Weighing in with the Best of 2015
Although 2015 didn’t turn out exactly as director Robert Zemeckis predicted in his hit film Back to the Future Part II, it was still quite an exciting year.
So, we haven’t exactly figured out how to manufacture flying cars or self-adjusting clothing, but we did celebrate 50 years of the Grateful Dead; we witnessed “The Killer” Jerry Lee Lewis embark on his final U.K. Tour; we watched the Foo Fighters perform despite frontman Dave Grohl’s broken leg; we scoffed as presidential candidate Donald Trump fought with artists such as Neil Young, Method Man, and R.E.M.; and laughed at the many different parodies of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” music video.
But, like every year, 2015 had both its “ups” and its “downs.”
Following the Nov. 13 terrorist attack on a Paris nightclub, which claimed the lives of 89 victims attending an Eagles of Death Metal concert, people all over the world came together in a show of solidarity for the victims and their families.
This year, we also said goodbye to such incredible musicians as legendary Blues guitarist B.B. King, New Orleans R&B icon Allen Toussaint, former-Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland and Motörhead founder and frontman Lemmy Kilmister.
Now, as we prepare to bid adieu to 2015, let us reflect one more time on some of the best new music that this year had to offer.
Here are my picks for the Best albums of 2015 (by genre):
Progressive Rock: Alone in the Universe — Jeff Lynne’s ELO
Jeff Lynne and the second resurrection of Electric Light Orchestra was like a much-needed gift from the rock music Gods. Apart from being the first album to bear the name “ELO” in almost 15 years, Alone in the Universe hardly skips a beat; with Lynne and original ELO keyboardist Richard Tandy, returning right back to their classic symphonic rock sound.
Electric Light Orchestra was created in 1970 by the remaining three members of the ’60s British Rock band, The Move — Lynne, guitarist Roy Wood and drummer Bev Bevan — with the premise of producing modern rock music with classical overtones.
Over the years, ELO has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide and continues to hold the record for having the most songs to hit the Billboard Top 40 charts without a №1 single.
Although Alone in the Universe did not feature any Top 40 singles, it debuted at №23 on the Billboard 200 charts, making it the highest charting album by ELO since 1981’s Time and a refreshing reminder that the classic rock sound of Electric Light Orchestra is still alive and well in 2015.
-Runnerup- Purple Album by Baroness
Hip-Hop: Welcome to JFK — Chinx
Everybody who helped produce Welcome to JFK, the debut album from Far Rockaway rapper Lionel “Chinx” Pickens, knew it was going to be a mainstream success. So, it came as little surprise that Welcome to JFK debuted at №21 Billboard 200 charts.
Paring up with such big name artists as French Montana, Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremih and Nipsey Hussle, Welcome to JFK is Chinx’s first commercial success, selling over 16,000 copies this year.
Tragically, Chinx was shot and killed on his way home from Brooklyn in May… just three months before Welcome to JFK was scheduled to be released. Although Chinx no longer with us, he left behind a catalog of unreleased music, which his manager said will most likely be released on another posthumous album which will be released at a future date.
For more on Welcome to JFK check out my interview with manager Doug “Biggs” Ellison at SaluteMag.com.
-Runnerup- To Pimp a Butterfly — Kendrick Lamar
EDM: Peace is the Mission — Major Lazer
These days, it’s impossible to turn on Top 40 radio without hearing Major Lazer and DJ Snake’s hit single, “Lean On.”
U.K. producers Diplo (Thomas Wesley Pentz) and Switch (David James Andrew Taylor) first joined forces as the Jamaican superhero-themed duo, Major Lazer, in 2008, after collaborating with Academy Award-nominated recording artist M.I.A. on her Gold certified album Kala.
Despite the success of their debut album, Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do, Switch left the group in 2011, when Diplo decided to bring in producers Jillionaire and Walshy Fire — also of Jamaican sound system Black Chiney — to fill his place.
Peace is the Mission, the third studio album from Major Lazer, was released by Diplo’s record label, Mad Decent, in early June and features guest appearances from such artists as Ty Dolla $ign, Ellie Goulding, Chronixx, Nyla, 2 Chainz, Ariana Grande, Travis $cott and Pusha T.
Peaking at the №12 spot on the Billboard 200 charts, Peace is the Mission garnered even bigger success overseas in Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, where the lead single, “Lean On” feat. DJ Snake and MØ, hit №1 on the charts.
-Runnerup- Deja Vú — Giorgio Moroder
Ambient/Downtempo: VEGA INTL. Night School — Neon Indian
What was intended to be lead singer Alan Palomo’s solo project became something more, when he decided to merge aspects of his electronic band Neon Indian and his solo project, “Vega.”
The end result blends downtempo electronica with an upbeat synthpop sound similar to 80s new wave artists such as The Police or Genesis.
The album’s crown jewel is the final track, “News from the Sun,” which features Palomo’s almost Prince-like vocals on the hook.
-Runnerup- St. Germain — St. Germain
Metal: New Bermuda — Deafheaven
What makes New Bermuda, the third studio album by San Francisco black metal band Deafheaven, so unique is the way the band blends elements of progressive rock, shoegaze and heavy metal to concoct a powerful new sound.
New Bermuda features five tracks in total, for a combined running time of 46:45 minutes — way too long to be considered an EP.
Listening through the growls, guitar riffs and double-bass drum pedals, one can hear the various transitions in each song.
For example, the song “Baby Blue,” opens with an early ’90s alternative rock sound for roughly three full-minutes before it segues back into lead singer George Clarke’s baritone growls.
Another noteworthy track is the 10-minute-long “Luna,” which features an array of sounds and transitions from heavy metal guitars to mysteriously ambient sounds.
-Runnerup- Book of Souls — Iron Maiden
Pop: 25 — Adele
As if selling over 4 million albums in three days wasn’t enough to land Adele on practically every “Best of 2015” list, her new album 25 has been sitting pretty at №1 on the Billboard 200 charts for its fifth week in a row.
Prior to the album’s release, on Nov. 20, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter already started to attract attention with her featured single, “Hello,” which has been individually certified quadruple platinum in the U.S. Since then, Adele has continued to break sales records worldwide with her third studio album 25, which has already been certified 6x platinum in the U.K. and 5x platinum in the U.S., selling more than nine million copies between the two countries.
-Runnerup- Sound & Colour — Alabama Shakes
Indie: I Love You Honeybear — Father John Misty
Ever wonder what would happen if you took the voice of My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, the unapologetic lyrics of Warren Zevon, and the experimental sound of Animal Collective?
Well, it would probably sound a lot like, I Love You Honeybear, the third studio album by former Fleet Foxes frontman J. Tillman — a.k.a. Father John Misty.
Making it to the top of nearly everyone’s “best of 2015” list this year, I Love You Honeybear was a rare gem.
-Runnerup- Fading Frontiers — Deerhunter
Rock: That’s the Spirit — Bring Me The Horizon
In case you’re wondering why I didn’t pick That’s the Spirit as the “Best Metal Album of 2015,” it’s because the latest album from the U.K. metalcore group Bring Me the Horizon was just so all-around enjoyable, I felt it would be easier to just crown it the “Best Rock Album of 2015.”
Bring Me The Horizon decided to go in a different direction with That’s the Spirit, tossing aside their usual growling for a more melodic style of hard rock. The result was an unexpected success; That’s the Spirit claimed a spot at №2 on the Billboard 200 charts and was Silver certified by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for selling over 60,000 albums in the U.K.
For more on Bring Me The Horizon, check out my review of That’s the Spirit at SaluteMag.com.
-Runnerup- Another One — Mac Demarco
Soundtrack: Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Soundtrack — Lin Manuel Miranda
What began as an off-Broadway production, Hamilton: An American Musical received critical acclaim for its modern representation of
What began as an off-Broadway production soon swept New York City by storm. Written by 35-year-old composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical, received praise from music and theatre critics alike for its modern representation of this classic tale from American history. The hip-hop musical follows former U.S. President Andrew Hamilton, who most notably led the United States Treasury from 1789–1795 and shot Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel.
After relocating to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway, the show has been virtually sold out, making it one of the most exclusive performances to debut since the Book of Mormon in 2011.
-Runnerup- Rock the Kasbah Original Motion Picture Soundtrack — Various Artists
Comeback of 2015: Brian Wilson
This has been quite a year for the former Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson.
Perhaps best known for his work on the Beach Boys’ best selling album Pet Sounds, Wilson struggled with drug abuse and family life for many years before deciding to return to music. His story was recently portrayed by John Cusack and Paul Dano in the motion picture biopic, Love & Mercy, from director Bill Pohled.
The movie received critical acclaim from film and music critics, for its gripping portrayal of Wilson’s madness, from his departure from the Beach Boys in the late ’60s to his slow road to recovery in the 1980's.
Brian Wilson also returned, this year, with a new full-length studio album, No Pier Pressure, his eleventh non-Disney solo project since 2008’s That Lucky Old Sun.
No Pier Pressure is a captivating thrill ride through the eyes of a 1960s rock legend and a must have for any Beach Boys fanatics.
Country: Something More Than Free — Jason Isbell
Singer-songwriter and former Drive-By Trucker, Jason Isbell, made serious waves this year, with the release of his fifth solo album, Something More than Free, which debuted at №1 on Billboard’s folk, rock and country charts, earlier this year.
Newly sober after 10 years of alcohol dependency, Isbell said that his latest album was intended to be a bit more celebratory than his last, having just had his first child with his wife, fellow singer-songwriter, Amanda Shires.
Clearly, the upbeat attitude worked quite well for the 36-year-old musician from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, who sold more than 112,000 copies of his new album this year.
Bluegrass: Undercover EP — Infamous Stringdusters
Five songs was just enough to place the Infamous Stringdusters on my “Best of 2015” list.
Featuring Bluegrass covers of classic rock songs, such as Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” and Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” The Undercover EP was certainly an album I felt worth mentioning this year.
Jazz: For One To Love — Cecile McLorin Salvant
Grammy nominated jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant stole the show, this year, with her captivating new album For One To Love, which received critical acclaim from such publications as The New York Times, The L.A. Times and The Guardian.
Salvant is something special. With just the snap of a finger, she can seamlessly transition her vocals to go from sounding like Björk to Etta James. For One To Love also features several contemporary jazz covers from such classic songwriters as Blanche Calloway, Leonard Bernstein, Steven Sondheim, Burt Bacharach, Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II, and Monique Andreé Serf.