Best Music of 2015CoS Exclusive FeaturesHotStaff Lists

Top 50 Albums of 2015

on December 02, 2015, 12:00am
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There are years in which some albums rise significantly above the pack, a bundle that so far outshine the rest that we can fill out a set of 50 relatively easily. And then there are years like 2015, years in which it seems every writer’s ballot felt entirely unique. Each draft of this list seemed to miss out on a couple dozen albums that our writers could convincingly and passionately argue needed to make the cut — or even jump to the top.

That’s true, too, of every single genre; no matter what type of music you’re into, the year featured more than a few absolutely stellar records. Some were smash hits we’d been anticipating for a long time while others popped up seemingly out of nowhere. Some artists helped us escape from reality and find absolute beauty, and some brought us face to face with the world in all its brutality. No matter what the circumstances, though, 2015 was a year driven by artists expressing their own unique truths, no matter what boundaries stood in their way.

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joanna newsom divers50. Joanna Newsom – Divers

The only fair comparison while discussing Joanna Newsom appears to be Newsom herself. Most reviews of her latest work are limited to the singer-songwriter’s own discography in seeking points of contrast, and for good reason. Newsom’s delicate voice is unparalleled in the indie music landscape, and her harp work is a striking alternative to a vast sea of familiar sounds. In Divers, her fourth full-length album and the first since her marriage to Andy Samberg in 2013, Newsom mines the depths of potential grief in a series of prescient ballads that explore the tender bliss of love — but more so what it might mean to one day have it taken away. Peppered with mythological references and anchored by vocals that are simultaneously present and of another world entirely, Divers eschews the more operatic overtures of its predecessor, Have One on Me, to steep in solemn and gorgeous brevity. –Zack Ruskin

Buy: Amazon

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White-Reaper-Does-It-Again49. White Reaper – Does It Again

Garage rock has become as blurry a genre definition as anything since its recent resurgence. But if you want something fuzzy, loud, and lick-tastic, there were few albums in 2015 that did it with the flair found on White Reaper Does It Again. Even fewer managed it with the type of pop-minded hooks that you can hear on tracks like “Pills” and “Candy”, where something akin to surf rock gets chewed up in the distortion of a punk band. Perhaps, though, that’s really the core of the sound we’ve come to consider garage. More than just a matter of quick, pummeling cuts screaming out the glories and pitfalls of drugs, girls, and growing up (though there’s plenty of that), it’s about sweat-drenched elation. As keyboardist Ryan Hater told us himself about White Reaper’s sudden rise over the few months, “The only way to put it is that it’s just incredible fun. It’s exceeded all possible expectations.” For an upstart band from Louisville to put together a collection of joyous ear-splitters like this, there’s really no better description to be made. –Ben Kaye

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Angel Haze back to the woods48. Angel Haze – Back to the Woods

Throughout an often testing, tragic, brutal year, the hip-hop world has delivered some of the best protest music in recent memory — the kind of stuff that speaks truth to power, eases some of the weight, and insists upon its own existence. On Back to the Woods, Angel Haze takes on that tall order on a much more personal basis. The raw-nerve record feels entirely necessary, the kind of thing that they needed to produce to keep going. With the help of Tk Kayembe, they scratch and dig at every open wound, exposing every insecurity, pain, and struggle. Though the results are often remarkably dark and claustrophobic, there’s a powerful escapist energy to songs like “Angels & Airwaves”, in which Haze fights off suicidal thoughts. “Every time I howl, wolves come, and you get bit,” Haze adds on “The Wolves”. They’re simultaneously a lone wolf, wandering the desolate wilderness, and a mystic warrior, capable of tearing anyone apart who stands in their way. That dichotomy might seem fragile or messy, but the ferocious rapper somehow fuses those disparate halves together, both fragile and invincible at once. They’re the kind of example that can bring strength to anyone in their darkest days, a force unafraid to face the world’s pains head on. –Adam Kivel

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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majical cloudz are you alone album stream Top 50 Albums of 201547. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?

Majical Cloudz’s Devon Welsh can say the wrong thing. On his third full-length collaboration with Matthew Otto, Are You Alone?, there are a handful of lines that say too much, are too on the nose, or feel awkward in their nakedness. But even in these moments, the album and the project are more admirable than anything. There is a fearlessness in Majical Cloudz lyrics, pushed front and center where the arrangements can never bail out Welsh’s blunt sentiments. And this makes any lyrical missteps more than forgivable; they are collateral damage for a noble battle from the duo. They give Welsh the freedom to wax poetic about a desire to connect, the human need to both know and be known, and the beauty that can be found in something as simple as the interaction between people. These concerns, Welsh’s wide-eyed delivery, and the warm melodies result in incredibly human music, songs that empower in their risk of failure, trading the occasional corny moment for countless honest ones. –Philip Cosores

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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fidlar new album46. FIDLAR – Too

Saying out loud that a band like FIDLAR has “matured” comes off the tongue weird. Perhaps that’s why the shelf life of many a party punk band is decidedly short. On Too, FIDLAR show that they aren’t just your average party punk band. The album features their first outside producer in Jay Joyce, and he adds a tempered flow to the LP that allows FIDLAR’s indie-to-punk ricochet to flourish. The details in percussion and textures on songs like “40 Oz on repeat ” and “Overdose” far outmatch the patience displayed on the California outfit’s past recordings. Some of this new maturity was quite literally a matter of life or death. Having overdosed three times within a month, lead singer Zac Carper pulled together and has stayed sober over a year now. A good chunk of Too reflects on these trials and tribulations, and as evidenced by Carper’s admission in our cover story earlier this year, “I still want to kill myself every day, but you know, that’s part of life,” the demons are still very present. With Too, FIDLAR have shown they can party with the best, sober up, and be able to make some sense of it all. Hopefully they have passed their darkest hour. –Kevin McMahon

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Asap rocky new album45. ASAP Rocky – At. Long. Last. ASAP

A$AP Rocky traveled to SXSW this year to hype his pending sophomore release. While in Austin, he also carved out some time to indulge in the trappings of his fame through a series of acid-spiced orgies. And it’s this combination of business and pleasure, hustle and flow that makes At. Long. Last. A$AP one of 2015’s most entertaining and creative records. It’s also one of the most psychedelic hip-hop albums in recent memory. Coming off the heels of 2013’s guest-heavy Long.Live.A$AP., A.L.L.A. continues the trend of bringing friends along for a fantastic voyage. Whether it’s the Mark Ronson-produced “Everyday”, which finds Rocky sharing vocal duties with Miguel and Rod Stewart, Juicy J’s infectious “Wavybone” featuring UGK (RIP Pimp C), or standout appearances by ScHoolboy Q, M.I.A., and Kendrick Lamar, A.L.L.A. has the feel of an all-star game. But even with so many competing voices, Rocky still manages to stand out as the champ, especially when he combines his merry prankster and merry gangster personas on “L$D”. –Dan Pfleegor

Listen: Spotify

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Hop Along new album44. Hop Along – Painted Shut

Hop Along have steadily been a “band to watch” for a couple years now, centered on Frances Quinlan’s volatile voice and an even sharper knack for kicking the listener in the gut with her songwriting. After a handful of promising releases, Painted Shut , their first album for Saddle Creek, delivered on nearly every measure. The album combined the band’s indie rock and pop punk influences in a way that was truly explosive. Quinlan crafted songs about anxiety, depression, and mental illness, providing a nuanced look at all those issues while still retaining the group’s nervous tension that propel their material. While Quinlan stunned on tracks like “Waitress” and “Happy to See Me” with her vocal acrobatics and the band followed suit with impassioned performances, a second look revealed the crushing poignancy behind the lyrics. Some songs turned the most fleeting life experiences into the most intense ones, and others used restraint while depicting the most horrifying experiences, all with a similar undercurrent of tension and nervous energy throughout. Hop Along blew away expectations on Painted Shut and left little doubt that they will be able to do so again. –David Sackllah

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Prurient new album43. Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls

Dominick Fernow has been recording under the Prurient moniker since the late ’90s, all of it culminating with the release of his magnum opus, Frozen Niagara Falls. Through the amorphous template of synth and harsh noise — Fernow’s specialty, taking inspiration from the works of Merzbow — the album is a poetic journey through the human condition and plays out like a noise-industrial symphony. Fernow plays the doomed protagonist, unleashing death metal howls across various sonic palettes. Laced with metaphor and symbolism, his pain is vaguely personal and always existential; some tracks sound like a lament to lost love or some personalized, selfish lust, while the harsher pieces sound like Fernow is channeling the collective anguish of the entire human race, almost in rejection of his aforementioned narcissism. Frozen Niagara Falls is a difficult album because of its absolute darkness, but when listened to in the right mood, it’s a poignant reminder of our imminent demise, which is strangely comforting. –Jon Hadusek

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Bully Feels Like42. Bully – Feels Like

Bully’s Alicia Bognanno is so honest it hurts. Each song on her band’s debut, Feels Like, feels like candid snapshots from life’s harshest moments. On “Reason”, she sings, “I thought that he would never hit a girl/ But I guess you never know/ And that’s the world.” It’s a startling confession in the middle of a jaunty punk track, but even more jarring is the unaffected way in which she delivers the line. She sounds jaded and over it. Later, on “Trying”, she recalls praying for her period to come and questioning everything about herself. But in each song she emerges from these depths to deliver a powerful, howling chorus. The context makes these soaring moments feel even more life-affirming. She’s seen the lowest lows and rises above with a “fuck you” attitude and a sense of fight. Her screams and guitar assaults just get more and more visceral throughout, coalescing into the band’s guttural, namesake closer, “Bully”. Bognanno is preaching the truth, and the truth isn’t always nice. –Dusty Henry

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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How Big How Blue How Beautiful album cover41. Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

On Florence and the Machine’s third LP, Florence Welch ended her three-year-plus hiatus by showing that less could absolutely be more, musically and lyrically. Teaming up with producer Markus Dravs (known for Björk’s Homogenic, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, and Mumford and Sons’ Sigh No More, among others) led to simpler, cleaner arrangements that highlighted Welch’s powerhouse vocals. The record also made Florence and the Machine a must-see festival headliner throughout the summer, as Welch jumped, twirled, and sang her way into the hearts of thousands of fans across the world. And how could she not? Lyrically, she proved to be as sharp as ever, crooning through grandiose metaphors for self-destruction (“Ship to Wreck”) and heartbreak (“Queen of Peace”). How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful also ran the gamut from its loud moments to its quiet respites, from the energizing riff and monstrous drumbeat of “What Kind of Man” to the contemplative, mournful “Long & Lost”. –Killian Young

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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