Best of 15: The Best Albums of 2015

10. Jeremih
Late Nights: The Album (Def Jam)

For all the bullshit surrounding this record, it’s a testament to Jeremih that it came out as good as it did. The long-awaited follow-up to Late Nights — one of the most influential albums of the last few years — isn’t perfect, but it maintains the creativity and explorative spirit of the original. The Chicagoan takes on a number of different genres with consummate ease. While there are a few poorly selected features and a bit of a lull mid-way through, it starts and finishes strongly. He ends the album by reminding us “that it gets better” — gleefully relieved to be putting this project to bed and focusing on his bright future.
Hottest Jams: “Paradise,” “Oui,” “Remember Me”

9. Bjork
Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
In 2013, following 13 years together, Bjork split up with partner and father of her child. In 2015, she released a devastating, honest album about it. While hard to contemplate processing such a loss, it’s even harder to imagine penning an album this coherent and affecting about it. Across three, 3-song acts, the Icelander details the split with stunning clarity — from her crushing realization that the relationship was getting away from her to wading through the emotional shitstorm of the break-up to acceptance and hope for the future.
Hottest Jams: “Stonemilker,” “Black Lake,” “Lionsong”

8. Kelela
Hallucinogen (Warp/Cherry Coffee)
Kelela says more in six songs than many artists say in six albums, and her first EP for Warp is a perfectly-constructed rumination on love, sex, and and all the shit we do to make both of those things work. She explores breaking up (“A Message”), gender and age dynamics (“Gomensai,” “All The Way Down”), and infatuation (“Rewind,” “The High”) with a unique, affecting perspective, guiding us with a mix of power and vulnerability. She’s dominating without being domineering — in complete command of the versatile, electric arrangements, while granting them enough sonic space to shine. A fascinating artist with an important voice, I can’t wait to hear her long-awaited proper debut LP.
Hottest Jams: “Rewind,” “Gomenasai,” “All The Way Down”

7. Jens Lekman
Postcards Series (self-released)
Writing, performing, and recording a new song every week must be tough. Writing, performing, and recording a new song every week at the standard of Jens Lekman’s Postcards Series is damn near impossible. Luckily for us, the brilliant Swede went all KG and treated us to 52 fabulous, diverse new tracks, spanning the breadth of the year. And while not all of them are fully fleshed out ideas, the vast majority of them have something unique to offer and highlight a different side of 34 year-old’s character and songwriting talent. When you break it down, the series has yielded at least 10 songs that really matter to me, along with 20 that I liked and another 15 that made me smile. That’s a gargantuan effort for any artist, and it’s one of the many reasons why it’s so much fun to be a fan of Lekman.
Hottest Jams: “Postcard #7,” “Postcard #40,” “Postcard #17”

6. Real Lies
Real Life (Marathon Artists)
An exquisite portrait of being young in the city, Real Life distills the sounds of group’s native London — past, present and future — into a delicious collection that strikes the right balance between nostalgia and nowness. While there are touches of moody Pet Shop/New Order-era synth-pop (“Blackmarket Blues,” “Naked Ambition”), Madchester rave (“One Club Town”, “Seven Sisters”), and psych-inspired Stone Rose-y grooves (“Sidetripping”), they’re mixed in with enough modern sounds and real sonic curveballs (the reggae of “Dab Housing”) to guarantee a fresh prospective. The artist they remind me of most is the one they sound nothing like. Real Life feels a lot like The Streets’ still-perfect Original Pirate Material to me in that it’s the sound of a young talent making musical sense of the world around them, while searching for a pathway into society that makes sense to them.
Hottest Jams: “North Circular” (the best song of 2014), “Blackmarket Blues,” “One Club Town”

5. Dawn Richard
Blackheart (Our Dawn)
“I thought I lost it all” are the first words that come out Dawn Richard’s mouth on her labyrinthine third solo LP, and a cursory perusal of her Wikipedia page will tell you why. She spent last year embarking on an ill-fated Danity Kane reunion that killed much of the buzz she built with a pair of excellent solo albums. However, the 32 year-old has always been a fighter, and she comes out swinging on Blackheart, her most experimental, expansive project yet. From the Island vibes of opener, “Calypso,” to the sparse droplets of “Swim Free” to the sweeping piano ballad, “The Deep,” Richard bodies each unique arrangement using her powerful, malleable voice to tie the versatile project together. It’s a bold statement that, when finally digested, goes down as one of the most substantial you’ll taste this year.
Hottest Jams: “Calypso,” “Billie Jean,” “Phoenix” (f/ Aundrea Fimbres) 

4. Carly Rae Jepsen
Emotion (Interscope)
A friend argued that Carly Rae’s album was awful because it lacked any “original musical ideas.” And since I’m not a fucking musicologist, I didn’t really have much of a comeback. But the more I thought about it, the less I cared. Like, maybe Madonna or Cindy Lauper used the same chord progressions or vocal melodies 20 years ago, but couldn’t the exact same thing be said about 95% of artists making music today? I mean, there are only so many chords you can play. I dunno. What I do know is that Emotion is packed with inch-perfect pop songs guaranteed to get any bleeding heart fluttering, and that’s a lot more exciting than just about any original ideas I can think of.
Hottest Jams: “Emotion,” “Let’s Get Lost,” “Run Away With Me”

3. Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop)
Back in 2009, I reviewed one of Josh Tillman’s pre-FJM albums: a miserabilist folk dirge called Year in the Kingdom. It’s amazing that the same guy who made such self-serious, sexless music would go on to make an album that was this much fun. I Love You, Honeybear is basically a scrapbook of Tillman and his wife’s relationship, covering everything from first meeting (“Chateau Lobby #4”) to unfulfilling trysts with other women (“The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apt.”) to growing old and dying together in a plantation house (“I Went to the Store One Day”). Tillman tells his story masterfully, deftly balancing touching moments and heartfelt declarations with his ever-present humor, which ranges from whip-smart and self-deprecating to cruel and sophomoric. That wit stands out in a mostly humorless genre (the fucking Foo Fighters are probably the biggest rock band in the world), and it sets him apart from the self-serious, beardy white bros who make the scene such a fucking drag.
Hottest Jams: “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” “I Went to the Store One Day,” “The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apt.”

2. Jenny Hval
Apocalypse, girl (Sacred Bones)
“What is soft dick rock?” asks Norwegian composer Jenny Hval on the first track of her stunning third LP. Over its ten harrowing, beautiful tracks, she shows us what it is. Apocalypse, girl is a thought-provoking concept LP that explores modernity, sexuality, intimacy, and the like with disarming clarity and insight. Her shapeshifting, expressive vocals grapple with questions that may appear simple but have complex, illuminating conclusions (i.e. “what does it mean to take care of herself”). Her voice is matched with a menagerie of chamber instruments, gauzy synths, and affecting strings, forming a warm, comforting blanket for its harrowing, penetrative subject matter. This is an album that goes places that few others do.
Hottest Jams: “That Battle is Over,” “Take Care of Yourself,” “Heaven”

1. Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp a Butterfly (Aftermath)
Kendrick Lamar’s incredible third album plays out like a great movie or novel. There’s a complex cast of characters, a variety of settings that play a key role in proceedings, and a coherent, gripping story arc. At the heart of it all stands the 28 year-old, a rising star seeking to find his place in the world and grappling with both the pitfalls of fame and the real struggles of his loved ones, fighting for their lives back home in Compton. Lamar’s journey moves from the depths of of a hotel room breakdown to the center of a civil rights movement (“Alright”) to a an epiphany in a South Africa gas station (“How Much a Dollar Cost”) to, finally, home (“i”). It is a vital, powerful story told with complete mastery — the kind that is as illuminating about the author as it is about every one of us. And like the absolute finest, rarest works of literature, film, and music, it simultaneously captures a moment in time, while maintaining a timeless quality that assures it will resonate for generations to come.
Hottest Jams: “How Much a Dollar Cost,” “Mortal Man,” “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said),” “Alright”

N/A. Future
Beast Mode/56 Nights/DS2/What a Time to be Alive (Future Only version)
I didn’t know how to include Future’s work in 2015 on this list. Picking an album and placing it in the middle of my list (Beast Mode would have probably been 5th or 6th) seemed reductive, but putting them together also didn’t seem fair. This feels like a weird cop-out, but I couldn’t leave someone who put out such a mind-boggling quantity of quality music off this list.

Case in point, I tried to make an 80-minute mixtape of my favorite Future songs of the year for my car, and whittling it down to just 23 tracks was nearly impossible. And honestly, if I made a second version composed just of cuts that didn’t make the final tape, it would probably be just as good as the one I made. What a year. What a rapper. What a time…
Hottest Jams: “March Madness,” “News or Somthn,” “Trap N—-s,” “No Basic”

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