We started our monthly mixtape series at the start of this year in an effort to curate + share the myriad new songs we’ve come to love at raven + crow studio. Some have come from tried and true artists who have seen the music scene and industry change massively over the years, but a lot of it’s come from fledgling musicians who have grown up in this Internet age of music and blossomed with it.
Regardless of where the music’s come from though, one constant has always remained—these are songs we love, traversing genres and styles (but trending pretty heavily toward the orchestral pop and melodic electronic) and coming from bands from all over the world.
To craft a great song is admirable; but to create an entire portfolio of songs that call to you, many of which tell a story from start-to-finish, that’s worthy of high praise. So here we have our top ten albums of 2015, all great, all highly recommended.
It’s an inherently imperfect list considering the impossibility of being able to hear every album that came out this year, but these are the favorite ones we—and specifically me (Troy)—have heard. Doubtless, if my wife + partner Katie were curating the list, it’d definitely include Leon Bridges‘ soulful debut, Coming Home, and—though I’d argue against including a tribute album—maybe even Ryan Adams‘ awesome start-to-finish cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989.
Doubtless too, as is the case every year, I’m sure there will be albums we won’t hear until well into 2016 that we’ll love that came out this year.
It’s also imperfect and random to choose a number like ten for the best albums, but we felt like it made sense to downsize our usual mix of 15 new songs that we do every month to focus on the best of the best from 2015. That said, there are many great albums that nearly found their way into our final top ten; among them, Jaime XX‘s debut; White Men are Black Men Too from Scotland’s Young Fathers; the debut full-length from Vegas’ Shamir; Petite Noir‘s severely under-appreciated La Vie Est Belle; the superb debut from London’s Georgia; the new one from Melbourne’s Dick Diver (who we interviewed earlier this year); the debut from Grecian disco goddess Monika; and a minimal, beautifully weird new album from Archy Marshall, AKA King Krule, that just came out a few weeks ago (a great example of why these kinds of lists should come out at year’s end, not in November or early December).
So, yeah, hard to narrow such a long list of great albums from great musicians. But we gave it a go. Below, the result. I highly recommend every one of these albums. They all made me really feel something deep down, which is really what good music should do—make you feel it fundamentally in some hard-to-explain, primal, gut-level way.
We’ve linked through each artists’ names to their band page or Facebook page and, for the sake of simplicity, each album name to its place on iTunes in case anyone’s got a holiday gift card burning a hole in their pocket. We’d encourage you to go through the artists and purchase the albums directly from them or through their label though as that’s the best way to get them the most money possible and keep them doing what they do best for as long as possible.
Just below, our playlist of highlights from each of the ten albums; below that, a write-up on each with links through to the bands and their 2015 albums.
1 . Braids . Deep in the Iris . Artubus Records
I’ve long been a fan of this band, but their sound changed massively and beautifully when they went from a four-piece to a three-piece a few years back. I liked their sound previously—somewhat drone-y and jammy, but highly melodic—but what they turned into with their third album, Flourish // Perish, it’s soooooooo what I am into. Crazy complicated, layered, high-paced melodies that now showcase singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s strong vocals. When we saw them live earlier this year, it was honestly hard for me to keep it together the show was so good and so perfect. And the new album, Deep in the Iris, sounds like it was somehow written just for me. Easily my favorite album of the year.
2 . Joanna Newsom . Divers . Drag City
I’m a longtime fan of Joanna Newsom’s beautiful chamber-rock-folk-whatever-it-is and this new album from her showcases the best of her songwriting and instrumentation while also presenting an amazing cyclical narrative that’s gotta be one of the best examples of putting out an album—not just a set of songs. As others have already written, it takes the massive scope of her previous four-record, 18-track release, Have One on Me, and boils it down and condenses it into something just as huge, but so much more succinct, showing a remarkable level of skill in Newsom’s craft.
3 . Boxed In . Boxed In . Nettwerk
This is a band and album that came out of nowhere and floored me, taking tight, clean, crisp electronic music and building it out into a beat-driven, highly rhythmic, full-band sound that’s catchy as hell. It’s a great debut and it has us excited to see what the British band will give us next.
4 . Foals . What Went Down . Warner Music Group
Oxford’s Foals is a band that would likely really have to go out of their way to do wrong by me. I’ve loved every album they’ve done since their 2008 debut, Antidotes. This fourth record presents the band at their most diverse, sprawling from heavy, roaring arena rock to dark, quiet, melodic pieces informed by a more emotive, math-rock-y past. It might strike some as too disparate, but I love its scope and look to the guitars and vocals of frontman Yannis Philippakis for a common thread to bind the songs.
5 . Hop Along . Painted Shut . Saddle Creek
Philly’s Hop Along is easily one of the best new live bands we’ve seen this year and their most full-length, Painted Shut, does a superb job of capturing both the nuanced melodies of their music and the blaring wildness of their rock. And, with her raw, powerful voice, Frances Quinlan has our vote hands-down for the best vocalist of the year. Add to all that the fact that Hop Along crafts songs worthy of Springsteen’s playbook and you’ve got one of the best albums of the year.
6 . Christine and the Queens . Chaleur Humaine . Because Music
Like Hop Along, we caught French musician Héloïse Letissier—AKA Christine and the Queens—at Los Angeles’ Echo, and we feel lucky to have seen both bands in such an intimate venue before their mutual inevitable rise to stardom. Letissier owns the room when she’s performing her poppy, 70s-and-80s-informed electronic music and her debut full-length somehow expands on her live sound, making it even more subtly beautiful and hook-filled.
7 . Purity Ring . Another Eternity . 4AD
Though I truly love Purity Ring—they’ve long been my favorite band, only recently being dethroned by friends and fellow Canadian Angelenos, Braids—I originally didn’t think this album would make the cut. Though it’s really awesome, it doesn’t exactly cover a lot of ground or evolve the band’s sound from their excellent 2012 debut, Shrines. But…it’s really awesome and, in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to not include it. It’s a great set of songs, all of which I really love, and I’d far prefer the same amazing sound and style than some new lesser version of Purity Ring.
8 . Tall Tales and the Silver Lining . Tightropes . Other Music Recording Co.
Like the aforementioned Monika, LA’s own Tall Tales and the Silver Lining was singed by the record label arm of one of our favorite record stores, Other Music. Very much unlike Monika, Tall Tales channels a easy, laid-back, rootsy rock that personifies a beautifully deep, panoramic California sound full of sage-filled breezes and mountain-to-ocean views. It’s the perfect album for that picturesque sunset ride down the PCH.
9 . Little Simz . A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons . Age 101 Music
Our only true rap album on the list, the self-released A Curious Tale introduces us to the smart, quick, edgy song-writing of London’s Little Simz, née Simbi Ajikawo. This album sounds more fresh and experimental than anything we’ve heard in this genre in a long, long time with songs full of nimble rhymes and undeniable hooks. If you’re looking for something new and bright and sparkly in rap, this album is definitely it.
10 . Eskimeaux . O.K. . Double Double Whammy
Finally, we have Brooklyn’s Eskimeaux and their beautiful, folky, poppy, honestly bare album, O.K. We interviewed the band’s founder and front woman Gabrielle Smith last month soon after first hearing the album and falling in love with it. As with other newcomers on this list, they’ve got us really excited to see what’s to come from such young talent, especially with the storytelling we hear in the songs that make up this record.