10. Beach House – Depression Cherry/Thank Your Lucky Stars
The title of the latter record is especially applicable since we got not one but two albums of gorgeous, atmospheric pop from Beach House. The Baltimore duo is constantly transporting me to new places, and both albums were like extended vacations.
9. Algiers – Algiers
After consuming more music in 2015 than any year prior, I still haven’t found a band that sounds as fascinatingly nonconformist as Algiers. The Atlanta trio take influences from all over the world and refine it into something powerful, exciting and slightly disturbing.
8. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Plenty has been written about this Fort Worth kid made good. But just because everyone knows doesn’t diminish what he’s accomplished. Somehow Bridges is only 26, yet he’s made a vibrant soul record that more than earns any comparisons to Sam Cooke. That doesn’t happen by accident. That takes practice, dedication, luck and a supreme talent.
7. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and I Sometimes I Just Sit
The year’s best songwriter is this 28-year-old Australian, who uses sarcasm as a cudgel and masterfully conjures brilliant turns of phrase seemingly out of thin air. But the best part is she’s only getting started.
6. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
The year’s best pop album is worth every bit of hype. Jepsen should have been a one-hit wonder with 2012’s “Call Me Maybe.” But this album is everything pop starlets are trying to be: sexy yet innocent, weary yet hopeful, bold yet catchy. While others had varying degrees of success, Emotion is great front-to-back, including the slowed-down friendzone jam “All That” and “Let’s Get Lost,” which Michael Jackson could have easily recorded back in 1991.
5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
He’d shown hints of it before, of course. But Sufjan has never released an album as nakedly emotional as this one. Reflecting on the death of his mother, and the complex emotions that come with losing a woman who was never really around to begin with, Carrie & Lowell is often bracing in its vulnerability, with a shout of “F— me, I’m falling apart!” as the biggest gut-punch.
4. Tame Impala – Currents
The Australian band honed their sound even more, creating a lush soundscape that helps the often devastating lyrics go down much smoother. There are very few guitar licks, replaced with terrific layers of keyboard and electronic swirls. It’s like it stepped right out of the ’70s instead of just pretending to be from the ’70s.
3. Seryn – Shadow Shows
I saw this Denton band twice in 2015: once at an intimate, enthralling show at the Kessler. Then later at the smaller, dingier homecoming show at Dan’s Silverleaf. Despite losing a member (the first included their brilliant violinist, the second did not), the band didn’t miss a beat. The four years in between albums were worth the wait. Shadow Sounds find them tweaking their unique sound into something even more gorgeous and polished than before. But that polish doesn’t change how genuine the emotions they evoke in you.
2. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
The album’s sixth track, “Bored in the USA,” is no mere pun. Like that Bruce Springsteen album, this is a perfect capture of a moment for young white men, relating to their universal struggles while mocking those that need to grow up already. But if you’re married, the album is even more resonant. His highs and lows match my wavelength as well.
1. Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
It shouldn’t have worked. A musical about one of our lesser-known founding fathers, featuring all hip-hop originals? No way. But Lin-Manuel Miranda didn’t give away his shot, turning Hamilton into the toast of Broadway with a brilliantly told story that is epic in scope with tragedy, romance and, well, rap battles. There are also echoes that are still heard today – in both micro and macro – with tracks about the limits of honesty, whether or not to interfere in ongoing wars, and the direction our country is headed. It’s a daunting album, but engaging throughout. In the best way, it makes me feel patriotic.
Honorable Mentions (Yes, I did 50 of them. Sue me.)
The Amazing – Picture You
Beach Slang – The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us
Justin Bieber – Purpose
Blur – The Magic Whip
John Carpenter – Lost Themes
Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi
The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
EL VY – Return to the Moon
Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect
Gollay – Built for Love
Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness
Hop Along – Painted Shut
Jason Isbell – Something More than Free
Janet Jackson – Unbreakable
Jamie xx – In Colour
Tobias Jesso, Jr. – Goon
Jóhann Jóhannson – Sicario (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Junkie XL – Mad Max: Fury Road (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Lianne La Havas – Blood
Darlene Love – Introducing Darlene Love
Laura Marling – Short Movie
Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers
Miguel – Wildheart
Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves
Ashley Monroe – The Blade
The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ
Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
Matt Nathanson – Show Me Your Fangs
Neon Indian – Vega Intl Night School
New Order – Music Complete
Mike O’Brien –Tasty Radio
Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
Josh Ritter – Sermon on the Rocks
Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
Shamir – Ratchet
Joan Shelley – Over and Even
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
Chris Stapleton – Traveler
Title Fight – Hyperview
Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Torres – Sprinter
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf
Twin Shadow – Night Rally
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin’ down
Butch Walker – Afraid of Ghosts
Wavves – V
Wilco – Star Wars