2015 was one of the best years for music that I can remember. I’m very bad at remembering what came out when, but music seems to run in alternating-year cycles for me, with one great year followed by one mediocre year, and then every 4 years or so, comes an Olympic Year, where the music is almost too good to keep up with. That was this year. So many great records, so many consistently good ones, the following is a list of my favourite music of 2015. These may not be the best records, as I’m not some expert who tries to tell you what one thing is better than something else, but just my favourites.
As per last year, I’m going to rank every album I BOUGHT. I listened to many more records than this, but these 37 records inspired me to purchase them, and here they are, ranked for your pleasure. So while #37 might seem like it’s bad, it’s actually pretty good! It’s just my least favourite of the records I liked enough to buy. I’ll only do write-ups for the top 20 because a) no one is paying me for this and b) you don’t give a shit anyway. Enjoy.
37. Modest Mouse—Strangers to Ourselves
36. Sleater-Kinney—No Cities to Love
34. Rick Ross—Black Market
33. Beach House—Depression Cherry
32. A$AP Rocky—AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP
31. Earl Sweatshirt—I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
30. The Staves—If I Was
29. Alabama Shakes—Sound & Color
28. Tallest Man on Earth—The Dark Bird is Home
26. The Early November—Imbue
25. CHVRCHES—Every Open Eye
24. The Weeknd—Beauty Behind the Madness
23. Ty Dolla $ign—Free TC
22. Ryan Adams—1989
21. Drake and Future—What a Time to Be Alive
20. Purity Ring—another eternity
A lot of people said this wasn’t as good as their first record, but I didn’t like their first record, so I guess their shift in sound was directed at plebes like me. There is some filler here to be sure, but these two know what they’re good at(massive soundscapes and booming, lingering vocals) and do it very well here. Some absolute jams on this record.
19. The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die—Harmlessness
A lot of people who write about music a lot more than me claimed this band was going to be leading the emo revival, except that You Blew It! has already done that, and better. There are some good songs on this record, but a lot of them fall short and the vocals and production both leave some to be desired. Bonus credit for writing a song about a Mexican woman who killed a bus driver for sexually assaulting other women, though. Seriously, look it up. Crazy story, great song.
18. Years & Years—Communion
I just realized I started my last two record reviews with “a lot of people”, and I promise I wasn’t trying to be contrarian. A lot of people will tell you this record isn’t as cool as some of the other “R&B by white boys” records that came out this year, but they would be wrong. This is catchy as all hell, and the opening tune, “Foundation”, is as good as you’ll get aping The Weeknd while being white and not dating underage models or singing about cocaine and/or having sex.
This was the record I thought I was promised when a lot of people were talking up the “World is a Beautiful Place…” record. It’s basically that record, but with better production, better vocals, and more interesting arrangements. Unfortunately, there’s a middle section of 3 songs that are plodding, boring attempts at being shoegaze-y and interesting and fail miserably. So in that sense, it was a very typical emo record with some weird attempts at doing stuff no one wanted their band to be about. If they just stuck to writing jams, this record would’ve been easily top 10.
16. Fetty Wap—Fetty Wap
I don’t even know how to explain this record. Every song sounds exactly the same, and yet, I’m still totally cool listening to all 17 of them. My girlfriend and I drove to Whistler this fall and played this album the whole way and it was about as good of a day as you could hope for.
15. Sufjan Stevens—Carrie and Lowell
This is quite clearly a very excellent record, but one that only plays well when you are either openly weeping or want to begin openly weeping. I tend to be biased against records I can’t enjoy at all times, and this falls in that category. It’s a gorgeously written record.
14. Hop Along—Painted Shut
If you have never listened to a Hop Along song, go to YouTube right now, listen to “Waitress”, and then you’ll probably get it. I have no idea how the lead girl, Frances, got a voice like that, but goddamnit I could listen to it all day. The music is very nice on some songs but fails to catch up to Frances’ emotive wailing on a few others, hence the #14 spot.
13. Kendrick Lamar—To Pimp a Butterfly
Okay so like everyone said this was the best record of the year, but I mean…is it, really? It’s not. It’s interesting, and Kendrick is quite clearly the best rapper alive right now, but I mean, come on. Before the year started, no one was saying “I hope the best rapper alive decides to release a record rapping almost exclusively over weird jazz fusion beats and inspires a trillion thinkpieces by people I don’t give a shit about”. This sounds like I am dumping on this record, and I’m not. It’s really, really good. But I mean, it’s not the best and certainly wasn’t my favorite. Maybe that makes me less of a human being, I don’t know. Whatever.
12. Courtney Barnett—Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
If you had to describe this record, it sounds like nothing that should work. “Australian girl talk-sings over basic pop/rock/punk framework about her life as a queer female, and doing regular things like going swimming and buying a house” sounds like nothing you would want, but son of a bitch does it ever go good. Maybe I like the record even more as a comedian, because she has that thing where you’re listening along and then all of a sudden one line just smacks you right in your heart/throat/balls and the song is all of a sudden the greatest thing ever, and that’s every single song on this thing.
11. Tobias Jesso Jr.—Goon
“How Could You Babe” is a lifetime jam. That’s enough to put this record here on its own, but TJJ’s committal to a mid-00’s Adam Brody hairstyle, dating members of HAIM and kissing Taylor Swift and collaborating with Adele and then putting out a record that sounds like he’s Randy Newman and Michael McDonald’s lovechild is damn good enough for me. Before 2015 if you had said “Cullen you’re gonna put a piano jams record just outside your top 10” I’d have told you to go bang pots but you would’ve wrecked pots for nothing because here we are.
#10-1 will come at you live tomorrow!