Best Albums of 2015
Here it is, my long-anticipated, eagerly-awaited yearly take on the best music of the year. Every album has a Spotify link in the title. Best 50 songs coming soon. Key tracks are all gathered in a playlist at the bottom of the post. Hit shuffle and enjoy the year that was.
The thing I love about the Alabama Shakes is they take the Muscle Shoals sound and expand on it, instead of just trying to emulate it. Some of the popular releases this year, like Leon Bridges, were enjoyable to listen to, but too on the nostalgia nose for me.
Key tracks: “Don’t Wanna Fight,” “Future People,” “Miss You”
Was turned onto this by The Bitter Southerner, one of my favorite web magazines. A singer-songwriter from Water Valley, MS (just outside of Oxford), this album is just comfortable.
Key tracks: “Keep It Together,” “I Want You Final”
Found out about this one from a tweet by David Bazan. Wonderful atmosphere and story-telling, and certainly makes the case for more clarinet. “Wendell Walker” is one of the more visceral songs I’ve ever heard.
Key Tracks: “Hometown Hero,” “I’m Not Falling Asleep,” ’Wendell Walker,” “Jesus, She’s A Good Girl”
Not much of a departure from their debut, but that’s a-ok with me. They do what they do incredibly well.
Key Tracks: “Never Ending Circles,” “Leave A Trace,” “Make Them Gold”
The universal praise is well-deserved. The music is great, the lyrics are smart, and the whole thing is consistently entertaining. Check our her older EPs.
Key Tracks: “Pedestrian At Best,” “Depreston,” “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party”
David Bazan // Bazan Monthly, Vol. 2 (Soundcloud Link)
Not really an album, but a set of singles released over the first 5 months of the year. Doesn’t matter - I’m a sucker for anything Bazan is involved with. One artist I consistently and deeply relate to. You can listen to the whole thing on Soundcloud (which you should). Can’t wait for his new one coming this year.
Key Tracks: “Oblivion,” “Someone Else’s Bet,” “Over My Eyes”
Not really sure why this one was passed over by everyone. I think it’s a great album, a nice return to the earlier, stripped-down Death Cab. Maybe people didn’t like the idea of a revenge album about Zooey Deschanel.
Key Tracks: “No Room In Frame,” “The Ghosts Of Beverly Drive,” “Good Help (Is So Hard To Find)”
I had heard “Snakeskin” earlier and loved it, but didn’t get into the rest of album until later in the year. Just high-quality, chill indie rock.
Key Tracks; “Living My Life”, “Duplex Planet,” “Snakeskin”
Emo-punk protest song Conor Oberst might be my favorite Conor Oberst.
Key Tracks: “The Left Is Right,” “City On A Hill,” “Radicalized,” “Te Amo Camila Vallejo”
What a combo - beautiful music, deeply cynical yet hilarious lyrics, a bizarre aesthetic. Love every bit of this.
Key Tracks: “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”, “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.,” “Strange Encounter,” “Bored In The USA”
Australian shoegaze! You should be sold by now and I should not have to write this blurb. Recommended for floating off somewhere.
Key Tracks: “Wavygravy,” “Running Late,” “Not Today”
Did not hit me like Southeastern did, but still fantastic. Not too many better songwriters out there.
Key Tracks: “24 Frames,” “Children of Children,” “Something More Than Free”
Really good change of pace for Ritter, and a lot of fun to listen to. Fades a little towards the end - probably could have been 10 tracks. Regardless, it’s Josh Ritter, and it’s solid.
Key Tracks: “Young Moses,” “Henrietta, Indiana,” “Getting Ready to Get Down,” “Cumberland”
Can’t say I listened to this a ton, and can’t say I identify with a whole lot of it, but I can’t deny it’s impressive and important.
Key Tracks: “King Kunta,” “Alright,” “How Much A Dollar Cost,” “The Blacker the Berry”
Could put this on at any time and enjoy it. An amazing guitarist + trippy lyrics. Good vibes with this one.
Key Tracks: “Pretty Pimpin’,” “Life Like This,” “Lost my Head there”
The soundtrack to the fall we never had this year. Since he’s the frontman for Real Estate, it sounds…familiar, with a little more Nick Drake mixed in.
Key Tracks: “Vestiges,” “Northern Highway,” “Airport Bar”
I feel like I’ve grown up with Mutemath. First concert with my then-future wife, friends that helped manage them, first experience with a truly great live band. This is their first album in a while, and they change up their style yet again. I think it’s more successful than Odd Soul, though I would have liked a little more Darren King on the drums. “Used To” in particular is like the summation of every album - the electronics of their self-titled, the brooding atmosphere of Armistice, the New Orleans soul and sway of Odd Soul. Can’t wait to see this live.
Key Tracks: “Light Up,” “Stratosphere,” “Used To,” “Best Of Intentions”
MMJ never disappoints. Some say this one doesn’t hit the heights of their previous releases, and it does sort of fade out towards the end. But the first three tracks rank up there with their best.
Key Tracks: “Believe (Nobody Knows),” “Compound Fracture,” “Like A River”
A Wisconsin transplant who’s found a home in the places and music of the south, Phil Cook and his group of friends in Durham, NC are making some of the best music out there right now. When you surround yourself with folks like Sylvan Esso, Justin Vernon, and Hiss Golden Messenger, you can’t help but make good music (not that he doesn’t have experience - his old band Megafaun, for example). One of my most played albums of the year.
Key Tracks: “1922,” “Great Tide,” “Belong,” “Anybody Else”
Hadn’t heard of these Nashville folks before this year, but I’m glad I did. Had a chance to see them in Chicago back in November, and I should have done it.
Key Tracks: “Push And Pull (All The Time),” “She Takes Me There,” “Within Sight”
This could undermine my critique of Leon Bridges - Isn’t this just a revisiting of Nick Drake? Nope. Listen closer - this is way more jazzy and experimental than Drake ever was, with just as much skill on the guitar. Beautiful album.
Key Tracks: “Primrose Green,” “Summer Dress,” “Sweet Satisfaction,” “All Kinds of You”
Has a band ever come back from so long a break to make an album this tight? How does Carrie Brownstein make so much of her time? Are there really only three people in this band?
Key Tracks: “No Cities To Love,” “A New Wave,” “Bury Our Friends”
It takes a certain mood to listen to this album and enjoy it. It’s somber, dark, honest stuff. As much as we all enjoy orchestrated Sufjan, this turn back to Seven Swans-style songwriting is tremendously affecting.
Key Tracks: “Should Have Known Better,” “Fourth of July,” No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”
It’s so fun to watch a band just get better and better. Not sure how they top this one, but I’m excited to see them try. I’d like to see them turn back to a more stripped-back rock sound for the next one, but this one will do just fine.
Key Tracks: “Let It Happen,” “Eventually,” “’Cause I’m A Man”
Went out to California this past spring, and this album captures what that place was like to me. Takes me back to driving down the Pacific Coast every time I listen. No need to go back to South Carolina chillwave, Chaz.
Key Tracks: “Empty Nesters,” “Half Dome,” “Run Baby Run”