Top Ten Albums of 2015
So I never actually got around to writing about my list last year, and that’s mostly because I had a difficult time finding stuff that I wanted to include in my top ten. There are several albums I thought about including that I haven’t revisited in the past year, so they probably weren’t worth including at all. So, I’m just going to pretend like last year didn’t happen.
On the other hand, I had a difficult time excluding albums for my top ten this year. Seriously, 2015 was an incredible year for music. Probably my favorite since 2010 (2012 comes in at a close second), and that’s when we saw Beach House’s Teen Dream, Sufjan Stevens’s Age of Adz, and Kanye West’s Twisted Fantasy to rattle off a few. If any of the albums in my top five had been released in a year other than 2015, they may very well have been my favorite album of that year (except 2014 – clipping.’s CLPPING was and still is a masterpiece, but it was my favorite album by a long shot). In addition, my favorite tracks of 2015 will be at the end of this list in a Spotify playlist.
But enough deliberation, onto my list:
10. Jackrabbit – San Fermin
Though not as good as their fantastic 2013 self-titled debut, I was not disappointed at all by Jackrabbit. Similarly to San Fermin, Jackrabbit tells a story of sorts through the songs and various interludes in the album. The beauty of the first album was found in the fantastic harmonies and melodies found on the tracks, while the beauty of Jackrabbit is found in the dissonance and brooding atmosphere created by the tracks. Also, Ellis Ludwig-Leone knows how to write a killer pop hook (see “Sonsick” and “Jackrabbit”).
FAVORITE TRACKS: Emily, Jackrabbit, Astronaut, Woman In Red, Parasites, Two Scenes (the beginning of which sounds like the soundtrack to a Zelda boss battle)
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: Ladies Mary
9. Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples
Staples’s impressed with Hell Can Wait, his 2014 commercial debut, but he blows that project out of the water with his full length debut. Summertime ’06 is about the titular season in Staples’s life, and he speaks of the things he saw and the experiences he had. He’s incredibly brash at points, completely embodying the gangster lifestyle he once lived; yet at other times, he’s on the outside looking in, commenting as an observer. His self-awareness is beyond his years, and it shows in these tracks and in interviews. Combine his lyricism with excellent beats and production, and you’ve got one smart hip-hop album.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Lift Me Up, Norf Norf, Loca, Jump Off The Roof, Senorita, 3230, Surf, Like It Is
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS:Birds & Bees
8. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
Prass exhibits beautiful songwriting that’s reminiscent of musical theatre, baroque pop, and 70’s era singer-songwriter on perhaps the best break-up album of 2015. Perhaps the biggest standout is Prass’s vocal work. Her thin, wavering vocals add a tinge of helplessness and weariness to songs about heartbreak and infidelity. Speaking of helpless…
FAVORITE TRACKS: My Baby Don’t Understand Me, Bird of Prey, Your Fool, Why Don’t You Believe In Me, Violently
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: It Is You
7. Hamilton – Lin-Manuel Miranda
What a fun romp through American history! Miranda had the bonkers idea to combine elements of hip-hop, funk, and R&B to tell the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton. With references to past Broadway musicals and rappers like Biggie Smalls, the influences on Hamilton are deep and wide, but it all comes together in one of the best original musicals I’ve heard in a long time (disclaimer: this from is the guy whose favorite musical for a while was Pippin, so that goes to show how much I know about them). My favorite part about the whole thing is Daveed Diggs, the MC for my favorite hip-hop trio, clipping. I was incredibly confused when I learned this summer that Diggs was in a Broadway musical, and I knew I had to check it out. Diggs does not disappoint (aside from being too occupied to make new clipping. music), and neither does this.
FAVORITE TRACKS: there’s so many, just listen to the dang thing
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: uh…
6. Sinking as a Stone – Vaadat Charigim
2015 was filled with albums I was highly anticipating, and the sophomore effort from Israeli shoegazers was among the top of that list. Very little details were known about the album to begin with, but they slowly started releasing new tracks, beginning with “Badeshe Mul Gilman” (which ultimately did not appear on the album) and “Ein Li Makom.” The singles that appeared on the album didn’t present much change in sound from their first album, which wasn’t a bad thing in the slightest. The tracks were still hazy, grating, and incredibly punchy; “Hadavhar” is almost dance-able, in a weird way. The guitars are still chunky and meaty sounding, the drums still have that booming sound, and Yuval Haring’s vocals are still as powerful as ever. The moodier tracks are still there too, with “Klum” and “At Chavera,” but with mixed results compared to The World Is Well Lost. That being said, it’s still a very good sophomore record, and I look forward to seeing what they continue to do.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Neshel, Hadavhar, Ein Li Makom, At Chavera
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: None
5. Sprained Ankle – Julien Baker
If there’s one album from 2015 I would force everyone to listen to, it’d be this one. It’s an incredibly intimate and emotionally hard-hitting record due to the sparseness in the soundscapes and the vulnerability in the lyrics. The songs are mostly just Baker and her guitar, gently plucking away at the strings and using a looper pedal to layer melodies on top of the rhythms. The songs sound empty and lonely, matching perfectly with the albums lyrical content touching on death, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. It’s an incredibly personal album to the point that, similar to Carrie & Lowell, it almost feels as if the listener really shouldn’t be hearing these songs.
In the midst of all this is Baker’s relationship with God. It’s a complicated one, with her asking questions like, “I wrote you love letters, and sung them in my house…the broken strings and amplifiers scream with holy noise / in hopes to draw you out, but if no one sings along are you still proud of when I open my mouth?” on the opener “Blacktop.” On “Vessels,” Baker reflects on the brokenness and blackness of her own body and soul, and how her broken body is just a “house for [her] eyes purchased with a bleeding side.” She ends the album with an instrumental of “In Christ Alone” at the end of “Go Home.” During recording, her preamp picked up a radio transmission of a nearby church, sort of as an answer to Baker’s constant cries to him throughout the album.
Seriously. Listen to this album. It’s incredible.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Blacktop, Sprained Ankle, Good News, Something, Vessels, Go Home
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: None
4. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens
It’s always a big deal when Sufjan releases a new album. Since beginning his career releasing 5 studio albums in 6 years (along with an absurd number of b-sides and rarities), he’s only released 2 studio albums in the past 9 years (excluding the bizarre BQE and Sisyphus, his collaborative hip-hop album with Son Lux and Serengeti). There have been various reasons behind this, but it’s been unfortunate to say the least.
Carrie & Lowell is one of the most painful albums I’ve ever listened to, and marks the only time I’ve cried at a concert. Sufjan grapples with memories of his estranged mother and the ever persistent thought of death in heartbreaking fashion, though his voice rarely falters. Whereas some musicians may put a different vocal inflection when trying to convey such powerful emotions, Sufjan sings in his usual whisper quiet voice (though a bit more hushed on this album) and it suits the tracks perfectly. The melodies are sparse and subdued, yet they command the listener’s undivided attention. Songs ebb and flow, and pull the listener along with them. While it remains to be seen if Carrie & Lowell is his magnum opus, one thing’s certain; Sufjan Stevens is one of the greatest songwriters of our generation.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Death With Dignity, Should Have Known Better, Drawn to the Blood, Fourth of July, The Only Thing, No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross, Blue Bucket of Gold
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: Carrie & Lowell
3. Depression Cherry – Beach House
I wrote about this album back in September, before Beach House announced Thank Your Lucky Stars. I loved it then, and I still love it just as much now. I’ll just repeat here what I said then:
The album is an incredible ride from start to finish, beginning with “Levitation” and ending with “Days of Candy.” Each song sounds similar to one another, yet different enough to stay fresh throughout the whole album. “Levitation” is classic Beach House at its finest, followed by the shoegaze influenced lead single “Sparks” (a frontrunner for my Single of the Year). “Space Song” is another typical Beach House dream-pop romp, with a wailing guitar reminiscent of earlier songs “Silver Soul” and “D.A.R.L.I.N.G.” Similar to “Sparks,” “Beyond Love” takes a more rock-ier approach to the Beach House formula, with loads of distortion and reverb on Scally’s guitar (both songs are sort of red herrings on the album). The song “PPP” is very similar to their work on Teen Dream, starting with a simple synth pattern and guitar plucking, and progressively building on top of it to create an epic wall of sound. The album finishes with the chilling “Days of Candy,” which features a 24-part choir harmonizing with Legrand. It’s a fantastic finisher to a wonderful album.
Both “Sparks” and “Days of Candy” are still among my favorite songs of 2015, and even my favorite Beach House Songs.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Levitation, Sparks, Space Song, Beyond Love, PPP, Days of Candy
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: Bluebird
2. To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
What can I contribute to this conversation that hasn’t already been said? As a white, middle class, liberal arts college student (and a byproduct of WASP culture), do I really have the authority to try to contribute to the conversation? I have absolutely no place trying to tell you what I think Kendrick is saying on this album, and the impact that it’s had culturally. I haven’t had to deal much with anything that Kendrick discusses on this album, so I thank him (along with Vince Staples up above) immensely for giving me a window to his world, to see the pressures and conflicts of being a young African American in our country. I can say how important I think this album is, and how it should be looked upon as influential as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On or Public Enemy’s Nation of Millions, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand how or why it’s important simply because I don’t come from the same cultural situation as these musicians.
What I do feel comfortable commenting on is the music itself. The direction that Lamar takes on this album was completely out of the blue, but a welcome one. While GKMC arguably has better singles, the album experienced a huge drop off in song quality after “Sing of Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” TPAB has no such thing. What it lacks in immediate accessibility, it makes up for sheer awe for the intricacies if you dive deep enough into the track list. Each song is well crafted and well placed in the context of the album. I was lucky/unlucky enough to find a bootleg LP before the album had an official vinyl release and, for some reason, they rearranged a couple songs on the second half of the album. It completely throws off the flow of the record, annoyingly.
I was glancing over all of the negative user reviews of this album on Metacritic the other day, and I pitied them. Yes, not everyone’s supposed to like the same stuff, but the people that are turned off to this album because it doesn’t have the same accessibility as Kendrick’s previous efforts are missing out on something incredible.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Wesley’s Theory, King Kunta, These Walls, u, Alright, How Much a Dollar Cost, Complexion (A Zulu Love), The Blacker The Berry, i, Mortal Man
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)
1. Viet Cong – Viet Cong
All the way back in July, I was saying that this was my favorite album I’d heard in 2015. I was mostly saying it to be different from the endless amounts of people saying their’s was either Carrie & Lowell or To Pimp a Butterfly. I really did enjoy this album, but I wasn’t really sure if I liked it better than those two; I just said I did anyway. As the year went on and I was re-listening to 2015 releases, I found myself coming back to this album. By the time year end rolled around, I was convinced this was my favorite album of 2015, and for very good reason; it’s an amazing roller coaster ride in post-punk/noise rock/industrial music. Though it’s only 7 songs, it works to the benefit of the album. Each song is an all-out assault against the senses, and I’m not sure the listener would be able to take much more after the album’s conclusion (especially after the fantastic closer, “Death”). Offensive name aside (the band said they would be changing it for their next album), this is one heck of an album and is definitely worth checking out if you like more experimental music.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Newspaper Spoons, Pointless Experience, March of Progress, Bunker Buster, Continental Shelf, Silhouettes, Death
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: None
Here’s a list of albums I enjoyed but not enough to merit getting on this list, or I didn’t listen to enough:
- Bones – Son Lux
- Art Angels – Grimes
- New Bermuda – Deafheaven
- Have You In My Wilderness – Julia Holter
- I Want To Grow Up – Colleen Green
- Ivy Tripp – Waxahatchee
- The Epic – Kamasi Washington
- Divers – Joanna Newsom
Top Tracks/Singles of 2015