I haven't done one of these things in a while, probably since 2010 or so. These are, in no particular order, fifteen of my favorite albums of 2015, with a little bit of explanation behind each of them.
15. Ryan Adams, 1989 (Spotify)
I've always like Taylor Swift. She's undoubtedly one of the best pop writers of the last ten years, and when she finally gave up the whole "country music" influences I feel she really started to shine. I also had never heard of Ryan Adams until earlier this year. When I saw online that he would be doing a track-by-track cover of 1989, I really thought it was going to be a big gimmick. But there's a reason that this album made it to my list over the original: it's beautiful. Whereas T.Swift's album was always "filler" music to me (as most pop tends to be to me), this was an album I couldn't stop repeating. I felt an emotional connection to the songs that I would've never thought possible with pop songs. It's dark, it's brooding, it's definitely emo, but it's simply beautiful.
Favorite Tracks: Bad Blood, Out Of The Woods
Favorite Line: "Remember when we couldn't take the heat//I walked out, I said, I'm setting you free//But the monsters turned out to be just trees//When the sun came up
14. The Maine, American Candy (Spotify)
I hadn't really listened to The Maine since high school. I saw them co-headline with Mayday Parade on a tour a few years back and was generally unimpressed with their live show, mostly because I hadn't heard any of their newer stuff and their lead singer was so drunk it was ridiculous. But when they put this one out, I had a bunch of friends who kept telling me that I had to listen to this. So I finally gave in, and I'm so glad I did. There's not a single bad song on this album. I read an op-ed online somewhere about bands that managed to break past the 2007-2009 pop-punk Warped Tour scene and continue to put out solid music, and after listening to this I understood what they were talking about. At a surface level, most of the lyrics seem superficial and shallow (an entire song about your hair? a song actually called "Am I Pretty"?) but that's the beauty of it; none of these songs take themselves too seriously, and they pull it off well. Definitely my favorite feel-good summer album this year.
Favorite Tracks: Miles Away; Same Suit, Different Tie; English Girls,
Favorite Line: "At the moment any place I go is beautiful because in my mind I am miles and miles away"
13. Emery, You Were Never Alone (Spotify)
I've been an Emery fan for a long time (I'm Only A Man is on my Top 25 albums of all time list) and I wasn't sure what to expect with a new album. They had both of their vocalists together for the first time in over 5 years, they crowd-funded the whole thing, and they self-produced it. But it's definitely a contender for my favorite Emery album. Emery mixes intricate musicality with captivating lyrics better than most bands in their genre, and it's a testament to how they've lasted so long as a band. As an avid listener of BadChristian (their podcast), I was hoping all of the hype they put around this would be worth it, and they didn't disappoint. Side note: I didn't know this until they disclosed it months after the release, but this was a concept album: all of the songs are different Biblical stories told from the perspectives of characters in the Bible. I definitely had to listen closely to catch them all, but it was incredible to go back and look at the stories from that perspective. It's worth listening to the podcast episode where they talk about it.
Favorite Tracks: Hard Times, The Beginning, To The Deep
Favorite Line: "Wait, don't go // I’ve been walking through these woods shivering in these new clothes //And I // I wanted to see the world through eyes // But they were never meant for me"
12. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly (Spotify)
I could write an entirely separate post about the social and political statements of To Pimp A Butterfly, but so many others have already done so better than I probably could (Take the time to read Relevant's review, it's really good). What blew me away about this album was that it's not really "rap music". I actually have no idea what the hell it is. It's equal parts funk, soul, jazz, hip-hop, and psychotic. It's downright cacophonous at times. It's disjointed, but in a way that makes total sense. It's probably the only time I've ever heard someone turn the line "This Dick Ain't Free" into a political statement. It's a profound look at what it means to be black and powerful in America, and it's musically one of the most creative pieces I've heard in a long time.
Favorite tracks: Alright, The Blacker The Berry, Institutionalized, Hood Politics, Wesley's Theory.
"You looked at me and said, "Your potential is bittersweet"
I looked at him and said, "Every nickel is mines to keep"
He looked at me and said, "Know the truth, it'll set you free
You're lookin' at the Messiah, the son of Jehova, the higher power
The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit, the nerve
Of Nazareth, and I'll tell you just how much a dollar cost
The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God"
11. Dance Gavin Dance, Instant Gratification (Spotify)
Side note: Dance Gavin Dance could put out an album of COMPLETE GARBAGE and I'd probably still buy it just for the album cover.
This is the first time that DGD has ever put out two albums back to back with the same lineup. When Tilian Pearson joined the band before the last album, Acceptance Speech, I was thoroughly impressed but also curious as to whether or not they'd follow it up well. Instant Gratification is not only their best album with Tilian, it's quite possibly their best album ever...MAYBE even better than Downtown Battle Mountain. This is the first time where I've heard Jon Mess write lyrics that weren't total nonsense. Plus, everyone finally seems to compliment each other. I've always loved how DGD felt so disjointed, how it felt like chaos that somehow managed to work together. This album feels much more coherent; nothing feels unnecessary or extraneous. I'm seeing them live next week with ALL FOUR SINGERS, and I don't know if I've been this excited for a show in a long time.
Favorite Tracks: We Own The Night, Awkward, Something New
Favorite Line: "Where did I go wrong? // There's nothing I can do the thrill is gone //So I play these nervous songs // Pretend that I’m not barely hanging on"
To Be Continued...