The top 20 albums of 2015 – on and off the radio
By Taylor Crehan & Luke Janke
2015 was a big year in music. From Justin Bieber’s comeback album to Adele’s first record since “21,” the music world has been anything but ordinary for the past 12 months. However, some of the best records released this year weren’t on the charts or playing on the radio. Here’s a list of the top 20 albums of 2015, both pop and underground.
- “Currents” – Tame Impala
The third studio album released by Aussie rockers Tame Impala in July, “Currents” is candy-coated psychedelia that oozes pure energy as soon as you sink your teeth into it. Come for the roller coaster that is the seven-minute opening track “Let It Happen,” and stay for the infectious guitar riffs found in “The Less I Know The Better.”
- “Honeymoon” – Lana Del Rey
Since first emerging onto the music scene in 2012, Lana Del Rey has proved that her sultry, dark songs are here to stay. Her fourth studio album, “Honeymoon,” which was released in September, includes a completely different sound than previous works and serves as the antithesis of her dark and mysterious persona that was cultivated through previous albums like “Paradise” and “Ultraviolence.” Come for the jazzy “Terrance Loves You” and stay for “High By The Beach,” a trap-like whirlwind that just might be her best song to date.
- “Beauty Behind The Madness” – The Weeknd
Abel Tesfaye, the Canadian mastermind behind rhythm and blues chart topper The Weeknd, is predicted to dominate at the upcoming 58th Grammy Awards due to the success of his latest album, “Beauty Behind The Madness,” which was released in August. The record, which includes several collaborations with superstars Ed Sheeran and Kanye West, has churned out radio hits like “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills.” Come for “Tell Your Friends,” a jam with unforgettable lyrics like “I’m never rocking white / I’m like a racist,” and stay for “Shameless,” a slower ballad that should have been released as a single weeks ago.
- “Another One” – Mac DeMarco
Mac DeMarco is the quintessential love child of slacker rock and indie, and his fourth studio album “Another One” proves just that. A compilation of his trademark head-bopping guitar riffs and quirky lyrics, its sales and reception proved that its DeMarco’s best album to date. Come for the smooth opener, “The Way You’d Love Her,” and stay for the peaceful tidal wave that is “A Heart Like Hers.”
- “Fetty Wap” – Fetty Wap
With smash hits like “Trap Queen” and “679,” New Jersey native Fetty Wap proved that while he may be the newest rapper in the game, his newcomer status doesn’t mean he has the least talent. His first studio album, “Fetty Wap,” had the perfect title, as it should be all about him. His unique voice and ability to go from verse to verse without losing breath is prevalent throughout the album. Come for the radio hit “Again,” which will get you on your feet and dancing in no time, and stay for “RGF Island,” which begins with soft piano but quickly transitions to the trap beats that made the young rapper famous in the first place.
- “Wiped Out!” – The Neighbourhood
L.A. rockers The Neighbourhood went off the grid after lead singer Jesse Rutherford dabbled in rap, but the posterchild of dark indie reemerged with the release of their second studio album “Wiped Out!” in October. Reminiscent of their core sound that put them on the California rock scene back in 2012, the album includes songs that are slower than the band’s usual but don’t lack in substance. Come for “R.I.P. 2 My Youth” with its standout chorus, and stay for the dreamy, slow and sweet as molasses “Daddy Issues.”
- “Purpose” – Justin Bieber
After a turbulent past few years, Bieber’s fourth studio album, released in November, became synonymous with the word “comeback.” “Purpose” is tangible proof of Bieber’s 360 both musically and attitudinally. Its rhythm and blues vibe differs from the cookie-cutter pop that gave him his claim to fame, buts it’s exactly what the Canadian native needed to do to prove his singing ability. Come for the slower emotional ballad “I’ll Show You” and stay for the danceable “Sorry,” one of the hottest tracks on the album.
- “Art Angels” – Grimes
Dark pop princess Grimes changed music forever with her sparkling techno-pop ballads found on previous albums like “Visions.” “Art Angels,” her fourth studio album, released in November, is no different, except its lighter and less complex but all heart. Come for the fast-paced, heart-pumping “Flesh without Blood,” and stay for the hauntingly beautiful “Life in the Vivid Dream,” with its thought-provoking lyrics, such as, “I could tell you that people are good in the end, but why, why would I?”
- “What A Time To Be Alive” – Drake, Future
Perhaps one of the greatest collaborations in the hip hop world, “What A Time To Be Alive,” released in September, combines rap geniuses Drake and Future and generated three-dimensional songs that have solidified both of their careers. Following the release of the song of the summer and perhaps a generation, “Hotline Bling,” Drake continued to bring his all with this mixtape. Come for the clever “Jumpman,” and stay for “Diamonds Dancing,” an unorthodox, head-bopping jam that would mesh just as well at a frat party as it would at an underground club.
- “Glitterbug” – The Wombats
British indie rockers The Wombats first emerged onto the music scene in 2007 with the cheery “Let’s Dance to Joy Division,” and their happy-go-lucky aesthetic carried over to their latest April release, “Glitterbug.” A melting pot of audible sunshine and toe-tapping worthy lyrics, the album is The Wombats at their finest. Come for the catchy opener “Emoticons,” and stay for “Your Body Is A Weapon,” a spinning, light-hearted track reminiscent of their previous work, “This Modern Glitch.”
- “Natural Born Losers” – Nicole Dollanganger
Dark and gloomy can’t begin to describe Nicole’s haunting, abysmal sound. Tackling issues of depression and abuse, she pirouettes around dampened guitar swells with her delicate voice. Although Nicole started off recording solo albums in her bedroom, 2015 was a breakout year for her. Joined by a full band outfit and support from Adderall-driven synth pop star Grimes, Nicole has finally made her way to big-stage stardom. “Natural Born Losers” is a brutally honest glimpse at sub-suburban Canadian grunge life. While still keeping her gloriously petrified voice, Nicole stood out this year with her indie spirit.
12. “Carrie & Lowell” – Sufjan Stevens
There’s a lot that makes “Carrie & Lowell” stand out from others on this list, and it’s difficult to sum it up in one paragraph. Sufjan grapples with the death of his troubled and distant mother while coming to terms with his own depression. A perfect companion for anyone dealing with emotional turmoil, this album is not overly dramatic but tells a story of struggling (and sometimes failing) to climb out of a rut. But, Sufjan reminds us, and himself, that there is still beauty and illumination in life.
13. “Depression Cherry”/ “Thank Your Lucky Stars” – Beach House
Both albums released by Beach House this year have their ups and downs. It’s important to note that “Thank Your Lucky Stars” played as more of the B-sides for “Depression Cherry,” but fans suggested that the outtakes were notably better than the fully furbished album. Coming to terms with which release is better is difficult, but Beach House has always had a knack for killing it on the indie bandwagon. The lo-fi outfit pairs well with any sort of indie rom-com and a can of Arizona Tea.
14. “Divers” – Joanna Newsom
After a five-year absence since her triple album, “Have One on Me,” Newsom returns to her whimsical ephemera and strums out a beautifully produced record. “Divers” takes you through a fantasy world of bird warfare and mortality. Some suggest that this album is a mixture of Newsom’s three distinct stylings from her previous albums. While sticking to her traditional roots on the harp in some tracks, she finds ways to incorporate multi-instrumental tracks that include percussion, a rarity for Newsom songs. Casual listeners may have trouble getting into her unique vocals, but stick around for the content of the album and you’ll be treated to solitary and fulfilling experience.
15. “Sound & Color” – Alabama Shakes
Front woman Brittany Howard is a powerhouse when it comes to singing. Her boisterous range and aggressive live performances are intimidating. Alabama Shakes broke out of mundanity from their debut album with this year’s “Sound & Color.” The transitions from genre to genre in this album are incredible. The twin guitar arrangements on some of the tracks are ingenious. Overall, this album took 2015 for a spin, and we’re still feeling dizzy.
16. “Return To the Moon” – EL VY
EL VY (pronounced like the plural for “Elvis”) is an eclectic mix of The National front man Matt Berninger and multi-instrumentalist Brent Knopf. It’s just what you’d expect from a mix of the two; Matt’s gloomy and narrative vocals accompany upbeat rhythm and guitar sections to make a hauntingly cerebral experience. Matt being a typecast “sad sack” really shines in this side project as a “fun-loving dad” character, and it’s a real treat in the closing months of 2015.
17. “Double Down” – Darwin Deez
The release of “Double Down” flew under the radar for most major music sites, but that doesn’t mean this album should be ignored. Since his debut release of his self-titled album and the subsequent, more experimental album “Songs for Imaginative People,” Deez has hit a strong middle ground with this year’s album. Songs on this album pan from witty lyrics to heartbreaking images of unrequited love. It’s definitely a fun album to take a late night drive to.
18. “Blurryface” – Twenty One Pilots
Dynamic in its fluidity of genre bending mixed with tastefully witty lyrics that get stuck in your head all day, “Blurryface” was a raging success for its stunning charisma. Masterminds Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun bring a euphoric mix of rhythm and blues, pop, rap and rock sounds in this 2015 release. While their more melodically-driven track “Tear In My Heart” will have you dancing even through the mid-song tempo change, “Stressed Out” will inspire you to quit your day job and question authority. It’s a pleasant mix of fun and disestablishmentarianism.
19. “Get to Heaven” – Everything Everything
The English alt-rock group has mainly flown under the radar in the U.S. due to their limited U.K. releases. However, the quartet’s third studio album finds a balance between linear pop beats and their signature triply guitar experimentation and jazzy fusion rhythms. Lead vocalist Jonathan Higgs has a distinct falsetto that throws the band over the threshold into the realm of superb.
- “E*MO*TION” – Carly Rae Jepson
Without a doubt, the year of pop diva female empowerment is 2015. With icons like Rihanna, Nikki Minaj and Taylor Swift, women have dominated the attention of America. What makes Carly Rae Jepson a standout from the list though is her raw and powerful way of putting personal feelings into her music. It’s even in the title of the album. This, her tribute to ‘80s power pop, is overlooked in the pop world but definitely worth a solid listen.