Wow. This is the first year since this blog launched back in 2007 that I haven’t posted during the year; my last post was a “Best of 2014” roundup. Oh well, life gets in the way. Let’s jump straight into 2015’s round up, shall we?
2015 was a strange one for music. There was an absolute flood of great releases, with one or two titans standing head and shoulders above the rest. I think that’s pretty evident by the alarming conformity in most of the other round ups I’ve seen so far. But it was probably the year I found myself listening to the least “new releases” in recent memory. Below are the tunes from this year that did make it onto my rotation.
15. James Bay – Chaos and the Calm
Errrybody be hating on this album. But screw you guys, it’s fun.
Standout track: If You Ever Want to Be in Love
14. Hop Along – Painted Shut
I don’t really know what it is about this album, but it makes me feel like I’m watching “Empire Records” again. This is a good thing.
Standout track: Horseshoe Crabs
13. Garrett Kato – That Low and Lonesome Sound
Originally from Canada, now calling Byron Bay home, Garrett Kato’s “That Low and Lonesome Sound” was the perfect album for this year. It sounds like Australian summer, which is why I’m listening to it right now, on holiday in Scott’s Head, overlooking the blown-out surf as the afternoon breeze cools the day off.
Standout track: UFOs
12. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
This is a completely comfortable album, and while that may not be what every artist wants to hear, it’s meant in a complimentary way. Bridges is utterly of the past, recalling Redding, Cooke and co. In that way, it’s both surprising that a 25 year old can pull this off in 2015, while at the same time being a completely familiar sound. Something that you can slip into after a long day at work, that shirt that feels just right against your skin.
Standout track: Better Man
11. Kyle Lionhart – Keep in Mind
Ok, seriously? Another Byron Bay artist? Why, yes. Kyle Lionhart needs to be heard by more people. “Keep in Mind”, his debut EP, was released in February of this year, and since then it’s been on pretty much constant rotation for me. I’ve seen him called “neb-folk/soul” before; I just think it sounds like heaven.
Standout track: Sleep by Rivers
10. Tame Impala – Currents
Kevin Parker can pretty much do anything, and I think at this point validation is the last thing on his mind. “Currents” sees him at his most precise yet, and even though he’s not trying to, this album is showing off; soul, R&B, psych-rock, dance-hall, pop… it’s all here.
Standout track: Eventually
9. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday
Strangely, didn’t hear much about this release online this year (outside of the NME, that is). Which is a shame, because “Chasing Yesterday” is a cracking release from Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds. “Chasing Yesterday” is, obviously, a self-aware title from Noel, and “We Can’t Go Back” is probably the most Oasis-like tune he’s written in some time, a gentle reminder to those after a reunion that it’s not something that’s going to happen any time soon. But there are other things he’d like to reflect on though, and he does it to great effect here.
Standout track: Riverman
8. Sons of the East – Already Gone
Yet another Australian release, which makes me inordinately proud. “Sons of the East” are an indie-folk band out of Sydney, and their EP release, “Already Gone”, absolutely blew me away. Basically a bucket of good times, you’d be hard-pressed not to tap your feet along to these tunes.
Standout track: Into the Sun
7. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
When “Boys & Girls” came out, Alabama Shakes were very quickly placed into the “retro-soul” box, because that was nice and easy. “Sound & Color”, however, is a rock album, although not a simple one. There’s hints of The Strokes and The Stones, but also Otis Redding. There’s strings, synths and organs. It’s an interesting mix that warns you not to pigeonhole the Shakes, because this crew have so much more exploring to do.
Standout track: Don’t Wanna Fight
6. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sit
Laconic, stream-of-consciousness, wry… call it what you will, but “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” is the ultimate “vignette” album, with observations of the mundane somehow combining to become something more as a whole. Barnett is playful and cutting at the same time, and the punk/grunge guitar is something I didn’t realise I’d been missing until I heard it.
Standout track: Elevator Operator
5. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…
There’s something about Kurt Vile that’s that little half-step out of sync with things, and I’ll never stop loving it. “b’lieve i’m goin down” finds Vile at his absolute sharpest lyrics-wise, with lines that can be at the same time goofy but absolutely terrifying. The existential crisis of “Pretty Pimping”, for example, can be light-hearted on the one hand, but also scarily accurate, with lines like:
“I couldn’t tell you what the hell it was supposed to mean
But it was a Monday, no a Tuesday, no Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
Then Saturday came around and I said “Who’s this stupid clown blocking the bathroom sink?”
Standout track: Pretty Pimping
4. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
If you’re hankering for a return to 80s hip hop, Vince Staples has you covered. “Summertime ’06” is stripped down, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Staples is weary, and full of truth in this album. He talks about crime, but examines the reality rather than the theatre. It’s a difficult, and at times, depressing album to listen to, but it’s interestingly the title track, “Summertime”, that allows some vulnerability in.
“My teachers told me we was slaves
My mama told me we was kings
I don’t know who to listen to
I guess we somewhere in between
My feelings told me love is real
But feelings known to get you killed”
Standout track: Might Be Wrong
3. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Of course this was going to make this list. It’s been called a “masterpiece” by almost every music publication out there, and for once it’s not blogger hyperbole. “TPAB” is a complete and utter triumph, a release where Kendrick is questions not only himself, but an entire country in an unflinching way. Albums often have this symbiotic relationship with time; they are both defined by and define the time in which they are released, and TPAB (along with D’Angelo’s “Black Messiah”) is completely defined by, and simultaneously defines, 2015.
Standout track: King Kunta
2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Sad, dark and completely beautiful, Sufjan Steven’s autobiographical tribute to his late mother, “Carrie and Lowell”, finds Stevens at his absolutely minimal best. Stripped back (to the bone), it’s an unflinching look at his history with his largely-absent mother, that somehow manages to be heartbreaking yet accepting at the same time. An absolute standout in 2016, and in any other year, would have been my album of the year.
Incidentally, Pitchfork sat down for a really powerful interview with Stevens to discuss his mother, his memories of her struggles, and her time with Lowell here. It’s a really worthwhile read.
Standout track: Should Have Known Better
1. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf
A hip-hop/jazz fusion record as my album of the year? For those that have experienced “Surf”, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Name one other album that had the heart of “Surf” in 2015 – I don’t think it exists. When Chance the Rapper released his “Acid Rap” in 2013, you knew it was something special. His “follow up” this year is different yet again, because it’s not really a follow up at all – instead, it’s a collaboration with friend Nico Segal (aka Donnie Trumpet) that sees everyone from Jamila Woods to Busta Rhymes contributing.
It’s an album that’s full of humour, heart, life, freedom and youth. It is 2015.
Standout track: Slip-Slide
Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Joanna Newsome – Divers
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah
The Internet – Ego Death
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear