Top Albums of 2015

As hard as it is to believe, it’s just about time to close the door on 2015. If the internet is to be believed, each year is the worst year in music until the next one, but if you ask us, 2015 gave us some pretty amazing records. Here are the 50 that impressed Alexander Larios, Carter Moon, and Thomas Seraydarian the most. 

top albums of 2015 circular time

50. Ramleh – CIRCULAR TIME

Harsh, power electronics drone is not exactly a genre that could be classified as “accessible.” Yet, somehow, noise veterans Ramleh have managed to craft an immensely palatable, absorbing, mountainous wall of fuzzy guitars, droning bass, and tribal drums with CIRCULAR TIME that is refreshingly enjoyable. For a band with such experimental roots, it’s pleasantly surprising how dance-able a number of the tracks are, particularly when Di Franco’s industrial groove comes to the forefront on tracks like “American Womanhood” and “The March.” This may not be a record for everyone, but for the people who want sexy, dangerous music to make out to in abandoned warehouses, this is as good as it gets. [CM]

top albums of 2015 blieve im goin down

49. Kurt Vile – B’LIEVE I’M GOIN DOWN…

Effortlessly casual and undeniably charming, Kurt Vile contributes another exemplary addition to the modern folk rock canon. Although rather one-note in terms of delivery, the attempts at psychedelia that previous albums demonstrated are eschewed for a focused, concise production style highlighting the technical skill of Vile and his band mates, which surprisingly ends up being present in spades. Evidence of jamming is easily identified, allowing the listener to be consumed in the sunset summer atmosphere that B’LIEVE I’M GOIN’ DOWN cultivates. The appeal of Vile’s nearly free-associative lyrics remain a matter of subjective taste (“I’m looking at you/But it’s only a picture so I take that back/But it ain’t really a picture/It’s just an image on a screen/You can imagine if I was though, right?”), but much like the cover art would suggest, why take things so seriously? [TS]

top albums of 2015 ygg huur

48. Krallice – YGG HUUR

New York metal guitarists Mick Barr and Colin Marston still prove that they’re an American black metal dream team with YGG HUUR. All of the raw Krallice energy from 2012’s YEARS PAST MATTER is definitely present. Every instrument will hit you with waves of nearly anxiety-inducing black metal passion, but this time Barr and Marston wish to challenge themselves a bit, with extraordinary results. Incorporating techniques hearkening back to his roots in Gorguts, Marston adds a bit of tech death flair, especially towards the latter part of the album with tracks like “Tyranny of Thought” and “Bitter Meditation.” Barr meets him at every turn with equally intense guitars and his signature screams of agony. [AL]

top albums of 2015 idlsidgo

47. Earl Sweatshirt – I DON’T LIKE SHIT, I DON’T GO OUTSIDE

Of all the records that attempted to compete with the juggernaut that was TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY, Earl Sweatshirt’s I DON’T LIKE SHIT, I DON’T GO OUTSIDE may be the most apt counter to Kendrick’s modern celebration of black identity in the United States. Whereas Kendrick wanted to speak to an entire generation this year, Earl became introspective to the point of risking isolating an entire audience. Earl proved himself to be a master wordsmith when he was 16, but as he’s aged, he’s grown out of obscene descriptions of violence and found one of the most unique voices and rhyme structures in hip hop. Earl’s ability to make hairpin turns to hook one line into the next, seemingly forever, has never been more apparent than on “Mantra” and “Grief.” But what’s really impressive about IDLS, IDGO is how effectively Earl manages to fixate on the same handful of subjects and express them in different ways. Just as the title suggests, the sense that Earl is spending all his days shut inside because he hates the outside world permeates throughout this whole record; the MC is left with only his thoughts, and those thoughts are far from pretty. Kendrick’s influences and topics were so many that keeping track of them all becomes a chore, but Earl fixates on how he’s disappointed the women in his life, both his mother and his girlfriend, with an almost feverish obsession. It’s his willingness to confess some of the worst thoughts about the people he loves the most that makes Earl’s effort on I DON’T LIKE SHIT, I DON’T GO OUTSIDE noteworthy. [CM]

top albums of 2015 fitful slumber

46. Vespero – FITFUL SLUMBER UNTIL 5 A.M.

Delightfully indebted to the more light-hearted incarnations of retro prog (heavy dashes of jazz and psychedelia), FITFUL SLUMBER UNTIL 5 A.M. is an enjoyable reminder of just how much fun the genre can be. Although the expected technicality and complex musicianship is present (and impressive) in spades, the songs never feel forced or intentionally obfuscated. Unlike many “experimental” records in a similar vein, the songs progress seamlessly without any harsh stop-starts or seemingly incongruous elements arbitrarily thrown in. Although the percussion is the most readily impressive, careful listening will lead to further appreciation of the decidedly more “traditional” guitar work, in addition to keyboards ripped right out of space rock and excellent accents of wind and string instruments. Topped off with an engaging “ethnic” flair, FITFUL SLUMBER UNTIL 5 A.M. is one of 2015’s hidden gems. [TS]

top albums of 2015 new alhambra

45. Elvis Depressedly – NEW ALHAMBRA

“Indie” music nowadays is slowly starting to form into an amalgamous blob of uninteresting, cookie-cutter tripe. Luckily, we have a new Elvis Depressedly record that retains all the indie pop sensibilities that make for easy listening, including extremely catchy hooks and lyrics, without falling into the boring pit of the mundane that categorizes almost all generically sad bands post-Bon Iver. In just a little over 20 minutes, South Carolinian Mat Cothran packs in some evocative guitars, interesting synths and effects, depressing lyrics delivered with a most melancholic drawl, and an intriguing use of vocal samples, especially on the opener “Thou Shall Not Murder.” Though it doesn’t incorporate the out-of-the-box thinking compared to the more experimental releases on this list, it is rare to see a lo-fi indie album produced with this much imagination or charm even whilst preaching of the apocalypse. [AL]

top albums of 2015 sour soul

44. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – SOUR SOUL

BADBADNOTGOOD are a special act in the world of “hipster hop.” They’ll never fit into the wider lexicon of hip hop, but for the “artsy” side of rap, their high energy brand of modern jazz is revitalizing, not that Ghostface Killah really needed someone else to revitalize him. TWELVE REASONS TO DIE is only a couple of years old and is as good as anything Ghostface has put out in his lengthy career. But SOUR SOUL is great because it pushes both of its collaborators into new territory. Here, BADBADNOTGOOD experiment with moody, minimalist atmospherics and a more overtly menacing tone. Ghostface may be rapping about the same things he always has, but at least expresses new experiments in meter and rhythm that show just how much the MC still has to offer. While not all of the efforts on this record pay off, when all the elements perfectly collide, like on “Six Degrees,” a new style of hip hop gloriously emerges. [CM]

top albums of 2015 sun coming down

43. Ought – SUN COMING DOWN

Although the current fashion seems to be blindly regurgitating ice-cold post-punk angularities, Ought continues to put a fresh spin on what was one of 2015’s most recyclable sounds. Despite the inevitable comparisons to Talking Heads and Television that their preferred brand of more optimistic genre antics necessitates, SUN COMING DOWN sees Ought moving away from the skillful mimicking of MORE THAN ANY OTHER DAY into a sonic wheelhouse more their own. You’ve heard all of the adjectives before: jagged, textured, fuzzy, drone-y (and the aforementioned “angular”). What’s important is that this is damn good music that locks you into a groove and keeps you there for 40 minutes. [TS]

top albums of 2015 perpetual

42. Ryuichi Sakamoto / Illuha / Taylor Deupree – PERPETUAL

Award-winning Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, who just finished the soundtrack for the highly-anticipated film THE REVENANT, has always been a master of producing powerfully haunting soundscapes with his minimalistic approach. Just before his cancer diagnosis of last year, Sakamoto sought to record a live session collaborating with Tokyo ambient duo Illuha and Brooklynite Taylor Deupree, thus creating some of the most pleasurable and dream-like sounds since MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS. Finally released in 2015, PERPETUAL will surely put one’s mind at ease with soothing pianos and synths. That being said, it isn’t afraid to prod a bit with some musique concrete-style noises ranging from classic wind chimes to coin drops, making for a nearly enlightening experience. [AL]

top albums of 2015 asiwyfa

41. And So I Watch You From Afar – HEIRS

Capable of being catchy, overwhelmingly energetic, and simultaneously thoughtful math rockers, And So I Watch You From Afar are a gem in modern rock. While not quite as consistently spell-binding as 2013’s standout ALL HAIL BRIGHT FUTURES, HEIRS is still a record that manages to take the listener on a dizzying ride through a constant rollercoaster of shredding guitars. In a year as depressing and bleak as 2015 has been, HEIRS felt like a much needed burst of joy in the midst of all the sadness. The titular track “Heirs” may be driving and relentless, but the nurturing solos that rocket above it are a perfect example of how ASIWYFA operate. They may play heavy at times, but in the end, they’ll always lift you up. [CM]

top albums of 2015 super saiyan vol 2

40. Sicko Mobb – SUPER SAIYAN VOL. 2

SUPER SAIYAN VOL. 2 isn’t a perfect release, and its length renders a few of its tracks recyclable, but it’s a clear improvement upon its predecessor and promises a brave new world for Sicko Mobb and the bop subgenre in general. Quite simply put, it’s unlikely you’ve heard anything like this up to this point in rap history. Sicko Mobb utilize the methods of modern production to fully embrace a sense of surreal, candy-coated thugging, indulging in skittering percussion, rollicking instrumentation that occasionally dabbles in Chiptunes and even hints of J-Pop, and fast flows that seem to transcend human delivery with the considerable amount of effects they’re processed through. The result is something entirely idiosyncratic and unique; Chiraq as painted by Takashi Murakami. Although the mixtape isn’t without its missteps (“Penny Hardaway,” “One Call Away,” “Double Cup”), the numerous skits being repetitive (if mercifully short), the party that Sicko Mobb throws refuses to be shut down. And I’ll be damned if anything can beat that Auto-Tuned call and response of “SkeeeEEEeee.” [TS]

top albums of 2015 abyss of longing throats

39. Gnaw Their Tongues – ABYSS OF LONGING THROATS

Dutch artist Maurice de Jong, otherwise known simply as Mories, is a man who likes to keep himself busy. Specializing in music of the nightmarish variety, Mories has more than a few black metal and dark ambient-influenced projects to his name. His most engaging solo efforts have to be that of black noise project Gnaw Their Tongues. Since 2006, listeners have ventured through Hell thanks to the horrific screeches from both Mories and his instruments. With ABYSS OF LONGING THROATS, Mories shows how forward-thinking he can be despite his well-established sound. Throwing a slew of very prominent strings into the mix of noisy guitars and screams allows Mories to further toy with atmosphere and emotion than he did on previous records while still remaining true to his catalog. For those looking for what depths of depravity a black noise musician will go to once at the top of their game, listen to ABYSS OF LONGING THROATS. [AL]

top albums of 2015 sannhet

38. Sannhet – REVISIONIST

Of all the releases from the dark and eclectic Flenser Records this year, REVISIONIST may be the most soothing. Although underscored by a relentless and brooding energy, Sannhet’s reimagining of atmospheric post rock and black metal is a blanket of all-consuming sound from beginning to end. Listening to this record as a whole can best be described as living through a hurricane from within the confines of an extremely stable cabin. While doom and destruction loom large on REVISIONIST, it’s the odd combination of peace and melancholy that really make this record noteworthy. [CM]

top albums of 2015 CF-055cover

37. Thee Oh Sees – MUTILATOR DEFEATED AT LAST

A deliciously efficient 33 minutes of garage psych, MUTILATOR DEFEATED AT LAST knows exactly what it’s been put on Earth to do and does it well. Featuring an interpretation of psych that focuses on more of a layered, constantly-moving aesthetic than a shoegaze-oriented take featuring heavy levels of fuzz and reverb, the garage rock elements of MUTILATOR DEFEATED AT LAST keep the album moving at a brisk clip with a bite. Groovy and bright without being stoned, MUTILATOR DEFEATED AT LAST rides high on its sails of crisp melody, memorable guitar licks, and youthful exuberance. John Dwyer has managed to establish himself as an important voice in the modern grab bag of indie-ish rock. [TS]

top albums of 2015 deviate from balance

36. John Wiese – DEVIATE FROM BALANCE

John Wiese is undoubtedly a legend in the American noise scene. By working with a number of notable acts including Wolf Eyes, Kevin Drumm, Sissy Spacek, and Sunn O))), as well as releasing a slew of incredible solo records such as 2007’s SOFT PUNK, Wiese has made a huge name for himself. DEVIATE FROM BALANCE simply shows that the guy still knows what noises make for a delectably interesting release. The album’s nearly perfect combination of ambient synths, industrial noise, and musique concrete throws the listener on a slow boat towards insanity, skittering the edge of human understanding into conversing with the divine. Who would have thought that some mechanical screeches and soothing synths would go well together with flocks of birds chirping and the occasional gunshot? [AL]

top albums of 2015 after lady lamb

35. Lady Lamb – AFTER

2015 enjoyed a surplus of original female-fronted music; from punk acts like Screaming Females and Pussy Riot, to fun-and-freaky indie rock like Hop Along, to the rambling folk-pop of Courtney Barnett, the recent pop culture desire for more female artists has created some truly refreshing music with a healthy audience behind it. However, as more girls move to the front, these voices will likely squish together, originality becoming blurred. Luckily, there are still a few new good eggs to be found, one of them being Lady Lamb and her 2015 effort, AFTER. Nearly a decade of experimenting and writing music has gifted Lady Lamb with a nifty ability to write songs with catchy hooks that will take sharp detours into new rhythms and genres within any given track, each held together by her rich voice and honest lyrics. This criminally underrated record passed under the radar this year, but hopefully Lady Lamb’s career will only grow from here. [CM]

top albums of 2015 from sleep correct

34. Max Richter – FROM SLEEP

An eight-hour piece designed to be the soundtrack for a full night’s rest, Max Richter’s SLEEP is as conceptually intriguing as it is functionally beautiful. Although there is obviously something powerful about experiencing the piece in its entirety (it just broke the Guinness World Record for longest live performance), FROM SLEEP serves as an effective sampler of its highlights. Although not New Age in the sense of faux-spiritual synths and hefty doses of manufactured mysticism, FROM SLEEP possesses the same innate desire to tap into the listener’s inner consciousness. Warm strings, synths, piano, and soft vocals create an embrace that will quickly lull the audience into reverie, tossing in a few glimpses of a more ominous ambiance to keep things interesting (“Space 21 (petrichor)”). Instantly accessible, FROM SLEEP is rarely less than gorgeous. [TS]

top albums of 2015 blessed be my brothers

33. Sarpanitum – BLESSED BE MY BROTHERS

After releasing a solid EP in 2011, UK tech death outfit Sarpanitum became a lot more than a simple rip off of Nile. Their latest offering, BLESSED BE MY BROTHERS, bravely displays a myriad of guitar styles that many bands who like to wedge themselves in one particular metal subgenre would not dare to explore. Between the traditional death metal vocals one will hear beautiful, power metal-esque guitar solos and catchy melodies that never seem out of place within the pummeling brutality of the rest of the record. Nearly every track incorporates cohesive and succinct elements of heavy metal music to the point where the sheer ability on the part of guitarists Tom Hyde and Tom Innocenti is hard to pass up. This, paired with a medieval aesthetic, often used in many classic death metal albums, makes for a truly engaging piece of work that easily rises above much of the more stale metal releases of the year. [AL]

 

top albums of 2015 future ds232. Future – DS2

If it’s been anyone’s year in hip hop, it’s been Future’s. Although DIRTY SPRITE 2 isn’t hip hop’s best release of the year, the artist behind it has enjoyed a spike in career trajectory that was entirely unbelievable until it unfolded right before our eyes. Improving upon the templates of BEAST MODE and 56 NIGHTS, DS2 features some of the most dark, chilling, and alienating production ever heard by someone even tangentially related to the mainstream. Future fluxes and flows his way through the mixtape like an inebriated traveler stumbling through an apocalyptic landscape, injecting his industrial Auto-Tune crooning with enough energy to seldom run the risk of being considered lazy. Always with a strong penchant for writing hooks, Future is the rare artist who manages to stay consistently engaging over eighteen tracks, with but a scant singular Drake feature to act as a crutch. [TS]

top albums of 2015 coin coin

31. Matana Roberts – COIN COIN CHAPTER THREE: RIVER RUN THEE

Continuing her triumphant and unstoppable processing of the slave narrative through avant-garde jazz, Matana Roberts delivers yet another crushing and impactful outing on COIN COIN CHAPTER THREE: RIVER RUN THEE. Though it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Roberts’ magnum opus, COIN COIN CHAPTER ONE: GENS DE COULEUR LIBRES, this album will leave you introspective and absolutely devastated. In the same vein of spiritual jazz as that of Coltrane or Mingus, Roberts aims for the realms of the metaphysical. There being little to no point in listening to individual tracks, the listener is best suited to sit back and let the masterful combination of avant-garde jazz, drone, noise, spoken-word and sound-collage carry them away. An abstract and harrowing take on one of history’s greatest maladies. [TS]

top albums of 2015 slime season

30. Young Thug & London on da Track – SLIME SEASON

There is a ton of nuanced thinking present on Atlanta rapper Young Thug’s SLIME SEASON mixtape. Thug’s signature yelps are still intact, but he also shows off a bit of range, turning up the aggression when necessary and even attempting straight-laced singing, always demonstrating a firm grasp on his limits. This is made even better with vocal effects taking on a less-is-more approach. In addition, Thug hits hard on Brick Squad producer Southside’s beat for the track “Rarri.” But where the release really shines is when it caters to pop sensibilities. Though not diving as deep into pop rap as Fetty Wap, Thug’s performances on the more accessible tracks are phenomenal. Both tracks produced by rising Atlanta star Goose, “Calling Your Name” and “That’s All,” are upbeat and extremely danceable. While the mixtape has a notable amount of fat that could be trimmed, it succeeds in providing a crucial stepping stone for a promising rap career. [AL]

top albums of 2015 screaming females

29. Screaming Females – ROSE MOUNTAIN

Riot grrrl is a genre that will most likely always be niche at best, but to fans of the genre Screaming Females have become a welcome and vital breath of fresh air. It’s mostly because frontwoman Marissa Paternoster manages to be one of the most exhilarating guitar players and singers in indie rock. After spending a year in and out of doctor’s offices attempting to find the source of a mysterious illness and driving past a rehab clinic called Rose Mountain, Paternoster got her band back together and Screaming Females managed to scrape together an album based around the pain and strangeness of that year, aptly called ROSE MOUNTAIN. The sheer swell of noise emanating out of this record is often potent, but it’s the quiet moments that really make this record notable; the comfortable groove the band finds each other in during these moments reveal a trio of musicians who trust each other with a full range of musical emotions. [CM]

top albums of 2015 pomegranates

28. Nicolas Jaar – POMEGRANATES

In 1969, director Sergei Parajanov made a biography of Armenian bard Sayat-Nova. 46 years later, electronic musician Nicolas Jaar uploaded the film to his website, with a new soundtrack created by himself to accompany it. The result is beautiful. An emotional, shifting journey through ambient, IDM, and microhouse, Jaar’s soundtrack is alternately heartbreaking, ominous, and downright creepy. While watching the film (as I did) adds a more fully realized sense of emotional depth to the proceedings, the soundtrack by itself still stands strong. There are several transcendent moments that hint at the complicated and deeply personal spirituality dealt with in the film. This is music to accompany your search for the afterlife. [TS]

top albums of 2015 gods of war at war correct

27. Macabre Omen – GODS OF WAR – AT WAR 

GODS OF WAR – AT WAR is all about the details in terms of trying to recreate Greek black metal of old. A lone raven caws before a sinister choir chant, fit for the most bloodthirsty of gods, blasts through. Rapid, galloping tremolo exercises will evoke a primal sense within the listener akin to most well-produced black metal, but Macabre Omen incorporates more than a few soaring power metal influences. Though this is something that many melodic black metal bands try and fail at again and again, Omen nails it. English drummer Tom Vallely (of Lychgate fame) flawlessly blast beats his way through almost all of the album, providing deliciously satisfying and aggressive percussion throughout. Because these dynamics are orchestrated so well, to an almost rock-operatic fashion, the album seems to be much more than what it is. While other black metal releases will attempt to lull the listener to sleep with repetition, Omen will attack with a full army and paint a sonic picture of exactly what the album is titled: gods of war at war. [AL]

top albums of 2015 stretch music

26. Christian Scott – STRETCH MUSIC

For fans of jazz that intersects with and ventures into instrumental hip hop, this is a great time to be alive. Brainfeeder, Flying Lotus’ independent label, is constantly expanding and diversifying with electrifying artists like Thundercat, The Underachievers, Kamasi Washington, and of course Fly-Lo himself. Christian Scott emerged this year as one more jazz artist with a hip hop edge with STRETCH MUSIC. Always a high energy band leader and heart-breaking trumpeter, Scott’s style fits like a glove with the grooves, swagger, and charisma of hip hop. As staccato notes shoot rapidfire out his trumpet, it’s easy to feel like you’re listening to a master MC rather than a traditional trumpeter. Given the breakneck speed of music on the internet, Scott’s constant synthesization of disparate genres feels like a natural progression to match the pace of music today. [CM]

top albums of 2015 ok

25. Eskimeaux – O.K.

A definite highpoint for indie music in 2015, Eskimeaux’s O.K. is short, simple, and effective. Opening with the utterly lovely “Folly,” the listener is soon taken on a pleasant stroll through concisely crafted indie pop. Carrying the lo-fi charm we’ve all come to know and love, Eskimeaux pairs fragile vocals with appealing synthpop influences that join energetic percussion to often build into something anthemic (“Broken Necks,” “The Thunder Answered Back”). Even when O.K. indulges in more introspective songs (“That’s O.K.”), it still manages to sail high on brooding atmospherics that occasionally turn crushing (“Pocket Full of Posies”). Alternately dreamy and keyed-in, O.K. makes itself endlessly easy to fall in love with. Indie pop is not likely to get better than this for the time being. [TS]

top albums of 2015 near death revelations

24. Blaze of Perdition – NEAR DEATH REVELATIONS

Tragedy, especially in the world of heavy metal music, tends to be an amazing source of inspiration. Whether it be Shadow’s suicide or Euronymous’ murder by Varg, these deaths keep names like Dissection and Mayhem echoing throughout metal fandom. Following a fatal bus crash in 2013 that resulted in serious injuries and the loss of bassist Wojciech “Ikaroz” Janus, Polish metal band Blaze of Perdition considered retiring permanently in order to cope with such an accident. Instead, they chose to incorporate the feelings behind their cognizance of life’s fragility by making the appropriately-titled NEAR DEATH REVELATIONS. The authenticity of this album’s message (notably incorporated into the cascading drums, simple yet strong riffs, and blood-curdling vocals) cannot be matched. Melodies and hooks that somehow serve to be both eerie and catchy blend with fantastic solos in the waves of violence that grimly immerse all who partake. [AL]

top albums of 2015 harmlessness

23. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – HARMLESSNESS

Ah, to be tragically hip and beautifully depressed in the midwest in your 20s. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die are a band that embraces their own absurdity as an 11-piece emo band and manages to craft endearing and heartfelt tracks while simultaneously delivering a self-aware wink. “About 15 years ago, you left yourself a note about crying in the dark, and I said that’s dumb enough to put online” about perfectly sums up TWIABP&IANLATD’s outlook on life, acknowledging one’s own sadness and then immediately laughing at it. With such a large ensemble it’d be easy to create simple walls of noise, but the band manages to do something much more nuanced, with cleverly arranged melodies pouring out at every turn. While many were not as impressed with HARMLESSNESS as 2013’s WHENEVER, IF EVER, the band really has grown and developed, managing to bring new levels of subtlety to their music. No small feat for a band with such a silly name. [CM]

top albums of 2015 the soul is the arena

22. Mario Diaz de Leon – THE SOUL IS THE ARENA

As with many other artists in the more avant-garde sphere of modern classical composition, Mario Diaz de Leon isn’t afraid to bring noise, dissonance, and chaos into his pieces. Readily dropping references to composers such as Scelsi, Liegti, and Xenakis in addition to a large list of underground metal acts, THE SOUL IS THE ARENA captures a de Leon focused on juxtaposing the acoustic and electronic, portraying the harsh, jagged beauty that can result from the clashing of the two. Album opener “Luciform” serves as the most obvious example of this aim, as de Leon’s electronics rapidly trade blows with flautist Clair Chase’s delicate and technically impressive passages. “Portals Before Dawn” is the undeniable highlight however, pitting de Leon against a sextet ensemble, resulting in a stark, haunting 20 minutes of ambient enjoyment. [TS]

top albums of 2015 agent intellect

21. Protomartyr – THE AGENT INTELLECT

As always from Protomartyr, we get a delightful combination of noisy instrumentation and Thatcher-era punk stylings that are more thought-out than the typical sounds from bands of the same vein, such as Iceage or Ought. There’s almost never a dull moment in THE AGENT INTELLECT when guitarist Greg Ahee is testing his limits and meeting Joe Casey’s vocal energy, exploring dark places alongside him. By flowing as a cohesive piece, most tracks provide a short burst of energy, but each has a unique personality all their own. With THE AGENT INTELLECT, Protomartyr has hit a new threshold, having produced an album that hits a deep chord most all music fans seldom feel. Rarely can an album be nostalgic while at the same time looking to new musical horizons. This is definitely a step in the right direction for the post-punk scene and rock music in general. [AL]

top albums of 2015 sometimes i sit

20. Courtney Barnett – SOMETIMES I SIT AND THINK, AND SOMETIMES I JUST SIT

It’d be easy for Courtney Barnett to verge into precious indie rock territory with everything about her delivery and style. And yet, her blunt and vulnerable ability to tell a story fills a niche few songwriters rarely do anymore; she actually tells a story rather than just create a word collage. She can sing about asthma attacks, swimming, or bungalow shopping, and describe it with just enough clarity, drawing out the most essential elements of the experience while tossing aside the irrelevant, until the listener is left with unique insight into what otherwise would be a mundane experience. That ability to make the everyday extraordinary is what sets SOMETIMES I SIT AND THINK apart from its many imitators in indie music. [CM]

top albums of 2015 beach music correct

19. Alex G – BEACH MUSIC

The fundamental takeaway from lo-fi wunderkind Alex Giannascoli is the totality of the “bedroom producer” that he emulates. Although BEACH MUSIC is presented with slightly more polish than previous efforts, “intimate” is simply an inescapable descriptor when dealing with Alex G. Although nostalgic and often melancholy, Alex G does away with the general “hazy” sense of many lo-fi projects to present us with tracks proudly exhibiting his sense of maturity and craftsmanship in terms of songwriting. In addition, an interesting dichotomy is present wherein Alex G presents us with both a more fully-fleshed out conception of experimentation (“Intro,” “Look Out”) and pop sensibilities with a focus on hooks (“Bug,” “Brite Boy”). Both work like a charm, and although it could be argued that the highs were higher on 2014’s DSU, BEACH MUSIC easily cements its creator as one of the most vital voices in modern indie rock. [TS]

top albums of 2015 all dreams end

18. Airøspace – ALL DREAMS END

This is an album so personal and so confessional that it occasionally gets uncomfortable to take in. It’s worth it, though, as Airøspace takes the listener deeper and deeper into his luscious and rich world of stream of consciousness rhymes that oftentimes seem as though they’ll stretch on until the end of time. Airøspace’s real talent lies in taking everyday, personal girl problems and spinning them into abstract questions about our existence and purpose in the universe. He’s one of those powerfully lyrical MCs whose lyrics really read like poetry on the page, so getting to hear him deliver that poetry with visceral honesty is just icing on the cake. [CM]

top albums of 2015 the epic

17. Kamasi Washington – THE EPIC

This is one of those records that’s so dense and so vast that you could easily go your entire life trying to listen to it and never actually finish the damn thing. Stretching on for three hours across three discs, this is not a record to be entered into casually. Once you do take on the astounding wall of music longtime jazz session musician Kamasi Washington has generated, however, you’ll discover an absolutely transportive experience. Washington doesn’t so much play the saxophone as bleed through it, but he does so with the support of an incredible and diverse orchestra. Half of what makes THE EPIC so remarkable is Washington’s ability to wrangle and direct the seemingly endless army of musicians who back him through almost every subgenre of jazz. From afrofunk and neo-soul to classical music and traditional jazz, Kamasi and his incredibly talented musicians run the full gambit of what even seems possible in music, let alone jazz. [CM]

top albums of 2015 2481_4PAN_GATEFOLD_WALLET

16. Boduf Songs – Stench of Exist

This album can take you to very depressing places. Mat Sweet’s whispers penetrate through dismally sad guitar and piano melodies, occasionally outdone by hints of industrial noise bubbling underneath. STENCH OF EXIST looks at depression by way of music through a nuanced, experimental lens and challenges listeners to keep from slitting their wrists as Sweet murmurs horrific analogies of humanity’s deserved suffering and defeat. Compelling electronic effects and the creepiest of robotic voices on “Head of Hollow-Fill and Mountaintop Removal,” speaking cryptically of man’s brief role in a mechanically operated world, makes this album well worth exploring. [AL]

top albums of 2015 abyss

15. Chelsea Wolfe – ABYSS 

Singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe has flirted with heavily distorted guitars for most of her musical career, adding to her uniquely alluring sound and establishing a subgenre simply known as “doom folk.” For her latest project entitled ABYSS, Wolfe downs the entire pitcher of doom metal kool-aid. Thick, droning guitars create an incredibly gloomy and oppressive atmosphere which sees Wolfe’s previous endeavors paling in comparison. On a good chunk of these songs, the instrumentation is bigger than and louder than, but never at odds with Wolfe’s vocals, especially considering how powerful and evocative they can be. With this album, Chelsea Wolfe has shown that she has fine-tuned her style to near perfection. If she was not already at the apex of her musical career, she surely is now. [AL]

top albums of 2015 oblivion access

14. Lil Ugly Mane – OBLIVION ACCESS

After the obliterating atom bomb of music that was THIRD SIDE OF TAPE, it would have been strange if Lil Ugly Mane had followed it up with an even semi-straightforward rap record. He certainly didn’t disappoint. The production here is trance-inducing and simultaneously grating, forcing the listener into a lucid dream state that serves as the perfect background to absorb the lyrics LUM spews. And “spews” really is the correct word here. The nihilistic anger Ugly Mane unleashes on track after track can be a grind to get through, but the precision with which he executes his rhymes is so awe-inducing that the listener inevitably comes back for more. It’s hard to know where the line between brutal honesty and cruel joke is during most of this record, and it reaches its apex on “Collapse and Appear,” when Ugly suddenly stops rhyming and Siri starts reading his lyrics for him. “I fall apart and take my mind with me/I have been just sustaining/my pain just marinating,” she says. Is he saying that these things are too difficult to say himself, so he’d rather have a machine say them? Or is he commenting on how automated our society is becoming that now he doesn’t even have to rhyme for himself? Or did Ugly just think it would sound sick? We’ll probably never know, and that’s precisely why OBLIVION ACCESS will remain a rap record for the history books. [AL]

top albums of 2015 everything else matters

13. Pinkshinyultrablast – EVERYTHING ELSE MATTERS

Instantly throwing the listener into a state of reverie, Pinkshinyultrablast craft a masterful 44-minute opus of noisy shoegaze that hearkens back to the genre’s heyday without sounding too recyclable. Pleasantly emotional, it’s easy to find yourself swept away by the lilting, angelic tones contained within. A heavy sense of melancholy is present, but the band injects enough hope into the proceedings to prevent the experience from being depressive. Fuzz is masterfully employed here to keep everything from ever sounding entirely solidified, and the sonic structures and dreams create the perfect background for the soft vocals ripped right from a Heavenly chorus. It’s like driving down the 10 Freeway to Arizona as the sun rises, reflecting back upon young adulthood and how everything seemed so fresh and full of promise. [TS]

top albums of 2015 hud dreems

12. Knxwledge – HUD DREEMS

Released on the consistently enjoyable Stones Throw Records, HUD DREEMS follows many of its peers in delivering engaging, inventive hip hop by way of jazz. The drum patterns and rhythms are much more complex and intricate than with the work of many other producers, and intriguing vocal and instrumental samples are used throughout (“demskreets.fekts,” “thtroll”) to great effect. Featuring a collection of 26 concise and kinetic tracks, HUD DREEMS presents to us brief flashes of hazy, street-oriented California fantasies. Dreamy and heavily aesthetic (there’s even some nods to vaporwave on tracks such as “tkekareofit”), the tracks on HUD DREEMS feel like a late-night walk through an urban cartoon. An instrumental hip hop album this captivating draws obvious comparisons to J Dilla and Madlib. Although it remains to be seen whether Knxwledge will stand the test of time or exit the sphere of public consciousness, HUD DREEMS is an exemplary record any way you slice it. [TS]

top albums of 2015 jenny death logo

11.  Death Grips – JENNY DEATH

Perhaps, if we’re lucky, this will be the last Death Grips record ever. It’s far from their best release, but as a swan song, it’s fantastic. Openly sampling their own music at times, Death Grips is very clear on this record that they have nothing new to offer the world, so they deliver on the formula that’s already worked for them so well. It’s hard to complain, because “Beyond Alive,” “Centuries of Damn,” and “On GP” are some of the strongest tracks that they’ve ever released, and probably their most sonically cohesive. For a group that has quickly been becoming a meme of themselves, this is all fans could ask for, a record that has all the best elements of what the group has done over the course of their brief and tumultuous time as an act. [CM]

top albums of 2015 painted shut

10. Hop Along – PAINTED SHUT

Indie rock records are innumerable and typically of middling quality, but what separates Hop Along from the rest of the pack is the undeniable charm of Francis Quinlan’s vocals. Punchy, full of emotion, and always on the edge of a shriek, Quinlan perfectly compliments the spark plug nature of Hop Along’s musicianship. Although melodies and choruses are still present, the band demonstrates remarkable variety, consistently varying tempos and riffs to keep the audience engaged. Structure is present, but Hop Along always give the impression of… well… hopping along. Though occasionally aimless and featuring a rather dull acoustic number (“Happy to See Me”), this comparatively angular nod to indie’s post-hardcore roots that still focuses on accessibility easily stands out amongst guitar-based rock in 2015. [TS]

top albums of 2015 a year with 13 moons

9. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – A YEAR WITH 13 MOONS

A captivating blend of drone, ambient, and glitch, on A YEAR WITH 13 MOONS Jefre Cantu-Ledesma imparts great beauty unto the listener, with enough static and decay to remind us of that beauty’s ephemeral nature. The ambient soundscapes ebb and flow into one another like some gargantuan creature, firmly yet gently sweeping the listener off their feet. This is music that makes life seem more worth living, as death is always just a step or two behind; a bit like perpetually driving through fog, with sunlight periodically breaking through the cracks to remind you that there’s a big, beautiful world out there. It’s constantly reminiscent of the hope and pain of humanity. [TS]

top albums of 2015 the dreaming

8. Akhlys – THE DREAMING I

Colorado-based black metal artist Kyle Spanswick, popularly known as Naas Alcameth, has been in the game since the early 2000s, and with THE DREAMING I, under the long forgotten Akhlys name, he perfects his craft. To put it bluntly, this project is downright evil and corrodes even the purest of souls with an atmosphere far more scary than most every album this year. This brutally unforgiving black metal onslaught is complete with rapidly discomforting instrumentation and atmosphere that depicts an endless descent into oblivion. As fast as they may be, these guitars stride nicely along in order to reinforce song progress as opposed to tiring out listeners, and Spanswick’s extremely long screams transfix and astound throughout the course of the album. Overall, this work of abrasive blasphemy is excellently produced and constantly tempts listeners to give in to its maliciousness. [AL]

top albums of 2015 asdfasdf

7. Katie Dey – ASDFASDF

There’s just not much music you hear nowadays that can be categorized as both challenging and charming. Coming out of Melbourne, Katie Dey’s lazily titled ASDFASDF manages to bring warmth to an otherwise cold and stale indietronica backdrop. Rather than using lo-fi and friendly melodies as a crutch, or to polish sonic turds, Dey showcases unique endeavors with these tropes, creating a vibe teetering between Bjork glitch pop heaven and Xiu Xiu depths of depressive insanity. Merging seamlessly with off-putting instrumentation, the effects-laden vocals present in the album never seem to lose a flair of passion. The true talent may shine in tracks like “fear o the dark,” where Dey sings near indiscernible pitch-shifted sonnets of angst, on the verge of robotically sobbing, behind stripped-down guitars. But trying to frown is nearly impossible when listening to the next song, “unkillable,” which is a short and happy burst of energy with some disturbing lyrics peppered in just to keep the proceedings weird. “You’re on your own,” coming from what sounds like dying children, also strikes a profound chord. There’s much more that fails to be described using words inside this tiny package, and even following countless replays, there is always something that stuns me in its scant 20 minutes. [AL]

top albums of 2015 never were the way she was

6. Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld – NEVER WERE THE WAY SHE WAS

Introducing the strings of Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld to Colin Stetson’s avant-garde saxophone styling was a masterstroke. Moody, atmospheric, hypnotic, and hauntingly beautiful, NEVER WERE THE WAY SHE WAS immediately indoctrinates the listener in the ebbs and flows of Stetson’s ominous horn lines, contrasted sharply with Neufelds‘ beautiful violin work. Although the listener will be overwhelmed by the washes of sound that each artist contributes, there’s a constant layer of menacing electronics that hint at something sinister lurking just below the surface. Showcasing Stetson’s signature breathing techniques, the album lures the listener into a comfortable drone, keeping us on our toes with the implication of something warped and twisted. NEVER WERE THE WAY SHE WAS is one of the most emotionally effective records of the year. [TS]

top albums of 2015 shinerboy

5. Gnarwhal – SHINERBOY

As dirty in its production as it is masterful in its musicianship, SHINERBOY is a warm and overwhelming blast of garage-inspired math rock that comes around only rarely in indie music. This is an album where two friends pour their souls into their music, and even when things get lyrically heavy, there’s an obvious undercurrent of infectious joy. While a lot of this record could be dismissively labeled as simply “fun,” digging a little deeper into the record through multiple listens reveals an album that really is about celebrating life in spite of its struggles, something much more profound than having fun. [CM]

top albums of 2015 garden of delete

4. Oneohtrix Point Never – GARDEN OF DELETE

Daniel Lopatin has definitely made a name for himself in the electronic music community. His latest effort under the Oneohtrix Point Never name, GARDEN OF DELETE, challenges but never attacks or bludgeons with stretches of atonality or screeches. Every tone on GARDEN OF DELETE excels at being comfortably in line with the entirety of the album in energetic and accessible harmony. The sounds that surprise, and there are a ton of them seeing as how the whole OPN name has been attached to the sheer unpredictability of Lopatin’s work, fall into a distinct rhythm that a listener can easily consume. Even the few tracks that may seem like filler provide a good heap of engaging bits. Having been at this for the better part of a decade, Lopatin knows how to correctly calculate how each sound will complement one another. The album showcases him at a high point coming off of the success of the vaporwave sensation and showing other experimental electronic artists what’s what. [AL]

top albums of 2015 have you in my wilderness

3. Julia Holter – HAVE YOU IN MY WILDERNESS

HAVE YOU IN MY WILDERNESS is exceptionally ambitious in the best sense of the word. Featuring complex, unorthodox composition and instrumentation, the album is made all the more impressive by how downright gorgeous and enjoyable it is. Styles and influences mix and muddy to create something that exists as a steadfastly unique artistic statement. Holter’s vocals are brought to the forefront as everything but the kitchen sink combines with the tightest of rhythm sections to present a definitive release from the year. Rising effortlessly above the multiple examples of art pop that have dominated discussion as of late, HAVE YOU IN MY WILDERNESS eschews the frigidity of the digital age for something much more organic, blissful, and serene. [TS]

top albums of 2015 to pimp a butterfly

2. Kendrick Lamar – TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY

This isn’t so much an album as it is an honest-to-goodness experience. There is no effective way to sum up the depth and breadth of emotions that occur over the course of TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY’s 79 minutes; this easily joins the ranks of the other historical albums that have to be heard to be believed. Afrocentric jazz, funk, soul, psychedelia, and spoken word masterfully combine with West Coast hip hop sensibilities to paint a powerful and effective portrayal of the current social climate. What is perhaps most important is that TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY caused many who are historically aloof to, for the first time, become invested in the trials and tribulations of those experiencing the effects of a long history of racial discrimination and turmoil. This is an entirely necessary slice of political and racial commentary, and is just as imperative as virtually every publication has told you. The most important release of the year by a landslide, and perhaps one of the most important releases of all time. [TS]

top albums of 2015 third side of tape

1. Lil Ugly Mane – THIRD SIDE OF TAPE

It’s no secret that Ugly AKA Travis Miller AKA Shon “Well” Kempt AKA Two Timin’ Dean The Cat Fucker is one of the most renowned hip hop artists on the net. The final part in a trilogy, THIRD SIDE OF TAPE, may very well be the best compilation the 2010s will ever hear. It’s known that Miller constantly has a number of different projects in the works. A plethora of industrial noise releases with cheeky artist names? Check. Spitting thought-provoking lyrics with the tightest, Southern-inspired flow so hard that it earns the respect of rap stars from Raider Klan to Odd Future? Check. Buried YouTube video of a set turning into a drug-fueled, man-on-man kissing sesh? You got it, KARATE MAN! With this release Miller shows off how eclectic he can be by serving up what seems like the entirety of his unreleased work. Packed into 3- to 15-minute long snippets, blasts of harsh noise, ambient, calypso, indie jams, 90s hip hop samples, a deliciously fuzzy black metal segment, and PLENTY of Ugly Mane’s well-produced beats happily coexist. The comparisons to SOUNDTRACKS FOR THE BLIND are fair. The personal touch Ugly Mane imparts on each of these segments is unmistakable and appreciated. THIRD SIDE OF TAPE literally has something for everybody, especially for those who love music so much that they consider genre labeling as boxing in. I really hope when humans die out that aliens will discover THIRD SIDE OF TAPE. To hell with that golden disc thingy. [AL]

 

 

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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