2015 has been a big year for brilliant albums, with everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Adele blasting out savory songs that changed the landscape of music. We saw Jamie XX arise as an incredible solo act, Ben Gibbard got his emo-groove back, and Drake dominated the rap world with brutal rap battles and meme-tastic music videos.
It was tough to narrow down the amazing albums of 2015 to just 10, but here are our favorite albums of the year.
Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples
Vince Staples proved he’s on the path to becoming one of the next great rappers to sprout from the streets of L.A. with his debut album, Summertime ’06. It stands out, even in a year crowded with great solo efforts from the likes of Future, Big Sean, Dr. Dre, The Game, A$AP Rocky and Meek Mill.
Summertime ’06 features a lot of deep, dark, bass-heavy beats that provide the perfect background for Staples’ lyrical stories about racial profiling, drug dealing and gang violence. You won’t find big names on the list of guest artists, but with Staples’ incredible talent for building tiny vignettes into his world, all you need is his smooth flow.
I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear is the second album Josh Tillman has released as a solo act under the name Father John Misty since leaving Fleet Foxes, and it’s quite possibly his best.
It’s one of the best folksy albums of the year, with a beautiful and complex narrative that stretches over 45 minutes and manages to be both messy and astonishing. Tillman’s songs are extravagantly honest and ambitious. The lyrics reek of cynicism and still manage to beguile you with love, creating an experience that’s simply magnificent.
Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett
Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett has an uncanny ability to tell clever little stories mixed with rock guitar riffs and lots of reverb. The 27 year old’s album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit, is packed with breezy, simple stories that’ll have you bobbing your head one moment and swaying the next. Barnett’s music shifts between melodic and grunge in a way that feels so natural it’s utterly brilliant and always delightful.
Sound and Color by The Alabama Shakes
The Alabama Shakes’ electrifying sophomore album takes the band into new sonic territory, with songs that sound uniquely distinct and charmingly analog in an era of AutoTune and synthesizer-laden pop. It’s impossible to listen to the first track, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” in the background; amazing, soul-inspired singer Brittany Howard releases a guttural howl after the intro that does nothing if it doesn’t demand your attention.
Sound and Color’s diverse music will live in your brain forever, with gems like the title track’s lazy, just-behind-the-beat soul sizzle, completed with marimbas that echo Howard’s lyrical melody, or the magical, moody, “Miss You,” which channels some of the best soul singing you’ll hear anywhere. — Rob LeFebvre
iTunes: Sound and Color
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late by Drake
No rapper was hotter in 2015 than Drake. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is the closest thing to a real rap album we may ever get from Drizzy, whose sing-songy raps are slicker than ever on tracks like “Energy,” “Know Yourself,” “Used To” and “Star67.” While he’s full of braggadocios swag, Drake’s contemplative self-awareness sets his raps apart.
Technically, Too Late is just a mixtape, but Champagne Papi dominated 2015 by dropping his collaborative LP with Future, What a Time to Be Alive. Drake’s deal with Apple Music led to the release of a number of one-off singles with guests like Beyonce. His beef with Meek Mill exploded after Drake dropped “Back to Back.” Then Drake struck meme gold with “Hotline Bling,” which went on to become one of the biggest songs of the year thanks to Drake’s dad dance moves.
Currents by Tame Impala
For Tame Impala’s third album, Currents, leader Kevin Parker tossed out the guitar-heavy psychedelic rock jams that made the Australian band popular and replaced them with synth dance tunes that still fit within the group’s ethos. The result is one of the most magical albums of the year, with each song treating the listener to a cacophony of other-worldly sounds that are a pleasure to listen to.
Art Angels by Grimes
While Adele got the sales and Talyor Swift was blasting the singles, Clair Boucher managed to make this year’s most inventive female pop album. Art Angels, the indie pop signer/songwriter/DIY producer’s fourth solo record as Grimes, delivers everything you could want from a monster pop album: sweet fun melodies and dance-friendly beats that defy convention.
Art Angels is both gritty and lovely, with tons of humor mixed in that you won’t get from any other artist. It’s uncompromising in its vision and so huge it’ll make your head spin with each listen.
Kintsugi by Death Cab for Cutie
Death Cab for Cutie’s latest album, Kintsugi, the eighth album for this Washington-based indie rock band and the first with an outside producer, has been nominated for Best Rock Album at next year’s Grammy Awards. With a pedigree like that, you know it’s going to be fantastic.
Ben Gibbard’s capable tenor vocals inform every song on this masterpiece album with emotive strength and musical confidence. The 11 tracks range from the brilliantly twee “No Room in Frame,” where the narrator doesn’t know where to begin, to the compelling “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life,” about the love that got away. The lush arrangements use guitar and synth notes in ever-spiraling connectedness, which will leave you overwhelmed by greatness on each listen. — Rob LeFebvre
In Colour by Jamie Smith
Jamie Smith — one part of the band The XX — dropped one of the funnest, most vibrant-sounding albums of the year with his debut solo effort, In Colour. The album is full of upbeat dance tracks for times when dancing isn’t your main goal, just a planned side-effect.
The songs on In Colour are a lot more positive and brighter than sounds from The XX. Smith still grooves in plenty of intimacy and minimalism as he navigates the jungles of EDM without getting too weird.
Album of the Year
To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
Drake may have been the most popular rapper of 2015, but Kendrick Lamar had the best album of the year — and it wasn’t even close.
To Pimp a Butterfly is a hypnotic masterpiece full of ambition, intelligence and pain with a side of funk. Lamar doesn’t chase catchy rhymes, instead opting for the contemplation of issues like race, fame, depression and poverty. That doesn’t mean To Pimp a Butterfly isn’t fun to listen to. Tracks like “King Kunta,” “Alright,” “The Blacker the Berry” and “How Much a Dollar Cost” balance Lamar’s deep insight into some of the biggest issues plaguing the country with intricate, soulful musical arrangements that burst with hope on the best album of the year.