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Looking back on 2015, it has got to be one of the best years that we’ve had for music in recent memory. Not only did we get an insane amount of releases, but we also got an equally insane amount of quality releases across the board. Narrowing down all these releases into a “top 10” style list was very, very difficult. Instead of another “best albums of 2015” list, I thought I’d switch things up a bit and go through my favorite album releases in 2015 (which lets be honest, there were a lot).

The year brought us some wonderful debuts, a couple surprises, and a few releases that were a more return to form of sorts. So in no particular order, here are my favorite albums of 2015:

Sufjan

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

What honestly hasn’t been said about this album? If I were actually making a best of 2015 list, this would be my #1 without any hesitation. Beyond the album being a ‘return to form’ of sorts for Stevens (nothing like his last effort, Age of Adz which was far more electronic), this album was exactly what I was looking for from Stevens and is easily his best album since 2005’s release of Illinois. What makes the album work so well is all the subtleties while the album is mostly acoustic, there are small flourishes of piano work and electric elements mixed in that help elevate the songs even higher. This album also shows Stevens at his most vulnerable by creating an album all around childhood memories of his parents, Carrie and Lowell (hence the title of the album). The sparseness of the album really allows you to put all of your focus on the raw emotion Stevens is pouring into every song, which is part of what makes this album so beautiful and powerful.

CB3

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Barnett put out an amazing split EP in 2014 that was almost a warning sign of sorts to just how great her first full length debut would be. In March of last year we were treated to the release of Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit and had us captivated right after the first listen of the first song. First full listen through I was very impressed, and even almost a full year later, the songs still sound just as fresh as they did last year as they do today. One of the things that makes this album so great is the overall pace it has: from start to finish, every song fits perfectly where you’d want it to be. Sure there are quieter moments and then some louder moments, but the flow within each song and flow from each song to another makes this album truly something special. One of the other thing that makes this album so great is Barnett’s knack for songwriting whether it be musically or lyrically. Lyrically Barnett makes the mundane sound like something new and exciting, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Along with the stellar debut album, Barnett also puts on one hell of a live show. We were lucky enough to be there last year for a handful of the countless shows Barnett played in New York City in 2015 and were just as amazed from the first show to the last. Whether it was playing a three night run at the same venue, playing in one of New York’s smallest venues, or playing an opening slot at one of the biggest venues (MSG) – Barnett delivered every single time. We’re very excited to see what Barnett has up her sleeve for her next release, which I’m sure will be here before you know it.

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Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Josh Tillman released his second album under the moniker Father John Misty in 2015 and instantly solidified its place in peoples “top 10” lists within days of its release. Although I wasn’t fully in love with the album first listen through, the album definitely grew on me as time passed by and slowly became one of my favorites of the year in a heartbeat. Besides the album’s top notch production, the “secret sauce” or glue of this album is truly Tillman’s songwriting. It’s witty, fun, sad (at times) and slightly sarcastic. If that sounds like it could be a big mess, well, your wrong because Tillman somehow pulled off the impossible by lyrically writing one of the most exciting albums of 2015. A perfect example would be the 10th track on the album, ‘Holy Shit’ which touches upon some everyday issues happening in society that everybody is dealing with (along with some light humor). I also won’t lie to you, and I’ll be 100% honest – I ended up enjoying this album way more that I did after getting the chance to see him live. Hearing songs from the album performed live made me appreciate and love the album even more getting to seeing Tillman put his all into his performances and interact with his fans at a show along with the rest of his band. Lets hope he follows this winning formula for his next album, as we’ll probably be talking about another years best.

TameImpala

Tame Impala – Currents

When Kevin Parker started teasing new material from Tame Impala, the internet literally almost broke. Everybody was wanting more Tame Impala. With the release of the first single, “Let It Happen,” the anticipation for more new material only grew tenfold. When I heard the song, I knew the song would be an absolute monster live but another thing crossed my mind. Did Parker really just release a 7 minute and 47 second song as the albums lead single?! Yes, he did! Along with the song came a new sound that was being teased leading up to its release – a more ‘dancier’ sound (if thats what you’d like to call it). Fast forward to the album release and after the first listen through it, I actually wasn’t a big fan at all. I wanted more of the classic Tame sound, more psych, more booming drums and less hand claps and finger snaps (which Currents is chock full of). After the initial release and initial slight disappointment, I stopped listening to the album and kind of brushed it off for a while. I think the hype surrounding the album made me want to love it more when it was released, but I didn’t like it. A few months later I re–listened to it (after all the hyped died down) and I fell in love with the album and realized just how amazing it was. Its a dense album full of layers upon layers, and the more you listen to it the more you pick up on subtleties that truly make this album a masterpiece. It definitely takes some time to truly appreciate what Parker created with Currents, and if you don’t agree then try listening to the album with a good pair of headphones (it changes everything). Also if there were a list of Best Album Covers of 2015, this would absolutely win hands down.

LaLuz

La Luz – Weirdo Shrine

Seattle might be known for its grunge and flannel but with the release of Weirdo Shrine, it might be soon known for surf–rock. The Seattle 4 piece put out their second full length, Weirdo Shrine with the help of producer Ty Segall (does Ty even sleep between all his projects?), and was one of the sleeper hits of 2015. I was hooked right from the album opener, “Sleep Till They Die” with the perfect balance of letting each member of the band shine on their own. What also helps this album truly shine is its harmonizing from the entire band. I might even would go as far as to say that without the harmonizing throughout the album, it would be somewhat lackluster but thankfully its there to bring these songs all together. Another thing that makes this album so great is just how downright fun it is. There are no lulls here, every song is perfectly placed within the album and any of the songs could easily be a single. Some standout tracks also include ‘I’ll Be True,’ ‘Don’t Wanna Be Anywhere’ and the albums shortest track and packs the biggest punch – ‘Hey Papi.’

LowerDens

Lower Dens – Escape from Evil

Now, I’m going to say that easily the absolute most slept on albums of 2015 is definitely Escape From Evil, the third release from Baltimore’s Lower Dens. The album is fantastic and an truly an instant classic. From the opening notes on the album opener ‘Sucker’s Shangri-la’ I knew this would be an amazing album. The synth production on the album is a work of art – its focused and on the minimal side, yet filled with beautiful flourishes throughout every song. This isn’t just for one or two of the songs on the album either, its every song – they get better and better with every listen. Lets not forget the powerful vocals from lead singer Jana Hunter either, she helps bring all of this wonderful sonic landscape together with her captivating voice. This is one album that I know I’ll still be listening to this album for years to come.

LeonBridges

Leon Bridges – Coming Home

It’s crazy to think that in the beginning of 2015, Bridges played the ever so small The Mercury Lounge and by the end of the year he was playing at Webster Hall and even a guest on SNL. In 2016, he’s playing 2 sold out nights at The Beacon Theatre which is beyond impressive which if anything, its a true sign at how far he’s come in a years time. His debut Coming Home has earned him great recognition within the industry and has easily been called an instant classic for many people (myself included). The title/opening track to the album ‘Coming Home’ is something dreams are made of: smooth, effortless vocals oozing coolness. Any of the songs off the album are being begged to be played on repeat over, and over again. If you also don’t have any fun listening to ‘Smooth Sailing,’ then something is wrong with you as the song is one of the most fun songs from 2015. Its refreshing that in a time where EDM seems to be getting bigger by the minute, Bridges’ release of Coming Home reminds us that theres still great music being crafted with soul and emotion out there.

Wilco

Wilco – Star Wars

One of the biggest surprises of the year for sure was the release of Wilco’s Star Wars. It was a complete surprise in that, there was no hype, no teasers, no nothing! They released the album as a free download on a whim with the promise of “physical formats coming soon.” They didn’t pull a U2 and the album appeared in your iTunes library, they made the album available as a free download right from their website. Didn’t want it? Then don’t download it! I mean, was this a statement representing the current state of the music industry (i.e., the war on streaming)? Was it a statement regarding the switch of release days of music (from Tuesday’s to Friday’s)? Who really knows, but, I can safely say that even 20 years into the bands career, Tweedy and company are still crafting songs that are just as exciting now as they were when the band started. Its exactly what any fan of the band could have asked for – it had elements of early Wilco era mixed with some of the simplest and cleanest production we’ve seen from them in recent years. It’s also relatively short compared to their last release, The Whole Love (that was 57 minutes) as this is only 34 minutes which lets the album breeze on by. While the album may be on the shorter side, it doesn’t skimp out on quality at all – this collection of songs are some of the most fun we’ve seen Wilco have in recent memory with the fuzz and distortion turned all the way up. One listen of ‘Random Name Generator’ is a perfect example of this – the song comes in at just under 4 minutes but has some of the best guitar work we’ve seen from the whole band. The longest track on the album, ‘You Satellite’ comes in a little over 5 minutes and is the most jammed out track on the album (but we’re not complaining about that). Also, whats not to love about that album cover?

MartinCourtney

Martin Courtney – Many Moons

There were rumors being  thrown around that Martin Courtney was prepping a solo album/side project for a 2015 release and it only made sense for him to do so. Both Alex Bleeker and Matt Mondalie have been putting out solo releases/side projects for years between all the Real Estate records, so what took Courtney so long? Was he waiting for the right time to do it? Well, I can report that the wait was definitely worth it as the album is truly outstanding from start to finish. If you love Real Estate, Martin’s solo effort isn’t far off of any of Real Estates material, its just more folk infused/inspired which isn’t a bad thing at all. It even has some early Real Estate vibes going on (which I’m sure nobody was complaining about). It’s also one of my favorites of the year for just how polished everything is. By no means is this a flashy record, nor over the top, and it doesn’t need to be at all.. it hits all the right spots at all the right times with its lusciousness. Standout tracks include lead single ‘Vestiges’ that has an incredible second half, ‘Focus,’ and album closer ‘Airport Bar.’ Courtney really did an outstanding job with his debut by crafting up some amazing songs that have some of the best production from the year.

TheArcs

The Arcs – Yours, Dreamily,

Hot of the tail of The Black Keys world tour in support of their last album Turn Blue, it was announced that Auerbach had a new side project lined up and an album was already on the way (Does Dan Auerbach ever sleep?!). As a fan of his solo material, I was excited to see what he had been cooking up. The band name didn’t include Auerbach’s name like his earlier solo material, which at first I think lead the hype to be somewhat minimal. The album was also being rumored to be influenced by the Greatful Dead, which only meant that it was certain it would be an album where we see Auerbach ‘let of his leash’ a bit and most jammy (so to speak). The first song I heard from the record was the Record Store Day release of “Stay In My Corner” which immediately had me hooked and wanting more. After that release, the album jumped to the top of my most anticipated albums of 2015. Along with Auerbach, the band features Richard Swift (who you might know from The Shins as well as The Black Keys) along with Homer Steinweiss (from Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings), Leon Michaels, Nick Movshon and the wonderful Mariachi De La Flora. Some say the album sounds a bit like some Black Keys leftover material with some added flair, I’d disagree. The songs here are much fuller and the addition of Mariachi De La Flora really helps brighten these songs up more than they already are. Overall it feels like Auerbach is having tons of fun and not stuck within the limitations that have been holding him back with The Black Keys. Another thing that makes this album work so well is the live aspect – I was lucky enough to catch The Arcs twice last year, and both times they blew me away. Songs live breathed new life with more attitude thanks to some extended jams (that seemingly were felt built into the recorded songs). With all of that, what I’m most excited for is another album from the band just to see how far they can take things as I think the band has a bright future ahead of themselves.

ElVy

El Vy – Return to The Moon

Similarly to Auerbach and his side project The Arcs, little did I know that Matt Berninger of The National had a side project he was working on too. I also won’t lie to you – I really didn’t even know this album was being released at all until I heard a song one of my friends showed me. After listening to a few songs I was like, “hey wait a minute, am I crazy or does this kinda sorta sounds a little bit like The Naitonal?” to which my friend let me know this was Berninger’s side project band. The one distinct difference I had noticed after listening to the album was that although this sounded like The National the slightest bit, these collection of songs were certainly not Naitonal songs. Songwriting wise we see Berninger having a more fun with his lyrics, and sonically these songs have a more upbeat and fun vibe to them. Just take a look at the album opener ‘Return to the Moon (Political Song)’ which is one of the most fun songs of the entire year, just begging to be listened to at full volume over and over again. Other standout tracks from the album include ‘Sleepin’ Light,’ and ‘Happiness, Missouri.’

AlabamaShakes

Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
Picking your favorite albums out of a year that easily was one of the best years for music in recent years is always tough, but the worst part is that sometimes you forget all about albums that came out earlier in the year. Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color is one of those albums that slipped through the cracks for me but most certainly earns its spot in being one of the best of the year. With lead singer Brittany Howards powerful vocals, this album oozes coolness from start to finish, and hits all the right notes right where they need to be hit. It’s soulful, its loud, its quiet (at times), and its everything you’d want from a rock album and would want from the band. Standout for me are ‘Don’t Wanna Fight,’ and the slightly Kings of Leon-esque ‘Shoegaze’ that just show how much fun Howard is having along with the rest of the band. Plus, having the title track from the album being featured in an Apple commercial also didn’t hurt the popularity of the album either.

Foals

Foals – What Went Down

Foals is one of those bands that everybody always talks about but I never got around to listening to them. Well, all of that changed with the release of What Went Down because everybody I know was raving about how great the album is. So after finally listening to it a few times, I could see why everybody was talking about it. The album is great because of just how great the overall pace is from start to finish. There are some more quiet moments and other moments leaving you wanting a little more, which is all done on purpose. If they made the entire album in the same vein of the opening track “What Went Down,” I think it’d be way too overwhelming by the middle of the album. While I didn’t like the quieter moments in the album at first, I realized that they help the well crafted pace of the album work so well giving you a little breather before the next heavier moment. What also makes this album so great is its longevity – I revisited the album months after it was released and loved it just as much as I did the first time I listened to it. Oh, and if you ever get the chance to see them live, please drop everything and go see them… you will not be disappointed at all.   

BeachHouse-combo2

Beach House – Depression Cherry/Thank Your Lucky Stars

Following up the 2012 stellar release of Bloom was going to be tough, but we all knew that Beach House would have some sort of surprise up their sleeves. They began teasing new material with their innovative single finder which helped fans choose from 2 new songs which song fits best for you. These new songs eventually were the first revealed tracks off of their new album, Depression Cherry. It was something we didn’t see anybody else doing all year (or at all for that matter) which was nice to see. We eventually then got the release of Depression Cherry which was released with some mixed reactions from longtime fans, but I loved it. Sure there were some songs I wasn’t in love with on the album, but as a fan I was happy Beach House released some new material. It left me thinking though, with the huge gap between Bloom and Depression Cherry, when would we see the next Beach House album? Well they came back a lot sooner by releasing Thank Your Lucky Stars which was their second new album in 2015, less than two months after Depression Cherry was released. For me, Thank Your Lucky Stars didn’t feel like an album of leftover tracks or throwaway material, it had a slightly different sonic landscape than Depression Cherry which makes sense why the songs were not included on that album (even though the songs are just as good). I ended up choosing both albums as I don’t particularly like one over the other (or dislike one more than the other for that matter). But for me, I feel like theres one really great album mixed in there somewhere between the two albums.

MMJ

My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

Along with Sufjan, My Morning Jacket also gets my vote for band most returned to form with the release of The Waterfall. When they released the lead single ‘Big Decisions,’ I was a little worried – sure the song is good but I wanted a little more from it as for me, it just felt a little flat for some reason. All of that changed once the album came out as after hearing the rest of the album and the tracks surrounding it, I liked it ten times better. From the opening track ‘Believe (Nobody Knows),’ to the 7 minute album closer ‘Only Memories Remain,’ this is easily their best album and collection of songs since 2005’s Z. Songs like ‘Tropics,’ ‘Get The Point,’ ‘In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)’ and ‘Spring (Amongst The Living)’ were songs we’ve been wanting to hear from the band on their last few releases, but never got. Even with the more high energy songs, the slower and more laid-back tracks on the album are also some of the best the band has crafted in a while. One of the slower tracks ‘Get The Point’ follows the same formula (and feels like it could be an extension of) as seen on ‘Wonderful (The Way I Feel)’ off their 2011’s Circuital and thats not a bad thing at all. Another good sign of how great the new material sounds is just how great it fits in with their live shows. I was lucky enough to catch MMJ twice in 2015 and I can safely say that the new songs fit perfectly amongst the rest of their stellar catalog. The new songs live feel like instant classics that will most certainly remain to be staples in their live shows.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

It’s always tough fitting everything into the top of no matter what list you’re creating (especially after the year we had in music in 2015), so here are some honorable mentions that were favorites of mine (and albums that were in heavy rotation) just as much as the 15 listed above:

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Hot Chip – Why Make Sense

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

Tobais Jesso Jr. – Goon

Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

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