2015 has been a brilliant year for brilliant albums. If you need any convincing, here’s a list compiling the 20 best that we’ve come across this year. Take a look at it, and let us know what you think.
20. Gengahr – A Dream Outside
Jangly, floaty indie-pop is the name of the game with this debut LP, and Gengahr execute it perfectly. With A Dream Outside, melody’s swirl and irresistible hooks float on a gentle breeze, shaded under a Technicolor umbrella. With Abigail, Barney, Clodagh and now Desmond giving it large, summer is definitely way behind us for another year. Gengahr gave us a soundtrack while it lasted.
19. Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin
Obaro Ejimiwe’s 3rd LP marks a bold manoeuvre from the Londoner. Shedding Skin distinctly lacks the experimental, icy nature of his previous work, but in its place there is a migration into an alternative, rock(ish) territory. With the compelling sense of foreboding that has become synonymous with Ejimiwe’s music still lurking in the shadows, Shedding Skin is a hugely assured body of work.
18. Torres – Sprinter
Mackenzie Scott’s independently released debut was a commanding exhibition of songwriting that far eclipsed her fledgling years. Sprinter is every bit as pithy, delivered with upright candor and saccharine brusque. In many ways, the most personal record dropped in 2015: intensely introspective and ruthlessly unflinching.
17. Jamie xx – In Colour
Jamie xx’s long-awaited solo debut is every bit as vivid and striking as its title implies it to be. With In Colour, he plays the ghosts of dance music past, present, and future, taking on a high-definition journey, and tilting his hat to the odd master or two for good measure. This is a dance record that is accessible, experimental and intensely stimulating all at once.
16. Jamie Woon – Making Time
Jamie Woon is as close to a perfectionist as you’ll find in the music industry today. Every beat of his sultry neo-soul music is dressed with immaculate sophistication, and every soundscape created is intensely captivating. The tracks of Making Time are stylish, velvety mid-tempo jams, sumptuously slick, with the humidity of a tropical locale.
15. Ought – Sun Coming Down
There’s an absorbing energy about Sun Coming Down that makes it a thoroughly compelling listen. It’s intense, but absolutely relaxed about being so. Guitars traipse and squelch, and Tim Darcy’s vocals encapsulate in their frankness. Arty, post-punk guitar music executed exquisitely.
14. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
With UMO’s third LP, Ruban Nielson has refined his sound into a perfect percolation of nihilistic soul and contorted psychedelica. Some tracks are dizzying in their studio complexity, with the intense refinements resulting in infectious, fruitful listening, whilst the more stripped back tracks suggest a proportionate tangibility. An excellent record.
13. LA Priest – Inji
Sam Dust’s first solo full-length is a work of complex art, and the album we’ve been waiting for since the demise of Late of the Pier. The zany assortment of sounds is still the mainstay, but the energy is controlled. Synths quiver, and grooves are left to slow-burn, and Dust’s voice shows a vulnerability that wouldn’t have been conceivable in the late noughties. A brilliant debut.
12. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
The second LP from Alabama Shakes is a kaleidoscopic case that shows that there is actually an awful lot more to roots than just roots. Brittany Howard’s miraculous pipes are the emergent from a canopy of genteel rhythm and blues, always impressively domineering over perfectly polished, glistening grooves. From the sparkling tinkle of the title track and ductile funk of Don’t Wanna Fight, right the way through to the zero-gravity, slow-jamming sprawler that is Gemini, Sound & Color affirms itself as an exhibition of roots and blues rock, and a celebration of the sumptuous soul that it oozes.
11. Drenge – Undertow
Two years on from their self-titled debut, the Loveless brothers have sharpened their teeth and lengthened their claws, and made everything so deliciously sinister. Drenge laced a brash façade with an exquisite wit and a brazen insolence, but Undertow is an altogether different animal – one that hides under your children’s beds, and sneaks up on them only after you’ve tucked them in and told them there’s no such thing as monsters. It’s a calculated display of scheming malevolence, typified by thick-bodied riffs that are far more intricate than the ones cut two years ago, channeling their contemptuousness into something altogether more threatening.
10. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
J. Tillman has validated himself as one of music’s great diarists with his second LP under the Father John Misty moniker, distancing himself further still from his days as the Fleet Foxes’ sticksman. I Love You, Honeybear displays an eager, unrelenting sagacity coupled with a cultured melodic sensitivity. I didn’t find it the easiest of listens at first, with the eccentric, unconventional manner in which Tillman’s misanthropy is delivered leaving it difficult to discern. The arrangements are without doubt dazzling, and theatrical in their pomp, and this is the work of a man who is a rare breed in the singer-songwriter realm.
9. Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer
“Watch your back, because baby’s so good with a blade,” forewarns Sadie Dupuis as she brings Foil Deer’s undulating curtain raiser to a close, fully inline with a recurring motif of Speedy Ortiz’s second LP to hold bitterness from an unhappier adolescence. Like their brilliant debut Major Arcana two years before it, Foil Deer is an album that doesn’t need to grow on you, with its infection is immediate from the instant you’re tangled up in the corkscrewing guitar melodies. This time, though, we see a more cultivated Dupuis, governing her band with a razor-sharp cutting edge, and all the assurance of a particularly arrogant peacock. She keeps her emotions on custom-made tethers, allowing them to run amok before reining them in and remaining in total control of every lyric she delivers. She brandishes the lyrical contents of Foil Deer like a lethal weapon, delivering warnings so plausible that there’s no need to turn it into an assault.
8. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
NME’s Mark Beaumont described it as “the rock equivalent of raising tiger cubs – adorable but, at any moment, it could have your larynx for lunch.” He also went as far to dub it as the “debut of the decade so far.” Now that might be a bit of a bold statement, but this really is a superb debut with a ridiculous amount of strings to its bow. From the folky, affectionate textures of Bros to the cold, calculated, slick grunge of Giant Peach, and everything else in between, Ellie Rowsell’s vocal delivery is delicate and dainty one minute, before lunging into feral howls the next. My Love Is Cool is an outstanding effort, with an elemental strength in its ability to deliver a sucker-punch out of nowhere.
7. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
Dropped in January, a whole decade after what was presumed the Olympia-trio’s swansong, No Cities To Love was one of the first truly excellent albums of 2015. It’s an impeccable blend of hard and soft and up and down, and brisk too, clocking in at just a shade over 30 minutes. The songs are tightly packed and rush headlong from one to the next, and Corin Tucker’s voice sounds sharper and more incisive than it has done at any point over the past two decades. Guitar music in 2015 has been extrusive in its quality rather than it’s quantity, and the melodies that Tucker and Carrie Brownstein wage war with are industrious and razor-sharp, raging over straining structures and teetering on the edge of control. This is a record brimming with turbulent post-punk anthems, and a white-knuckle ride you’ll be desperate to take again.
6. Viet Cong – Viet Cong
With the rhythm section of defunct noise-rock band Women, Viet Cong bring with them an onslaught of convoluted grooves. As labyrinthine as the blueprint is, it’s nothing less than a warped playpen for sporadic bursts of cambering, skewed melodies to wreak jagged disorder. Not unlike the enticing bedlam that was Women’s music, strident, droning textures envelop the soundscapes, but there is a susceptibility that bubbles beneath the boorish whirr that’s never under wraps completely. This record is by no means an easy listen – opening track Newspaper Spoons is a searing, ear-splitting introduction to the record, and there’s no splashes of colour to shine light on the viscous, monochrome tones that radiate from the music. Viet Cong is fraught with dynamism, consistently perplexing and eccentrically exhilarating, and there hasn’t been an album anything remotely like it in 2015.
5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
With the immunity of a mixtape and the production grandeur of a cinematic masterpiece, the follow up to the universally acclaimed good kid, m.A.A.d city is another one for the ages. To Pimp a Butterfly is ridiculously ambitious, accomplishing supreme elements of soul, jazz, funk and spoken word to create an all-conquering conglomerate of hip-hop. It’s an album that leaves no stone unturned, providing a tempestuous discourse to the Black American cultural experience in 2015. It’s immensely self-conscious and fiercely intense, but Lamar is always in control of his musings. He is a master craftsman in a resilient field, and deserves every accolade that is sent his way.
4. The Internet – Ego Death
Ego Death is an album that is anchored in hip-hop, but it’s the delicate grandeur of The Internet’s brand of seductive, sultry soul that turns it into such a captivating record. Syd Tha Kid well and truly comes into her own here, with sparse, understated instrumentation showcasing her writing in all of its brilliance. Her vocals are enticing, whether they’re coaxing over a bulldozing bassline or reassuring over delectable jazz chords, and the fact that the album was recorded primarily in Syd’s basement over a three-week period completes a delicious, retro feel. Ego Death is a record that is hugely progressive, with dense grooves branching into spacey intermissions with ease without ever looking like falling apart, and its ability to entrain the luscious jazz and funk elements into its silky hip-hop body is hugely impressive.
3. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
The album that topped our mid-year list has to settle for the bronze medal. Courtney Barnett is just so likable, even when she’s singing lines like: “Tell me I’m exceptional / I promise to exploit you.” Her lyrics are effortlessly witty, delivered in an unadulterated, lackadaisical Australian accent. Her intrigued, half-speaking, half-singing delivery lends itself perfectly to her dry, self-depreciating humour, and her ability to make her observations of insignificance seem significant. Sometimes I Sit… is immediately catchy, but what makes it such a remarkable record is its simplicity. It contains nothing more than the raw, organic elements of rock music: guitar, drums, bass and voice. When it’s executed properly, there aren’t many things more invigorating.
2. Tame Impala – Currents
Until now, paranoia, withdrawal and autonomous isolation were the recurring motifs of Kevin Parker’s work as Tame Impala, but the cogs in a mind such as his are always in perpetual motion. Currents is a masterful display of reclusive, kaleidoscopic synth-pop – a canvas for Parker to paint his own metamorphosed state of mind – a state of mind that is now a percolator of regret, and ultimately heartbreak. His ability to render a serenely beautiful image over a much darker proposition is remarkable, and his synth work on this record is nothing short of mesmerizing. Parker’s ability as a producer is further enhanced to a level at which he has no contemporaries. He is a once-in-a-generation talent, and this album is conclusive evidence of it.
1. Bully – Feels Like
For Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno, songwriting is much more than just a purgative exercise. Her music is a perfect scrim, allowing her to bleach her most intimate insecurities in such a manner that, when blared over her band’s punchy, fuzzed-out guitars and chummy basslines, results in a pageant of assured tenacity and pronounced poise. There is no arrogance or superfluous frills with Feels Like – just an agile display of confidence that goes hand-in-hand with a veraciously honest blueprint. Tracks are churned out thick and fast, with each bouncy melody sanded-down into something fresh and incessantly catchy. Bognanno’s vocals are sublime, never performing any acrobatics or pirouettes, simply delivering the most fundamental array of sincerity. The best album of 2015.