Our Favorite Albums of 2015

2015 is almost in the books (already! We know!) and there’s been no shortage of great music this year. Here are our picks for the best albums of 2015!

Christian Rich, FW14 (Good Luck Chuck Recordings, 2015)

The debut record from Chicago-born, Nigeria-raised brother act Christian Rich harkens back to a time when trip hop ruled the earth. Twenty years ago, while grunge was busy swallowing its own tail, acts like Portishead, Tricky, and Massive Attack were soundtracking the coolest parties you only heard about with smokey, jazzy records that struck the perfect balance between R&B, hip hop, and EDM. Like those trip hop forebears, Christian Rich deliver a seamless stream of mid-tempo jams that will keep the party going a lot later than you intended, with an added thread of sci-fi storytelling and futuristic production that rewards repeated listens. – MS


Dan Deacon, Gliss Riffer (Domino, 2015)

Dan Deacon belongs to that rare breed of electronic musicians who can bring an overwhelming humanity and warmth to the sounds and noises created by circuit boards. Listening to Gliss Riffer is like listening to an album by a great jazz artist, one who is completely comfortable in their medium, riffing on a theme, exploring new territory but excited to bring you along with them. If you haven’t listened to Dan Deacon before this is a great introduction. More accessible than some of his previous works but still with plenty of what makes him unique. – DB


Father John Misty, I Love You Honeybear (Sub Pop, 2015)

Josh Tillman is smart. He’s real smart. Plus, he’s observant, he’s sensitive, and he most definitely knows what he’s doing. Father John Misty’s narrative and conversational lyrics fit comfortably askew atop the band and their producer’s take on Phil Spector’s Wall-of-Sound (which is recreated quite well). Tillman’s lyrics teeter on the edge of existential pandering, but are delivered with a modern taste and style, like text messages sent at 2:00AM to a close friend who isn’t awake to reciprocate the conversation back. – MP


Ghost, Meliora (Loma Vista Recordings, 2015)

The third release from Ghost — Sweden’s enigmatic collective of the satanic pope, Papa Emeritus III and nameless band members, the Nameless Ghouls — arrived with the sinister, subterranean guitars and King Diamond-hat tipping vocals they’re known for. With the introduction of arpeggiating synthesizers and haunting Mellotron strings into the arrangements, Meloria earns an almost outer-space, galactic feel. – MP


Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope, 2015)

So much digital ink has been spilled over Kendrick Lamar’s masterful follow up to Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City that it seems unnecessary to add more but… dammit this is a “Best Of” list after all and To Pimp A Butterfly is definitely one of the best of 2015. Bristling with energy, honesty and anger, Lamar roars through sixteen tracks dealing with his own conflicted emotions around being famous and successful when so many of his friends and family are left struggling in a broken society that places a lower value on their lives than their white counterparts. Not always an easy listen but certainly an important one. – DB


Nothing But Thieves, self-titled (RCA Victor, 2015)

Nothing But Thieves debut album of the same name released earlier this year in the UK. It is an alternative rock album that is unique and hard to put into words. Think Jeff Buckley meets early Muse plus something else entirely. From Mason’s incredible vocals to the production and writing, this album is excellent. From the grunge-like intensity of “Ban All The Music” to the beautifully haunting call to leave myth and fear behind in “Graveyard Whistling”, it’s a masterpiece of artistry that leaves you satisfied and coming back for more. – JM


Thee Oh Sees, Mutilator Defeated At Last (Castle Face Records, 2015)

Like clockwork, San Francisco psychedelic standard-bearers Thee Oh Sees are back with another burst of meticulously crafted, fuzzed-out garage rock. Mutilator Defeated At Last is John Dwyer’s first long-player recorded with the band’s more recent touring incarnation, and it sounds exactly like a band that’s been playing these songs every night for a year. The band explores a more contemplative side on tracks like the organ-soaked slow-burn “Sticky Hulks” and the lovely, Atkinsesque instrumental “Holy Smoke”, but there are still plenty of rockers like “Turned Out Light” and “Lupine Ossuary” that are tailor-made to whip a sold-out house into a frenzy. – MS


Jim O’Rourke, Simple Songs (Drag City, 2015)

Jim O’Rourke is best known, when he’s known at all, as a producer and performer with alt-rock royalty like Sonic Youth and Wilco, and, in smaller pockets, as a prolific composer of noise and musique concrète. But to me, he’ll always be the wounded, cynical troubadour of the seminal rock records Eureka, Insignificance, and, most recently Simple Songs. Fifteen years on since his last solo rock album, O’Rourke is no less jaded, but the album is considerably more intimate than 2001’s phenomenal Insignificance. His smoky baritone is barely audible above the subtle arrangements, but when he cuts loose, as he does in the closing seconds of “Hotel Blue”, it’s positively thrilling. – MS 


Promised Land Sound, For Use and Delight (Paradise of Bachelors, 2015)

For Use and Delight is a refined, often-psychedelic, country-rooted, Tennessean record. The grasp that Promised Land Sound has of the roots of Nashville/Memphis/Tennessee’s culture (and really just popular culture in general) is so complimented on this record that I literally feel delighted listening to it. Well said fellas. The playing, the writing, the voice, THE ROCK AND ROLL — This record is the total package! – JS


Sheer Mag, II (Wilsuns RC/Katorga Works, 2015)

Four tunes of the best power-pop, rock and roll I’ve heard in years! A lo-fi, fuzzy, throw back that has so much replay value that you may literally wear your needle out dancing around. The ’70s, Thin Lizzy, Blondie-like influences are pretty overt, but the riffs are  fresh, and when paired with the quality vocals and song writing, they’re distinctly their own. Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag only have two 7″s available, but expect that when they drop an LP everyone takes notice. – JS


Chris Stapleton, Traveller (Mercury Nashville, 2015)

Chris Stapleton‘s debut solo album Traveller is a beautifully crafted, powerfully sung album that reminds me of riding around in my grandfather’s old Ford F-150 listening to old-school country music. A solemn album inspired by the loss of his father, Traveller grips you from the first track. It’s an album written by a gifted songwriter, but, it’s Stapleton’s unique voice that is the real star. From the heartbreaking intimacy of “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” to the nostalgic waltz of “More of You”, Traveller is an instant classic. – JM


Tame Impala, Currents (Interscope, 2015)

On Currents, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker swapped Lonerism’s fuzzy guitars and stereo-panned psychedelia for analog synths and sweeping EQ filters wrapped in a 13-track dance party. However, pulsing body-moving rhythms a shallow and unintelligent record does not make. Currents is sea of movements, where variations of the original musical thought reinvent and reform themselves, only to return as something completely different. From the production and the arrangements to the delicate white-glove attention to sonics, Currents is an involved listen that deserves 100% of your attention. If anything, Currents may be so beautiful, one could leave concerned that Kevin Parker spends too much time in the studio. – MP


Titus Andronicus, The Most Lamentable Tragedy (Merge, 2015)

Titus Andronicus dropped a concept album this past July inspired by frontman Patrick Stickles lifelong battle with Bipolar Disorder. Like a lot concept albums, ultimately the theme really shines through on some individual songs, while some others you can safely eliminate from your regularly shuffled playlists. But at its best Tragedy will thrill fans of Ted Leo, The Constantines, Cursive, and The Pogues (a reworked version of the latter’s “Pair of Brown Eyes” even makes an appearance on the album). As an added bonus for those that like their punk music to have a literary flair, Stickles extensively annotates his own work on the lyric interpretation website – MR


Various Artists, Ork Records: New York, New York (Numero, 2015)

Another phenomenal doorstop of a box set from Numero Group, Ork Records: New York, New York captures a lost, though hardly forgotten, slice of the ’70s when punk was screaming to life. Spread across four LPs, the set puts familiar proto-punk classics by Richard Hell, Alex Chilton, and Television into context with less known (but no less amazing) tracks by Marbles, Prix, and The Revelons. Marbles’ “Red Lights” has been stuck in my head for weeks, but you really can’t miss with any of the nearly-fifty hits here. Throw in a 190-page full-color hardcover book, and this set is a serious must-have. – MS


Wilco, Star Wars (dBpm/ANTI Records, 2015)

The undisputed kings of “Dad Rock” surprised and delighted me this year with their ninth studio album, Star Wars. The surprise was the relatively silent and free release but the delight has been in the listening since. As a fan of 2004’s A Ghost is Born, I jumped for joy over “EKG,” the alarmingly dissonant instrumental that opens the album. But within minutes I realized that far from being a Ghost RE-born, this collection of songs (all but one under four minutes — relatively tame for a band who have been guilty 10- and 15-minute tracks) finds Wilco right where they seem most comfortable, somewhere between Abbey Road and Marquee Moon. Perhaps over time Star Wars will stand out less in the Wilco catalog but its inclusion in any fan’s collection is a must. – TY


Woolen Men, Temporary Monument (Woodsist, 2015)

The newest LP from prolific Portland punks The Woolen Men is timeless in all the ways that count. The skittery guitars and propulsive bass on songs like “Clean Dreams” and “Dissolving Man” resemble artifacts from some long-lost post-punk classic, but the pristine production, free of any 21st century signifiers, ensures that it will always sound fresh. The title track is a standout, capturing nostalgia for the past and optimism for the future in a single irresistible sing-along. – MS


Attribution: DB – Daniel Brown, Design Lead; JM – Joshua Meeker, Online Marketing Specialist; JS – Josh Shearon, Graphic Designer; MP – Miles Price, Copywriter; MR – Mark Rowan, President; MS – Mike Shepherd, Social Media Coordinator; TY – Tom Yarbrough, Warehouse Director.

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