As we wind down the year that was in 2015, I’ve decided to continue with what hopes to be a tradition by sharing a list of both my favorite albums and favorite shows of the year. Every time I turned around, there seemed to be yet another great record released, and process of whittling down my list to twenty-five was much more difficult this time around than last year. However, that also means a fantastic compilation of music to share, so without further ado, below are the selections for my favorite albums of 2015. Feel free to give the playlist below a spin as you read, and don’t forget to look for my list of favorite shows coming soon.
Allen Stone – Radius
Three years after he burst onto the music scene with his self-titled LP, Allen Stone came back with Radius, an album that tightened up Stone’s sound without losing any of his trademark passion. A self-described “hippie with soul,” Stone’s music puts a modern spin on the AM dial from the 60’s and 70’s, and he liberally applies the theme of love throughout most of his songs. Radius is largely an upbeat, hopeful album highlighted by songs like “Freedom” and “Upside,” and even when Stone discusses societal concerns, it sounds less like complaining and more like an musical olive branch.
Andra Day – Cheers To The Fall
Some musicians need the assistance of technology or a solid producer to find their own sound, but Andra Day is not one of those musicians. Another old-school soul singer, Day has arguably the most talented, naturally-gifted voice on this list, and it is put on full display with her debut album, Cheers To The Fall. Kicking things off with “Forever Mine,” a song whose melody has highly appropriate ties to The Flamingos’ classic “I Only Have Eyes For You,” Day’s first full-length LP is one you can actually choose what to get lost in, whether it be nostalgia, her wonderful voice, or both.
ASTR – Homecoming EP
Having only been a band for a couple of years, the NYC electronic duo ASTR has really started to make an impact with their dark, dancey, synth-infused pop/R&B. Their 2014 debut EP, Varsity, was a solid yet varied first effort, helped out in part by a fantastic cover of Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home.” There are no covers to be found on their sophomore EP effort, Homecoming, but ASTR is all the better for it, letting their own music and sound speak for itself. It is a much stronger album across the board, with tracks like “Activate Me,” which has a 90’s club track twinge, and the slowed-down but powerful “Invincible.” Homecoming is clear evidence that ASTR is on an upward trajectory.
Beach House – Depression Cherry
It is a common practice with bands to release a new album every couple of years or so, but it is the rare feat to do so in just a couple of months. However, that is exactly what dream pop duo Beach House did this year, when they released Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars in short order. While two full-length albums back to back from a band feels a little like winning the lottery, Depression Cherry is the one that has us thanking our lucky stars, as it operates like a musical reset button for the band, getting back to their simplistic, quieter roots. It is a relaxing delight to listen to from start to finish, highlighted by tracks like “Sparks,” “PPP,” and “Beyond Love.”
BØRNS – Dopamine
Last year’s four-track debut EP, Candy, by indie-pop singer-songwriter Garrett Borns (stylized as BØRNS) was wildly popular, leading to tours this year alongside Bleachers, Charli XCX, and Misterwives, and culminated in the release of his first full-length album, Dopamine. It includes the best three-quarters of his Candy EP, but all of BØRNS’ new material also shines through with sugary splendor, especially tracks like “The Emotion” and “American Money.” Just like the chemical of the same name, Dopamine is an album from which the listener will derive pleasure from repeated plays.
Braids – Deep In The Iris
For many listeners, the third LP release by Canadian experimental art-rock band Braids, Deep In The Iris, is an introduction to their music, even though they’ve been on the scene since 2011. While it might be forgiven for those who were unaware of Braids until recently, Deep In The Iris now makes this inexcusable, as the album can aptly be described by the name of the closing track, “Warm Like Summer.” Themes of feminism and gender equality resonate throughout the album, but they culminate in a sort of anthem for the cause with their powerful track “Miniskirt,” which is highlighted by lead singer/keyboardist Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s impassioned delivery and knife-sharp lyrics about her experience as a woman in today’s society.
CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
Scottish electro-pop trio CHVRCHES followed up their phenomenally popular 2013 debut LP with their very strong sophomore release, Every Open Eye. They start off this album in nearly the exact same hard-hitting, uptempo way they did with The Bones of What You Believe, replacing “The Mother We Share” with the equally entertaining “Never Ending Circles.” Lauren Mayberry’s vocals and the band’s soaring synth melodies continue to carry the banner of success, and even when bandmate Martin Doherty takes the mic for “High Enough To Carry You Over,” an 80’s throwback if there ever was one, they still hit all the right notes.
Editors – In Dream
The senior members on this list, Editors have been leading the British charge in regards to post-punk revival for over a decade, and even as the number of bands in the genre continues to dwindle, lead singer Tom Smith and Editors continue to find success, most recently with their fifth studio album, In Dream. Delving into dark wave more than in their previous LPs, Editors has created an album that is easily their best since their unbelievable 2005 debut, The Back Room. Nothing about their music sounds stale, as the overall feel of In Dream seems simultaneously comfortably familiar and refreshingly new, and Smith’s fantastic baritone continues to delight, especially on songs “No Harm,” “Ocean of Night,” and “Salvation.”
Empress Of – Me
What seemed like a long time coming for NYC-based singer-songwriter Lorely Rodriguez finally culminated after four years with the release of her debut LP, Me, under the moniker Empress Of. That slow build helped develop one of the best albums this year, full of songs with uptempo electronic beats you can dance to and flexible vocals that keep you on your toes as well. Almost all of the ten songs on Empress Of’s debut are high points, but the highest highs can be found in “Water Water” and “How Do You Do It.” Top to bottom, it’s a can’t-miss album that you shouldn’t miss.
Halsey – BADLANDS
2014 saw singer-songwriter Banks’ popularity explode, particularly after the summer festival season. Following a similar meteoric trajectory this year is Ashley Frangipane (known better as Halsey), who released her debut album, BADLANDS, to critical acclaim. The record follows a motif of a dystopian society that shares the name of the album, which according to Frangipane was a creation that helped her escape some real-life struggles. Halsey makes use of an overt, in your face electropop approach, better compared to Tove Lo than Banks, and while BADLANDS has Top 40 written all over it, it’s still a very entertaining pop debut from a talented young performer.
Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight
Indiana natives Houndmouth returned this year with their second full-length effort, Little Neon Limelight, bringing with it delightfully-crafted Americana with a heavy country rock tilt. Building on the foundation they laid with their enjoyable 2013 debut, many of Houndmouth’s songs sound like they could easily be anthems for any of the states that fall between the coasts of the U.S., but a better description would be music perfect for a cross-country road trip with the top down and no hurry to get anywhere in particular. It’s an album replete with relaxing melodies that will leave you tapping your feet with a smile on your face.
Ibeyi – Ibeyi
I’m fairly certain that I’ve never heard music sung in Yoruba before, but if it’s anything like the music the French-Cuban duo Ibeyi creates, I definitely need to invest more time with it. Twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz (Ibeyi is Yoruban for “twins,” pronounced ee-bey-ee) hit the scene this year with their self-titled, bilingual debut album, which merges all kinds of beats, genres, and cultures. Usually this would be a sign of a band still trying to find their sound, but Ibeyi navigates them with a practiced hand, creating a deeply personal album heavily influenced by their family, both alive and deceased. It’s clear after listening to the album that Ibeyi is simply creating music for themselves, and we’re all the better for it.
Kopecky – Drug For The Modern Age
Previously known as Kopecky Family Band, the band’s last tour of 2014 was called Putting The Kids To Bed, a nod to working on a new album, as well as a harbinger of streamlining their name to simply Kopecky. That new album, Drug For The Modern Age, came out in the middle of this year, full of indie rock music with a folk touch and the talented harmonies of Kelsey Kopecky and Gabe Simon, elevated by the occasional brass instrument or two. “Quarterback” was the single off the album, but “Talk To Me” could have easily been one as well with its uptempo beat and catchy hook. Like their 2012 debut album, you really can’t go wrong with any selection, as it makes for effortless listening.
Lianne La Havas – Blood
British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas returned in July to release her second full-length LP, Blood, and it certainly shows her maturation as an artist. Choosing to forego the acoustic sound of her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough?, which was nominated for the UK’s famed Mercury Prize, La Havas rolled the dice and unveiled an album that was unabashedly neo-soul, informed by a trip she took with her mother to Jamaica after wrapping her tour for her first album. While the acoustic music is still present on Blood (“Wonderful,” “Ghost,” and “Good Goodbye” are all great), it’s her songs with heavier beats and more involved instrumentation that calls to mind the neo-soul heyday of the late 90’s and 2000’s.
Lord Huron – Strange Trails
Understated indie folk band Lord Huron released Strange Trails in April, their follow-up to their successful debut album, Lonesome Dreams. Ben Schneider and his band mates have clearly found something that works for them, as their folk-western harmonies and melodies are all throughout their sophomore release. However, the band’s creativity doesn’t stop with just their music; their pulpy album art and 70’s-style music videos showcase a deep desire to tell stories with more than just words. Luckily for us, it isn’t necessary, as Strange Trails is perfectly enjoyable with only a pair of headphones.
Marian Hill – Sway EP
Stretching the traditional boundaries of what constitutes an EP, Philadelphia-based duo Marian Hill released their second short-form album, Sway, in February. Made up of songs from their 2013 debut EP, Play, as well as four new songs, the 7-track Sway reintroduces their hit song “One Time,” along with the new, super catchy tune “Got It.” Vocalist Samantha Gongol and producer Jeremy Lloyd pair minimalist electronic beats with Gongol’s delicate vocals, periodically bringing in saxophonist Steve Davit to add more depth to their music. Already planning on releasing their full-length debut in 2016, Marian Hill have a fairly unique sound that has the potential to make waves (and maybe this list?) next year.
Miami Horror – All Possible Futures
After a five-year layoff, Australian electropop group Miami Horror finally released their second full-length LP, All Possible Futures. It’s the longest album on this list at over an hour long, which is great since it is wildly upbeat and danceable. Inspired by 70’s and 80’s dance-pop and progressive rock, Miami Horror is a fusion band of those and several other styles, namely their addition of house music themes which gives their music a nu-disco type feel. “Real Slow,” “Love Like Mine,” and “All It Ever Was” are excellent selections, but from front to back, the entire album plays quite fluidly, and was definitely worth the wait.
Misterwives – Our Own House
Indie pop and New York City-native sextet Misterwives made their impact on the popular music scene when they released their debut LP, Our Own House, in February. Eschewing the trend towards darker, more gritty pop music, lead singer Mandy Lee and the rest of band boldly brandish a cheerful, bubbly style of dance pop. With Lee’s unique vocals, the band’s high energy level, and the occasional brass instrument, Misterwives’ music is phenomenally enjoyable no matter your musical tastes. After one spin of “Our Own House” or “Reflections,” you’ll be sucked into the good vibes their music elicits, and you’ll gladly come back for seconds.
No Devotion – Permanence
In the absence of post-hardcore band Thursday and the Welsh rock band Lostprophets from the music scene in the wake their respective disbandings, members from each came together in 2014 to form the alternative rock band No Devotion, releasing their debut album Permanence this September. Don’t expect to hear the same music you’ve come to recognize from their former bands, as No Devotion has embraced–and was inspired by–the new wave and post-punk sounds made famous by bands like Joy Division and The Cure. What followed was a highly entertaining album full of ambient gloom and passion, making the statement that these musicians are not done just yet with creating enjoyable music.
ON AN ON – And The Wave Has Two Sides
Continuing the gloomy theme is the decidedly melancholic, Minneapolis-based band ON AN ON, who released their sophomore album, And The Wave Has Two Sides, in July. Writing and performing songs fraught with emotional and visceral themes, ON AN ON seems to have a way to create music that, despite its heaviness, you can enjoy and have fun doing it. “Icon Love” might be the single of record from ATWHTS, but the high note of the album–and one of the highest of the year for any song–was the track “Drifting,” which channels all of the negative emotions of a failing relationship into a passionate crescendo. It makes an indelible mark on both a great album and its proud listeners.
Purity Ring – Another Eternity
Arguably the one band who had the most unenviable task when recording their sophomore album was Canadian electronic, synth-pop duo Purity Ring, since they had to follow up their massively successful 2012 debut LP, Shrines, with something just as good. Choosing to write and record with each other in person this time around, Megan James and Corin Roddick accomplished just that with their March release of Another Eternity. It somehow matches their previous album in scale, and it showcases a band exploring their space, delving into witch-house with several of their tracks, which–not surprisingly–sounds deliciously good. There isn’t a mediocre song to be found on Another Eternity, so whether you’ve been following them since the beginning or you’re a newcomer, it’s a safe bet that you’ll love this album.
Ryn Weaver – The Fool
Californian singer-songwriter Ryn Weaver made a splash on the 2014 music scene with her single “OctaHate,” which immediately garnered attention from many in the music business. This June, Weaver followed up with her debut full-length album, The Fool, and illustrated clearly that she was not just a one-trick pony. Falling between the high highs of Misterwives and dark, gritty lows of Halsey, Ryn Weaver finds solid ground with a powerful, vibrato-tinged voice and insightful lyrics that illustrate a maturity beyond her years. The Fool is full of great songs besides “OctaHate,” highlighted by the title track “The Fool,” “Promises,” and “Free,” and it is an even, balanced debut that deserves to be listened to.
Tame Impala – Currents
No current artist or band epitomizes the genre of psychedelic pop better than the Australian quintet Tame Impala, and they are clearly at the peak of their powers with the release of their third LP, Currents. That’s a tough turnaround for a band whose previous album, Lonerism, was nominated for a Grammy Award, but Tame Impala found a way, earning another Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album and garnering six nominations and five wins for Currents at this year’s ARIAs, an award ceremony for Australian bands and artists. It boasts the best opening track of any album I’ve heard this year (“Let It Happen”), more dance-oriented tracks than on previous albums, and tight production from founding member Kevin Parker. In short, Tame Impala is still finding ways to get better.
The Internet – Ego Death
Another band who is hitting their stride with their third full-length release is The Internet, an offshoot from the hip hop collective Odd Future founded by Syd Tha Kyd and Matt Martians. Distinctively different from other Odd Future musicians, The Internet makes their living creating relaxed, downtempo music that is a mixture of soul, jazz fusion, and R&B. On their newest release, Ego Death, they pair Syd’s beautifully smooth vocals and head-bobbing melodies with collaborations including appearances by Janelle Monáe, Chicago rapper Vic Mensa, and KAYTRANADA, to great effect. Also nominated for a Grammy, Ego Death is exploding with great music and demands your attention.
Years & Years – Communion
Winners of the lauded BBC Sound of…2015 Award, previously awarded to Sam Smith last year, British electronic trio Years & Years addressed the hype they had garnered over the last year or so by releasing their debut LP, Communion, in July. Led by vocalist Olly Alexander, Years & Years has created a highly addictive collection of electronica and synthpop music that has been noticed by music critics the world over, being arguably one of the most nominated bands for music awards this year. There are singles all over Communion (six, to be exact), which again mirrored Sam Smith with his debut, In The Lonely Hour, and also illustrates the simple fact that this is an album to be heard and appreciated. If you still haven’t come across them by now, start with “Real,” “Desire,” or “King,” and let the music speak for itself.