The year 2015 is over, and Monsters and Critics’ music team of editor Kieran MacIntyre and writers Bella Elbaum and Ethan Goodman looked back and selected the best of 2015 albums for you to check out:
30. Diät – Positive Energy
The title of this record may seem like a bit of a misnomer but there is this a whole lot of energy on the East Berlin band’s full-length debut, just isn’t entirely positive. The quartet has a snarling post-punk sound that recalls early Christian Death and fellow German outfit Crux Ansata but Diät has a lot more to add to the genre’s canon than most of their contemporaries. Much like their labelmates Total Control did last year, Diät came out with a well-rounded debut that shows versatility and unwavering sneer.
Tracks on Positive Energy are teeming with sharp sarcastic meditations on the world, well-effected guitars that lay mood as well as the often dark subject matter, driving bass lines that could make Peter Hook proud and some badass work on the drums (the opening drums on “Toonie” are a must). When the band leans more on the punk side of things on tracks like “Schadenfreude” it makes you want to start a circle pit in your dark bedroom, or when they provide a thought-provoking examination of being a work drone on “Young & Successful” the tension is almost transfixing. Diät came out with a record that gives me hope for the often hackneyed world of post-punk and surpasses what to expect from a band of that genre. – Kieran MacIntyre
29. The Soft Moon – Deeper
I had the pleasure of seeing Luis Vasquez, otherwise known as dark wave auteur The Soft Moon, perform earlier this year in LA and his show, much like his music, is an atmospheric reverie that borders upon sweet oblivion. I’ve been a huge fan of his two previous records and here with his impressive third full length, Deeper, he has crafted an eerie sound that is inviting as much as it is isolating.
Vasquez takes post-punk, new wave, EBM and industrial a la 80’s Berlin; throws it into a blender and out comes an analog electronics powered music that has tactile darkness pouring out of it. Sure, hurl whatever goth tropes you like but the Bay Area savant does one thing here most forget to do, actually set a goddamn mood that is believable.
Whether it’s the frantic, pathos-laden getaway synth pop of “Far” or the stark oblivion of “Wasting,” or even the noisy, arpeggiated gloom of “Desertion,” Deeper is an album that takes no comfort, offers no solace to its woes but instead dives, as the name suggests, deeper into Vasquez’ exercise in desolation and despair. It was nice to see Vasquez’ vocals a little more present here than on his previous records, which were certainly more laconic than this work. Ominous yet alluring, Deeper sets a mood that doesn’t go away easy and invites its listener to gaze into abyss rather than escape it. – KM
28. Dr. Dre- Compton
After much anticipation and waiting, Dre finally released his “last” album and it weaves through so many different styles and era’s that Dre has been through in his rap career. It’s obvious that the influence is there from all the talented musicians that he has worked with in his long and successful time as a producer. With old school artists that Dre grew up with like Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube, alongside newcomers Kendrick Lamar and The Game, there is an interesting combination of sounds and styles that compliment each other. New and old are coming together to teach and inspire one another. The record encapsulates Dre as a human being and the progress and mark he has made so far in the music world. – Bella Elbaum
27. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Listening to a three-hour jazz album to some may seem like an onerous task, but with Angeleno Saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington’s masterful work here on The Epic, it’s a true treat for anyone who enjoys the wide spectrum of jazz. With all the attention Kendrick Lamar and his opus To Pimp A Butterfly got, the incredible musicians behind that record also garnered much praise, especially Washington and his signature tenor sax. Any music snobs can tell you how popular music is indebted to jazz, but you know they’re right. Lamar’s record, like many Dilla or Nujabes works, was a beautiful blend of hip hop and jazz, and he made sure to cull the best young jazz players in the game, Washington being an especially good grab.
Here on the aptly titled Epic, Washington turns an homage to Coltrane, the 70’s era of Miles Davis and soul jazz into a three-hour aural journey, replete with some of the finest instrumentation you’ll ever hear on a jazz record. Whether it’s the myriad solos or how all the instruments coalesce, every piece on this record is as delectable as the last. The trade soloing of “Miss Understanding” showcases a phenomenal sax solo from Washington, whose deft playing is enough to win over even toughest critic of jazz. It is comforting to know jazz is back into the conversation of modern popular music, and what Kamasi Washington did here is remind this generation how important it is, this was absolutely the best jazz record of the year, if not this decade so far! – KM
26. Joey Badass- B4.DA.$$
I was first introduced to Joey Badass about four years ago, and I immediately knew that this kid was going to go far. He is throwback to old school 90’s east coast rap. Reminiscent of groups like De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest. Songs like “Paper Trails” perfectly combines that modern hip hop/rap sound that we expect with the old school sound that many grew up with and respect. Tunes like, “Big Dusty” don’t really have a specific slot in which it can be put in. It’s a mixture of hip hop and slightly ambient music. Joey is a young kid that is one to watch. he is slowly making giant leaps forward into the hip hop world and he is bringing some tricks to the table. – BE
25. The Chemical Brothers–Born In The Echoes
Born In The Echoes gave The Chemical Brothers a chance to show us what they’ve learned over the years, an opportunity they took with aplomb, offering up a tightly wound variety album with tracks ranging from bangers (Sometimes I Feel So Deserted), Nu-Disco (Go), 60’s psyche jams (I’ll See You There), ballads (Wide Open) and the angular new wave of the title track. What’s even more impressive is that rather than drifting from single to single, they make these disparate elements work together, creating a cohesive and dynamic experience. As always, the duo lay deep grooves and incredible textures, but this time most all of them take the form of proper pop songs thanks to well placed guest spots from the likes of Q-Tip, Beck and Annie Clark (St. Vincent). It’s adventurous in all the right places without ever playing it too safe or going too far off the deep end, and as always, we’re treated to acid bass lines, playful, intertwining rhythms, squelchy filter sweeps and enough depth to keep our attention. – Ethan Goodman
24. Neon Indian- VEGA INTL. Night School
1980. Miami. Clubs. Dancing. And miscellaneous other adventures. That is the essence of this record. Every single track on this record makes you want to get on your neon shoulder padded blazer and dance through some smoky lights. With songs like, “The Glitzy Hive” that are extremely reminiscent of the not so innocent times of disco to synthesizer buzzing grooves like “Techno Clique” this entire record is like taking a time machine back to the 80’s. Alan Palomo really brings out the true meaning of the Miami Vice era that we all think of, and twists it into his own unique and modern sound. – BE
23. Hot Chip–Why Make Sense?
Hooky as all hell, Hot Chip have once again proven they’ve got a handle on the indie-dance scene, stringing together an album that is confident, bouncy and layered. It’s rife with disco grooves, percussive synths and enough vocoders to make Daft Punk blush. Killer vocal performances all around are bolstered by a solid verse from Posdnuos (De La Soul) and the touching-yet-smirk worthy piano ballad “White Wine and Fried Chicken.” Most impressively is the way they balance themselves, with no one element overshadowing the other and, while the sounds are killer and the songs solid, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. – EG
22. Beach House – Depression Cherry
A late night drive through Los Angeles listening to this record in it’s entirety made the drive itself ten times more surreal and introspective. Sure, those are easy words to associate with the Baltimore duo’s music, but with Depression Cherry they have created their most intimate work yet since the much lauded Teen Dream. The way Victoria Legrand’s ethereal vocals are imbued in these dense compositions, whether front and center or buried under bruised electronics, is something to behold. A personal favorite of this record is the slow burning, penultimate track “Bluebird,” this song plays like a slow dance standard played in a burning dancehall. This is a record that is gorgeous and personal from start to finish, more of an album experience than the Thank Your Lucky Stars record that was also released this year (though the latter had incredible tracks like “Majorette” and “She’s So Lovely,” which will totally melt your heart). Depression Cherry plays like a dream, and every part of it is hypnotic as it is alluring. – KM
21. Grimes – Art Angels
Ever since Grimes put out her breakthrough 2012 album Visions, nobody could guess what she would do next. After scrapping an album’s worth of material and releasing a precarious single meant for Rihanna “Go,” the future of Grimes was uncertain. Though earlier this year, she uploaded a video for an unreleased demo, which she said was not going to see an album release, and that was the insatiably catchy “REALiTi,” which is the kind of track that showcased a new, confident pop accessibility and her signature leftfield production. The same can be said for her fourth record, Art Angels, which came out after a few more enticing singles (the bubblegum pop banger “Flesh Without Blood” and the idiosyncratic, Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes featured “Scream”) following “REALiTi,” a lot of the stuff here shows Grimes, real name Claire Boucher, indulging in this syrupy, worldly pop music with her typically subversive approach.
The loud and proud fervor of “Kill v. Maim” is a huge standout of the record, if the cheerleader-esque refrain doesn’t make you want to jump and scream, you have no soul. The bouncy midtempo jam “California” is another great track to showcase Boucher’s seemingly volitant vocals, which hits a register never attempted or even imagined.
Whether it was urging her fellow Canadians to not to vote for the Stephen Harper (who lost to the Justin Trudeau-led Liberal party, ICYMI) or returning with one of the most fun, empowering pop albums to come out in a long time, Grimes has returned new and improved, and her fans seem to be on board, along with the many new ones she has made this year. – KM
20. Colleen Green – I Want To Grow Up
It’s easy to think Angeleno guitarist/singer Colleen Green as a cynical conjurer of stoned power pop, but on her third full length I Want To Grow Up, she wryly examines her own anxieties with hook-heavy precision, showing impeccable candor. Her second album to spin off a Descendents album name (her debut was titled Milo Goes To Compton), Green pulls together tracks that would not feel out of place at a Highland Park house show, putting goofy parody in equipoise with young adult existentialism.
“TV” was a fun track to enter the record through, a sort of tongue in cheek ode to the idiot box as a means to escape the pangs of young stress whereas “Deeper Than Love” weighs the meaning of “love” and “forever” with far more astute words. Green represents the new wave of indie music to come out of Los Angeles, a burgeoning scene showing great potential and she is someone to look up to in that crop. At her funniest or most poignant, Green is the acerbic, dry humor imbued musician we need, because with this record, growing up has never sounded so cool. – KM
19. Laura Marling- Short Movie
Marling is a quaint and quiet woman that everyone secretly wants to be. She looks and makes music that you would expect from a mystical creature like a fairy and she is philosophical and analytical in every word that she speaks. It is obvious in her lyrics that she is one of those people that feels every emotion harder than the average person. On the track “Warrior” Marling is strong and stoic and the subject matter is serious against her beautiful and precise finger picking. It is evident that this album is something that is very dear in her heart and she is putting front and center her life struggles that she has gone through and is going through. The record is not one that is particularly uplifting, but it is so raw and real, and it’s a relief to hear someone talk so openly about these pains that helps others know they’re not alone. – BE
18. Wilco–Star Wars
Opening with a mathy, noise rock instrumental, Wilco used Star Wars to prove that they were more than just dad rock. “More…” juxtaposes Beatles melodies with fuzzy riffs and feedback while the bouncy “Random Name Generator” manages to make classic Wilco sound fresh and exciting. “You Satellite” establishes a quiet Krautrock groove on which they build until it becomes a flurry of drums and fuzz while “Taste the Ceiling” sees them return to alt-country roots. Over its 33 minutes, Star Wars covers all the ground that made classic Wilco records like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot while creating a fresh direction for an old band, and for what may be the first time ever, it sounds like they’re having fun. – EG
17. Hop Along- Painted Shut
Hop Along is a band that has been around for a good little while now and are finally starting to get the recognition that they deserve. Painted Shut is their very first album with Saddle Creek records and it has been everything that anyone could have hoped for their newest release. It’s indie, pop punk-y and an interesting journey into the mind of lead singer Francis Quinlan.
Touching on subjects of different mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, etc. she is still able to keep the band focused while retaining and intensity that is indescribable. “Happy to See Me” is one of the tracks that is most heartbreaking and beautiful. Her vocals are absolutely mind blowing while the lyrics themselves touch on life experiences that most people have gone through. This record is one that you listen to yourself so that you can soak in the essence and meaning of what it is all trying to convey and tell you. – BE
16. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Very few artists have a catalog as replete with versatility as Sufjan Stevens, though even fewer could make a record as stripped down and as touching as Carrie & Lowell. A notable departure in aesthetic for Stevens, Carrie & Lowell is a melancholic, minimal record dedicated to his late mother, whom he had a precarious relationship with, and his caring step-father, who is running his independent label to this day; recalling the stylings of Elliott Smith, Stevens here predominantly sings in a delicate whisper that barely hovers above the skeletal production, but that’s the beauty of this album, it makes up for the dearth of noise by filling it with honest elegies.
Moments like “Fourth of July” can be lachrymose while the penultimate “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” can be galvanizing in it’s honesty, Stevens has always been known for his brilliant lyricism, but with this kind of weight upon him for the past couple of years since her passing, what comes out is something so much more than good writing. This album is not a downer, as much of the ephemera may suggest, this is a magnificently crafted opus that relishes in honesty in memory rather than embellishing it, regret transmutes to acceptance and Carrie & Lowell comes out as Stevens’ best work yet. – KM
15. Shamir- Ratchet
I’ve said this before and I will keep saying it because everyone in this galaxy needs to know. Shamir is the most adorable person ever created and it helps that that kid has got some serious talent. This entire album is just so f**king fun. Put it on while you’re getting ready for a night out and I can guarantee it will get you pumped and ready for whatever your adventures of the day/night are. Though the album is fun, it also is serious and touches on issues of growing up as an African-American kid who is gay. Shamir in his very unique and high pitched voice calmly and with confidence tell us in “On the Regular” “Don’t try me I’m not a free sample.” Blatantly putting his stance on how he wants to and does not want to be treated in the ferocious dating world. His combination of electronic, rap, pop and his incredible voice is something that needs to be acknowledged and people should be on the lookout because I can assure you that this is not the last we have heard of Shamir. – BE
14. Earl Sweatshirt–I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album
Dark, claustrophobic, paranoid and honest–the title says it all for this album. It’s raw, stripped down and focused, spending most of it’s short run time writhing about in gritty, stuttering beats, a washed out surf guitar, haunting synths, detuned piano and Sweatshirt’s vivid, twisting rhymes. It feels like a fuzzy, opioid blanket has been wrapped over everything–detached and minimal with nothing to prove, Earl breathes slow like every word hurts. Depressing, yet somehow comforting, the record flows from start to finish without breaking the atmosphere it so quickly developed. – EG
13. Tobias Jesso Jr–Goon
Appearing out of nowhere, debut album Goon proved Tobias Jesso Jr. to be a piano man for a new generation. Stripped down, classic songs balance emotional choruses with fun, kitschy verses whose timelessly catchy melodies fit comfortably with Jesso’s timid voice and simple piano parts. While these two elements act Goon’s backbone, distant drums, doo-wop guitars and Tin Pan Alley orchestral flourishes bring heft and dynamics to the mix, with tracks like “Crocodile Tears” reaching Bowie levels of drama while “Can We Still Be Friends” is as understated as some of Randy Newman’s best work. Goon has proven that there’s always room for another good songsmith and storyteller, regardless of the current trends. – EG
12. FKA Viet Cong–S/T
Post-Punk aesthetics with Fleet Foxes harmonies, experimental textures, biting lyrics, driving grooves and a healthy dose of reverb. On their self titled debut, Viet Cong lay dynamic, labyrinthian structures that can go from crushing noise drones to a vibrant, dreamy wash in a matter of seconds. Their angular riffs and feedback are kept inviting by way of psychedelic, 60’s styled melodies which carry lyrics like “if we’re lucky/we’ll get old and die,” hilarious, depressing and painfully honest. It’s a heady blend of riffs and intellect, introspective and calculating without ever losing the visceral nature found in the best punk. The seven songs transition gracefully, covering enough ground to prove that post-punk is still a genre with plenty of room for growth, and hopefully, FKA Viet Cong will continue to carve that path for us. – EG
11. Oneohtrix Point Never- Garden of Delete
I was only introduced to Oneohtrix Point Never this year and he has already become one of my favorite electronic artists. His Newest album, Garden of Delete has had an astounding response and this record has really put his name out on the map even more than before. This album is much different from his previous ones and features a variety things that OPN hadn’t done much of before. It’s an album that is not the easiest to dance to and sometimes it makes your body want to move in really weird directions, yet the story and picture that he is trying to paint is a beautiful one. He is trying to reach out to all the kids out there who just want to act like kids and he conveys through his music and lyrics that it’s perfectly fine to do that. – BE
10. Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl
Scandinavian experimentalist Jenny Hval’s record may be strange territory for those who don’t typically veer away from FM radio, because anytime I started someone on the Apocalypse, girl opener “Kingsize,” they run away at the mention of the four large bananas. For those who don’t have the humor tendencies of a five-year-old can go into this album and come out with a subversive, sultry examination of sexuality and politics. Jazzy and glitchy, nothing on this record failed to impress me, from the PJ Harvey-minded single “That Battle Is Over” to the noisy, sprawling “Holy Land,” Hval’s scatter poetry and vocal cadences make her meditations on her body, her time in America and “soft dick rock” (a clever spin on tawdry male sensitivity in music) intriguing if not totally intoxicating. In terms of an album listening, from start to finish, this story hits vagary and embraces change rather than deny it, the result is the boldest, most inventive full length of the year. – KM
9. Unknown Mortal Orchestra–Multi Love
In what seemed to be a running trend of 2015, Unknown Mortal Orchestra turned lo-fi psych-rock into experimental disco, taking on polyamory with colorful pop tunes that twist and turn with warbly guitars, funky bass grooves and old school synths. The album features modern songs recorded on old gear, giving it a pleasantly dirty, distant and brittle sound that compliment the frequent left turns the songs take. Thankfully, whenever the songs are close to losing their cool, they drop into huge, catchy choruses, reining the audience back in. And really, who can deny the triumphant fuzz of the uplifting closer “Puzzles” or the percussive groove of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone?” – EG
8. Courtney Barnett–Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
As spastic and perverse as a lady Lou Reed, Courtney Barnett used her debut to treat us to vivid songs that casually take on the troubles of modern apathy–from transit to depression, insomnia to swimming, environmentalism, mortgages, the organic movement and antisocial tendencies. She faces it all with a blithe disregard for tact, refusing to tiptoe around the topics, approaching them with a smirk and a thousand words to compare the issue. The music follows suit–raw and energetic, with off-kilter riffs and weird effects. It’s simple and to the point with enough range to show her talent, diving into no-nonsense indie rock anthems, classic singer-songwriter portraits, Sonic Youth soundscapes, jazzy jams and infectious pop-rock hooks that easily hold our attention across all 11 songs. It’s impressive to say the least, and remember–she’s just getting started.- EG
7. Alabama Shakes–Sound & Color
With their sophomore effort, Alabama Shakes shook off the southern-rock revivalist label that critics gave them, arriving at an aesthetic all their own–instantly recognizable, classic, dramatic and modern. The songs are as good as the album sounds, the performances tight, passionate and intense. After an exhaustive touring schedule for their debut, it’s clear the band worked out any kinks that come with being a new group. The musicians dance around each other gracefully, laying a beautifully warm and syncopated bed for Brittany Howard’s soulful vocals. For a band that was once easy to pigeonhole, Sound & Color shows range–from gospel, swamp rock, punk, shoegaze, doowop–all being taken and re-shaped by the group for a striking and cohesive experience.- EG
6. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Usually if there’s an album solely about love and romance playing you’ll find me in the other room playing pinball, but with a clever artist like Josh Tillman, the main songwriter/vocalist of Father John Misty, at the helm of something so, ugh, romantic, you get the most clever, cynical, ridiculous love album ever. Tillman is a wordy a**hole, but in the best way possible, every jest at his wife’s expense play as hilariously as his proclamations of love, calling out malaprops and recalling debaucherous evenings with his soulmate in “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment” or making a smoky-lounge anti-ballad about American ennui equal parts anthemic and bitter in “Bored in the USA.” Honeybear is witty, funny and passionate; Tillman recognizes the tropes of being in love and veers far away from them, showing his teeth to those who try to make a move on his wife when he isn’t around or looking ahead to the later years with her, this record is the past, present and future of a 21st century romance. – KM
5. Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie
After releasing a slew of great singles over the past couple of years, 2015 saw the full length debut of Irish noise punk quartet Girl Band, and it was noisy as hell. After the singles “Paul” and “Pears For Lunch” came out, it was certain that Holding Hands With Jamie was going to be Girl Band’s most visceral, atonal and intense release to date; which it certainly was. Every song on this album crawls down your spine and takes you to the point of no return, as a song like “Baloo” unfurls it lets out squalls of distortion and vocalist Dara Kiely delivers menacing words until it comes to an animalistic scream. From start to finish, audible tension is brewing until explosive crescendos come like a fusillade of mortars, never taking it easy on the listener, “Paul” plays more like a heart attack than a song but riding its wave of abrasion and stridence is an experience worth having over and over. Sure, noise rock isn’t for everyone, but when you listen to Girl Band’s speaker blowing compositions, you wish they were on everyone’s radar. – KM
4. Sleater-Kinney- No Cities to Love
First things first. If you don’t live Carrie Brownstein you are just wrong and should not belong to the human race. Secondly, if you also don’t love Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss you don’t even belong to an alien race. These badass punk rocking angles made a Bob’s Burger music video to their song “A New Wave” and it is one the most creative uses of pop culture I have seen in a very long time, and the song itself is fun and such a great comeback for the girls. Tunes like “Fangless” touch on the always hot subject of the patriarchy and modern feminism, and in a time like this, it’s only natural for a song of that subject to come up, especially from amazing powerful women like them. Their newest record was an overwhelmingly strong comeback with powerful instruments and meaningful words. – BE
3. Tame Impala–Currents
Lonerism saw Tame Impala refining their sound, turning grooves into songs, sharpening riffs and experimenting with synths. On Currents, Kevin Parker reshaped the sound dramatically–embracing disco grooves and slick synths to come back with an amorphous album that blurs the lines between song and groove. The lyrics detail his growth, with songs like “Yes I’m Changing,” “Eventually” “Past Life” and the epic closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” Instead of coming off as self-referential, the songs act as an outstretched hand to anyone that’s experienced great, and sometimes painful changes. It’s an engrossing experience, equal parts dreamy dance floor jams and synthy introspection wrapped up in crunchy drums, reverb snaps and ethereal, falsetto vocals. – EG
2. Jamie xx- In Colour
London-based producer Jamie Smith, better known as Jamie xx finally went and came out with his own solo album after many years of doing work for The xx. His outing as a solo artist has brought him even more success than when he was in The xx. There are similarities that people can draw between his solo album and an xx album, but quite honestly this record has gone above and beyond any xx record. Everything from the opener to the closer is perfect. “Gosh” is a synth filled perfectly layered masterpiece. “Loud Places” is a throwback to all xx lovers with Romy Madley Craft singing on the tune. And “Good Times” is one of the most danceable tracks on the album. Whether you’re a lover of electronic music or not, this album is extremely accessible to just about anyone.
1.Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp a Butterfly
I’m almost positive that this record is anyone’s number one album of the year, but for good reason. Not only is this album perfectly timed with everything going on socially and politically, it is a complete 180 for what we had heard previously from Kendrick. Kendrick took influence and help from so many talented artists who come from all different genres. Including electronic maverick Flying Lotus and Jazz rebel Kamasi Washington, and even bass god Thundercat. He goes through these insane emotional roller coasters throughout each song trying to teach his lessons on people. “The Blacker the Berry” hits all those people out there who think their white privilege outweighs everything, while in “u” he became a person who had extreme emotions that were hard to grasp. Yet, the most perplexing and amazing part of this album was the very end where Kendrick has a fake conversation with legend Tupac Shakur. An ending to an album that no one will be able to top off. – BE