The best albums of the year, as voted by those who’ve written for us all semester. Complete with loving praise and custom illustrations
As we draw the curtains on 2015, we look over what’s been a stonking year of albums. I know, every year’s a stonker according to us journos. But seriously, 2015 eats 2014 for breakfast. Testament to this high standard is the variety of albums on our list, with releases from post rock to hip-hop to sugar pop making the cut. I’m sure there’s particular gems we’ve missed and particular genres we’ve under valued, but it’s an authentic representation of what our writers have been digging, so if you find yourself grumbling at your computer screen, come write for us in the new year and have your say! Each album comes with a loving praise and a custom re-imagining of it’s cover art by our artistically inclined friends and fellows. Here’s to 2016 and the magical musical moments it will bring.
10) Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress – Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Released 31st March via Constellation
Clocking in at just 40 minutes makes this the shortest full-length Canadian post-rockers GY!BE have recorded. However, this is by no means a bad thing as the LP feels like a distilled version of 2012’s excellent comeback ‘’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’. Based on the live track ‘Behemoth’, the band perform an utterly engrossing piece across 4 tracks meant to be listened to as a whole. Taking you through the grandeur of ‘Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’, the haunting drones and static of ‘Lambs’ Breath’ and ‘Asunder, Sweet’, before finishing with the spiralling strings of ‘Piss Crowns Are Trebled’, the album is a veritable journey of mental imagery that toys with your emotions.
– Adam Rogers
9) Art Angels – Grimes
Released 6th November via 4AD
With her fourth studio album, Claire Boucher sounds like she is truly making the music she loves. Her poppy aesthetic choices – so brilliantly brought to life by her obsessive self-production – may have come as a surprise, but these maximalist, spasmodic, slightly deranged songs are unimaginable in any other form. When you take the plunge, you’re bombarded with pitch shifting ‘kawaii’ vocals, trap claps, country guitar licks, a billion melodies crammed into each song, all topped with Boucher’s multiple-personality-disorder delivery – and yet somehow, you don’t get a headache. In fact, you get something like the exact opposite.
– Henry Scanlan
8) Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett
Released 20th March via Milk
Witty, articulate and delightfully grungy, Courtney Barnett’s debut album is a celebration of, well, nothing very significant at all. Holding steadfast in a swirl of abrasive guitar riffs and matter-of-fact, deadpan lyrical delivery, Sometimes I Sit and Think… is an idiosyncratic lament of beautiful, insignificant-yet-meticulous detail that constantly unravels listen-upon listen. Filled to the brim with intricate subtleties which pass you by before you can realise, Barnett’s profound realism can at first wash you away – however, this Melbournian’s sardonic storytelling and genre-revitalising musicality has propelled this record into being one of the most important releases of 2015.
– Jamie Chapman
7) Have You In My Wilderness – Julia Holter
Released 25th September via Domino
The LA based singer and composer delivered a masterpiece of pure songcraft with her fourth album. The album has a more open and accessible sound than Holter’s previous efforts, her excellent vocals and song writing ability being brought to the fore. Even though there is a more pop ballad sound on the surface it manages to remain incredibly intricate and abstract in places. The album jumps between differing viewpoints and moods, but a sense of wonder and new found emotional intimacy unites the songs, each piece acting as a voyage into a different mysterious world. A journey everyone should take.
– Dom Bennett
6) In Colour – Jamie XX
Released 29th May via Young Turks
In Colour is the perfect album title for The XX man’s debut; it’s a record that brings together the bright euphoria of uplifting dance music but still remains very intimate and restrained. Isolation and loneliness are common themes throughout the record and Jamie manages to communicate these whilst capturing the joys in the shared experience of clubbing. Every track is beautifully crafted, feeling organic and sonically rich. With In Colour, Jamie really makes a bold statement, proving he’s one of UK Dance music’s brightest talents, with one of the most refreshing club albums in years.
– Mark Holland
5) Elaenia – Floating Points
Released 6th November via Pluto
Lush, pristine, and wildly original, Elaenia’s release marked the moment Sam Shepherd finally broke through into all of our collective musical worlds. It’s the first LP-sized entry in the Manchester wunderkind’s discography, but it brims with the confidence and proficiency you’d expect from a veteran jazz artist. Think Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way and you’ll be halfway there. Stunning from beginning to end, no other album this year works in quite the same way. Bring on album number two.
– Joe Connell
4) To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Released 15th March via TDE
Given highly politicised singles and album artwork and released amidst fever pitch of race relations on the US, many of us were expecting Kendrick’s sophomore record to be one of singular purpose; a ferocious call to arms. Instead, he took the fight to the mirror. Kendrick is conflicted: he’s a star, he’s an egomaniac, he’s an inspiration, he’s betrayed his own people. Yet To Pimp… manages to say far more about the world around him than we were expecting, in acknowledgement that problems, like people, are complex. His debut may have been subtitled ‘a short film’ but it’s here that Kenny proves himself the master of narrative. As the ever expanding poem interlaced between tracks winds to a close, we’re treated to a twist ending (in an album!). It’s a unique and thrilling musical masterpiece.
– Rob Paterson
3) Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens
Released 31st March via Asthmatic Kitty
Sufjan Stevens ushered in spring with a hushed and wintry record – his best to date. Avoiding the maximalist instrumentation and observational lyricism he’s best known for, Sufjan instead opted for sparseness and introspection. That means no more bible studies or character pieces: exploring the death of his absent mother and revisiting childhood memories, the focus here is squarely on Sufjan, unobtrusively backed by fingerpicked guitars and subtle keyboards. The change in style works: his heartbreakingly candid explorations of grief are as compelling as anything he’s written, and the fragile instrumentation is an appropriate accompaniment. Slight, airy music substantiated by heavy themes – Carrie & Lowell is one of 2015’s best releases.
– Joe Casson
2) Currents – Tame Impala
Released 17th July via Interscope
Tame Impala took a change in direction with Currents. This is the same psychedelic Tame Impala as before, but unashamedly more poppy. The synths and handclaps injected into seven minute epic ‘Let It Happen’ crackle and bounce out of the record, while ‘The Less I Know The Better’ got a healthy dose of disco. Kevin Parker’s characteristically introspective lyrics are significantly more open than those in his past endeavours and connect the listener on a personal level amongst luscious, hook filled instrumentals on tracks like ‘Yes I’m Changing’ and ‘Same Old Mistakes’. Our hermit hero finally stumbles in the limelight, blinking, yet basking. Currents encapsulates change as a profound human experience and explores it from so many angles that you’ll be going back again and again.
– Matthew Staite
1) I Love You Honeybear – Father John Misty
Released 9th February via Sub Pop
Josh Tillman’s cynicism and his dry wit working in conjunction with beautiful melodies and string arrangements make for the most (literally) bittersweet album of the year. Tillman’s lyrics are laced with pessimism on topics such as the “American Dream” in ‘Bored in the U.S.A.’, and fundamentalist religion in ‘Holy Shit’. Even his love songs have to involve the romantic concept of the decline and self-destruction of the human race, as in the eponymous album opener. This, with his cover of the equally disillusioned ‘The Suburbs’ by Arcade Fire, this year cap off Tillman’s campaign of hate towards humanity. However it’s not all disgust and disdain on his behalf, ending I Love You, Honeybear on a moment of clarity, as he caps off a majestically swelling piece of music lovingly with the words first he said to his (as of recently) wife, an uplifting and a warming realisation that, maybe, things aren’t so bad after all.
– Zakk Brown