2015 has been a bumper year for brilliant albums, and if you’re not convinced of that, just take a look at this list – our 50 best albums of 2015.
50 Ryan Adams – ‘1989’
We said: “‘Clean’ ends Swift’s album in a gorgeous haze of ambient electronica. Adams’ more organic version sounds a bit like a ‘Rumours’-era Fleetwood Mac track sung by Lindsey Buckingham – i.e. very good indeed.”
49 Bring Me The Horizon – ‘That’s The Spirit’
We said: “Barely a track goes by which couldn’t be a single, while Sykes maintains a sense of paranoia and emotional vulnerability amid the cavernous sounds as he tells how “true friends stab you in the front” on ‘True Friends’.”
48 New Order – ‘Music Complete’
We said: “‘Music Complete’ at last succeeds in doing the Manchester legends’ pioneering dance-rock legacy justice. It’s a continually surprising set, and their best since 1993’s ‘Republic’.”
47 Bill Ryder-Jones – ‘West Kirby County Primary’
We said: “Whereas the ex-Coral guitarist’s old band inhabited a colourful, self-contained world of soft drugs, spaghetti westerns and Scouse jabberwocky, his own sonic nook might seem smaller and more earthbound by comparison, but it’s no less personal or poignant for that.”
46 Viet Cong – ‘Viet Cong’
We said: “Fans of Women’s challenging melodies will appreciate the songcraft here, but Viet Cong are very much their own animal; with deep forays into demonic white noise (‘Continental Shelf’), clanging post-punk (‘Silhouettes’) and psychedelic/prog-rock on sprawling closer ‘Death’, they’re expanding into adventurous new directions.”
45 The Cribs – ‘For All My Sisters’
We said: “The Cribs are old masters at delirious, damaged indie punk greatness, and ‘For All My Sisters’ is rammed with prime cuts. ‘City Storms’, ‘Summer Of Chances’ and ‘Diamond Girl’ have a surfeit of magnificent riffs nicked from the jack lead of James Dean Bradfield, trampolining chorus hooks and lovelorn breakup lyrics that suggest troubled times.”
44 Young Thug – ‘Barter 6’
We said: “The tutu-wearing Atlanta rapper originally named his debut album ‘Tha Carter VI’ in tribute to his “idol” Lil Wayne, but ‘Barter 6’ combined high art and direct lyrics about frustration and dread in a way that puts him in a field all of his own.”
43 Sleaford Mods – ‘Key Markets’
We said: “Sleaford Mods remain an extremely relatable band. How many people need another Sleaford Mods record that sounds much like their other ones, you might ask? Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn don’t seem bothered about the answer, and that obstinacy is highly admirable.”
42 Miley Cyrus – ‘Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz’
We said: “‘Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz’ is surely the weirdest album made by a massive pop star in recent memory, but more impressively, it’s also an essential listen.”
41 Muse –
We said: “‘Drones’’ trademark themes of brainwashing, warmongering superpowers, suppression of The Truth and the urgent need to fight the hand that bleeds us still resonate in 2015, but obliquely. It’s Matt Bellamy’s job to prise open deeper socio-political dimensions as much as it is to comment on the times, and Muse’s music once more matches his adventurous intrigue.”
40 Florence + The Machine – ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’
We said: “Overflowing with stately songwriting and lyrical craftsmanship, ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ makes for a restrained but joyful return, and a collection that will last long after Welch’s broken bones are mended.”
39 Young Fathers
– ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’
We said: “Young Fathers’ second record is a clattery lo-fi gospel of budget drum machines, enthusiastic xylophone, monomaniacal krautrock grooves, preacher-man testifying and a few good tunes, all wrapped up in a title that feels like a provocative statement.”
38 Drenge – ‘Undertow’
We said: “‘Undertow’ doesn’t just make Drenge sound like the UK’s most brilliantly disorderly band, it makes the Peak District seem utterly sinister place, full of gun-toting deviants in North Face jackets and cream-tea-guzzling car-jackers. Consider our train tickets booked.”
37 Future – ‘DS2’
We said: “The sequel to the Atlanta rapper’s 2011 mixtape ‘Dirty Sprite’ smoothly combined auto-tune and syrupy beats with candid lines like ‘I justtook a piss and saw some codeine coming out’.”
36 Carly Rae Jepsen – ‘Emotion’
We said: “It’s packed with frighteningly relatable songs about love, longing and heartbreak co-written by Jepsen with trendy collaborators including Dev Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij. Lead single ‘I Really Like You’ is nearly as catchy as ‘Call Me Maybe’, but the album’s more restrained moments are just as infectious.”
35 Coldplay – ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’
We said: “The most satisfying collection of songs they’ve written in years. Inclusivity is hardly a new concept for this band, but from the title-track’s ecstatic, starry-eyed expression of wonder to the gargantuan gospel-pop curtain call of ‘Up&Up’, they’ve rarely sounded so open-armed and elated as they do here.”
34 Pond – ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’
We said: “It all adds up to an emphatic showcase of Pond’s personality, and their ability to inflict their eccentric spirit on any genre they fancy. Perhaps, for a band as strange as this, making a pop album is the ultimate experiment. The results are anything but clichéd.”
33 LA Priest – ‘Inji’
We said: “‘Inji’ is full of oddities and quirks, from its song titles (‘Gene Washes With New Arm’, ‘Lady’s In Trouble With The Law’) to the music itself. ‘Lorry Park’, for example, is a two-and-a-half minute track built from loops of the singer’s manipulated “ooh”s and “eee”s that make him sound like an awestruck dolphin.”
32 Charli XCX – ‘Sucker’
We said: “This year’s first great pop record bowls in with a rapturous celebration of the genre’s rebellious, trashy potential (and a bottle of champagne and a pocketful of pills to boot). From the “fuck you”-heavy title track onwards, 22-year-old Charli XCX’s main mode is rejection, which she executes with total aplomb.”
31 Slaves – ‘Are You Satisfied?’
We said: “Every song here is a call to arms or an affirmative flip of the table. ‘Do Something’ is the most literal of the duo’s punches to passivity. “You are not stuck in traffic”, insists Holman over Vincent’s rusty-razor guitar and his own rudimentary drums, “You are traffic… Move!”.”
30 Fetty Wap – ‘Fetty Wap’
We said: “‘Trap Queen’ introduced the world to Fetty’s weird, warbling, unique brand of hip-hop – room-quaking beats and home-cooked production beneath Auto-Tuned, half-sung-half-rapped hooks and howls. It was an unlikely concoction of sounds to conquer the mainstream, but it has.”
29 The Libertines – ‘Anthems For A Doomed Youth’
We said: “This feels like a stepping stone towards both closure and the high standards they set over a decade ago. The lyrics reaffirm The Libertines’ place as one of the most vital British bands ever and should usher a fresh generation of believers on board the good ship Albion.”
28 Laura Marling – ‘Short Movie’
We said: “It plays out like a series of vignettes, of moods and moments, people and places – but there is a sense of a journey completed, with a hard-won wisdom at the end of it. Marling is her own protagonist – flawed, like anyone else, but utterly compelling all the same.”
27 Mac DeMarco – ‘Another One’
We said: “To be able to write with universality is the mark of a songwriter’s ambition growing, and here Mac DeMarco is transitioning into one of the best around.”
26 Holly Herndon – ‘Platform’
We said: ” ‘Platform’, Herndon’s third album and her first for 4AD, unveils sparkling, electronic pop that twitches like a corrupt video file, her voice fractured into glinting melodies.”
25 Bjork – ‘Vulnicura’
We said: “Masterful string arrangements by Björk (‘Lionsong’, ‘Family’) express matters of the heart with the same candour as the words, while Venezuelan producer Arca’s fractured, difficult beats (‘Lionsong’, ‘Notget’) – often in uncommon time signatures – reflect the disruption to Björk’s real-life rhythm… A brave, beautiful and affecting album.”
24 Sufjan Stevens – ‘Carrie And Lowell’
We said: “‘Carrie & Lowell’ is one of Sufjan’s most fat-free and consistently stunning records, but also his darkest. There are no brass fanfares like 2006’s ‘Adlai Stevenson’ or fancy-dress-party tunes like 2005’s ‘Chicago’. This is downbeat and delicate alt-folk drenched, very sweetly, in blood, grief and desolation.”
23 Drake – ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’
We said: “Drake sounds like the kind of guy who comes sauntering out the traps in a 100m race and immediately breaks out into a victory lap, pausing only to remonstrate with hecklers.”
22 Courtney Barnett – ‘Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit’
We said: “For anyone haplessly trying to make sense of the meaningless din of the 2010s, Barnett’s wry observations and caustic humour made her seem the perfect spokesperson… She might not want a pedestal, but there aren’t many songwriters who’d make better use of it.”
21 Shamir – ‘Ratchet’
We said: “For someone born in 1994, Shamir Bailey has managed to absorb a hell of a lot of the soulful plasticity of music made in the ‘80s. ‘Ratchet’, the Las Vegas singer’s debut, contains all the ingredients of vintage dance bangers.”
20 US Girls – ‘Half Free’
The seventh US Girls album, ‘Half Free’, was full of lopsided melodies and skittering drum loops – a noirish sound that complemented 30-year-old Meghan Remy’s tales of betrayal and melancholia. ‘Telephone Play No.1’ – a spoken-word skit where Remy discussed a dream about her dad having “nude photos” of her as a child – set the unsettling tone.
19 The Weeknd – ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’
Earlier this year Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, told Pitchfork: “I love villains—they’re the best characters in movies”. The Toronto R&B singer’s second album finds him plumbing further depths of bastardry. The smut was backed by vibrant ‘80s Michael Jackson-style production, resulting in a terrifically fun portrait of a disco-damaged lothario.
18 Swim Deep – ‘Mothers’
On which Birmingham band Swim Deep ditched the sweet indie-pop of their 2013 debut ‘Where The Heaven Are We’, choosing instead to burrow into a psychedelic wormhole. The result was a mind-altering exploration through tracks like acid-drenched jam ‘Fueiho Boogie’ and the bleary-eyed rave of ‘One Great Song And I Can Change The World’.
17 Joanna Newsom – ‘Divers’
On fourth album ‘Divers’, Californian harpist Joanna Newsom pared back big time from 2010’s three-discer ‘Have One On Me’. It was the lyrical continuity that made it so rewarding, full of poignant reflections on time and death, each tucked inside delicate interior rhymes and weighty metaphor.
16 Father John Misty – ‘I Love You, Honeybear’
Josh Tilman’s second album as Father John Misty was a masterclass in how to be a modern singer-songwriter. With its sweeping string sections overlaid with lyrics about “mascara, blood, ash and cum”, it blended the poetic honesty of a divebar Leonard Cohen with the humour of Randy Newman.
15 Blur – ‘The Magic Whip’
‘The Magic Whip’ was something of a miracle. From the Britpop revivalism of ‘Lonesome Street’ to the icy majesty of ‘Pyongyang’ and the louche beach conga of ‘Ong Ong’, it dribbled deliciously between the fingers of Blur’s iconic canon.
14 Deerhunter – ‘Fading Frontier’
Deerhunter’s seventh album was easier on the ear than the dark desperation of 2013’s ‘Monomania’, but frontman Bradford Cox’s apparent sense of serenity on early singles ‘Living My Life’ and ‘Breaker’ proved misleading. ‘Fading Frontier’ was a restless, lonely record that got under your skin and stayed there. Seven albums in, Deerhunter are as vital as ever.
13 Sleater-Kinney – ‘No Cities To Love’
Always a band that thrived on a wiry, nervous energy, the fearsome threesome of post-riot grrl rock shouldered and shrugged off the expectation that weighed heavy on their first album in a decade with an exhilarating blast of energy. ‘No Cities To Love’ was breathlessly brilliant, and swept away the suffocating reverence that surrounded their return.
12 A$AP Rocky – ‘At. Long. Last. A$AP’
The strangest and most immersive rap record of 2015, ‘At. Long. Last. A$AP’ unfolded like a weeklong acid trip. But as muted beats and relentless grunts shifted in and out of focus, the album’s only constant was its hallucinatory atmosphere. As Rocky slurred on ‘Fine Whine’, this was the moment he “became a druggy…”.
11 Kurt Vile – ‘B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down…’
The mumbling Philiadelphian’s sixth and best album combined the glossy production of 2013’s ‘Wakin On A Pretty Daze’ with the weather-beaten feel of 2011’s ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’. The lyrics were brilliant too, making him sound as confused, hilarious and unique as ever.
10 Unknown Mortal Orchestra – ‘Multi-Love’
Emotionally pole-axed by a polyamorous relationship, frontman Ruban Nielson poured his love and confusion into nine pert pellets of funky power-pop and woozy psychedelic disco. Prince, Beck, Sly Stone, Shuggie Otis… suddenly, none of these seemed like outlandish comparisons for a man turning his joyous bewilderment into dazzling psych-pop gold.
9 The Maccabees – ‘Marks To Prove It’
The Maccabees spent three years shut away inside their Elephant & Castle studio making their fifth album. ‘Marks To Prove It’ saw the band pay tribute to a pocket of south London under the grip of gentrification, while jumping from tumbling riffs and rolling piano (‘Spit It Out’) to gentler, more introspective moments (‘River Song’). Grand, sumptuous.
8 Foals – ‘What Went Down’
We always knew the Oxford math rockers would benefit from more meat on their bones. For every quasi-metal riff that made it sound like they’d taken up second jobs as rock hard cage fighters, there were more considered, airy funk moments like ‘Birch Tree’ and ‘Give It All’. The glacial ‘A Knife In The Ocean’ rivalled ‘Spanish Sahara’ as their most planet-sized tune.
7 Lana Del Rey – ‘Honeymoon’
2015 didn’t deliver loads of stuff to laugh about, and Lana Del Rey’s crushingly bleak third album tapped into the zeitgeist. ‘Honeymoon’ was a broken Disney fairytale of bankrupt Hollywood dreams in which vocals ached, strings pined and our heroine gasped lines like “You’re so art deco, out on the floor / Shining like gun metal, cold and unsure”.
6 Chvrches – ‘Every Open Eye’
To follow their 2013 debut, Chvrches simply took what worked about that record and amplified it for stronger melodies, bigger choruses and more potent feels. It was on tracks like ‘Never Ending Circles’ and ‘Clearest Blue’ that the true scale of their ambitions became clear – Chvrches were born on the internet, but they’re bound for arenas.
5 Tame Impala – ‘Currents’
The leaders of the Aussie psych vanguard all but severed ties with guitar-based noise on ‘Currents’ – “They say people never change, but that’s bullshit” was mastermind Kevin Parker’s apt reminder on ‘Yes I’m Changing’. Fans needn’t have feared the disco-flecked new sound: Parker’s niggling insecurities still sounded intoxicating.
4 Wolf Alice – ‘My Love Is Cool’
No one really expected Wolf Alice to release an album as inventive, invigorating and sublime as this. From roaring choruses (‘Fluffy’, ‘You’re A Germ’) to softer reflections (‘Soapy Water’ and ‘The Wonderwhy’), it surged with ambition, proving there is so much more to them than sounding a bit like a load of grunge bands on their early singles.
3 Jamie xx – ‘In Colour’
On which The xx’s softly spoken producer, Jamie Smith, went on a sublime journey across a vast ocean of electronica. Six years in the making, it transported the listener from dubby drum ‘n’ bass to shimmery disco and summery dancehall. Even with guests including xx members and Young Thug, ‘In Colour’ was the sound of a man totally confident about going it alone.
2 Kendrick Lamar – ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’
No other album released this year was as sure of its own significance as ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. Lamar’s second album was unashamedly high-minded and ambitious, mixing up elements of jazz, funk, soul, spoken-word and hip-hop to create a testament to (and treatise on) the Black American cultural experience in 2015.
1 Grimes – ‘Art Angels’
We already knew Grimes could write a killer pop song, but ‘Art Angels’ proved she could deliver 14 of them in a row. ‘Art Angels’ was not so much the sound of an artist trying to fit into the pop landscape as one trying to shape it in their own image. The best album of the year, from the most exciting artist of a generation.