As stated in my songs list, this year has been dominated by strong female musicians. That rings true in this albums list, as well. What we also can see are a few other themes. You’ll notice a strong political drive here; Rightfully so as 2015 was one noticeable year when it came to society needing to band together. You will also see self discoveries that people endure to see what their roots are. You’ll finally see many artists trying to reinvent themselves, and almost all of these changes have led these musicians in the same direction: Sounding more mainstream. Well, we have a lot to get through and many great albums to check out! Here are my top 25 albums of 2015!
25. Speedy Ortiz-Foil Deer [April 21]
After Major Arcana, Speedy Ortiz broke into the music scene with one hell of a peculiar name and quite a bite. The eventual follow up, Foil Deer, lends its sound from the Speedy Ortiz catalogue we’re already familiar with. Something with Foil Deer sounds a little bit more rounded, however, and it may be the production serving the chutzpah and gnash the lyrics, guitars and drums carry. Listen to Ginger and feel the coating of glitter that you get buried in, and you’ll get a good sense of how cheeky this record is. The symbol of a deer made of foil is fitting, as this album of the same name is equally as cutesy and jagged. Speedy Ortiz to the rescue one again!
24. Joanna Newsom-Divers [October 23]
Divers is by far Joanna Newsom’s easiest album yet. It is less confrontational than The Milky-Eyed Mender, far less idiosyncratic than Ys, and much shorter than the three album triumph Have One On Me. Still, Newsom continues to belt out descriptors of her everyday sights via articulated harp plucks, her illusionistic lyrics and her token folk voice. Each song on Divers climaxes with purity, and while almost anything Newsom has touched ends up rounding off on a powerful ending, these songs will certainly sit well with a wider audience. Divers is, perhaps, not Newsom’s opus, but it is certainly her best album for a beginning listener. It has welcomed new listeners with much more open arms than her past efforts, no matter how spectacular they may be. Maybe it’s because of Newsom’s blossoming career through music and now film. It could be her recent marriage taking its affect on her music. Either way, you used to have to understand Joanna Newsom to get her. Now, Divers will make you get what she’s all about and what makes her special within milliseconds. Give Divers a spin, then venture forth into anything else she’s ever made and see why she continues to be the closest thing to Joni Mitchell of this age.
23. Dr. Dre-Compton [August 7]
Detox was supposed to have been released years ago, and we got a bit of a look into what it would eventually sound like with some new songs. It was awful, and Dr. Dre admitted it too after Compton came out. Compton was a much better result anyways. It was far less stale in tone and by the numbers in formula. For his final album, Dr. Dre put out an unexpected collage of most of his past and present friends (Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and then some). This army goes head first into the tropes of Compton, and the album is a bittersweet reminder that some things never change. Compton is sadly still notorious and hip hop is still as bloodthirsty as when Dre’s NWA first burst out of that titular city. Nonetheless, Compton is a solid hip hop release and far stronger than Detox would ever have been (even according to the doctor’s diagnosis).
22. Waxahatchee-Ivy Tripp [April 7]
Katie Crutchfield has had a lot of success with Waxahatchee, especially after her breakthrough album Cerulean Salt. Ivy Tripp is a worthy successor that essentially performs the same kind of tricks the former album would but with a wiser mind. A song like La Loose, with its deep production, wouldn’t have existed for Crutchfield back in 2013, but on Ivy Tripp it sits comfortably. Out of all of the girl rock submissions on this list, Waxahatchee is certainly one of the more straight forward musicians lyrically. She allows her music to speak for itself mostly (unless she describes someone she left out like a spoiled carton of milk). Her stronger use of synth sounds takes away a bit of the sting in her grungy tones, so Waxahatchee is set apart as a more individual identity in her field. It’s a more mature sound for Crutchfield, and another stepping stone in her evolution.
21. Deerhunter-Fading Frontier [October 16]
You’d think you can peg the dream rock group Deerhunter down with a label by now. Not quite yet. Fading Frontier is a slight departure that has made Deerhunter– oddly enough– groovy. The use of electronic back beats (Living my Life) and straight up funk notions (Snakeskin) is unlike anything Deerhunter as a group have touched upon before. Perhaps one of their side projects (Either Cox’s Atlas Sound or Pundt’s Lotus Plaza) may have been expected to be this poppy before Deerhunter ever got here, but oh well. The point is that it works. We’ve heard the group touch upon some seriously dark matters for an entire album before (Halcyon Digest, anyone?), so it’s nice to see a bit of a variation here. While it is admirable for groups to always push themselves to their limits, Deerhunter have proved that taking a step back also helps once in a while too. It isn’t as ambitious as Halcyon Digest or Microcastle, but Fading Frontier is no less welcome. It’s a change of pace after Bradford Cox’s accident, and it is a new opportunity for a signature sound to express itself differently. Fading Frontier is another check mark for Deerhunter; Even their more accessible stuff rocks.
20. Sleater-Kinney-No Cities to Love [January 20]
Holy shit. One of the strongest girl groups of all time is back, and they’re not taking any names. Sleater-Kinney has one of the strongest discographies you can imagine, and No Cities to Love is certainly another addition to this legacy. It’s everything you want from this power trio. It has sputtering guitars that somehow assemble each strum stutter together to make a melody. The bass is constantly fighting to be on top of things. The drums judge the fighting lead instruments from afar by effectively keeping it all together. No Cities to Love is a stiff upper lip that sounds fresh with the blood still trickling. This has been a great year for girl rock groups, and it was an effective time for one of the very best examples of this style to return. Bow down!
19. Miguel-WIldheart [June 29]
When you first hear the song A Beautiful Exit, you are already in for quite a ride. Wildheart is Miguel’s greatest album by light years, and it is 2015’s sexiest effort. A Beautiful Exit is a stellar intro track that sets the tone for the release quite well. It contains sultry vocals, some rock muscle, r&b suaveness and funk happiness. You can see Miguel’s love for artists like Prince and D’Angelo (who will also appear on this list) is quite strong, yet it is singular enough to not be a carbon copy. The guitars accent the nightlife. The bass settles itself nicely in your body. The beats will echo and bounce off within the walls of your brain. Then Miguel’s lyrics will dictate how the evening wil go with sheer confidence. He can sing about having fun, escaping it all or simply about the art of sex. No matter what his indulgences for the night are, Wildheart is as smooth as silk.
18. Tame Impala-Currents [June 17]
Kevin Parker has made Tame Impala an illusion. It felt like an entire band was behind the music of the last two Tame Impala albums, but really it was mostly Parker’s child. Currents may still sound like a fully fledged band, but it is clearly the most individual album of his we’ve heard yet. The whole experiment is a question of where he goes from here. He’s tired of his past life, and he’s transformed before he was even able to stop it. Currents is the study of how we all change whether we like it or not, and how we still feel stale because this evolution wasn’t enough for us. The music has lodged itself within the 80’s and is far more electronic sounding than anything Parker has ever been a part of. If you are scared by the album’s message on life, you will easily be persuaded by how infectious it is. If only all of our questions about life were this rewarding.
17. Earl Sweatshirt-I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album By Earth Sweatshirt [March 23]
This surprise record (one whose release was even too early for Earl Sweatshirt himself, and his fury was known publicly) is short in length but long in history. Within a half hour, you will have came into Sweatshirt’s room, had a look around, maybe had a puff or two and had the sit down talk about isolation. It’s past midnight, and we’re swapping our own personal demons back and forth while we are too tired to second guess our actions. These songs are troublesome but they end with fun outros to shroud up whatever you had just heard. Once we’ve been told enough, it’s curtains and we’re told the informal interview is done. We are sent out wanting more, but all we can do is search for more answers within the footage we got. Well, through complex lyricism and fog filled and dangerous beats, Sweatshirt’s ode to voluntary loneliness is worth diving deeper into to revisit that meeting again and again.
16. Lana Del Rey-Honeymoon [September 18]
The time has come. We are no longer seeing Lana Del Rey as a poster child of pop scrutiny. Honeymoon might not have been as immediately flashy as the vastly different Ultraviolence, but boy did it ever grow on me and become her greatest work. It is skyscraper high in orchestration and a road trip long in confessional lyrics. Del Rey has not changed her goal, but she’s proven that she has more to offer with it. She has made that soundtrack to a non existant movie she’s always wanted, and it’s steeped in heartbreak, envy and bitterness. When she claims she’ll never sing again in Swan Song, people may have encouraged her when the public was far harder on her. Now, that line is devestating. We’ve seen Lana Del Rey’s capabilities and we shall never doubt her again.
15. Courtney Barnett-Sometimes I Sit and Think Sometimes I Just Sit [March 20]
Alt rock’s newest baroness is the sarcastic and edgy Courtney Barnett. This self analysis is part rant and part surrender. Even the quieter tracks will carry enough sneer to kick you in the ass. This may seem like a first album, but Barnett has enough self perseverance to not have any competition stand in her way within the genre. She screams and she cries and she discharges all of her demons all over the walls. It’s a bit of a rusty album, but it is calculated to be that way. As unfurnished as it feels, you always feel assured that it was meant to be as straight up rock as it can be. It works, too, with memorable jab after memorable jab (lyrically or through power chord chugs) surfing your way.
14. Deafheaven-New Bermuda [October 2]
To follow up Sunbather is a stressful enough task, but Deafheaven rose to the occasion with some pummeled ease. This contradiction worked best because the band still had pained roads they had still yet to explore. Enter New Bermuda: The will to enter a new land to escape the damned world we are shoved into. New Bermuda is a look on the bright side that is still inflicted with sorrow, so the most cheerful you’ll get is that, hey, you’re still here. The fight is good as long as you’re still fighting. New Bermuda may be depressing, but at Deafheaven’s most metal driven and explorative state yet, you may have a good chance at finding positivity outside of the dark well you seek to climb out of. With a consecutively strong release, there is no longer a singular bar. Deafheaven can put out whatever they damn well feel like at this rate.
13. Father John Misty-I Love You Honeybear [February 9]
This Joshua Tillman album that is easily the best thing he has touched –either as himself, a member of another band or as Father John Misty– is bitterly twisted. It is a conceptual love letter stuffed with enough envy to combat its adoration. His use of swearing and slang feels so necessary because of his unabashes sensations he is feeling, whether it be childish joy or teenage hurt. We start the album off with a name being repeated (Honeybear) and we end the story with Tillman asking a woman her name. The album goes in circles, just like anyone who struggles with love. We end right where we begin, and that alone is more real than the luscious orchestrations, blunt poetry and soul searching vocals.
12. Panda Bear-Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper [January 9]
Noah Lennox released an interesting extended play last year, including the babbling Mr. Noah. He followed up with the early release of his strongest pop record Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. We got what we expected sonically: It’s a lazer being shot into our brains until the point of melting. What we maybe didn’t see coming was the fight behind the lyrics. Lennox is older, more protective and more wise. He feels comfortable enough talking about his fears of death, his responsibility with leaving a legacy for his kids, and even revisiting his father’s death (something he first touched upon with release). This album is a cornucopia of the richest foods that will leave you with more than just a satisfied appetite. You’ll feel fulfilled spiritually, too.
11. Godspeed You! Black Emperor-Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress [March 31]
You are pummeled with war drums, and then the barrage begins. You see the blood spill before your very eyes, until it is all over. You are then stuck alone as you look for your loved ones. You fight the chilling time before the second and final attack. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is a frightening album that works as a single song that is divided into chapters in order to make sense of it all. Godspeed You! Black emperor have released a savage album full of tension, bloodlust and vengeance; You get all of this without a single word being uttered. In times of dire needs, Godspeed have always had something to say. In one of the most political years in recent memory, something that leaves the message up to you as much as this album does is essential.
10. U.S. Girls-Half Free [September 25]
Sororal Feelings begins this album with talk about the hanging of one’s self from their own family’s tree. What a great start we get, and it’s certainly a teaser of things to come. Meg Remy is fascinated with old pop culture and modern problems in society; Maybe because she can see what has changed and what hasn’t. She has a voice like Ronnie Spector that pummels the music behind her with such a lingering push. The music itself can be a bit modernized through heavy guitars or electronic beats, but her heart lies within the years of the Spector reign. Her thoughts, however, fear what we have become. The skit Telephone Play No. 1 has her talking to a friend about a bizarre dream that results in her saying that girls nowadays don’t have self esteem. There’s a creepy sounding laugh track that roars, and you can almost see Remy shrug and whisper “it’s true” once it happens. Meg Remy should rest assured that Half Free is one of the biggest surprised of the year, and that her great sense of her own style will make her a huge name one day.
9. Vince Staples-Summertime ’06 [June 30]
Yeah, maybe taking a deep look at your youth is a common theme nowadays in music, especially hip hop. If rappers can do this well, then it doesn’t pose as a problem. Vince Staples has finally released his debut, and he looks back on his younger days with foggy goggles. He describes less of what he sees and more of what he remembers in his own mind. He is tough enough to run from no one but “the police” and he calls all of the shots. When he finally admits reality, we get tracks like Summertime and Like it Is which carry so much weight on them. Don’t worry, there are more than enough flashy tracks here to keep you in high spirits. Then there’s the production that comes from nowhere on Earth. Beats are pounding hearts distorted by a deafening adrenaline and melodies are voices in Staples’ head. Summertime ’06 is a fancy, formal introduction to the world as much as it is a warning sign. We haven’t seen a hip hop album quite as vivid as good kid maad city, and look how Kendrick Lamar followed that. I’m excited for what’s next for Vince Staples all the same.
8. Beach House-Depression Cherry/Thank Your Lucky Stars [August 28/October 16]
I had to cheat. There was no way I could rank either of these albums above one another or simply eliminate one of them. So here we are. We have two very different Beach House releases ready for your cathartic consumption. Depression Cherry is a noisier effort that darkens the sky and fuels the fire. This album drones and rotates sounds like a tornado of thoughts. Then we have Thank Your Lucky Stars, its radically different sister album. This release tells you bed time stories in a small and dim room from the perspective of a nervous parental figure. The music is more contained but the lyrics cannot hold back as much. Both releases are tremendous, sterling and signature Beach House. You can’t do better than an album anchored by textures and another sketched by candlelights.
7. Oneohtrix Point Never-Garden of Delete [November 13]
It takes a lot to come close to something as moving as Replica, and producer Daniel Lopatin– identified as Oneohtrix Point Never– has come close already. He hasn’t come as close as he has with Garden of Delete, but his latest record will affect you in a very different way. See, this album is not a copilation of sounds to mimic unity. It’s purpousfully disconnected, and each hiccup is, in itself, its own piece of the puzzle once you get used to the visible holes. Within a sacred topiary of evil, you can feel which parts have been sheared by rusty clippers. Some parts feel natural and graceful, others may be quite off putting. It’s parts Boards of Canada, parts Skinny Puppy. It’s wholly twisted, though, and blips or no blips, Garden of Delete may be the ultimate test of keeping you on your toes musically this year.
6. Grimes-Art Angels [November 6]
All lazy pop is inexcusable now. It may sell well, but it’s been caught red handed with Art Angels’s exemplary production and magnitude. Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, was determined to make her mark with pop music and she damn well has with this much more bubbly response to her acclaimed album Visions. Here, we are treated to a universal pop buffet. Take your pick: English girl groups, American songstress or any waves of the far east (C, J or K pop). It’s all here in droves, and it smudges together much more nicely than you’d think. Art Angels is a feminist fist in the air that knocks over both mainstream music and societal standards. Grimes was an interesting musician before, but now she’s a massive name in the pop world. You can count how many times I’ve already used the p-word, but no album this year popped quite like this one.
5. Björk-Vulnicura [January 20]
Time can pass slowly during an hour of need. Björk’s call for the world lasts an hour, and it is the exquisitely shattered Vulnicura. With the creepy production help from Arca and The Haxan Cloak, we have experienced Björk’s common avant pop sensations in a darker light. Toss in the last years of Björk’s life and you’ll see her struggles to move on from a relationship that lasted years, got stale in months and died overnight. She croons about her last kisses and last intercourses, but it isn’t enough. That moment leads into Black Lake, the longest song on the album and the final realization that it’s all over. Vulnicura is the fight to keep love alive, the demise of love, and the regeneration of love through other outlets in life. It is in chronological order from her break up to her movement forward, and it is Björk’s strongest work in over a decade. She once claimed that all is full of love, and the last third is her beautiful reminder to herself that she will find it once again. She’s just hit fifty, but she’s far from calling it quits.
4. Jamie XX-In Colour [May 29]
In Colour was an album that was kind of worked on in between tours and other releases by Jamie XX. If this was somewhat of a thing he was cooking up, I cannot even imagine where he can go from here. In Colour is a stained glass mural of electronic delicacy. It is like that tunnel Willy Wonka dragged his winning guests through but instead much more joyful. You coast through a mirage of feelings and temperatures as you explore all types of electronic genres. It is a seamless result that blends all of its sounds and years into a constant experience. This is the result of a gifted producer, especially if it was only a project he did on the side. Jamie XX is a prodigy, and we haven’t seen anything from him yet.
3. D’Angelo-Black Messiah [December 15. 2014]
D’Angelo had vanished from the public eye for years after being labeled as a sex symbol and a wreckless individual. He came back when the time was right; When the world needed a voice. Before other artists spoke out against brutality, comment on modern sexuality and the need to go back in such a way that 2015 demanded, D’Angelo jumped the gun late 2014. I couldn’t include it on my list then, but Black Messiah is luckily more of an album of this year anyways. It is raw and funky with some killer rhythms; Evidence that the riot Sly Stone claimed was going on is still thriving. It is as self conscious as it is bold. It is the most electrifying album D’Angelo has touched. When we needed a voice of reason the most, D’Angelo was the disappeared vigilante that swooped in and saved the day. 2014 or not, we’ll make an exception to give this funk fest its righteous dues.
2. Kendrick Lamar-To Pimp a Butterfly [March 15]
Let’s get this out of the way: To Pimp a Butterfly is– by far and beyond– the most ambitious album of the year. This is both a story that moves forward quite like material Kendrick Lamar has crafted before and a glass globe that curves in on itself. It is its own world where each song gets pulled into all other songs via a wormhole, but the piece that propels it forwards is Lamar’s slowly dictated poem he’s dying to tell. He adds a new line, as we are swept into the years of history that pack each line with juice. We visit every spot where Lamar realized more about his own culture while we experience all forms of music that has been attached to it: hip hop, rnb, jazz, funk, reggae and more. To Pimp a Butterfly is a lesson and an experience. It is good now, but it will only become more and more important within the rap game (if it isn’t already an instant classic) within the upcoming years. When you get to peer in on Lamar’s conversation with his idol Tupac Shakur at a fancy lounge, you’ll feel rewarded after such a soul search. If this isn’t proof that Lamar has a gift, you’ll never get it.
1. Sufjan Stevens-Carrie and Lowell [March 31]
Only one album could beat anything as complete as To Pimp a Butterfly. That album spoke about the talents of a new face. Here is a triumphant effort by a veteran songwriter who is bringing everything back down to earth and the six feet below ground in which we will all one day unite. Carrie and Lowell is Sufjan Steven’s greatest release and by far the most emotional listen I have had this decade thus far (and maybe even the decade before). Any happy song (Carrie and Lowell, Death with Dignity, The Only Thing) immediately becomes a well of sorrow, much like a young Stevens having his childhood innocence struck by realizations. This album tracks his days of youth being gripped by fear, and also his adulthood steaming with regrets and the will to stay alive (as hard as that may be).
We get a lot of scary images here. We see his mother Carrie unconscious on the floor either from alcohol or medication, Stevens wandering a video store abandoned as a child, his bones laying still after years of decomposition and his self sacrifice as he hangs crucified on a cross. It is a graphic album, but I can guarantee that it will be hard to find anything more real within modern music. He willingly accepts a fate in hell if it’ll end his suffering on Earth, and he finds the most purity either from animals or newborn infants: Everyone else is equally as poisoned. Every song here dies, either with a stretched gasp, a fading whisper or an immediate collapse. You hear studio noise or background ambience, and you can tell these are the thoughts hurting Stevens while he sits alone in these respective spots. As difficult as this album is, I have listened to this countless times this year; More times than any other, actually. This album will creep into best of lists in the future, but I won’t give it the modest satisfaction of fading away. It is my number one album of the year, and I’ll be damned if anything comes close to this collection of pathos anytime soon.