The Best Albums of 2015

I'm about ready to let the past year rest and start looking forward to new music (Kent, Radiohead and LCD Soundsystem are all supposed to be dropping albums this year).
So, saying a very belated final goodbye to 2015, here are my ten favourite albums of the last year.
10. Blur, The Magic Whip
Less experimental weirdness, more just happy to be working together again, Blur came back from a twelve-year album silence with a sweet, lovable collection of songs that mine from just about every era of the band's very varied past. The result is scatterbrained, but very satisfying.
Essential tracks: Lonesome Street, New World Towers, Go Out, Pyongyang, Ong Ong
9. FKA twigs, M3LL155X
An EP of only five tracks is at a natural disadvantage against albums, but this EP is brilliant enough to make its way onto this list. Louder, weirder and more direct than her previous releases, M3LL155X (pronounced "Melissa") establishes FKA twigs as a unique artist, and by far the best R&B artist working right now.
Essential tracks: Figure 8, In Time, Mothercreep
8. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Carrie & Lowell is an almost unbearably personal album about death, loss and family. Its songs are quiet things made huge by solid arrangements, beautiful harmonies and the best lyrics Stevens has ever penned. Listening to this album feels borderline obscene, as does writing about it, but it's simply too good to shy away from.
Essential tracks: Death with Dignity, Should Have Known Better, All of Me Wants All of You, Fourth of July, John My Beloved
7. Majical Cloudz, Are You Alone?
When Majical Cloudz change, they do so in tiny increments. For one thing, most songs on Are You Alone? have actual choruses, which already sets it apart from 2013's Impersonator. The songs are also slightly warmer, and less I-am-staring-into-your-very-soul intense. For the most part, however, they stick to what they do best: slow, emotionally potent synth pop songs that unfold piece by piece with every repeat of the core vocal melody. So far, the formula continues to yield wonderful results.
Essential tracks: Disappeared, Control, Silver Car Crash, Change, Downtown, Game Show, Call on Me
6. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
Just in time for their first album in ten years, I discovered Sleater-Kinney. I worked my way through their back catalogue (seven albums between 1995 and 2005), and they pretty much immediately became one of my favourite bands. No Cities to Love is not their best effort, but it's a very worthy addition to their discography, and at a time when actual rock music has mostly disappeared or gotten very boring, it is absolutely essential. Carrie Brownstein is still one of the best guitarists in the world, and Corin Tucker's voice is still a massive force of nature.
Essential tracks: Price Tag, Fangless, Surface Envy, No Cities to Love, A New Wave, Gimme Love, Bury Our Friends
5. Ghost, Meliora
Underneath the makeup, the masks, the fake, campy Satanism and the anonymity, there's a group of Swedish musicians who love The Beatles and ABBA, and have the writing chops to show off those influences. The melodies soar (the explosive vocal harmonies on 'He Is' hit me every single time), the riffs are tight as hell, and for as grandiose and epic as the music gets, there's always a palpable sense of fun.
Essential tracks: Spirit, From the Pinnacle to the Pit, Cirice, He Is, Majesty, Absolution
4. Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
Josh Tillman decided to make an album about what happens when the ultimate cynical asshole falls head-over-heels in love, and the result is one of the funniest, most romantic albums I have ever heard. The songwriting is varied, and never falls short of gorgeous, the singing is pure go-hard-or-go-home, and the lyrics are the pettiest bullshit and the most beautifully romantic sentiments smashed together. If you get the chance to see Father John Misty live, take it: his balls-to-the-wall intense take on 'The Ideal Husband' is worth the ticket price alone.
Essential tracks: I Love You Honeybear, Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins), When You're Smiling and Astride Me, Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow, The Ideal Husband, Bored in the USA, Holy Shit, I Went to the Store One Day
3. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
To Pimp a Butterfly wants to be The Best and Most Important Hip Hop Album of All Time, and far be it from me to pretend to be any kind of expert on hip hop, but I would say it succeeds (and its placement on this list is in no way meant as an insult to the genre, I swear). Kendrick takes on many different roles, voices, styles and attitudes, to eloquently and thoughtully tackle racism, self-love, self-hatred, survivor's guilt, sex, drugs, gang wars, greed, fame, and just about anything else he has time for over the album's 80 minutes. It's one of the most effective concept albums ever made, and a sprawling epic about black culture.
Essential tracks: Wesley's Theory, King Kunta, These Walls, u, Alright, For Sale? (Interlude), How Much a Dollar Cost, The Blacker the Berry, You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said), i
2. Jamie xx, In Colour
This album will always make me think of where I first heard it, which was London in the springtime. That alone gives it a special place in my heart. I have never been to a rave, but this is basically a mellow love letter to the rave scene, with a stupid banger featuring Young Thug thrown into the mix just for the fun of it. Apart from that (quite fun) sore thumb, it's mostly instrumentals, with three songs with vocal contributions from Jamie's bandmates in The xx. If I have a single favourite thing in music, it's that intangible quality when there's a swell, of voices or instruments or both, that just surges into pure fucking bliss. Those are musical moments to get lost in, and Jamie brings them out repeatedly and expertly on this album, all with the single best production of the year.
Essential tracks: Gosh, Sleep Sound, SeeSaw, Obvs, Hold Tight, Loud Places, The Rest Is Noise, Girl
1. Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Men Too
Young Fathers are hard to pin down, musically. Wikipedia helpfully tells me that their genres are pop and hip hop. There's hardly any rapping on this album, and what little there is could just as well be called "spoken word", or, perhaps more accurately, "shouting". And I can't say I've heard much music this abrasive that I would readily classify as "pop". There are elements of soul, trip hop, indie rock and African influences. Suffice it to say, these are three guys with fantastic voices, singing and screaming their hearts out to music that is both chaotic and uplifting, jarring and life-affirming. There's lo-fi desperation and anger, but there's also sweetness, with songs that are "pop" in the sense that they are insanely and beautifully catchy. Most of all, there's a feeling of freedom, community and joy. I can't say enough good things about this album, and I almost missed out on it entirely (again: Aaron, you are awesome). It makes me happy, and that's why, after a stupid amount of deliberation, and a couple of rewrites, it tops my list.
Essential tracks: Still Running, Shame, 27, Rain or Shine, Sirens, Old Rock n Roll, Nest, Liberated, John Doe, Get Started


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