Wow, what a year! 2015 was wild and varied ride for me personally and musically. I didn’t rank my list this year because I don’t really feel it makes much sense to do so anymore. I loved all of these albums more or less equally but for different reasons, depending on my mood or what I was experiencing in my life at the time. My top ten albums were chosen based on how often I listened to them, artistic achievement or both. Having said all that, there was a clear Number 1 album, which you’ll find out as you read the list. Be sure to also read my list of top songs for 2015.
Beirut – No No No
How can you not love a band that manage to pull off catchy pop songs employing instruments as varied as the trumpet, euphonium, mandolin, accordion, various keyboard instruments, ukulele, a rotary valve flugelhorn, and a modified conch shell? That’s what lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Zach Condon along with band members manage to do on their fourth album, ‘No, No, No.’
This is another album that I didn’t initially love but a few songs really intrigued me. Then, over a period of time, I became addicted to the whole album.
Beach House – Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars
In 2015 Beach House released not one but two amazingly entrancing albums, ‘Depression Cherry’ and then, two months later, a surprise release ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars.’
They both fit quite nicely into Beach House’s soporific shoe-gaze style but are distinctive nonetheless. Somehow their sound never gets old to me and always puts me in a zen state. My favorite tracks are Depression Cherry’s ’Beyond Love’ and Stars’ ‘Elegy to the Void.’
Father John Misty – I Love You Honeybear
Former Fleet Foxes drummer, Father John Misty has maintained a steady solo career since 2004 but 2015 marked the release of Josh Tillman’s second and most resonant album to date.
‘I Love You Honeybear’ was an early-in-the-year standout album for me. His soulful voice makes the wry humor of many of his songs even more effective. Favorite tracks include ‘When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,’ and ‘Bored in the U.SA.
Grimes – Art Angels
If there’s one album that stands out as a clear #1, it’s Grimes’ ‘Art Angels’. Claire Boucher is a one-woman tour de force. She alone wrote, engineered, and produced ‘Art Angels’ along with creating the album artwork.
Any collaboration was with other women. Her voice can definitely take some getting used to and ‘Art Angels’ is a slow-grower of an album, one that unveils layers of complexity with every listen.
Because my friend Chris wrote a perfect paragraph about the album and its songs, I’m quoting him here:
It’s irresistible. Love the ambition, classical intelligence and statement of intent of the opener Laughing….. Love the bouncy bass on Venus Fly; massive track. Shades of Santigold and MIA there I think. Love the squeaky alien synthesised vocal swagger of World Princess. Love the sweetness and sheer pop suss of California. Love the tinny punky new wave guitar feel to Flesh without Blood; ‘baby believe me’. Love the Toni Basil impetuousness and high pitched insolence of Kill vs Maim. Love the singsong satisfaction of the chorus to Easily. Love the heard it before familiarity and perfectly formed structure of Pin. Love the galloping rhythm and synth bleeps of Realiti. Love the pastoral 7th tree Goldfrapp simplicity of Life… Love the nursery rhyme riff of Butterfly. Love it all. It’s utterly addictive and utterly brilliant. Want to hear it again before it’s even finished. After 6x I thought it might be starting to pale, but a few hours away from it and it kicks as hard as ever again. NME got it right with this one.
Jamie XX – In Color
Jamie Smith of the XX shows off his producing skills in this great collection of electronic music and his first solo album, ‘In Color.’ The album sounds super current and really takes you on a journey. It’s a great headphone listen or one to have on loud. It’s great to hear XX band member Romy Madley Croft on ‘Loud Places’ and ’See Saw.’
Love the steel drum in ‘Obvs’ and I’ Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’, featuring Young Thug, is a real grower.
Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
I was initially reluctant to submit myself to the seductive ways of Miss Del Rey once again. Once you become addicted, it’s hard to break the habit. I loved Ultraviolence’s narco-swing vibe and was not necessarily excited for a return to the style of her first album, which is what she claimed the sound would be like. But once I let myself go, I became enraptured in it. It’s the perfect soundtrack to an L.A. noir film from any era, the perfect mood album for a hot bath with candles, the perfect escape into the tortured character created by an upstate New Yorker called Lizzie Grant.
‘Honeymoon’ is less a return to the style of the first album, ‘Born to Die,’ but rather a more polished version of the chanteuse style of pre-debut songs like YaYo. The focus again is mostly on the sadness of a broken Hollywood personality. The title track along with ‘Music to Watch Boys To, ‘Terrance Loves You’, and ’24’ are all highlights that were played endlessly at our home this year.
Other Lives – Ritual
This was a sleeper album for me. Thanks to KCRW often playing the brilliant ‘Easy Way Out,’ I got addicted to this Oklahoma indie rock band’s ability to create songs that are both moody and epic sounding at the same time.
They do this by employing piano, guitar, violin, and trumpet all brought together by the addictive vocal style of lead-singer Jesse Tabish.
I’m sad I missed their performance at BAM this last year!
Sleater Kinney – No Cities to Love
I love Carrie Brownstein in everything she does. Her acting skills are being honed in shows like ‘Transparent,’ ‘Carol,’ and ‘Portlandia,’ but her original artistry was as one of the lead vocalists and guitar players in Sleater Kinney, a band whose long hiatus was ended by the release of the super tight ‘No Cities to Love.’
There’s no filler at all on this album. Every song packs a punch and album clocks in at 32:17. Sweater Kinney sound like no one they’ve influenced and will likely continue to do so should they continue their career beyond ‘No Cities to Love.’
St. Germain – St. Germain
St. Germain is the first album after a 15-year haitus from the French artist Ludovic Navarre. There’s nothing on this album likely to become as omnipresent as ‘Rose Rouge,’ from his last album.
However, this album is just as satisfying, combining his signature style of down-tempo nu jazz with African styles. Malian instruments like the kora, balafon, and n’gobi are interwoven with guitars, pianos, saxophones, and electronic loops. A great soundtrack to any cool cocktail party.
Villagers – Darling Arithmetic
Another winning album by the amazing Irish indie folk band. Lead singer Conor Obrien’s voice is so clear and immediate sounding with the album’s production wavering between lush and sparse at just the right moments.
Much of the album deals with bigotry, homophobia, and Obrien’s navigating his life as a young gay man. The lyrics are insightful, current, direct, and really effecting. The entire album is great but three songs on in particular were major high points of 2015. They are ‘Courage,’ ‘Hot Scary Summer,’ and ‘The Soul Serene.’