20. Bjork: Vulnicura
Bjork’s vulnerable, honest self-portrait on Vulnicura detailed her breakup with longtime partner Matthew Barney, but its scope and breadth of sound make it much more than that. Bjork is a musical genius; socially and consciously relevant in 2015 as she rallied for women’s equality in music and stood up against climate change. However, Vulnicura finds her at her most emotionally raw.
19. Mac DeMarco: Another One
Ahh, Mac DeMarco. He won our hearts last year with Salad Days (pronounced Sah-laad days) and is back again already with Another One. Also in 2015: DeMarco directed and appeared in a number of bizarre web videos and released Some Other Ones. Watch him dance, grab himself, and play guitar in a creepy Michael Jackson mask in the video for “Another One:”
18. CHVRCHES: Every Open Eye
CHVRCHES built on their unique brand of modern synth-pop showcased on 2013’s The Bones Of What You Believe for Every Open Eye, reaching soaring new heights. Lauren Mayberry and co. also stoop up for women’s rights, slammed Donald Trump, and defended their right to be seen as a band in the past year, despite Mayberry’s burgeoning stardom.
17. Major Lazer: Peace Is The Mission
Major Lazer’s “Lean On” was everywhere this summer, but there’s more to Peace Is The Mission than just that. Features with Wild Belle, Ellie Goulding, Travi$ Scott, and Chronixx made for other highlights on a diverse album that showed off Diplo’s range and unique production style with Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, and soundtracked the beginning of the summer.
16. D’Angelo & The Vanguard: Black Messiah
Technically released at the end of 2014, Black Messiah was too late for the end of year lists last year, coming as a complete surprise and marking D’Angelo’s return after 14 years since 2000’s Voodoo. “Really Love” is now up for a Grammy, and Black Messiah has been hailed as a triumph, its influence on black music over the past year undeniable.
15. Miguel: Wildheart
Miguel’s Wildheart cements the singer’s sex symbol status, but the arrangements are luscious and diverse, making use of a wide range of production styles, such as funk, R&B, and alt-rock. Album highlights include “Coffee,” “Waves,” and “Simplethings,” but Wildheart is an album to throw on for a party, a chill Friday night, or just a good time.
14. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment: Surf
Chance The Rapper has had a busy year. When he hasn’t been talking to high school students, promoting his anti-violence and “Warmest Winter” initiatives, or being a father, he’s been collaborating, and on Surf he puts his fellow artists ahead of himself, resulting in a truly collaborative project which fuses great music with a bit of star power. Still, we can’t wait to see what he does next.
13. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell is a hauntingly beautiful depiction of death. Nostalgic, evocative, and heartbreaking, it details Stevens’ relationship with his mother and stepfather. “Death with Dignity” and “Should Have Known Better” are just the portal into Stevens’ family portrait on Carrie & Lowell, which traverses both time and space.
12. Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
The various members of Animal Collective were all fairly active this year, but Panda Bear’s Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper was the project that stood out most as a development of what AC were doing on Centipede Hz. Lennox now lives in Portugal, and his cosmopolitan brand of experimental pop is a natural segue from AC’s previous work to what’s coming next.
11. Vince Staples: Summertime ’06
Socially conscious, biting, and abrasive, Vince Staples has been hailed as the leader of the new generation of gangsta rap. On Summertime ’06 he fleshes out hooks like “I ain’t never ran from nothin’ but the police” with hard-hitting bars and sharped-edged lyricism. But there’s a lot more to Vince Staples than first meets the eye. Best Music Video of 2015.
10. Hot Chip: Why Make Sense?
Hot Chip’s Why Make Sense? took soaring singles “Hurache Lights” and “Need You Now” and based a whole album around that retro-modern sound. Hot Chip look to the tradition of artists like Bruce Springsteen and LCD Soundsystem in order to place themselves within the canon of the great electronic bands of the past, and on Why Make Sense? they do just that.
9. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Clever and quick-witted, Courtney Barnett has become known as Australia’s indie-rock goofball. However, on Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Barnett (sometimes) broaches heavier topics, such as environmental threats to the Great Barrier Reef. But she always keeps her distance, never letting on a firm stance. Thus, Sometimes (often comically) explores a large range of contemporary topics.
8. Mark Ronson: Uptown Special
There is more to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special than “Uptown Funk.” A lot more. A truly modern rock record, traversing funk, R&B, and psychedelic rock, Ronson’s sense of what works musically is impeccable. The features with Kevin Parker (Tame Impala), Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow), Stevie Wonder, and Mystikal make for some of the best rock jams of the year, and make the album a remarkably fluid listen from start to finish.
7. Kurt Vile: b’lieve i’m goin down…
Kurt Vile’s b’lieve i’m goin down… opens with “Pretty Pimpin,” a 5 minute long, rollicking track that sets up the rest of the album in its self-aware depiction of the man behind it. “That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say),” “Life Like This,” and “Wild Imagination” are album highlights, but Vile lets you into his head on b’lieve i’m going down, and once you start listening, it will be hard to get it out of yours.
6. Neon Indian: VEGA INTL. Night School
One of 2015’s most triumphant returns was Neon Indian, with VEGA INTL. Night School, Alan Palomo’s first release since 2011’s Era Extraña (remember “Polish Girl“?). Palomo’s chillwave sound is bigger, funkier, and grander on VEGA INTL. Night School, with catchy hits like “Annie” and the epic “Slumlord.” A very welcome return from one of chillwave’s finest.
5. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear
What would we have done without Father John Misty in 2015? His wry social commentary, brilliant wit, and cynicism made for one of the best albums (possibly ever) about love and relationships in the 21st century. “Bored In The USA,” “The Ideal Husband,” and “True Affection” are just some of the titles thrown out that encapsulate the magnetic attraction of Father John.
4. Tame Impala: Currents
Tame Impala’s Currents is Kevin Parker’s biggest statement to date. On it, he takes everything that was central to the Tame Impala project and adapts it to the changes in his personal life, the expectation that has come with his burgeoning success, and the current changes to how we experience music-and blasts off into uncharted territory…
Read the full review here.
3. Grimes: Art Angels
Grimes burst onto the scene back in 2012 with Visions, an album that topped many year-end lists that year. Under enormous pressure, Claire Boucher released Art Angels this year to widespread critical acclaim. An album that takes an immense range of musical knowledge and production styles and distills it into Boucher’s signature brand of alt-pop, Art Angels is one of the most important albums ever made by a female producer.
2. Jamie xx: In Colour
Jamie xx is a master-sampler. On his solo debut, In Colour, he proves that he doesn’t need a band to create anthemic and ground-breaking electronic music. “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” takes a sample of The Persuasions’ “Good Times” and builds it up with Young Thug and Popcaan, while “Loud Places” samples Idris Muhammed’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This.” Certainly, listening to In Colour feels like being on a cloud.
1. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly
It should be no surprise that Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is topping virtually ever year-end list that has come out this year. Why?
The fact that there are still people out on the streets in some parts of the U.S. chanting “We gon be alright” in solidarity with the victims of police brutality is a testament to the power of music to enact social change. Lamar’s “Alright” has become an anthem for the anti-police movement in the United States in large part because it speaks to the universal…
Read the full think piece here.
Best New Artist: Empress Of, Me
Best EP: FKA twigs, M3LL155X
Best Collaboration: Big Grams, Big Grams
Best Mixtape: Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone
Best Cat Album: Run the Jewels, Meow the Jewels