2015 In Review

The 50 Best Albums Of 2015

30 The Staves – If I Was (Nonesuch/Atlantic)

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There is so much tender beauty in this album. If I Was is a document of resilience, of soldiering through the remains of an obliterated love and finding the courage to do it all over again. It’s one of the greatest albums of its kind — even speaking as somebody in a happily committed marriage, this music just about made my year by virtue of its exquisite beauty. The Staves sing with power and delicacy, they write songs with a sweeping vision, and the arrangements they crafted with Justin Vernon make me want to abuse so many adjectives. I’m going to keep coming back to this one for a long time. —Chris

29 Ought – Sun Coming Down (Constellation)

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“If post-punk speaks the language of disaffection, then don’t call Ought a post-punk band.” That’s how I introduced Ought when we published a Q&A with the band this year. It’s easy to listen to Tim Darcy’s wry vocal inflection and find cynicism in it, but Ought’s music swallows angst and spits it back out in the form of life-affirming songs. They seek to inspire. Sun Coming Down is an impulsive, interpretive ode to existence that, on particularly bad days, reminds me of all that I have left under this big, beautiful, blue sky. —Gabriela

28 Eskimeaux – O.K. (Double Double Whammy)

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O.K. is extremely personal, but it’s also universal. Sometimes, everyone needs to be told that it’s alright to be sad, to be lonely, to be scared. But none of that would land if the music didn’t sound so big while feeling so small. I’m talking about the way Gabrielle Smith’s voice swells to a full-bodied cry as she sings “every time I’m freaking out” on “I Admit I’m Scared,” or the moment midway through “The Thunder Answered Back” when everything drops out except the drums and vocals. These are songs and emotions too big for a bedroom to hold; you feel them in your bones. —Peter

27 Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love (Sub Pop)

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They came back roaring. The greatest punk band of the late-’90s and early-’00s didn’t have to make any music; they could’ve toured for years on past glories and Portlandia recognition. Instead, they gave us 10 songs of feverish, desperate urgency. Musically, they went full-bore, keeping the tangled intensity of their last album, the psych-rock experiment The Woods, but streamlining those sounds into power-pop anthems with strangled-robot guitar effects. And once again, they’re completely locked-in with one another, generating riffs and grooves with the sort of chemistry few bands throughout history can match. It’s like they never left. It’s beautiful. —Tom

26 Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass (Spacebomb)

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Welcome to the world of Natalie Prass. It looks a lot like ours, but it’s all painted in bright smears of blue and light pink. There are a lot more horns. The year of the ’70s singer-songwriter never really took off, but Prass certainly did, and that’s mainly due to the boundless creative energy she exhibits on her debut, where the limits are only as high as her ambition. By crafting ornate, grandiose arrangements about heartbreak and loss and desire, she imbues all of these emotions with the dramatic flair they deserve. —James
 

25 Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (Cash Money)

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If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late doesn’t have Drake’s biggest song of the year (“Hotline Bling”) or his best (“Jumpman”). Questions lingered about how many of these words he actually wrote and how much that matters. The “mixtape” is so grey, so muted, so devoted to aesthetic over accessibility that beyond its flawless opening sequence it sometimes feels like an impossibly dreary slog. All those qualifiers, yet in some sense this project ruled my year. Drake has become a master purveyor of music you can just as easily put on a party or escape into during a moment of introspection. His taste remains impeccable, his musical intuition is only getting sharper, and via sustained domination he has wormed his way into the consciousness of a generation. I kept returning to this music all year, playing it over and over again, living with it. It became my default, and I’m not the only one. —Chris

24 Tribulation – The Children Of The Night (Century Media)

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Purism in metal tends to produce more bands aping greatness than the genuine article, but on their fourth LP, Sweden’s Tribulation have delivered one for the ages. The Children Of The Night contains 10 songs and comes in at some 57 minutes, and there’s not a wasted second. Every song has a hook (or several) that might be the best hook I’ve heard this year. Every song has an Olympian guitar lead. The progressions throughout are totally unexpected and always satisfying. It often reminds me of Metallica’s 1986 monument Master Of Puppets, partly because of its construction, ambitions, melodies, and force. But also like Master, The Children Of The Night feels like the product of a confident band in complete control of their estimable powers. —Michael

23 Blur – The Magic Whip (Warner Bros.)

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As 2015 closes, it’s still easy to feel some residual daze at the notion that we actually, finally have a new Blur record. What was vindicating but still somewhat shocking is that it proved what all us Blur diehards suspected for 12 or 16 years: This was a band whose reunion would have meaning, would have something new and vital to say. The Magic Whip makes good on that in surprising ways. There are flickers of moments from throughout Blur’s past, filtered through years spent apart, through middle age, through a new decade. Set against the backdrop of the album’s Hong Kong roots, The Magic Whip has dislocation and loneliness, tracing melancholic signals sent back and forth across the world. But then there’s “Ong Ong,” something of real exuberance and joy, or something like peace in closer “Mirrorball.” Hopefully those feelings carry them forward, and we hear more new Blur before another 12 years pass. If not, this one was worth the wait. —Ryan

22 Joanna Newsom – Divers (Drag City)

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Last year Joanna Newsom appeared in Inherent Vice, a Paul Thomas Anderson film adapted from a Thomas Pynchon novel. Newsom’s releases are met with the same breathless anticipation reserved for auteurs of their ilk, and rightly so: All three of them have applied a singular vision to many dense, wondrous works that give you a lot to think about and even more to feel. On Divers, Newsom’s latest and arguably greatest, the newly married singer/composer/harpist fixates on time’s relentless march and the way true love raises the stakes. As ever, her ideas are presented in meticulously crafted song-suites laden with historical and literary Easter eggs and sung in her unflinchingly distinctive quakes and quivers. The approach could not be farther from the middle of the road, but the sentiment could not be more universal. —Chris

21 Shamir – Ratchet (XL)

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Shamir is one of the breakout acts of 2015, and for good reason. Ratchet is one of the most self-assured, immediate debuts we’ve seen this year, full of his idiosyncratic takes on experiencing youth in Las Vegas — not exactly a town known for fostering a vibrant arts scene. There’s poignance in “Demons” and “Darker,” glorious shit-talking in “On The Regular” and “Call It Off,” and both yearning and genuine transcendence in the rise of “Youth” and “Head In The Clouds.” It’s almost impossible just to single those out as highlights, though — from the moment the curtain rises on a glittering, mirage-like playground in the desert in “Vegas,” every second feels essential. It’s one of those albums that plays like a premature greatest hits collection. —Ryan

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