I knew that 2015 was going to be a good year for music when Sleater-Kinney, Belle & Sebastian and Bjork had all released albums within weeks of its’ start. Pretty much every artist whose albums I look forward to released one in 2015. The only downside to which is that there were many new (or new to me) artists who released great albums but couldn’t quite squeeze into my top 10. Haiku Salut, Ultimate Painting, Kendrick Lamar, Holly Herndon & Sleaford Mods are all albums well worth checking out. But on to the list (Spotify playlist of all ten albums below)
10. Joanna Newsom – Divers
Joanna Newsom is one of my all time favourite artists, and the person whose song this site is named after, so after waiting 5 and a half years for a new album, expectations were high to say the least. So, for Divers to simply be a very good album was a slight disappointment. It lacks the epic scope of Have One On Me or Ys, and the direct melodies of The Milk Eyed Mender, but is intricate, always interesting and more musically varied than anything she has produced before. Released late in the year, it may have time to grow on me yet. Even a slightly underwhelming Joanna Newsom album is better than most albums released any year.
9. Four Tet – Morning/Evening
Four Tet released one of my all time favourite electronic albums, Rounds, over a decade ago now, and I have gradually lost touch with his music in the years since. What I have heard was still pretty good, but more dancefloor orientated and never quite intriguing enough to make me delve in deeper. However, I’d heard some good things about Morning/Evening, so thought I’d give it a try, and was not at all disappointed. The album consists of just two tracks, Morning Side and Evening Side. I wrote about the beautiful, Bollywood sampling Morning Side a little while back, so won’t repeat myself, but the slightly harder edged Evening Side is almost equally compelling. My favourite electronic album this year.
8. Lonelady – Hinterland
The excellent ‘Groove It Out’ single had raised my expectations for this, the debut album from Lonelady, but I had my (unfair) suspicions that she might be a one trick pony, the trick being skeletal post-punk funk. The album, however, was so much more, expertly melding catchy pop melodies with avant-grade flourishes in a way that few could pull off. Didn’t garner as much critical acclaim as some of the other albums on this list, but equally deserving.
7. Low – Ones and Sixes
I’ve been listening to Low for fifteen years, and they have written some of my favourite songs of all time, but I’ve drifted away from them over the years, paying less and less attention to each album. They’ve yet to release an album I dislike, but they seemed to get further from classics such as Secret Name and Things We Lost In The Fire each time. Until Ones and Sixes that is. The gorgeous harmonies remain, and the desolate yet somehow life-affirming lyrics, but the handful of great songs which appeared on the last few albums become a torrent on Ones and Sixes. Add to this a new found love of crunching electronics, giving a new depth and atmosphere which Low have not previously explored, and you have their best album for a decade.
6. Ata Kak – Obaa Sima
I wrote about Ata Kak’s story in my tracks of the year, and earlier in 2015, so I won’t go deeply into it here. But suffice to say that I didn’t expect one of the albums of 2015 to be from Ghana in 1994 (I count it as an album of 2015 as it wasn’t released in the Uk until 2015, not like you care). An insanely fun blend of hip-hop, electro and eighties drum sounds, It made me smile more than any other album in 2015.
5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
There have been a surprising number of artists this year who have been around for 15, 20 years or more, but come close to their creative peaks in 2015. Sufjan Steven has, I think, actually surpassed his best previous works. Carrie and Lowell, an album inspired by his mother and stepfather, takes everything that was great about Stevens’ early and mid 2000s work, and adds a heartbreaking layer of personal, confessional lyrics. The music remains as delicate and intricate as ever, and the melodies sublime. A tough album to listen to, but one of the most rewarding singer-songwriter albums of this or any year.
4. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Chateau Lobby #4 was my single of the year, but Father John Misty is far from a one-hit wonder. He has spoken of how creating the character Father John Misty (he had previously released albums simply as J.Tillman) paradoxically allowed him to be more honest, to express parts of his personality, pleasant or otherwise, that previously remained absent from his music. It shows in the sheer variety of the songs on this album, from the swooning, romantic title track, to the angry, bitter ‘Ideal Husband’, to the sardonic ‘Bored in the USA’. Also, who couldn’t love an album with lyrics like “The neighbours are complaining that the misanthropes next door are probably conceiving a Damien”
3. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Along with Ata Kak, this album was probably my biggest surprise of the year. I never expected to become like the Mercury Prize and have a token jazz album on the list. But, as I wrote back in November, it takes a special album to make one reconsider an entire genre. This album is undoubtedly special, with a huge variety of jazz styles across its’ almost three hour length, but never pretentious, worthy, dull or any other word I previously associated with jazz. Only downside of this album is that as a parent of a toddler I pretty much never have 3 hours spare to sit down and listen to it.
2. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
Sleater-Kinney are, if not my absolute favourite band of all time, then pretty damn close. I’ve loved them for almost 20 years, and their back catalogue is close to perfect (patchy debut album aside). So there was always a good chance they would appear on this list. But yet, bands who reform rarely produce great new music. Even Pixies, who I love just as much, disappointed with their most recent album. However No Cities To Love never lets you down. Weighing in at just ten songs and slightly over half an hour, it doesn’t waste a second. Each track is powerful and thrilling, with more energy than any other band in the planet. Amazing that after almost a decade apart that they could pick up just where they left off (and finally get the acclaim they deserve)
1. Bjork – Vulnicura
Artists producing their best album for many years is a bit of a theme of this list. Every album Bjork releases is fascinating in one way or another, but since the wonderful Vespertine, I’ve enjoyed them less each time. I’d got to the point where I expected Bjork to never release a truly great album again, but Vulnicura proved me entirely wrong. Choosing collaborators expertly as always, the beats of the Haxan Cloak and Arca are sublime, as are the strings woven so perfectly with the electronics. But most of all it’s the songs. More direct, more heartfelt, more beautiful than anything Bjork has written before, and that’s saying something if you’ve ever heard the likes of Unravel or Cocoon from earlier albums. At the albums heart is the staggering, epic, Black Lake, which would alone make this an album of the year contender. And the rest of the album is nearly as good. It may not convert those who are not already Bjork fans, as it’s not the easiest listen, but it is so rewarding for those who give it a chance.