the interns’ Best Albums of 2015

Written By the interns on 12/15/2015

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It’s been one of the best years for music in a very, very long time but we’ve managed to whittle the list down to 20 brilliant records…

20

20. Shamir
Ratchet

“This is me on the regular, just so you know,” 21 year-old Las Vegas local Shamir sings on Ratchet’s hallmark track On The Regular. As it turns out, Shamir on the regular is a shit load of fun with a healthy dose of weird. That translated into a pop album equals ‘80-infused synths, toylike beats and sassy lyrics. It’s a pop album that’s just as catchy as Taylor Swift’s 1989 but in a scaled-back way.

It feels intimate and approachable as if Shamir could be your best friend and/or key to blurry night out. When the alternative scene got too serious this year, this album brought it back from the brink inducing personality and colour. It’s in your face and obnoxious but Shamir warns us of that when he sings, “why not go out and make a scene.” He’s successfully made a scene and nobody’s looking away. – Sam Murphy 

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19

19. Neon Indian
VEGA INTL. Night School

Neon Indian, the man largely responsible for a wave of shoegaze a few years back, seemed like an unlikely candidate to release one of the year’s most danceable records. He went back to the drawing board on VEGA INTL. Night School, creating an ever-flowing groovy project. He kept some of the washed-out production that defined the Neon Indian of old but injected more forthright melodies and upped the tempo taking us to the dancefloor with him for the first time.

Slumlord bounces with energy while 61 Cygni Ave errs on the side of corny without ever crossing the line. On Smut when he sings the lyric “night school,” a voice comes through exclaiming, “that’s the name of the record.” It’s a kitsch move but it’s the best example that this time around he’s having fun and that’s what comes across louder than anything here. – Sam Murphy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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18

18. Kehlani
You Should Be Here

In 2015, R&B was well and truly back. Tinashe had already perfectly married the hipster scene and the mainstream world and Soundcloud was flooded with young artists referencing the genre in someway. It became tiresome which meant something had to be really special to stand out. Kehlani’s You Should Be Here was special. It paired gut-wrenching soul number with cool R&B jams introducing us to Kehlani as a sharp-tongued artist not afraid to bare everything.

Album highlight How That Taste feels like a victory lap so early in her career as she sings, “swallow that pride, tell me how that shit taste.” She then rips hearts out on The Letter singing, “every girls needs a mother and dammit I needed you,” simultaneously tearing down every wall. Despite the pain, she still ends on the sentiment, “damn I feel alive.” It’s unprecedented for mixtapes to be nominated for Grammys but this is more than a mixtape, it’s an autobiography. – Sam Murphy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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17

17. Florence + The Machine
How Big How Blue How Beautiful

In many ways Florence + The Machine’s Ceremonials made the same mistakes as Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. It was too big, too glitzy and too manicured stripping it of any human emotion to rather trade in the grandiose. On How Big How Blue How Beautiful she righted her wrongs. Instead of going big, she went personal and in a roundabout way managed to create something epic. Opener Ship To Wreck, felt limp on first listen but thousands of live performances later it’s a career highlight turning despair into glory with that howling voice singing, “to wreckkkkk.”

She’s grittier than ever on this record, head-thrashing alongside guitars on What Kind Of Man and throwing caution to the wind on the goose-bump raising verses of Third Eye. Still she never loses that twinkle of hope that helps her see the world through rose-coloured glasses. On the title track she sings, “every skyline was like a kiss upon the lips,” saying at live shows that it was written at a time she was in love with everything. That feeling of giddiness remains long after the record finishes. For every storm she creates on How Big How Blue How Beautiful she resolves it with a clear sky. – Sam Murphy 

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16

16. Drake
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

What even is a mixtape anymore? If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is supposedly a mixtape but it was released for a price and also featured some of Drake’s best work to date. The surprise release of the tape was one of the most genuinely exciting moments of the year ensuring that Drake’s name was not one that went unmentioned in 2015. Energy, Legend and Know Yourself were powerful additions to the Canadian rappers arsenal proving that he doesn’t need big-voiced popstar to deliver him the hooks.

“I was ridin’ through the six with my woes,” from Know Yourself is a quintessential Drake line similarly ridiculous and genius, trademarking another Drake-ism in “woes.” He may be remembered in 2015 for Meek Mill diss tracks and Hotline Bling but his best work is here in a tape that shows he needs little bells and whistles to succeed. – Sam Murphy 


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15

15. CHVRCHES
Every Open Eye

On first listen, Every Open Eye sounds deceptively simple. It would be easy to dismiss this album as being unadventurous and lacking boldness, but if you were to only take that impression from it then you would have missed the entire point of the record. It is in instead the small intricacies and explorations in structure, and diversity of texture that they have developed since their last record and that exist between the tracks here, that show just how far they have come as a group in terms of diversity.

Lauren Mayberry’s voice is just as spectacular as you would expect, but what’s immediately remarkable is the varying contexts in which it is employed.  There are up-beat bangers like Empty Threat and Make Them Gold, which definitely sound like the CHVRCHES of old. However, there are also tracks that show a new direction for the trio, specifically Down Side Of Me andClearest Blue. Down Side Of Me shows off a darker side to CHVRCHES, whilst Clearest Blue is the absolute highlight of the record and is the ultimate example of an exploration of structure. – Zanda Wilson


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14

14. Beach House
Thank Your Lucky Stars

When Beach House announced the release of their second LP in less than two months the biggest concern was how they would differentiate it from the first. The Baltimore duo had only ever released albums a few years apart, delivering never more than 11 songs at once. Thankfully, when Thank Your Lucky Stars arrived it was playing in a different field to its predecessor Depression Cherry.  

It’s a smaller, more simplistic record that removed the haze that hung over DC, focussing more on songwriting more than production. As such, we got some of the most sprawling, beautiful Beach House moments yet like the looming elegy to the void or the heartwarming All Your Yeahs. This was proof that despite all their success the duo could scale it back to their origins and match the feeling of Teen Dream or Bloom without bolstering their sound. – Sam Murphy 


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13

13. Vince Staples
Summertime ‘06

Vince Staples two-disk debut alongside Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly were the only hip-hop records in 2015 that successfully made big statements and delivered big hooks at the same time. Summertime ‘06 was a wildly ambitious release for a debut album but Staples pulled it off with ease melding no fuss beats with poignant lyrics. He doesn’t mess around with lyrics on the album always giving it to us straight with an autobiographical preciseness. “My teachers told me we was slaves, my momma told me we was kings, I don’t know who to listen to,” he raps on Summertime summing up beautifully one of the main themes of the album – finding identity.

This isn’t a party album but by no means does it feel like a chore to get through it. Despite it’s dragging length, Staples never pulls out the same tricks whether he be calling on R&B influences in the most accessible track Lemme Know or venturing into dark, muted club territory on the woozy Surf. Even on close ‘06 which is cut painfully short we’re given something different with distorted, horn-like synths. – Sam Murphy 


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12

12. Carly Rae Jepsen
E.MO.TION

When Carly Rae Jepsen recruited Tom Hanks and Justin Bieber for the video of E.MO.TION’s lead single I Really Like You it seems like the major label big bucks were flowing her way in an attempt to recreate the mainstream success of Call Me Maybe. What we didn’t know then was that Jepsen had rejected Max Martin in favour of songwriters like Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Dev Hynes to create a spectacular ‘80s-leaning effort that made no attempt to create another Call My Maybe.

E.MO.TION is the pop release of the year because at the heart of every song was a banging hook but it was delivered with interesting sonic choices like the warbling bass of Warm Blood or the enduring, slow-dance groove of All That. It still felt like we were opening a 17 year-old’s diary but this time it was more so because of the honesty rather than the youthful naivety.

“I used to be in love with you, you used to be the first thing on my mind,” she sings on Your Type introducing us to a Jepsen capable of making weighty emotional statements instead of fleeting, giddy sentiments. If Taylor Swift’s 1989 proved anything it’s that pop albums can be consistently great. There’s a temptation to call E.MO.TION alternative pop because of the songwriters she worked with and because the critics are telling you it’s ok to like it. It’s not alternative. It’s just proof that pop can be excellent. – Sam Murphy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11

11. Tobias Jesso Jr.
Goon

Tobias Jesso Jr’s debut album Goon stuck to a very simple formula of pairing simple songwriting with no fuss arrangements. It sounds easy, boring even, but the fact is the songs have to be great in order to do this and Goon had a plethora of great songs. From the opening track I Can’t Stop Thinking About You he’s open diary honest and that continues right through to his fitting final words, “tell the truth.” Jesso Jr. has chipped away at the music industry for the better part of his life, finding eventually that it’s better to just tell the truth rather than over-complicating things for the sake of moulding to a trend.

“I never understood how everyone lies in Hollywood,” he sings on the album’s centrepiece Hollywood. Maybe, it’s a conscious decision then that Goon is honest whether it be dealing with deceit on How Could You Babe or opening with “Why can’t you just love me?” on Without You. In a roundabout way Hollywood may now try to copy Jesso Jr’s formula no doubt with far less impressive results. – Sam Murphy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10

10. Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear

Liking a Father John Misty album never feels completely comfortable. There’s something deeply sarcastic about the whole project that makes you feel as if he’s going to turn around and tell everyone that folk is lame and the whole things is a joke. Funnily enough, that sarcasm is the same thing that makes I Love You, Honeybear far more entertaining than your run of the mill folk record. 

Josh Tillman, the man better known as Father John Misty, that’s as if you’re in church watching a preacher give a drunken speech on his own relationships. He saunders through mid-tempos colouring them with sharp-tongued quips and beautifully delectable melodies. Occasionally he even gives us moments of beauty like the church-ready Bored In The USA, which could be the ballad of the year.

He’s sleazy, sometimes insulting and often a little high-browed but at the same time he can slot in a line like, “What are you doing your how life? What about forever?” He’s smooth that Father John Misty. Very smooth. – Sam Murphy 


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9

9. Beach House
Depression Cherry

Depression Cherry – the album before we knew we were getting two Beach House albums in 2015. The duo promised a scaled-back record harking back to the lo-fi days of Devotion rather than the hi-gloss of Bloom. And they delivered. Depression Cherry was delivered soaked in reverb, sounding as if it had been popped on the internet straight from a bedroom. It doesn’t seem to matter how they wrap it though, Beach House’s whimsical songwriting always shines through brighter than anything else. DC is dreamy, spacious and take its time more than any other Beach House record.

“There’s a place I want to take you,” Victoria Legrand sings on opener Levitation and throughout they successfully do that with swoon-worthy melodies and synths that twinkle into the void. A lot of the lyrics are in third person with the pair creating some of the most beautifully vivid images of their career like on Beyond Love when they search for meaning following a breakup. This may be spaced-out music but they’re using real life subjects and that’s what makes it hit at the heart rather than the head. – Sam Murphy 

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8

8. Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit

Nobody ever made something different without being divisive which is why it’s so good to see Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit voted as one of triple j audience’s favourite albums of the year while it simultaneously receives vicious criticism on the radio stations social media platforms. Barnett is not an easy artist to devour. She carries a thick Aussie accent and doesn’t attempt to soften it at all. It’s her greatest strength and her biggest weakness depending on your opinion of her. Regardless, it’s hard to discount Barnett as a lyricist.

On her debut album she turns some of the most mundane topics like organic vegetables and house hunting into masterfully constructed pieces of poetry. On Depreston she manages to stir emotion while singing about a percolator and on An Illustration Of Loneliness (Sleepless In New York) she makes insomnia sound as cool as early Strokes-era NYC rock. She delivers tight, catchy melodies through the whole thing but above all it’s Barnett’s infectious personality that carries the whole thing. She’s got a left-centre mind that notices detail in the blankest of canvases which is why she’s captured the attention of the world rather than just Australia. Like Nick Cave or Paul Kelly, it’s penetrated the international scene because it’s undeniably smart, honest and vivid songwriting no matter how thick the accent may be. – Sam Murphy 

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7

7. Miguel
WildHeart

Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream was the smoothest, sexiest projects of its year but when he returned this year he wasn’t concerned with that anymore. Instead, WildHeart trades in imperfection combining the sensuality of R&B with the grittiness of rock ‘n roll. That soulful voice that pricked everyone’s ears up on Adorn was still there but it’s been dipped in reverb while Miguel himself digs deeper to add an extra grunt.

Subject-wise WildHeart paired intimacy with California setting lust, sex and love in the midst of Hollywood. Hollywood Dreams details broken dreams of fame while Coffee is a steamy bedroom jam. This is all bound by howling guitars, organic percussion and Miguel’s ridiculously flawless voice. Despite the fact that R&B is in vogue right now, WildHeart makes no attempt to capitalise on that. It sounds like nothing else. Despite the inclusion of producers-of-the-moment like Benny Blanco, Cashmere Cat and Salaam Remi it sounds more like Miguel than 2015. And that’s its biggest strength. – Sam Murphy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6

6. Empress Of
Me

Most people who locked themselves up in their own company for a month would go crazy. That’s exactly what Lorely Rodriguez did to record Me but instead of going crazy pulled her self-exploration and put it into a record. As the title would suggest Me is self-indulgent. It’s either about her or a relationship she’s been in but that’s what’s so thrilling about the album. We get to go on a journey with her as she discovers how to be free from a relationship.

On opener Everything Is You she’s consumed by somebody else, on Standard she’s contemplating expensive NYC and on Kitty Kat she explores sexism. Rodriguez is like many in their early to mid 20s. She’s had failed relationships, experienced the many unfair expenses that drain your wallet and wanted desperately to be alone at times. On Me she never glorifies any of these feeling. She’s throws up more questions than answers and that’s completely ok. It’s made ever more thrilling by the soundscapes that expand, rush and explode as the mind fights itself. – Sam Murphy 

 

 

 

 

 

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5

5. Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell

It’s hard to talk about Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell without feeling as if you’re invading his privacy. The record follows his turbulent relationships with his Dad and step Mum in heartbreaking detail, ditching the experimentation of Age of Adz or the showmanship of Come On Feel The Illinois for something impossibly intimate.

While the subject matter may be heavy, Stevens approach to it his gentle. He spends most of the record in a hushed voice moving carefully in and out of falsetto. Rarely does the record use more than just a handful of records, meaning he’s entirely reliant on melody and lyrics. This makes it all the more powerful on the rare occasion that he chooses to detour from the domineering, sombre aesthetic. On Should Have Known Better he introduces twinkling synth work in the latter part of the song. It feels as if he’s pulling a dark cloud from over our heads and giving us momentary optimism. It’s moments like this

It genuinely feels like a record he’s worked on all his life. There’s no way he would’ve let go of it if he didn’t feel it was as good as it could be. It is. It’s a beautiful piece of work that’s as cathartic for the listener as it no doubt was for him. – Sam Murphy 

 

 


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 4

4. Grimes
Art Angels

Grimes could’ve gone in any direction on Art Angels. In the two years since Visions she’d written (and had rejected) a song for Rihanna, released on whim a demo, become a magazine cover star and an outspoken voice calling out some of the industry’s bullshit. Even days before the album was released there was no clue as to what the album had in store. Even now Art Angels is impossible to label under just a few words.

It’s wildly erratic moving from country-infused pop to Taiwanese rap riot girl-inspired R&B. It’s truly a product of 2015 – an album for those whose attention span has shortened and taste has expanded thanks to the endless Soundcloud scroll. It all binds together because Grimes is such an fascinating narrator with a voice that sounds other-worldly but also really personal.

“I don’t see the light I saw in you before,” she sings on Flesh Without Blood, making the most intimate statements of her career to date without coating them in a drugged-out frenzy. She also delivers a middle finger to Pitchfork by way of the country-leaning California which sounds comical but instead it’s triumphant. Nothing was as confusing and fun as Art Angels in 2015 hence the opening track, laughing and not being normal. – Sam Murphy 

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3

3. Jamie xx
In Colour

Thanks to his work with the xx, Jamie xx was the emo of the electronic world. In Colour sets out to disprove that by pulling everything that he’s passionate about and grouping it in one deeply affecting LP. While the xx are all about intimate relationships, In Colour is more of an ode to the London clubbing scene. It takes garage, jungle and techno influences to recreate this sense of nostalgia that Jamie presumably has for the London scene when he’s travelling the world.

This comes through the clearest when he goes deep into the club on The Rest Is Noise or Hold Tight – two instrumental tracks that can make you feel elated and also like you want to cry. In Colour is escapism. It’s about finding euphoria in their club and there’s something euphoric but also quite emotional about that. “I go to loud places to search for someone,” xx bandmate Romy sings on Loud Places describing the club as somewhere to cure loneliness. It’s both sad and hopeful at the same time and Jamie matches this with an instrumental that’s dark but also flourishes into a triumphant chorus. She’s alone but similarly in the company of many strangers.

No other electronic album this year evoked as many emotions as In Colour from the cheek-to-cheek smiles of Good Times to the sparse loneliness of Stranger In The Room  It was a poignant love letter to the London clubbing scene which anyone who’s had a relationship with electronic music would understand. – Sam Murphy 

 

 

 

 

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2

2. Tame Impala
Currents

On Lonerism’s Feel Like We Only Go Backwards we were introduced to something we hadn’t really heard from Tame Impala before – pop hooks. Fast forward three years and Kevin Parker’s pop-leanings are stronger than ever on the Tame Impala’s third record Currents. Currents is sonically expansive, psychedelic and wonky but the melodies are sharper and the lyrics more personal.

Album highlight Yes I’m Changing may as well be the blurb for Currents. Instrumentally, it’s the most different thing Parker has produced, sounding as if he’s spent time rummaging through Bee Gees and Kylie Minogue records. Lyrically, he’s more honest too, using the album to diarise the aftermath of a break-up.

“I know that you’ll be happier and I know I will too,” he sings on the epic Eventually, approaching the subject of dealing with a break-up with beautiful optimism. This same sort of mantra carries through to Let It Happen – an anthem for throwing caution to the wind and moving with life’s current as coy as that sounds. This is the album where Parker used his words to speak as loudly as the music. – Sam Murphy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1

1. Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp A Butterfly

“We gon’ be alright,” Kendrick Lamar raps at the midway point of To Pimp A Butterfly on the album’s greatest success Alright. At this point he’s already tackled racial abuse (These Walls), the downfalls of wealth (Institutionalized) and ghost writers in rap (King Kunta). It’s a triumphant statement because despite all the things aforementioned he’s chosen to use a statement of positivity as the album’s hallmark  Police brutality culminating in the Baltimore riots will forever be one of the key moments of 2015 – a reminder that not enough has changed. Despite that, Lamar sends a message of solidarity.

He knows his responsibilities as a role model for kids who have to deal with racism or prejudice in any way and on To Pimp A Butterfly he chooses his words carefully recognising the problems with powerful imagery and vowing to be a figurehead to make things better. On album closer Mortal Man he hopes to continue Nelson Mandela’s legacy rapping, “As I lead this army make room for mistakes and depression,” making imperfection ok, encouraged even.

With all that goes on thematically, Lamar has still crafted one of the most sonically interesting backdrops of the year. He fuses soul, jazz and Tupac-inspired hip-hop together to take us on a journey of monologues, phone calls and dance ready tunes. For every Blacker The Berry, there’s a funked-up cousin like King Kunta on hand to lighten the mood.
To Pimp A Butterfly is an album that will be studied by schools in years to come. Its motifs and deeper meanings are plentiful but also and powerful like its namesake To Kill A Mockingbird. If you take one thing away immediately from the record though it should be, “We gon’ be alright.” The evil may not subside but solidarity is powerful and Lamar understands that. And he’s willing to be a leader. – Sam Murphy 

Illustrations by Bianca Bosso 

It doesn’t end here! Read our honourable mentions.

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It’s been one of the best years for music in a very, very long time but we’ve managed to whittle the list down to 20 brilliant records…

20

20. Shamir
Ratchet

“This is me on the regular, just so you know,” 21 year-old Las Vegas local Shamir sings on Ratchet’s hallmark track On The Regular. As it turns out, Shamir on the regular is a shit load of fun with a healthy dose of weird. That translated into a pop album equals ‘80-infused synths, toylike beats and sassy lyrics. It’s a pop album that’s just as catchy as Taylor Swift’s 1989 but in a scaled-back way. It feels intimate and approachable as if Shamir could be your best friend and/or key to blurry night out. When the alternative scene got too serious this year, this album brought it back from the brink inducing personality and colour. It’s in your face and obnoxious but Shamir warns us of that when he sings, “why not go out and make a scene.” He’s successfully made a scene and nobody’s looking away. – Sam Murphy 

 

19

19. Neon Indian
VEGA INTL. Night School

Neon Indian, the man largely responsible for a wave of shoegaze a few years back, seemed like an unlikely candidate to release one of the year’s most danceable records. He went back to the drawing board on VEGA INTL. Night School, creating an ever-flowing groovy project. He kept some of the washed-out production that defined the Neon Indian of old but injected more forthright melodies and upped the tempo taking us to the dancefloor with him for the first time. Slumlord bounces with energy while 61 Cygni Ave errs on the side of corny without ever crossing the line. On Smut when he sings the lyric “night school,” a voice comes through exclaiming, “that’s the name of the record.” It’s a kitsch move but it’s the best example that this time around he’s having fun and that’s what comes across louder than anything here. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18

18. Kehlani
You Should Be Here

In 2015, R&B was well and truly back. Tinashe had already perfectly married the hipster scene and the mainstream world and Soundcloud was flooded with young artists referencing the genre in someway. It became tiresome which meant something had to be really special to stand out. Kehlani’s You Should Be Here was special. It paired gut-wrenching soul number with cool R&B jams introducing us to Kehlani as a sharp-tongued artist not afraid to bare everything. Album highlight How That Taste feels like a victory lap so early in her career as she sings, “swallow that pride, tell me how that shit taste.” She then rips hearts out on The Letter singing, “every girls needs a mother and dammit I needed you,” simultaneously tearing down every wall. Despite the pain, she still ends on the sentiment, “damn I feel alive.” It’s unprecedented for mixtapes to be nominated for Grammys but this is more than a mixtape, it’s an autobiography. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

 

 

17

17. Florence + The Machine
How Big How Blue How Beautiful

In many ways Florence + The Machine’s Ceremonials made the same mistakes as Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. It was too big, too glitzy and too manicured stripping it of any human emotion to rather trade in the grandiose. On How Big How Blue How Beautiful she righted her wrongs. Instead of going big, she went personal and in a roundabout way managed to create something epic. Opener Ship To Wreck, felt limp on first listen but thousands of live performances later it’s a career highlight turning despair into glory with that howling voice singing, “to wreckkkkk.” She’s grittier than ever on this record, head-thrashing alongside guitars on What Kind Of Man and throwing caution to the wind on the goose-bump raising verses of Third Eye. Still she never loses that twinkle of hope that helps her see the world through rose-coloured glasses. On the title track she sings, “every skyline was like a kiss upon the lips,” saying at live shows that it was written at a time she was in love with everything. That feeling of giddiness remains long after the record finishes. For every storm she creates on How Big How Blue How Beautiful she resolves it with a clear sky. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

 

 

16

16. Drake
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

What even is a mixtape anymore? If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is supposedly a mixtape but it was released for a price and also featured some of Drake’s best work to date. The surprise release of the tape was one of the most genuinely exciting moments of the year ensuring that Drake’s name was not one that went unmentioned in 2015. Energy, Legend and Know Yourself were powerful additions to the Canadian rappers arsenal proving that he doesn’t need big-voiced popstar to deliver him the hooks. “I was ridin’ through the six with my woes,” from Know Yourself is a quintessential Drake line similarly ridiculous and genius, trademarking another Drake-ism in “woes.” He may be remembered in 2015 for Meek Mill diss tracks and Hotline Bling but his best work is here in a tape that shows he needs little bells and whistles to succeed. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

15

15. CHVRCHES
Every Open Eye

On first listen, Every Open Eye sounds deceptively simple. It would be easy to dismiss this album as being unadventurous and lacking boldness, but if you were to only take that impression from it then you would have missed the entire point of the record. It is in instead the small intricacies and explorations in structure, and diversity of texture that they have developed since their last record and that exist between the tracks here, that show just how far they have come as a group in terms of diversity. Lauren Mayberry’s voice is just as spectacular as you would expect, but what’s immediately remarkable is the varying contexts in which it is employed.  There are up-beat bangers like Empty Threat and Make Them Gold, which definitely sound like the CHVRCHES of old. However, there are also tracks that show a new direction for the trio, specifically Down Side Of Me andClearest Blue. Down Side Of Me shows off a darker side to CHVRCHES, whilst Clearest Blue is the absolute highlight of the record and is the ultimate example of an exploration of structure. – Zanda Wilson

 
 

 

 

14

14. Beach House
Thank Your Lucky Stars

When Beach House announced the release of their second LP in less than two months the biggest concern was how they would differentiate it from the first. The Baltimore duo had only ever released albums a few years apart, delivering never more than 11 songs at once. Thankfully, when Thank Your Lucky Stars arrived it was playing in a different field to its predecessor Depression Cherry.  It’s a smaller, more simplistic record that removed the haze that hung over DC, focussing more on songwriting more than production. As such, we got some of the most sprawling, beautiful Beach House moments yet like the looming elegy to the void or the heartwarming All Your Yeahs. This was proof that despite all their success the duo could scale it back to their origins and match the feeling of Teen Dream or Bloom without bolstering their sound. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

13

13. Vince Staples
Summertime ‘06

Vince Staples two-disk debut alongside Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly were the only hip-hop records in 2015 that successfully made big statements and delivered big hooks at the same time. Summertime ‘06 was a wildly ambitious release for a debut album but Staples pulled it off with ease melding no fuss beats with poignant lyrics. He doesn’t mess around with lyrics on the album always giving it to us straight with an autobiographical preciseness. “My teachers told me we was slaves, my momma told me we was kings, I don’t know who to listen to,” he raps on Summertime summing up beautifully one of the main themes of the album – finding identity. This isn’t a party album but by no means does it feel like a chore to get through it. Despite it’s dragging length, Staples never pulls out the same tricks whether he be calling on R&B influences in the most accessible track Lemme Know or venturing into dark, muted club territory on the woozy Surf. Even on close ‘06 which is cut painfully short we’re given something different with distorted, horn-like synths. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

 

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12. Carly Rae Jepsen
E.MO.TION

When Carly Rae Jepsen recruited Tom Hanks and Justin Bieber for the video of E.MO.TION’s lead single I Really Like You it seems like the major label big bucks were flowing her way in an attempt to recreate the mainstream success of Call Me Maybe. What we didn’t know then was that Jepsen had rejected Max Martin in favour of songwriters like Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Dev Hynes to create a spectacular ‘80s-leaning effort that made no attempt to create another Call My Maybe. E.MO.TION is the pop release of the year because at the heart of every song was a banging hook but it was delivered with interesting sonic choices like the warbling bass of Warm Blood or the enduring, slow-dance groove of All That. It still felt like we were opening a 17 year-old’s diary but this time it was more so because of the honesty rather than the youthful naivety. “I used to be in love with you, you used to be the first thing on my mind,” she sings on Your Type introducing us to a Jepsen capable of making weighty emotional statements instead of fleeting, giddy sentiments. If Taylor Swift’s 1989 proved anything it’s that pop albums can be consistently great. There’s a temptation to call E.MO.TION alternative pop because of the songwriters she worked with and because the critics are telling you it’s ok to like it. It’s not alternative. It’s just proof that pop can be excellent. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

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11. Tobias Jesso Jr.
Goon

Tobias Jesso Jr’s debut album Goon stuck to a very simple formula of pairing simple songwriting with no fuss arrangements. It sounds easy, boring even, but the fact is the songs have to be great in order to do this and Goon had a plethora of great songs. From the opening track I Can’t Stop Thinking About You he’s open diary honest and that continues right through to his fitting final words, “tell the truth.” Jesso Jr. has chipped away at the music industry for the better part of his life, finding eventually that it’s better to just tell the truth rather than over-complicating things for the sake of moulding to a trend. “I never understood how everyone lies in Hollywood,” he sings on the album’s centrepiece Hollywood. Maybe, it’s a conscious decision then that Goon is honest whether it be dealing with deceit on How Could You Babe or opening with “Why can’t you just love me?” on Without You. In a roundabout way Hollywood may now try to copy Jesso Jr’s formula no doubt with far less impressive results. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

 

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10. Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear

Liking a Father John Misty album never feels completely comfortable. There’s something deeply sarcastic about the whole project that makes you feel as if he’s going to turn around and tell everyone that folk is lame and the whole things is a joke. Funnily enough, that sarcasm is the same thing that makes I Love You, Honeybear far more entertaining than your run of the mill folk record. 

Josh Tillman, the man better known as Father John Misty, that’s as if you’re in church watching a preacher give a drunken speech on his own relationships. He saunders through mid-tempos colouring them with sharp-tongued quips and beautifully delectable melodies. Occasionally he even gives us moments of beauty like the church-ready Bored In The USA, which could be the ballad of the year.

He’s sleazy, sometimes insulting and often a little high-browed but at the same time he can slot in a line like, “What are you doing your how life? What about forever?” He’s smooth that Father John Misty. Very smooth. Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

 

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9. Beach House
Depression Cherry

Depression Cherry – the album before we knew we were getting two Beach House albums in 2015. The duo promised a scaled-back record harking back to the lo-fi days of Devotion rather than the hi-gloss of Bloom. And they delivered. Depression Cherry was delivered soaked in reverb, sounding as if it had been popped on the internet straight from a bedroom. It doesn’t seem to matter how they wrap it though, Beach House’s whimsical songwriting always shines through brighter than anything else. DC is dreamy, spacious and take its time more than any other Beach House record.

“There’s a place I want to take you,” Victoria Legrand sings on opener Levitation and throughout they successfully do that with swoon-worthy melodies and synths that twinkle into the void. A lot of the lyrics are in third person with the pair creating some of the most beautifully vivid images of their career like on Beyond Love when they search for meaning following a breakup. This may be spaced-out music but they’re using real life subjects and that’s what makes it hit at the heart rather than the head. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

 

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8. Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit

Nobody ever made something different without being divisive which is why it’s so good to see Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit voted as one of triple j audience’s favourite albums of the year while it simultaneously receives vicious criticism on the radio stations social media platforms. Barnett is not an easy artist to devour. She carries a thick Aussie accent and doesn’t attempt to soften it at all. It’s her greatest strength and her biggest weakness depending on your opinion of her. Regardless, it’s hard to discount Barnett as a lyricist.

On her debut album she turns some of the most mundane topics like organic vegetables and house hunting into masterfully constructed pieces of poetry. On Depreston she manages to stir emotion while singing about a percolator and on An Illustration Of Loneliness (Sleepless In New York) she makes insomnia sound as cool as early Strokes-era NYC rock. She delivers tight, catchy melodies through the whole thing but above all it’s Barnett’s infectious personality that carries the whole thing. She’s got a left-centre mind that notices detail in the blankest of canvases which is why she’s captured the attention of the world rather than just Australia. Like Nick Cave or Paul Kelly, it’s penetrated the international scene because it’s undeniably smart, honest and vivid songwriting no matter how thick the accent may be. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

 

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7. Miguel
WildHeart

Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream was the smoothest, sexiest projects of its year but when he returned this year he wasn’t concerned with that anymore. Instead, WildHeart trades in imperfection combining the sensuality of R&B with the grittiness of rock ‘n roll. That soulful voice that pricked everyone’s ears up on Adorn was still there but it’s been dipped in reverb while Miguel himself digs deeper to add an extra grunt.

Subject-wise WildHeart paired intimacy with California setting lust, sex and love in the midst of Hollywood. Hollywood Dreams details broken dreams of fame while Coffee is a steamy bedroom jam. This is all bound by howling guitars, organic percussion and Miguel’s ridiculously flawless voice. Despite the fact that R&B is in vogue right now, WildHeart makes no attempt to capitalise on that. It sounds like nothing else. Despite the inclusion of producers-of-the-moment like Benny Blanco, Cashmere Cat and Salaam Remi it sounds more like Miguel than 2015. And that’s its biggest strength. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

 

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6. Empress Of
Me

Most people who locked themselves up in their own company for a month would go crazy. That’s exactly what Lorely Rodriguez did to record Me but instead of going crazy pulled her self-exploration and put it into a record. As the title would suggest Me is self-indulgent. It’s either about her or a relationship she’s been in but that’s what’s so thrilling about the album. We get to go on a journey with her as she discovers how to be free from a relationship.

On opener Everything Is You she’s consumed by somebody else, on Standard she’s contemplating expensive NYC and on Kitty Kat she explores sexism. Rodriguez is like many in their early to mid 20s. She’s had failed relationships, experienced the many unfair expenses that drain your wallet and wanted desperately to be alone at times. On Me she never glorifies any of these feeling. She’s throws up more questions than answers and that’s completely ok. It’s made ever more thrilling by the soundscapes that expand, rush and explode as the mind fights itself. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

 

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5. Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell

It’s hard to talk about Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell without feeling as if you’re invading his privacy. The record follows his turbulent relationships with his Dad and step Mum in heartbreaking detail, ditching the experimentation of Age of Adz or the showmanship of Come On Feel The Illinois for something impossibly intimate.

While the subject matter may be heavy, Stevens approach to it his gentle. He spends most of the record in a hushed voice moving carefully in and out of falsetto. Rarely does the record use more than just a handful of records, meaning he’s entirely reliant on melody and lyrics. This makes it all the more powerful on the rare occasion that he chooses to detour from the domineering, sombre aesthetic. On Should Have Known Better he introduces twinkling synth work in the latter part of the song. It feels as if he’s pulling a dark cloud from over our heads and giving us momentary optimism. It’s moments like this

It genuinely feels like a record he’s worked on all his life. There’s no way he would’ve let go of it if he didn’t feel it was as good as it could be. It is. It’s a beautiful piece of work that’s as cathartic for the listener as it no doubt was for him. – Sam Murphy 

 

 

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4. Grimes

Art Angels

Grimes could’ve gone in any direction on Art Angels.In the two years since Visions she’d written (and had rejected) a song for Rihanna, released on whim a demo, become a magazine cover star and an outspoken voice calling out some of the industry’s bullshit. Even days before the album was released there was no clue as to what the album had in store.

Even now Art Angels is impossible to label under just a few words. It’s wildly erratic moving from country-infused pop to Taiwanese rap riot girl-inspired R&B. It’s truly a product of 2015 – an album for those whose attention span has shortened and taste has expanded thanks to the endless Soundcloud scroll. It all binds together because Grimes is such an fascinating narrator with a voice that sounds other-worldly but also really personal.

“I don’t see the light I saw in you before,” she sings on Flesh Without Blood, making the most intimate statements of her career to date without coating them in a drugged-out frenzy. She also delivers a middle finger to Pitchfork by way of the country-leaning California which sounds comical but instead it’s triumphant. Nothing was as confusing and fun as Art Angels in 2015 hence the opening track, laughing and not being normal. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

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3. Jamie xx

In Colour

Thanks to his work with the xx, Jamie xx was the emo of the electronic world. In Colour sets out to disprove that by pulling everything that he’s passionate about and grouping it in one deeply affecting LP. While the xx are all about intimate relationships, In Colour is more of an ode to the London clubbing scene. It takes garage, jungle and techno influences to recreate this sense of nostalgia that Jamie presumably has for the London scene when he’s travelling the world.

This comes through the clearest when he goes deep into the club on The Rest Is Noise or Hold Tight – two instrumental tracks that can make you feel elated and also like you want to cry. In Colour is escapism. It’s about finding euphoria in their club and there’s something euphoric but also quite emotional about that. “I go to loud places to search for someone,” xx bandmate Romy sings on Loud Places describing the club as somewhere to cure loneliness. It’s both sad and hopeful at the same time and Jamie matches this with an instrumental that’s dark but also flourishes into a triumphant chorus. She’s alone but similarly in the company of many strangers.

No other electronic album this year evoked as many emotions as In Colour from the cheek-to-cheek smiles of Good Times to the sparse loneliness of Stranger In The Room It was a poignant love letter to the London clubbing scene which anyone who’s had a relationship with electronic music would understand.

 

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2. Tame Impala

Currents

On Lonerism’s Feel Like We Only Go Backwards we were introduced to something we hadn’t really heard from Tame Impala before – pop hooks. Fast forward three years and Kevin Parker’s pop-leanings are stronger than ever on the Tame Impala’s third record Currents. Currents is sonically expansive, psychedelic and wonky but the melodies are sharper and the lyrics more personal.

Album highlight Yes I’m Changing may as well be the blurb for Currents. Instrumentally, it’s the most different thing Parker has produced, sounding as if he’s spent time rummaging through Bee Gees and Kylie Minogue records. Lyrically, he’s more honest too, using the album to diarise the aftermath of a break-up.

“I know that you’ll be happier and I know I will too,” he sings on the epic Eventually, approaching the subject of dealing with a break-up with beautiful optimism. This same sort of mantra carries through to Let It Happen – an anthem for throwing caution to the wind and moving with life’s current as coy as that sounds. This is the album where Parker used his words to speak as loudly as the music. – Sam Murphy 

 
 

 

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1. Kendrick Lamar

To Pimp A Butterfly

“We gon’ be alright,” Kendrick Lamar raps at the midway point of To Pimp A Butterfly on the album’s greatest success Alright. At this point he’s already tackled racial abuse (These Walls), the downfalls of wealth (Institutionalized) and ghost writers in rap (King Kunta). It’s a triumphant statement because despite all the things aforementioned he’s chosen to use a statement of positivity as the album’s hallmark  Police brutality culminating in the Baltimore riots will forever be one of the key moments of 2015 – a reminder that not enough has changed. Despite that, Lamar sends a message of solidarity.

He knows his responsibilities as a role model for kids who have to deal with racism or prejudice in any way and on To Pimp A Butterfly he chooses his words carefully recognising the problems with powerful imagery and vowing to be a figurehead to make things better. On album closer Mortal Man he hopes to continue Nelson Mandela’s legacy rapping, “As I lead this army make room for mistakes and depression,” making imperfection ok, encouraged even.

With all that goes on thematically, Lamar has still crafted one of the most sonically interesting backdrops of the year. He fuses soul, jazz and Tupac-inspired hip-hop together to take us on a journey of monologues, phone calls and dance ready tunes. For every Blacker The Berry, there’s a funked-up cousin like King Kunta on hand to lighten the mood.
To Pimp A Butterfly is an album that will be studied by schools in years to come. Its motifs and deeper meanings are plentiful but also and powerful like its namesake To Kill A Mockingbird. If you take one thing away immediately from the record though it should be, “We gon’ be alright.” The evil may not subside but solidarity is powerful and Lamar understands that. And he’s willing to be a leader. – Sam Murphy 

 
Illustrations by Bianca Bosso 

It doesn’t end here! Read our honourable mentions.

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