Words – Donovan Farley
2015 was quite a year for music, even though highly anticipated records from folks like Kanye West and Frank Ocean never materialized, there was a great deal to get very excited about and from basically every genre of music. Be it a three-hour jazz album becoming the surprise hit of the year (Kamasi Washington’s The Epic), to Kendrick Lamar providing the year’s sharpest dissection of racial turmoil in America, to a slew of great albums from rock veterans; 2015 gave us plenty to praise and enjoy.
As such, it was crazy hard to narrow it down to just 50 albums, but here is my best attempt. Each album mentioned has a stream to go along with it and as always I would encourage you to sample via streaming and support the artists by purchasing their music (and tickets to their shows, and some merch) if you dig what you hear!
50) Pye Corner Audio –Prowler [stream]: Few electronic records are able to straddle the line between ominous and sexy the way Martin Jones does on Prowler. The title track alone is worth the price of admission.
49) Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside [stream]: Earl’s second studio album proper was a short, depressive affair, clocking in at around a half and hour and finding Earl tremendously bummed out. Fans and critics alike responded, and Earl is undoubtedly poised for even bigger things.
48) Widowspeak – All Yours [stream]: Molly Hamilton and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas left Brooklyn in favor of upstate NY during the recording of All Yours, and the move resulted in the group’s most laid back record to date.
47) jennylee – right on! [stream]: In the liner notes for her first solo record, Warpaint bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg mentions multiple times how much fun she had making the record, and that joy is palpable when listening to this funky album.
46) Wilco – Star Wars [stream]: Wilco surprise released their 9th studio album for free on their website in July, and Star Wars proved to be the band’s most experimental — and best — album in years.
45) Ought – Sun’s Coming Down [stream]: The Montreal art punks solidified their place among the best new rock bands on this raucous album.
44) Kamasi Washington – The Epic [stream]: Amazingly enough, a three-hour jazz odyssey was a bit of a hit in 2015, and once you give the appropriately titled The Epic a listen, it’s easy to see why.
43) U.S. Girls – Half Free [stream]: Meghan Remy continues to impress as she evolves the U.S. Girls sound, settling this time on a brand of art pop that feels as though it might come unhinged at any moment.
42) Phil Cook – Southland Mission [stream]: Megafaun and Gayngs member Phil Cook released this joyous roots record this year to quite a bit of acclaim — and for good reason, as it was possibly the best roots record of the year.
41) Ryley Walker – Primrose Green [stream]: Chicago’s Walker wears his influences on his sleeve — 70’s British folks, The Grateful Dead, Van Morrisons more mystical moments — and creates a psychedelic brew that is beyond intoxicating.
40) Knxwledge – Hud Dreems [stream]: It was a big year for Glen Boothe, the producer who records as Knxwledge, beginning with his feature in the Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly track “Momma” and culminating with this 26-track collection of funk and soul samples that have earned comparisons to legends like J Dilla and Madlib.
39) FKA Twigs – M3LLI55X [stream]: FKA Twigs cemented her place as one of music’s most dynamic talents with not only this uniquely formed EP, but by also directing a short film accompanying the record that featured videos directed by and starring the singer herself. A talent with a seemingly limitless ceiling.
38) MED, Blu & Madlib – Bad Neighbor [stream]: Another year, another top notch release from Madlib, this time bringing rappers MED and Blu along for the ride, and the two more than hold their own.
37) Childbirth – Women’s Rights [stream]: This “supergroup” featuring ladies from some of the Pacific Northwest’s best new punk bands is funny to be sure (think Broad City as a punk band), but the arrangements and playing on this record are also top-notch.
36) Bop English – Constant Bop [stream]: White Denim’s James Petralli stepped out on his own for the first time this year, and the results were pretty damn fantastic… and for me, much more intriguing than the last White Denim record.
35) Hop Along – Painted Shut [stream]: Painted Shut seems to be a big turning point for Philadelphia’s Hop Along, as their initial release on Saddle Creek records is their best representation of the band they’ve delivered on wax to date. I could see this band getting quite big in the coming years.
34) Royal Headache – High [stream]: An absolute blast of a rock record. To quote Robert Zimmerman: play it fucking loud.
33) Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone? [stream]: Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto released their sixth set of bummer jams in five years in 2015, and they continue to prove themselves among the best acts for playing in the background while you tearfully send your ex a drunken, inadvisable text message at 4am.
31) Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School [stream]: The stalwarts of the Chillwave scene have spent their last few records expanding their sounds from out of the bedroom to bigger, loftier ideas — and while some have been successful — none have produced the level of fun (and funk) of Alan Palomo’s third full length.
30) Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars [stream]: One of two very good Beach House releases this year (Depression Cherry being the other), the Baltimore duo spoiled us in 2015.
29) Vince Staples – Summertime ‘06 [stream]: Staples delivered big time on the promise he showed on Hell Can Wait with this fantastically put together autobiographical yarn.
28) Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect [stream]: Joe Casey and company’s latest effort only reaffirms what last year’s Under The Color of Official Light showed us: that Protomartyr are one of today’s best new rock bands, and Casey one of its leading voices.
27) Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt [stream]: Gritty-as-can-be Freddie Gibbs is on a tear lately, and after following up 2014’s brilliant collaboration with Madlib, Pinata, with this year’s Shadow of a Doubt, he has proven himself among the game’s best street poets. The effortlessly vivid pictures of the life of an urban hustler Gibbs paints can be breathtaking, and like the man says, “Dope game hard / Rap game easy as a motherfucker.”
26) Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness [stream]: Holter’s brand of art pop manages to feel effortless and familiar, but is deceptive in its complexities. Wilderness contains some of her most effective work to date.
25) Larry Gus – I Need New Eyes [stream]: Panagiotis Melidis, aka Larry Gus, seems to be a man with about 10,000 ideas for every song he writes, and when he manages to combine these songs into the sample-heavy and African-influenced I Need New Eyes, the accomplishment is something to behold.
24) Battles – La Di Da Di [stream]: The NYC trio’s third full length seems to signify that Battles is due to become something of an instrumental institution in the rock scene, as it’s filled front to back their unique brand of joyous chaos.
23) Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment – Surf [stream]: Nico Segal (a.k.a. Donnie Trumpet) and his boho group of friends that make up the Social Experiment, including one Chance The Rapper, managed to make perhaps the surprise hit record of the year with the enjoyable and all-over-the-place Surf.
22) Night Beds – Ivywild [stream]: Winston Yellen completely and utterly changed his musical style from on this year’s Ivywild, and the results were stunning. Gone was the purty heartbreak alt-country of 2013’s Country Sleep; replaced here by lonely, haunting and heavily narcotic-sounding R&B, conjured by Winston and his brother Abe. A pleasant curveball from a varied talent about what happens when you’re alone after the after-party, but you’re still too high and lonely to sleep.
21) Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love [stream]: The Grrrls are back in town, and they came prepared, dropping one of the best rock records of the year, and perhaps the band’s best work to date.
20) Futurebirds – Hotel Parties [stream]: The Athens, GA psych country rock outfit’s latest effort was their most cohesive and and fully formed album to date, with their joyously bittersweet blend of Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds and Crazyhorse never sounding better.
19) Destoyer – Poison Season [stream]: Dan Bejar does his best Sinatra on Poison Season and wanders through New York City under Ole Blue Eyes’ influence, and does so backed by unbelievably lush strings.
18) Joanna Newsom – Divers [stream]: Easily her most accessible record to date, Divers still manages to sound unlike almost anything else out there.
16) Tame Impala – Currents [stream]: Kevin Parker showed impressive range on his band’s third LP, adding flourishes of soul and R&B to his already stacked arsenal of psychedelic musical skills, and in doing so has proven himself one of rock music foremost talents.
15) Kurt Vile – b’lieve im goin down [stream]: Vile continues to show a masterful touch at his brand of stoner folk, and although this time around was a bit more melancholic than previous releases, the results were just as intoxicating.
14) EL VY – Return To The Moon [stream]: It was abundantly clear that Matt Berninger was truly enjoying his respite from The National and having a lot of fun with EL VY, and both Return To The Moon and the tour behind it were a testament to Berninger and Brent Knopf’s wide-ranging skills.
13) Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell [stream]: Stevens returned with another classic in 2015, this time using sparse instrumentation to tell the stories on Carrie & Lowell, which were inspired by both his mother’s death in 2012 and his childhood trips to Oregon.
12) Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit [stream]: Courtney Barnett’s has earned her Dylan-meets-Cobain comparisons, and although that’s a little unfair, it’s easy to see where the thought comes from. Witty, stream-of-consciousness lyrics meets fantastic shredding.
11) Cindy Lee – Act of Tenderness [stream]: I’m not sure what exactly you can say Patrick Flegel’s (formerly of the band Women, which also featured half of Viet Cong) new project sounds like… horror-fi, post doo-wop, noise rock? Maybe it’s easier to describe it this way: imagine listening to every piece of music from every David Lynch film, with Laura Palmer, in the world conjured up in Eraserhead. It’s somehow equal parts abrasive, scary and beautiful.
10) Jamie XX – In Colour [stream]: Jamie Smith’s debut solo record features his usual deft production touch along with the year’s best guest spots, and garnered the producer a Grammy nod for Best Electronic Album. A summertime rooftop party of an album.
9) Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper [stream]: Not only was Noah Lennox’s fifth solo album his best outside of Person Pitch — the album’s two companion EPs (Mr. Noah and Crosswords) were chock full of goodness as well.
8) Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass [stream]: Prass’ fantastic debut saw the songstress tour the world with the likes of Ryan Adams and Jenny Lewis (for whom Prass was the touring keyboardist just the year before) and somewhat recalls a Disney princess cutting a record that was produced by Phil Spector. (Matthew E. White plays the role of Spector here, handling production duties.) A great record and one that’s just… really, really charming from start to finish.
7) Lower Dens – Escape From Evil [stream]: When your band begins as an “experimental” rock band, sometimes the true experiment lies in many music that’s more palatable for the masses while still retaining your artistic core. Jana Hunter and Co. did just that on Escape From Evil, and created one of the albums of the year in doing so.
6) Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes [stream]: Mark Kozelek has gotten so good at his one-of-a-kind version of a singer/songwriter type that Universal Themes basically tells the day-to-day story of his life, and is utterly enthralling in doing so, as Kozelek finds beauty in the mundane time and again.
5) Viet Cong – Viet Cong [stream]: The-soon-to-be-renamed-band is playing at a shockingly good level right now, both on wax and live, and I’m still trying repair my psyche after their set at the Galaxy Barn at Pickathon. One can only imagine the tumultuous protests over the band’s name that followed the group around on their final tour will be poured into new music, and if Viet Cong is any indication, it will intensely brilliant.
4) Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly [stream]: This record launched a thousand “think pieces”, and was easily the most talked about record of the year — and for good reason. Racial tensions sparked by out-of-control police violence against black youths seemed to only drift further out of control after the record’s release, and protesters around the country found inspiration from songs like “Alright”, which was movingly chanted at gatherings throughout the nation. An undeniable classic — and not only for the music, but for how it echoed the trials and tribulations facing Black America in 2015.
3) Deerhunter – Fading Frontier [stream]: Getting hit by a car while riding his bike seems to have given Bradford Cox a fresh perspective on Fading Frontier, eschewing the harshness of Monomania for utterly blisssed-out jams that produced some of the year’s prettiest moments in rock music. Hey, we’re happy you’re still here too Bradford.
2) Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp [stream]: The fact that Katie Crutchfield is abundantly talented has always been clear, so the fact that each album she’s recorded under her Waxahatchee moniker has gotten a little better is impessive — and Ivy Tripp stands as the best among them. Few records have so perfectly defined the word “bittersweet” as beautifully in the new millennium.
1) Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear [stream]: Josh Tillman’s romantic opus could have just as easily been titled The Ego Death of a Ladies Man, as one of music’s biggest cynics had his hope and joy renewed by the corniest — and most powerful — thing we’ve got: love.