This is a difficult list to make. Every single year, people are racking their brains of the best of the year, whether it be movies, games, or music. In this case, music is such a tough list. As a DJ for a college radio station, I’m constantly listening to music. This was the first year I truly started to listen brand-spanking new releases. I brought what I found into the shows that I do with great excitement.
This year brought some amazing new albums, from artists that I’ve enjoyed for a long time, and others that shocked me. It was so great to begin a new week not to see where it would take me, but to also discover something new in music. There were lots of times going through sites, social media posts, and recommendations from friends that it was overwhelming. This year gave me a new way to approach genres, artists, and music in general. There are artists who expand on past greatness, and others that just started to find their voice.
Of course, there were LPs this year that were pretty bare. There was nothing there to really come back to. But, like any one of the hundreds who make these lists, you’ll know that’s never what you’ll think back to this year. You think back to everything that made an impact. At this point, the order of this list is set in stone. All of these are amazing. Rest assured that this could have been a lot more. There’s just a lot talk about and so little time.
Here is my list of the Top 30 Albums of 2015. Please enjoy.
- Sleepwalker’s Conviction – Oren Ambarchi
First off, that sleeve should immediately intrigue anyone, whether you’re familiar with the man of many works of or not. Anyways, Ambarchi had quite a year. His other collaborations were also great pieces of work. This one struck the biggest chord for me. The album captures exactly what it’s called. The loud creaks from an empty house haunts but also hooks the listener. The droning on top of that keeps you invested to see where this sleepwalker is going. It’s as if you are following someone. It haunted me as I listened, but had me wanting to return back to it. Ambarchi amazing use of layers in his work really works well here.
Note: The other Oren Ambarchi albums were also very good this year. Do check them out.
- No Cities to Love – Sleater-Kinney
I kid you not, I’m spinning the vinyl of this as I write this. Great packaging, by the way. This is a loud, awesome, head-banging punk band from some awesome women. Each track here has great openers that immediately stand out. It’s what keeps you progressing through the album. Another is the lyrics. They scream about the city life of nights in the past. Each song has its own history. It’s not only a great punk album, but also one with great depth to it. Corrie Tucker and Carrie Brownstein really hit it out of the park with their awesome vocal performances. This was an immediate love ever since I listened to it.
- Glean –They Might Be Giants
These guys have been around for quite some time, and their discography is one of the best out there. “Glean” is just yet another great album with great tracks. My favorite song from them is on here, which is “Let Me Tell You about My Operation.” I dance like a dork when that comes on. Other tracks here really show off, yet again, the talent of the two Johns. It feels like routine for them to come into each album with even more wit and humor than the last. As usual, the songwriting is top notch. It’s a release that I’m constantly listening to, as well as their other works.
- Ones and Sixes – Low
As someone who really wants to get into Slowcore, I heard these were quite the group to get into. If someone asked me who to get into for the genre, I’d say the same, but also say The Antlers as well. Low brings a slow but beautiful piece of work to the table that really stands out in mind as one of the finest of 2015. The love I have for this album is quite large. The vocal performances from Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk were the highest points for the album. The other would be the electronic beats of some songs. I thought it felt really well into the slow pace of the album. It didn’t feel out of place. It actually made the songs catchy, which is odd with this kind of music. The tracks became addictive. This album has a special place in heart.
- Surf – Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment.
Oh, those horns! Those sick horns, man! Also, “Slipe Slide” is one of the best tracks of the year. When this dropped for free earlier this year, there was no question I had to check this out. Well, I was jamming along with the group as the tracks kept coming one after another. Chance the Rapper is such a great addition to this experiment. He offers some great flow when he appears. Other rappers coming out throughout the LP also make the album one of the catchiest and grooviest of the year. Donnie Trumpet, of course, has a huge part in making the album this catchy. I’m catching myself banging my head to the beat of his horn and the rest of the band. It makes it very accessible to those who aren’t into hip-hop. That’s what I like about it most. Bring in the crowd.
- DEATH MAGIC – HEALTH
I read that DEATH MAGIC was basically Mad Max: Fury Road meets synth pop. Though I wouldn’t say that for a majority of the album, it sparked my interest. What follows is a dark and often brutal trip to your favorite club. When the album begins with the loud bangs of the drums, leading to the track, “STONEFIST,” you can tell that HEALTH set out to make something worth partying hard to in the club, but also something that was going to blow people away. It did for me. The tracks have enough energy to supercharge a tank. Its bombastic-ness never turned me away, but rather grabbed me for the ride. I didn’t want to be let go. It’s also worth noting (I guess) that I listened to this while I tried out falling asleep to music. Let’s just say I waited till I was awake.
- LP – Container
It’s the weird sleeve that interested me, but it means nothing compared to what happens when the needle drops. A mixture of immersive hooks and whacky noises ooze out of this techno album. When I was bobbing my head to the beat, I stopped to wonder if this was the music to dance to. That’s what so interesting about this album. The beats will make you move your feet. The techno side of it make you go nugging futs. The shortness of the album is quite perfect, coming in at 26 minutes. It’s a perfect runtime. This really came out of nowhere, and I truly had no idea what to expect. I came away patiently waiting to see what this man does next.
- Anareta – Horrendous
Last year’s Horrendous album called from the past what makes death metal so great. I hope it brought fans of the genre something to cheer for. Well, I never found out. Regardless, Anareta brings what made last year’s LP so good, but cranked it up to 20. The riffs here are constructed much better. The guitars and bass blast through the speakers, creating something as horrendous (OH!) as the artwork it comes with. Seriously, that is sick. These riffs are excellent. I’m also still in love with Damien Herring’s vocals. Bravo, gentlemen.
- Who is the Sender? – Bill Fay
A beautiful piece of art can invoke so much for someone. Joy, melancholy, hope, and fear. Bill Fay’s latest has me feeling all of these. The joy of hearing elegant vocals. The melancholy of the accompaniment. Hope found in the keys of his piano. Fear in his messages. There are many fears we have of this world, and I think that Bill Fay tries to bring us together with this album. It embraces what makes this world both wonderful and dangerous. Fay’s lyrics should have us recognizing the world we live in can be a fantastic place, if given the chance. With all these messages aside, the harmonies of the tracks will possibly have you shed a tear by the end of the runtime. An excellent piece of work from someone who wants to have you feel everything.
- Book of Souls – Iron Maiden
Before I begin, two metal albums on the sides of an emotional album is really quite the sandwich. Anyways, as a giant Maiden fan, it’s always exciting to see what Dickinson has up his sleeves. This album brings forth new ways of listening to one of my favorite bands ever. The synths that start off the album is one of the biggest highlights. I love how the album really tries to bring in what makes Maiden so good but also looking to progress into what I hope is more work. The Book brings all the fans back into the ring to once again rock out. There’s still the loud guitars, drums, and vocals. You’ll absolutely find those here. You’ll also find Dickinson’s great song writing. “Tears of a Clown,” Robin William’s tribute song, stands as one of best of the year. It’s also a fitting tribute of a brilliant man from a fantastic group. This album is hugely ambitious. Did it really have to be a double-album? Probably not. What we got were just a bunch of new Maiden tracks that we can all enjoy. Long live Maiden.
- Graveward – Sigh
Sigh perfectly captures a horror movie inside a record. This album actually scared a bit the first time. It took two and half years to finally create, but it was worth it. What an experiment. I had never before listened to them until this. The production is consistent throughout, with guitars and vocals screeching. Just listen to those solos. They are some of the sickest of the year. It will send shudders down your spine. Then, you start hearing horns epic and worthy enough to fit in perfectly here The vocal performances are also great, with loud howls coming from the speakers. I feel as though this could really bring in people into the death metal genre. Yes, the album is very hectic throughout, but it sounded as though anyone could enjoy this. Nightmares can I do that I guess.
- Garden of Delete – Oneohtrix Point Never
There’s a soul trapped in all the ruckus that is in this package. A voice carries throughout the album. This had me intrigued. The glitches of the album create a story for the album which you would never expect. It makes you think of what exactly is going through the mind of whoever is trapped in there. The jams are also just fantastic. I love everything here. When it’s all over, it doesn’t even feel like it. I seriously thought there was more. The album is so energetic it requires multiple listens to fully grasp it all. It never feels like there’s too much at work though. Garden of Delete is one of the craziest albums of the year, but you’ll jam to it every day.
- Art Angels – Grimes
“California” will be stuck in your head for weeks. I guarantee that. Grimes comes back with a fantastic experiment. Some are calling it an over produced album, but I think it fits the bill as one of the most intriguing of the year, as well as one of the catchiest. There’s a lot of energy and sugar to this. I actually do think this album is sweet as candy. Grimes is like a little child here. She runs into the candy store to grab everything in sight. She throws a lot around, and a lot of it hits the target. I also love hearing how ecstatic she is here. It’s always great to hear an artist so invested in their project. Grimes really shines here.
- The Race for Space – Public Service Broadcasting
The mystery and magic of space intrigues everyone since they were a little kid. PSB brings all of that into this stellar album capturing all the wonder of space. The fuzzy recordings of old broadcasts from JFK and others work really well. There’s also amazing rhythms here that will keep you grooving. This honestly hooked me with the concept immediately. The group is exactly the group that could pull something like this off. I’ve listened to it multiple times, and each time I get chills about exploring the final frontier. I’m also quite the sucker for concept that deal with sci-fi. In this case, anything is possible up there. It’s music, yet it feels as though I truly am an astronaut. A truly stellar album.
- Tetsuo and Youth – Lupe Fiasco
“Mural” is one of the best hip hop songs ever recorded in the history of ever. That track alone could be talked about for ages. The picture that Fiasco creates with that one track alone is enough to credit Fiasco as one of the finest of the year. There’s so much being spit out of Fiasco that his picture becomes clearer and clearer. Those kinds of lyrics found in “Mural” is found in each track. It’s one of the most fantastic of the year. I was just listening to it again earlier today, and yet again going crazy over the production. It’s so precise on every beat. Banjo solos, trap production with piano in the background, and other great work is consistent. This album should be an inspiration to a lot of future rappers to write down what comes into their mind. It doesn’t have to have a message of our society. It could be as easy as talking about birds doing back flips.
- I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside – Earl Sweatshirt
The grain and fuzz coming of Sweatshirt’s latest creates a something that has more than just lyrics. It sounds like we’re listening to the old stories of his youth recorded right in his basement. The beats on top of all the fuzz is excellent. Sweatshirt has sick hooks throughout, grabbing you into each track. This has been on repeat for me for a while. Hearing the stories he has to tell about what he’s gone through and what he has now it is personal. He’s not just talking about a group of people he belongs to, but a community. I always think of this album as his love letter to those out there who really take pride in keeping to themselves. The length of the album has to do with it as well. Earl sucks you in with his honesty about his life and views, but leaves you with instrumentals to listen to when your alone.
- Universal Themes – Sun Kil Moon
On your first listen of Sun Kil Moon’s latest, it’s a bunch of rambles of stories that really haven’t found its point. With multiple visits back to this album, it all comes together as one of the most interesting and rewarding albums of the year. Where Benji made it sometimes a bit too uncomfortable to listen to due to its messages of personal hardship, Universal Themes tucks you in to each track telling its own tales. Instead of taking his time to get to his points, he’s very direct. Such as the case in the beginning of “The Possum” where he talks about people dying very bluntly. Stuff just happens in this world. Moon just captures it. I’ve come to find out Sun Kil Moon demands repeat listens. He has so much to say in his tales that each lyric should be heard. His guitar work is also excellent. I feel so melancholy at the end. Also, “The Possum” is one of the best ever as well. Well done, sir.
- Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise – The Dear Hunter
One of my favorite new artists I’ve got into also brings one of the best concept albums/albums of the year. Following the tale that is presented in the other albums, we find our wanderer facing more hardships. That isn’t the case of The Dear Hunter. Instead, this band has blown me away with their excellent production. You’ve got great guitar and vocal work, but there’s also even more to listen to. The strings, percussion, and others can be heard creating one of the most rewarding albums of the year. You are invested from the opening track with its harmonies. Throughout the whole album, there is something new and fresh. If you haven’t checked these guys out, now would be a perfect time.
- How to Die in the North – B.C. Camplight
Just today, I was talking to a friend of mine about this release. One thing I mentioned was how this should really inspire upcoming young artists to try to develop their own sound, image, and never be afraid. I stand by that. Camplight brings forth an original album filled with interesting production choices that fit so well. Not only do these beats make you want to stand up and jam, but they are also filled with heart. He pours all of him into this release. He attempts to create something that will show artists that trying out new sounds shouldn’t frighten them but rather excite them. A perfect example is “Lay Me on the Floor.” There’s so much energy and excitement in one song that I haven’t heard this year. A track like that shows me there is always something to explore when one is finding their voice. Upon my 20+ listens, it still astounds me ever since my first listen. Please, excite me again on your next.
- Imani Vol. 1 – Blackalicious
This is, hands down, one of the sickest and freshest albums of the year. Oh my. Where to begin. Well, to begin, “Blacka,” “Ashes to Ashes,” and “On Fire Tonight,” will be on repeat for years to come. Besides that, the flow of Gift of Gab is ridiculous. He’s fast on some, while others he takes his time so you can hear everything he wants you to hear. Meanwhile, Chief Xcel creates fresh beats on each track that each one is completely new. “The Sun” has great piano work, while “On Fire Tonight,” is an epic call to go out and party. The conscious raps found on something like “That Night” is also great, with the production banging. The duo of Gab and Xcel bring something special to the hip hop scene that can be approached by literally anyone, whether you’re a fan of the genre or not.
- Divers – Joanna Newsom
I’ve been waiting so damn long for this album. Ever since I listened to Ys, I’ve been a fan of the woman. I don’t care if she sort of sounds like Lisa Simpson, she is beautiful. Divers presents a whole new approach to Newsom. Her mentions of Ozymandias throughout the album is probably the most intriguing. I still can’t make out the meaning, but that’s what excites me. It forces me to go back to the album to listen to it again. The lyrics here are one of the biggest reasons why it’s so fantastic. The lyrics and the flow of her voice bring out so much emotion from the artist. Once again, the strings here are unbelievable. It’s some of the finest from her yet. Newsom truly is one of the artists that is like a glass of fine wine. She is supposed to be taken in by the ones who truly appreciate exactly what she is after, which is to expand on her artistry to become something she is proud of. Her voice is that glass of wine. It’s not for everyone. When you do digest it, you find out it’s one of the purest voices out there.
- Vulnicura – Bjork
The strings of Bjork and producers are the finest from her. Vulnicura is Bjork’s most artistic to date. The stunning cover is eye catching. Her voice is as mesmerizing as before. This is just one of the best from her. Combing the electronic beats we have heard from previous work with the strings shows she is balancing out what she knows. It also shows she’s is open to growing. Lyrically, it’s a personal album of motherhood and of past relationships. It’s simply moving. This is an album you listen by yourself without any distractions. Being connected to an artist is a great feeling, and Bjork captures that in this album. I’m even more in love with her now because of how much she opens up. From here, Bjork can still do no wrong.
- Daniel Knox – Daniel Knox
At this point, I’m sure my roommates are sick of hearing me bellow out my impression of Knox’s low and warm voice while I shower. “Don’t Touch Me,” is my song of choice. This is a perfect example of an artist I discovered this year, and falling absolutely in love with. Knox’s beautiful compositions are both entertaining and emotional. You have tracks such as “By the Venture,” that have you feeling like you’re at the theater watching a musical, and something like “White Oaks Mall,” that reminds you of a coffee shop Open Mic Night. There is a lot to take away from Knox. He’s work should be inspiring to songwriters. Each track tells a different story. The tales he tells are all different with messages hidden throughout. He takes us on a journey through possible true life events. I am moved every time I listen to him. His voice is still the best part of the album. It’s also, now, one of my favorite voices ever. I anxiously look forward to see where this man’s career goes.
- Currents – Tame Impala
I have heard so much about this psychedelic band, but never got around to listening to them. This year’s newest release was my first. It ended up being the grooviest, most stylish, and most looped album of the year. Kevin Parker brings the beauty of synth pop to the big audience of fans he has. Each track has you tripping into a different scene from Parker’s mind. When the beats will have you dancing, the lyrics will have you thinking of what is going on with the lead man. Tracks like “Eventually,” “Let It Happen,” and “Cause I’m a Man,” all have a fantastic production, but the lyrics make them much more emotional. This a personal album that is a perfect balance of sick beats and memorable choruses. So much goes right here. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve listened to this LP. It’s a big step from their previous release. If the opening track has anything to say about where the group is headed, they’re telling fans that they have to let whatever happens next to happen. Be excited, my friends.
- Carrie and Lowell – Sufjan Stevens
His work some of the finest I’ve ever heard, and it’s also the most inspiring for me. Illinoise is a huge influence, while others like Seven Swans put me in a somber mood that I enjoy. Carrie and Lowell does nothing but make your heart break for the artist. An album dedicated to the life of his mother and the impact she had is very touching. I’m usually not one to tear up at albums, but this had me right from the beginning. Many themes are throughout the songs that Stevens wrote for this. You can’t help but feel everything he is in this release. It’s an incredibly difficult album to listen to multiple times, unlike his previous releases. Though it is the most difficult, that doesn’t mean it’s one of his best. The instrumentation is minimal, especially when others had so much. What is heard here is perfect. Songs here create hollow scenes of lost souls. Tracks here create melancholy scenes of reminiscing on difficult memories. Stevens opens up to each of us because he wants everyone to hear his story. We listen with ears wide open.
- The Epic – Kamasi Washington
When I heard there was a three-disc jazz record coming out this year, I was instantly interested. To hear how successful it was after the release was even better. Washington brings his amazing saxophone skills and stellar arrangements to this epic album. The three discs can all be listened to individually, which adds to how accessible this LP is. There’s no concept to follow throughout the tracks, except that it’s super ambitious. Hardcore jazz enthusiast will love all the players here, while other fans dipping the their toes in the waters will be welcomed with blaring horns, beautiful vocals, great percussions, and so much more. I really do love the decision to make this a three-disc album. It just constantly gives us awesome tracks no matter which one you throw on. If you so choose to sit down and listen to all three together, it’s worth it. By the end, it’s a very rewarding experience.
- The Ark Work – Liturgy
Hunt Hendrix is one insane guy, but he presents us the finest metal album of the year. Some will hear this and question just what the hell this is. To me, this music is so unbelievable. Liturgy is just an amazing group in general, but this is something whole new for them. There’s bells, guitars, droning vocals, horns, glitches, speeding drums, and others I can’t even list because it’s tough to figure it out. It’s not over produced. Instead, each decision made on the tracks, whether it’s putting in a new instrument or sound, feels natural. This is what makes it stand out from other rock or metal albums of the year. The energy is unlike others from this year or any other for that matter. The experience of listening to Liturgy is something shared by a few. I did also get to see them live. Life-changing, I tell you. This a metal release that’s in a league all its own.
- Everybody’s Got a Star – Poi Dog Pondering
Frank Orrall brings us all together for a great time at the dance club. The way this group has progressed their sound throughout the years is amazing. Their early days of folk are gone. What emerges is a group that experiments with new sounds, and creating some of the best records out there. Their confidence going into this album feels great. Instead of some lame pop album that’s put out these days like processed meat, PDP execute brilliantly tracks that have soul to them. The tracks will have you getting up to enjoy them. How could you not dance to this? It’s so much fun! Don’t you love an album that’s fun? There’s piano keys over catchy drum beats. There’s electronic beats over beautiful vocals. The house elements blending in with soulful guitars. This album is executed with precision.
- The Incredible True Story – Logic
It hurts for me to hear that people don’t like Logic. How could you fall for someone like Drake, but not Logic? Obviously, Logic is in his own league compared to others, so that analogy isn’t the best. Regardless, the dislike of this man is embraced in The Incredible True Story. It’s the true story how Earth is no more. It’s the story of how Logic is criticized by everyone, but adored by his loyal fans. “…Lately I’m feeling like a villain,” because he’s doing his own thing will others are trying to get him to copy paste other rappers and producers. Well, this is his letter to all those. This is an album to embrace who you really are and not to settle for what others want. Besides that, the production is spot on. They’ll be in your head for days. The skits in between also create this great sci-fi story. I’m a sucker for those. These skits have me thinking about where we’re going as the human race, as an artist, and where Logic will be going. It works really well. The ending track wraps this package up with a neat little bow. The perfect blend of loving who you are and still struggling with the keeping your artistic identity. “Imma just do what I do with my crew / Ain’t no telling what I’m finna do / But I promise that I’mma keep writing for you.”
- To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Well, who else? Lana? Nah. Kendrick is number one. There’s been so much written about Lamar’s mind-blowing LP about community, hardships, culture, and his career that there isn’t much else left to say. Needless to say, this is in my Top 20 albums ever. Lamar’s heart is poured out with raps that written perfectly. Every song can be broken down to their messages. This is both a rap album that is meant to be blasting through your speakers, but to also take the time out of your day to listen to. The man brings up so much to talk about here. This is an album you not only jam to, but to experience. “King Kunta” is also the most played song of my life. For many years, To Pimp a Butterfly will be studied, listened to, and influence. Music fans and critics everywhere can tell you more about this. All you need to know is that it deserves every single bit of praise.