The 50 best albums of 2015

Way back in April we declared that the list of the best albums of 2015 was already better than last year’s top 50. Eight months on and it’s safe to say that not only has 2015 topped last year, but it has proved to be one of the best years for music in over a decade.

The striking thing about the last 12 months is that it hasn’t been defined by any one artist or sound, although that doesn’t mean that trends didn’t emerge. 2015 was the year that pop officially crossed over making it okay to love Justin Biebercry to Adele and listen to Sufjan Stevens. Pop also usurped indie with Grimes and The Weeknd shedding their weirdo roots in favour of a cleaner, glossier sound. Conversely, 2015 saw the return of the songwriter – especially those of the classic Californian tradition – with stunning debuts from Natalie Prass and Tobias Jesso Jr. While legends like Blur and Bjork produced some of the finest work of their esteemed careers.

And then there was the funk. From Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Multi-Love and Tame Impala’s Currents, funk weaved its way right back into the year’s most vital records. With the exception of Earl Sweatshirt’s introspective Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, hip-hop once again became a political force, records from Lamar, Dre and Vince Staples providing potent social commentary.

2015 will also be remembered as the year that Australian music truly made its mark on the world. Tame Impala cemented their position as one of the greatest bands of the decade with their third record Currents. Royal Headache returned with the achingly brilliant High. Twerps and Dick Diver produced their best records yet. And a 28 year-old from Melbourne took the globe by storm with an album so uniquely Australian it seemed like the most unlikely success story of all. 2016, you’ve got a hard act to follow.

FL’s 50 best albums of 2015

 50-41

40-31

30-21

20-11

10-1

 

50. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Canada’s greatest ever rapper (sorry Neil Young!) dropped this bombshell mixtape via Twitter in February – and the rap world is still reacting. Sprawling and dense, with minimalist beats and nods to trap, this 17-track monster finds our hero in the depths of the “6” (his code for Toronto), trying to find meaning in a world that’s becoming more and more complicated the bigger he gets. – Darren Levin


49. Marlon Williams – Marlon Williams

On his debut solo release NZ born Marlon Williams filters Roy Orbison melancholy through disarmingly poised songwriting to hit emotional notes like few others can. With a voice as tempestuous as his it would be easy to let the songs bleed out into something far more overblown, but the 23 year-old has an uncanny knack for reeling it in before it gets away. – Sarah Smith


48. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye

Every Open Eye is relentlessly optimistic, aspirational even, as if Chvrches can already see the illuminated festival crowds laid out before them. Lauren Mayberry’s particular gift, of wrapping heartbreak inside an iron fist, is as strong and nuanced as ever. It’s bizarre why anyone would have the gall to call her “pixie-like” or “pint-sized” when she is this forcefully self-assured. – Jules Lefevre


47. Dr Dre – Compton

The increasingly mythical Detox had become somewhat of an albatross around Dre’s neck. After 15 long years it seemed that no matter what he came up with Andre Young’s third solo LP was never going to overcome the weight of expectations. Releasing a “companion piece” to the film Compton stacked full of rappers and co-writes rather than his own record, then, was a stroke of genius. But Compton is no cop out. On it Dre reminds us of the skills that built his name,  while simultaneously showing off a stack of new tricks. The production is playful – especially on stand-outs ‘Talk About It’ and ‘Genocide’ – while the lyrics (both Dre’s and his guests) are some of the most potent and political of his career to date. – Sarah Smith


46. Bully – Feels Like

Nirvana is what it feels like, and Bully’s debut album makes no secret of the influence. From Alicia Bognanno’s throat-shredding wail and bracing tunefulness, the Nashville quartet look fondly to their heroes on the lurching likes of ‘Too Tough’ and ‘Picture’. But even more apparent is the sheer compressed emotion, and the bulk of these anthems lope ahead with giddy power-pop hooks that date back much further than grunge. – Doug Wallen


45. BadBadNotGood and Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

Slick, elegant and accomplished, it’s the kind of album that would stand up on its own as an instrumental; such is the audacious musicianship on display. But the unmistakable, ever-reliable vocals of Ghostface provide a gritty realism to the dark subject matter, contrasting nicely with the smooth, layered atmosphere laid down by BBNG. The message is clear: this is the future of hip-hop. – Sean A’Hearn


44. Methyl Ethel – Oh Inhuman Spectacle

Perth three-piece Methyl Ethel only formed last year which makes their debut album Oh Inhuman Spectacle all the more impressive. Anchored around the melancholic drift of lead single ‘Twilight Driving’, the record sees songwriter Jake Webb stretch melodies out like Hubba Bubba imprinting the band’s shadowy pop with a deliriously gooey aesthetic. While there are moments that closely echo Merriweather Post Pavilion-era Animal Collective, Methyl Ethel clearly have something far more original in their sights. – Sarah Smith


43. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

Wolf Alice may have evolved from a folk duo to a rock quartet, but they retain the best of both worlds on their barn-storming debut LP. For all the spooky, low-slung atmosphere on display, we also get shouted harmonies on ‘You’re a Gem’, angst-y stoner rock on ‘Giant Peach’ and a real knack for ’90s-style alt-rock outbursts. But the best moments exploit the tension between those extremes, like when Ellie Rowsell sings oh so coolly about wanting to smash windows. – Doug Wallen


42. Beach House – Depression Cherry

Beach House released back-to-back albums this year, but Depression Cherry is the “official” one. It continues the patient expansion of the duo’s quicksand-of-syrup dream-pop, which gets richer and sweeter all the time. The components are ever so humble – sputtering drum machine, Victoria Legrand’s foggy sigh, Alex Scally’s snaking guitar threads – but they present a grander vision than ever on the Baltimore band’s fifth LP, even as they wade into diffuse electronics. – Doug Wallen


41. Mark Ronson – Uptown Special

The funk is definitely in the building once again, but it’s far from the only sound at the party. Tame Impala figurehead Kevin Parker, who lends his vocals to three choice cuts of fittingly psychedelic and fluttering pop, helps carve out even more new territory for Ronson to explore. Uptown Special is yet another insight into one of the more flexibly creative names in contemporary pop. Don’t believe it? Just watch. – David James Young

40. Hermitude – Dark Night Sweet Light

Hermitude have always known how to kick-start a party, but their club-ready melding of hip-hop and electronic revelry graduated to a new level on their fifth LP. Blanketed with an expansive and often downcast atmosphere, it sees the Blue Mountains duo evolve from hyperactive whiz kids to moody widescreen globe-trotters. It’s sophisticated and profound, yet the hooks are huger than ever. – Doug Wallen


39. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?

Across half-a-dozen albums and just over a decade in the public eye, the London quintet have explored and experimented with many styles and tested out every setting on their vast array of synthesizers. Their new album Why Make Sense? again showcases their range while retaining that now familiar core sound. – David James Young


38. Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again

On the follow-up to her 2012 self-titled debut, California native Jessica Pratt lets us eavesdrop on her spellbinding, poetic world. Home-recorded, otherworldly and completely out of its time, it’ll resonate with anyone that’s familiar with the likes of cult heroes Linda Perhacs, Karen Dalton, Vashti Bunyan and Judee Sill. – Darren Levin


37. Foals – What Went Down

What Went Down is dense, and keenly focused; instead of pin balling between ideas Foals seem to have settled on a solid aesthetic. These songs are rich, at times highly emotive, and constantly simmering. Foals aren’t the band of Antidotes or Total Life Forever anymore; they’ve become something far greater. – Jules LeFevre


36. Gold Class – It’s You

Gold Class wear their influences on their collective sleeve yet they’ve corralled them into their own sound. At a time where the musical landscape is overrun with psych rock and earnest electro-soul crooners a band like Gold Class are needed. The sheets of guitar, cold rhythms and that dark poetic howl are a breath of fresh air on this highly accomplished and compelling debut album. – Chris Familton


35. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside

Although catering to varying tastes, the recent releases from both Kendrick Lamar and Death Grips left major waves for listeners – overshadowing Earl Sweatshirt’s humbler album. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside doesn’t stand out for advancement for Sweatshirt or the rap genre, but offers something the other releases lacked – a human relatability. – Sean A’Hearn


34. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

“What’s wrong with me?” repeats Bradford Cox on the closing track of Deerhunter’s seventh album. ‘Carrion’ is typical of Fading Frontier, blending a lush pop lullaby with sentiments that grow darker the closer you inspect them. But it’s not all bleak for the famously temperamental Cox, and ‘Carrion’ also captures the album’s balancing act between gusts of empowerment (“Carry on”) and shrugs of hopelessness. – Doug Wallen


33. Twerps – Range Anxiety

Some bands exist in a fantastical parallel universe populated by a handful of people who are nothing like you or me. Other bands are just like us, albeit the version of us that can sing a bit and play guitar. Melbourne’s Twerps are the latter. Made from knotted tummies and clothes that don’t quite fit properly, their Merge label debut Range Anxiety is an album for the rut stuckers and the nail chewers. – Victoria Birch


32.Bilal – In Another Life

Although Bilal’s expansive fourth album has been overshadowed by Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly and D’Angelo’s Black Messiah it’s a similarly iconoclastic (albeit less political) record that fuses classic soul, R&B, hip-hop, jazz, and funk. In another life Bilal would be a star to rival his better known contemporaries, but that’s no excuse for sleeping on his work. – Tom Mann


31. Faith No More – Sol Invictus

The expectation was there for a good return to form from a band that always followed their muse no matter how much it threatened to derail their commercial potential. The reality is they’ve far exceeded that with Sol Invictus, an album that in its finest moments matches the best of their golden years. Rock isn’t dead, it sometimes just needs time to regroup and rejuvenate. – Chris Familton

30. Drenge – Undertow



With the release of their second album brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless were joined by a third member on the Drenge tour bus; they needed the extra hands to deliver the true impact of this record’s dense squalls of guitar feedback. Undertow can be as unrelentingly dour as the bleak English winter but there’s a sinister edge that’s impossible to deny (or escape). – Tom Mann


29. Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down

Having cut his teeth with The War on Drugs, the Philadelphia songwriter still evokes the sleepy, drawling longhairs that came before him, from J Mascis to Tom Petty. He’s also a real kindred spirit of Courtney Barnett, coming off so laidback and stream-of-conscious in the delivery that we can take for granted the actual craft involved. And as with Barnett, the songs sound enough alike on the surface that it takes time to tease out their individual, defining quirks. – Doug Wallen


28. Miguel – Wildheart

On his red-blooded third record Miguel is sex personified showing off more moves than the Karma Sutra. There’s The Weeknd by way of Nine Inch Nails abrasion of ‘The Valley’, the liquid smoothness of ‘Coffee’ and even a track that “subconsciouly” mimics Smashing Pumpkins ‘1979’ . Miguel took another shot at Frank Ocean this year – “I genuinely believe that I make better music, all the way around” – and Wildheart proves that’s no idle boast. – Tom Mann


27. Viet Cong – Viet Cong

While their controversial name – soon to be changed – grabbed most of the attention, Canadian band Viet Cong delivered a grotty, brooding debut album. Risen from the ashes of Women, VC lay claim to a rough-shod combination of serrated post-punk, Kraut-y marathons and buzzing electronics, shot through with jangling melody and quivering vocals. ‘March of Progress’ alone goes from ambient instrumental to ’60s psych-folk to synth revelry. It feels like they’re experimenting on the fly, but those sharp turns reliably lead to greatness. – Doug Wallen


26. Joanna Newsom – Divers

Five years after releasing a self-produced triple-album, Joanna Newsom returns as breezily bold as ever, flooding her flighty songs with baroque bedazzlement. The results are stunning, at once intimate and expansive. Most of all Divers proves Newsom’s range: she properly rocks out on ‘Leaving the City’, while ‘Same Old Man’ detours into sleepy bluegrass and other tracks evoke cosmic ’70s psych vistas – and all without leaving her trademark harp and warble behind. – Doug Wallen


25. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

Titus Andronicus are a band that truly believes in the power of rock and roll and this ferocious 29-track, five act rock opera is their magnum opus. There’s plenty of heartland rock and punk attitude but crammed into its sprawling 93-minute run time there’s also space for covers of Daniel Johnston, The Pogues and even choral version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Unlike those rock stars who fail to practice what they preach (looking at you Mr Grohl) Titus Andronicus are the real deal. Rock is dead, long live rock. – Tom Mann


24. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf

Kendrick Lamar wasn’t the only rapper pushing the boundaries of hip-hop with a record that fused jazz fusion and neo-soul in 2015. Two years after the release of Chance The Rapper’s breakthrough mix-tape Acid Rap, this free album highlighting Chance’s bohemian crew and especially trumpeter, Nico Segal (a.k.a. Donnie Trumpet) was one of the year’s most joyous albums. And cameos from Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, Janelle Monáe Big Sean and Raury certainly didn’t hurt either. – Tom Mann


23. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?

It may have been The Weeknd’s big year (finally), but Devon Welsh’s long-running Majical Cloudz project isolated an equally powerful strain of existential R&B. Are You Alone? shuts out the world at large for both heartening and harrowing results, whether finding self-empowerment in ‘Heavy’ (“You’ve gotta learn to love me/Cause I am what I am”) or quoting Radiohead twice in the title track. Most love songs focus outward on the object of longing, but Welsh’s turn inward and read like the most intimate and clear-eyed of diary entries. – Doug Wallen


22. Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too

The band’s mutated genre-morphing incorporates hip-hop, late-period IDM, R&B in its traditional sense and primitive street-drumming – and even that description doesn’t quite do justice to what it is they are doing here. Nothing and no-one is safe. – David James Young


21. Björk – Vulnicura

A companion piece of sorts 2001’s delicate Vespertine, Bjork’s ninth solo album is her most intimate – and at times surprisingly fragile – album to date. Inspired by her separation from fellow artistic iconoclast Matthew Barney, the record is typically uncompromising but ornamented by lush string arrangements and intricate electronic beats it’s one of the year’s most intriguing albums. – Tom Mann

20. The Internet – Ego Death

The LA crew fronted by Odd Future Syd the Kyd and featuring Thundercat’s little brother Jameel Bruner on keys got real smooth with their third album teaming up with Janelle Monáe, Vic Mensa, and Tyler the Creator on a dazzlingly seductive album of hazy future-soul. Heartache has never sounded so sweet. – Tom Mann


19. Laura Marling – Short Movie

Laura Marling works within the folk tradition but at the same time roughs it up. That’s especially true of her fifth album, the first written on electric guitar and a restless document of her stint living in Los Angeles. It’s full of questions – posed both outward and inward – and those constant enquiries find an ideal engine in Marling’s loping, rattling guitar work. – Doug Wallen


18. Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon

A series of tragic circumstances – from a break-up to a sliced hand to his mum getting cancer – led Tobias Jesso Jr to the piano stool. And the freakishly tall Canadian battler is all the better for it. Harking back to the classic songwriting of Randy Newman and ‘Can We Still Be Friends’-era Todd Rundgren, Goon – like the best/worst kind of relationship – is an album you won’t be getting over anytime soon. – Darren Levin


17. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass

Recorded in 2012 and released at the beginning of this year Natalie Prass’ debut calls back to a very different era of music-making recalling early ‘70s singer-songwriters like Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson, while the warm cushion of horns and this-side-of-chintzy string arrangement recall Burt Bacharach’s work with Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield. But Prass keeps the nostalgia to a minimum, producing an album that is sublimely tasteful and sophisticated. – Joel Turner


16. Dick Diver – Melbourne, Florida

Dick Diver’s third album, Melbourne, Florida, is the band’s most ambitious and outward looking release yet. The group have shrugged off their ‘dolewave’ origins for the smooth tones of ‘70s and ‘80s FM rock, sounding completely at ease and distinctive as ever. – Annie Toller


15. Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon

By their own admission, Melbourne fusion outfit Hiatus Kaiyote concern themselves with making “multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic, gangster shit.” It’s a pretty self-aware statement, and one that becomes even more fully realised with the release of their mesmerising, and impressively complex second record, Choose Your Weapon. – Jules LeFevre


14. Royal Headache – High

In just under half an hour, these 10 songs re-establish both Royal Headache’s breakneck melodicism and Shogun’s throaty vocal affirmations. His voice is notably higher in the mix than last time, and the guitar hooks are more jubilant than ever, but the band are still rough around the edges. That shaky marriage of lo-fi pub punk and Shogun’s heartening, soul-laced delivery is exactly what makes the band so special. – Doug Wallen


13. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love

Ruban Nielson may have done a lot of things with his career, but one thing he has never done is settle on a sound. Multi-Love marks the project’s third studio album, and there’s a lot to be said for the fact that the trio are still finding new ways to experiment and redefine their collective sound. Multi-Love marks their best LP yet for Nielson and the rest of the Orchestra. – David James Young


12. Blur – The Magic Whip

This album may not be loaded with extroverted would-be hits, but its woozy grandeur already has the stuff of real staying power. It’s up there with Blur’s best albums, and a reminder of just how well the band reconcile their divergent ideas. – Doug Wallen


11. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

Summertime may suggest good times but Vince Staples’ debut album is anything but sunny. Billed as a double album but packed into a tight 60 minutes, the album showcases Staples’ unflinching verses over twitchy, menacing beats from Clams Casino and No ID. If the 22-year old Stapes is actually serious about retiring by 2018 at least he’s going to leave us at least one classic. – Tom Mann

10. Grimes – Art Angels

Grime’s genius is in her knack for synthesis (of ideas, as well as her talent with actual synthesisers). Her sound and aesthetic are completely, undeniably unique, yet so recognisably a composite of her eclectic taste. – Greer Clemens

 


9. Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness

The year’s most questing and questioning pop album, Julia Holter’s latest opus edges into delirium but always maintains a certain measure of control. These 10 tracks may unspool like an inner monologue that we’re only partially privy to, but the music itself surrounds and pervades, blurring the lines between classic songwriting and forward-thinking orchestration. Vocally and lyrically, meanwhile, Holter pokes and prods at the daily mystery of being human. – Doug Wallen


8. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

With progenitors including Jeff Buckley’s Grace, Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska; I Love You, Honeybear is firmly routed in heart of America, but its perspective is far from flag-waving patriotism. I Love You Honeybear is an intimately close-to-the-bone emotional exploration that not only fulfills his potential that was glimpsed on his debut, but trumps the folk masterpieces of his old outfit through sheer conviction. – Chris Lewis


7. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell



You won’t walk away humming the tunes, but Carrie and Lowell will stay with you. Sufjan has prettier albums, and sweeter albums, but none has the impact of Carrie and Lowell, though maybe that’s for the best. It’s not an everyday listen; it’s far too discomfiting to be the background to a train trip, or even in a film score. It is, however, a beautiful and sincere meditation on loss, grief and human connection, and sometimes that is exactly what you need. – Joel Turner

6. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color



The light and the dark, the loud and the quiet, the black and the white… there’s so much sound and colour on Sound and Color that it will take a few listens to properly get used to it. Once it all clicks into place, however, it becomes all the more rewarding. This is an album that proves that there is far more to this band than meets the eye. – David James Young

5. Jamie xx – In Colour

Jamie xx makes dance music to move you emotionally as much as physically. Juxtaposing arresting beats with slick production values, he has created a lush, immersive soundscape to get lost in. – Sean A’Hearn


4. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love



Now that Sleater-Kinney are back after a decade away, it’s instantly clear why they cut such an impressive figure in the crowded landscape of indie rock: they pen anthems at once elemental and elegant, tapping the mouthy ire of punk while seizing on the serpentine turns and alien melodies of art-rock. No Cities to Love is the ideal comeback. There’s so much of the band’s past in here, from their spikiest hostility to their sleekest accessibility, but they also seem to be rewriting the rules as they go, which makes this album just fine for newcomers too. – Doug Wallen

3. Tame Impala – Currents



After two very fine albums of high-quality fanfiction about what it would sound like if John Lennon fronted Cream, Currents is an impressive new direction for Tame Impala. Though it’s still as psychedelic as ever, there’s less guitar and instead Currents is an album of pristine fingerclicks, washes of synth, and disco beats. All those prog touches we’re used to – the phasing effects and echoing vocals and sci-fi keyboards – are still here as well, just applied as gloss to an entirely different genre. – Jody MacGregor

2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

 


 

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly