So what you’re telling me is that 2015 is over? I. I don’t. I don’t understand.
I’m still trying to solve the mystery of how my calendar pages flew off the wall so quickly this year, but what I DO know is that new music in 2015 totally ruled.
What follows is a list of my favorite / most listened to albums of the year. Note: I am not saying these are the “best” albums of the year. I surrendered my street cred long ago and have no authority on what may be considered the best or worst. I just really like these.
I made a playlist for you! There are a couple songs from each of the albums on this list plus a handful of other 2015 jams (from albums that either didn’t make the cut or have yet to be released in full). You can listen to it in this post or follow the playlist on Spotify!
Full disclosure: My most listened to song of the year is Sorry by Justin Bieber, and I’m not sorry.
Carrie & Lowell | Sufjan Stevens
If you see a “Best Albums of 2015” list, and this one isn’t on it, I’d be surprised. It’s everything you want a Sufjan Stevens album to be. Every song has a strange, descriptive narrative. The instrumentation is light and complementary, evocative of the lyrical content. It’s like listening to your “interesting” cousin tell stories that are so beautiful you drift off to sleep. And I mean that in the best way possible.
If you only listen to one song: Should Have Known Better
1989 | Ryan Adams
I mean, dreams really do come true. RYAN ADAMS COVERING TAYLOR SWIFT?! I didn’t think anything this good could happen in my wildest musical dreams, BUT IT DID. Each song pays homage to the original T. Swift composition but drips with that signature Ryan Adams sadness. Dark, beautiful alt-country grunge sadness, all recorded and produced in analog. He’s so bad, but he does it so well.
If you only listen to one song: Bad Blood
Every Open Eye | Chvrches
Every Open Eye is definitely Chvrches’ breakout album. They’ve always been an electronic band with a feisty female lead singer (with this pure, strong, angelic voice I’m 100% jealous of), but this release is more approachable than their previous work. It’s not a change in style as much as an elegant, natural evolution that works. It’s catchy city. Have fun!
If you only listen to one song: Leave a Trace
Strange Trails | Lord Huron
If Lord Huron isn’t on your radar, your radar is broken. Strange Trails, like Lonesome Dreams before it, is a beautiful collection of haunting love songs and bits of sad and/or eerie weirdness that are still pleasant to listen to. I saw these guys play this fall, and it was one of the coolest shows both visually (flashing skulls!) and musically (flawlessness!). Get tickets if you ever have a chance.
If you only listen to one song: Fool for Love
Coming Home | Leon Bridges
This one will transport you to back to the ’60s, and you’ll love it. With his debut album, Leon Bridges has won my heart with his throwback toe-tapping soul tunes. Plus, he’s totally dreamy! The recordings are analog, no-frills, and perfectly balanced, full of organ, tambourine, bits of brass, and doo-wop BGVs to die for.
If you only listen to one song: River
Adele | 25
Ok, duh. Adele is GOALS. I love 19 and 21, but every single song on 25 is pure gold. People will be talking about this collection of songs for decades. In the midst of nonsense radio pop, Adele is a reminder that popular music can still be thoughtful, graceful, and GOOD. For maximum enjoyment: listen to this in a dark room with a single candle burning, then write an angsty journal entry.
If you only listen to one song: Water Under the Bridge
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World | The Decemberists
I was super pumped for this release because 2011’s The King Is Dead is one of my favorite albums ever. The energy on WATW/WABW is punchier, and the arrangements are fuller. Dare I say it’s more fun to listen to? It’s definitely more approachable for the new listener. I finally got to see them live for the first time this year, and it was one of the most delightful, fun, funny evenings I’ve ever spent geeking out to a longtime fav.
If you only listen to one song: Make You Better
Emotion | Carly Rae Jepsen
Emotion is, by far, the most underrated pop album of 2015. I’ve been evangelizing on its behalf for months like: “Have you heard Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album? It’s so good. This is not a joke.” It’s super catchy and dancey. I dare you to put it on in your car and not end up with the sunroof open, singing at the top of your lungs. It’s also a total 80s throwback, from the beats & synth to the saxophone solos. Just give in. You’ll thank me later.
If you only listen to one song: Emotion
Little Neon Limelight | Houndmouth
This is Houndmouth’s second release, and it’s one of those rare moments when I get to declare that it’s even better than their first. They’re a young band from Indiana, but their music evokes more of a feeling of weathered, southern, oldtimey hardships. As far as alt-country / southern indie rock goes, nobody does it better than these guys. I saw them play twice this year, and both times they were a blast to watch and a marvel to listen to — one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.
If you only listen to one song: Black Gold
Wilder Mind | Mumford & Sons
Finally! A Mumford & Sons album I can listen to! I’ve always thought they were a great band but could never listen to more than one song at a time because they can be a bit of a shouty jangly banjo overload. But the departure from their signature sound and return to their more electric roots on Wilder Mind is much appreciated. It’s a great example of how painting on a different canvas can work really well if it’s done right.
If you only listen to one song: The Wolf
The Desired Effect | Brandon Flowers
Ah, Brandon Flowers: my favorite Mormon! I love The Killers, and I think it would break my heart if Brandon’s solo albums were a huge departure from that sound. It’s just different enough to tell the distinction but similar enough that you don’t feel like it’s his alter ego. I love the variety of this collection: classic country influences, 80s easy listening gang vocals, big brass intros, and even a steel drum/calypso track.
If you only listen to one song: Between Me and You
I Love You, Honeybear | Father John Misty
I love you, Honeybear is a solid second installment for Father John Misty and almost sounds like it could be a companion album to 2012’s Fear Fun. The string arrangements are dreamy. His vocals are dreamy. I’d like to see him experiment more with electronic production as heard on the track True Affection next time around. I saw him live this summer, and he was weird and ragey and beardy and awesome.
If you only listen to one song: Chateau Lobby #4
Made in the A.M. | One Direction
Hello, my name is Tara Bender, and I love One Direction. Made in A.M. is pop perfection with lots of classic influences. You’ll hear nods to Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Queen, and Paul Simon (to name a few) throughout the album. The songwriting is brilliant, and the production is just right. Not that they need critical acclaim to be successful, but mark my words: Made in the A.M. is the beginning of One Direction’s ascent to musical legitimacy. Also: imagine me at their concert this summer having the most fun, squealy, dancey, night of my teenage dreams.
If you only listen to one song: Wolves (Deluxe version only)
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful | Florence + The Machine
I’ve never been an all-out Florence fan, apart from her radio singles. Each of her previous albums has had a standout track (Dog Days are Over, Shake It Out), but How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful doesn’t really have that. Instead, it’s a more even mix of solid tracks with bright spots scattered throughout, and it really works. I also feel like she could probably beat a lot of boys up.
If you only listen to one song: Ship to Wreck
Many Beautiful Things | Sleeping At Last
When I discovered this masterpiece, I literally shed a tear. Many Beautiful Things is an instrumental soundtrack to a documentary about a female artist named Lilias Trotter that I have yet to see. Most of the songs are short — 2 minutes or under — one flowing into the next with careful, dynamic delicacy. Much of it is piano-driven, perfectly complimented with string arrangements & dreamy french horns and flutes + a perfect amount of whimsy.
If you only listen to one song: Meeting Lilias
Sound & Color | Alabama Shakes
This album contains my favorite sassy (and profane) lyric of the year: “I don’t know whose problem it is / I don’t know whose f*ck to give.” BAM. Sound & Color is a solid sophomore album, full of the grungy southern charm that put Alabama Shakes on the map in the first place. Bonus: I saw them perform live this summer and confirmed that Brittany Howard is, in fact, a badass rock ‘n roll goddess.
If you only listen to one song: Don’t Wanna Fight
Kintsugi | Death Cab for Cutie
As long as this band is releasing albums, I will put them on my list. I feel about Kintsugi the way I felt about Codes & Keys and Narrow Stairs: comfortable. There’s a certain comfort in anticipating how one of your favorite bands is going to sound on a new project. My inner glutton for punishment wishes the songs on this album could still make me cry like I do every time I listen to Transatlanticism, but I’ll take whatever they give me.
If you only listen to one song: No Room in Frame
Depression Cherry | Beach House
If I’m directly comparing Depression Cherry (a very fitting title, by the way), to 2012’s Bloom, then my assessment is it’s not as good. But in the general scope of Beach House, it’s their classic synth + keyboard, ethereal vocals, tick-tock drum machine standards that will lull you into a sleep filled with trippy dreams. It’s really beautiful, and sleeping is my favorite, so I mean all of that as a compliment.
If you only listen to one song: Wildflower
Dopamine | Borns
Garrett Borns is a tiny, pretty man who released an EP early in the year and his debut album this fall. You’ve probably (definitely) heard Electric Love by now, which is a pretty accurate representation of how all of Dopamine feels. It’s like slow lo-fi garage band recording meets 80s computer beats + an angelic falsetto and moments of poppiness sprinkled throughout. Is that a genre? Overall, it has a hypnotic, seductive vibe that’s both easy to listen to and reveals a little something new each time. Seeing Stars from his EP is such a bop.
If you only listen to one song: Electric Love
Family of the Year | Family of the Year
In 2012 I fell in love with Family of the Year’s Loma Vista. Although this self-titled release is more subdued than their last, I like it for its vintage-style layered vocals, simple arrangements, and general relaxed vibe. A few songs get rockin, but my favorites are when there’s just a guitar, a driving drumbeat, and maybe an organ or a tambourine. What more do you need?
If you only listen to one song: Carry Me
Our Own House | Misterwives
Misterwives’ debut album is super fun and dancey with the added bonus of some feminist messaging(!) Mandy Lee’s voice is powerful and unique, and her energy makes her the best kind of frontwoman. I saw Misterwives perform this year, and she spent every second running around like a wild woman, still belting out every note flawlessly. The horns on this album will make you remember why you still kind of like ska music. That memory will then cause you to dance around in your kitchen by yourself on multiple occasions.
If you only listen to one song: Reflections
Grand Romantic | Nate Ruess
Nate Ruess’ (fun., The Format) first solo album is pretty much exactly what I expected, especially given the success of fun.’s grammy-winning Some Nights. Admittedly, I miss The Format and wish Grand Romantic would have been more of a throwback, but I’m also a fan of the poppy epic builds, vocal effects, orchestra arrangements, and his signature sad life lyrics. Look at the album cover and imagine that scene in song form. That’s Grand Romantic.
If you only listen to one song: Great Big Storm
Ride | Jason Aaron Coons
My sister in law sent this my way a few weeks ago, and I’ve listened to it A LOT. Something about it makes me feel like college — when I first discovered bands like Jimmy Eat World, Anberlin, Mae. I appreciate the nostalgia, but even if it doesn’t conjure memories of dipping your toe into a pool of early 2000’s alternative-ish bands, you’ll still enjoy his catchy tunes and youthful point of view.
If you only listen to one song: Mello Yello
I’d love to know some of your favorite releases from 2015! Share the love, plz.