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.
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.”
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'."
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’."
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.”
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.”
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.”
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."
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.”
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.”
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."
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."
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’.”
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."
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.”
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."
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.”
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."
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!”."
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.