The list is back, y’all. 2015 was another great year for music, and I tried my best to listen to as much as possible. Below are my top 25 albums of the past year. Let’s hope that 2016 can live up to this year.
This list is purely a reflection of my opinions and is made up of my 25 favorite albums from 2015. In total, I listened to 141 releases from 2015 all the way through. These are albums that were considered; everyone of them that didn’t make the top 25 is listed in alphabetical order following the list. There were countless others that I started listening and never made it through, for whatever reason (usually because they were bad).
1. Shrine, Alaska
Release: October 2, 2015
Henderson, Nevada. Soft Speak Records
Alaska deserves far more recognition than they get. They tour seemingly nonstop across North America and in their downtime, they manage to slip into a studio and create beautiful music. Shrine is the band’s second album, and the first with Joel Kirschenbaum handling the dirty vocals.
The style of the album can be seen as both a continuation of and a departure from the debut album, 2013’s Everything Is Fine. Both take the aggressiveness of punk and combine it was the atmospheric dreaminess of psychedelic rock. But where Everything Is Fine focused more on the aggression, Shrine is more concerned with the beauty. To listen to the album is to feel like you’re literally floating through clouds of emotions, exploring all of the world’s natural beauty and darkness.
I guess what I’m trying to invoke in this description is yin and yang, light and dark. Shrine is all about balancing pretty sounds and raw emotion, and it definitely strikes that balance. Listen to this album.
Favorite Track: “Game Day”
2. We Cool?, Jeff Rosenstock
Release: March 3, 2015
Long Island, New York. Quote Unqoute Records/SideOneDummy Records
Best pure punk album of the year. Shout-out to my friend Antonio Sanchez for introducing me to Jeff Rosenstock in the first place. Every song on We Cool? is well-executed, direct, and easy to connect with. The latter is extremely important to me.
For the first few weeks of listening to this album, I have to admit that it didn’t really click with me. Then one day, I got a text that one of my high school friends had died in a car accident. For whatever reason, I had this album playing in my car at the time. “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry” was on. And I got it.
From that day forward, every single track on this album came to represent some form of anxiety or worry that I felt during my last semester of undergrad. As I packed up and moved from Albuquerque to Boston for grad school, the music meant even more to me. I haven’t connected emotionally with an album the way I’ve connected with We Cool? since The Sleeping’s The Big Deep was released.
I hope when you hear this album, you connect with it the way I have.
Favorite Track: “You, In Weird Cities”
3. Coming Home, Leon Bridges
Release: June 23, 2015
Fort Worth, Texas. Columbia Records
Before I was old enough to know that I cared about music, before I began to seek out and explore my own tastes, the things I listened too were dependent on where I was and what adult was in charge of the radio. Since that adult was usually my mom, this means I was often listening to Matchbox Twenty, Macy Gray, Alan Jackson or The Dixie Chicks. I won’t deny that I still have a soft spot for those artists.
But another, better, kind of music was also in constant rotation by the old people that controlled most of my life. And that was soul music. So the first time I heard the song “Coming Home” by Leon Bridges, I lost it. The man and his music are effectively transplants from the era of Sam Cooke. Coming Home is the best album from the 1960’s to be released in the 21st century.
Favorite Track: “Lisa Sawyer”
4. GO:OD AM, Mac Miller
Release: September 18, 2015
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Warner Brothers Records
Mac Miller is a shapeshifter, and I mean that in the best way. First he was Easy Mac with the easy raps, flooding the airwaves with hip-hop that frat boys loved. Then he was Druggie Mac, rapping over beats were the definition of trippy. But since the release of Watching Movies With The Sound Off, we’ve entered the age of Somewhat Sober Mac. It’s my favorite version of Mac Miller so far.
(For an amazing look at Mac Miller’s story, read this piece that Rembert Browne wrote for Grantland.)
GO:OD AM is stylistically a natural progression from 2014’s Faces mixtape. It has a few more mainstream, poppy songs, but that’s to be expected when you realize that this is Mac’s first major label release. The lyrics are creative as ever and the beats about as unique as they come. There’s a song for everybody on this album.
Favorite Track: “Weekend (feat. Miguel)”
5. Mother, Runaway Brother
Release: March 31, 2015
Cleveland, Ohio. Tiny Engines
Not quite the best debut of the year (that honor goes to Leon Bridges), but close to it. Caught somewhere between pop punk and indie rock, Mother is full of hooks. This is a truly fun album to listen to. The lyrics are probably the most poetic I heard this year, hip-hop albums not included. There was a solid month or two that I thought “Hummingbird” was the song of the year; I still think it’s one of the years best.
Favorite Track: “Hummingbird”
6. Black Coffee, Bad Habits, Choke Up
Release: February 3, 2015
Boston, Massachusetts. Black Numbers
Oh look, another great debut album! I won’t hide my bias; this album gets a boost because Choke Up is my favorite Boston artist and I just happen to live in Boston now. This is one of my favorite albums to listen to as I wander around the city. I don’t know why, I can’t put my finger on it, but the vibe of this album really captures the vibe of the city to me. At least my experience of the city. It’s grimy and rough at some points, beautiful at others, and always pulling you in even when you think you want to leave.
Plus, it’s an all-around great punk record.
Favorite Track: “My Oh My”
7. Old Time Reverie, Mipso
Release: October 2, 2015
Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Robust Records
Despite a strong challenge from Punch Brothers (highly recommend Phosphorescent Blues), this is the year’s best bluegrass record. Mipso continues to push the genre in new directions without falling into the same formulaic folk pop trap that so many similar bands do (think The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, The Decembrists, etc.). With Old Time Reverie, Mipso says true to their roots while bringing in the outside world, which is what bluegrass is all about in my eyes.
Favorite Track: “Bad Penny”
8. After, Lady Lamb
Release: March 3, 2015
Brunswick, Maine. Mom+Pop Music
Shoutout to my friend Graham Thomas for introducing me to Lady Lamb. She’s amazing, and this album is exhibit A. Super catchy indie rock created by a truly talented woman. If you liked the new Florence + The Machine album, which I did, you love After.
Favorite Track: “Dear Arkansas Daughter”
9. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl Sweatshirt
Release: March 23, 2015
Los Angeles, California. Tan Cressida/Columbia Records
Easily the darkest thing I listened to all year. Earl Sweatshirt created the soundtrack to our nightmares when he created I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. I remember reading think pieces in the early part of 2015 debating whether Kendrick Lamar or Earl were the best rappers in the game today. While I think its safe to say that Kendrick has secured that title, Earl definitely made a strong case with this album.
Favorite Track: “Mantra”
10. Too, FIDLAR
Release: September 3, 2015
Los Angeles, California. Mom + Pop Music
Here’s an album that I was honestly nervous about. Very glad to see that I was wrong. Too is the best thing FIDLAR has made. Sticking with the tried and true themes of growing up and not being prepared for adulthood, this was the year’s very best of skate punk.
Favorite Track: “Sober”
11. New Bermuda, Deafheaven
Release: October 2, 2015
San Francisco, California. ANTI- Records
This is the only metal album on my list, which probably means I didn’t branch out enough but whatever. With New Bermuda, Deafheaven has given us the followup to Sunbather that we all hoped for. These guys still shred and they still mix elements of metal’s many sub-genres with little regard for how you want to classify them.
Favorite Track: “Baby Blue”
12. Supersonic Home, Adventures
Release: February 17, 2015
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Run For Cover Records
It’s kind of like Gin Blossoms or The Cranberries, but faster and heavier. I promise that’s a compliment. Adventures is a side project of some of the members of Code Orange, which I think is great because you’d be hard pressed to find two more different bands. Supersonic Home is their debut album, and I hope there is more to follow.
Favorite Track: “Tension”
13. Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
Release: April 21, 2015
Athens, Alabama. ATO Records/MapleMusic Recordings/Rough Trade Records
This is Alabama Shakes really reaching their potential. Is this a southern rock record? Not really. Is it a blues record? Nope. So what is it? I’m not really sure what to call it. But whatever label you want to place on Sound & Color, nothing changes how much this record rocks.
Favorite Track: “Don’t Wanna Fight”
14. Tetsuo & Youth, Lupe Fiasco
Release: January 20, 2015
Chicago, Illinois. Atlantic Recording Corporation
Okay, here we go. Two hip-hop albums released in the first quarter of 2015 set out to address the intricacies of being black in American society. I won’t pretend that I can fully relate to those albums on a lyrical level, but I thought both were extremely well done. They were both equal parts thought-provoking and entertaining. And I thought Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth was better than Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly because I thought it was more direct in it’s delivery.
Favorite Track: “Prisoner 1 & 2 (feat. Ayesha Jaco)”
15. To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
Release: March 16, 2015
Compton, California. Top Dawg Entertainment
All that said about Tetsuo & Youth, I do think Kendrick Lamar did an excellent job with To Pimp A Butterfly and I think the album is very deserving of the praise its received. I think its a very dense album, but if you take the time to really soak it in you will not be disappointed.
Favorite Track: “King Kunta”
16. Hyperview, Title Fight
Release: February 3, 2015
Kingston, Pennsylvania. ANTI- Records
Everything we knew about Title Fight before this record was a lie. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a total transformation of a band go so well, but they pulled it off. From solid, pretty standard hardcore to a solid mix of punk, sludge and shoegaze, the Title Fight of Hyperview is very different from the Title Fight of the past. And that’s okay, because this is a great album.
Favorite Track: “Mrahc”
17. No Closer To Heaven, The Wonder Years
Release: September 4, 2015
Lansdale, Pennsylvania. Hopeless Records
The counterbalance to Title Fight is The Wonder Years, a band who knows exactly what they are and will hopefully never change. They’ve been the kings of pop punk for a few years now, and if No Closer To Heaven is any indication, they won’t be giving up the throne any time soon.
Favorite Track: “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then”
18. Summertime ’06, Vince Staples
Release: June 30, 2015
Long Beach, California. Def Jam Recordings
One of my most anticipated releases this year, Summertime ’06 was a little disappointing. I’ll admit that. But Vince Staples is still one of my favorite rappers and this is still a great album. Vince sticks with what he does best, rapping about the real world he exists in. Vince Staples is the epitome of keeping it real.
Favorite Track: “Senorita”
19. B4.DA.$$, Joey Bada$$
Release: January 20, 2015
Brooklyn, New York. Cinematic Music Group/Relentless Records
Joey’s quest to take hip-hop back to the 1990’s is alive and well, and B4.DA.$$ is his best work yet. It’s really easy to just float through and get lost in this album, and I appreciate that.
Favorite Track: “Paper Trail$”
20. Hiding Games, Safe To Say
Release: July 31, 2015
Markham, Ontario. SideOneDummy Records
Technically not an album, Safe To Say’s Hiding Games is the only EP to be included on this list. But man, what an EP. A lot of comparisons to Brand New, and understandably so. But don’t put Safe To Say in a box, they definitely have a unique sound and I’ll be eagerly awaiting their first full-length.
Favorite Track: “Summer Sickness”
21. Last Forever, Westkust
Release: July 10, 2015
Gotheburg, Sweden. Run For Cover Records
Big thanks to Run For Cover Records for putting a whole bunch of stuff up for free on Cyber Monday, otherwise there was no way I was going to come across Westkust. A great mix of shoegaze and indie pop, Last Forever sounds much more like something I’d expect from California than Sweden. But then again, I don’t think I’ve ever really listened to a Swedish band. So what do I know?
Favorite Track: “Swirl”
22. It’s Better This Way, Big K.R.I.T.
Release: October 14, 2015
Meridian, Mississippi. Independent Release.
Best mixtape of the year comes from Big K.R.I.T., everyone’s favorite rapper to sleep on. There’s no doubt in my mind that K.R.I.T. is the best thing in southern hip-hop right now and It’s Better This Way just reaffirms that for me.
Favorite Track: “86”
23. Hospital Handshakes, Rocky Votolato
Release: April 21, 2015
Seattle, Washington. No Sleep Records
Just a solid alt-country record. It does everything I want it to do. I came across Rocky Votolato while listening to Chuck Ragan, and I have yet to get tired of him.
Favorite Track: “A New Son”
24. Ours Is Chrome, Superheaven
Release: May 4, 2015
Doylestown, Pennsylvania. SideOneDummy Records
Superheaven can get downright heavy sometimes, and they’re always catchy. Ours Is Chrome is kind of a drony, sludgy record, maybe a little in the vein of Alice In Chains. Very much worth your time.
Favorite Track: “Gushin’ Blood”
25. AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP, A$AP Rocky
Release: May 26, 2015
Harlem, New York. A$AP Worldwide/Polo Grounds Music/RCA Records
Honestly, I’m still waiting for A$AP Rocky to reach his potential. AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP is brilliant at some points, which is how it earned its spot on this list, but lacking in others. I have faith that it’ll all come together soon, this album was much better than his debut.
Favorite Track: “Excuse Me”
Other Considered Albums
These are listed in alphabetical order by artist, because ranking 25 was hard enough.
Mr. Wonderful, Action Bronson
One of a Kind, Aer
Somewhere in the Sierras, alone.
Never Happy, Ever After, AS IT IS
Long Live, Atreyu
Found in Far Away Places, August Burns Red
The Complete Case Files, Award Tour
Sour Soul, BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah
Velvet/Boogie No. 69, BADBADNOTGOOD
Being As An Ocean, Being As An Ocean
Trippy Ass White Boy, Benz Shelton
Coma Eplictic, Between the Buried & Me
Dark Sky Paradise, Big Sean
The Magic Whip, Blur
That’s The Spirit, Bring Me The Horizon
Feels Like, Bully
Edge of the Sun, Calexico
Live & Grow, Casey Veggies
Higher Truth, Chris Cornell
Get Lost, Find Yourself, Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!
Every Open Eye, CHVRCHES
Everyone Is Going To Heaven, Citizen
Further Out, Cloakroom
Instant Gratification, Dance Gavin Dance
Rattle That Lock, David Gilmour
Dodge and Burn, The Dead Weather
Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise, The Dear Hunter
Kintsugi, Death Cab for Cutie
The Powers That B, Death Grips
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, The Decembrists
The Deslondes, The Deslondes
Nothing Matters, Diamond Youth
Individ, The Dodos
Surf, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake
New Alhambra, Elvis Depressedly
The Mindsweep, Enter Shikari
Circles, Ewert and the Two Dragons
Fetty Wap, Fetty Wap
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence + The Machine
Four Year Strong, Four Year Strong
Don’t Think Twice, Fortunate Youth
Pronto, Freddie Gibbs
Shadow of a Doubt, Freddie Gibbs
The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, Gary Clark Jr.
Murmuration, Great Shapes
Hollywood Vampires, Hollywood Vampires
Little Neon Limelight, Houndmouth
Hotting Up, Iration
Fade To Gray: A Tribute To Doubt, JGray
Have You In My Wilderness, Julia Holter
You Should Be Here, Kehlani
Nothing Makes Sense Without It, Kind of Like Spitting
Copacetic, Knuckle Puck
b’lieve i’m goin down…, Kurt Vile
Honeymoon, Lana Del Rey
De Lo Espiritual en la Musica, Las Armas
Hardcore Friends, Lithuania
The Incredible True Story, Logic
Pharaoh Height 2/30, Lupe Fiasco
Moon, The Lymbs
Marks To Prove It, The Maccabees
Rebel Heart, Madonna
American Candy, The Maine
New Glow, Matt and Kim
Delusion Moon, Meat Wave
Dreams Worth More Than Money, Meek Mill
METZ II, METZ
Pale Horses, mewithoutYou
What A Weird Day, Michael Christmas
SAD SACK, MILK TEETH
Strangers To Ourselves, Modest Mouse
Wilder Mind, Mumford & Sons
Quiet World, Native Construct
Music Complete, New Order
Fated, Nosaj Thing
Younger Dreams, Our Last Night
Kindred, Passion Pit
The Phosphorescent Blues, Punch Brothers
another eternity, Purity Ring
King Push – Darkest Before The Dawn: The Prelude, Pusha T
WELCOME TO THE NEW COLD WAR, Red Arms
Black Dollar, Rick Ross
When The Time Is Right, River Tiber
Crooked Doors, Royal Thunder
Heaven In The Hollow, Saintly Rows
Runners In The Nerved World, The Sidekicks
Looking In, Spencer Radcliffe
Spirit Club, Spirit Club
Disobedient, Stick To Your Guns
Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens
Universal Themes, Sun Kil Moon
Dark Bird Is Home, The Tallest Man on Earth
Currents, Tame Impala
Morning World, Teen Daze
What For?, Toro Y Moi
Heydays, Total Babes
.Wav Theory, Towkio
Rodeo, Travi$ Scott
Peripheral Vision, Turnover
Fall Classic Demo, Twin Cities
Cherry Bomb, Tyler, The Creator
The Album About Nothing, Wale
No Life For Me, WAVVES & Cloud Nothings
Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd
Star Wars, Wilco
Morning Light, Wind In Sails
Barter 6, Young Thug
Savage Hills Ballroom, Youth Lagoon