Top 15 Albums of 2015

Posted: December 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

15. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
One of the biggest musical surprises for me this year was that neither this album nor any of its songs made much of an impact on the pop charts. It’s a really good pop album — much better start-to-finish than 2012’s Kiss — and even if none of the songs are quite as catchy as “Call Me Maybe,” there are still a lot of really good songs here. “Run Away with Me,” “Boy Problems,” “Making the Most of the Night” and “Let’s Get Lost” all sound like hits to me, but what the hell do I know.

Favorite song: “Run Away with Me”

14. Chvrches – Every Open Eye
This is another really good pop album, and one I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate a couple years ago because I didn’t care for synthpop. In fact I didn’t appreciate Chrvches’ 2013 debut, which I now realize is a really good album. Every Open Eye manages to sound both happy and sad at times, but it’s catchy throughout, and Lauren Mayberry’s voice is always great. The first four songs are especially strong, and “Empty Threat” and “Bury It” highlight the second half.

Favorite song: “Keep You on My Side”

13. Screaming Females – Rose Mountain
Rose Mountain wasn’t quite as highly acclaimed as Screaming Females’ last couple albums, and it seems like the main point of contention is that it’s cleaner and not quite as wild as their previous work. That’s true, but personally I don’t have a problem with it. I still love this album, and I think “Wishing Well” and “Hopeless” — two of the softer songs here — are actually among the highlights. Plus, there’s still plenty of great hard rock with songs like “Empty Head,” “Ripe,” “Burning Car” and “Triumph.”

Favorite song: “Triumph”

12. James McMurtry – Complicated Game
Complicated Game might have the best lyrics of any album this year. James McMurtry is a great storyteller who brings a variety of everyday characters to life — on “Copper Canteen” it’s an older couple who “turned into our parents before we were out of teens,” on the rollicking “How’m I Gonna Find You Now” it’s a trucker, “Carlisle’s Haul” a fisherman, “South Dakota” a soldier returning home, and “Long Island Sound” a hard-working New Yorker. McMurtry backs his Americana stories with classic Americana folk.

Favorite song: “Long Island Sound”

11. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
This album is about exactly what the title says, but don’t expect to hear any happy stories about hanging out on a beach. Instead you get a look into what it was like for Staples to come of age in Long Beach and how his teenage years shaped his view of the world. It doesn’t take long for Staples’ bluntness to show. “Lift Me Up” and “Norf Norf” set the tone right off the bat both lyrically and musically — the music doesn’t try to be upbeat here either. “Jump Off the Roof” and “Senorita” are other first-half highlights, while “3230,” “Get Paid” and “C.N.B.” stand out on the second half.

Favorite song: “Lift Me Up” 

10. Beach Slang – The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us
Beach Slang’s debut album is not even 27 minutes long, but they cram a lot of great rock into that time. The songs here are about the music they love, the community that surrounds that music (or to reference the album’s title, “people who feel like us”), and how that music and community has saved them when they were feeling down. The result is an album that fits in with that community and can serve as an escape for people like them. Every song is good, but my favorites are “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas,” “Ride the Wild Haze,” “I Break Guitars” and “Hard Luck Kid.”

Favorite song: “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas”

9. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
It’s hard to decide which is better — Prass’ songwriting and vocal performances, or Matthew E. White and Trey Pollard’s horn and string arrangements. All of it is great and it all works so well together in creating an album full of exceptional (and emotional) soul music or baroque pop or whatever you want to call this. Opener “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” is one of the best songs of 2015, and “Bird of Prey,” “Never Over You” and closer “It Is You” — which sounds like something right out of a Disney movie — are other highlights.

Favorite song: “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”

8. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
This might be the weirdest album on here, but I’m cool with weird. Josh Tillman, who goes by Father John Misty, seamlessly moves from funny to sweet to mean to sarcastic to miserable, sometimes all within one song. His lyrics are consistently clever and entertaining. The title track sets the tone for the whole album, as he goes from “Everything is doomed / And nothing will be spared” to “Everything is fine / Don’t give into despair.” Other standout songs are “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” “The Ideal Husband” and “Holy Shit,” where he tries to figure out what all the world’s problems “gotta do with you and me.”

Favorite song: “Holy Shit”

7. Laura Marling – Short Movie
Marling is only 25 and this is already her fifth album, and I think it’s her best for several reasons. The fingerpicking folk that she has come to be known for is as strong as ever, but she sounds more confident and more aggressive than on previous albums. She also works in some electric guitar for the first time, which is a nice addition. “False Hope,” “Don’t Let Me Bring You Down” and “Gurdjieff’s Daughter” are the three best songs here, and “Strange” and the title track stand out as well.

Favorite song: “Don’t Let Me Bring You Down”

6. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
I probably listened to “Pedestrian At Best” more than any other song this year. The distorted open, the shout-along chorus, the verses where it sounds like Barnett is on the verge of insanity — I love it all so much. And the rest of Sometimes I Sit is pretty great too. I’m a big fan of the more rocking songs like “Elevator Operator,” “Aqua Profunda!” and “Dead Fox”, but slower songs like “An Illustration of Loneliness” and “Depreston” are strong too.

Favorite song: “Pedestrian At Best”

5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Stevens has made plenty of highly acclaimed music, most notably 2005’s Illinois, but I think Carrie & Lowell is his best album. It’s certainly his most personal. The Carrie and Lowell are Stevens’ mother and stepfather, and the songs here focus on Stevens’ complicated relationship with his mother — she left him and his father when he was just a year old and was a sporadic presence in his life until she died in 2012. The lyrics, vocals and stripped-down instrumentation make it hard not to feel what Stevens is feeling. “Should Have Known Better” is one of the most beautiful songs made this year, and “Death with Dignity,” “Eugene” and the title track are other personal favorites.

Favorite song: “Should Have Known Better”

4. Tame Impala – Currents
I was a little worried when I heard this album would feature very little guitar. My concerns were eased right from the start of Currents, though, as opener and lead single “Let It Happen” is nearly eight minutes of magic that takes you from wanting to dance to feeling like you’re in a dream. There’s synthpop, R&B and even disco throughout the album, highlighted by songs like “The Moment,” “Yes I’m Changing,” “Eventually” and “Reality in Motion.” Kevin Parker wrote and produced everything here and played every instrument as well, proving once again that he’s one of the most talented people in the music business right now.

Favorite song: “Let It Happen”

3. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Like Currents, I was originally a little skeptical of this album. A 29-track, 93-minute rock opera about manic depression? I know Patrick Stickles is one of the best songwriters going right now, but that might’ve been a little too ambitious. As it turns out, there was no need to doubt Stickles. The Most Lamentable Tragedy is full of great rock, whether it’s the punk they’ve always done well, classic rock or even some Celtic rock. “No Future Part IV,” “Stranded” and “Lonely Boy” is a great three-song run right out of the gate. “Fired Up” and “Dimed Out” highlight the middle of the album and “Fatal Flaw,” “Come On, Siobhan” and “Into the Void” stand out on the second half.

Favorite song: “Dimed Out”

2. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
One of the best things to happen in music this year was Sleater-Kinney reuniting and releasing their first album since 2005. Expectations were high, as they should be for any Sleater-Kinney album given their body of work, and No Cities to Love didn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s in the conversation for the best album they’ve ever made (I think it’s my favorite, personally). They prove that despite not being together for nearly 10 years, they can still make rock music that’s as good as any that’s been made in the last 20 years. Every song here is great. My favorite is “Fangless” — I can’t get enough of that riff that comes in at 37 seconds — but “Surface Envy,” “A New Wave” and “Hey Darling” are right up there as well.

Favorite song: “Fangless”

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
When I first heard “i” — the lead single off To Pimp a Butterfly — I wasn’t all that impressed. It was good, but a song built around a sample of “That Lady” felt a bit unoriginal for Kendrick Lamar. And that’s why you should never start to form an opinion of an album based solely on the lead single. To Pimp a Butterfly is as original and as important an album as you’ll find. Original because of the music — it’s great rap backed by great jazz and great funk. Important because of the subject matter — racism, inner cities, fame, survivor’s guilt, the music business, relationships, and how they all intertwine.

All the proper songs here are really good. “Wesley’s Theory” is a great opener, and “King Kunta,” “Alright,” “Hood Politics” and “The Blacker the Berry” are other personal favorites. When you get to the album version of “i” just over an hour in, it comes as a change of pace — a fun, energetic respite on an album whose material is far too serious to be labeled “fun.” And even that respite is cut short by a speech about African-Americans getting killed followed by a history lesson on the word “Negus.”

Favorite song: “The Blacker the Berry”

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