Boy, oh boy. Another year behind us. And with the passing of 2015, a whole new group of albums that will be on constant (or at least occasional) rotation for me in the years to come. The following list includes 25 albums that have had some type of impact on me this year- some incredibly pronounced, others not so much- but nonetheless all albums that have affected me throughout 2015. I waited too long to write these descriptions and thus am not incredibly satisfied with much of what I wrote, and I’m truthfully a bit concerned that I’m doing serious injustice to many of the records on my list. That’s why you have to listen to the following albums and form your own opinions… and hopefully you’ll enjoy at least some of my selections as much as I do. Big thanks to Preston for the opportunity to do this, big thanks to 2015 for being a weird and sometimes really shitty but mostly amazing year. Let’s fuckin’ do this.
- Toro Y Moi – Samantha (self-released)
Whenever Chaz Bundick releases a new album, you never know entirely what you’re gonna get. After his genre-defining debut Causers of This came out in 2010, Bundick moved away from chillwave to experiment with indie rock (Underneath the Pine), pop (Anything In Return), and psych-rock (What For?). His latest effort, a previously unannounced mixtape called Samantha, finds the always adventurous musician embracing a more hip-hop and electronic-influenced sound. Multiple guest verses from Rome Fortune and Das Racist’s Kool AD compliment Bundick’s smooth production, resulting in not only a groovy listen, but another successful experiment by Toro Y Moi.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: STONED AT THE MOMA, BENJIMINZ FT. ROME FORTUNE
- Viet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar)
It seems as though ex-Women members Matt Flegel and Mike Wallace could only go a few years after the band’s breakup without making music together again, and thank god for that. Joined by guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen, Viet Cong’s eponymous debut finds Flegel and Wallace staying true to their love for jagged guitars and dark atmosphere. In only seven punishing tracks the band manages to create an aggressively suffocating atmosphere, and by the time “Death”- the record’s 11-minute closing track- ends, you’ll be needing to take a breather.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: BUNKER BUSTER, DEATH
- Alex G – Beach Music (Domino)
Philadelphia singer/songwriter Alex G signed to Domino Records to release his latest album Beach Music, and the fact that a label as big as Domino didn’t release his music earlier is a fucking travesty. Alex G (full name Alexander Giannascoli) has been releasing music on Bandcamp for a few years now, proving time and time again that he has a grasp for melody and lyricism that most Bandcamp artists can only dream of. Drawing well-deserved comparisons to assorted 90s indie rock artists, Beach Music features some of the sweetest melodies and most intimate moments captured on record this year.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: KICKER, BRITE BOY
- Nickelus F & Shawn Kemp – Trick Dice (self-released)
It should be well-known by this point that any project Lil Ugly Mane has his dirty, lean-soaked hands in is gonna be fantastic. Under his production moniker of Shawn Kemp, Trick Dice finds LUM joining forces with Virginia rapper and occasional Drake collaborator Nickelus F, a pairing that results in one of the best mixtapes to come out this year. Nickelus’ flow throughout this tape is mind-boggling, and Shawn Kemp’s production manages to simultaneously recall many of his southern influences while also retaining the unique style that has made him a hero of modern underground hip-hop.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: DA REAPER, EMU (NECK MIX)
- Destroyer – Poison Season (Merge)
If you were hoping that Dan Bejar’s tenth album under the name Destroyer would find him any less cynical, think again. His signature depressing, vague lyricism is as plentiful as ever, as are many of the elements that made his previous releases so encapsulating. Albums like 2011’s Kaputt and 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies cemented Bejar as one of the best songwriters of our generation, and Poison Season finds him reminding us that, yes, he is still here, and no, his prowess hasn’t gone anywhere. His love of saxophone that was showcased on Kaputt remains a frequent theme, but the new record also finds Destroyer venturing into unexplored territory. For example, there are moments across the record where Dan feels far warmer than he has in the past; even comforting at times. And although it’s a bit uncharacteristic to hear him croon, “I know what you’re going through,” that is is no way a complaint when the result is as breathtakingly gorgeous as Poison Season.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: TIMES SQUARE, BANGKOK
- JME – Integrity> (Boy Better Know)
English rapper JME had been releasing fantastic singles throughout the past three years, so when it was finally announced that many of these tracks would finally be collected on a proper album, I was ecstatic. Singles like “96 F**kries” and “Taking Over” have been on constant rotation for me since their release (in 2012 and 2014 respectively), and thankfully the rest of this LP is on par with these songs. JME is one of the most articulate MCs making music today, and there is rarely a syllable he spits that feels indecipherable. It’s a good thing, too; almost nobody is on his level lyrically, and as he spits, “Go on, then, like Joseph said/ I make noise on the road like a koenigsegg,” it only feels like a victory lap.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: 96 F**KRIES, DON’T @ ME
- Beach House – Depression Cherry (Sub Pop)
If your chief concern about a band’s career is artistic growth, you may be getting a bit fed up with Beach House. Although their new album(s!) have been well-received, there’s no denying that the Baltimore duo’s sound hasn’t progressed much since 2012’s Bloom. Thankfully, Depression Cherry is so beautiful that I couldn’t care less. As winter gets into full swing, Beach House have provided yet another perfect soundtrack to snowy days spent huddled under blankets. “Levitation” and “PPP” are especially perfect reminders of what made the band’s work so appealing in the first place: the hypnotic synthesizers, simple yet infectious guitar, and Victoria Legrand’s ethereal vocals prove as encapsulating as ever. Beach House even flirt with a more shoegaze-y sound on the single “Sparks”, one of the record’s most memorable tracks. In the future I hope they pursue that direction further, but for now I’m more than contented with the sound we’ve come to know and love.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: LEVITATION, SPARKS
- Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love (Sub Pop)
These days it feels as though if you’re an 80s or 90s band reuniting whose name isn’t Swans, there’s no way it won’t end in mediocrity. Thankfully, on their eighth album No Cities To Love, Sleater-Kinney only add to what was already a phenomenal legacy. It’s been a decade since the trio’s last album, but their new LP proves that this hiatus has far from diminished their ability to fucking shred. Songs like the title track and “Bury Our Friends” rival the most memorable moments on their classic albums, and No Cities To Love will make even the most skeptical listeners feel like the band never left.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: NO CITIES TO LOVE, PRICE TAG
- Title Fight – Hyperview (ANTI-)
On their third LP Hyperview, Pennsylvania band Title Fight offer one of the strongest shoegaze(y) records to come out this year. The album is filled with incredibly infectious guitar riffs, and also boasts a tight rhythm section made up of brothers Ned and Ben Russin. Hyperview should have equal appeal to both punk and shoegaze kids, and in that overlap Title Fight have made one of the most consistent albums of 2015.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: ROSE OF SHARON, TRACE ME ONTO YOU
- The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Harmlessness (Broken World)
I was a bit nervous leading up to the release of The World Is’ sophomore full-length LP Harmlessness, largely because their debut album Whenever, If Ever has come to be an incredibly important album to me. Thankfully, the Connecticut band gracefully dodged the infamous sophomore slump, and in doing so have made one of the most cinematic albums to come out this year. All of what made their first album so memorable is back and more effective than ever: the group vocals, walls of sound, and incredibly well-written guitar parts run rampant throughout Harmlessness, and the band makes it clear that the two years they took in between records was time well spent.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: JANUARY 10TH, 2014, MAKE MISTAKES
- Erykah Badu – But You Caint Use My Phone (Motown)
I’m as infatuated with “Hotline Bling” as the next internet-obsessed millennial, but I was definitely somewhat skeptical upon seeing that the fantastic Erykah Badu had reworked the Drake single for her new song “HOTLINE BLING BUT U CAINT USE MY PHONE MIX”. Upon listening to the nearly 7-minute song that would eventually be retitled “Cel U Lar Device,” all reservations that I had were vanquished. Badu’s now-classic voice added a whole new dimension to the song, and the mixtape as a whole proved to be just as effective. Her description of the tape as a “TRap & B” project is incredibly accurate, and the sound of the mixtape switches between smooth R&B jams and hi-hat filled bangers effortlessly. And as though that wasn’t enough, we get a fantastic André 3000 verse to boot.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: CEL U LAR DEVICE, HELLO
- Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Style (Matador)
Much like Alex G signing to Domino, Car Seat Headrest- the project of singer/songwriter Will Toledo- signing to Matador is a deal that should’ve happened long ago. Toledo has been releasing gorgeously confessional albums on Bandcamp for over five years now, perhaps most notably 2011’s Twin Fantasy, an album that has come to boast a relatively small but incredibly dedicated fanbase. Teens of Style is not so much a record of new material but rather reworked versions of older songs, yet despite this still manages to feel like a cohesive album. Those of us who have been following his Bandcamp career know that Toledo is one of the most promising songwriters making music today, and with Teens of Style this will hopefully be revealed to a far larger audience; better late than never, I guess.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: SOMETHING SOON, MAUD GONE
- Milo – So The Flies Don’t Come (Ruby Yacht)
On his latest full-length LP, Wisconsin rapper and Hellfyre Club member Milo reminds us (as if we needed reminding) that the Hellfyre collective is one of the most exciting groups of rappers making music today. So The Flies Don’t Come is filled front to back with moody, often-dark production that perfectly compliments his laid-back but simultaneously intricate flow. Milo is as witty lyrically as ever, and, complete with guest spots from Future Islands singer Hemlock Ernst and fellow Hellfyre member Open Mike Eagle, So The Flies Don’t Come is one of the most cohesive hip-hop projects released this year.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: SOUVENIR FEAT. HEMLOCK ERNST, GOING NO PLACE FEAT. EUCLID
- Current Joys – Me Oh My Mirror (self-released)
I was introduced to the music of Nick Rattigan at a house show I attended earlier this year, and- under his Current Joys moniker- Rattigan played one of the best and most powerful sets I’ve seen in quite some time. Me Oh My Mirror has proven just as impactful on me, and this album (which is up for “name your price” on Bandcamp) has been on constant rotation ever since my introduction to his music. The songs are relatively minimal, usually consisting of programmed drums, dreamy guitars, and Rattigan’s vocals. His lyrics, although never incredibly complicated, make me feel in a way that few records have, and his fantastic guitar parts are only an added bonus. Me Oh My Mirror is a beautiful record all the way through, and if you’re planning on listening, get ready for the tears to flow.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: HERE’S TO THE AFTERLIFE, HOME PT. 3
- Eskimeaux – O.K. (Double Double Whammy)
Much like fellow Double Double Whammy artists Frankie Cosmos, Eskimeaux’s music has a deeply personal quality to it, to the point where you feel as though you’re being invasive solely by listening to it. On O.K., we find Gabrielle Smith at her most intimate, and this transparency results in one of the most pretty records you will hear this year. “I Admit I’m Scared,” the album’s third song and one of the best tracks of the year, perfectly exemplifies the magic found throughout O.K.. Smith’s gentle guitar strumming perfectly compliments the sweet tone of her voice, and as she sings “And everything I think/ Should be buried in the ground/ Should be kept inside my head/ But it’s knit into your brow,” I can’t help but internally scream “YES” and feel the most sincere empathy for Smith. The rest of the record incorporates a very diverse range of sounds and influences, but at the core of it all remains what I believe to be the most crucial aspect of the album: Smith herself.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: I ADMIT I’M SCARED, THE THUNDER ANSWERED BACK
- Carly Rae Jepsen – EMOTION (Interscope)
No, shut the fuck up. I’m serious. This isn’t about “poptimism” or some need I have to include a top 40 pop album on this list to show how “diverse” my listening habits are. The only thing this is about is an incredibly consistent, infectious, and well-produced album that I’ve been jamming to nonstop ever since I initially and begrudgingly clicked play. Any song on EMOTION could be a hit single, resulting in one of the most consistent pop albums to come out in recent times. There isn’t a hook on here I couldn’t sing from memory, and if you’re willing to overlook Jepsen’s often-shallow lyrical content, the songs will be stuck in your head as well in no time.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: I REALLY LIKE YOU, BOY PROBLEMS
- Hop Along – Painted Shut (Saddle Creek)
On the band’s sophomore album Painted Shut, Hop Along showcase some of the most gripping songwriting you’ll hear this year. Frances Quinlan has a voice like no other; first hearing her reminded me of my initial exposure to Karen Dalton or Joanna Newsom, and, just like these artists, Quinlan’s work only gets better with repeated listens. This LP is filled with amazing guitar playing and emotionally devastating lyrics, and if you’re not in tears by the end of “Sister Cities,” you just don’t have a heart.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: WAITRESS, SISTER CITIES
- Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Top Dawg)
Do I really need to give justification for the inclusion of this album on my list? If anything, what you’re probably wondering right now is why Kendrick Lamar’s latest album is sitting at the measly number eight spot. I’ll do my best to answer that question via descriptions of the remainder of the list, but there’s no doubt that the majority of year-end lists you’ll see features K-Dot sitting at a much higher spot. To Pimp A Butterfly has a larger-than-life quality to it, mainly because many of the issues Kendrick decides to address aren’t issues that can allow themselves to be taken lightly. Add on the record’s 80-minute length, impressive slew of guest collaborators, and Kendrick’s non-stop display of technical prowess, and you’ll start to get an idea of why To Pimp A Butterfly is one of the most celebrated albums of our generation, and even of all time.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: ALRIGHT, MOMMA
- Pinkshinyultrablast – Everything Else Matters (Club AC30)
It’s not often that you hear about a Russian shoegaze band; it might even be less often that you hear about a Russian shoegaze band that is this fucking good. However, it would be doing a disservice to Pinkshinyultrablast to let their country of origin define them. The band’s debut full-length Everything Else Matters is leagues ahead of their American counterparts, and establishes that they will be the shoegaze outfit to watch in coming years. The guitar sounds the band employs on Everything Else Matters, paired with huge choruses and the dreamy vocals of singer Lyubov, result in one of the most refreshing shoegaze releases of the past decade.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: HOLY FOREST, LAND’S END
- Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching (Exploding In Sound)
Krill forever… or so we thought. Earlier this year the trio announced that they would be breaking up, but not before releasing their third album A Distant Fist Unclenching. The Boston-based group has developed a cult following for their jagged brand of indie rock that draws influence in equal parts from genres like noise rock and post-punk, and- although they will be sorely missed- their new album is as good a note to end on as any. A Distant Fist finds the band building on their fondness for odd time signatures and anxiety-ridden lyrics, and the album is definitely a somewhat unsettling listen. That being said, many of the songs on here are surprisingly catchy, and you’ll be coming back for more in no time.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: PHANTOM, TIGER
- Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop)
Josh Tillman has been one of the year’s most talked about artists, and for good reason. His second LP under the Father John Misty moniker is a triumph perched on the edge of love and apocalypse, creation and destruction. In covering these themes Tillman brings in a wide range of sounds, incorporating everything from larger-than-life choirs (“When You’re Smiling and Astride Me”) to piano-driven ballads (“Bored In the USA”). Despite this diversity of sounds, I Love You, Honeybear is an incredibly cohesive LP, and every individual track brings something new to the table. Some points on the album make me laugh out loud while others bring me to tears, but, I guess when we consider than Tillman is writing about the love of his life and the end of the world, it’s no surprise that some powerful emotions are brought on.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: CHATEAU LOBBY #4 (IN C FOR TWO VIRGINS), WHEN YOU’RE SMILING AND ASTRIDE ME, BORED IN THE USA
- Royal Headache – High (What’s Your Rupture?)
If what you’re looking for in a new album nowadays is a wholly original sound, turn back now. On Australian band Royal Headache’s sophomore album High, their brand of garage rock-y power-pop won’t be the most unique sound you hear this year. Instead, the band turns to absurdly catchy choruses and well-crafted tunes to win you over, and I fell for that strategy hard. At only ten songs and not even 30 minutes, High comes and goes in a whirlwind of huge, lovesick choruses and fuzzed out guitar melodies. Maybe because of the short length or maybe because of the quality of the album I can’t help but spin this at least a couple times per sitting, and it hasn’t gotten stale yet.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: MY OWN FANTASY, HIGH, CAROLINA
- Death Grips – The Powers That B (Third Worlds)
Maybe this is an unfair pick because the first half of Death Grips’ double LP came out last year, but The Powers That B is ultimately too good a record to leave off of this list, haters be damned. There hasn’t been a Death Grips album yet that has disappointed me, and their new album is no exception. The trio push their polarizing hybrid of hip-hop, punk, noise, and electronic music further with every release, and on this album there are moments where Death Grips (arguably) reach their most visceral. Featuring far more live instrumentation than earlier releases, I think this change in sound works heavily in the band’s favor, and songs like “On GP” sit comfortably among the best tracks they’ve ever released.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: UP MY SLEEVES, THE POWERS THAT B, ON GP
- Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
I will forever be a bit skeptical of people who don’t enjoy Sufjan Stevens’ latest LP Carrie & Lowell. The album is undeniably gorgeous, featuring 11 tracks of Sufjan’s gentle vocals and delicate guitar work (with occasional keyboards), a minimalist formula that he hasn’t worked with since 2004’s Seven Swans. In many ways it feels like Sufjan is returning to his roots with this album, in more ways than just his musical approach. The album centers thematically around the childhood summers he spent in Oregon visiting his biological mother Carrie and stepfather Lowell, as well as his reaction to Carrie’s relatively recent death. The result is one of the most heartbreaking albums to come out in recent memory, as Sufjan doesn’t hold back any details, no matter how personal. It seems paradoxical that an album made through such anguish should sound as pretty as Carrie & Lowell; perhaps this dichotomy is what creates the magic of the record.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: DEATH WITH DIGNITY, SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER, FOURTH OF JULY
- Joanna Newsom – Divers (Drag City)
If you know me in real life (or even only via social media), chances are that upon seeing my number one pick you’re thinking to yourself, “Of course! Of fucking course. Real unpredictable, Ben. Bravo.” I will be the first to admit that Joanna Newsom is my favorite artist of all time, and that I had high hopes going into her fourth LP, Divers. However, my obsession with her aside, I truly believe Divers to be a near-flawless album and one wholly deserving of the number one spot on my list. This is the Joanna album for those who have never listened to her before: none of the winding epics of Ys, far shorter than the over-two-hour-long opus that is Have One On Me. Instead, on her new album Joanna opts for more traditional song structure and album length, but I hardly think this hinders her creativity. She also embraces a far more diverse range of instrumentation, and songs like “Leaving the City” feature what can only be described as a rock n’ roll drum beat. Lyrically she has outdone herself yet again, and much of the writing on Divers focuses around the concept of time- perhaps best summed up on the opening track “Anecdotes” as she sings, “anecdotes cannot say what time may do”. I have too much good stuff to say about this LP, as I usually do about Joanna’s work. All I can say is that this album has had a huge impact on my life ever since its release, so give it a listen- maybe it’ll have the same effect on you.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: ANECDOTES, SAPOKANIKAN, DIVERS
Written by Ben Weinstein