Year after year, you constantly get the cynical among us lamenting about how much better music used to be. If you’re in your 30’s like myself, you might point to the 1990’s, or if you’re in your 20’s you might point to the 00’s, perhaps using the state of the current charts to strengthen your argument. You might have a point there too, if it wasn’t for the fact that pop music has always been absolutely shit. Allow me to point to Now That’s What I Call Music! 28 from 1994 as an example, a compilation which I had a bootleg cassette of at the time, and had very fond memories of. I’m pretty sure it’s where I first came across Blur, as a matter of fact; a band that would go on to be one of my two all time favourite musical acts, and which would give way to a lifelong obsession, which continues for me even today. Now look at that tracklist, and check out the selection of the music on YouTube. The vast majority of it is absolutely woeful, dated horribly, and now largely forgotten. To find greatness in music, you’ve got to dig a little deeper. Thankfully, with websites like Metacritic listing pretty much everything available as well as its release date, along with Spotify supplying almost everything you could want to listen to, it really is easier than ever to fall down the rabbit hole of most bands discographies. So, without further ado, here’s our 20 favourite albums of 2015. Happy Christmas everyone!
20. Le Galaxie – Le Club
Le Galaxie’s major label debut draws inspiration from disco and 80’s synthpop, making for one of the most enjoyable party albums of the year, with “Carmen” featuring May Kay from Fight Like Apes being a major highlight of the record.
Essential Tracks: Humanise, Carmen, Love System
19. Title Fight – Hyperview
With their third album, Title Fight opted to embrace shoegazuing, In just under 32 minutes, the gamble on that venture very much pays off, particularly on tracks like “Marhc”.
Essential Tracks: Mrahc, Murder Your Memory, Liar’s Love
18. Eagles of Death Metal – Zipper Down
Eagles of Death Metal’s fourth album maintains the bands’ level of playfulness whilst simultaneously broadening their songwriting, thanks possibly to lead singer Jesse Hughes’ solo album from 2011 (three songs were even lifted from that album and reworked for Zipper Down). It may have taken them seven years, but EODM have returned with inspiration to spare.
Essential Tracks: Complexity, Silverlake (K.S.O.F.M.), Save a Prayer
17. Grimes – Art Angels
Grimes’ art-pop experimentation glides wonderfully through the run time of Art Angels with ease, from the almost Lion King-esque “California” to the quasi-house closing track “Butterfly”.
Essential Tracks: California, Butterfly, World Princess Part II
16. The Chemical Brothers – Born In the Echoes
Having released their best album in almost a decade with 2010’s Further, The Chemical Brothers continue their reign as one of the worlds leading arena electronic acts on Born In the Echoes. Tracks like “Just Bang” recall early Aphex Twin, while “I’ll See You There” features the influence of The Beatles.
Essential Tracks: I’ll See You There, Wide Open, EML Ritual
15. Ben Folds – So There
Ben Folds latest solo effort features a full symphony orchestra. 8 of the finest chamber pop songs you’ll hear this year followed by a three-piece piano concerto make for one of the most interesting and thoroughly enjoyable Folds records to date.
Essential Tracks: Capable of Anything, F10-D-A, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Movement 1
14. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
After the electronic experimentation of 2010’s Age of Adz record, Sufjan Stevens decided to go the route that so many great artists do: in the exact opposite direction of his most recent work. Carrie & Lowell is a stripped back album, largely acoustic, very much personal (named after his mother and step-father), and incredibly beautiful. There’s few artists out there that can bear their soul as eloquently and dazzlingly as Sufjan.
Essential Tracks: Death With Dignity, Fourth if July, Should Have Known Better
13. Dr. Dre – Compton
Dr. Dre decided to cancel his long-delayed Detox album in August of this year, but not before the surprise announcement of Compton to be released a week later. Featuring a plethora of guest artists, Compton is a highly welcome return for Dre, and if this is indeed his final album, he’s giving us a fitting finale to his illustrious career.
Essential Tracks: One Shot One Kill, Talking to My Diary, Genocide
12. Best Coast – California Nights
The indie-pop of Best Coast’s third LP only makes you long for more chart music to be like this. 43 minutes of aural bliss with scarcely a dull moment among it.
Essential Tracks: Heaven Sent, When Will I Change, Sleep Won’t Ever Come
11. Veruca Salt – Ghost Notes
Veruca Salt have unfortunately been just a name to me up to this year. It came as a surprise then, that their first album with their original line-up since 1997 ranks as one of the most enjoyable records of the year. The alternative-rock of Ghost Notes has the potency of any new band out there.
Essential Tracks:The Gospel According to Saint Me, Black and Blonde, Alternica
10. Fight Like Apes – Fight Like Apes
For their third album, Fight Like Apes went through the controversial route of seeking the money for the records’ construction through a Fund-It campaign. The LP itself ended up being their most focused work to date, less screaming, and dirty bass lines, and a more pop-oriented sheen ended up making the best FLApes album thus far.
Essential Tracks: Pop Itch, Pretty Keen on Centrefolds, Maevis Beacon: Annihilation
09. Django Django – Born Under Saturn
Born Under Saturn sounds very much akin to the music of Django Django’s self-titled 2012 debut. Not that the album sounds in anyway derivative or a form of repetition. The melodies, staccato drumming and percussion, reverb-laden guitars, and captivating songs are as exciting as anything on their first LP and in a world apart from any other indie band out there.
Essential Tracks: Giant, Pause Repeat, The Life We Know
08. Tame Impala – Currents
For Tame Impala’s third album, Kevin Parker opted to incorporate elements of electro into his bands palette. The album retains the psychedelic feel of the bands previous work though, just with guitars regularly substituted for keyboards. Happily, the quality we’ve come to expect from Parker’s musical project is also still very much in place.
Essential Tracks: Cause I’m a Man, The Moment, Let It Happen
07. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper was one of the years earliest albums, with an January release date. That hasn’t stopped its enduring appeal for my money, though. The psychedelic experimental pop of Panda Bear’s fifth solo album soars over its 51 minutes, particularly on “Mr Noah” and “Boys Latin.”
Essential Tracks: Mr. Noah, Boys Latin, Lonely Wanderer
06. Screaming Females – Rose Mountain
For New Jersey natives Screaming Females sixth offering, the band wanted to focus more on “Melody and songwriting” than they ever had before. The resultant album pays off in spades, marking one of the bands strongest albums to date. Even a severe bout of mononucleosis couldn’t suppress lead singer and guitar shredder Marissa Paternoster. It may have even added to the album.
Essential Tracks: Rose Mountain, Ripe, Triumph
05. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
With an album title like this one, you’re already getting a pretty good idea of Courtney Barnett’s wonderfully quirky sense of humour, which permeates throughout the lyrics of her debut album. She also has absolutely cracking tunes to back them up, from the blistering fist-pumper “Pedestrian At Best,” to the catchy-as-hell “Debbie Downer.”
Essential Tracks: Pedestrian At Best, Debbie Downer, Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party
04. Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars
Beach House put out their fifth album Depression Cherry in August of this year. In October, they then announced the imminent release of Thank Your Lucky Stars. While the band maintained it was “not a companion to Depression Cherry, or a surprise, or b-sides,” it was nevertheless released less than two months after Depression Cherry. It also turned out to be one of the most beautiful albums of the year: an instantly addictive 40 minutes of dream-pop bliss.
Essential Tracks: The Traveller, Somewhere Tonight, She’s So Lovely
03. Wilco – Star Wars
Wilco are one of those bands that I’ve always had in my head to check out properly, particularly since their wonderful 2009 single You Never Know. It was when they released Star Wars earlier this year though, that I finally decided to give them a proper spin. After all, when you give an album that title, when it had precisely nothing to do with the cinematic space opera, as well as the artwork of a painting of a cat, I couldn’t help being intrigued. Wilco self-released Star Wars in July, initially free of charge. At a succinct running time of under 34 minutes, it is easily one of the finest indie records of the last 10 years. The band themselves seem to be happy with their efforts too, having recently incorporated the entire album from beginning to end into their setlist.
Essential Tracks: Random Name Generator, King of You, Pickled Ginger
02. Blur – The Magic Whip
Blur’s 8th album came as a pretty huge surprise to everyone, and I have already spoken at length of my love for this record, but suffice to say that it remained very high on the list of the best albums I’ve heard this year. I hope Blur continue making music, and after The Magic Whip, an LP that sounds nothing like any of the rest of their music, save for a song or portion thereof here and there, one can only imagine where they’ll go from here.
Essential Tracks: Lonesome Street, There Are Too Many of Us, Ghost Ship
01. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar’s 3rd studio album was released to worldwide fanfare and adulation. The praise it’s received though, is absolutely justified. The album flows amazingly, practically flawlessly, with Kendrick’s “Another Nigga” poem slowly revealed gradually throughout the record, finally culminating on the excellent “Mortal Man,” a song which closes the album in a similar vein to Kanye West’s “Last Call” from his College Dropout album. Lamar battles demons that have come with his success, his temptation to give in to the evils of “Lucy” (possibly an allusion to Lucifer, according to some) as well as his guilt over his fame and fortune. In an era of iTunes, illegal downloads and YouTube searching, often all for specific songs, rather than albums, we are truly blessed that the likes of Kendrick Lamar puts out LP’s like this one, showing us how truly great an album can be. The art of the long player is very much still alive.
Essential Tracks: King Kunta, i, Mortal Man
Here’s a Spotify playlist of the albums from 20 to 1, with the exception of Dr. Dre’s Compton album, which is absent from Spotify: