The best albums of 2015 is tough! This year has had a bumper harvest of freaking good new music, even in ‘long player’ form.
The way this normally works (in my head aka on this blog) is there’s a list below of individual songs cherry-picked from what I think are the albums of the year. But if you’re the kind of person who can’t even be bothered to read thi…
This is the YouTube best albums playlist, Google Play Music, and this one is Spotify.
Click. Go. It’s fine. You’ll be missed. I’ll cry.
An interesting side note however is that if you try to create a ‘best of’ list across different online platforms, you suddenly become very aware of the gaps. So the list below and the YouTube playlist consists of 35 videos of 35 songs, selected from 35 albums.
Try to find those same songs on Google Play Music and you only end up with a list of 33 songs – no new Joanna Newsom or Sir Richard Bishop albums there.
Try the same on Spotify and the list is only 31 of the best albums of the year, with some artists not even appearing. That means you’re missing Jim O’Rourke (best album of the year poss?), Joanna Newsom, Sir Richard Bishop and death’s dynamic shroud.wmv.
Also worth noting if you’re not dependent on one platform alone, this is the best albums of 2015, so on each of the three platforms there are different songs from the albums so if you listen to one list, you could have a completely different listening experience on another platform… well, not completely different.
Anyway, if you’ve got the 15 mins necessary to read the guff I’ve cobbled together about the albums, read on (and might I add, you’re looking very fine today!)
1. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop)
Yeah, I’m a white dude with a beard, loving this white dude with a beard’s hipster music. All true.
It’s a very good album though, which makes not liking it nigh on impossible. For me, it’s definitely one of the top three albums of the year.
Okay, lets play this out quickly, possible criticisms, sometimes he sounds too much like Kris Kristofferson, and other times like Sufjan Stevens or Son Lux… True, could be called slightly less original, but that’s like sounding like Lou Reed, Frank Zappa or Tom Waits, which album?! They created new styles almost every time, so it’s all amorphous, and almost every song on the album has different influences and heritage. And that’s impressive.
Also, to quote the line about Explosions In The Sky, he destroys live.
2. Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs (Drag City)
Jim O’Rourke is a bit of a hero all said, and I may well have called this album as the ‘album of the year‘ already in 2015, and to be honest, I think it probably is.
Simple Songs are anything but simple.
Superficially the album sounds like Scott Walker, Joe Cocker, The Beatles and Can. But then also like Minus The Bear, Fiery Furnaces, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and other more modern influences. It’s a kind of scientific synthesis of a hefty chunk of post-Elvis music.
But at the same time it all makes sense. Its brilliance is confounding. Listen. Now.
3. Shannon And The Clams – Gone By The Dawn (Hardly Art Records)
Surf rock, motown R&B and 60s pop appear to have collided into a band that seems to have named themselves after the Del Shannon guitar sound.
If you’re feeling sinister, you might call this derivative, but it’s really worth listening to the whole thing. To coin a phrase, fun for all the family…
4. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Interscope Records)
I wanted to dislike this album. The advertising and marketing budget behind it seemed endless, but when I finally listened to it, it’s a great album.
Hip hop is a world of extremes for me, some awesome innovation and quite a bit of lazy stagnation. This is very much in the first camp, musically at least. In fact the contributors to this album were also stiff competition this year, including Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, Chance the Rapper and Earl Sweatshirt.
Many other elements don’t sit as well with me for obvious reasons, ranging from the implied sexism of the lyrics through to the business partnership with Reebok.
When music or musicians diverge that far from my political believes or become about business partnerships with massive corporations, I tend to switch off, so it’s testament to how good this album is.
5. J Fernandez – Many Levels of Laughter (Joyful Noise Recordings)
Those lovely bastards at Joyful Noise Recordings once again putting out a fantastic record. I know very little about J Fernandez, and heard this largely because of the label connection, but it’s an outstanding and understated album of beauty.
6. Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa (World Circuit)
Apart from listening to a little Congolese R&B and Staff Benda Bilili (two of whose members formed Mbongwana Star), I can definitely say I’m not an expert on Congolese music.
This album is phenomenal though. Citing the experiences of touring the world with Staff Benda Bilili and hearing diverse influences, Mbongwana Star have produced an album that melds contemporary and traditional Congolese sounds with international influences to create a new sound (not like The Mighty Boosh).
7. Surfer Blood – 1000 Palms (Joyful Noise Recordings)
One of the albums I’ve listened to most this year, this is basically and updating of the college rock sound, with a definite ear for the pop sound.
It’s one of those rareties, an album that most people seem to like if you stick it on in a crowd, but is also really worth listening to by itself.
It’s a bittersweet story though as guitarist and backing vocalist Thom Fekete shortly after its release was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. He’s been pretty much incapacitated at home for much of the year, but has allowed him to record and release Burner, the proceeds of which will go to help pay for his treatment (US medical – wtf).
8. Reptar – Lurid Glow (Joyful Noise Recordings)
Naming yourself after a Rugrats character sets a certain tone, which they kind of deliver on.
It is hipster-friendly, let’s just be open about that, but at the same time they’re doing things that the likes of Vampire Weekend promised like a Tory government promising to be the greenest government ever…
This is their third major release, and second album. Body Faucet was a fantastic album, and this year’s Lurid Glow is good, but is partially overshadowed by the promise of the last album. They’ve definitely plugged in more of the Talking Heads this time around, which is good for some, but the Afropop rhythms are missed. More in my full Reptar rundown.
9. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier (4AD)
Deerhunter’s Microcastle was a high point for me. They switched from Kranky to 4AD which could have been tricky, and they definitely didn’t quite deliver for me on their last, Monomania.
Fading Frontier somehow brings back something that I loved about them. This is the album I’ve listened to least on this list, but is also one of the most approachable. I’ll be getting further into it over the holidays without question.
10. Chorusgirl – Chorusgirl (Fortuna POP!)
Hoorah a new band makes the list. London-based by way of Germany, Chorusgirl make pulsing and urgent sounding jangle pop. Yeah, yeah, contradictions will abound in these reviews. Guess that’s how it goes!
They’ve drunk of the same inspiration (or cider) as The Cure, but with the additional kick of Siouxsie And The Banshees.
Damn, did I just undermine that a new band made the list by saying they sound like great 80s pop?
[unembeddable from YouTube, but watch here]
11. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (Milk Records)
“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you”. I may be talking from the perspective of living in Australia, but pedestalling seems to have happened this year. Albeit not so much the disappointing.
This is her first proper ‘album’, meaning it was designed to be a long player, and there are some good tracks on it. I wouldn’t say I’m wild about it, but there’s some really good songwriting happening here.
What happens next will be all important.
12. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy (Merge)
I’ve deliberately kept Titus Andronicus away from Kendrick Lamar as they describe him as a shoe spokesperson. They’re not really wrong, and I do appreciate their earnest adherence to the values of music as a thing in itself. From that perspective they make better bedfellows with Godspeed than anyone else on this list.
The music itself is alive with passion. I really enjoyed Andrew Cedarmark’s sojourns away from the band on Moon Deluxe, and as a band they’re vital, punky garagey brilliance.
This is the closest I’ve heard to someone carrying The Ramones torch this year, and it also weirdly plays with the drama of a rock opera!
13. Pearl and the Beard – Beast (No label)
Known as ‘musician’s musicians’ they’re a talented bunch and no mistake. I wasn’t a fan of their last outing Killing The Darlings, but still regularly listen to their first, God Bless Your Weary Soul, Amanda Richardson.
Beast is a return to form. Not quite reaching the heights of GBYWSAR, but bold and actually a lot more fun!
14. Joanna Newsom – Divers (Drag City)
I think I’m only just starting to realise quite how divisive Joanna Newsom is. It seems more of my male friends like her than female, but given her debt to Kate Bush, that surprises me somewhat.
Divers is an album of extraordinary creative agility. I have never been a huge fan of her work, although I did enjoy the Milk-Eyed Mender and YS.
Personally I think this one blows them both out of the water. Definitely worth a listen.
Also, fun fact: her hubby is Andy Samberg of The Lonely Island fame.
15. Sir Richard Bishop – Tangier Sessions (Drag City)
This may be the album where someone somewhere begins it without talking about his years in the Sun City Girls. Not me of course.
The man does things with guitars that were hitherto unknown, or at least not done in polite circles. It would be fair to say that his influences are more diverse than anyone else I can think of.
A genuinely indispensible musician creating the next volume in what is already an alarmingly incoherent and completely essential set of recordings.
16. Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet – 2 (Epigraph)
Krautrock and Ethiopian grooves don’t make the most obvious bedfellows, but stirred in with some psych-jazz, that is what’s on offer from these guys.
They’ve digested the Ethiopiques compilations, and essentially created the sound of a cosmic Mulatu Astatke. This also contains a lot of jazz and Chicago-scene post-rock influences.
17. Kamasi Washington – The Epic (Brainfeeder)
To name your own album The Epic displays a certain amount of… confidence.
The only way you can get away with it is to back it up with some extraordinary music, and Kamasi Washington has done that here. It’s a triple album homage to jazz over the years, with an obvious soft spot for the bebop era of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. There are similarly nods to Weather Report and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come.
Modern jazz is on the periphery of my musical tastes, but even if some want to write this album off as a greatest hits compilation of what jazz has achieved and become, rather than a bold new statement of what it could be. It is an inspiring recording.
He’s also one of the musicians who made To Pimp A Butterfly what it was this year through his arrangements.
18. Inventions – Maze Of Woods (Temporary Residence)
What do you get when you mix Eluvium and Explosions in the Sky? Quite literally this.
The spaciness of Matthew Cooper’s Eluvium blends quite perfectly with the aspirational, sky-reaching inclination of the post-rock guitarist, Matt T. Smith.
It’s kind of sweet that they named themselves Inventions to acknowledge that everybody could predict what this would sound like, but had the courage to still make it. And it’s very good!
19. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress (Constellation Records)
Some things never change, and Godspeed really don’t, except that time they moved the exclamation point from the end of their name to the middle. That shook me up, whereas this is still brilliant 20 years after they did something similar for the first time.
20. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – A Year With 13 Moons (Mexican Summer)
The multi-instrumentalist of Tarentel fame. Well, that could be a stretch, calling Tarentel famous in their home town is probably not really laudable.
Categorising this kind of music stumps me to be honest, but it falls somewhere between shoegaze, cosmic-electro, post-rock and ambient. And the best solution to that is to listen to it for a few minutes and there’s absolutely no rational reason to worry about its categorisation!
21. Floating Points – Elaenia (Luaka Bop)
Beyond the fact that David Byrne’s vouching for this guy (Sam Sheperd), you can feel how the music goes beyond the former meldings of hip hop, jazz, ambient and techno.
I was and at a push am still a fan of the Ninja Tunes versions of this, but this drops the groove in favours of exploring more in the jazz realm which keeps it interesting for longer… well, hopefully it will!
22. Helen – The Original Faces (Kranky)
Beautiful and strange music.
23. death’s dynamic shroud.wmv – I’ll Try Living Like This (Dream Catalogue)
Um, I have no idea who this lot are. I’ve no idea what they’re trying to do, but they sound like the best parts of Future Sound Of London, and that can’t be a bad thing!
24. Tom Brosseau – Perfect Abandon (Crossbill)
The appeal of Tom Brosseau is as much the timbre of his voice as the songs he writes and performs, although they are also excellent. I expect very few people try to cover his music as you could only really create a shadow of the original.
25. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
Sufjan Stevens has maintained a relatively high quality of albums for a long time now, and while this is a definitely less inspired, or at least imaginative release than The Age of Adz and others, it instead feels more honest.
It actually seems more like a Sun Kil Moon album, which makes me sad as it reminds me of what a poor follow up to Benji, Mark Kozelek’s Universal Themes was this year. Sigh.
26. Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now (Virgin / EMI)
He’s compared to Nina Simone and Antony Hegarty, and I seem to remember him winning a Mercury Music Prize some time. I heard Cornerstone, his debut EP back in 2013 and have been looking forward to a full length for a while.
It was worth the wait. This will be a career to follow.
27. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Colour (ATO)
It’s hard to imagine another track packing the punch of Hold On from their debut in 2013, but there’s plenty to love on Sound & Colour.
They channel the rawness of 70s soul and punk, while cleaning it up to be far more palatable to modern audiences. Tracks like Don’t Wanna Fight are instant modern trad classics. It’s great to have a mainstream band playing interesting music that’s developed from great influences.
28. This Is The Kit – Bashed Out (Brassland)
I was lucky enough to meet Kate Stables (aka This Is The Kit) and Rachael Dadd at a series of London folk gigs and as you might imagine, they’re both smart, kind and witty people.
So clearly for that story to become in anyway interesting I have a massive invested interest in both of their careers continuing to go on the up and up, and thankfully they are. Bashed Out is a beautiful album from start to finish, heartfelt, cheeky, sombre and whistle-able sometimes all in the same track.
Essential album of 2015, definitely, and one I’ve listened to the most.
29. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness (Domino)
Avant-pop? Is that a thing now?
For some reason I had expectations of this being akin to Patti Smith, but it’s more like Julee Cruise (of Twin Peaks fame). In reality it’s not like much else, the song writing sensibilities of Jim O’Rourke filtered through Julianna Barwick and Joanna Newsom. Nah, it’s pretty good and it’s not like much else.
And staggeringly, it’s also very easy to listen to!
30. The Staves – If I Was (Atlantic)
Major label artists doing safe music are pretty easy to dismiss, and admittedly there’s nothing challenging on this album really. But, they took their formula and gently built more layers on top of it, and this is a more dramatic and interesting album than they’ve managed before.
It’s dinner party music, but if you have to find inoffensive background music, this is pretty good for it.
31. Low – Ones and Sixes (Sub Pop)
Low have stripped back their sound, and with it their recent flirtations with a more upbeat tone. With Ones and Sixes, they’re back to the grief and fragility that has marked much of their output to date.
I really enjoyed The Invisible Way and the quirkier stories they were telling, but also love this return to what they do best.
32. Belle and Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance (Matador)
The crew delivered another typical Belle and Sebastian album this year. Their reputation as ‘the most sensitive indie band’ is further cemented with this album.
Lead singer and songwriter Stuart Murdoch was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome seven years ago, and it really feels like he starts to open up about it, and talk about the challenges and frustrations.
They maintain their deeply personal and emotive style on this album, but it’s never mawkish which is a very fine balance to achieve. Lyrics on Nobody’s Empire are probably the most upfront, such as:
“Life was way too much, it was loud and rough round the edges”
The beats keep things moving forward at the accustomed chirpy pace, but there’s a lot of feels on this album.
33. Destroyer – Poison Season (Merge)
I’ve been following Daniel Bejar’s Destroyer project for well over 10 years now, and enjoying much of the output.
With Poison Season he seems to have found place where he’s completely comfortable doing his thing, which coincidentally feels closer to 60’s Dylan than he ever has before.
34. A Grave With No Name – Feathers Wet Under The Moon (Lefse)
Lush. I don’t know the band well, but judging by the arrangements, harmonies and gentle vocals, they would be well worth exploring.
It’s a dream pop, space folk formula that is beguiling and can engulf you the more you listen to it.
35. Mew – + – (Play It Again Sam)
They deliver a driving space pop rock album, drawing liberally on bands that have preceded them. They’re Danish and the super clean Scandinavian pop sound seems to have got into their veins.
One reason I heard this album was remembering how much I enjoyed their album ten years ago And The Glass Handed Kites.
They are now a very polished version of proggy-dream rock, or as they put it, ‘Indie Stadium’ which seems like a pretty major shift away from when they were Frog Eyes or Menomena like, exploring experimental sounds and rhythms.
This probably isn’t really an album of the year, but 35 seemed a better number than 34…
Hmm, weird heading, but let’s roll with it.
David Bowie – Blackstar. So the <bunny ears>cheating</bunny ears> with including David Bowie would be that his album’s not out until January 2016. The Blackstar single is as usual intriguing and simultaneously off-putting – one of the few predictable things about Bowie for the last decade or so.
But the elements in Blackstar sound promising. He’s not turned his back on the slightly awkward Earthling dance experiments, but updates them and melds them with a healthy and cheeky dose of ‘borrowing from Scott Walker’.
He covered Scott Walker’s Amsterdam, which in turn Scott Walker had covered from Jacques Brel (reinforcing that quite a bit of innovation in British music owes a heavy French debt, without even starting on Brecht). This time, David Bowie isn’t covering his music, but the sound is certainly heavily influenced by the last few decades of Walker’s explorations.
I think this will be an entertaining album, or potentially a tad indulgent…
Beck – [unnamed album]. Yeah, that’s not a clever post-ironic album title. As far as I can tell Beck’s new album has no name despite releasing the upbeat and positively chirpy Dreams in the middle of this year.
Beck says he’s written this so he has something fun to play live, and it’s definitely a pop song which might moderate the shoegazey and trippy content of Morning Phase for his live shows.
It seems like as Morning Phase is to Sea Change, so this new album might be more in the Guero or Odelay vein.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Mindlessness. Sadly, and for the first time since 2002 as far as I can tell, there was no Bonnie “Prince” Billy album this year. There were a couple of singles however, and this little gem’s a b-side from the Mindfulness single released this year, albeit a track from A Singer’s Grave last year…
That’s why this section’s called cheats okay?
Stanley Brinks and The Wave Pictures – Orange Juice. This is just a gargantuan cheat. Not only is not on an album, it’s not even from this year…
But hear me out, I only heard it this year, and… hmm, yeah, that’s it. It’s ridiculously good and should be in your life, so give it a go 🙂
Having played in bands a little, and also been a reviewer for all sorts of outlets, this is probably the worst title a reviewer could write under. Then again, ‘big music’ is getting to be so industrialised, criticism of most of these acts, is more a criticism of how hard the industry has tried to force you to like them, or how much they’ve sold out to secure ubiquity across media channels (anyway, I’ll get back in my box now). This should probably be called the ‘justification of omissions’ section, but it’s less catchy right?
Wilco – Star Wars. I wish they’d made the list.
Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes. I haven’t quite given up on this one yet, there must be something great in it that I haven’t understood yet. Benji was so good last year…
Grimes – Art Angels. Could be persuaded on this one.
Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Meh.
Justin Bieber – Purpose. No. Oh c’mon, really really no.
Adele – 25. Adele is a talented singer, indisputably. She co-writes a lot of her own songs as well, which is a significantly higher involvement than most pop singers have with their music.
Having said that, I confess to having only heard a few tracks from 25, including the war machine that is “Hello”. Okay, that sounded strange.
I say ‘war machine’ because this album sounds like a business decision to achieve music genre domination rather than an album. She said in the writing of it, her manager rejected a lot of the songs, and she now describes them as ‘shit’. If the album tracks define what good enough is, then it’s a combination of 80s nostalgia and radio-friendly unit-shifter’s to a seriously detrimental extent.
However Adele is fantastically talented, and the sooner she does a ‘Scott Walker‘ and turns her back on the industry to write and perform from the heart again, the better.
Also, she’s on XL Recordings which I still remember fondly from pre-Badly Drawn Boy days when it was a rave and dance label with whopping credibility, so the above all seems a little off… In fact, The Prodigy were there biggest project back before they were a big project, so let’s all just smile along to this: