Albums of the Year

Albums of the Year

The year 2015 has been a thrilling time for new music.

Whether you’re a fan of hip-hop, R&B, rock, indie, country, jazz or world music, the past 12 months have been incredibly generous to us all.

In an attempt to express our gratitude and boil down 2015 to its finest moments, the TIDAL Editors have selected our very favorite albums from the year, covering a diverse spread of genres.

It was a painful act narrowing it down to just 40 records — there are so many spectacular albums that didn’t make the cut — but each of the LPs listed below is a praiseworthy artist achievement, and a testament to the lingering mystique of the album format in the digital age.

Check out the full list below, presented in order of release. And be sure to keep visiting TIDAL through the end of December for more playlists and written features celebrating a truly spectacular year in music.

— The TIDAL Editors

*   *   *

Sleater-Kinney: No Cities To Love
Sub Pop
Released: January 20, 2015

Listening to No Cities To Love, it’s hard to disagree that going on a 10-year recording hiatus was probably the best decision that Sleater-Kinney ever made. Escaped from the pressures of the writing-recording-touring cycle, the riot grrrl veterans struck back hard with a mighty, if concise, album fueled by powerful guitars and biting lyrics with social and political edge. They are strong, they are triumphant, they are noisy and completely unsentimental. You don’t have to listen carefully to hear the utter joy loaded into this explosive music that could only come from the combined forces of Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss.

Indeed, on Sleater-Kinney’s eighth album, the band sounds as vital, composed and necessary as ever. In just 10 songs and a little over 30 minutes, Sleater-Kinney does so much more than revive an old band. They craft an argument for having improved in its absence. (Paste)

 

Viet Cong: Viet Cong
Jagjaguwar / Flemish Eye
Released: January 20, 2015

Even without knowing their history, Viet Cong’s self-titled debut sounds like the only comprehensible reaction to life’s many hardships. Born from the ashes of the brilliant, short-lived noise act Women – which suffered from turmoil even before the sudden 2012 death of guitarist Christopher Reimer brought the project to an abrupt end – the Alberta-based rock band reveal an aura of wisdom that only tragedy can instill.

Where Women may have been burning the candle at both ends during their brief run, Viet Cong clangs like the result of bouncing back from calamity. Hard to label, though once pegged by Pitchfork as “labyrinthine post-punk,” it seems more meaningful to describe their music in terms of personality. As explosive as it is restrained, and with a powerful display of creative musicianship, Viet Cong has the determination and stubbornness of adolescence, yet the authority and reflectiveness only possessed by the seasoned.

Following some controversy surrounding their name, Viet Cong recently announced they would be rebranding under a new moniker going forward. For a band that has endured so much, here’s to hoping they keep overcoming.

 

Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear
Sub Pop
Released: February 9, 2015

Josh Tillman spent a decade releasing earnest, understated indie folk under the name J. Tillman, as well as playing the drums in Fleet Foxes. Then, sometime around 2012, Tillman had a life-changing experience that included doing mushrooms, waking up in Laurel Canyon and reinventing himself under the alter ego Father John Misty.

After Misty’s 2012 debut, Fear Fun, his breakthrough sophomore album, I Love You, Honeybear, takes the tenderness and stellar songcraft of his former work, and applies a brilliant lacquer  of leisure suit arrogance and over-the-top sarcasm. Stewing with sex, violence, profanity and excavations of the male psyche – and gift-wrapped in gorgeous melodies that would woo Neil Diamond – I Love You, Honeybear, is a stunning work of duplicitous harmony that juggles romance and tragedy, sorrow and slapstick, cynicism and sincerity, with casual serendipity.

It’s hard to tell where Joshua Tillman ends and his alias Father John Misty begins – but perhaps it doesn’t matter when the songs sound this good. (The Guardian)

Father John Misty (Credit: Emma Tillman)

 

Drake: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Cash Money
Released: February 13, 2015

What was supposed to be a mixtape plays more like a full-length album. The incredible and progressive production, paired with Drake’s slick talk and clever references, was another piece of evidence to support the theory that he’s one of the best doing it right now.

Music is the real joy for Drake, and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is best enjoyed as an exercise in the casual excellence of the artist as rhymer and purveyor of hooks. The vocals are often just vampy flow experiments, but at their best these verses exhibit the weightless exhilaration of a technician at work. Drake’s never more formidable than when he’s shadowboxing, and at its flashiest, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late feels like his Rocky run. (Pitchfork)

 

Susanne Sundfør: Ten Love Songs
Sonnet Sound
Released: February 16, 2015

Susanne Sundfør is Norway’s undisputed electro queen, and she stands in rank with Robyn, MØ and Tove Lo as a powerful presence in Scandinavian pop excellence.

While her first albums explored the various vectors of her musical galaxy, Ten Love Songs speaks a more universal language. But don’t mistake this for lightweight material – there is so much to discover within this mighty and uncompromising sound. Sundfør successfully manages to mix uncommon elements with electronica and pop music shine, challenging you to expand the horizons of  your musical taste. Just close your eyes and let Sundfør’s icy northern wind take hold of you.

Ten Love Songs shows a command of artpop, chilly synthpop, and that simultaneously joyous and desperate disco that seems to seep out of Scandinavia in an unending flood: it’s both appealingly direct yet perfectly thought-through. The way the bass hook in Fade Away, a straight pinch from scores of dancefloor hits before, is kept stiff and hard seems to symbolise a mood of thwarted desire. Don’t miss out on this: it’s a quite brilliant album. (The Guardian)

 

Songhoy Blues: Music In Exile
Transgressive Records
Released: February 24, 2015

Mali’s Songhoy Blues were born out of unrest. Formed after jihadis forced many families from the northern part of nation to seek refuge in the capital of Bamako, the group named their band Songhoy Blues in celebration of their displaced people and culture. They soon became a fixture in the Bamako club scene, and got discovered by the West in 2013 when French music manager Marc-Antoine Moreau (Amadou & Mariam, K’naan) dropped by the city to scout for musical talent, eventually leading them to record with Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs).

By blending traditional and modern, Music in Exile incorporates elements of rock, hip-hop, homegrown grooves and iconic West African guitarists like Baba Salah and Ali Farka Touré. Even though their backstory is hard to relate to for many, Songhoy Blues’ music speaks a common language. This is a stunning and groovy achievement, regardless of race, traditions or geography.

Their debut exists in a musical moment, conjuring a freedom and thrilling abandonment in its hypnotic shuffle boogie and punky blues rock riffs. (Mojo)

 

Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly
Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope
Released: March 15, 2015

Expectations were sky-high for Kendrick Lamar’s follow-up to his instant-classic debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city. And somehow he managed to exceed all hopes by confounding them.

From its hard-hitting messages, its jazz- and funk-heavy production, its lack of any ostensive hits, to the intricate conceptual design that ends with Lamar having a conversation with 2Pac (original title: To Pimp A Caterpillar, or Tu.P.A.C.), Kendrick Lamar created a transcendent and undisputed masterpiece. Less than a year since its release, T.P.A.B. is being dissected by award-winning authors and taught in college-level courses, and songs like “Alright” have become anthems for the ongoing fight for racial equality in America, proving that the most powerful artistic statements are the ones that don’t talk down to the listener.

When discussing his self-appointed role as a moral voice to the hood, Lamar told The New York Times, “It’s bigger than a responsibility, it’s a calling.” And that’s exactly the feeling you get when you listen to his eclectic, complex and politically-driven opus that exhibits him as one of the most gifted and idiosyncratic rappers of our time, and the voice of a generation. This is an album that’s going to be talked about for a very long time.

 

Tobias Jesso Jr.: Goon
True Panther Sounds / Art & Crafts
Released: March 17, 2015

As the story goes, Tobias Jesso Jr. left Vancouver for Los Angeles with dreams of making it. And just as his visa was set to expire in 2012, the Canadian singer-songwriter experienced the worst week of his life, which included a breakup, getting hit by a car, having his bike stolen and finding out his mother had cancer.

Returning to Canada, he learned the piano, started singing again and began writing songs about his stay in California. In the process he grew into a singer-songwriter in the tradition of ‘70s icons like Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Billy Joel. A cohesive, humble and pure pleasure to listen to, Goon is a standout debut album from our new favorite piano man.

Jesso isn’t a piano prodigy. His skills on the instrument are rudimentary at best. His openness toward songwriting, however, is like that of a free-thinking child, a seemingly easy attitude that’s harder to access with age. Jesso writes with fragility at the forefront. The fact that he doesn’t realize how pure his songwriting is makes it that much better. (Consequence of Sound)

 

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Mom + Pop / Marathon Artists / Milk!
Released: March 20, 2015

Courtney Barnett is one of the most precious Australian talents. She gained wide acclaim in 2013 after the international release of her double EP, A Sea of Split Peas. Her full-length debut album Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (titled after am A.A. Milne quote from a poster that hung in her grandma’s bathroom) is a mix of humor, humility, catchy melodies and slacker guitar.

She is the neighborhood tomboy with a quirky ability to observe the ups and downs of everyday life, with the wisdom to see “there’s beauty in the most boring things.” What is important, she also knows how to avoid truisms and pathos and her lyrics remind neat short stories. She’s badass, but there’s also sort of vulnerability in her music that makes it even more compelling.

But largely, it’s because unlike any singer-songwriter in recent memory, it’s just thrilling to hear what she’s going to say next: Her songs are page-turners like the best literary fiction, even when they’re not obviously narrative-based, and they’re endlessly quotable like few songs outside of hip-hop have been this decade. (Spin)

 

Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell
Asthmatic Kitty Records
Released: March 31, 2015

Five years after his electronic departure, The Age of Adz, indie-folk superhero Sufjan Stevens released the most naked and honest album of his career.

So confessional it could make Sylvia Plath weep, Stevens sings – nay, whispers – the real-life trials of his late mother, Carrie, who suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance abuse, and his step-dad Lowell. In sonic and emotional terms, it’s uncooked, hushed and stripped raw – even for Stevens’ standards. Carrie & Lowell is the most meditative, heartbreaking, and beautiful record from an artist who specializes in the stuff.

Carrie & Lowell leaves everything on the table, and as a result it’s the most open, transparent and heartfelt record Stevens has made in his career. Sometimes, that’s all you need in order to make a masterpiece. (Absolute Punk)

 

Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful
Atlantic Records
Released: April 3, 2015

On Action Bronson’s major label debut, the 31-year-old Albanian-Jewish chef-turned-rapper from Queens uses humor, charmingness and his underdog status to approach the hip-hop game unlike anyone else.

And true to his name, he channels his action figure persona – making up for his lack of outer sexyness or swagger with self-love and a teenager’s sensibility for what’s awesome. In the same way KISS inspired a generation of dorks to imagine themselves as rockstars, Action Bronson is the G.I. Joe of rap. He can be tacky and over the top, as are many of his lyrics, but it’s somehow always playful and charming, underlined by his big-hearted sincerity.

While Kendrick Lamar is purifying hip-hop and Kanye is chasing a legacy as the greatest of all time, here comes Action Bronson driving a Harley with one hand, eating a bowl of chili with the other, and wearing a shit-eating grin as his homemade cape flutters in the wind.

 

Young Thug: Barter 6
Atlantic Records
Released: April 16, 2015

Given that the eccentric Atlanta native has already put out a whole career’s worth of music, it was hard to know what to make of his major label debut. It didn’t feel like a debut album and it didn’t feel like another mixtape. It did serve as another showcase for his melodic hooks and sharp and witty flows, which was plenty good for his fans.

“A rapper frequently dismissed as a druggie dance trapper inverts himself, yielding a passionate and personal record that’s as insular as Earl’s latest, but with charisma and color.” (Complex)

“On it’s own merit; Barter 6 is the definitive mainstream strip club album of the modern era.” (HipHopDX )

 

Chris Stapleton: Traveller
Mercury Records
Released: May 5, 2015

Traveller is Chris Stapleton’s impressive album debut as a solo artist, but the long-beaded southerner has already had a successful career behind him as a bandleader (The SteelDrivers) and prolific ghostwriter. His songs have figured on over 150 albums, which includes No. 1 hits for Darius Rucker, Kenny Chesney and George Strait.

Shaped by his father’s passing, and supported by his solid band, producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell) and his wife (fellow singer-songwriter Morgane Hayes), Traveller is a mature and solemn mix of old-school country, Muscle Shoals and southern rock. The songwriting is unexpectedly flawless, his barrel-aged voice is supreme and the gimmick-free album is a victorious proof that old-fashioned standards never goes out of style.

The album garnered a warm reception when it was released in May, but the big breakthrough came last month at the Country Music Association Awards, when Stapleton performed alongside Justin Timberlake and Traveller was honored as Album of the Year – leading it to become the first country album in four years to top the Billboard charts. At 37 years old, Chris Stapleton is finally standing on his own two feet and already ranging over most of his peers.

 

Kamasi Washington: The Epic
Brainfeeder
Released: May 5, 2015

Sometimes a name speaks for itself. Such is the case with the The Epic, the brazen and aptly-titled debut release from young Los Angeles jazz giant, composer and bandleader Kamasi Washington.

Divided into three symbolic volumes – The Plan, The Glorious Tale and The Historic Repetition – the album is the amalgamation of wisdom collected in Washington’s 30 years as a musician, and one of the most exciting jazz releases in recent memory.

More concretely, The Epic is the story of Kamasi Washington, his band the Next Step and their collective mission to remove jazz from the shelf of relics and make it new, unexpected and dangerous again. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his childhood friends in the Next Step (which includes Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner) and with the support of Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint, Washington and Co. seem easily poised to do just that.

Kamasi Washington (Credit: Mike Park)

 

Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa
Nonesuch
Released: May 5, 2015

After a management dispute, two of the members of the globally-known Congolese band Staff Benda Bilili left to form a brand new seven-piece band called Mbongwana Star (“Mbongwana” means ”change” in their native Lingala language).

Their 47-minute debut draws a loving and diverse painting of the modern rock scene in the troubled but richly cultured Democratic Republic of Congo. From Kinshasa is an album oozing with inspiration from different musical styles – from Talking Heads new-wave funk and post-punk, to futuristic techno and acid – this was without doubt one of the most exciting rock experiences of 2015.

…From Kinshasa should be viewed as a turning point for the music of the entire region. It sacrifice nothing of its Congolese identity in favour of a futurist outlook. (Drowned in Sound)

 

A$AP Rocky: AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP
A$AP Worldwide/Polo Grounds/RCA
Released: May 26, 2015

The Harlem native’s sophomore album had a dark shadow cast over it, following the death of his business partner and longtime collaborator A$AP Yams. Nonetheless Rocky demonstrates noticeable growth and newfound inner depth that bodes well for the longevity of the A$AP crew. A$AP Rocky continues to show an innate sense for picking amazing beats and constructing fully-matured songs.

To put yourself above the sainted ghosts of Biggie and Pac, you’ve got to either be really good, crazily ambitious or just plain high — and on his second studio LP, the Harlem rapper is all these things and more. At.Long.Last.A$AP takes the gritty East Coast classicism and syrup-drippin’ Houston screwiness of his killer 2013 debut… and adds an extra level of psychedelic sprawl. (Rolling Stone)

 

Florence + The Machine: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Island / Republic
Released: June 1, 2015

The unmistakable voice of Florence Welch resonates like a lion’s roar. Pegged as the acclaimed singer’s “breakup album,” How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is filled with a healthy dose of agony and pain that she manages to turn into gorgeous and uplifting anthems of overcoming.

Welch continues to evolve her highly-perfected art rock with penetrating melodies and body-shaking rhythms. It’s an amazing and victorious record stuffed with fabulous songs that each stand firmly on their own. A record you fall in love the first moment you hear it.

What really binds How Big together, though, is Welch’s exceptional sense for melody. No matter how tormented these songs get, they let her show off with grand, arching vocal lines, leaping deftly across her registers. (There are going to be a lot of disappointed karaoke singers signing up for “What Kind of Man” or “Delilah”, then discovering that their range is nowhere near Welch’s.) This is a huge, sturdy record, built for arenas. (Pitchfork)

 

Kacey Musgraves: Pageant Material
Mercury Records
Released: June 23, 2015

As country music’s new favorite girl, Kacey Musgraves had a quick rise to the top thanks to her 2013 album Same Trailer Different Park, which earned her two Grammys and found her sharing stages with the likes of Katy Perry, Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss.

Of Musgraves’ many strengths, he crossover appeal may be her biggest, garnering her love from Nashville’s Music Row and the storytelling folk scene to the realms of pop, rock and indie. Her new album, Pageant Material, received rave reviews from a diverse survey of publications, with Spin making it their Album of the Week, Pitchfork honoring it with 8.0 and No Depression stating “she may well be the best thing to happen to country radio since Patty Loveless.”

And despite her endlessly endearing charm, the Texas girls brings some grit and controversy, which some might say is a much-needed element to conventional country music. Her debut’s liberal-minded “Follow Your Arrow” was topped by the line “Pissin’ in my yard ain’t gonna make yours any greener,” on lead single “Biscuits.” Rumors have it that her label tried to prevent her from using that line, to which she said, “Mind your own biscuits!”

Kacey Musgraves

 

Leon Bridges: Coming Home
Columbia Records
Released: June 23, 2015

Texas-bred newcomer Leon Bridges was the breakout star of this years South by Southwest, and with his highly-acclaimed debut, Coming Home, he blessed 2015 with a much-needed dash of retro soul.

This 10-track effort takes us on a trip to the swingin’ and twistin’ days of the middle 20th century, with smooth, groovy soul tunes echoing the style of icons such as Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. From the tender title track to the gospel-blues closer “River,” this might be the best nostalgia trip you’ve had this year.

…Bridges’ sound is the pinnacle of a young artist transmitting a dated sound and bringing it straight into the 21st century, with the final results nostalgic yet ultimately fresh and current. (Clash Music)

 

Miguel: Wildheart
ByStorm / RCA
Released: June 29, 2015

We all knew that the 30-year-old singer, songwriter and producer had a cunning knack for writing music perfectly designed to make babies to. And yet still, the sheer physicality and explicit nature of the songs on Miguel’s third album, Wildheart, is enough to make even the most promiscuous listener weak in the knees.

The fact that he made the act of drinking a cup of coffee in the morning – something that is universally accepted as one of the best things in life – even more intriguing is a testament to Miguel’s genius. The man can write a sexy tune!

Channeling the hazy psychedelia of Jimi Hendrix with the erotic flamboyance of early days Prince, Wildheart is groovy, dirty and intoxicating collection of song that never let’s go until you hit the climax. (The Line of Best Fit)

 

Vince Staples: Summertime ’06
Def Jam Recordings
Released: June 30, 2015

On double-length debut, Summertime ‘06, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples doesn’t come up for air. Instead he relentlessly and aggressively pushes through delivering rhyme after rhyme with the matter-of-fact attitude that has become his signature style. This is his life, this is how it happened. No need to romanticize or even reflect.

There’s something deeply intriguing about Staples’ unvarnished, downright stoic depiction of real-life events, such as on standout track, “Birds & Bees,” where he raps, “Rounds up in that chamber, I’m a gangsta like my daddy. My mama caused another problem when she had me. They found another dead body in the alley.”

Summertime ‘06 finds Vince Staples standing in the middle of a vicious hurricane, somehow able to characterize and describe every element that is brutally twisting around him.

 

Lil Wayne: FWA
Young Money / Republic
Released: July 4, 2015

Lil Wayne symbolically unleashed his Free Weezy Album (abbreviated FWA) on Independence Day, due to the delay in the fifth installment of his Tha Carter series. Kicked off with the previously released single “Glory,” FWA features Jeezy, Wiz Khalifa, Bibi Bourelly, producers like Cool & Dre, Infamous and loads of others guests.

In the shadows of lawsuits and label beefs, Lil Wayne used the opportunity to state his artistic freedom and revitalize himself on what turned out to be a balanced mix of commercially appealing and credible rapping. The man himself called it “his best album yet,” the critics were divided, and the fans loved it.

Free Weezy Album features both that lovely stream-of-consciousness lyricism and oddly refreshing conceptual themes that made him so worthwhile. Wayne sounds like he finally gets it. (HipHopDX)

 

Tame Impala: Currents
Modular Recordings / Interscope
Released: July 17, 2015

With their first two records, Tame Impala quickly became the flagship act of modern-day psychedelia. On the Aussie outfit’s third LP, Currents, sonic mad scientist Kevin Parker steered the ship in a new direction, which attentive listeners had seen coming: pop.

It might be a big word, but for Tame Impala it seems effortless. Leaving guitars largely out of the picture to lean on bass and synths instead, they use it on their own terms. Currents is melodic and accessible, well produced and obsessively arranged, but also dreamy and blurry in the best way possible.

Although Parker sings about lamentable thoughts and situations, he’s able to wrap it up in a way that lets you feel calm and relaxed, if a little lightheaded.

Nearly every proper song on Currents is a revelatory statement of Parker’s range and increasing expertise as a producer, arranger, songwriter, and vocalist while maintaining the essence of Tame Impala: Parker is just as irreverent working in soul and R&B as he is with psych-rock. (Pitchfork)

 

Future: DS2 (Dirty Sprite 2)
A1 / Freebandz / Epic
Released: July 17, 2015

“I’m feelin’ way better, I’m feelin’ way better,” repeats Future, again and again, on “Slave Master” off his chart-topping third album, DS2 (a.k.a. Dirty Sprite 2). The Atlanta rapper repeats it so many times that you begin to doubt him.

In fact, if you peek beneath the boasting and bragging, the whole album reads like a desperate cry for help. “I know the devil is real, I take a dose of them pills and I get real low in the field,” he states on album highlight “Blood on the Money,” and mo matter how much codeine, Percocet, molly, weed or Xanax he consumes, the pain is still there.

The overall production, handled by Atlanta go-to producer, Metro Boomin, provides an eerie and haunting backdrop for Future’s tales of depravity and despair.

You can listen to it at maximum possible volume in your car or at a club and it’s lit, but at the right moment you can also hear Future’s otherworldly delivery, part robot, part human, and feel deeply for him. In the best moments you feel like partying and crying at the same damn time. (The Line of Best Fit)

 

Lianne La Havas: Blood
Warner Bros. Records
Released: July 31, 2015

Not only did  Lianne La Havas give us one of the most colorful and beautiful artworks of 2015, but also some of the year’s most soulful music.

Following her 2012 debut, Your Love Big Enough?, the 26-year-old Londoner’s sophomore full-length, Blood, not only showcases a singer who has found how to use her voice to its full potential, but also gives a rich injection of life to the sometimes impersonal and repetitious neo-soul genre.

…her talent doesn’t just lie in her ability to hit all the right notes with perfect timbre, but in the way she manages to play off her production and corner her own voice into moments of danger. (Consequence of Sound)

 

Mac Demarco: Another One
Captured Tracks
Released: August 7, 2015

If you recognize Mac Demarco, you probably know his friendly face, gaping smile and knack for wacky, lo-fi compositions that balance silliness and sincerity in way that’s endlessly endearing.

Following 2014′s excellent Salad Days, he dropped Another One in August, which immediately became this year’s definitive chill-out record. Casually written within a week and recorded the week after, the 8-song mini-album employes Hawaiian melodies, found sounds and psychedelic touches to create a mellow atmosphere of good vibes.

Having recently moved to a waterfront house in Queens, New York, Demarco confessed that living by the sea has changed his life and proved extremely inspiring. The 25-year-old Canadian is steadily acquiring a discography that’s getting ever-more rich and and sophisticated, without losing his goofy and lovable essence.

Offhand and liquid melodies that cozy up with soul music and slacker rock: Mac Demarco signs a solar return without restrictions and borders. (Les Inrockuptibles)

 

The Weeknd

The Weeknd: Beauty Behind The Madness
XO / Republic Records
Released: August 28, 2015

Finally this generation may have found its Michael Jackson, or even its Prince.

On his second official studio album, reclusive singer, songwriter and producer Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. The Weeknd) boils together sulky R&B slow jams (“Often”) and upbeat pop hits  (“Can’t Feel My Face”), which shot him through the roof as the year’s biggest hit-maker. His dark persona and often blunt glorification of meaningless sex, drugs and violence has always made him stand out in the crowd of smooth-voiced crooners, and the gap between the Weeknd and the rest is only widening.

On Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd reshapes his sound for the shiny masses, but conserves his nihilistic sensibility for the dirty underground. If he’s trying to convince the masses they belong there too, he’ll have to be a little more forthcoming. But The Weeknd really is a pop star now, and pop stars can only go so dark. (The Verge)

 

Iron Maiden: The Book Of Souls
Parlophone
Released: September 4, 2015

Who would have thought, 35 years after their 1980 debut, that Iron Maiden would not be just another metal colossus playing old tricks down retirement road, but actually be on top of their game?

Five years since their last, Maiden’s 16th album is their longest to date, packed with 90 minutes of epic creativity, tight playing, dueling guitars, youthful curiosity, challenging experimentation and impressive raw power. Maiden-fans held their expectations high for this one, but the result just stunned the whole world.

After 40 years of existence, Iron Maiden have compromised absolutely nothing. Instead, they’ve launched Ed Force One into skies never touched by another metal act. Though other legendary metal acts have forged monumental careers that continue on to this day complete with quality albums released in the 21st century, Iron Maiden are the chosen ones. No veteran metal act, godlike talent considered, has continued to create masterpieces in the new millennium at the level of The Book of Souls.  (Loudwire)

 

Prince: HITNRUN Phase One
NPG Records
Released: September 7, 2015

It could feel like Prince has prioritized spontaneous live shows, but the fact is that the ever-prolific Purple One has released three excellent albums of brand new music in less than a year, beginning with  ART OFFICIAL AGE and PLECTRUMELECTRUM, and followed by the TIDAL exclusive, HITNRUN Phase One.

The album’s biggest hit, “1000 X’S & 0′S”, was originally intended for 1992′s Rosie Gaines, but never finished (though he performed a special piano rendition at a 2007 performance in London). Now, with groovy amplified beats, it’s back for good.

Other favorites include “LIKE A MACK,” featuring Curly Fryz and “AIN’T ABOUT TO STOP” with Rita Ora. And let’s not forget lead single, “THIS COULD B US,” a funkified re-recording from last year’s AGE OFFICIAL AGE. The way Prince recalls and repackages hidden treasures signifies a veteran artist who’s finished and never lives in the past. Who’s ready for Phase Two?

HITnRUN is an invigorating, eclectic modern pop record that takes a now-familiar (but still no less impressive) formula—equal parts hedonistic arena rock, chugging funk, and art-mutated pop—and tacks on a handful of new sounds and twists that give is a satisfying, visceral edge. (Entertainment Weekly)

 

Petite Noir: La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful
Domino Recording Co.
Released: September 11, 2015

When we asked Yannick Ilunga where his current home is earlier this year, he said “the world is my home.” But don’t you dare label Petite Noir’s work as “world music.”

Rejecting categorization, the Capetown-born, London-residing artist has coined his own term for his enticing mix of South-African grooves, Marimba, dark indie pop and new wave. He calls it “noirwave,” and on his full-length debut on Domino, he invents a vast yet coherent impressionist universe that makes him one of the most exciting and unique new artists to emerge this year.

“In a pop music landscape where eclecticism has become the status quo, Ilunga’s not only pulling from a broader range of sounds than all but a few other players in the game, he’s able to synthesize them into a seamless sonic entity that stands entirely away from the pack… La Vie Est Belle is a gorgeous, complex trip, not just aesthetically but emotionally…. Yannick Ilunga feels like pop music’s future—borderless but deeply rooted, challenging but pleasurable.” (Pitchfork)

Petite Noir

 

Lana Del Rey: Honeymoon
Interscope / Polydor
Released: September 18, 2015

Tragedy has a strange and romantic magnetism that draws you in even as it depresses you. Lana Del Rey has played with this fact since dropping Video Games” in 2011, using her enigmatic appearance and cinematic music to create a fascinating drama of a fallen star. On Honeymoon, more than ever before, her lyrics convey that the fall has already happened.

The musical persona of Lana Del Rey seems to wallow in fatality, to the point of perversely enjoying it. And her character seem to become more hopeless and resigned as time goes on. By gracefully embracing misfortune and bad romance, her approach stands in contrast to the empowering, grandiose but ultimately hollow mantra embraced vast majority of pop musicians. And it’s one of the main reasons why we can’t look away or turn off Honeymoon.

 

Bob Moses: Days Gone By
Domino Recording Co.
Released: September 18, 2015

When we first heard All in All, a compilation of Bob Moses’s singles released back in February, we had already fallen in love with the New York-based Canadian duo. And with their proper debut album, Days Gone By, from September, we were ready to take a long skinny dip in deep house pool, followed by a mental night of electronic pop clubbing.

With sultry beats reminiscent of the best productions by Michael Mayer’s Kompakt label, Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance have a keen knack for making sharp songs that are as stylish as they are sultry. On the border between organic sounds, skillful electronic production and melancholic pop, Bob Moses have produced one of the most elegant electronic records of 2015.  A must.

Tune in, come down, and drift about because Bob Moses remain the masters of restrained bliss house. (AllMusic)

 

Kurt Vile: b’lieve i’m goin down…
Matador Records
Released: September 25, 2015

On b’lieve i’m goin down…, Kurt Vile continues his restless journey down an endless gravel road, headed who-knows and who-cares where. Off the cuff and channeling streams of consciousness, Vile shows he’s most brilliant when left undisturbed. “Fell on some keys then this song walked out of me” he sings on “Lost My Head There” – and he’s hardly exaggerating on a record that’s best heard all the way through.

While guitar remains Vile’s most trusty tool, the album finds him putting it down to sit behind the piano and electric organ, and even giving the ol’ banjo a go.

b’lieve i’m goin down… is a slow-speed runaway train, with its conductor unwilling or unable to slow down or pick up speed. Let’s face it, no one does daydreamin’ hard-traveling Americana better. Like a modern day Kerouac, let’s hope Kurt Vile stays on the road.

[…] b’lieve i’m goin down… is a handshake across the country, east to west coast, thru the dustbowl history (“valley of ashes”) of woody honest strait forward talk guthrie, and a cali canyon dead still nite floating in a nearly waterless landscape. The record is all air, weightless, bodyless, but grounded in convincing authenticity, in the best version of singer songwriter upcycling. (Kim Gordon)

 

The Dead Weather: Dodge & Burn
Third Man Records
Released: September 25, 2015

Well known as the underground supergroup dynamically fronted by Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) and Alison Mosshart (The Kills), and backed by Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs, The Greenhornes) on keys and drums respectively, the Dead Weather returned hungrier than ever on their third album (and first in half a decade).

Still fusing the sturdy roots of the blues with the power of punk rock, the team manages to find new roads in well-treaded territory, including clever nods to post-punk, alternative and hard rock without losing an inch of energy or focus. Dodge & Burn is a major achievement and a tremendous journey from a band of artists who, thankfully, refuse to rest on their laurels.

Dodge and Burn is the best Dead Weather record to date as well as standing up very well next to any of the work White has ever created. Where previous albums by the group have fallen a little short, here they hit all the correct dirty notes. Alison Mosshart has finally found her inner blueswoman to the point where you wonder if her vocals are more suited to this than White’s ever where. On the strength of her showing on this album, that’s definitely the case. (Drowned in Sound)

 

Julia Holter: Have You In My Wilderness
Domino Recording Co.
Released: September 25, 2015

Julia Holter’s previous records had been inspired by figures of literature, greek tragedy and renaissance music, but on her fourth effort, the angel-voiced singer-songwriter tapped into her very own experiences for the first time. The marvelous result is her most positive and accessible record to date and, we dare say, her best.

Have You In My Wilderness doesn’t sacrifice the sophisticated arrangements, lush instrumentation or delicate vocal delivery of Holter’s past work. But the music stems more from her heart than her head this time, which in turn makes it easier to hit the heart of the listener. Whereas before Holter used strings to stress, sometimes even distress, she now wraps us gently in their harmonies.

Have You In My Wilderness is a perfect record to complete immerse yourself in. We’ll have Julia Holter in our wilderness anytime.

 

Bryson Tiller

Bryson Tiller: T R A P S O U L
RCA Records
Released: October 2, 2015

Bryson Tiller’s debut shares a name with his special brand of trap and hip hop-influenced R&B, which he describes as “the perfect marriage between hip-hop and R&B.”

Featuring his breakthrough single, “Don’t,” which garnered tens of millions of plays on SoundCloud before ever seeing official release,  T R A P S O U L is a striking first act for the 22-year old Louisville, Kentucky native, who was confident enough in the merits of his own sound to reject any collaborations.

T R A P S O U L works on a number of levels. Whether it’s a turn up moment or being all up in the feels, each song resonates for a specific occasion. For hopeless romantics who are trappers at heart, this is also their soundtrack. “Ten Nine Fourteen,” a candid track that sounds more like a freestyle TiIler let off in the booth, is indicative of his mindset as a whole on this project. “My n—- give me the throne,” he delivers. He certainly isn’t ready to be crowned king, but he’s already proving himself as a likely heir. (The Boombox)

 

Protomartyr: The Agent Intellect
Hardly Art
Released: October 9, 2015

The degree of uneasiness conveyed on Protomartyr’s third full-length is nothing short of extraordinary. The Agent Intellect is an album of extremes: the duality of pleasure and discomfort, and the upsetting sense of observing someone experiencing extreme pleasure.

Thematically, the Detroit post-punkers address many elements of modern life, like the ugliness that surfaces when people are allowed complete online anonymity. Written from the perspective of someone who wakes up from a long period of having their senses dulled – only to realize that they don’t want to be a part of this – it’s a revolted comment on entitlement, social injustice, white privilege and male privilege. The music perfectly echoes the lyrical malaise and contrast, as the sharp, abrasive guitars and barking vocals mix brilliantly with warm, organic bass lines.

They say the devil is in the detail, and with The Agent Intellect, Protomartyr made an album so daunting and uncomfortably cool that if you held a magnifying glass up to a snapshot of the band laying down tracks in the studio, you could find the devil sitting in a corner – feet on the table, his face lit up by the glow of a cigar, just enough to glimpse that chilling smirk.

 

Raury: All We Need
Love Renaissance / Columbia Records
Released: October 16, 2015

If you want to hear the sound of the future, look no further than 19-year-old, Atlanta-based artist Raury. Blending hip-hop, folk, soul and bits of jazz, Raury’s full-length debut, All We Need, uniquely typifies the eclectic zeitgeist of his generation, unafraid of crossing boundaries.

Of course that doesn’t mean he (or they) are without vulnerability. For all it’s sonic confidence, All We Need exposes all the insecurities and fears that only the youth can. Mature yet naïve, rich but unrefined, Raury is one of the most exciting young creators on the scene, representing an optimistic, if ever more hard to define, future.

A hip-hop-generation shaman with an alert sense of musical history and a fearless humility, Raury isn’t interested in rejecting the hard-fought innovations of the generations just above him, but rather has mainlined them so thoroughly that he’s able to remold them. (The New York Times)

 

Grimes: Art Angels
4AD / Eerie Organization
Released: November 6, 2015

“This, this music makes me cry. It sounds just like my soul,” sings Claire Boucher on her fourth studio album, Art Angels, the long awaited follow up to 2011′s brilliant Visions. But his is not music that makes you cry at first listen. This is music that fills you with ecstatic joy. And then you cry.

The 27-year old singer and producer has created a masterful album of idiosyncratic pop and deranged EDM, complete with sunny hooks, K pop nods and ethereal vocals. But beneath the glitter and bubble gum surface lurks something more menacing — a deep and destructive melancholy that continually poisons the immaculate loveliness of these perfectly crafted pop arrangements.

She’s crafted a glorious pop monster entirely by her own mind, hand, and voice. Part dazzling confection, part snarling beast, Art Angels is a stitched together, hook ridden masterwork. Boucher plays the dual roles of Dr. Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde. She makes the impossible — tunes that are fun and frightening — come to life through sheer ingenuity and a bolt of creative lightening. Then she sets her id loose to wreak havoc on pop conventions in general, and her haters in particular. (Pretty Much Amazing)

Grimes

 

Coldplay: A Head Full Of Dreams
Parlophone Records
Released: December 4, 2015

The seventh studio album by Coldplay barely squeezed onto this list due to its late release date, but A Head Full of Dreams was well worth the wait. Hints and rumors have suggested this could be the band’s final recording, and if that turns out to be the case they’re ending on a high note.

Produced between longtime collaborator Rik Simpson and Norwegian pop team StarGate, A Head Full of Dreams showcases one of the transcendent back bands of today at their most uplifting, joyous and colorful. Hailed by NME as “the most satisfying collection of songs they’ve written in years,” Coldplay enlisted the likes of Beyoncé, Tove Lo, Noel Gallagher and even the President to support their bright and vivid sound. Their newfound swagger suits the band perfectly.

A happier band doesn’t always mean a better band; after all, sad songs famously say so much, and ‘Ghost Stories’ had several lovely ones in which to wallow. But the occasional spikes of cheerfulness suit the quartet as it expands back onto the dance floor and into familiar arena-pop territory. (Boston Globe)

[fbcomments num="5" width="100%" count="off" countmsg="kommentarer" url="http://read.tidal.com/article/albums-of-the-year-2015-ww-share"]