There’s something special not only about making music, but coming up with a selection of songs to go together and packaging them up as a distinct entity in and of itself. Taking a look back at the year in music is always an interesting thing to do. Sometimes there are albums I believed were brilliant after initially giving them my undivided attention, but if I never wanted to listen to them again, well, how much does that really matter? So, when it came to compiling my best albums list for 2015, I decided to aim not just at brilliance, but albums that continued to be loved all year long. These are those holy grails that soundtracked 2015, and will continue to do so for years to come.
1. Lanterns on the Lake: Beings – (on iTunes). This fierce four-piece group from Newcastle-upon-tyne, UK, served up the most devastastingly sad and beautiful album of the year. It’s exquisitely heart breaking from beginning to end. Darkly and poetically doomed, these songs for the lost and losing obstinate are my album of the year.
2. Bomba Estéreo: Amanecer – (on iTunes). Bomba Estéreo is a Colombian band that hit the nail on the head this year so hard that I still marvel at some of their transitions every time I listen. Amanecer transcends geographic and musical boundaries too with elements of pure pop along the way. Infectious booty shaking hooks and grooves galore.
3. Conchita Wurst: Conchita – (on iTunes). After winning the Eurovision song contest last year for Austria with “Rise Like a Phoenix”, the gender bender chanteuse’s first album was much anticipated. Premium pop music is hard to deliver and I can honestly say Conchita delivered the pop album of the year. These diva-riffic and at times cliche’d desserts were served with the emotional conviction and fervor to sell them all.
4. SOAK: Before We Forgot How To Dream – (on iTunes). SOAK, aka 19-year-old Bridie Monds-Watson, is wise beyond her years. Whenever she really sings with her very Irish and at times child like voice, it’s like you can’t help but stop what you’re doing, pay attention and feel. Her debut album sounds like a home recorded mix tape that somehow went lush and grand and the end result is intimate and mesmerizing.
5. Benjamin Clementine: At Least For Now – (on iTunes). The Mercury Prize winning British-French poet, pianist, composer and musician, dubbed as the future sound of London, is inventing his own dramatic and innovative musical territory. He’s a captivating original.
6. Handful of Snowdrops: III – (on Bandcamp). A favorite band of the early 1990’s returned 20 years later with their third album simply entitled III. Jean-Pierre and Michel Mercier delivered their finest French Canadian darkwave synthpop melodrama to date too. Smart, complex and enchanting. It’s their masterpiece.
7. Wolf Alice: My Love Is Cool – (on iTunes). Wolf Alice are Ellie Rowsell, Theo Ellis, Joff Oddie and Joel Amey. To put it plain and simple, these London rockers debut album rocks. It’s ambitious and commanding, hits hard in all the right spots when and where you want it to. Softens up when you need it to. Crank it up and enjoy.
8. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell – (on iTunes). American singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens returned to the shimmering folk we fell in love with on his latest release. It’s his best album to date too. Carrie is his bipolar, drug addicted and schizophrenic mother who abandoned him. She died of cancer in 2012. Lowell Brams is the stepfather who was married to Carrie for five years when Sufjan was a child – and who currently runs Stevens’ music label.
9. Damian Lazarus & the Ancient Moons: Message From the Other Side – (on iTunes). DJ Damian Lazarus brought an international gang of musical visionaries to the Yucatan peninsula to record this eclectic and very international house music masterpiece. Qawwali singers, African drummers and assorted collaborators all lend their part in creating the ultimate psychedelic desert sunrise soundtrack. Originally from London, he lives in Los Angeles.
10. Father John Misty: I Love You, Hunnybear – (on iTunes). American singer, songwriter, guitarist and drummer Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman, delivers a cynical and at times hilarious album that turns what sounds like classic song standards into anything but. It’s satirical, seemingly heart felt, rather fucked up and often beautiful.
11. Grimes: Art Angels – (on iTunes). Canadian Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, took a big step up with her 4th album to produce a record that is on point from start to finish. Her mastery is really in the overall production here too. There’s a world of work poured into these tracks that may borrow from everything, only to be molded into something new. Repeated listens reveal more and more buried treasure.
12. Petite Noir: La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful – (on iTunes). South African singer-songwriter Yannick Ilunga, aka Petite Noir, reminds us that La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful. Half-Congolese, half-Angolan, he spins up a brand of his own that he calls “noirwave”. I think it sounds like he grew up in Africa listening to a lot of 1980’s gothic new wave. There’s definitely moments that sound like Tears For Fears with much more complex rhythms.
13. Chorusgirl: Chorusgirl – (on iTunes). Watch: My Silver Lining on YouTube. London based Chorusgirl makes noisepop, blending the sounds of Lush, the Cure and The Breeders into a swirling & shimmering mix of loss and anger layered beneath happy fizz.
14. Julie Thompson: Eye of the Storm – (on iTunes). Julie’s delivered her soul-soaring vocals on a wide range of electronic hits from producers ranging from Tiesto to Super8 & Tab. Her solo album serves 11 tracks she started writing after hitting rock bottom in her personal life. It’s an album of transition on many levels that starts with trance trademark anthems before venturing into downtempo, dubstep, breakbeat & electro.
15. Blond:ish: Welcome to the Present – (on iTunes). The Blond:ish ladies depart from the dance floor to masterfully craft a fully intoxicating and experimental soundscape of electronic moods, field recordings and traditional instruments. Played loud you can get lost in the loops and rhythms while hooping or dancing. Played soft it’s a most interesting and oddly comforting ambient psychedelic spiritual soundtrack that perfectly concludes with “It Starts Now”.