Now we’re in June and half way through the year, what have been the outstanding albums of 2015 so far?
These 25 records released since January – presented here in no particular order – have put the year on course to be a memorable one for rock, pop, hip-hop and beyond. If the second half of 2015 is anything like as a good as the first half was for new music, it’s going to be a thrilling scrap for places on music fans’ end of year lists come December…
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love: Carrie Brownstein’s Olympia trio returned this year with every bit the fire and fury that made them cult heroes first time around the block. ‘No Cities To Love’, released a decade after their 2005 presumed-swansong ‘The Woods’, was a breathless barrage of garage riffs and feminist might.
Bjork – Vulnicura: Such is the Icelandic star’s otherworldly aura, it’s hard to think of the imperious Bjork suffering from the same trivial emotions as us mere mortals. Or at least it was before this candid, powerful, wounded latest opus, written and recorded amid the final throes of a doomed relationship. Heartache never sounded so ground-breaking.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell: 2010’s ‘Age of Adz’ packed bombastic cosmic sounds and far-out new age ideas about spirituality and philosophy. This follow-up was a brilliant pendulum-swing away from the maximalism of that album, opting instead for whispered folk songs about Stevens’ late parents that were gripping in their raw melancholy.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly: He had “a bone to pick” and boy did he pick it. Rattling through 16 tracks of splashy jazz, Tupac homages and whip-smart rhymes, having made it out of the ghetto described on 2012 debut album ‘good kid m.A.A.d city’, Compton’s K-Dot reflected on recent civil rights abuses with powerful vitriol on his March release, already lauded as a potential classic.
The Vaccines – English Grammar: Justin Young told NME recently that this album was the one that saw the four-piece blow open their idea of what The Vaccines could achieve. Mid-level indie status? Pah. ‘English Grammar’, full of space-gazing indie-pop thrills and more experimental frills, saw the London band eye up the big time. Watch your backs, Arctics, Coldplay et al.
Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer: Sadie Dupuis’ crew lost a guitarist but gained a sharp new focus in the period following last year’s breakout album ‘Major Arcana’. This follow-up saw the singer sounding even more defiant, over a scattering of Pavementy riffs and 1990s throwback pop-rock.
Noel Gallagher – Chasing Yesterday: Forget what the name implies. In fact, don’t try to read into anything at all on this second solo album from the former Oasis man, who insists his focus on this saxophone-clad stadium blockbuster was straight up rock ‘n’ roll thrills, nothing else. Featuring a brilliant collaboration with Johnny Marr, this was Noel at his most experimental yet.
Florence + the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful: Flo quit hiding behind lavish gowns and big theatrics to confront her demons head-on with this follow-up to the massive ‘Ceremonials’, resulting in her most personal record yet. How beautiful indeed.
Blur – The Magic Whip: Who saw this one coming? Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and co holed up in Hong Kong for inspiration during the making of this first full album in 16 years, surprise-announced in February. What came next didn’t disappoint. From ‘Go Out’ to ‘Ong Ong’, ‘The Magic Whip’ was a triumph, pushing the Britpop heroes into exciting new territory.
Drenge – Undertow: Bolstered by a third member after the guitar-and-drums assault of their debut, the brothers Loveless’ second outing proved even more impressive – a balls-to-the-wall account of the grim realities of modern life amid the mists of the Yorkshire dales.
Death Grips – Jenny Death: First they claimed to have broken up. Then they released an album and began plotting tour dates. Now, no one’s sure what exactly the status of Sacramento rap bruisers Death Grips is. What is certain, however, is the punishing sonics of this latest caustic hip-hop adventure are among their best yet.
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear: The man once known as obliging Fleet Foxes sticksman J Tillman is well and truly dead. In his place, a demon-grinned madman whose Fear and Loathing-like tales of debauchery and romance have, over two LPs now, made a folk hero of Father John Misty, who built on the swaggering brilliance of his debut sublimely on album 2.
Du Blonde – Welcome Back To Milk: The year’s most badass album cover to date accompanied a suitably badass set of songs from the artist formerly known as Beth Jeans Houghton, who chose to reinvent herself under a new guise. Du Blonde’s “debut” was an oddball punk-pop extravaganza well worth checking out if it hasn’t already reached your ears.
Shamir – Ratchet: Fizzing club banger ‘On The Regular’, the track that launched this Las Vegas youngster, it turns out is just one side of the multi-talented Shamir Bailey. His brave, remarkable debut ‘Ratchet’ didn’t stop at that massive anthem’s skittering Azealia Banks-ish rap rattle, instead venturing into surprising moments of Adele-like balladry. A new pop superstar is born.
Peace – Happy People: Brummie Britpop-throwbacks Peace turned up the Stone Roses-isms on this second album, which featured an almighty array of festival-main-stage-ready hooks – not least on lead track ‘World Pleasure’, which had a bass line so monstrously huge its probably visible from space, like the Great Wall of China or something.
Laura Marling – Short Movie: A year spent drifting brought a taste of Americana to Marling’s fifth album, released in March. From the drive-time radio chorus of Dire Straitsy standout ‘Gurdjieff’s Daughter’ to ‘How Can I’, it’s mind-boggling to think the maker of one of 2015’s wisest, most profound, soul-searching listens to date is still only 25.
Jamie xx – In Colour: Finally, after years of rumours and waiting, London xx mastermind Jamie Smith has at long last delivered a solo album (his 2011 “remix collaboration” with Gill Scott-Heron, splendid as it was, doesn’t count). Full of nods to the past dance masters who influenced his career so far, it was everything we’d hoped for and more.
Tyler, The Creator – Cherry Bomb: The Odd Future leader mixed Satanic gurgles with smooth G-funk on tightest album yet. ‘Cherry Bomb’ was unfortunately surprise-released in the wake of Kendrick’s show-stopping ‘To Pimp A Buttery’, meaning it was kinda overlooked at the time. Its NERD-aping production charm, however, meant it hardly needed the publicity.
Pile – You’re Better Than This: The Boston stompers’ new album didn’t pack a song as fist-in-the-air brilliant as ‘Prom Song’, the highlight of 2012’s ‘Dripping’, but ‘You’re Better Than This’ was a more cohesive string of songs, lit up by an acoustic centrepiece brilliantly titled ‘Fuck The Police’. American indie’s best kept secret won’t be secret for much longer.
Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color: Proving there was more to these blues revivalists than blues, this kaleidoscopic return saw them veer away from the Radio 2-friendly sounds of their 2012 debut, careening into more experimental waters. Bloody ace it was too.
Holly Herndon – Platform: The San Fran-based 4AD innovator wound pop hooks reminiscent of cult Swedes The Knife around icy electronics on ‘Platform’, a fiercely intelligent album that provoked, confounded and compelled. ‘Home’, in particular, with its lyrics targeting America’s NSA, was chilling.
Songhoy Blues – Music In Exile: A very literally titled album, armed jihadists in their hometown forced Mali’s Songhoy Blues to move south from Gao to the capital Bamako in 2012, where they concocted this astounding collection of desert blues songs, overseen by Africa Express’ Marc-Antoine Moreau and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We’ve still got the resulting album on repeat.
The Cribs – For All My Sisters: Unashamedly embracing their poppier side, the Wakefield brothers turned in some serious festival singalongs-in-waiting on sixth studio ‘For All My Sisters’ – notably ‘Burning For No One’ and lead single ‘An Ivory Hand’.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit…: Aussie grunger Courtney took her time with this album, after emerging seemingly eons ago with the brilliant ‘Avant Gardener’. Good things come to those who wait though, as the cliche goes – ‘Sometimes I Sit…’, from crunching train-of-thought lyrical blast ‘Pedestrian At Best’ to live favourite ‘Depreston’, was a straight-up winner of a debut album.
Tobias Jesso Jr – Goon: Charming piano balladry, the likes of which Ben Folds and Randy Newman would be proud, made up much of Canadian crooner Tobias’ stellar debut album. Early breakout tune ‘Without You’ made the cut, but it was ‘How Could You Babe?’, the album’s stunning second track, full of gliding strings, that proved its emotional sucker-punch.