This week we have been counting down our top 25 albums of 2015, and now we arrive at the best of the best.
The top 25 so far
25: Four Tet – Morning / Evening
24: The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It
23: Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
22: Hooton Tennis Club – Highest Point In Cliff Town
21: Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
20: Metz – II
19: Tame Impala – Currents
18: Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
17: Kagoule – Urth
16: Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars
15: Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
14: Foals – What Went Down
13: FFS – FFS
12: The Libertines – Anthems for Doomed Youth
11: Father John Misty – I Love You Honeybear
10: Drenge – Undertow
9: Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
8: Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie
7: The Cribs – For All My Sisters
6: Girlpool – Before the World Was Big
As chosen by our music writers, here are the top five records that we couldn’t stop listening to this past 12 months.
5: Slaves – Are You Satisfied?
Label: Virgin EMI
Released: June 1, 2015
What a year it’s been for Slaves, who went from tongue-in-cheek two-piece, to tongue-in-cheek two-piece featured regularly on Radio 1’s Live Lounge.
Their cheeky chappy punk was at times so focused on getting playlisted it forgot its edge, but when Slaves brought the snarl, we were more than satisfied. [AN]
4: Grimes – Art Angels
Released: November 6, 2015
Canadian songstress, musician and producer Claire Boucher has successfully created a complex alter ego for herself in the form of Grimes. Her chameleon-like ability to be taken seriously as a pop star as much as an art-house performer is a real skill that she’s pulled off with aplomb.
Her fourth album is the most idiosyncratically poppy record she has produced so far. The addictive hooks, peppy melodies and wild sonic range – not to mention brilliant guest appearances from Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes and future-soul star Janelle Monáe – results in a a bold, unique and colourful album. Provocative and original, Grimes is adamant in playing, engineering and producing every last drop of her music and Art Angels is a triumph of 2015. [SS]
3: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Released: March 15, 2015
Matthew Dunne-Miles’s album of 2015…
It feels borderline silly to have to explain that Kendrick Lamar’s latest is one of the albums of the year, when it really feels to have outgrown that debate within one listen. If Lamar’s previous record Good Kid, M.A.A.D City proved he was more than capable of going toe-to-toe with any of his contemporaries – To Pimp A Butterfly shows he’s knocking on the door of truly iconic hip hop records such as Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Nas’ Illmatic, A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders and, maybe most importantly, Tupac’s All Eyez on Me.
Only time will tell if TPAB becomes a part of that ‘best ever’ conversation, but the fact you can conceive it happening shows how far this record is reaching.
From the G-Funk influence on ‘Wesley’s Theory’ and ‘i’, to The Last Poets beat delivery of ‘For Free?’, to the raw political energy of ‘The Blacker The Berry’, Kendrick surpassed his own high standards and made something culturally significant, a succinct record truly of the time. Can you imagine any other artist’s hit single becoming the anthem of a political protest? Not in this decade.
2: Jamie xx – In Colour
Label: Young Turks
Released: May 29, 2015
As a member of one of the most critically lauded indie bands of recent years, as a go-to remixer for the likes of Radiohead and Adele, as a collaborator with the late, great Gil Scott-Heron, and as producer of tracks for the likes of Drake and Alicia Keys, it’s safe to say that Jamie xx’s solo debut came with a just a teeny amount of anticipation. There had been glimpses of his direction on singles like ‘Girl/Sleep Sound’ and ‘All Under One Roof Raving’, which suggested that Jamie Smith was diving deep into London club culture.
But when In Colour finally dropped in May, it was exactly this pick-n-mix pilfering of underground sounds that caused a backlash in the more leftfield corners of the music press, as Jamie xx was accused of grabbing the best bits of hardcore, jungle and garage and cynically softening their harder edges into a more commercially viable, easy-to-swallow pill.
Like most accusations of this kind though, it’s at best subjective, and at worst deliberately contrived – the subtext goes something like “we were into these sub-genres way before the The Guardian joined the party”.
Where some saw plagiarism, others could recognise that this was a heartfelt, vastly ambitious celebration of the music he grew up with. Whether it’s his xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft singing evocatively about a lost lover over a scratchy beat and contrastingly serene electronics on ‘SeeSaw’, the unexpectedly soaring yet endearingly amateurish synth line on opener ‘Gosh’, or his clever sampling on summer-ready hit ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’, Jamie xx has lived up to his reputation as a soundscape producer par excellence, and In Colour is a record that should be celebrated, not chastised. [NM]
1: Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Label:House Anxiety/Marathon Artists
Released: March 20
Whilst the demise of the once taste-making NME into a free magazine adorned with Rihanna and Justin Bieber on the cover might lead you to think that guitar music is well and truly in its death throes, Courtney Barnett proves we’ve all been totally overthinking it.
This Australian indie-rocker has taken the best aspects of Britain’s indie/punk/garage music – deadpan delivery, lyrical dexterity, big crunchy guitar lines – and dished it back to us in a tight 43 minutes and 50 second package.
From the first lines of ‘Elevator Operator’ to the closing crescendo of ‘Boxing Day Blues’, Barnett moves from sardonic wit to genuine emotion with a sleight of hand so fast you barely notice the change coming.
There’s something very old-school about a record that goes from the bright pop of the beautifully titled ‘Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go To The Party’ to punchy take on heartbreak of ‘Kim’s Caravan’’. It’s neither over-thought nor overwrought, Barnett just takes us along for the ride on a wave of accented delivery – covering themes of depression, joy, love, loss and everything in between.
Comparisons can be drawn with the output of Graham Coxon in his years in exile from Blur; the main difference being that Coxon had already learned his trade in one of the most successful bands of the ’90s, while this is Barnett’s first full-length record.
Cancel the funeral, indie rock isn’t dead just yet. [MDM]
What was your favourite album of 2015?
We want to hear your choice for the best album of the year. Have your say by tweeting #wow247 or posting a comment on our Facebook page.