which are the basis of his release Stay Home.
Compared to Knxwledge and Ahnnu’s hip-hop releases, submerse’s have always felt more wistful and nostalgic, and blending those warm 80-bpm dreams with the fast paced percussion of 160-bpm footwork made for a project that pays tribute to it’s influences while feeling like it exists in a space outside of them.
The “Snorlax” producer is currently at work on his next Project Mooncircle release due next year, and beyond that has starting producing New Jack Swing under the name bobbycrystal.
7. Archy Marshall – A New Place 2 Drown
In the two years since his debut LP, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, Archy Marshall, better known as King Krule, worked with his older brother Jack on a project that would shake up his sound. The work eventually lead to his sophmore LP A New Place 2 Drown, the first released under his real name. Not just an album, the project also takes the form of a short film and an art book featuring sketches, photographs and poetry from both Marshall brothers.
Musically, the album acts as a statement regarding Marshall’s confidence and comfort in the zone he creates music in. It’s hip-hop and jazz-infused, but any influences have been made to come to Marshall and fit his sound. It’s an honest album, but not a King Krule one.
He’s grown as a producer, finding a space where his vocals are used as an instrument that intertwines with his instrumentals, crooning melancholic stories or oohs and ahhs over beats that draw from low-fi, grime, electronic, post-dubstep and garage sounds expertly. Everything works together in the same way, and the whole album fits neatly as a package of sounds that appear like single moments in one long memory, never lingering.
8. Christian Rich – FW14
Christian Rich’s production credits date as far back as 2003, but in the last few years twin brothers Kehinde and Taiwo Hassan have been working to step out on their own. Mentored by Pharrell and Shae Haley of N.E.R.D., they’ve worked with Raekwon, Diddy, Chris Brown and more, but their debut album FW14 shows that they’re ready to step into the spotlight.
Working with notable names such as Sinead Harnett, GoldLink and Vince Staples, the Los Angeles duo uses versatile production and vocal chops courtesy of the LA-based duo keep themselves as the subject of focus. Niia’s croons get twisted and cut up towards the end of the anthemic “Bells,” Angela McClusky gets paired with a pitched down version of herself in the steady R&B joint “Real Love,” and funk legend Steve Arrington echoes over album closer “What Can I Say.”
The album is somewhat conceptual; themed in space and time tales, with audio clips and sounds that draw from the themes, and it crosses many of the styles the producers have encountered and embraced in their long-standing careers.
9. George Clanton – 100% Electronica
Although known better as ESPRIT 空想 and Mirror Kisses at the time, George Clanton decided to shed both aliases for his free LP, 100% Electronica, the most personal project yet from the producer known for his vaporwave and chillwave output.
Blurring both genres George’s vocals and productions channel modern memories of 80’s pop-rock, video games and VHS tapes. The album features new songs and reworks of some of the singles we’ve seen from the Brooklyn-based producer over the past two years. The incredible closer, “Kill You In Be,”, loses the outro it had when it was a Mirror Kisses release, and gains a new intro that takes up half of it’s running time. It’s the build-up it always deserved, given how powerful the main theme is.
George finding his voice is a defining point of his sound since he started using his real name. His vocalised ideas and thoughts over vivid pop instrumentals encourage varied emotions. A single song can result in a range of feelings here, and the whole project is more relatable because of it.
10. froyo ma – pants
The internet’s favourite frozen yogurt-loving producer has been crafting smooth hip-hop instrumentals a few years now. His sounds are as unique as his illustrations, and after building a consistent portfolio of evocative songs released few and far apart he finally dropped his debut EP pants in October of this year.
Made in the space of a week, the free EP is a jazz-fuelled affair that brings together horns, guitars and vocals in a heart-warming blend. The handful of vocalists make the songs stand out even more; rappers Yote and J’von come correct on “squid limbo” and “olive green” respectively, froyo himself sings on “there” and Charlotte Day Wilson croons emotional vocals over delicate synths on the incredible “spent missing”.
While each song is distinctive enough to stand on it’s own, the cohesion across the playful project feels like just a glimpse of what’s to come from the young producer in 2016.
Insightful – All That Is Left Is Right
Flamingosis – Pleasure Palette
Geode – Plankton Gravy
Mike Gao – MIGAMO
Mozaic – I-95
SELVSSE – Rituals
starRo – Emotion
Ta-Ku – Songs to Break Up To
VATOGATO&CAKEDOG – DGM.VOL.1_
Warren Xclnce & Reiss G – Rough Sketches