Today continues Earbuddy’s countdown of our choices for the 100 best albums of 2015. Check out what we ranked for 100 – 36 HERE and 35 – 26 HERE and 25 – 11 HERE. Finally, we’ve made it to the Top Ten Albums of the Year. Not discounting the great music that came before these releases, but the top ten includes the albums that stick with us for the years to follow. Why? Because these are the albums we mostly all agreed on as being very very good. Now onto our favorite 10 albums of 2015.
The Epic is the best jazz album of the decade. It has to be. I’m not the biggest fan of the genre, but I’m also not a big fan of albums that rival Titanic in terms of length, and this was my second-favorite album of the year. The Epic’s near three hours might register as intimidating on paper, but there’s never a dull moment here, never a moment that displays some lack of understanding of skill or composing chops. This is an album about the beauty of art and of love and of change, and for all that is actually in this damn thing, part of me wishes it could have been an hour longer.
It’s true that Earbuddy is mostly an indie music oriented site. So a lot of the music we LOVE isn’t exactly loved by everyone, especially the ones only choosing the music they like by listening to pop radio. However, our staff still enjoys mainstream music, especially when it’s done right. So when John Downey suggested Carly Rae Jepsen’s album, Emotion, for our Best list, I didn’t even second guess him. First of all, it’s John Downey — this guy has a track record of being harsh on a lot of stuff that the site generally likes. But most importantly, he also has solid taste. And his love for Emotion is validated by the rest of the staff’s love for it as well. Adele may get all of the attention in the pop world, but just remind yourself how good Emotion is by turning up “Run Away With Me”.
Call 2015 the year of funk’s rebirth. Led by D’Angelo’s triumphant return to music after a 14 year recording hiatus, Black Messiah signaled a funky shift that was felt all year. Released early as a response to events in Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner, Black Messiah mirrored our number one pick’s call to action as well as the nu-funk nu-soul influences in “To Pimp A Butterfly”. D’Angelo’s arrangements flow from simple and catchy (“The Door”) to complex and sexy (“Really Love”) and everywhere in between. Black Messiah is a complete album from head to toe with a politically charged heart that lets it stand tall in our often-vapid cultural landscape.
In the age of the female pop-star, one glaring problem is the lack of autonomy in today’s music. Co-writes and production duties handled by anonymous Scandinavian men are problems that Claire Boucher cannot be bothered with. Crafted entirely by her instead of pandering to trends and teenagers, she crafts the pop mainstream in her image, and the dense, energetic songs residing within only cement her as a force to be reckoned with. Failed Rihanna tunes are certainly not the most high-profile ghostwriting work that Boucher will be doing in the near future, and on Art Angels, all of the pop instincts on Grimes’ breakout album come bubbling to the surface. Forceful and angry, but never forgetting to throw in a crushing hook or two, Boucher has emerged from the haze of reverb, a singular, crystal-clear voice.
Earbuddy has been championing Julia Holter for quite some time, but 2015 feels like the year that everyone else is finally starting to catch on to just how great she actually is. Already knocking our socks off with three previous excellent albums — Loud City Song was AMAZING — she returns with Have You In My Wilderness, which could be considered as her most accessible release to date. However, it doesn’t compromise on the quirky, experimental nature of her past songs, even if Have You In My Wilderness is decidedly more pop. Joanna Newsom may get all of the attention for her “creative” but somewhat exhausting music; however, Julia Holter is just as creative without making you repeat a song three or four times before understanding its meaning.
First: fuck Illinois. I said that a few years back on this site, and while my write-up explaining why I feel the need to say “fuck Illinois” was a bit undercooked, I still love saying fuck Illinois and what it stands for, which is the promise that Sufjan Stevens would grow into this wonderful folk artist that would define our generation, so praise this album so you seem ahead of the curve when he eventually puts out an album that is actually really good. The best parts of Illinois were its more intimate moments, when Stevens felt the need to talk about shit that made you uncomfortable, and yet Stevens felt the need to make dozens of songs like “Chicago” and the title track, overblown pop ditties that were fine enough in a vacuum but registered as pedantic compared to what The Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were putting out at the time, which was ten years ago. So, yeah, fuck Illinois, because that seemed for the longest time to be the best work that Sufjan Stevens would ever make, and just when it feels safe to dive off the rapidly disintegrating hype train that is the Sufjan express, he put out goddamn Carrie & Lowell, the best folk album of the year and one of the best albums of the decade so far.
Like, who could have seen that Stevens had an album like this in him? Still knew how to wrench out a phrase for all of its meaning for massive tearjerkage (“I lost my strength compleee-heetly”—fuck you, asshole, I’ve got something in my eyes, AND IT IS TEARS). Could write a fucking song as compositionally strong as “Drawn to the Blood” or “Should Have Known Better” or every other song here? Sun Kil Moon was rightly praised for his writing and delivery throughout last year’s Benji, but Carrie & Lowell blows that masterpiece out of the water in pretty much every measurable fashion. If there was an album that more successfully explored depression and death this year than Carrie & Lowell, we couldn’t find it—and we looked everywhere.
While Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” was 2015’s call to arms, “I Love You, Honeybear” was a call to apathy. J. Tillman dons the cloak of his alternate persona, Father John Misty, and creates an album so full of irony and disdain that nothing seems to be safe. And yet Tillman still somehow produced music so (darkly) earnest and memorable that even Harry Nilsson would be impressed. Tillman calls up both the excesses (“Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins”) and mundanity (“Bored In The USA”) of modern life with unflinching and at times uncomfortably direct eye contact while simultaneously entertaining the hell out of us.
During my college days, Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker was my most played record (for various reasons). Their retranslation of the Beatles circa Magical Mystery Tour mixed with modern high fidelity production was an addictive concoction to develop an affection for the genre of psychedelic rock. Lonerism preempted the sophomore slump with an even bolder and brighter sequel to Innerspeaker. At that point, I thought there was no more room left for exploration of their sound, which threw me for a loop when I first listened to Currents. A band that was a weed smoking college-friendly mainstay had grown up and entered the real world maturing into an introspective and more methodical group. Currents operates from a place of wisdom; accidents, break ups, loss of friendships and loved ones have forced the band to put what is truly valuable in perspective and yet they still keep optimistic. This shift of attitude is most notably present in songs like “Yes, I’m Changing” and “Let It Happen”. The music video for the latter shows that whatever catastrophe happens whether it be a heart attack or plane crash that there is still hope for a positive outcome. “Eventually”, a song for the ADD afflicted individuals created by the world of technology and instant gratification to learn the valuable virtue of patience and faith that things will work themselves out. Currents is the emotional reconciliation that the last two records traded for technical psych rock worship and that is totally fine because it takes bravery to say the things that matter most.
It’s interesting to track people in music who graduated from a prestigious music school and end up having success in their musical career. Jamie xx over the last couple years if anything has shown he is a dedicated student to the art form by using his plethora of musical knowledge to fine tune his releases with ultimate precision. The reinvention of the steel drum, the tireless crate digging for the perfect sample and developing a production style unique to his solo work and his work with The XX has allowed him to create the wonderfully vibrant In Colour. The rainbow colored album art matches the tone of the record song to song starting with the riot-inciting energy of “Gosh” which symbolizes a blood red color with its narrator chanting and hollering with a nervous percussion section in the background. The guest vocalist contributions from The xx and Young Thug are well placed and gives Jamie xx’s a much needed human quality missing from his earlier singles. A record like In Colour only comes around so often, and it is sure to to be continuously spun by even the most jaded music aficionados for years to come.
My first response on finding that the Earbuddy collective had voted Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly as the best album of the year was to burst out laughing. I mean, of course it is the best album of the year, right? This isn’t an unpopular or controversial opinion—countless other publications, including tastemakers for the babyboomer generation Rolling Stone and tastemakers for whatever the fuck we’re calling this generation Pitchfork, have this as their pick for album of the year. It is my pick for album of the decade so far. With all that said, the conversation we all had about this list placed incredible doubt towards what was going to place well on this list. Prurient’s Frozen Niagara Falls is comfortably in my top ten; the highest anyone else put it was at 49th. Ryan’s pick for the best album of the year was the Rustie joint; it landed 86th on my list. We have incredibly divergent opinions on things, is what I’m trying to say.
I would have been fine with To Pimp a Butterfly not being #1, actually. Heck, I would have been fine with it barely cracking our top ten. This has been a wonderful year to be a fan of music, and I would have been fine with the list of albums in our top ten reconfigured into any order. They all deserve to be the #1 of something, and the biggest bummer when it comes to making a list like this is the fear that next year can’t possibly be as rewarding as this year.
For as divergent as our opinions can be, though, and as packed with killer albums as this past year was, To Pimp a Butterfly was the only album that placed in everyone’s top ten, and why not? There’s something here to sink your teeth into no matter how you dissect art. It is one of the most sonically satisfying albums of the year as well as one of the most incendiary political works of the year, so whether you’re into music for the backing beats or to parse some deeper meaning, To Pimp a Butterfly works for you. That’s a gigantic oversimplification of the album’s merits, but I’ve already written more than a thousand words about it in a review and nodded my head while reading several more thousands of words singing the album’s praises that I don’t know what more can be said about it besides that this has been such a great year for music that I doubted that the album I feel is the best of the decade so far would do well on so many year-end lists, and I think there’s something gut-bustingly hilarious about that.
And President Barack Obama’s favorite song of the year…
And now a look at our complete list:
100. Wild Raccoon – Mount Break
99. HIBOU – HIBOU
98. Aqualung – 10 Futures
97. Misterwives – Our Own House
96. Lapalux – Lustmore
95. Of Montreal – Snare Lustrous Doomings
94. GABI – Sympathy
93. White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again
92. All We Are – All We Are
91. The Cairo Gang – Goes Missing
90. Sun Hotel – Rational Expectations
89. Jose Gonzalez – Vestiges and Claws
88. Travis Scott – Rodeo
87. Shlohmo – Dark Red
86. Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching
85. Sarah Bethe Nelson – Fast Moving Clouds
84. Jaakko Eino Kalevi – Jaakko Eino Kaveli
83. Blur – The Magic Whip
82. Young Thug – Barter 6
81. Vomitface – Another Bad Year
80. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf
79. Martin Courtney – Many Moons
78. The Black Ryder – The Door Behind The Door
77. Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls
76. Oberhofer – Chronovision
75. Adele – 25
74. Main Attrakionz – 808s and Dark Grapes III
73. Slutever – Almost Famous
72. Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer
71. Future – DS2
70. Ash Koosha – Guud
69. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
68. Matthew E. White – Fresh Blood
67. Mount Eerie – Sauna
66. Shannon and the Clams – Gone By The Dawn
65. Autre Ne Veut – Age of Transparency
64. Wilco – Star Wars
63. San Fermin – Jackrabbit
62. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
61. Pile – You’re Better Than This
60. Clarence Clarity – No Now
59. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ
58. Petite Noir – The King of Anxiety
57. Lady Lamb – After
56. MIkal Cronin – MCIII
55. Ava Luna – Infinite House
54. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
53. Youth Lagoon – Savage Hills Ballroom
52. Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie51. Floating Points – Elaenia
50. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper
49. Lower Dens – Escape from Evil
48. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?
47. Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire
46. Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.$$
45. Death Grips – Jenny Death
44. Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last
43. Drake – If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
42. Hudson Mohawke – Lantern
41. Beach House – Depression Cherry
40. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
39. Laura Marling – Short Movie
38. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…
37. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
36. Björk – Vulnicura
35. Miguel – Wildheart
34. Joanna Newsom – Divers
33. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love32. Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
31. Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
30. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
29. Rustie – EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE
28. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
27. Arca – Mutant
26. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Style
25. Alex G – Beach Music
24. Viet Cong – Viet Cong
23. Holly Herndon – Platform
22. Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School
21. Hop Along – Painted Shut
20. Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars
19. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
18. FKA Twigs – M3LL155X
17. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
16. Torres – Sprinter
15. Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
14. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
13. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
12. Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
11. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
10. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
9. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
8. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah
7. Grimes – Art Angels
6. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
4. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
3. Tame Imapala – Currents
2. Jamie xx – In Colour
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
And that’s it for 2015! Be sure to join us next year when Earbuddy returns with even more album reviews and original content. We’re going to be trying out some new, exciting things, so I hope you’ll stay with us as Earbuddy continues to get even better and turn you on to excellent music.