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Top 50 Albums of 2015

on December 02, 2015, 12:00am

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - After album20. Lady Lamb – After

For someone who took five years to go from writing to releasing her debut album, Lady Lamb sure moved quickly on the follow-up. Thankfully, the speed of After coming together only translated to an album fully more immediate than its predecessor. Aly Spaltro’s songwriting skills have matured intensely, as evident on tracks like “Violet Clementine” that stretch from tinny banjo to stark gang bridges to beautifully sinister horns, somehow remaining whole at the end of it all. She’s long demonstrated a deft hand at moving from quiet to loud and back, but the expansive arrangements found on “Spat Out Spit” and “Vena Cava” awe with their daring range. Yet for all the magnificence you can pick out in the multi-instrumentalist’s musical skills, her lyrics are still what make her such a wonder of a songwriter. Whether reflecting upon days gone by with her siblings (“Ten”) or the moving simplicity hidden within the crowds of major cities (“Billions of Eyes”), her songs are consistently filled with nimble wordplay and a smirking nature. There are dozens of twentysomethings attempting to offer insight into their lives, but few manage it with the talent and honesty of Lady Lamb. –Ben Kaye

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Natalie-Prass-SB006-Cover-Art-Lo-Res-119. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass

A candy-voiced Nashville singer-songwriter has trouble gaining a foothold in the music biz, moves back to her hometown to collaborate with her high school friend, and records a critically acclaimed debut album. This is the lore behind Natalie Prass’ self-titled introduction, laid down at Richmond, Virginia’s, Spacebomb Studios. The nine-track album is cast with an air of melancholy, but Prass’ persona is too bright and fresh to ever let things get too grave. Songs like “Bird of Prey” and “It Is You” are catchy and memorable as hell, and if you’re self-conscious about singing lyrics like “It has all been a ruin without you” to yourself under your breath, well, don’t be. Much has been said about the album’s lush string and horn arrangements and Prass’ “Disney princess” voice (“somewhere on the spectrum near Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Janet Jackson,” wrote Grantland), but what really seals the deal, aside from the three dozen musicians that contributed to the album’s jazz orchestra sound, is Prass’ confidence in her delivery in the face of all that romantic uncertainty. –Katherine Flynn

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districts_flourish_LP18. The Districts – A Flourish And A Spoil

The Districts rarely make it through an interview without the journalist remarking on the ages of the band members. They have nobody to blame but themselves, though. This is what you get when you craft a near-perfect guitar album before all the guys in your band can even legally buy a drink. Their full-length debut, A Flourish and a Spoil, produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Modest Mouse), runs the gamut across 10 songs: from stop-and-go rallying (“4th and Roebling” ) and fuzzed-out melodies (“Peaches”) to lo-fi acoustics (“6 AM”) and a sprawling jam (“Young Blood”) – each song its own animal but of the same genus and roaming together instinctively. Much of the album deals with the frustrations of growing up in a small town, which frontman Rob Grote lays bare on “Suburban Smell”. With only an acoustic guitar and the palpable weariness in Grote’s voice, we are left feeling all the disgust, defiance, and desperation of a young man who refuses to fall into a life that’s beneath him. How old are these guys again? Remarkable. –Matt Melis

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Windhand-grief-infernal-flower17. Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower

Windhand perfected their brand of majestic doom metal on Grief’s Infernal Flower. Opening with a pattering of rain and distant thunder, it’s that rare record that can enclose the listener in its general ambience, temporarily transporting us to a world of catharsis and ominous romanticism. Frontwoman Dorthia Cottrell has established herself as one of the most idiosyncratic voices in metal — her deep croons beautifully placed atop crushing stoner-doom rhythms and down-tuned guitar sludge. Windhand move between pop songs (“Two Urns”, “Crypt Key”), sparse folk (“Sparrow”), and droning epics (“Hesperus”, “Kingfisher”) to create both an emotionally vast and sonically diverse record, which has, to no surprise, crossed over and earned favor in alternative music circles outside the doom circuit where Windhand have been a mainstay. There’s a power and realness to Grief’s Infernal Flower that transcends labels and genres, a universal sadness that’s palpable. –Jon Hadusek

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Bjork new album Vulnicura16. Björk – Vulnicura

The irony of Vulnicura’s early release, which was thrust into the clutches of the Internet before its time, is that amid the ravenous demand of fans eager to hear the latest from Björk, stood an artist who has perhaps never felt more alone. Vulnicura is a breakup album like Björk is a pop artist: both defy conventions and choose the unfamiliar path at every fork in the road. In collaboration with Arca and The Haxan Cloak, Björk lays bare the timeline of a failed love, taking listeners from the beginning of the end in “Stonemilker” through to an ambiguous, fractured hope found in the album’s final three tracks. Björk’s co-producers make their presence felt, layering stuttered percussion and electronic blemishes atop pristine strings as the story unfolds, culminating in the 10-minute ruin of “Black Lake”, a devastating coda to a romance’s demise. But true to life, the album goes on. By the time the final notes of closer “Quicksand” dissipate into silence, we are not left in mourning, but looking forward, the future unknown but a future nonetheless. –Zack Ruskin

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DanDeaconGlissRifferCVR240015. Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer

Dan Deacon’s album openers are usually thematic apéritifs for the sonic buffet that’s about to follow. The zany Spiderman of the Rings started with a chuckling Woody Woodpecker laugh while Bromst built up a lot of dense voices into a very small area. But now, with polished and maturated opener “Feel the Lightning”, Deacon demonstrates that Gliss Riffer is ready to pick up where LCD Soundsystem left off. The album’s title was partially inspired by the musical notation glissando, which represents a glide from one pitch to another. This makes sense, as the record shifts, bends, and rips apart during “Mind on Fire” and “When I Was Done Dying” before quilting itself back together into a marvelous pocket protector symphony. The title is also a call back to Deacon’s music conservatory days, where he first learned how to shred sheet music in order to confront his own anxieties about art. This cathartic deconstruction continues on to great effect across the frenetic pace of “Sheathed Wings”, the surprisingly atmospheric loops of “Meme Generator”, and the worldly vibe of “Take It to the Max”, proving that Deacon will continue on making plenty of noise. –Dan Pfleegor

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Circuit des Yeux - In Plain Speech new album14. Circuit Des Yeux – In Plain Speech

To say that an artist “finds their voice” on a particularly outbreaking exhibition might sound like a passive compliment, too polite and unspecific to hang a hat on, but in the case of In Plain Speech, Haley Fohr’s best work as Circuit Des Yeux, it’s true on levels. Yes, Fohr has an incomparable singing voice that can hit a seismic vibrato or an immobilizing saturation, and yes, she’s been focusing on it for years. But it’s the way that In Plain Speech manages to eschew obvious sonic and structural templates and still sound totally deliberate with every step that reveals a detectable voice, and not just a vocal prowess, within Fohr. Long, temperate passages that explore the limits of strings suggest wheel-spinning, up until Fohr calmly uncorks a devastating lyric time and again to reassure that she’s taking us somewhere — we’ll know where when we get there. Indeed, In Plain Speech is anything but. –Steven Arroyo

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Protomartyr-agent-intellect13. Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect

The Agent Intellect explodes on impact. Spiny post-punk opener “The Devil in his Youth” finds vocalist Joe Casey venting in strained, muted moments, revealing the many shades of gray that make up utter anguish. Exorcising his demons, near frantic to elude the Reaper, he sings about a suburban boy’s cushy upbringing that loses ground over time. While Intellect draws its title from a philosophical idea about how our souls grasp the concept of immortality, it actually surveys a landscape littered with the agency of everyday life. For all of its melancholy, the Detroit foursome sing about consuming loss with big-grin rebounds of “I Forgive You” and “Pontiac 87”, because self-restoration is always a good excuse to flip that middle finger and start dancing. “There’s no use being sad about it/ What’s the point of crying about it?” It’s a sneering approval of the Forrest Gump-style clichés that people resort to at times. It’s clear the only way Casey can move on is by pulling pain from the depths of his internal puddle, face it heart first, and reflect. Drawing on the death of his father, and his mother’s Alzheimer’s, “Why Does It Shake?” tackles the illness, while the love song “Ellen”, told from the perspective of his father to his mother, eschews one major facet of Protomartyr’s genius — the brilliance beneath the punk-roar. Befriending mortality makes you feel more alive. –Lior Phillips

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TORRES-sprinter-1500x150012. Torres – Sprinter

Mackenzie Scott begins her second album as Torres in a fury and ends it in a deep melancholy. From “Strange Hellos” to “The Exchange”, Sprinter dives into the extremes inherent in burning away your past and coming into your own present — to finding a place to house the ashes of the person you used to be. Deeply informed by Scott’s Christian upbringing in Macon, Georgia, Sprinter neither disparages nor unilaterally embraces faith. Torres seeks out the paradoxes and contradictions in her own life as both an earnest follower of Christ and a young musician trying to speak truth to her struggles. She renders the upheavals between who she was and who she is with a newfound intensity, wailing over grunge guitars on “Sprinter” or musing on loneliness on “Ferris Wheel”. From old enemies to objects of unrequited love, Scott holds everything in her gaze with deep compassion. She learns to feel compassion for herself, too. Finding yourself is an empty pursuit unless you can accept what you find, and on Sprinter, Torres extends an offering of peace to herself and everyone she sees. –Sasha Geffen

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Father John Misty11. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Love is equal parts connecting with an individual and overcoming your personal hangups, and no one has captured those dueling aspects of 21st century romance better than Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty. Self-deprecating and caustically amusing, I Love You, Honeybear confronts modern American amour with an almost ironic irony; on the astounding “The Ideal Husband”, Tillman lists out his flaws over frantic instrumentals, only to ask for his paramour’s hand at the end. His barbs aren’t reserved just for courtship, either, as finding your place in love runs parallel to understanding your place in the world. On the instantly iconic “Bored in the USA” and the postmodern “We Didn’t Start the Fire” of “Holy Shit”, Tillman deconstructs his surroundings with the sort of despondent satire Millennials only strive for. But he can also be incredibly tender, as on the title track and the achingly sweet “Chateau Lobby 4 (in C for Two Virgins)” (there may be no more passionate verse written all year than the final bridge of the latter). Witty and articulate while staying compositionally miles ahead of any indie folk rock album of the year, this could easily become Father John Misty’s masterpiece. –Ben Kaye

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