10 Best Albums of 2015: Kendrick Lamar, Carly Rae Jepsen, Adele & More
2015 has come and gone, but the music that made the last 12 months still remains. Though the airwaves last year may have been filled with sultry R&B, bizarre viral hits and more Justin Bieber than a lot of people find tolerable, in all corners of the musical spectrum, some of the best music in years was rolled out. From Kendrick Lamar's anthemic album for change to Adele's triumphant return, from the personal heartbreak of Purity Ring to the raw mourning of Sufjan Stevens, here are 2015's 10 best albums.
10. Another Eternity, Purity Ring
Since releasing their debut album Shrines in 2012, Purity Ring has amassed a great following thanks to some incredibly real, relatable lyrics over arguably the catchiest dance hooks in years. After a few years of waiting, the duo took their songwriting a step forward with Another Eternity. Singer and lyricist Megan James manages to teach new words like "heartsigh" and "bodyache," while making us feel like we knew these terms our entire lives. There's a clear sense of maturity in her very personal lyrics, which fit so perfectly in producer Corin Roddick's compositions. These songs are heartbreaking and uplifting - but most importantly, listeners can place themselves into each word because the imagery is so vivid. - Jon Niles
09. Currents, Tame Impala
After 2012's Lonerism, Kevin Parker's brainchild Tame Impala was left with two options. The band could have rehashed the same winning formula with its stoner rock and depressing themes or completely switch things up. Releasing the lead single "Let It Happen" showed that they were heading in different direction - one led by synths and hypnotic electronic rhythms as opposed to straight up rock. They did not completely ditch rock 'n' roll, however, with guitars still make their presence known on tracks like "The Less I Know The Better." Heaving and swaying, Currents is another momentous achievement from Tame Impala stepping away from the psychedelic rock to a synth-heavy, disco influenced album with strong roots in pop songwriting. - Ryan Middleton
08. No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney
It had been 10 long years since the world last heard from Sleater-Kinney, but these grungey ladies took 2015 by storm, only reminding us just how long all that time felt. For their eighth studio album, Sleater-Kinney took all of the grittiness, darkness and sludge that helped to distinguish them in the '90s and aughts and added just the smallest amount of pop sheen for their most palatable album to date. That doesn't mean that the band lost its edge, lyrically or musically. Songs like "Price Tag," "A New Wave" and "Bury Our Friends" have a major bite to them, and Corin Tucker's vocals are just as scathing and effective as ever. Welcome back, Sleater-Kinney. Don't leave us again. - Carolyn Menyes
07. In Colour, Jamie xx
2015 seemed like the year that electronic music seemed to move on from creatine-fueled, fist pumping repetitive beats to a greater equilibrium where more thoughtful, emotional songs could be heard by a greater audience. It seemed as though there should be no better man than the quiet and diminutive producer member of The xx, Jamie xx who should lead the charge with his debut artist album In Colour. Sonically diverse and complex, the album brought together the elements fans had heard from his past productions with steel drums and ambient sounds, but with this full-length he draws upon influences from music that exists around him in London like house, garage and grime to create something special that flows effortlessly from start to finish. - RM
06. Deep in the Iris, Braids
Braids is 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 talk of pornography, but every subject is equally beautiful on its own level. 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. - JN
05. Depression Cherry, Beach House
While releasing two full-length albums in a matter of months is impressive for any band, Beach House outdid themselves with Depression Cherry, making the also solid Thank Your Lucky Stars feels like an incredible collection of B-sides that didn't make the cut for this dream pop gem. Since we're all probably comparing these two albums, why not take a look at the band's discography, too. Depression Cherry feels like a jump forward for Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand. Yes, we hear the familiar drum machines and organs, but what stands out is Scally's newer approach to his guitar parts. This album is louder, but with more subtlety than any other Beach House release. - JN
04. 25, Adele
Adele can pack an emotional punch like no one else can - we don't have to be the ones to break that news to you. After the whirlwind that surrounded her sophomore effort 21, it seemed like the only direction that Adele could go was down. But, with the flash release of her third record 25, Adele proved that wrong. She stuck to what she does best on this record: nostalgic tales of love gone sour and an inner struggle to move on. Once again, Adele was fully herself and personal while still resonating with massive audiences. Does anything here totally consume you like "Rolling in the Deep" or "Someone Like You?" Maybe not. But, songs like "When We Were Young," "Water Under the Bridge" and "Million Years Ago" and, of course, that voice proved Adele is still here to dominate. - CM
03. EMOTION, Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen may have seemed like a one-trick pony with her breakout single "Call Me Maybe," but the Canadian pop gem quickly proved critics wrong with her follow-up, EMOTION. Though she failed to revive that magic with commercial success, Jepsen quietly released the best pop album of the year. She was on-trend with glitzy '80s-influenced music, led by that soulful saxophone in album opener "Run Away With me" and followed through with shiny tracks "I Really Like You," "Making the Most of the Night" and "I Didn't Just Come Here to Dance." Her voice, hushed and throaty, played flawlessly against the production, leading to a pop record that is at once timeless and a relic of 2015. - CM
02. Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell is a deeply personal record. As Stevens worked through the death of his mother (the Carrie to his step-father's Lowell), he wrote this album dealing with grief, relief, love and loss all at once. Carrie, who abandoned Stevens at a young age (and multiple times throughout his life) is omnipresent in both the singer-songwriter's life and this album. There's always been a tenderness to Stevens' voice and a deeply personal nature to his lyrics, but with songs like "Should Have Known Better," "Eugene" and "No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross," we get a look into his psyche like never before, and the result is Stevens' best album to date. - CM
01. To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
Incorporating jazz, funk, soul and disco into more traditional hip-hop beats, Kendrick Lamar and his producers flipped the script on what a rap album was supposed to sound like with To Pimp a Butterfly. Lyrically dexterous and potent as ever, Kendrick showed that after two years of touring the his breakout LP good kid m.A.A.d city, he was nearly possessed with an unstoppable ability to write with the verse heard around the world and shortly thereafter his magnum opus in To Pimp A Butterfly. The choice of collaborators was careful and calculated and the pieces outside of music drawn in like the phone call from Dr. Dre, helped to create the greater narrative within To Pimp A Butterfly.
Just as many fans seemed to lament mainstream rap's slow decline into repetitive trap beats and mindless rhymes, Kendrick became a savoir not only as a musical figurehead, but also as one of the more important figures for social change within hip-hop culture.
Not the first artist to touch on the rising racial tensions in the United States in the past two years, these troubled times in the African-American community provided an opportunity for Lamar to be the mainstream artist to fill that gaping musical void. Others like D'Angelo tried, but it never caught on as it could have. In the post-Ferguson climate and the disappointment, disbelief and anger surrounding the injustice of police brutality towards minorities in the United States, To Pimp A Butterfly helped provide a musical outlet for the disenfranchised.
On the surface, To Pimp A Butterfly shouldn't have been as successful as it was. It was brash, not built for radio and challenging for the casual listener. However, Kendrick and his collaborators were able to write something that despite its being quite far from the mainstream that was able to appeal to mainstream fans, hardcore listeners and critics alike. That in and of itself is a monumental achievement. - RM