2015 In Review

The 50 Best Albums Of 2015

40 Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (6131)

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Julien Baker is only 20 years old, but the songs on Sprained Ankle sound like the stories of someone who has lived hundreds of lives before this one, which is to say: It’s an impossibly sad album. Fortunately, Baker’s heartache runs as deep as her faith, and that dichotomy is parsed over the course of these nine songs, all of which stand alone in their beauty but offer a sense of relief when bundled together. Sprained Ankle might make you melancholic, but it will also remind you of the lasting, saving power of music. It’s one that you will return to when you find yourself in crisis. —Gabriela

39 Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Style (Matador)

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The most immediate comparison you’ll make listening to Car Seat Headrest’s Teens Of Style is Julian Casablancas: Frontman/mastermind Will Toledo processes his Reed-y vocals through a wall of walkie-talkie-style distortion, slightly submerging even his most impassioned screams and lending a sense of menace to even his most laconic verses. It’s the same trick employed by Casablancas on the Strokes’ first two LPs, although Teens Of Style feels both more ambitiously constructed than those albums, as well as more chopped-and-screwed. It brings to mind proto-Strokes deconstructionists Guided By Voices as well as post-Wilson psych-scapers the Flaming Lips, as that band transitioned from 1995’s Clouds Taste Metallic to 1999’s The Soft Bulletin. It’s an indie-rock record in the old-school sense (it was even released on Matador!), but it’s been a long time since I’ve heard an old-school indie-rock record that I’ve loved so unreservedly, or so much. —Michael

38 Björk – Vulnicura (One Little Indian)

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Björk seems to be doing fine now, but she wasn’t fine when she recorded Vulnicura. The album documents the period of time she spent splitting up with Matthew Barney, her longtime partner and the father of her daughter. And it’s an album of such all-consuming sadness and anger that it can be hard to listen to. But it’s also Björk’s best work in more than a decade. She worked with out-music producers Arca and the Haxan Cloak and recaptured some of the rippling, string-drenched majesty of her masterpiece Homogenic. And in her fiery vocals, she gives off a colossal sense of strength, even as she sings about falling apart. —Tom

37 Fred Thomas – All Are Saved (Polyvinyl)

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Fred Thomas has been an overlooked entity for years. His work with Saturday Looks Good To Me and his previous solo albums contain the same kind of sprightly, gut-clenching realizations as All Are Saved, but this one still feels special. I’m not sure of the exact circumstances that led to the creation of this particular set of songs at this particular time, but it’s pivotal and political and exactly what we need. Thomas roots through his memories and open wounds, balancing nostalgia with a pin-pricked realism — by album’s end, if he’s not closer to healing, he’s at least made a lot of revelations along the way, and helped us make some of our own, too. —James

36 Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife (EarDrummers/Interscope)

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In its way, this album is nearly as pure and focused as the Ramones’ self-titled debut. These two brothers from Tupelo, Mississippi make infernally catchy swag-rap anthems, and that is all they do. Tracks like this don’t often make for compelling albums, but Rae Sremmurd pulled it off by cranking out 11 straight bangers and never once leaving their comfort zone. Even the guests — Young Thug, Big Sean, Nicki Minaj — have chirpy, excitable voices that fit in perfectly with what Rae Sremmurd do. And producer Mike Will Made-It supplies the simple-but-sophisticated bleep-rap beats that the duo’s hooks deserve. —Tom

35 Kamasi Washington – The Epic (Brainfeeder)

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It sounds like homework: An abstract jazz triple album. But The Epic is a revelation not because of its length or scope or even the caliber of the players who get to solo all over it. Instead, it’s friendly and approachable without being pandering or compromising. It’s funky and melodic, and it even when it builds up to a screaming catharsis, it feels earned and organic. There are choirs and strings all over this thing, and the textures switch up often enough that it stays interesting for three straight hours. And it’s spaced-out spirituality runs as deep as that of Flying Lotus, Washington’s label boss. —Tom

34 Horrendous – Anareta (Dark Descent)

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The Philadelphia trio Horrendous are nominally modern-day practitioners of old-school death metal — most evident in their retro instrumental tones and production touches — but they’ve expanded the parameters and possibilities of that subgenre, so that their output today feels less like a throwback and more like a long-overdue course correction. For all its studiously atavistic elements, Horrendous’ third LP, Anareta, might be the catchiest metal album of 2015. Throughout Anareta, Horrendous are fearlessly reaching skyward, peeling off guitar leads that climb like clock towers or church steeples. There’s nary a dud to be found on this album — not a single song here that I couldn’t genuinely call “my favorite,” assuming superlatives weren’t limited to a single entity. Likewise, while Anareta may not be at the top of this list, I’m still pretty comfortable calling it “my favorite” just the same. —Michael

33 Chvrches – Every Open Eye (Glassnote)

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These Glaswegian synthpoppers avoided the dreaded sophomore slump by steering right into it. This time around, they recorded the same sort of music as they made on their debut, doing it on the same equipment, in the same studio. They once again produced it themselves. The crucial difference this time: They did everything better than they’d done it before. This time around, the drums kick harder, the keyboards sparkle brighter, and the choruses embed themselves even deeper into your consciousness. A song like “Clearest Blue” feels custom-built to set festival audiences aflame, but it still has that old homespun glow to it. They know what they’re doing. —Tom

32 Yowler – The Offer (Double Double Whammy)

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Maryn Jones leads All Dogs, a band that channels some of her ferocious musings into catchy, honest punk songs. But when all of that snarling frustration has been unburdened, what’s left over and where does it go? Yowler is Jones’ solo project, and her debut release The Offer is a beautiful and hushed, almost intimidatingly personal collection of songs that feel like they’ve trickled down from a wellspring of emotion to make a home in the heart of anyone who bothers to listen. —Gabriela

31 Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (Southeastern)

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This former Drive-By Trucker has been steadily and quietly improving since he first went solo in 2007, and we’re now to the point where he completely overshadows his old band. This album does a great job showing why. Isbell’s lyrics are warm and incisive and empathetic — quick, economical sketches of people in go-nowhere towns who rarely get to hear themselves depicted with this level of real-talk dignity. And his music is intuitive and lived-in. Isbell’s miles-deep baritone can be conversationally pleasant on the verses, but when he hits the chorus, it always wells up into something huge. —Tom

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