The 10 Best Albums of 2015 So Far

Posted by Billy Gil, July 1, 2015 06:38pm | Post a Comment

Now that the year is officially half over, we’re checking back over the albums that have been released thus far in 2015. Maybe all of this will change in six months, but for now, here are the albums I’ve been most excited about this year. We’d love to hear some more under-the-radar albums that came out this year that haven’t been as covered by the blogosphere, so please leave a comment and suggest some more picks.  

1. Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear

The former Fleet Foxes drummer has put out the most emotionally manipulative album of 2015, and that’s a good thing. Songs like “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” are all sweeping melodrama on the surface, horns and strings and Southwest jangle decorating Joshua Tillman’s sonorous voice, but his words destroy the superficial veneer the handsome troubadour puts out on first blush, sneaking snarky lines into a love song to his new wife (“I wanna take you in the kitchen/Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in”). Songs like “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.” and “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” dismiss young would-be groupies with borderline arrogance (the oft-quoted “She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes/And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream”), Tillman’s use of detail flip your impression of him from douche to annoyingly charming dude who’s just telling it like it is. And as the album progresses, Tillman’s observations turn more self-effacing, and his pathos makes for some brutally candid moments—“Bored in the U.S.A.’s” white people problems are played for literal laughs, and the self-loathing present beneath the beard transcends its trappings and becomes entirely relatable. It’s also a great love album because it’s romantic but doesn’t sugarcoat shit, starting semi-sarcastically using the pet name “honeybear” and later featuring the line “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity/What I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me.” There have easily been more sentimental singer/songwriter releases in 2015, but Tillman’s cynicism feels like the most honest thing I’ve heard this year.


2. Kendrick LamarTo Pimp a Butterfly

Aside from Isley Brothers-sampling first single “i,” which as close as Kendrick Lamar has ever gotten to writing a crossover pop song, his third album mostly does away with anything that would resemble what a follow-up to a blockbuster hip hop album should sound like. Whereas good kid, m.A.A.d city called out to Lamar’s Compton roots musically and lyrically, with nuanced, minimalist productions backing Lamar’s emotionally charged retellings of growing up in the inner city, To Pimp a Butterfly musically has a lot more in common with concurrent releases like D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, drawing on black music’s history in jazz and funk but with a futurist mentality that blends these sounds into densely orchestrated and wholly unpredictable concoctions. “I don’t see Compton, I see something much worse/The land of the landmines, the hell that’s on Earth” he says before the remarkable “The Blacker the Berry,” in which Lamar inhabits countless racial stereotypes as though to detonate them from within. Both musically and lyrically, nothing feels more vital right now than what Lamar has accomplished here.


3. BjorkVulnicura

Like the similarly celebrated Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens, Vulnicura sees an artist known for her fantastical productions and lyrical whimsy completely change course. The most surprising thing you hear on Vulnicura is someone who’s often felt godlike to her most ardent fans descend to Earth and spill her broken heart onto the ground, allowing us to watch as she sifts through jagged emotions and cuts her fingers. It’s not an easy listen, yet her arrangements and productions (with help from Arca) remain dazzling and just out of reach, meaning Vulnicura would be a fascinating listen even devoid of its emotionally wrenching subject matter.   


4. Jamie xx In Colour

I’ve heard this described as easy listening, which is a fair point—save for the jarring inclusion of hip hop collaboration “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” I don’t know that anything as purely enjoyable to listen to as In Colour has been released this year. Jamie xx’s cinematically building yet softly blurred soundscapes, full of judicious samples, quiet beats and brightly lit synth lines, seem to tug at some memory you can’t quite recall, but the emotional response is the same. In Colour seems to sit like a wallflower in the background, but you’ll never fail to notice it.


5. Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett delivers some of the best anxiety-rumpled garage-rock screeds you’ve ever heard on songs like “Pedestrian at Best” and “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York),” but she can pull the rug out from under you as well on songs like the affecting slice-of-life narrative “Depreston.” Barnett’s combination of personality, tunefulness, bite and emotion haven’t been seen since Liz Phair’s early days.


6. Panda Bear Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

After Panda Bear and Animal Collective’s past two somewhat lackluster releases, Grim Reaper is a return to form that sees Noah Lennox reinvigorated. Songs like “Mr Noah” and “Crosswords” represent some of the most concise distillations of Lennox’s unique combination of avant-garde noise experimentation and knack for singing hooky melodies in a preternaturally youthful voice. And on tunes like the mind-bending “Boys Latin” and lush “Tropic of Cancer,” he successfully ping pongs between both of those extremes while still sounding somewhat logical and always enjoyable.  


7. Kamasi Washington The Epic

This might be the first legitimate jazz album plenty of kids listen to, thanks to his work with Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar and others. For that alone, it deserves praise. But the highly ambitious three-disc set succeeds on its own merits as well, pulling together a gorgeously orchestrated run through expansive originals and a few choice covers that never settles for easy crossover, feeling unique, even mystical while honoring free jazz and avant-garde originators like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. Even at its admittedly epic length, it’s never overwhelming; rather, it’s a pleasure to get lost in.


8. Tobias Jesso Jr. Goon

Who writes these kind of odes to feeling sorry for yourself and crying in your car alone while singing along anymore? No one has successfully done this kind of thing in decades, bringing the emotionally rich but classically constructed pop songwriting of Elton John, Carole King and Randy Newman into the next millennium.


9. Vince Staples Summertime 06

Just released this week, Summertime 06 is one of the best hip hop debuts of the year. Vince Staples grim lyricism, detailing a kind of hedonism and nihilism that goes with growing up in gritty North Long Beach, is matched by creeping production by No I.D. and the occasional dreamily rendered tapestry by Clams Casino. A double album with 20 songs, it somehow feels less overwrought or overstuffed than almost any other major hip hop album in recent memory. Get hip to one of the most exciting new voices around.


10 (tie). Unknown Mortal Orchestra Multi-Love

Psych-soul-poppers Unknown Mortal Orchestra can frustrate some critics with their dedication to warped arrangements and lo-fi production, which can threaten to obscure what are actually brilliant pop songs. I’d say that’s what helps keep things in check. Multi-Love has some of the New Zealand band’s best songs yet, especially the grooving “Necessary Evil” and flashy ’60s-style rave-up “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone.”


Miguel Wildheart

Miguel’s hot new album was just released this week, but it’s already feeling like a new future-soul classic, full of wondrous production and Miguel’s hormonally charged voice and lyricism, which manages the feat of sounding sexual without being too lascivious. Bangin’ in every sense of the word. Warning: The video below is PRETTY SEXY.


Relevant Tags

Kamasi Washington (7), Panda Bear (11), Courtney Barnett (14), Jamie Xx (9), Bjork (28), Kendrick Lamar (58), Father John Misty (19), Best Albums Of 2015 (1), Best Of 2015 (14), Best Albums (2), Tobias Jesso Jr (3), Vince Staples (17), Unknown Mortal Orchestra (10), Miguel (7)