This is a fairly rough-and-ready guide to what most made me happy in the music world from the year that was. In no particular order, I’ve outlined some of my favourite records from 2015 (albums as well as EPs), and I’ve also compiled a list of very impressive offerings from the year that didn’t quite make my personal Top 10. As such, this selection of course a completely subjective and in no way definitive or claiming to be. There’s also no doubt I’ll have missed a good deal of great music from the past twelve months – there’s just too much of it out there…
2015’s been a year packed with a lot of excellent and varied stuff. Let’s hope 2016 is as good or, heck, even better. Happy listening and Happy New Year!
Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose your Weapon | This genre-fusing four-piece broke into 2015 with some style. A second album released by the “future soul” quartet hailing from Melbourne was put out in May, and it still sounds like one of the year’s freshest and most enjoyable records. With its skittering percussion, spacey production and warm, lively vocal harmonies, Choose your Weapon is an album that’s both shifting and complex, as well as instantly accessible.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly | Lamar has seriously expanded both his sound palette (the time he’s spent with Flying Lotus & co seems to have rubbed off in places) and the scope of his music project with To Pimp a Butterfly. To say the album’s had an impact is an understatement – the subject of some knee-jerk right-wing media controversy when its video was first released, ‘Alright’ even became the de facto anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement when it was chanted by protesters this year at a Cleveland demonstration in the face of police coercion. For some maybe not as absorbing on the whole as Good Kid MAAD City, and perhaps a bit overlong in certain stretches, there’s still no denying how accomplished and consummate a work of political art this is.
Floating Points – Elaenia | Sam Shepherd’s five-years-in-the-making debut is nothing short of brilliant. Even after months of having the thing on repeat, the album still throws up many surprises and small gems in its fastidious attention to detail and magisterial execution – a quiet masterpiece.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell | Many were expecting this year’s Sufjan Stevens offering to be something of a low-key and understated affair. And in some ways it was – a deeply personal album, named after his troubled parents, that saw the singer-songwriter return to his indie folk roots. But Carrie & Lowell exceeded those commentators’ predictions in so many ways. As far as its songwriting is concerned, Carrie & Lowell is one of the best albums of its kind that I’ve heard in a long while and the devastating emotional power it unlocks hasn’t worn away one bit since its March-time release.
Bjork – Vulnicura | The Icelandic singer stormed back with this close-to-home album on the struggles of undergoing a break-up. She’s understandably not everyone’s cup of tea, but this dark, glittering stone of a record takes you along with it on a harsh emotional journey in an undeniably gripping way. Some of the vocal work on Vulnicura, moreover, is just breathtaking. It’s up there for sure with some of her best work.
Julia Holter – Have You in my Wilderness| A dreamlike, beautiful sequence of eclectic ballads from the Californian singer-songwriter and composer. Vasquez is probably the standout on the LP for me, but there’s not a weak song on the entire album.
Oddisee – The Good Fight | Amir Mohammed el Khalifa’s soul- and pop-flavoured hip hop outing had a touch of other practitioners’ work about it (Andre 3000 and De La Soul spring to mind), albeit woven seamlessly through this newer voice’s project (though, Oddisee is no spring chicken – this is his 10th studio album). The Good Fight brings a grounded sense of realism and a positive energy to a genre of music that’s had no shortage of negative press over the years, and which has been backdropped by the year’s escalating racial tensions in the US. One of 2015’s most enjoyable, without a shadow of a doubt.
Hunee – Hunch Music | On the back of a winning performance year for the Japanese-born, Amsterdam-residing DJ and producer – one that saw him finish as highest newcomer in Resident Advisor’s reader-choice Top DJs of 2015 poll – it can be quite easy to forget about the excellent LP he released in the summer. Unlike the often disco- and soul-heavy live sets he’s enthralled so many crowds with this year, the record isn’t stylistically clear-cut at all, though it retains a sense of groove and stirring depth that aren’t out of line with these roots. Hunch Music is a surreal, captivating journey that – a bit like Floating Points’ Elaenia – carves out its hallucinatory path in a space somewhere in between the dancefloor and a more conventional studio album.
Joanna Newsom – Divers | After a five-year gap between her last album, Have One on Me, and this, it was always going to be interesting to see what Divers (whose title track has been knocking around in different live forms for years now) would throw up. With as devoted a fanbase as Joanna Newsom appears to have, this hasn’t really created too much of a problem for the musician – but, naturally, expectations were raised. Happily, she loses none of her lyrical richness and complexity on Divers (fans have spent many hours compiling all its various references and sources), and she also manages to weave some really interesting stylistic threads into its fabric – medieval instrumentation, an almost neo-baroque sensibility and country rock are all part of the album’s unusual make-up. Anecdotes and the closer Time, As a Symptom of Love, in particular, are both stunning.
Thundercat – The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam* | One of the EPs that made the cut this year was this “mini album” from Thundercat (to many, the bass guitar maestro behind Flying Lotus’ manic album You’re Dead from 2014). This record is a warm, part-psychedelic sequence of tunes, with elements of hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk all part of the heady mix. What’s more, Thundercat’s falsetto vocals and his formidable improvisation skills enable the music on this offering, when performed in a live setting, to take on a whole new mesmerizing power.
Miguel – Wildheart
Four Tet – Morning/Evening Side
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Arca – Mutant
Justin Bieber – Purpose
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
Hudson Mohawke – Lantern
William Basinksi – Cascade/The Deluge
Grimes – Art Angels
New Order – Music Complete
Kelela – Hallucinogen*
Levon Vincent – Levon Vincent
Call Super – Migrant*
Girl Band – Holding Hands with Jamie
Harvey Sutherland – Bermuda*
Tame Impala – Currents
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Bicep – Just*
John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
Anthony Naples – Body Pill
Midland – Double Feature*
Roots Manuva – Bleeds
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
Nils Frahm – Solo
Mac DeMarco – Another One
Martyn – Falling For You*
Erykah Badu – But You Caint Use My Phone
Young Thug – Barter 6
Khruangbin – The Universe Smiles Upon You
Kamashi Washington – The Epic
Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
Roman Flügel – Sliced Africa*
Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Beach House – Depression Cherry
* These are EPs technically, but I just couldn’t leave them out.
Tommy Greene is The Last Round’s culture editor. To hear more from Tommy, you can follow him here.