Top 10 Albums of 2015
2015 is easily the best year for music in ages, so making this list was not easy, but as it is the end of the year, it had to be done. These works are quite diverse in their approach, but ultimately they often speak to similar themes: love, loss, and transformation — whether it’s personally or musically.
1. Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens returns to the roots of his musical style and delivers something exceptional here. The simplicity is disarming. The emotional punch is often times painful. After listening to this album an untold number of times, I cannot help but cry. This is the perfect example of how less is, in fact, more.
2. Joanna Newsom- Divers
There is no album is better constructed than Joanna’s latest effort, and that’s probably because it’s her leanest work. It manages to capture the same kind of lyrical and instrumental depth of her sprawling previous efforts, while reigning in cyclical themes between life and death. Like Sufjan, she manages to bring us closer to her than she has ever done before.
3. Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly
There has been a lot of debate as of the merit of this album, but I think it’s safe to say it will enter into rap cannon. It has the kind of unexpected jazz complexity of a D’Angelo record with the urgency of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. More importantly, however, I think is the emotional vulnerability Kendrick displays. Few other male rap artists do this, ever.
4. Bjork- Vulnicura
What makes this album so great is the blend between Bjork’s wandering lyrics, Arca’s dense, beautiful electronics, and the soaring string arrangements. This is an album that was meant for concert halls, and having seen it in concert halls, all I could say at the end was Wow! The more you listen, the more you appreciate this album. And that’s very difficult to do.
5. Grimes — Art Angels
I really wanted to hate this album when I first heard the singles. It didn’t exactly make sense, but hearing the whole thing together you have one of the more surprising, undefinable pop albums in a long time. It manages to be straight up 1980s while feeling 2015 through Taiwanese rap & metal undertones.
6. Petite Noir — La Vie Est Belle
No other album this year is quite as original as Petite Noir’s debut. It is Pan-African, laced with drum beats, French Congolese rap, and anchored by a voice that sounds like a singer who’s been making music for a decade. When listening to this, I can’t help but feel electrified and introspective at the same time. No other album has made me feel quite the same way.
7. Susanne Sundfør — Ten Love Songs
Susanne does baroque pop, and she does it better than virtually anyone else. Her most recent album is not exception, with the qualification that synths play a huge role in adding power and urgency to the underlying melodies that focus, as you would expect, on love. If you ever get the chance to hear her live, do it. She sounds better in person.
8. Shamir- Ratchet
Go off, go off, go off! This album is everything you want in a throwback dance album. Shamir is not the best singer of the bunch, but he has more infectious style of anyone else this year. No matter the song, you’ll always find your toe tapping to these queer, deep house tracks. I don’t know why more people aren’t playing his music.
9. Janet Jackson — Unbreakable
I struggled to decide this placement. I think Courtney Barnett has a tighter album, but the spirit and energy Janet Jackson displays in this comeback album is special. She feels more comfortable singing than ever before, and I think it shows throughout the album. The end may be a tad overlong, but the middle stretch more than makes up for it.
10. Seinabo Sey — Pretend
I doubt that Seinabo will be in many year-end lists, but her voice is just a force to be reckoned with. Outside of Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes, it’s hard to find many artists with such a powerful, timeless sound. She references Nina Simone and Mary J. Blige, among others, while capturing a very British aesthetic (even though she is Swedish).
And there were so many standouts that couldn’t make it. Here were some of my favorite honorable mentions.