Some years, the stylistic direction that music travels diverges from my general taste. That can be a great opportunity to grow and acquire new perspectives towards music style. 2015 was definitely a more challenging year in music for me. The acclaimed records were a little more idiosyncratic than I was used to, so the appeal wasn’t as readily apparent. But ultimately, 2015 was rewarding once I opened my ears to the current sounds. There were new works from several old favourites, but many new names appeared on the world stage.
1. Mew, +- (art rock)
You can’t talk about Mew’s music without mentioning singer Jonas Bjerre’s vocals. There is an airy, falsetto quality to his singing that is even more delicate than fellow Scandinavian, Jónsi, of Sigur Rós. That voice gives each song a fairytale quality, and Mew’s grand, sweepingly cinematic prog-rock music is a beautiful contrast to the frailty of Bjerre’s vocals. With +-, Mew balance their math-rock moments with sweet pop melodies that flow along beautifully, but there’s always the threat of an electrifying guitar solo at any moment. This is a dynamic record.
2. Tame Impala – Currents (psychedelic pop)
With Currents there’s a soft rock of the 70’s sound that’s tempered the fuzzed-out neo-psychedelia that prevailed on previous Tame Impala albums (Innerspeaker and Lonerism). While the rock-god swagger of those great records doesn’t play here, a more personal and intimate type of music runs through Currents. It’s a break-up album that is sad and sweet in its vocals and lyrics, but balanced with slight R&B groves or the skip of a disco beat. This record is about moving on from relationships when you know you need a change in your life to progress, and everything in this production expresses that beautifully.
3. Beach House – Depression Cherry (dream pop)
Ethereal music that floats along like a breeze through chiming keys, with waves of synth, gentle buzzing guitars and an occasional thumping beat. Singer Victoria Legrand’s vocals are often a feathery whisper, but can soar with the sudden symphonic swell of the keyboards or gravelly growl of guitar grows out of atmospheric music. This is music for watching sunrises and sunsets.
4. Jamie xx – In Colour (electronic, dance)
Jamie xx is a great music producer, and his album In Colour is a beautiful blend of styles that run from starkly atmospheric to dynamic tracks that alternate between drum & bass, R&B, hip-hop, indie-rock and trippy dance in one of the most kinetic album of the year.
5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (hip hop)
Prince used to make albums like this (Sign o’ The Times, Lovesexy). Soulful R&B and hip hop, that’s personal, political, pertinent and really dramatic. It’s the artistic statement of the year because it is fearless in its raw expression of defiance, debauchery and personal confession with music that can be dark or aggressive at moments, but often beautiful in its reference to free form jazz, or wonky psychedelic funk. Kendrick Lamar demands your attention to absorb his complex layers of music and lyrics. He’s an incredibly engaging storyteller and eclectic songwriter.
6. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (indie folk)
The songs on this album were inspired by the death of Sufjan Stevens’ mother, Carrie, and the family trips that they took to Oregon in Stevens’ childhood. His mother suffered from depression, schizophrenia and drug abuse. This record expresses the pain, suffering and intense love in their life and her death. It’s a coming to terms with loss, and a closure. Beautiful, sad music.
7. Grimes – Art Angels (synthpop)
8. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (indie folk)
9. Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness (art pop)
10. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color (blues rock)
11. D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah (funk, soul, R&B)
12. Blur – The Magic Whip (indie rock, Britpop)
13. C Duncan – Architect (indie pop, indie folk)
14. Dawn Richard – Blackheart (electronica, dance pop, R&B)
15. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (indie rock)
16. New Order – Music Complete (electropop)
17. Mac Demarco – Another One (jangle pop, indie rock)
18. Emily King – The Switch (R&B)
19. Julio Bashmore – Knockin’ Boots (house)
20. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness (alt. R&B)
21. Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show (contemporary R&B)
22. Leon Bridges – Coming Home (soul, R&B)
23. Sheer Mag – II 7″ (indie rock)
24. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love (psych. rock, indie pop)
25. Duran Duran – Paper Gods (synthpop, dance-rock)
26. Swervedriver – I Wasn’t Born to Lose You (indie rock, shoegaze)
27. Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars (dream pop)
28. Dråpe – Relax/Relapse (indie pop)
29. Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon (folk, baroque pop)