10 of the Best Albums of 2015

It’s easy to be cynical about modern music, especially when one is assaulted by an onslaught to forgettable, faceless radio-friendly pop songs on a daily basis. The truth is that there’s always great music out there, and one needs only the will to do a little digging to find it. Hopefully, this list might make that digging a little easier on you, dear reader. These are 10 of the best albums of 2015, in no particular order.

1. Poison Season by Destroyer

Canadian indie veteran Destroyer follows up his dreamy ’80s synth-pastiche Kaputt with something more indebted to the great singer-songwriters of the 1970s, like David Bowie, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and even soul crooner Curtis Mayfield. Bejar’s lyrics are as poetic and opaque as ever, but he knows how to create a unique soundscape for each song — even those that begin quietly balloon into something sonically intriguing.

2. To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s last album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City made him one of the biggest names of rap, founded upon dense, thoughtful storytelling as well as radio-ready hooks in tracks like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Backseat Freestyle.” With this album, instead of trying to duplicate the accessibility or the thematic touchstones of Good Kid, the rapping wunderkind turns his focus inward and places an emphasis on spoken word poetry and the entire realm of African American musical history. Helped along by talents like George Clinton and Thundercat, Kendrick made another album that lures listeners in with a few hooks before ensnaring them in its fascinating narrative and thematic threads.

3. I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty

Father John Misty’s latest album is his most accomplished yet, a breakup album as rich in heartbreaking, poignant lyrics as it is in lushly orchestrated musical accompaniments.  Tillman, on his second album as Father John Misty, uses his smooth baritone to belt out lyrics that feel by turns clever and touchingly openhearted, so individual and yet so universal for anyone who has ever experienced the pains of love lost. The album would be great as an acoustic affair, but it’s all the better for its shifting instrumentation, swelling and receding as naturally as love’s ebb and flow.

4. Lost Themes by John Carpenter

Have you ever listened to the Halloween theme song and marveled at how simplistic yet effective it is? Well, get ready for an entire album of Halloween theme song, from horror maestro and Halloween director John Carpenter himself. The director, who scores the majority of his own films, released an album of unused film scores, which compact neatly into instrumental songs. Plodding drums, razor-sharp electric guitar chords and retro-futuristic synth sounds combine to create a series of engrossing tracks that will make you feel as though you’re entering a haunted house or a dystopian future.

5. Something More Than Free by Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell follows up his stellar, emotionally earnest 2013 effort Southeastern with another alt-country masterstroke. His latest still sounds affectingly personal without being quite so depressing as Southeastern (one of its standout tracks involved a friend slowly dying of cancer). Isbell alternates deftly between compelling melodies in both acoustic and full-band tracks, most of them relating to themes of rebuilding a life after some emotional devastation.

6. Don’t Lose This by Pops Staples

A major but mostly unheralded figure in the influential R&B and gospel genres during the ’60s and ’70s, Roebuck “Pops” Staples passed away at the end of 2014, but not before recording the material for this amazing album of soulful reflections. The crisp production makes the whining blues guitar and Staples’s weathered voice sound immediate, as though the late singer were performing live in your living room, reflecting on his faith and on his life.

7. In Colour by Jamie xx

Even if you’re not a fan of most electronic dance music (and I’m not), it’s hard to resist the textured productions and instrumental hooks employed by Jamie xx on his first solo record. He understands the value of layered production as well as the atmospheric loveliness of silence. Lest you doubt his versatility, the album retains an overall sound throughout its many mood shifts, allowing for collaborations with lyricists, swaying ballads and, yes, irresistible dance anthems.

8. Sour Soul by BadBadNotGood and Ghostface Killah

Canadian jazz band BadBadNotGood have been flirting with hip-hop themes in their previous instrumental albums, and in Ghostface Killah, they find a lyricist worthy of rapping over their creative yet tight jam sessions. This album is almost tight to a fault, as a second is never wasted, which means every track is filled with nifty lyrics and niftier musical interplay. There’s simply an excess of talent on display here, and it deserves an excess of praise.

9. The Magic Whip by Blur

After a dozen years of hiatus, Britpop superstars (who were always more talented than their dated genre label might suggest) Blur reunite for a record that not only doesn’t ruin their legacy but in fact adds to it. As with their best albums, The Magic Whip strikes a healthy balance between sonic exploration, synthesizing the diverse influences that led Damon Albarn to create the Gorillaz, and lovingly played melodic rock.

10. Predatory Headlights by Tenement

One of the best rock bands you’ve never heard of released a sprawling double album that made their lofty ambitions flesh. Predatory Headlights presents a series of strong hooks and excited, competent playing, all combined into a package that feels beautifully complete while still leaving you wanting more. Tenement betrays their punk roots to explore interesting, ambitious new directions throughout the album, and it’ll be interesting to see how they expand their playing and production on follow-ups, provided they gain the following necessary to keep the little-known band going.

Follow Jeff Rindskopf on Twitter @jrindskopf

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