#60: Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
Katie Crutchfield follows up her indie-darling breakthrough with a smokier, more autumn-coloured collection of crunchy rock that would have been called “grunge” twenty years ago. A perfect balance of wistful yearning and fist-in-the-air chording.
#59: Ghost Culture – Ghost Culture
A careful balance between EDM and Depeche Mode-esque synth pop, Ghost Culture manages to give atmosphere to the dance floor, like a thick fog descending onto a crowd of ravers.
#58: Desaparecidos – Payola
Conor Oberst has spent ten years running his Bright Eyes moniker into the ground with increasingly bland and irrelevant releases. So it was a surprise when he announced he was releasing a follow-up to Read Music/Speak Spanish, his 2002 album under the name of his power-punk band Desaparecidos. Despite its out-of-the-blue nature, it hits with genuine fervor, turning politics into heady power-pop with a generous splatter of punk rock bile.
#57: Skyzoo – Music For My Friends
Music For My Friends is the jazz-cat Brooklyn version of Summertime ’06. Both albums feature the artist reminiscing about the year they turned 13 and the way their experiences at that age formed the man they would become. Skyzoo, however, puts together a solid cast of underground producers and creates something lush, dense and sticky. It’s less visceral, but for those with the inclination there’s enough packed in here to keep you satisfied.
#56: John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
The former Czars frontman is getting on in years and his wildly hedonistic younger days have left him with a case of HIV. The “Grey Tickles” is an Icelandic phrase playfully describing middle age; the “Black Pressure” is an ominous Turkish phrase describing existential fear and dread. So John Grant is scared about getting old, but he handles it in his usual deeply sarcastic and faintly vicious way.
#55: CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
Lauren Mayberry and Co. have shifted down from their debut – it’s gone from being “the best synth pop in years” to “really great synth pop” – but here it’s largely a case of not fixing what isn’t broken. There’s big synth movements, throbbing bass, grandiose pop arrangments, and Lauren’s signature voice. It seems to work well for The National.
#54: Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
After hitting it big with their second album, 2011’s Ceremonials, the English indie group found themselves in the midst of label restructuring, nervous breakdowns, and general chaos. Out of it came a concept album that comes across like a thunderstorm conducted with real thrilling bombast.
#53: A$AP Rocky – At. Long. Last. A$AP
That At. Long. Last. A$AP was actually fairly overlooked this year speaks to how solid a year 2015 was for hip hop. In many other years it would be a real contender: part wicked flow, part smirking absurdity, and a package made out of production that made it all seem so real.
#52: The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven
The emo revival continues, but there are few bands that get the mixture of Sunny Day Real Estate and Taking Back Sunday as expertly correct as The Wonder Years.
#51: AFX – orphaned deejay selek, 2006-2008
Another blast from the Richard D James vault brings us a burbling, breakbeat-studded set that could have passed for one of his earlier Analogue Bubblebath EPs. Rarely does retro sound so post-modern.
#50: Wavves & Cloud Nothings – No Life For Me
Forget splitting a 12″ – Dylan Baldi and Nathan Williams are going to blend one. Each of their strengths is on full display here: Baldi brings the switchblade-punk that informs the howling work of his Cloud Nothings and Williams brings the eerie half-cracked beach croon of Wavves. It even manages to distill out the bad parts – the Cloud Nothings tendency to repeat themselves and the regrettable Wavves tendency towards latter day Weezer. Maybe they should just form a band.
#49: Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
At first Sleaford Mods make you think that punk-rap is an actual thing, Death Grips be damned. Then you realize that what Key Markets – and every previous Sleaford Mods album – is: a scuzzy, angrily working class distillation of the best Fall albums.
#48: My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
My Morning Jacket finally recover their balance after losing themselves up their own asses. Evil Urges and Circuital were out-there elclecticism that did a massive disservice to the sort of blissed-out festival rock they perfected on 2005’s Z. The Waterfall comes stumbling back around to that sound, still bearing the tatters of their more experimental days. There are touches of prog, disco, and some of the more out-there folk stuff they were mainlining since the first Obama election, but at its core it’s a My Morning Jacket album, like they used to make.
#47: Lady Lamb – After
When I added this album to my ongoing list they were called Lady Lamb The Beekeeper; months later they’ve shortened the name down to Lady Lamb, probably because of the success of “Billions Of Eyes”. Under either name, After is an album of twee-minded, wistfully sung alt-rock, crunchy and whimsical in equal measures – as though Camera Obscura had developed a thing for late 90s college rock.
#46: Erase Errata – Lost Weekend
Why do I keep coming back to this album? It more or less slipped through the cracks of the year, and yet…is it the slick mastery of the riffs? The cracked-out bliss of the melodies? The way the album blurs by before I can even notice it, and yet it feels full and satisfying in a way that albums twice as long can barely achieve? All of the above, probably.
#45: BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
Toronto neo-jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD manages to pull off the same feat as Adrian Younge: they make the atmosphere behind the greatest Wu member sound both comfortable and menacing. They dial down the flair and concentrate on the pure beat, making an analog backing without equal for the cinematic MC’s particular brand of storytelling. The guest work isn’t bad either; that Danny Brown guest spot almost makes the album all on its own.
#44: Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper
After hearing “Floridada” I can safely say that Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper will be considered the last great Animal Collective album. While “Boys Latin” was played into the ground by the radio, the other tracks on this record are just as good, and very nearly as irritatingly catchy.
#43: Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show
Jazmine Sullivan had been crawling her way up the R&B ladder since she was 15 when she suddenly made the decision to peace out in 2011. One of the reasons she cited was a lack of belief in herself, and later rumours added on an abusive relationship as a further catalyst. Then in January she returned and the whole “self-doubt” thing was rendered moot: she could sing like a motherfucker, and the songs were a serious cut above, too. Reality Show is R&B with grit and heart, urban pop that is as at home on the streets and in the trap as it is in the club. Call it a comeback, but in a year of competing comebacks, call it a triumph.
#42: Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower
Allmusic likes to say that 2015 is the “Year Doom Broke” and while there’s something to that, it’s more of a matter of a lot of high-profile doom metal bands releasing solid albums at the same time. None of them scores higher than Grief’s Infernal Flower, though; it takes the de rigeur Sabbath riffs and cranks up the sinister dial, making an album that threatens to swallow you whole even while it forces your head to bang of its own accord.
#41: Craig Finn – Faith In The Future
Ever since Franz Nicolay ditched out, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Minnesota heroes The Hold Steady have fallen victim to the law of diminishing returns. Craig Finn, however, seems to be in finer form than ever. Freed of the need to pile on the rock n roll hijinks, Finn lets his odd voice and his strong authorial tone do the talking for him.