My Top Five Favorite Albums of 2015

Here we are — my top five albums of 2015. Before we begin, I’d like to give a quick kudos to the artists whose albums almost made it: The Weeknd, Little Mix, Grimes, Allie X, and Fall Out Boy. Sorry, guys. You really brought your A-game, but you won’t be achieving music’s greatest honor (rotation into my shower playlist) this year.

5. Melanie Martinez — Cry-Baby

With a whisper and a giggle, Melanie Martinez creates a jarring and campy confection in which she plays the fictional “Cry-Baby,” navigating a grim world with childlike innocence. Cry-Baby is a dark and often ridiculous concept album that rigidly sticks to its theme of childhood: “Mr. Potato Head” is a stand-in for plastic surgery, a “Sippy Cup” can hold codeine, and “Play Date” refers to activities of a far more adult nature. Her aching, wispy delivery matches her subject matter perfectly. Cry-Baby combines trap production with sticky-sweet imagery to create a hypnotic and harsh pop confection.

4. Kacey Musgraves — Pageant Material

I am the least qualified of anyone to determine what constitutes authentic country music. That being said, Musgraves infuses her lyrics with a specificity and a cheekiness that are impossible to counterfeit. While she’s often lauded for covering topics foreign to country music like smoking pot and sexism (the fantastic and sly “Pageant Material” touches on both), she’s not an outsider by any means. “You can take me out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of me,” she sings in the sweet, sparse “Dime Store Cowgirl.” Musgraves writes with a universal ‘we’ that’s welcoming and charming, inviting the listener to take a second look at rural upbringings and annoying family members.There’s a gentleness and a swing to her loping lyrics and guitar twangs, which makes her hokey platitudes and small-town enthusiasm seem reassuring and necessary in a music market oversaturated with beer-chuggin’, truck-ridin’ bro-country.

3. Jason Derulo — Everything Is 4

Everything Is 4 is Derulo’s strongest album yet, a slick compilation of club-ready bangers that showcases his chameleonic ability to ape and improve upon pop’s latest infatuations. He gleefully dabbles in tropical house (“Try Me” with Jennifer Lopez and DJ-of-the-moment Matoma), layers background vocals and funk guitar into “Love Me Down,” and blends gospel and country on “Broke.” Derulo is too ambitious to waste any time — the synths must be slinkier, the breakdowns more climactic, the booties more engaged. In his quest to create the Ultimate Jam, Derulo has continued the work he did with “Talk Dirty” and “Wiggle” and nearly eliminated the pop chorus as we know it, paring it down to only electronic squeals, repetitive bass lines, and the requisite DJ Mustard “hey” chants. Standouts include “Pull-Up,” a skittering trap vehicle for Derulo to show off his falsetto and make puns about automotive sex, and “Get Ugly,” which opens with the earnestly delivered lyric “Oh my oh my oh my god / this girl straight and this girl not.” Listening to this album all at once feels like listening to all of the top 40 hits of the past year compressed down into a tight, pulsating package with a sex-positive attitude and a heart of gold.

2. HOLYCHILD — The Shape of Brat Pop to Come

Blistering and gaudy, The Shape of Brat Pop… is meant to be blasted at full volume with a champagne glass clutched tightly in a chipped-manicure hand. HOLYCHILD duo Liz Nistico and Louie Diller insist that their album and Brat Pop (their self-created album) in general are about rebellion, equality, and finding some sort of universal truth — but not if that means sacrificing fun. “Money All Around” offers a criticism of capitalism and media expectations, but it’s delivered in a cascade of looped hiccupping vocals and room-shaking bass. “Dye your hair! Tan your skin! Liposuctions really in!” Nistico screams in her best Valley Girl whine on “Nasty Girls,” the album’s most obvious vehicle for feminist themes. HOLYCHILD may sound like a pack of cheerleaders let loose with some 808 drums, but they stick to their message without compromising their sound, and what could be more punk than that?

1. Carly Rae Jepsen — E•MO•TION

In the year of our Lorde 2015, Carly Slay Jepsen blessed us with a true 1980s masterpiece. Jepsen provides aching, delicate pop vocals which lend a perfect note of earnestness to prom night ballads “All That” and “Your Type.” “Boy Problems” transforms a typical pop topic — ugh, boys! — into a question of honesty and support within a female friendship. All of this pales in comparison to the album opener and its powerhouse of a chorus. When Jepsen commands you to ‘take her to the feeling,’ nothing matters anymore. Her unfair lack of Grammy nominations doesn’t matter, your bills don’t matter, nothing matters — as long as Carly’s harmonizing with her own sax line on “Run Away with Me,” you’re free and everything is pure. Reader, I really really really really really really like her.

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