Top 10 Albums – 2015

January 10, 2016

2015 was almost the year that I switched from my time-honored tradition of buying & illegally downloading music to buying & legally streaming music… but alas, it was not. I tried Apple Music for the whole 3 month trial and while I found it pretty nice in a lot of ways it couldn’t break my old habits. I still torrent whatever I want and buy whatever I like. So it has always been, so it will probably always be.

What other things didn’t change in 2015? I still can’t find a way to get interested in EDM, I never stopped listening to Run the Jewels 2, and I still am writing a list of my top 10 favorite albums of the most recent year. Spoiler alert: this list is not that exciting. There’s only 1 artist on here that hasn’t appeared on previous Top 10 lists. Yikes. Will 2015 be an anomaly of will it mark the start of me being an OLD PERSON?

Oh well, let’s get to it.

10. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi

Listen on Spotify
Death Cab for Cutie - Kintsugi
Death Cab’s guitarist quit sometime between their last album and this one, but Ben Gibbard is still pretty much doing the same thing he’s always done. I find the sound of Death Cab albums comforting even when I don’t think the songs are quite as good as they have been in the past, so here’s this album with a top 10 spot.

9. The Good Life – Everybody’s Coming Down

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The Good Life - Everybody's Coming Down
Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life) is a regular on this list, but The Good Life haven’t put out an album in a long time. Everybody’s Coming Down checks all the regular Kasher boxes (drinking & breakups) but I think this is his best work since his untouchable 2000-2004 run. This has a bigger, louder sound than previous Good Life records and I think it works well. Bonus tip: If you ever get the chance to see any of his bands live, I think you should do so.

8. CHVRCHES – Every Eye Open

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CHVRCHES - Every Eye Open
CHVRCHES 2013 debut The Bones of What You Belive took me awhile to warm up to but ended up being one of my favorite albums of the year. Once you’ve warmed up to that, their 2015 followup Every Eye Open should take no time getting used to, because it’s very very similar.

That said, It’s still very good. Poppy tunes, fun beats, etc… They definitely didn’t reinvent their sound for their sophomore album but that’s probably a good thing. What’s going on here works.

7. Holy Sheboygan – THREE

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Holy Sheboygan! - THREE
If you haven’t heard of Holy Sheboygan, you are forgiven. However, there are no excuses for not checking them out if you’re reading this list and especially no excuse if you read this list last year. Their latest release (or at least most of it?) is even on Spotify!

This CD (probably an EP?) is a big winner for me and my wife. If you’re looking for some chaotic but accessible pop music check this out. It’s endearing and beautiful and happy and sad. Special standout track: Swim with me.

6. Destroyer – Poison Season

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Destroyer - Poison Season
Easily in my top 3 Canadian musicians, Dan Bejar’s Destroyer is back with another tale of mystery and intrigue. This album contains beautiful string and horn arrangements and melodies which serve as backdrops for Bejarian classic lyrical contradictions like “The writing on the wall wasn’t writing at all”.

The album’s thematic core, Times Square/Poison Season (not sure what to call it) is particular beautiful, with different versions at the beginning, middle and end of the album.

5. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

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The Mountain Goats - Beat The Champ
Becker Family Favorite™ The Mountain Goats did not disappoint in 2015 (they never do) with their 2015 release, Beat The Champ, a concept album about professional wrestling at the time when it was still a regional affair.

I’ve never been a huge wrestling fan, beyond a brief stint with N64 classic “WCW vs. NWO Revenge” but as always, lead singer/songwriter (of our generation) John Darnielle finds ways to find the humanity in stories and people that you don’t think you care about.

4. Joanna Newsom – Divers

(Not on Spotify… hates streaming. Purchase on iTunes here.)
Joanna Newsom - Divers

Otherworldly enchantress, wife of Andy Sandberg, “the world’s most famous harp player”, Vicoria’s Secret Commercial Music Contributor, second cousin twice removed of former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom… these are just some of the ways to describe Joanna Newsom.

Divers, her first album since 2010’s overwhelming triple album Have One On Me, is a compact logical evolution from that ambitious event. The strengths of this album are the strengths of all Newsom albums: clever use of a uniquely beautiful voice, lyrics which may require a dictionary, and thoughtful arrangement of an ever-growing bag of instrumental tricks. While this might not be her strongest work, if you were just starting with Joanna Newson, this is perhaps your gentlest route into her beautiful world.

3. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

Listen on Spotify
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

Thank God for Kendrick Lamar. Rather than remaking Good Kid, M.A.A.D. city (which would have been awesome!), this Compton rapper started from scratch to create something completely different. Kendrick, who is almost certainly the most lyrically proficient rapper making popular music right now, is pushing himself on every level here. The music is challenging, the lyrics are challenging and the story line is ambitious.

This album is asking and addressing questions that I have the luxury of never having thought about as a white person in America. It is good to be challenged, to think, and to have perspectives broadened. It is good to listen to voices other than your own.

2. Natalie Prass – Natlie Prass

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Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass

Welcome to Natalie Prass, the lone newcomer on this list. This was one of the first albums I listened to in 2015 and it stuck with me throughout the year. It’s short, there are repetition of motifs and themes throughout, and the melodies and arrangements are seeping in a vaguely familiar nostalgia.

Prass’ voice is breathy and beautiful. And she writes lyrics which are immediately simple and memorable. One point of consternation: album closer “It Is You” is too much for me.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Listen on Spotify
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
What is there to say about an album that speaks so clearly and with such focus for itself? Carrie and Lowell is an album that Stevens wrote about his complex relationship with his mother (Carrie) and stepfather (Lowell) following his mother’s recent death.

The songs buck Stevens trend of plunging headfirst towards musical decadence and pulls everything back as far as it can go here. There are no more instruments or words than necessary. Stevens has always felt like an artist on the verge of quitting and becoming a recluse, but albums like this show what a tragedy that would be. He has a unique way of reaching into the soul of a personal experience and making it universally powerful.


One Response to “Top 10 Albums – 2015”

  1. […] top 10 favorite albums of 2015!… […]

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