15. Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, Girl
Full of surprises, Jenny Hval’s fifth studio album delves into territory that her previous work had avoided entirely. It pushes boundaries, with noisy interludes and sharp melodies that are so well crafted it’s impossible to take all the musical arrangements in with one listen. It’s weird, wonderful, and one of the most intriguing and bizarre records released this year.
14. Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes
Despite a couple of uneven songs and Sun Kil Moon’s (singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek) personal lyrical vendettas, there are ultimately more good things than bad to say about Universal Themes. Taking the stream-of-conscious lyrical conceit of 2014’s Benji a step further by not tying it to any specific theme, he muses on love, death, and insignificant encounters with strangers, resulting in a complicated portrait of an acerbic crank. The lack of focus is responsible for the album’s weaknesses, but also contributes to its strengths—the idea that his songs can go anywhere is a liberating one.
13. Jamie xx – In Colour
Jamie xx of The xx delivers the platonic ideal of uplifting ambient music: It’s unobtrusive at first, but worms its way into the consciousness through multiple listens. After a while, the songs become fully internalized and the listener is invariably in a better mood than before they pressed play. There’s something to be said for an album that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, even when its goals aren’t as lofty as one would hope.
12. Marina & the Diamonds – FROOT
While her previous two efforts were all over the place, Marina’s third studio album, FROOT is a much more focused and well-realized album filled with catchy 80s-inspired songs that are reminiscent of Madonna in her prime. The Welsh singer-songwriter finally accepts her slightly unconventional position within not only the music industry, but society in general: “All the other jewels around me astounded me at first / But I’m not cursed / I was just covered in dirt.” It’s hard to get more honest or hopeful than that.
11. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Shut-ins of the world, rejoice—Earl Sweatshirt’s delightfully bleak album is notable for how stridently out-of-step it is with what could be labelled as normal human behaviour. In a genre often characterized by excess and machismo, Sweatshirt delivers an album that clocks in at under 30 minutes and highlights his painful insecurity above anything else, resulting in one of the more unique rap albums of the modern era.
10. Bjork – Vulnicura
With her signature distorted vocals and electronic-infused production, Bjork’s ninth studio album is one of her strongest. While a hard record to get through with its magnitude of instrumentals and the sheer length of the songs, it’s a rewarding and intriguing listen. It skilfully both reveals all, but at the same time nothing, about the enigmatic person behind this work of art.
9. Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again
“Peoples faces blend together / Like a watercolour you can’t remember,” whispers Los Angeles native, Jessica Pratt, in a voice instantly reminiscent of Kate Bush. In many ways, this one line holds more weight to it than many mainstream albums do in their entirety; however, On Your Own Love Again is teeming with excellent lyricism. The intricately produced songs, recorded in Pratt’s own living room—by herself—with nothing more than a few guitars, reflect the emotion perfectly, complimenting the sense of utter loneliness Pratt is delivering.
8. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Father John Misty (Joshua Tillman) offers a beautifully-arranged cure to the hipster narcissism that often accompanies indie music with an album that's unabashedly sentimental and romantic. Even more impressive is Tillman's ability to put that romance in an us-against-the-world context that's equal parts naive and heroic.
7. Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect
With a host of big-name producers, echoing drums, and synthesized-infused songs, Brandon Flowers delivered one of the most fully realized and ‘80s-sounding records in recent memory.The Desired Effect primarily concerns unreciprocated love but also tackles existential wonders, self-worth, and the issue of tradition vs. progression.
6. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
With Pageant Material, her second studio album, Musgraves continues to do what she does best: Make simple songs about complicated people. On “This Town” she discusses the bored realities of small-town life: “Everybody got real happy when the grocery store got beer”; “Somebody To Love” provides one of the most poignant lines of the year: “We’re all tryna get to heaven / but not today”; whilst “Good Ol’ Boys Club” is a fun little dig at the music industry: “Favours for friends will get you in and get you far / When did it become about who you know and not about how good you are?” Pageant Material is an out-and-out country record that offers some of the best songwriting skills of the year.
5. Titus Andronicus – A Most Lamentable Tragedy
Titus Andronicus rebounds from its sophomore slump, Local Business, with a gloriously excessive triple-album about living with bipolar disorder. There is surprisingly little filler for such a long album—it clocks in at over 90 minutes— as frontman Patrick Stickles shrieks and mumbles through emotional turmoil. Somehow bridging a gap between metal and bar rock, the album lends a triumphant voice for the hordes of people who can't stand to get out of bed in the morning, let alone sing.
4. Sleater Kinney – No Cities To Love
Following a rather complicated band history, Sleater Kinney returned with their first release in 10 years, a record that reflected the ups and downs the group has experienced over the past decade. It’s an exploration of success, age, and the group’s journey, held together with massive drums, angsty guitars, and intricately produced songs. With each song and experience and story of its own, No Cities To Love is a fantastic record that was well worth the wait.
3. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
A densely packed, politically infused, and genre-bending album, To Pimp A Butterfly is the record that 2015 needs. It’s an unapologetic rage and unfiltered explosion of emotion; something that only gets better with repeated listens. Not since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has there been such an honest, angsty, and conceptually sharp album. This could be one of the best albums of the decade, let alone the year.
2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
The debut studio album of Australian indie artist Courtney Barnett examines the simple things in life that everyone experiences but never pays attention to. On “Pedestrian At Best,” she faces the reality of being a disappointment when raised on a pedestal, “Dead Fox” discusses millennial confusion impeccably well, while album highlight “Depreston” discusses the heartbreaking realization that even a run-down house in the suburbs is too expensive for a young couple to purchase. It’s honest, intriguing, and one of the smartest and cleverly written debut albums released since Arcade Fire’s Funeral(2004).
1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
The loss of innocence and realization of growing up is never easy, but it’s made even more difficult when life is full of personal hardships. Inspired by the death of his mother and various other relationship troubles that stemmed from that emotional void, Sufjan Stevens’ seventh studio album incorporates intricate yet understated instrumentals layered beneath his raw and troubled voice. Achingly beautiful, Carrie & Lowell is one of the most heartbreaking and distraught listens released this year.