Another year, another best of list. This time we look at the best music to come out in 2015. Let’s bitch it out… These lists are always tough to produce. What to include? What to leave out? How to figure out which worthy entry in which slot? Well, after hours of going back to listen to certain albums, nervously excluding certain albums, and hours anxiously weighing which album should go where, this is what I came up with. I will say that 2015 was a great year in music.
When I started this list I had almost 30 albums I wanted to include, and that was just off the top of my head. But this is a top 10.
First a disclaimer: I did not listen to every album released this year. (I have a job, honey, and I also have other interests). If you don’t agree, or you don’t see your choice here, sound off below in the comments. That’s what’s so great about these lists: they are here to spark conversation and discovery. So here we go, these are the best albums that were released in 2015.
10: The Desired Effect – Brandon Flowers
I downloaded this album on a fluke. I listened to the first single and enjoyed it, but I was surprised by how much I loved this album as a whole. Flowers is the lead singer of The Killers and if you like their music you will probably enjoy this album. While this might be a little more pop, don’t let that dissuade you because Flowers has crafted a high energy album that gives a nod to some of the best electro pop of the 80s (even sampling The Bronski Beat). It feels like an album that Freddie Mercury would have released if he was alive today. The Desired Effect never lets up and you can tell that Flowers is having fun, and by the end you’ll notice how much fun you’ve had too.
9: Vulnicura – Bjork
Bjork is one of my all-time favourite artists, but her past few albums have left me a little cold. While Biophilia had some interesting moments, I never felt like that album came together as a whole. Vulnicura is a return to form that packs an emotional punch that calls to mind her earlier masterpieces, Homogenic and Vespertine. Starting with the startlingly beautiful “Stonemilker” the album plunges into the depths of love as it falls apart. Even the first few songs are subtitled as a timeline of the break up. Bjork fills every song with so much emotion and truth that it can be bleak at times, but by the end she sees a glimmer of light. The sound landscape is full of synth beats and orchestral arrangements that sometimes clash with each other, and there are songs that mimic Bjork’s own anxiety with drums that sound like rising heart beats. This album is the vision of a singular talent that walks to her own beat and we are better off because of it.
8: Reality Show – Jazmine Sullivan
Full disclosure: I didn’t even know about this album until two months ago, but I am so happy that I found it. I was a huge fan of Sullivan’s debut album Fearless, which showed so much promise, but I wasn’t a huge fan of her follow up Love Me Back. This album, however, delivers on the promise that was evident on that debut. From the opening kiss-off track (“Dumb”) to its empowerment anthem closer (“If You Dare”), Sullivan takes us on an emotional rollercoaster that is fun, emotional, angry and soulful. The stand-out track for me has to be “Let it Burn”, which is about giving in to love when you find it. It’s a slow jam that just falls over you and covers you in its lush sounds. It’s a bit like a lover’s warm embrace or a snuggie (for all my single folk out there). It’s definitely how I feel about this album; let this love burn, indeed.
7: O.K. – Eskimeaux
This is the quietest album on the list, but that definitely does not take away from its emotional resonance. I was introduced to Eskimeaux when one of their songs played on the radio and I quickly fell in love. With the beautiful vocals provided by lead singer Gabrielle Smith, this Brooklyn collective has made some of the prettiest and catchiest pop songs of the year. As with all great pop, there is some emotional depth involved and while you find yourself swaying back and forth along to the beautiful melodies and the lyrics of love lost and hearts broken, you might just shed a few tears. Who knew break ups could be so pleasant?
6: The Blade – Ashley Monroe
With all the testosterone flooding the country radio airwaves you might have missed all the amazing ladies who were out there killing it. While Kacey Musgraves released another stellar album, the country album I was listening to on repeat this year was The Blade. It’s the kind of album that you listen to while drinking that old whiskey you’ve been saving or maybe just a $5 dollar wine bottle you got at the corner store (no judgements here).
What I’m trying to say is that the album goes well with alcohol. There’s a lot of heartbreak on this album. Monroe’s voice is perfectly suited for those tales of woe, but that doesn’t mean it’s all sadness and tears. There are also moments of clarity and self reflection. It’s a great album and the title track is one of the most heartbreakingly (is that even a word?) beautiful songs of the year.
5: Every Eye Open – Chvrches
I felt bad dancing to this album, but I couldn’t help it. Chvrches have crafted an album full of synth-pop gems that just get your body going. Then you start to listen to the lyrics and you realize that beneath the infectious beats lies anger and pain. The way that Lauren Mayberry sings about loss, broken hearts and betrayal makes this an album that can be used to dance alone in your room, or cry alone in your room. Believe me, I have done both. That’s part of what makes this Chvrches album so great.
4: Art Angels – Grimes
This is a weird album. And I mean that in the best possible way.
I didn’t really know much about Grimes before this album. I had been hearing about her as this underground artist to watch and I had listened to one of her songs, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me. But then last year she released “Realiti,” and I quickly fell hard. There is so much going on in each track and Grimes is in complete control. It’s one of the things I love about her as an artist, her voice is soft and has an almost angelic quality to it, but don’t let that fool you about who she is. Grimes is many things, and sometimes she contradicts herself, but she is always in control. This album shows an artist with a singular vision and in today’s manufactured musical landscape that is very refreshing.
3: Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens
Ooph. That’s how I felt after listening to this album the first time. It is the equivalent of a punch to the gut, to the feeling of exhaustion you have after crying your eyes out. This is an album dealing with loss (more specifically the loss of Stevens mother), and the complicated relationship he had with her when she was alive. It’s an album that feels like you are reading someone’s personal diary, like you’re reading their most intimate thoughts. Every song seems to be teetering on an emotional edge, about to fall off. Now you might mistakenly think Carrie & Lowell is just a bummer of an album, but Stevens juxtaposes the heartbreaking lyrics with soft piano melodies and he sings in a hushed falsetto, almost as if these were lullabies. What it all amounts to is an album that is a brilliant and achingly sad reflection on the dead and the people left behind. It will make you feel many things; I wanted to go hug my mother and tell her how much I love her. You can feel the catharsis in every song.
2: EMOTION – Carly Rae Jepsen
I’m surprised this isn’t higher on my list. This is without a doubt the album that I listened to the most this year. It was basically my soundtrack, from my weekend cleaning sessions to every single solo “dance in your underwear in your room” party. For the first month after its release my favourite song would change daily; I would cycle through the album over and over again finding new things. It pains me that this album was ignored by radio and music listeners, but every time I told someone to listen to the album and give it a chance, they would – without fail – come back saying how much they loved it. I was basically a Carly Rae Jepsen one man PR team.
It’s a tough sale though. Most people remember Jepsen as little more than the singer of “Call Me Maybe.” It was everywhere a few years back, and – full disclosure – I still think that it’s one of the best pop songs ever written (so catchy, so sweet, so sure of itself). But it was her only major hit and there is a stigma that comes along with being a one hit wonder. EMOTION isn’t concerned with finding the next big hit, though; instead Jepsen and co. have crafted one of the best pop albums in recent history. Sonically the album harkens back to late 80s synth-pop, but at the same time it feels completely made for today: it’s bubbly, smart, and full of energy. From the opening chords on “Run Away With Me,” the album blasts off and doesn’t stop until the last breath of “Favorite Colour.”
No other album was as much fun this year.
1: To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
This is not an easy album to get through. There is a lot going on, and not just on the album as a whole. The songs themselves are complicated; full of different influences and ideas, ideas that come at you at lightning speed. That’s part of its genius.
This is an album from an artist that is grappling with many issues. From fame, to race, to class, to his own moral character, Lamar plunges into the depths of his soul and comes out bruised and battered, but not broken. It reminded me of one of the other great masterpieces of the past decade: Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Whereas that album was more a reaction to a break up, HTPB is a reaction to Lamar’s life in the aftermath of his last album good kid, m.A.A.d. city. He’s struggling with fame and being a role model in his community and more specifically to young African American Men. Musically he is throwing everything into this album: from jazz, to funk, to R&B and rap. The album is all over the place thematically and musically, but in all of the chaos, it somehow works. This album deserves to be listened to as a whole and many times.
I know I have mentioned how a lot of the albums on this list will make you emotional. Well 2015 was a rough year. This album made me feel sad, it made me feel happy, it made me want to dance, to sway, and even through all of the pain it talks about, it made me feel like things might be alright. Is it messy? Hell yes. Is it perfect? Nope. But it is an achievement from an artist that understands that life is not perfect. It’s messy. It can be violent and hard, but at the end of the day there is always hope. This was the album of 2015.
As a bonus I have also compiled a top 5 list of the best songs of 2015. Small caveat: I didn’t include any songs from the albums I already mentioned in an attempt to spread the wealth (or else it would have been Carly Rae Jepsen heavy).
5: “You Don’t Know” – Jill Scott
This song takes me to the church of the broken hearted every time. The pain is palpable as she sings. Jill Scott came out with a killer album this year. Check it out. It was number 11 on my list.
4: “Talk Me Down” – Troye Sivan
Oh man, this boy has a way of making mood music. Definitely one to watch. This song just had me in a daze. A great track off a stellar debut.
3: “Burning House” – Cam
This song flew under the radar, but is now enjoying some much deserved air play on radio. A beautiful song about a past love done wrong. It’s what great country is all about.
2: “Wherever is Your Heart” – Brandi Carlile
I love this album and this song is the reason I discovered it. It just makes me want to jump around. Good music makes you nod your head. Great music makes your whole body move.
1: “Sorry” – Justin Bieber
I am as surprised to find him here as you are. The year of Bieber’s return, who knew? But there is no denying the great pop songs he released this year. Love him or hate him, this song had me dancing up a storm. And the song title just feels so apropos.
So there you have it. Agree? Disagree? Let me know my glaring omissions. What songs and albums were tops for you this year? Sound off below and let’s talk about it. And don’t forget to check out the Bitch Awards for TV, starting Sunday, Dec 20.