With the year winding down, we like to take the time to reflect on some of the best (and worst) in the realm of music and entertainment. 2015 was a killer year for music. Between surprise albums, record breaking sales figures and return of legends, there are certainly many moments to be remembered. With that being said, here are our Top 20 Albums of 2015:
20. Homeshake – Midnight Snack
Kicking off our list is an extremely delicious Canadian release from none other than Captured Tracks’ signee, Homeshake. Formerly of Mac DeMarco‘s live band, Peter Sagar follow’s up 2014’s In The Shower with an even yummier delight (ok, last food pun, we swear!).
Irresistibly dreamy, Midnight Snack exhibits a tremendous amount of personal growth for Sagar, navigating away from songs that are simply playful to something more profound and emotional, all while maintaining his signature sounds of synth utopia and woozy guitars melodies.
19. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf!
In an incredibly surprising decision, Chicago emcee Chance The Rapper caught fans off-guard when he chose not to release a new solo album or mixtape in 2015 in favor of focusing his energy on a different project: Surf!
Lead by Chance’s best friend/bandmate Donnie Trumpet, this Social Experiment project serves as the first free album on iTunes and received over 600,000 downloads in its first week alone. Surf! serves as the debut full body of work for both Trumpet and The Social Experiment (as a collective), a colorful spectrum of personal, upbeat and motivation tunes backed by a monstrous group of guest collaborators (Busta Rhymes, J. Cole, Erykah Badu, Big Sean and many more).
When we spoke to Donnie Trumpet recently, the musician spoke in-depth about the recording process of Surf!, along with potential plans for more versions of the projects tunes to be released in the near future:
18. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Whatever has been infused in the water down in Australia, we want some! Between Flume, Tame Impala and the mainstream surge of Sia, the country has been gaining increasing amounts of traction by the year for its amazing musicians. This stands true with Courtney Barnett and her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.
If the high energy feel throughout the bulk of this album was not enough to capture ones’ attention, then perhaps it is Barnett’s dry, cynical and often hilarious lyrics (not to mention an excellent grasp on storytelling) that knock this album out of the park.
17. Drake & Future – What a Time to Be Alive
Aside from releasing respective solo albums, Drake and Future also found the time to once again join forces for What a Time to Be Alive, one of the year’s most impressive Hip-Hop efforts.
Supposedly recorded in Atlanta over a 6-day period, the commercial mixtape is stacked with bangers upon bangers, with the two rappers exuberantly flowing over the high-energy production of Atlanta beat-maker Metro Boomin for the bulk of it.
16. Beach House – Depression Cherry
Three years after the release of their simply mesmerizing Bloom, Beach House returned in 2015 with not one but two new albums.
While the second project, Thank Your Lucky Stars seemed simply as more of a light, “Thank you gift” to fans, the first LP, Depression Cherry is a poignant return to full form for the band, adding on yet another dreamy delight to their catalogue.
With highlights such as “Sparks” and “Space Song”, the band have no difficulty finding their way back into the hearts of their many loyal fans.
15. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
Before 2015, The Weeknd was an artist best known for his daunting yet beautiful R&B portraits on wax, songs typically spanning 6 minutes or more.
With his latest release, the Toronto born singer steadily establishes himself as one the most important Pop artists of this generation.
While some fans see Beauty Behind The Madness as The Weeknd “selling out”, it isn’t. There is a fine line between an artist blatantly changing their sound for commercial appeal and switching things up to expand their reaches/diversity as an artist, and The Weeknd crosses it without flaw with his latest offering.
14. Grimes – Art Angel
Claire Boucher is back! After allegedly scrapping the album following the lukewarm reception of a song originally featured on it, Art Angel finds Grimes continuing to push the envelope in terms of experimentation, all while cementing her place as Canada’s Indie-Pop Princess.
Through this mixture of experimental and Pop, Boucher is able to please her loyal fanbase with an album well worth the wait, all while gaining a wider, diversified following.
13. Erykah Badu – But You Caint Use My Phone
Erykah Badu remained relatively quiet in the years following the releases of her two part New Amerykah albums in 2008 and 2010, respectively. That was until late this year, when she decided to release a surprise mixtape, But You Caint Use My Phone.
Inspired by this generation’s dependency on technology, But You Caint Use My Phone firmly follows this claim through irresistibly groovy tracks that may even make you think twice about how much you’re playing with that iPhone. Highlights include a “Hotline Bling” remix titled “Cel U Lar Device”, a DJ Mustard-esque “Phone Down”, and “Hello”, the closing track featuring an outstanding verse from former flame, Andre 3000.
12. Ariel Pink – Pom Pom
Fearlessly eccentric and daringly experimental, Ariel Pink returns in 2015 (sans his “Haunted Graffiti” band) weirder, and perhaps even better than ever. Shining with charisma from top to bottom, Pom Pom seems more charming with every new listen, with Pink leaving his listeners something new to discover upon each spin.
In comparison to his previous bodies of work, Pom Pom antes up the energy levels for Ariel, allowing him to reveal more character than ever before, something that did not seem remotely possible given his colorful track record.
11. Dr. Dre – Compton
After years of delays, dismays and do-overs, the good doctor stepped back into the operating room for one final, triumphant surgery. At long last, 2015 was the year that Dr. Dre finally released a follow up to his 1999 classic sophomore effort, The Chronic 2001 with Compton.
Much like recent success stories good kid, m.A.A.d city (Kendrick Lamar) and My Krazy Life (YG), Dre paints an honest, personal portrait of the city he once called home, all while laminating his work that started it all, N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton.
With help from faces old (Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, Eminem) and new (Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Asia Bryant), Andre Young delivers a carefully crafted project from top to bottom. Though it may fall victim to a few cliches here and there (namely in song titles like “It’s All on Me” and “All In A Day’s Work”), the album truly serves as yet another testament as to why Dr. Dre is one of Hip-Hop’s most important figures. Worth the 15 year wait? We’d say so!
10. Andra Day – Cheers to the Fall
In this day in age, it seems more difficult than ever to find an artist who can create a timeless body of work with their first album. However, this is exactly what R&B vocalist found herself able to achieve with her debut, Cheers to the Fall.
Backed by the sharp production of both Adrian Gurvitz and Raphael Saadiq, the singer makes it seem as if she’s been doing this for quite sometime, sounding wise beyond her years on every track. Channeling distinct influence from Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone and of course her mentor, Stevie Wonder, Day delivers one of the most meticulously pieced together bodies of work in the recent memory of both Soul and R&B releases.
We talked to Andra about the creation of the now Grammy-nominated album when she sat down with us for a brief interview earlier this year:
9. Adele – 25
When we last saw Adele with 21, we were met with a fearless, vulnerable soul, fresh off a seemingly nasty breakup and ready to start anew. This resulted in her producing what is arguably one of the best albums in the new millennium.
Flash forward 4 years. The singer is now a mother, has quit smoking after a health scare and is without a doubt a lot more grounded, replacing her flamethrower-like lyrics with a first aid center of emotions. Although 25 may be her least exciting LP in comparison to her first two albums, Adele still has a lot to offer with her latest album.
Besides the astoundingly high sales figures this project has seen thus far, Adele has also managed to create yet another beautiful body of work crafted from a stream of new and exciting personal experiences that we shall be enjoying for years to come.
8. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Since his gain of popularity in 2014, it seemed as if Leon Bridges could not be written about by a blogger or journalist without being compared to the late Sam Cooke. With incredibly big shoes to fill amid this early praise, Bridges did not disappoint with the release of his debut album, Coming Home.
Adding a fresh, contemporary spin on beloved Sixties R&B, Bridges solidifies himself as a hopeful force of preservation for an otherwise near extinct sound.
7. Jamie XX – In Colour
Progressively throughout their career, The xx have stepped a little more out of their shells with their releases. The jump from xx to Coexist saw a lot of progress for the group; more light, more flavor, more upbeat, more dance and perhaps most importantly, more color.
This trend continues with member Jamie XX’s debut solo effort, In Colour. With this project, Jamie is able to explore new grounds never conquered in his work with the band. The sound on this album is bigger than any of Jamie’s work with the band. More Electronic by nature, Jamie allows In Colour‘s listeners to escape into a vibrant whirlpool of tasteful tracks, perfect for any summer playlist.
6. Big Grams – Big Grams
Big Boi has never been one to shy away from experimentation in his music. From evoking a Drum and Bass sound on OutKast’s Stankonia to working with a handful of Indie musicians on his second solo effort, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, the Southern emcee’s love for the unusual has proved to be successful throughout the duration of his career.
For the Big’s latest release, the Southern legend’s risqué decision making style has proven to be yet again in his favor, as the rapper served up the ever-alluring Big Grams collab EP with Indie-Pop duo Phantogram in late September.
The project consists of 7 tracks, each celebrating one of the deadly sins as opposed to the typical message of avoiding them at all costs. Big Grams finds Big Boi effortlessly flowing over Josh Carter’s spacey production (along with guest producers 9th Wonder and Skrillex), while singer Sarah Barthel delivers angelic hooks (and even a couple of surprisingly impactful additional verses) to pair up with Big’s lush rhymes.
5. Tame Impala – Currents
Coming in strong with their third studio album, Currents saw Tame Impala riding new sorts of waves this time around (sorry, had to!). This is not only seen in the album’s lyrical content, further developing the themes of romantic indifference first demonstrated on 2012’s Lonerism, but also sonically, as Kevin Parker’s top-notch production navigates more towards an Electronic realm with the basis of many of the album’s tracks.
Marrying once again the trippy ascetic and emotional lyrical content that made fans first fall in love with the band, the album continues Tame Impala’s pattern of being able to progressively outdo themselves with every new body of work, while exhibiting once more that there is indeed some good that can come out of heartbreak.
4. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
After shattering the ground with the release of their first album, Boys & Girls in 2012, the world wondered if Alabama Shakes were more than just a one album delight. With the release of Sound & Color in early spring, this is exactly what feat the band was able to overcome, with ease, at that.
By broadening their range of genres available to explore this time around, Alabama Shakes found themselves displaying exceptional amounts of diversity, effortlessly hopping from Blues to Soul to Garage and even hints of Country and Americana. Led by Brittany Howard earth shattering voice, the band proves to be truly unstoppable when faced with a challenge.
3. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Never one to treat his albums a dime a dozen, Sufjan Stevens returns after a five year gap with Carrie & Lowell, yet another relentlessly personal entry in his intimate catalog.
Five years, the same period of time in which Lowell Brams, Stevens’ former stepfather was married to his mother, a period of time Stevens’ has previously referred to as a season of hope. His mother, on the other hand, suffered from a number of mental illnesses and remained distant for the bulk of Stevens’ life. Put these anecdotes together along with beautifully composed songs and masterfully poetic lyrics and you’ve got yourself one of the year’s best albums.
2. Keith Richards – Crosseyed Heart
Keith Richards is the epitome of Rock ‘n’ Roll. On Crosseyed Heart, the guitarist’s first album in over 20 years, Richards delivers a fitting “hats off” to those who have inspired him over the years.
It’s influences from legends such as Blue’s Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and Reggae’s Gregory Isaacs that lead to this impressive showcase of the Rolling Stone member’s many talents. Despite many cover songs, Richards also finds the time to lay down some fairly personal original tunes, reminiscent of his vocal lead on The Stones’ A Bigger Bang, “This Place Is Empty“.
At age 71, Richards shows not even the slightest signs of slowing down…and we liiiike it!
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar was faced with a tremendous amount of pressure when it came to the task of completing his second major label album. Many wondered whether he could possibly top Good Kid m.A.A.d. City, the Compton rapper’s 2012 Interscope debut, a project widely considered an instant classic among Hip-Hop fans and critics alike. Sure enough, nearly three years later, the Good Kid came back stronger than ever!
On To Pimp A Butterfly, K-Dot shines his brightest. The project sees Lamar channeling influences from Funk, Jazz and Soul, the foundation of what was being played around him growing up as a child. Kendrick digs even further into his personal roots throughout the album, with large themes of self-empowerment, being proud of where you come from, and even a period of depression which he faced the the gap period of Good Kid and Butterfly.
Through carefully penned lyrics, an illustrious concept and a slew of jaw-dropping collaborators (including Funkadelic’s George Clinton, Snoop Dogg, Bilal), To Pimp A Butterfly is truly 2015’s best body of work.