We are nearly two weeks into the New Year which many would classify as late for end-of-year lists, but we’ve chose to wait for two reasons. First, we want to get it right and make sure we aren’t missing any last second releases like D’Angelo’s Black Messiah last year or Beyonce’s self-titled surprise the year before as well as giving everything a thorough listen. Second, frankly the holidays get in the way and we haven’t had a lot of time. This year was one frontloaded with monster releases that have topped our list, though there are a couple surprises in our top 20. Unfortunately, years like 2015 where there are all-time great releases like those we got from Kendrick Lamar and Courtney Barnett, frankly these lists aren’t as exciting as years where the best album of the year is more subjective.
20. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
The New Jersey punk-rockers led by Patrick Stickles put out a double album that is somehow not even their most ambitious album. The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a 29-song rock opera around the subject of Stickles own mental illness.
19. Sleater Kinney – No Cities To Love
The powerful female rock trio Sleater Kinney returned from their 9-year hiatusfor their most rocking album yet.
18. Jamie xx – In Colour
The best dance record of the year, British producer Jamie xx delivered the goods on In Colour with club jams like “Gosh”, “Loud Places”, and “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”.
17. Low Cut Connie – Hi Honey
A return to the rock ‘n’ roll of old, Low Cut Connie lovingly revives the sound of Jerry Lee Lewis and the Rolling Stones, even making a fan out of the most powerful man on Earth.
16. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty is bringing a much-needed sense of humor back into the independent music world.
15. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
The L.A. saxophonist revived our love of jazz in 2015.
14. Janet Jackson – Unbreakable
Our biggest surprise of 2015, Janet Jackson returned with one of the best R&B albums of 2015, full of great guest stars and even greater songs.
13. Viet Cong – Viet Cong
Who knew Canadians could pack such a punch. Calgary newcomers Viet Cong absolutely bring the hammer on their self-titled debut.
12. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
New Zealand’s Ruban Nielson, the man behind Unknown Mortal Orchestra, continues to expand his psyschedelic pop sound to invigorating new territory.
11. Death Grips – Jenny Death
Back from a surprise early breakup, industrial hip hop duo Death Grips delivered two albums: The Powers that B and Jenny Death with the latter being our favorite of the two.
10. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – Surf
2015 will be the year that Chance the Rapper broke out big, even cementing himself as Chicago Magazine’s “Chicagoan of the Year”. He especially made a big impact in his role in friend Nico Segal aka Donnie Trumpet’s debut album, one of the most joyous albums of the year.
9. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…
Kurt Vile may just look like a stoner in your high school that skipped class, listened to Pink Floyd, and worked fast food (and he may have indeed been that guy), but he is also one of the hardest working and best songwriters going right now.
8. Bjork – Vulnicura
Bjork’s Vulnicura is just like it’s title: a vulnerable breakup album which is made all the more affecting with Bjork’s chilling voice and the help of the mysterious and experimental Venezuelan producer Arca.
7. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Speaking of vulnerable, it doesn’t get a lot more vulnerable than talking about your late mother who left you due to addiction. Sufjan sings about darkness and brokenness with as much grace and beauty as anyone since Elliott Smith.
6. Joanna Newsom – Divers
Joanna Newsom is certainly not for everyone (her voice upon first listen sounds like a frog and her songs are long and complicated), but if you allow yourself to suspend disbelief and go into her world, you will truly be blown away by her magical music world.
5. Tame Impala – Currents
Three albums in, Australian psych-rockers have quickly become one of our favorite bands. Currents moves their band in a more dance pop direction, further proving they can’t seem to do no wrong.
4. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
If it wasn’t for the larger-than-life brilliance of Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples’ double-disc debut would be an easy pick for best rap album of the year. Vince Staples raps and sometimes croons about the danger and confusion he faced growing up with serious conviction.
3. Grimes – Art Angels
Few artists are bold enough to throw away a year’s worth of work, but that’s exactly what Claire Boucher aka Grimes did when she wasn’t happy with the album she was set to release in 2014. Instead, we waited and were rewarded with Art Angels, an album only Boucher could make.
2. Courtney Bartnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Pure joy to listen to, Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett sings, writes, and plays like no one else on her brilliantly-titled studio debut.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
What more do we need to say that hasn’t been said. Kendrick Lamar is embracing his African-American musical heritage yet pushing music forward to a bold new frontier.
Wes – Wilco – Star Wars
The first Star Wars of the year was also my favorite (sorry JJ Abrams).
Todd – Baio – The Names
Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio released a surprising and fun solo debut in The Names.
Austin – Jason Isbell – Something More than Free
Something More Than Free somehow flew under the radar even though Jason Isbell really couldn’t be blowing up any more right now.