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Top 50 Albums of 2015

on December 02, 2015, 12:00am

Vince Staples - Summertime '06 album10. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

“Life is the important part. This isn’t the important part. The music will never matter without life. So life is the important part,” Vince Staples told NPR in an interview promoting his absolute stunner of a debut album, Summertime ’06. In an Instagram post depicting the album’s cover, he listed those he had lost, starting in the year of the title, the year he turned 13. These, he notes, are just some of the names. There are too many to count.

This is the world he reproduces in his songs, one that can be taken away at a moment’s notice. While so much art runs on a warm wave of nostalgia, Summertime ’06 gets sucked under in its tides, reminded constantly of the numerous tragedies in Staples’ rearview, some much nearer than others, the line seemingly unending. But he’s watching the road ahead too, taking on recurring issues of racism, the prison complex, and, occasionally, brief glimpses of hope for a world of peace, love, and sunshine.

Few artists deliver double albums this wholly formed, this coolly confident, this emotionally resonant, let alone as debuts. But Vince Staples does just that, taking an incredibly powerful step into the spotlight. –Adam Kivel

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The Most Lamentable Tragedy new album09. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

It begins with a discordant sunrise; there’s a 12-note chord glowing with ambition coupled with deeply found disillusionment and frustration. From there, the 93-minute epic that is Titus Andronicus’ striking The Most Lamentable Tragedy grabs listeners by ear and heart alike, as Patrick Stickles and co. guide them through the cathartic and manic journey of Our Hero, the main character of 2015’s most remarkable rock opera. Contained within is a story of immense inner struggle and outward sexual vexation that feels both very personal to Stickles and refreshingly welcoming to those coming to terms with adulthood in 2015.

In our interview with Stickles, the singer-songwriter acknowledges his wish to be understood as an artist, and it’s with The Most Lamentable Tragedy that he succeeds. Through the album’s weaved-in allegory that spotlights his own manic depression, Stickles openly invites listeners to examine his struggles as well as their own in a truly Shakespearean effort to involve both artist and audience alike in a communal process to achieve both self-realization and self-acceptance.

With every listen and subsequent analyzation, The Most Lamentable Tragedy storms with new loves and deep-rooted troubles. Once passed, the trick isn’t unearthing yourself from the debris to search for something better, it’s situating yourself with all the remaining pieces, old and new, with the knowledge that while more struggles lie ahead, you’ll be able to handle them a little better each time.

Titus Andronicus Forever. –Sean Barry

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Sleater Kinney Sub Pop Reunion

08. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

There’s a script for reunion albums. They bring you back to the good old days, or if you weren’t alive for a band’s peak, they draw you into a back catalog you might never have otherwise explored. Sleater-Kinney was only on hiatus for a decade, but their return kicked off the year in rock with a triumphant crash. No one saw this coming — not even them.

No Cities to Love exhibits a tuned-up version of the Sleater-Kinney that called it quits after The Woods in 2005. The album’s production is brighter, crisper, a little more refined, though it all only serves to show off how unhinged Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein can get on the frets, how raw they can make their voices when pressed. The record, in a way, is about settling down — about realizing your limitations as a musician and as a person, and making peace with them — but it flows with as much adrenaline as it would if Sleater-Kinney were actually bent on world domination.

Tucker and Brownstein, along with Janet Weiss, have always written songs about each other, but No Cities to Love plays like a love letter to the band as a community in itself, as well as all the communities it’s inspired around it. It’s worldly but never cynical, and it knows that there’s no one tougher than the person who’s learned how to stick with her friends for the long haul. There’s no new wave, no music revolution on the horizon; there’s just the people you love and how well you’re able to love them.  –Sasha Geffen

Listen: Spotify

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D'Angelo Black Messiah

07. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah

Prior to last winter, news of D’Angelo’s long-awaited third album felt like nothing more than rumors. That changed in December on a dime when D’Angelo returned with his first album in 14 years, the masterful Black Messiah. The album was initially slated to come out in early 2015, but D’Angelo decided he had to make a statement while watching the grand jury refusing to indict the officer who shot Michael Brown. “The only way I do speak out is through music,” D’Angelo said in a statement.

Black Messiah came out weeks later and served as the protest album America needed at the time. The record was remarkably current, with songs like “The Charade” and “1000 Deaths” speaking out on the current state of race in this country, but also timeless, as the soulful funk of “Prayer” or “Betray My Heart” could have come from any decade in the past half-century. Black Messiah was a triumphant record, with songs like “Really Love” or “Ain’t That Easy” marking some of the heights of the reclusive legend’s career. Given the deaths of Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray, not much has changed in the past year.

Sadly, the themes on Black Messiah will always be relevant, and a year later, the record already feels like a classic that has been a part of the cultural landscape for much, much longer. Few records are worth a 14-year wait, but Black Messiah was something special, a work that could only come from the circumstances of its time yet exists outside of it by being familiar, refreshing, and essential. –David Sackllah

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The xx - Jamie xx - solo new album06. Jamie xx – In Colour

What does the inside of Jamie Smith’s (aka Jamie xx’s) mind look like? What part of his psyche guided him to connect one disparate sound to another, creating the glorious, seamless patchwork that is In Colour? No other album this year was both so strangely comforting and brilliantly original, from the hushed, intimate “Loud Places” (featuring Romy Croft, his bandmate from The xx) to euphoric bangers like “The Rest Is Noise” to the steel drum waltz of “Obvs”. Is this dance music? Sure. But to put it in a box that narrow feels like an injustice, because this is music for any variety of verbs. This is music to laugh to, to run or walk to, to drive to, to be alone to or with someone else. Its utility is endless.

Thanks to contributions and samples from dancehall vocalists to jazz drummers and everything in between, In Colour is also an album that can be hard for music purists to listen to without the Wikipedia page open. However, this is the only way in which its content is esoteric — you don’t need to know that the sample in “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” is from a 1971 song by The Persuasions to be able to love it. Smith’s musical instincts on display in this record prove themselves to be almost 100 percent flawless, and In Colour succeeds in being both cultured and populist.

In Colour is indisputably a technical marvel, but it’s also an album to love and cherish and revisit, an album that is difficult to tire of no matter how many times you spin it. Amid a swirl of industrial-grade bass, the kind you feel down to your bones, vocal tracks and samples that can sometimes be elegant and other times border on the comical, In Colour is like a layered confection, each level sweeter than the last. –Katherine Flynn

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