Here are our picks for the best albums of 2015:
10. Lana Del Rey — Honeymoon
Dramatically toning down the gritty sound of her previous album, Ultraviolence (2014), in favour of a more layered, ethereal, and timeless aesthetic, Lana Del Rey—one of pop music’s most divisive artist—takes the listener on an exquisite journey of love, drugs, and existential poetry. Del Rey’s vocals soar over sparse, skittering beats and heavy strings, whilst her lyrics tackle themes of being misunderstood, getting high, and escaping reality. She flips the concept of the male gaze on its head during the brilliant “Music To Watch Boys To;” she’s a menacing mistress on “24,” and a reminiscing Hollywood starlet on “Terrence Loves You.” Most of all, she’s a pop voice like no other.
9. Destroyer — Poison Season
Dan Bejar, the ubiquitous troubadour hero of Canadian indie rock, once again delivers an album that is truly unique—both from his previous work and from other artists. Incorporating a luscious string section and drawing on influences from Bruce Springsteen to orchestral chamber music, Bejar creates a record even more impactful than his 2011 classic, Kaputt. Full of songs about “cities and girls and injury,” the album spins hyperverbal tales of urban decay and budding love, realistic and fantastical in equal measure. It’s the perfect music for a long evening drive.
8. D’Angelo — Black Messiah
Nearly 15 years after the release of his neo-soul opus Voodoo, D’Angelo finally returned late last year. Needless to say, he didn’t disappoint. In Black Messiah, D’Angelo produced a record that’s every bit as ambitious, challenging, and downright groovy as its predecessor. The political overtones on “1000 Deaths” and “The Charade” prove that D’Angelo’s learned a couple things during his hiatus. Nevertheless, like any D’Angelo record Black Messiah is about the groove first and foremost. Working with a virtuosic rhythm section of ?uestlove on drums and Pino Palladino on bass, on this record D’Angelo’s crafted a pocket so deep no light can escape.
7. Alabama Shakes — Sound & Color
Sound & Color marks the second studio endeavoir of Southern rock band Alabama Shakes, but don’t let their geographic origins fool you. Debuting at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200, Sound & Color explores a myriad of genres and atmospheres that really complicate a simple labeling of the band’s genre. “Don’t Wanna Fight,” for example, showcases the band’s successful and refreshing modern spin on traditional soul/blues rock, while only two tracks later, “Gimme All Your Love” takes this soul formula and amazingly injects it with an electronic ‘space-ness’ that bridges generally unacquainted genres. Brittany Howard, composer, lead vocalist, and guitarist on most tracks, truly shines on this record, and will definitely be a musical force in the coming years.
6. Grimes — Art Angels
Art Angels is a glorious showcase of Grimes’ versatility and far-reaching artistic vision. Tracks like “California” and “Flesh Without Blood” could easily find their way on popular radio stations right beside La Roux or even Selena Gomez, while “SCREAM” harkens back to her more experimental work on Visions. Art Angels seamlessly blends Grimes’ bubblegum-bright voice with ‘90s pop guitar in anthem after anthem celebrating female autonomy. The album is evidence that Grimes is blossoming from a somewhat fringe artist into a skilled producer and performer. Catchy tracks and complex production make Art Angels an excellent album.
5. Courtney Barnett — Sometimes I Sit and Think… And Sometimes I Just Sit
With effortless vocal delivery and gritty guitar melodies, Courtney Barnett’s debut album offers some of the most meticulously crafted, lyrically-genius songs this year. On “Dead Fox” she examines the simple things in life, “Pedestrian At Best” deals with a perceived risk of not delivering to societal expectations once becoming ‘famous,’ while standout track, “Depreston” narrates the disappointing and expensive reality Barnett faces when trying to purchase her first home. Her songwriting is witty; her lyrics often tongue-in-cheek, but there’s no denying the quality behind her ‘girl-next-door’ façade and lyrical themes.
4. Jamie xx – In Colour
Jamie xx’s LP is the best electronic record in an underwhelming year for the genre. From the squelching garage of “Gosh” to melancholic “Obvs,” In Colour is a record that boasts every hue in the electronica rainbow. The LP also shows some solid collaborations with Jamie xx’s bandmates on “Stranger in a Room” and “Loud Places,” as well as the scorching “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” featuring Young Thug and Popcaan. Though it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, In Colour is a satisfying listen from front to back.
3. Tame Impala – Currents
In Currents Kevin Parker wastes no time with simplicity; each song is wrought with layers that feel like waves of psychedelic magic. Yet in this complex swirl of sound, meticulous drum and bass lines emerge, showcasing Parker’s talent for pop riffs. Parker borrows from funk, disco, noise rock, and dream pop to create a pop/rock record that runs wider in scope than any other alt rock project of this year. Sentimental yet upbeat, the record has the melancholy tinge of a breakup album while maintaining the euphoric anything-goes attitude of someone with nothing to lose and something like endless youth ahead of them.
2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Growing up is never easy—especially when the death of a loved one and a troubled childhood are involved. On his seventh studio album, Detroit-based singer-songwriter, Sufjan Stevens reflects on both earlier and easier times in his life, contrasting them with the devastating and traumatic events that led him to writing the songs he finds himself including on his latest record, namely his complicated relationship with his mother both before and after her death Despite the heartache behind the songs, the achingly beautiful Carrie & Lowell provides one of the most understated, but encapsulating listens of the year.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Every few years an album comes out that manages to take the pulse of an entire culture and perfectly verbalize its sentiments to the world. Just as rare is an album so personal and singular that no other artist could have released anything like it. To Pimp a Butterfly is both of those albums. Eschewing the narrative of his previous album, Lamar raps about everything on his mind—his crippling self-doubt and arrogance, religion, the way black people are treated in America, his complicated relationship with his past, and more. This is a dense album, both lyrically and musically, tightly winding influences from every genre under the sun around Kendrick’s typically insightful, spitfire lyrics filtered through his incredibly versatile vocal timbre. The result is an album that is almost defiantly idiosyncratic—a jazz-soaked tone poem that serves as both a ‘fuck you’ to society and a song of hope for the future in a tense, uncertain present.