Let me start by saying that I did not select Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly as my favorite record of 2015. So this list at least has some novelty going for it. I read as many as five different lists from major music publications with Kendrick Lamar foisted up as the best tent-pole record of the last year. Hey, I liked the record as much as the next guy… okay, maybe not quite as much as the next guy since it’s not even on this list. Let’s just say I liked it fine, but it didn’t hold my attention the way that these 25 records did. It wasn’t ever played on repeat. My kids don’t subconsciously know the lyrics to “King Kunta,” (I’m awaiting my Father of the Year award. Please don’t take the “Baby Got Back” situation into account.) and I don’t own it on vinyl. That’s maybe the true test these days. Did I like the record enough to pick it up on vinyl? I’d wager that almost all of these records wound up in my vinyl stacks.
Also, my apologies for the lateness of this list. You probably don’t care about 2015 anymore and that’s gravy. But in my Killer Jams list I promised a subsequent Best Albums list. I don’t break promises. No, that’s not true either. I occasionally forget about promises, but I do not intentionally break them. Forgetting and willingly refusing are two completely different forms of betrayal.
30 Hz 25 Best Albums of 2015
…and yes I still call them “albums.”
Adele, Alabama Shakes, All Dogs, Amason, Beach House, De Lux, The Decemberists, Father John Misty, Floating Points, Joanna Newsom, Lower Dens, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Ratatat, Sleater-Kinney, Wolf Alice.
25. Wilco – Star Wars
And on the seventh day, Wilco created Star Wars, the record nobody f’ing new about. One day it just appeared, a fluffy white cat on the cover, apropos absolutely nothing. I thought I was being pranked, quite honestly. I didn’t take it seriously at first. Then slowly the album opened up. I just kept coming back, uncovering new moments of that rough and irascible Wilco beauty.
24. The Districts – A Flourish and a Spoil
Pitchfork f’ing hated this record. There’s your reason to give these guitar-driven pop rockers a chance because screw them.
23. Ryan Adams – 1989
I’m not sure I understand why Ryan Adams covered an entire Taylor Swift record and I’m not sure I care anymore. It is what it is. I feel conflicted for choosing this record for the countdown, but only because I know that Taylor Swift is lording over this production, taking credit for the whole thing. Just like the James Bond uber-villain Blofeld that ruined Spectre. Hrm. I might be onto something there. Taylor Swift = Blofeld. Something to digest.
22. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?
Majical Cloudz dropped a lovable, huggable, notable debut a few years ago. For this release, they’ve taken the undercurrents that teased greatness, thrust them up by their petards and made subtlety the focal point of Are You Alone?
21. Lord Huron – Strange Trails
This CD has resided in my car since purchase. It’s survived rotations and purges and cleanings and rotations. Yet, still, it remains. The sneakiest best record you’ve ever heard.
20. Hop Along – Painted Shut
The most songs on my hits list without a formal representative on the Killer Jams countdown. Is this a consolation prize? Maybe a booby prize. Is it spelled “booby” or “boobie”? And which is the name of the Blue-footed bird? Off to Google.
Back from Google. “Booby” is both the prize and the bird, and the term “boobie” is strictly reserved for, as the Urban Dictionary describes, “the best damn things since sliced bread. They bounce and jiggle and warm and squishey! Boobies, the most wonderful things of all.”
Update: I’ve just heard from Hop Along’s lawyer and they’re demanding to be removed from this list.
19. Best Coast – California Nights
I once was a hater. Now I believe in the soothing, self-aware alt-Beach Boy sounds of Best Coast. Also, consider the image of a hipster seagull in a trucker hat sipping a can of beer through a straw. Maybe he’s a fan. I like to think so.
18. Doomtree – All Hands
Records like this make me want to give good dap. Records like this make me want to learn what “dap” actually is. Because it all sounds very complicated and though I spent quite a few years living in the city of Detroit, I’m still very Caucasian and easily confused.
17. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
This album deeply rewards repeat, meditative listens while flat on your back next to the record player. Katie Crutchfield will always have my ear.
16. Jade TV – Parallel Moments
DIIV waited until next year to release their follow-up so this Jade TV LP satisfied my jangle-guitar cravings. And then along the way somewhere I realized that this was actually just a stellar record on its own accord. Fleet and melodic jangle to warm your crankiest cockles.
15. Natalie Prass – self-titled
Prass’ perfectly fragile, retro-styled vocals are only undermined by the confidence with which she blends ‘60s-era pop music with folk and country. The former Jenny Lewis bandmember struck out on her own in 2015 and released her self-titled debut record and an accompanying EP of stripped-down live cuts – on which she not only dared to cover Grimes but also successfully updated Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” with an optimistic backbeat and keyboards.
14. Bop English – Constant Bop
Heard some babble on XMU about this record being the cat’s pajamas. I was like, yeah, right, because the White Denim guy could ever produce something I cared about. Well, as it turns out the White Denim guy can churn out a record I care about and it’s accessible and layered with tremendous alt-pop vocals and more than worth your time.
13. BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
The only consistently great Wu-Tang MC collaborates with Toronto’s BADBADNOTGOOD to create the most original and compelling Wu-related record in years. BADBADNOTGOOD’s organic, jazzy orchestration conjures warm and fuzzy notions of the Stax era. This is both the future and the past of hip-hop.
12. New Order – Music Complete
I bet you forgot that Duran Duran also released a new record this year. Maybe the New Wave /Post Punk/Electronic veterans are right. Maybe this is the only record you’ll ever need. Long live the New Order.
11. Pure Bathing Culture – Pray For Rain
Pure Bathing Culture is a sonic massage at the frequency of 30Hz. There’s something about the way this Portland synthpop duo spins yarns that results in subliminal bliss.
10. Susanne Sundfør – Ten Love Songs
Listening to Ten Love Songs is like pushing a reset button on the day. Whatever happened before has been forgotten. What is yet to come remains the distant future. There is only Susanne Sundfør’s soul, laid bare and backed by lush orchestration, synth (an occasional organ dirge) and an intermittent beat of killer proportions.
9. Tame Impala – Currents
Yawn. Everybody has this on their year end list. But for good reason. Yet, I’m different because I’ll always add the caveat that Tamp Impala’s record was great… but Unknown Mortal Orchestra bested them at their own game. See #3.
8. Guantanamo Baywatch – Darling… It’s Too Late
I’ll pimp this record until someone goddamn listens to me. Buddy Holly met Dick Dale and said “Let’s rock this joint, Dicky Dee.” Also porpoise sounds.
7. Holy Holy – When the Storms Would Come
Holy Holy assaulted my Hits list with six songs. Six. That’s more than half the record that struck me as list-worthy during the year of 2015. Toss these Aussies a few bucks. Download the record. You won’t be disappointed. This is the most underappreciated record of the year.
6. Swami John Reis and the Blind Shake – Modern Surf Classics
Classic surf guitar. I’m all about this mini-surf guitar revival that’s happening right now. If this guitarist from Rocket From the Crypt is the man to do it, I’m listening and I’m making surf guitar sounds with my mouth and it’s not pretty.
5. Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School
Neon Indian (Alan Palomo) is a man out of time, out of place. In 2015, Palomo remains an anomaly forced to the fringe of success despite pumping out resplendent records like VEGA INTL. Night School, an assemblage of tracks that gathers Giorgio Moroder, Prince, Scritti Politti, dancehall-era Blondie, and maybe even The Police and Depeche Mode for a barroom brawl of contrasting styles and personalities. ‘80s nostalgia most often takes on the veneer of kitsch, as if the decade can’t be admired without a sense of irony. Neon Indian dispels this notion by celebrating the 1980’s artificial soundscape with liberal sampling, pitch shifting, thumping bass and synths, synths, and more synths – my god, he said with a hushed whisper, the synths.
4. Carly Rae Jepsen – E*MO*TION
You’re goddamn right Carly Rae Jepsen is #4. This is the best pure pop record I’ve heard in years. She’s also single handedly trying to restore the good name of Canadian-born artists now that Justin Bieber’s filth has tainted the Great White North.
3. Unknown Mortal Orchesta – Multi-Love
Bested Tame Impala at their own game. See #9. We should just be lucky to have both of these records in our lives. Backward-thinking, artsy instrumentation for the indie-pop set.
2. Grimes – Art Angels
Another yawner choice. I’m sorry. I’m sorry! Grimes is great.
Grimes : electronic music :: Batman : crime fighting.
1. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
What? You thought I have a surprise waiting for you here?
I want to be more creative. I want to pull some revelation out from my hat of obscure artists to shock and amaze you, reader. But I’d be a liar if I said I listened to any record more than I listen to CHVRCHES’ Every Open Eye. And despite radio/media omnipresence, CHVRCHES frontwoman Lauren Mayberry remains a refreshing, candid personality in contemporary music. Not even my obsessive 3yo and 6yo, each of whom requested this record every time we got in the car, could kill this buzz for me.