A late winter bus ride through the rolling, tree-lined hills of Appalachia not only introduced me to my two favorite albums in 2015 but confronted me with thoughts of pain and healing, injustice and equality while seated next to a stranger for hours on end. One album brought tears as I pondered the mortality of everyone I loved and my complicated feelings about the West Coast. The other brought anger – and a sense of awe – as it tackled racial inequality from a place of undefeated strength and joy.
2015 featured the aforementioned albums from Sufjan Stevens and Kendrick Lamar plus so many more I loved. Here are my Favorite Albums 2015 listed in descending order.
20. Torres – Sprinter
The Brooklyn transplant’s second album placed her voice front and center and turned up the rock dials to 11. Wise moves.
19. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – Surf
Chance the Rapper’s backing band made a dope album that featured plenty appearances by the rapper – but also stood on its own merits.
18. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
Seeing and hearing Prass as she strutted around the Radio City Music Hall stage in October turned me on to this lovely record.
17. Grimes – Art Angels
Prolonged exposure to Claire Boucher’s weirdness generally burns me out but Art Angels featured more than its share of earworms.
16. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
BBTM’s hollow hedonism and the popularity it obtained made me wonder about society until the next time I hit play on his singles.
15. Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
James Snyder penned one of 2015’s best opening lines: “The night is alive, it’s loud and I’m drunk.” Oh, and his Tiny Desk concert = <3!
14. Aero Flynn – Aero Flynn
Justin Vernon’s wayward Wisconsin friend made the record that most closely resembled Radiohead in 2015. A welcome surprise.
13. Youth Lagoon – Savage Hills Ballroom
Doesn’t matter what time of day I listen to Youth Lagoon’s music; it always sends me, a fragile human, shooting for the stars.
12. Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect
Maybe if Craig Finn drank at the end of the bar, instead of inciting bar sing-alongs, the result would be these Detroit post-punks.
11. Towkio – .wav Theory
Like Donnie Trumpet, Chicago’s Towkio is Chance-affiliated but a notable talent on his own. This tape stayed on repeat for months.
10. The Dodos – Individ
I thought the Dodos were dead. Then I heard the San Fran duo’s new record full of kinetic energy and catharsis and felt born again.
9. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
Brittany Howard continues to be a force of nature and the sole reason why I have nice things to say about Alabama.
8. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
God, if I could only write with Courtney Barnett’s eye for detail and subtle humor. Instead, I will sit and listen and listen some more.
7. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
Profound and profoundly honest, Staples’ matter of fact declarations inspired under breath curses and obsessive listens.
6. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Is it authentic or manufactured? Uh, the question is: Is it good? Yes. Congrats. You now share common musical taste with your parents.
5. Braids – Deep in the Iris
Raphaelle Standell-Preston writes/sings about sex and longing in powerful, thought-provoking ways that feel immediate and unique.
4. Tame Impala – Currents
Genius, timeless pop from mind of Kevin Parker that pulls from recognizable influences while distilling them into his own blend.
3. Chastity Belt – Time to Go Home
Quintessential “growing up is hard” record with deadpan vocals and guitar arpeggios that triggered intense Pacific Northwest nostalgia.
2. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
K Dot re-imagined hip hop, jazz, race relations, and life with To Pimp a Butterfly, less than three years after Good Kid … Just incredible.
1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
A magical and monumental work on loss, grief, and mortality centered around acoustic guitar driven, autobiographical tales about his estranged mother’s death. This record haunted, devastated, and amazed me like no other in 2015.
Photo credit: Denny Renshaw.