To say this year has been crazy is a vast understatement. A lot of shit went down, musically as well as personally. But, for me, music is what helps during difficult times more than anything else. To cap off the week of year end posts, and the culmination of the year in general, I present to you the Top Twenty Records of 2015. The list covers various genres, styles, and attitudes. This year was a big year for female acts, and plenty awesome ladies make up this list. Some of these records you’ve loved, some you’ve hated, and some you’ve likely never even heard of. Enjoy!
20. Young Thug, Slime Season
So Thug has been around for a few years now, and while his success has been tarnished slightly by never ending drama and feuds, i.e. general hip hop actions, his records, or mixtapes or whatever are genuinely fun and easy to lose yourself to. “Slime Season” for me is the artistic culmination of what he’s provided us with thus far, and his stances on everything from homosexuality and what it means to be a hip hop star in this day and age only add to the intrigue for me.
19. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
After not releasing an album for a decade, the band follows their 2012 release with a similar idea that made “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” so awesome to listen to. “Asunder,” which is essentially one long piece presented across four tracks, features songs that have long been live staples. They all deliver in the same way as other records, with power and emotional context sprinkled throughout.Tracks are as heavy and intricate as anything the band has ever recorded, and for this it makes the Year End countdown.
18. Beach House, Depression Cherry
As Beach House, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are able to continue to do the same fundamental things that gave them initial success while also bringing their distinct and dark sound to the next logical level. On their first of two releases this year, the band excels at multiple levels. Album opener “Levitation” glistens like a gorgeous autumn afternoon, while album closer “Days of Candy” glides over your senses and brings the record to a beautifully layered close. Not their best album, but still a strong showing for the consistent Baltimore act.
17. Purity Ring, Another Eternity
“Shrines,” was a revelation for indie pop, and while “Another Eternity” isn’t their masterpiece, it is a solid record that has been mostly ignored unfortunately. The record is layered and lush sounding, almost like sailing through a cosmic galaxy and witnessing new worlds to explore. This new world is only expanded by the work they did with Danny Brown. I truly believe taking themselves out of their comfort zone helped with this record, and it shows. There’s not a giant epiphany on this record, but if you want a chill, electronica pop record, this should be on your list to acquire as soon as possible.
16. Chelsea Wolfe, Return to Abyss
Chelsea has been making great, darkly thick and ominous albums for awhile now, but with “Abyss” she goes full blown heavy and more terrifying than on previous records. The way her voice blends with the industrial undertones is immaculately sinister. Part of the magic and direction of this record is surely to do with her contribution to the last record by the utterly heavy Russian Circles. That assist helped Wolfe to find a great median between her folkier sounds while also churning out emotionally heavy music.
15. Bjork, Vulnicura
Bjork has continually been a polarizing artists in pop music, and for the first time in quite a few years, she’s made a brilliant album that not only pushes the boundaries of what she is as an artist, but it stands up against her best. “Lion Song,” the best on the record, brings Bjork back to the exuberant beats and soundscapes she found so much success with during her “Post” and “Homogenic” years. On “Vulnicura,” her ninth record, Bjork shows yet again why she’s been so proficient in pushing the boundaries of pop music for an alien landscape, and once again, I’m excited to see where she goes.
14. HEALTH, Death Magic
Six years ago HEALTH released a record and then promptly vanished. Thankfully, this year saw the release of their third full length record. Titled “Death Magic,” it certainly lives up to its name. “Magic” sees the band kick off the album with the drumming sounds of “Victim,” but then horns and textures soon give way to the bombastic HEALTH we all know with “Stonefist,” which is easily one of the heaviest electronically driven tracks the band has ever recorded. Number fourteen on the year end albums list, “Death Magic” by Los Angeles art noise rockers HEALTH.
13. Faith No More, Sol Invictus
Reunion records are a tricky, slippery subject. Some are terrible (Soundgarden, Black Sabbath, etc,) but every now and then someone comes back with a better or just as relevant album. “Sol Invictus,” the group's first record since the masterstroke that is “Album of the Year,” is a mix of anything and everything you loved about the band in the first place. “Motherfucker” is an instant FNM classic, but the strength of the band has always been the way the members intermingle various styles, and swoon as easily as they shriek. A reunion album worth listening to, Faith No More is just as heavy and irreverent as you recall.
12. Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
With his work with Fleet Foxes you never really got to know J.Tillman well, but as Father John Misty his crooning and soul are allowed to flow free. His stage presence is quickly becoming the stuff of legends in indie rock circles, which is both unusual and highly entertaining. Nothing against the music scene he circles in, but you never really hear of a more mellow act having such swagger and attitude on stage. On “I Love You, Honeybear,” Tillman nails it even more than on his first record, and it’s a gorgeously laid out album built perfectly for a sunday drive into blue skies.
11. Dan Deacon, Gliss Riffer
On his first album in three years, “Gliss Riffer” finds the mad scientist of electronic music bringing it back to some form of basics with his most focused and high energy record since “Spiderman of the Rings.” Over the course of eight solidly danceable tracks, Deacon weaves and bops with his signature sound and crisp vocals to deliver a record that only provides more sound logic to the theory that I’ve long held: He’s the electronic artist we deserve, but not the one the EDM crowd needs right now. This man deserves to be seen as well as heard.
10. Ryan Adams, 1989
This might be considered a shocker, but this record brings out elements you would never think you’d get from a typical pop album. His cover of “Blank Space” is darkly elegant, and resembles the soft tenderness of Jose Gonzalez cover of the Knife’s “Heartbeats.” Another thing that’s wonderful is the fact he gives enough fucks in the negative column that he covered this ambitiously pop album. I mean this is a guy who’s known for covering everything from Danzig to hip hop tracks, so why not one of the queens of modern pop music. It’s a solid testament to a person who’s a true lover of music, and it for one converted me to a Ryan Adams fan.
9. Grimes, Art Angels
After false starts, an entirely discarded album that we’ll never see, Claire Elise Boucher, aka Grimes finally returned to the music scene with a record that is as varied as anything she’s ever done. The production level is stepped way up too, which for her brand of art house pop music only makes things better. Songs like “Kill V. Maim” and “California” both thrive on different ends of the pop music spectrum, but you never get the impression she’s better at one more than the other. It’s just solid songwriting and it shows through when you listen to this crazy, random, pretty album that makes you want to dance.
8. Panda Bear, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Occasionally, when he’s not doing Animal Collective things, Noah Lennox releases captivating electronically based records. Normally, they’re really fucking good, and “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” is no exception. It’s more minimal in the arrangement but also more luxurious in the beats and textures, which might be hard to follow. The album reminds me of night swimming, with the lights in the pool blanketing the outside and steam rising from the waters, like a gorgeous cave or something you'd see in a trippy movie. It’s pure awesome and yet again reaffirms why Panda Bear is one of the most interesting acts in alternative music.
7. Oneohtrix Point Never, Garden of Delete
Over the course of the last seven or so years, Daniel Lopatin has, in his work as Oneohtrix Point Never, continually made some of the richest, thought-provoking electronic out there for us to enjoy. For me, each record has pushed it further into what may or may not be acceptable in that world, but time after time it gets better. “Garden of Delete” is no exception. While some of his other stuff has had to grow on me, “Delete” instantly jumped out at me as being one of the best records of the year. The mixing is flawless and abundant, and the influences Lopatin draws from never cease to intrigue and energize the listener. If you like Flying Lotus and Amon Tobin, this should be your next logical step.
6. Deerhunter, Fading Frontier
Bradford Cox can be many things, but uninteresting is never one of them. While I wasn't in love with “Monomania,” it’s still a solid record. Having said that, “Fading Frontier” feels like the next gradual step for Cox and his Deerhunter brethren. It just feels like a more natural progression than the previous record, and it continues the steady and brilliant climb the band started with “Cryptograms” nearly a decade ago. Songs like “Ada Astra” are gorgeous and free, and make you want to dance in a dimly light bar with Christmas lights overhead. This is Deerhunter finding their footing again and returning to their stop near the top of the indie world with lush, otherworldly rock n roll. Maybe his bad accident last year calmed him down, but Deerhunter is here and as brilliant as ever.
5. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Everyone apparently was in love with “Mad City” except for me, which is fine, but it bothered me why it didn’t seem to grow on me in the way it did literally everyone else. Thankfully, this record was the moment where I finally figured out what all the hype was about. “To Pimp a Butterfly” isn’t just the Hip Hop album of the year, it’s one of the best Rap albums of the last five years. “King Kunta” bounces in the way that parties during the daytime when a few drinks have been consumed bounces, but that’s not it. The record hit me so hard because it reminds me, at least in spirit, of the type of Hip Hop Outkast was making early on. It’s progressive in the best ways, blurs the lines between what hip hop is and what it can be, but is also socially conscious enough to have you shaking your ass and flexing your brain muscles at the same time.
4. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit
In at number four, the sassy singer songwriter Courtney Barnett, who brings her unique brand of folk rock to the masses. The record, while not completely in line with what you’d think of when you hear the word “Folk,” certainly has tinges of that genre. This music is easy going at times, but can also be harsh and in your face (“Pedestrian at Best” comes to mind) but the album has a sort of semi-autobiographical feel to it that makes it easy to digest. And while “Pedestrian” is the crown jewel of the album, so many of the other tracks are excellent. “Small Poppies” is a country song mixed with Pitchfork world, while “Aqua Profunda” jangles with various elements from all walks of life. Throughout, Barnett’s voice remains solitary and somewhat awkward and monotone, but in that voice lies an honesty that is hard to ignore, and even harder to not enjoy.
3. Deafheaven, New Bermuda
When George Clarke bellows “I begged not to carry the corpse,” You feel the terror and fear in his voice, and in it’s that moment that the true brilliance of “New Bermuda” comes to focus. Multiple moments during the over forty-five minute record are bone chilling and sobering, but Deafheaven manages to make an album not only worth your time, but a record that is polarizing and eye opening in the world of extreme metal. The guitars bleed through with harmonious agony, and the vocals are deep and introspective. What also works so well is how the band manages to make an album that isn’t simply “Sunbather” Part 2. That would have been a grave error, but they manage to make a record so full of life, so good and bad that it’s impossible to ignore. Even as the record ends, the last guitar parts crush over the sand like waves tend to do, and with that perfect, pristine farewell, “New Bermuda” leaves us wanting more.
2. Tame Impala, Currents
This band seriously might be the type of band that continually gets better with every recording. Much like how Grizzly Bear is able to grow and deepen with each subsequent releases, Kevin Parker has managed to get more and more awesome with each record. On his third record under the Tame Impala moniker, Parker arguably outdoes the limits he set with his first two releases and makes not only a record that is more focused and personal, but he also manages to make an R&B record better that most rhythm and blues artists could manage to make. It’s a mover and a shaker of a breakup record (even if Parkers intentions weren’t to make a breakup album) and songs like “Yes I’m Changing” and “Eventually” pull at your heart chords, even more so if you were actually dealing with the fallout of a failed relationship as you digested the record. Kevin Parker continually reinvents the path he’s on and navigates to new areas, and “Currents,” his best record proves he’s only getting started
1. Chvrches, Every Eye Open
Over the last couple of weeks, the inner dialogue in my head has been wrestling with which album in my top three would ultimately be given Album of the Year, but here it is, the second record by the electronic trio known as Chvrches. With “Every Eye Open,” Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty convincingly make a record that not only is more subtle than “The Bones of What You Believe” but it’s richer in the worlds they create and show us. This was the record this year that pushed me away initially and gradually showed itself to me over multiple listens, and in that you truly grow to love and get to know the music in a more forceful way. Because I initially didn’t love it, I had to take the time to examine it, and in that examination I found a record that is substantially better than “Bones,” both in musician construction and fearlessness. Take a song like “Clearest Blue,” which builds and builds over Mayberry’s angelic voice, or a track like the Martin Doherty led “High Enough to Carry You Over,” which showcases Martin in a way that is lightyears ahead of how he was presented on the previous effort, and you have not only a brilliantly rich sophomore record, but you have my vote for Album of the Year.
Thanks for reading! See you in 2016!!
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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