As in any year in music, 2015 was a year full of ups and downs. Now that the year is over, however, we can reflect on the higher notes with a Top 10 List of the Best Albums of 2015.
10) Mr. MFN Exquire — LiveForever
Exquire is known as a crass MC that is usually surrounded by other prominent figures of the NYC weirdo-rap trend of the new millennium (El-P, Das Racist, Despot). After a period of relative quiet, he released his latest extended play, LiveForever in October of 2015. Though it’s only seven tracks, LiveForever manages to be the most fun a rap album could be this year, which is especially impressive considering the releases by other great rappers like Father, Future and Drake.
Best songs: “Green Ranger,” “Blood on the Moon Pts. 1&2”
9) Beach House — Depression Cherry
Depression Cherry is a piece of work that is made better when compared to its subsequent release, the surprise-dropped, also strong Thank Your Lucky Stars. While the album did not serve as any real sort of change for Beach House, perhaps this fact is the real point to be culled from the release: that Beach House still do dream-pop in such a strong manner that a by-the-book release by them still manages to be within the Top 10 albums of the year. It also contains one of the best three song stretches of the year, with tracks, “Beyond Love,” “10:37” and “PPP” all standing out specifically in an overall strong work.
Best songs: “PPP,” “Space Song,” “10:37”
8) Ought — Sun Coming Down
Montreal-based Ought refined the post-punk sound they’ve been honing for the past four years in their sophomore long-play Sun Coming Down. The themes that came out with the album included senses of monotony within daily life and assists in drawing even more comparisons between the band’s obvious influence The Talking Heads. The end result of the album is a release that is both serious and playful in the right parts. If Ought can manage to follow up with an album even close to this quality, it will be a true task achieved.
Best songs: “Men for Miles,” “Beautiful Blue Sky”
7) Shopping — Why Choose
Shopping is a punk band that hails from London and Why Choose is their latest album in a small but respectable discography. Every song on the 11-song LP is dance-worthy, with a bit of biting lyrical play held over a driving bass-line. Why Choose is a welcome addition to a punk scene that talks itself seriously without having much fun.
Best songs: “I Have Decided,” “Take It Outside”
6) Deafheaven — New Bermuda
Deafheaven is a band that was faced with a real dilemma coming into the release of their third full-length album. Their debut Roads to Judah got a warm reception but their breakthrough release came with 2013’s Sunbather was treated as a refreshing revitalization of black metal with a tinge of shoegaze held within. So when Deafheaven released their newest LP, New Bermuda, there were a fair amount of expectations placed upon it and the band met them with an album heavier than their last. On this album they managed to maintain the melodic core and shoegaze elements that make them a premier band in the blackgaze genre.
Best songs: “Brought to the Water,” “Baby Blue”
5) Open Mike Eagle — A Special Episode
“Conscious” rap is hard to get right. It can come off as overbearing and doting at some points while still going over people’s heads. Chicago rapper Open Mike Eagle has the formula down for making it easy to digest while still being hard-hitting. This six-track EP acts as an epilogue to his 2014 album, Dark Comedy. It is catchy, self-loathing and heavily referential social commentary that will leave you thinking after the short run-time of the EP has come to a close.
Best songs: “Dark Comedy Late Show,” “Ziggy Starfish”
4) Pinkshinyultrablast — Everything Else Matters
Russian shoegaze band, Pinkshinyultrablast wear their influences on their sleeves, invoking a more headbangy Astrobrite at points, while also having a pop-ish tinge on other songs. Pinkshinyultrablast as twee-ish vocals, layered over heavy guitar breakdowns with rapid-fire drumming that all comes together so well. Everything Else Matters is a positive, loud introduction to the band that leaves the listener waiting for what might be coming next from them.
Best songs: “Glitter,” “Marigold”
3) Death Grips — Jenny Death
Jenny Death is the second half of California punk/hip-hop band Death Grips’ double album The Powers That Be that for a short period also served as the band’s final album before they announced another release.
The violent, thrashing and, at times, soft album that we received this year would have served as a great closing statement to the band. From open to close it is energetic, with shouted lyrics that require multiple listens to embrace the full meaning behind. There’s rage within this album, there’s acceptance of nihilistic tendencies and perhaps what pushes this album into the truly great stratosphere, is the fact that it’s filled with the passion that many listeners so rapidly seek in their music. When Stefan Burnett, the lead singer of the band (commonly known by the unofficial stage name MC Ride), shouts out his lyrics there’s the thought that he means or at least believes in what he says. Jenny Death continues that trend.
Best songs: “Turned Off,” “On GP”
2) Vince Staples — Summertime ‘06
Vince Staples’ major label debut introduces him as a rapper with an understanding of who he is and what he does best. In an interview prior to the album releases, he notes that fear is a prevailing theme of the album. Different songs deal with different points of fear: the conflicts that arise can from it, appreciating it and ultimately understanding it. The end result is Summertime ‘06, an album that has a celebratory tone which is smashed down when reality sets in. The album shifts and shakes at its core with the Future sample that dominates the bass-heavy “Senorita” or the track that follows it, “Jump Off the Roof.” Both are lyrically heavy hitting tracks that show how versatile Staples is on the mic.
Best songs: “Senorita,” “Jump Off The Roof”
1) Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp A Butterfly
The strongest album of the year, hands down, was Kendrick Lamar’s latest which acts as a musical Great African-American Novel. It’s tumultuous, pulling from different aspects and art forms within black history to make a sprawling, breathing statement on politics, success and the music industry.
One line that stands out in the track titled “Wesley’s Theory” is “What you want? You a house or a car? Forty acres and a mule, a piano, a guitar?” Which begins a song dedicated to Lamar’s quasi-romantic relationship with hip-hop as an industry, as well as the success he finds in, as latter on in the track he speaks from the place of “Uncle Sam” and laments on the bad spending habits of other rappers. Yet there may not have been a bigger surprise than the album’s closer, “Mortal Man” which had an impromptu interview with deceased rapper Tupac, with the audio clips pulled from a rare interview, mixed together with questions from Lamar. The closing stands as a very surprising moment within a 2015 filled with twists and turns.
Best songs: “Wesley’s Theory,” “Alright,” “Hood Politics,” “Mortal Man”