Better late than never – my top 10 albums of 2015 + honorable mentions.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
There isn’t much left to say that hasn’t already been said about this powerhouse of an album. The most culturally and socially relevant album of my lifetime, To Pimp a Butterfly is the platform on which Kendrick attacks issues of race in America unlike any artist before him. The strongest track is “Alright,” which has become the soundtrack of the modern day civil rights movement. But more than just the chant of “We gonna be alright” being belted out across the country in the wake of unarmed African Americans being killed by police, “Alright” has an underlying cynicism about the current state of race relations that is poignant.
The album packs a punch start to finish. From the radio and club-friendly “King Kunta” to the angry, heart throttling beat on “The Blacker the Berry” to the album’s closing song “Mortal Man” where Kendrick engages in a conversation with Tupac. This is an album that we will tell our children about, if they don’t ask us about it first.
2. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
Jason Isbell has experienced enough heartache to last multiple lifetimes. Though the majority of it is – by his own admission – his doing, it is these experience that provide him with a unique ability to tell stories through his music that almost anyone can directly relate to. Isbell has been around the block, from the Drive By Truckers to the 400 Unit to now putting out two incredibly well-done solo albums. While 2013’s Southeastern announced his return to music, 2015’s Something More Than Free has solidified him as one of America’s most talented, if underappreciated, singer songwriters. The album’s first single “24 Frames” is powerful, conveying the fleeting nature of most everything in life, and the need to let go of things beyond your control. But for me, the standout track is “Flagship,” where Isbell’s desperate plea with himself to not repeat mistakes from past relationships comes through beautifully.
3. Radical Face – The Bastards
Ben Cooper, aka Radical Face, actually released this as four separate EPs (The Bastards: Volumes I, II, III, and IV) beginning in 2011 and concluding this past year. The Bastards is a break from his concept album trilogy The Family Tree (set to be completed in 2016), which follows “the story of a fictitious, sometimes otherworldly 19th century family called The Northcotes.” I often try not to include these types of compilation albums in end of year lists, but The Bastards comes across cohesively both in theme and sound. The standout track is the “Nightclothes,” which serves as a sweeping, haunting closing the album.
4. The Wonder Years – No Closer to Heaven
It’s a little depressing that it’s even possible for there to be an album that is a throwback to my angsty teenage years, but alas, I’m in my 30’s now and fully allowed to reminisce. No Closer to Heaven harkens back to pop-punk’s glory days at the start of the millennium, when Brand New, Saves the Day, and Alkaline Trio were ruling the roost. This album is great because it’s deep – conceptually, musically, lyrically. It takes you for a ride you might not expect, but once engaged, all you can do is hold on and enjoy it.
5. Twin Shadow – Eclipse
While great in spurts, previous albums by George Lewis, Jr. – aka Twin Shadow – could, as a whole, seem limited at times. Not so with his newest endeavor, Eclipse, which represents a giant step forward for Lewis. Stadium-sized tracks permeate the album, including “To the Top” and “Old Love/New Love.” If this progression continues, I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.
6. Kurt Vile – b’lieve I’m going down…
Whether labeled lo-fi, stoner rock, slacker rock, or what have you, for me Kurt Vile was the artist equivalent of apples – I feel like I should like them, but everytime I try them, I’m left wholly unsatisfied. That all changed with b’lieve I’m going down…I had trouble NOT listening to this album. It can be a good driving soundtrack, background music to a solid book, or as Mr. Cohea put it, a “mellow remedy for a slow-moving afternoon in the office.”
7. Tame Impala – Currents
Though released in July, Currents didn’t appear on my radar until November, but thank god it did. The album kicks off with the nearly 8-minute “Let It Happen,” and only picks up steam from there. With synth hooks as catchy as they come, this album didn’t escape critical acclaim – it was #4 and #13 on Spin and Rolling Stone’s Albums of 2015 lists, respectively.
8. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Way outside my musical comfort zone, Leon Bridges’ Coming Home was a revelation to me this year. As a 5’9” white dude with few musical inclinations, soul is about the last thing I have. But every time I listen to this album, I feel like the ghost of Marvin Gaye.
9. Mumford and Sons – Wilder Mind
Yes, it’s different. But it’s also sooo good. As one Ryan Townsend said: If you really liked Mumford’s previous albums, you don’t like this album. I think that’s true to an extent, except that I always had a soft place in my heart for Mumford, and I still think this album is awesome. Listen to it, enjoy it, accept it.
10. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
The only reason this album isn’t higher is its lack of “hits.” A “rock opera” clocking in at 93 minutes and 29 tracks, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is truly a behemoth. Though the sum often feels greater than its parts, if you don’t have an hour and a half to spend getting your eardrums beat in, standout tracks include “Dimed Out,” “Fired Up,” “I Lost My Mind (+@)” and “Come On, Siobhan.”
- Grisbee – Sail Another Day
- Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
- CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
- Disclosure – Caracal
- City and Colour – If I Should Go Before You
- Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
- Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect