June 25, 2017 / 6:41 PM

Stay Connected

Buzz

Best Albums of 2015 (So Far): Kendrick Lamar, Florence + The Machine and More

  ( Mark Davis/Getty Images )

Six months down and six months to go: Music Times just can't wait until the end of 2015 to release its list of the best albums released this year, so we're giving you a free preview with our midyear favorites. From the highly anticipated returns of Kendrick Lamar and Florence + The Machine, to the first album in four years from a beloved band (My Morning Jacket) to the first album in 10 years from a beloved band (Sleater-Kinney), we had a plenty to sift through and sort out.

It wasn't easy. The core staff at Music Times—Ryan Book, Kyle Dowling, Carolyn Menyes, Ryan Middleton and Jon Niles—agree on musical direction about as well as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Barbs were traded, both verbal and otherwise. "Smh"s were tweeted. The disappearance of Jon's beloved philodendron, Mariska, has yet to be explained (but we pray for its safe return).

With that in mind, we present our picks for the Best Albums of 2015...so far:

10) Sounds & Color by Alabama Shakes

What a year for Alabama Shakes. And if you’ve given Sound & Color a listen, you can understand why. This group was able to completely top their 2012 release, Boys & Girls, in not only groove and overall likeability, but also in songwriting, lyrics and creativity. From the catchy riffs of “Shoegaze” and “Don’t Wanna Fight” to the immense amount of feeling being emoted during “Gimme All Your Love”—specifically during the chorus, in which singer Brittany Howard shows off her raspy, unwavering vocal ability—Sound & Color is a solid follow-up for this group. It’s rare to find an album in which at least one song doesn’t make your finger desire to hit the “next” button but this record undoubtedly has something for everybody. One question now lingering in the minds of fans all across the globe is: Can they do it again on the next album? -KD

09) No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney

It's not as though we needed a revival of grunge's golden girls, Sleater-Kinney, to save female rock 'n' roll in the mid-2010s—recent releases from St. Vincent, Waxahatchee and this list's own Courtney Barnett have been more than enough for that. However, we still welcomed No Cities to Love in January with open arms. Throughout the long and brutal winter months, this LP helped to fight the frigidness with raw power. From opening track “Price Tag” to the rip-roaring title track and the gruesomely intense “Bury Our Friends,” each and every track on this album packs a punch and this album has the unique distinguish of containing absolutely no filler. It’s a stunning achievement when a “reunion” album stands up to your old, celebrated discography, but it’s something that Sleater-Kinney pulled off flawlessly with No Cities to Love. -CM

08) In Colour by Jamie xx

Jamie xx has been primarily known for his work as a member of the British indie-electronic band The xx and as a sporadically-touring DJ and producer until this year. That changed when he announced he was going to release a solo artist album titled In Colour. In interviews, the mild-mannered Jamie was almost hesitant to put out this very personal work but the world could not be happier he did. It's been a great year for LPs in general, but has lacked that blockbuster, critically acclaimed dance music album until In Colour came along. Jamie xx teamed up with his two xx running mates, Romy and Oliver Sim on several tracks, but the highlights were the producer’s warm melodies, complex textures and subtle notes. The album flows effortlessly, even with arguably the song-of-the-summer “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” with Young Thug and Popcaan, coming as a straightforward departure from the other more ethereal tracks. -RM

07) Deep In The Iris by Braids

Braids is like this generation's Dirty Projectors, but with only one singer and more experimentation. Ditching twinkly guitars for piano-based composition, the Canadian art rock outfit released one of the most impressive albums in years with Deep in the Iris. This record runs the gamut of musical numbers—including ballads, anthems, dance tracks and slow-burning rock tunes. We’re told stories through lyrics complimented by really incredible orchestrations and understated underscores. The lyrics are incredibly personal, ranging from childhood stories to straight-up just talking about pornography, but every subject is equally beautiful and haunting on their own levels. Throughout the album, you can’t help but fall into a sort of hypnosis from singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s incredible voice. It’s a subtle but strong voice that ranges from a melodic whisper to an empowering siren akin to Björk. This album is pretty much what Björk would make if she was 25 years younger. -JN

06) Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

There is a tendency when considering the work of songwriters—those musicians who we deem more notable for words rather than instrumental contributions—to look for profundities in every lyric put on the page on the tape. Bob Dylan's lyrical catalogue has been analyzed further than everyone short of Shakespeare himself, yet that ignores one of the most important qualities of a successful folkies: the ability to produce music at an almost conversational level. Courtney Barnett can hardly be classified as a folk performer yet she grasps the genre's most simple charms: streams of thought delivered raw and off-the-cuff, without the gloss that forms when a piece is pored over for too long. If the stories surround "Pedestrian At Best" are true—that the single was written moments before being recorded—then it sums up the essence of this Australian songwriter perfectly. There's something to be said for sitting and thinking, but Barnett points out that unfiltered joy exists in creating mock-ups and plays-on-words as well. -RB

05) Hyperview by Title Fight

Title Fight is a band constantly redefining itself with each new release. The northeastern Pennsylvania four-piece has journeyed from pop-punk to shoegaze in only three albums, but without abandoning any aspects of their beginnings. Sure, we hear more melody and guitar effects, but the angst and attitude are still there, albeit subdued to more crooning rather than yelling. In fact, the vocals feel more like another layer to the music, almost like a synthesizer or piano part. Everything comes together musically as a full orchestration, which is clearly a rare aspect for an act that started off in the hardcore realm. This album feels like Title Fight found out how to successfully pull off what Alkaline Trio attempted to do years ago when they raised production costs and abandoned punk rock—but much, much better. Whenever they put out a record, it makes my end-of-year lists, and Hyperview is and will remain on top for 2015. -JN

04) Foil Deer by Speedy Ortiz

The members of Blondie have long been trampled upon by fans who assume that vocalist Debbie Harry is the titular "Blondie." The story works the same way for Speedy Ortiz, which many assume is the alias of frontwoman Sadie Dupuis. With apologies to fellow guitarist Devin McKnight, bassist Darl Ferm and drummer Michael Falcone, the latter is more accurate and has continued to become more true, as Dupuis' persona becomes more essential and more insistent to the band's identity on Foil Deer. Although no one has accused the vocalist of assuming a Billy Corgan-grip on the band's output, the call of "I'm not bossy / I'm the boss" during "Raising The Skate" suggests that Dupuis is comfortable with the fate (and quality) of Ortiz resting on her back. Not to denigrate the work of her cohabitants: Foil Deer features the best collection of fuzzy, intertwining guitar parts yet from Dubuis and McKnight. -RB

03) How Big How Blue How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine

How Big How Blue How Beautiful may reference the expansive North American sky, but on Florence + The Machine’s latest album, it also acts as a bit of a thesis statement. The big, of course, comes from Florence Welch’s always larger than life vocals, which are on full display on her third studio album. She wails on everything from opener “Ship to Wreck” to closing track “Make Up Your Mind” and finally embraces the rock edge that’s always been underneath in the Machine. The “blue” comes from the lyricism, as Welch candidly deals with heartbreak, giving 100 percent of her true emotions in “Delilah” and album standout “What Kind of Man.” And of, course, the “beautiful” is the end result, one of the best albums of the year that is as cohesive and heart-wrenching as we could hope for. -CM

02) The Waterfall by My Morning Jacket

Fans of My Morning Jacket were waiting patiently (yet excitedly) for another release from the boys from Kentucky since 2011’s Circuital. And like their albums of the past, we were aware that what was going to be delivered could very well be different from the previous sound. And, well, it was—and we loved it. When “Big Decisions” was dropped, we were given the usual (but still wonderfully badass) dosage of MMJ, sounding much like the group we’ve all seen, and drooled over, in the past. But in listening to the rest of The Waterfall, it was evident that MMJ was trying out a newer sound while still holding strong ties to their roots. And much like everything else they’ve done, fans accepted it with open arms and decided to take the ride. While The Waterfall might be different from their past albums, there’s no denying its beauty and ability to rock, calm and elate. -KD

01) To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

When doing our midyear nominations, voting got pretty close for the nos. two-through-ten selections. When it came to no. 1, there was no contest: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly rules supreme. The funky, complex, jazzy, cerebral and forward-thinking album stands tall at the top of our midyear list and it would take a mighty effort from another artist to unseat it come the end of the year. The combination of Lamar’s powerful, poignant, socially conscious lyrics, delivered in a tone that varies from smooth to jagged with the level of anger expressed in his words. It is not album that will produce radio hits because of how eclectic the production is, but the complete body of work speaks for itself. To Pimp A Butterfly is authentic to where K.DOT came from, but the harsh realities of race relations, police brutality, self-worth and income inequality are relevant everywhere across America. To Pimp A Butterfly may well have the lasting power for album lists for years to come. -RM

// Don’t Miss