2015 was a wonderful year in music. Dr. Dre returned to the game, Drake dropped a ton of new music, and George Fitzgerald practically redefined electronic music. Oh, yeah, and some guy named Kendrick Lamar released a decent album. From Titus Andronicus to Sufjan Stevens every genre was covered. The following are our favourite albums of 2015, as decided by the LYFSTYL staff.
What was your favourite album of 2015? Let us know your favourite in the comments.
Alex G – Beach Music
Beach House – Depression Cherry
Bryson Tiller – Trap Soul
Chris Stapleton – Traveller
Daniel Caesar – Pilgrim’s Paradise
Destroyer – Poison Season
Future – Dirty Sprite 2
Gary Clark Jr. – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
Ghostface Killah & Badbadnotgood – Sour Soul
Jeremih – Late Nights: The Album
Jib Kidder – Teaspoon To The Ocean
King Krule – A New Place 2 Drown
Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…
Miguel – Wildheart
Neon Indian – Vega Int’l Night School
Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
Raury – All We Need
Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife
Tom Misch – Beat Tape 2
Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
Tyler, the Creator – Cherry Bomb
The Internet – Ego Death
Thundercat – The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam
Yelawolf – Love Story
The Best Albums of 2015:
25. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
When Patrick Stickles first announced that his band Titus Andronicus would release a 29-song rock opera about manic depression, the excitement among fans was matched with an anxious fear. Could Stickles really deliver something more ambitious than The Monitor?
The simple answer is – yes, they have delivered! We need more bands like Titus Andronicus. Their ability to audibly brighten the darkest aspects of society has remained mostly uncontested over the last decade. Despite the talk of tragedy above, the greatest of them all could be that The Most Lamentable Tragedy is Titus Andronicus’ last album. It will not become their most popular, but I believe it is their best.
The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a difficult listen, but every bit of investment is worth the reward. A towering triumph.
24. Dr. Dre – Compton
Dr. Dre’s official return to music was entitled “Compton: A Soundtrack” but we may as well refer to it as Detox, the much-anticipated album from Dre that never came. Rather than release rap’s equivalent of Chinese Democracy, Dr. Dre chose to drop his collection of tracks to coincide with the release of Straight Outta Compton. The move was reflective more of Dr. Dre the business man, than it was Dr. Dre the producer; however, the tracks therein proved The Doc still has it after all these years. Peppered with features from some of rap’s best, Compton: A Soundtrack even features the biggest shot fired during 2015’s great untold rap beef, by none other than Kendrick Lamar. “Motha fucka know I started from the bottom…”
23. G-Eazy – When It’s Dark Outside
As the album’s name suggests, When It’s Dark Out is filled with dark hazy productions that perfectly compliment the young rapper from the Bay. G-Eazy oozes confidence throughout the album with slick rhymes and introspective storytelling; the listener feels like they personally know the emcee. Familiar themes such as Sex, Drugs and
Rock n Roll Rap are littered throughout the album without sounding cliché or stale. Simply put, G-Eazy is “the coldest white rapper in the game since the one with the bleached hair.”
22. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Father John Misty is a complicated character to decompact. From behind Josh Tillman’s beautiful beard sounds a unique combination of harmony and humor, and while his music is quite elegant, the sentiment behind much of the writing reveals a darker side of the character. I Love You, Honeybear is peak Tillman, in which the singer comes to grips with the aspects of life that both corrupt and comfort him. “How many people rise and think, my brain’s so awfully glad to be here for yet another mindless day?” The line Tillman decided to debut to the world on Letterman says it all, Father John Misty is aware of his privilege, he’s just not so sure if he enjoys it. This album, at least, is more than enjoyable.
21. Donnie Trumpet & Chance The Rapper – Surf
Surf is a unique musical project. On the surface, it seems like Chance The Rapper’s second album. However, upon further inspection this is hardly a project that focusses on the vocal stylings of one Chancellor Bennett, but rather leverages the diverse talent to be found in the Social Experiment band, namely Donnie Trumpet. His is the first name on the bill, after all. And on songs like “Slip Slide” and “Familiar” listeners should be quick to understand why. The blend of sounds on ‘Surf’ is different that one could expect from Chance The Rapper or Donnie Trumpet alone, but their collaboration together has produced something beautiful.
20. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
The Weeknd’s new album and sophomore offering, Beauty Behind the Madness, not only exceeds its predecessor — it also pumps new life into one of the truly great voices of our time. While it might lack the overall cinematic vision of Kiss Land, Beauty Behind the Madness focuses on the music and puts The Weeknd front and centre with his voice clear as day, and not as some eerie distortion from down the hall. This time around, Tesfaye is out in the open for everyone to see and his new album shows him embracing his growing mainstream backing.
19. JLin – Dark Energy
Every year feels Chicago-proud for end-of-year lists since I get to write about another fantastic footwork album. Cue in Gary, Indiana-based producer, JLin, who exemplifies the *ahem* dark energy of footwork – the malice, the current, and its raw freedom. Her debut album, Dark Energy, brims with sporadic vocal samples, arrythmic drum beats and a frantic movement. The production is crisp and focused, the kind of music where you want a club to get a little too hot, heavy with smoke and sweat, and sparse lighting to lose yourself to.
18. HEALTH – Death Magic
HEALTH laid low the last five years after releasing DISCO, their superb remix album DISCO2 (my introduction to Gold Panda, Little Loud, Salem and CFCF) and soundtracking Max Payne 3. HEALTH’s greatest strengths, apart from sardonic tweets, lie in hidden melodic production. The band’s material is dense and difficult to process until remixers come and gently take it apart, highlighting delicate melodic lines and charming vocals. Death Magic operates with the same mentality but is more aggressive, danceable and takes a stab at cathedral rave pop.
17. Shamir – Ratchet
I’m not the type of person to shy away from loudly proclaiming my love of exceptional pop music, especially when it pushes mainstream audiences to diversify their tiny car stereo systems. 2014 newcomer Shamir Bailey made our year-end lists as an artist to watch and, hot damn, did he deliver. His debut album Ratchet is absolute fun in every way you can define the term. Shamir delivers devastatingly sharp wit in his lyricism, the kind where you’re nodding in agreement with his verses until you realize, shit, he’s talking about me. Shamir’s grappling with an androgynous image and voice against a backdrop of macho masculinity as a dance anthem on “On The Regular” comes even more clearly into focus when you include his hometown of hedonistic “Vegas.” He laments his youth which is already tongue-in-cheek, taking into account he’s 21 (“Youth”). Too many nights I’ve drunkenly dance and screamed alone while spitting internet culture du jour like in my absolute favorite line: “Just can’t make a THOT a wife / No more basic ratchet guys / listen up, I’m saving you from all the hell that you’ll go through” (“Call It Off”).
16. Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, is Pusha T’s best solo work to date. He has the ability to paint vivid pictures when he rhymes, which instantly pulls you into his world. The album features 10 excellent dark and honest songs with no fillers. Darkest Before Dawn is Pusha doing what he does best by rapping his ass off, delivering bar after bar over excellent production.
15. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Although technically a mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late shows Drake at the top of his game. It’s more aggressive but always honest – Drake is charged up and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is a statement that he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s filled with hazy production, club anthems, and showcases Drake enjoying his moment on top of the rap world. Since it’s surprise release, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late has been the topic of conversation for many hip-hop fans – from the Drake ghostwriting allegations to the questioning of Drake’s greatness, one thing is for certain (whatever your views maybe) this is one of the 2015’s great albums. What a time to be alive and to be a Drake fan!
14. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett’s follow up to The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas is an update on life in Australia through Barnett’s brilliant lenses. From upbeat opener “Elevator Operator” to the pensieve “Depreston” Barnett’s writing takes the listener on twists and turns, revealing different perspectives before the full narrative comes into view. “Pedestrian At Best” is worth the price of admission alone, while deep cuts like “Dead Fox” and “Kim’s Caravan” are what will bring you back for additional listens.
13. Floating Points – Elaenia
On first listen, it doesn’t sound like Floating Points (UK-based Sam Shepherd) is doing anything drastically new on his debut album. This, herein, is where his music shines. Using sparse, unconventional progressions, the help of a few analog synthesizers paired with instrumentation, Elaenia becomes an introspective album to peruse. Using dreams as his inspiration, Elaenia’s music is embodied into those moments of disjointed, segued sleeplessness that dreams always traverse.
12. Lapalux – Lustmore
Lustmore returns to Howard’s UK roots of lush production quality. With nods to garage and drum & bass, Howard takes the trend of sterile, clean production and meticulously blurs those lines between dreaming and wakefulness. You can hear his growth and his restraint on over producing the album, but still gives room for him to explore himself musically and philosophically. He managed to balance his immersion of Los Angeles electronic style with his roots in UK dance music to create another moving, seductive piece of deep reflection and nostalgia, perfect for lovemaking.
11. A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP
In the two years since his debut, A$AP Rocky has gone through a multitude of life changes. He became a cultural icon – from fashion to acting Rocky has always been destined for success. Leading up the release of the album, A$AP Rocky stated that At.Long.Last.A$AP would be expansive, psychedelic and full of life – he was not lying. The lyrics are deeper; traversing through topics on religion, love, culture, youth, and inspirations. At.Long.Last.A$AP is a great experimental Hip-Hop album showcasing the evolution of A$AP Rocky and cementing his position as one of Hip-Hops brightest stars.
10. Jamie xx – In Colour
In Colour is an album drenched in UK history, from underground club scenes, original UK dubstep, nostalgic rave culture, soul, and Jamaican-Caribbean influences, which made for a historical album. With that theme in mind, I couldn’t help but miss ‘All Under One Roof Raving,’ a track Smith wrote while touring extensively and longing for London. The collaborations, co-writers, and co-producers of In Colour are legitimately stacked. Four Tet, Alicia Keys, Popcaan, Erlend Oye, and Brian Wilson all have credits for the album. These collaborators have deep respect and clear penchant for each of their respective production qualities – minimalism and nostalgic house, soul, dancehall, indie pop, and rock. Mixed with Smith’s adoration for steel drums.
9. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell is a deeply personal album. Following the passing of his mother, Carrie, Stevens released some of the most tender and intimate material ever to grace his catalogue. Rife with religious symbolism and heartbreaking detail from Sufjan’s childhood, Carrie & Lowell is a crushing look back on Stevens’ family life through a grieving gaze. “Fuck me, I’m falling apart” Stevens sings in his signature falsetto on “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross”, which serves as the album’s crushing climax. Carrie & Lowell isn’t uplifting, but it is beautiful throughout its tragic narrative.
8. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Get Outside is a short and dark album at just 10-songs and clocking in under 30 minutes it makes Illmatic seem like a double-disk feature. It is filled with a very moody and atmospheric production that has hints of soul and jazz. The minimalistic approach blends perfectly with Earl Sweatshirt’s druggy, introspective lyrics. Here Earl is brutally honest; he raps about his darkest demons from his relationship with his mother, a breakup, his depression and drug use. The albums gloomy subject matter will never be for everyone. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Get Outside is best listened on your own, without distractions, where you can fully digest the lyrics. It may take a few spins, but it definitely grows on you.
7. Maribou State – Portraits
In the vein of impatiently-waiting-for-debut-albums that my body can’t seem to rid itself of, 2015 gave us the long, overdue first album from longtime LYFSTYL favorite, Maribou State. Portraits had a quiet, low-key release which fits into Maribou State’s musical vibe. On this, they continued to feature their smooth, echoing synth work on the backbone of clean instrumentation. Portraits is an album teeming with thought and execution. Each song stands on its own but its threaded themes shine more when played through. Where past EPs like Tongue and Truths focused more heavily on electronic melodic lines, Portraits wields the duo’s talents in layered multi-instrumentation. The beloved synth basslines and vocals from Holly Walker are still there but they take a pop approach in their writing and expanded Maribou State’s digestibility to a wider audience. My favorite track, “Natural Fools” is an instrumental, featuring a bass and simple guitar while nodding to sad beach jams. It has everything I love about old Maribou State while understatedly evolving their sound.
6. Tame Impala – Currents
On Currents, Tame Impala’s frontman Kevin Parker takes his music to whole new heights. He leaves behind the psychedelic rock sound that he was known for and makes a proper cohesive pop record – heavily influenced by synth-pop, disco and R&B. Currents is an exploration into Parker’s, mind that showcases his true genius as an artist and is an even more fantastic listen. This is one album you have to put into heavy rotation.
5. George FitzGerald – Fading Love
I’ve impatiently waited five years for George Fitzgerald to release his debut album. My love for his music began with my obsession of his ‘Tell Me’ remix before leading me to find his BBC Radio 1 residency and Brownswood Electric contributions, and clung to every release and Boiler Room set he performed. Then, 2015 came, and it was the year of my favorite UK powerhouses putting out their long overdue debut albums (also including Maribou State & Jamie xx). Fading Love is a truly stunning album befit with sweeping, echoing melodies and soul-wrenching sad dance music. George Fitzgerald, who’s already proven himself to be a superb DJ, showed us how excellent of a songwriter he is on Fading Love. His clear ardor for analog synthesizers, underutilized basslines, and adoration for dance music you can sit and enjoy, shines on his debut album. His song, ‘Full Circle (feat. Boxed In)’ is one of my favorite songs ever written, not just for 2015 but a song that every time it plays I catch my breath and cease to exist. It’s one of those songs that gets it absolutely right in composition and full-bodied emotion.
In that same vein, Fading Love is an album that holds true to its name, an album where, even with Fitzgerald’s happiest moments occurring this year (birth of his son, release of his album, life stuff), he’s able to take a heartbreaking motif and execute it throughout the entire album. He balances songs with strong vocals like ‘Crystallise (feat. Lawrence Hart)’ with shimmering instrumental tracks like ‘Shards’, for a poignant push-and-pull on a broken heart. My long wait was more than rewarded and I’m certain Fading Love will continue leaving me in tears 20 years from now.
4. Vince-Staples – Summertime ’06
As another California native, Vince Staples has thrived in Kendrick Lamar’s shadow. Whereas King Kunta calls Compton home, Staples is a Long Beach rapper worthy of his own lane. From the moment the gun goes off to begin “Lift Me Up”, Summertime 06’ ts a relentless assault of dense beats stamped with Staples’ stick-and-move flow. “Norf Norf”, “Birds And The Bees”, and “Loca” are all part of a very strong A-side on one of the year’s best surprises in hip hop.
3. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Alabama Shakes’ sound has always set them apart altogether. Their sophomore album Sound & Color is full of eclectic genre-bending songs. Featuring the ferocious crooning of leading lady Brittany Howard, the album is expansive, psychedelic, riveting and full of soul. Alabama Shakes offer a blues-infused throwback to southern rock that has long been missing from the mainstream music scene.
2. Grimes – Art Angels
Pop music rapture came in deliverance through three power houses in November – Adele, Justin Bieber, and Grimes. Leaving behind the contrived and overused stylistic tropes of Max Martin in Los Angeles we were, instead, given modern popular music. Adele, stripping away overproduction in favor of her raw, perfect vocal capabilities in 25; Justin Bieber with one of the most emotive redemption albums with Purpose, pairing up with Sonny Moore (Skrillex) for dancehall pop songs; and finally, Grimes with her Art Angels.
Art Angels is one of those albums that restores my faith in music production. Claire Boucher empowered my life and sent intoxicating music through my speakers, causing me to dance and scream in my apartment. A strong voice for women in the music industry, she took back her power and learned multiple instruments so that she could maintain full creative control and make music that was distinctly for and made by her. Sick of music journalism misconstruing her words and over analyzing her actions, she wrote ‘California’ as a “fuck you!” to Pitchfork, a sentiment I hold dearly. It’s an album that I can relate to with impeccable production, and also throwing a middle finger to hipsters who fetishized her lisp and body while hating on her discarding of toasted, drug induced music of her past. Songs like ‘Kill V. Maim’ sounding like the theme song for an anti hero vigilante, and her finished power version of ‘Realiti’ which is still whimsical and dance-fueled led to the reimagining of today’s pop music. Every song on Art Angels is my favorite song, which is a feeling I’ve missed sorely in new music. In a world of boring, stale, and recycled sounds, Boucher restored my love for it again in an original, distinctly new-era of Grimes. It’s an album for pop punk lovers and it’s an album I know I’ll excitedly spin and dance to for years to come.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
To Pimp A Butterfly is resolute in its sonic, thematic, and emotional mélange. Many seminal rap albums have reverentially appropriated historical works of genius like Bitches Brew, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Live At The Apollo, Maggot Brain, and 125th and Lenox. Instead of paying homage, Kendrick Lamar up and amalgamates these records in an hour-and-twenty-minute paroxysm. Perhaps no album to date has done it so completely and prolifically. It is frenetic, and unnerved, and tempestuous—a stupefying odyssey through a glut of torment, injustice, and creeping self-doubt. The whole affair feels like more than Kendrick Lamar’s statement album. It feels perhaps like the 21st century’s most well constructed and ubiquitous musical documentation of one black man’s struggle in America.