To cap off our Best of 2015 coverage, we asked a handful of our staff writers to submit their favorite albums and songs of the year.
Make sure to follow all of the blog’s year in review coverage throughout the month of December
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
I don’t want to go with this album, it was my Album of the Year So Far earlier this summer and I loved the latest from Tame Impala, CHVRCHES, and Neon Indian, but with America currently cracking up, Father John Misty’s sophomore album is album of 2015 now more than ever. Between the ascent of candidate Trump and our nation’s mounting multiple existential crises, Josh Tilman’s ode to love, manhood, and getting hitched to that special someone so you can ride out the American apocalypse together seems right on time, all the time lately. It should also be noted that it’s a beautifully produced slice of Americana that your parents would probably love.
Made Violent – “Wasted Days”
I loved Made Violent’s self titled and self produced debut EP to pieces this year from the first listen, and to be honest- I would’ve loved it if they weren’t from Buffalo. Their whole downtown post punk meets LEGENDS OF UK ROCK sound and stoned out vibe is irresistible, none more so than on the EP’s album closer “Wasted Days,” an anthemic jam that sums up the band’s ethos in a shambolic yet deceptively concise three minute single. It’s all there: Justin’s impeccably timed drum thrashing, Rob’s melodic yet crunchy guitar genius, and Joe’s throbbing bass and rock star vocals, on one super tight single that left me wanting more. The interactive YouTube video for “Wasted Days” is also my video of the year.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Paper Mache Dream Balloon
The best album of the year? While it’s still a young release, and perhaps it won’t even reach the mentions on those other 2015 lists, it’s going to have to be Paper Mache Dream Balloon by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. I did a shamelessly loving review of the album a few weeks ago– however instead of wasting time on that article, here is one semi-run-on sentence describing why the album is so great– It’s a garage rock album, recorded completely acoustically without losing any integrity and simultaneously shaking off any connotations regarding the word acoustic (Looking at you, Jack Johnson and Mumford. You guys ruined “acoustic.” Fuck you). Also, two drummers. Fuck. Couldn’t keep it to one sentence.
Dan Deacon – “Feel the Lightning”
The best song of the year? That’s easy… uhh… well… there was a new album to be excited about about twice a month… Sleater Kinney came back… tons of bandcamp artists got signed… Kendrick put out one of the most hyped albums ever… so yeah! Easy to pick! I’m going to go with one from February, from an album that instantly became so ingrained in my brain that I forgot it was even from this year. “Feel the Lightning” by Dan Deacon. Dan took the indie music blogs by storm with Gliss Riffer, his seventh full album. “Feel the Lightning” was a tame electronic piece when compared to most of Dan’s stuff, however that may have been the best case scenario, as it was also one of the most intelligent pieces he’s created. Hopefully we don’t have to wait three more years between releases for the next Deacon project.
Jamie xx – In Colour
In Colour feels like the culmination of so much that has lead to it’s creation, not just the work of Jamie xx, but an entire genre, time, and culture of music. It’s an electronic record that feels so refreshingly personal; a heartfelt love letter to a bygone era of rave culture by someone young enough to have properly experienced it. Which is what perhaps makes In Colour such an affecting record, the sounds of an album produced from childhood nostalgia. The music, city, and culture that surrounded and Jamie Smith as a child is beautifully re-crafted into a single cohesive definitive statement. In Colour is the rare album that tells as much about an era of music as it does an artist.
Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker The Berry”
It’s not that often a song comes along and actually makes my jaw drop. Every once in awhile, I come across a great song, but it’s rare one is so powerful to shake me to my core. And that’s why I was floored by Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry.” A discordant guitar plays over what sounds like repetitious chanting as the track begins, immediately creating an intense hellish atmosphere reminiscent of the production of Kanye’s recent Yeezus album, all before dropping a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on an old Wu-Tang record. Then Kendrick’s voice arrives, full of righteous anger and vitriol. Over the course of three verses Kendrick takes up the role of a young black man who has watched violence rip apart his culture, violence that ceaselessly plagues the black and poor community, violence birthed out of systemic racism.
Kendrick’s verses are reactionary, responding out of hurt and fury to the world he sees around him. And then in just two bars, he shifts the song’s entire subject, “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?/ When gangbanging made me kill a nigga blacker than me?/ Hypocrite.” By playing with the duality of racism and self-hatred, Kendrick creates a nuanced portrait of how hatred and violence can only breed an endless culture of violence and hatred. Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry” is nothing short of a masterpiece. Not just my pick for song of the year, but perhaps one of the most powerful hip-hop songs I’ve ever heard.
Alex G – Beach Music
I initially thought this album to be an underdog nomination for favorite album of the year, but I realized it totally isn’t and shouldn’t be. Alex G is undoubtedly a prolific musician. He strikes me as someone who has a creative urge that speaks louder than anything else in his life, and needs to churn out music for his own sanity. The album as a whole is impressionably weird. He makes frequent use of voice modulation, haunting lyricism, and nostalgia-filled instrumentals. It’s hard to listen to this album and have it not leave an imprint on your mental state. Beach Music is by far Alex G’s best work and makes me hopeful and excited for what’s to come.
Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker The Berry”
This song might be an obvious choice to many but it’s a song that rose to the forefront of musical and political conversation for a reason. Let’s push aside the widely acknowledged notion that the whole album is well-produced and serves as a catharsis for subjects that are extremely controversial and widely neglected at the same time.
“I’m African-American, I’m African… that’s as blunt as it gets, you hate me don’t you?” is the kind of assertion he uses to comment on political oppression. But what makes this song great, is that it’s just as much a wrangling with societal transgressions as it is a wrangling with one’s inner self. Even on a basic level, Kendrick’s use of his art form as a tool to disrupt, transform provoke and inspire is powerful enough for it to be more than worthy for song of the year.
Tenement – Predatory Headlights
This record flew TOTALLY under the radar. The hugely ambitious double LP out on Don Giovanni Records features some of the best songwriting I have heard this year, but really wins the listener over with it’s DIY charm. The melodic style of punk that the trio plays throughout keep the listener attentive by use of sharp, catchy riffs mixed with incredible songwriting, and then lets the listener’s mind wander on some massive, sprawling, more avant garde pieces. I wasn’t very into it at first, but man am I gave this record a chance. I’ve done nothing but talk this band up since I fell in love with this record, and I really can’t wait to see how they follow this one up.
Drake – “Hotline Bling”
What else can I say baby. You know it. You love it. “Hotline Bling.” While I ran all other pop tracks this year into the ground with repeated listening and grew tired of them, “Hotline Bling” stayed true. This is the perfect example of a pop/rap track, but what else can you expect from Drake, someone who has mastered that this point. Not a huge fan of the meme of a music video, but still, great track.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
This was a really close call for me. In one corner was Father John Misty’s tremendous sophomore effort I Love You, Honeybear in all of its sarcastic glory, and in the other corner was the incredibly poignant Carrie and Lowell, Sufjan Steven’s latest outpouring on death, misery, and remembrance. All things considered, it’s almost unfair to compare the two. Though masterpieces in their own regard, these albums are two completely separate weight classes. But if I had to give an edge to one or the other (I do, it’s the whole point of this paragraph), Sufjan Stevens would wind up with belt held above his head. Why? Delivery. Carrie and Lowell may not be reinventing any bars stylistically (in fact, it repurposes the acoustic minimalism of 2004’s Seven Swans), but the album finds Stevens breaking new ground and singing primarily about himself for once in his nine-album career.
The result is a staggeringly emotional look back on his life and his late mother, to whom the album pays tribute. Not to mention his performance at UB’s Center for the Arts this past October, which was–in all sincerity–the most beautiful show I’ve ever been to. Sorry, FJM– you might have the moves, but Sufjan’s got the feels.
-The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird is Home
–Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith
Tame Impala – “Reality in Motion”
If there was one band that soundtracked my summer harder than any other band, it’d be Tame Impala. The Aussie psyche rock outfit put out some of their best material on this year’s Currents, and one gem in particular stood out among the soaring bangers that comprise the album’s thirteen tracks. The irresistible beat of “Reality In Motion” never failed to ignite uncontrollable movement and air drumming in my arms and legs every time I heard it this summer, which was especially dangerous when behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. So if sometime this year you saw a Ford Taurus careening recklessly down the road with a driver who looked like he was being attacked by bees, chances are that driver was just me blasting myself some Currents. Pretty sure I didn’t kill anyone though, so no harm no foul.
-Wilco – “Taste the Ceiling”
-Ought – “Beautiful Blue Sky”
Turnover – Peripheral Vision
It’s not often that you come across an album that is full of music for any mood, but Turnover’s Peripheral Vision turned out to be this year’s pleasant surprise. At the risk of alienating their pizza loving fanbase, Turnover took a risk and abandoned their pop-punk roots to pursue a sound more aligned with dream pop. What results is a much more mature listening experience – 11 simmering songs full of shimmery guitar riffs, witty lyrics, and more earworms than you’ll be able to chase out of your head. The bell-like guitars in “New Scream” are a particular highlight, but be sure to at least listen to the trifecta of monster choruses in “Dizzy on the Comedown,” “Diazepam,” and “Like Slow Disappearing.”
Adventures – “Heavenly”
JSYK, 3/4ths of hardcore mainstays Code Orange Kids have an alter-ego, Adventures. Way back in February, the plucky, quintet not-so-quietly released Supersonic Home, an album that has more in common with Third Eye Blind than Terror. Needless to say, 90s-flavored lead single “Heavenly” was one of my most played this year, and for good reason. Reba Meyer’s charmingly imperfect vocal delivery drives the band who is heavy on fancy time signatures, crunchy guitars, and big pop hooks. The song culminates in an epic ending chant that’s impossible not to get invested in… “he’s a swaaaaaaaaaaarm!”
Big Eater – In Between
Big Eater’s In Between is a zig zag of emotion – a perfect soundtrack to being confused and growing up, driven by sensually delicate vocals. Released by Help Yourself Records (Chastity Belt’s pre Hardly Art) on casette this past fall, the twelve songs are a perfect wish wash of beauty, navigating growing up, relationships, and the general “wait, what?” attitude you have living in a city while life turns around you. Imagine a cocktail of Wild Beasts, Mac Demarco, and being in charge of a jukebox at a bar the first Friday night after a breakup where your ex keeps twisting the knife. This album hits and it hits hard.
The Black Ships – “Aurelian Walls”
My favorite song of 2015 came from Saratoga Springs quintet, The Black Ships. Their album came out just a few weeks ago, but I find myself going back to it over and over again, especially the second track “Aurelian Walls.” This song is an 80’s gothpop gem, in the vein of New Order, Q Lazzarus, or Depeche Mode, and it’s absolutely perfect.