This year I’m listing my favorite 30 albums in chronological order, with some sort of superlative. That way, every one is a winner, and I don’t spend another five hours stressing over how danish female-led black metal sizes up with Canadian dream pop.
Here’s a playlist (also in chronological order) for you to listen to while you read. Enjoy!
John Luther Adams – The Wind in High Places (1/13)
Best audio representation of Alaskan spring. John Luther Adams has been a relatively new discovery for me, but going through his body of work this year has given me so much to explore.
Bjork – Vulnicura (1/18)
Deepest heartbreak yields Bjork’s best album in a decade. Like Sufjan, it sounds like coming back to the start, only with years of lived-in experience changing the innocence of the first time around. Also exciting to see the Haxan Cloak take the reins on production, specifically the fantastic “Family”.
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (2/9)
“Nail in the Coffin” award for the last best grasp at post-irony in our generation. J. Tillman can try to make all the jokes in the world to stave of the inevitable, but he still believes in love. This album is simultaneously gorgeous and awkward and lewd all at once, much like the FJM persona himself.
The Brilliance – Brother (2/17)
There is Hope for Christian Music Award! This band is spearheading a shift in worship music to more fully encompass the human experience of the Divine. I came back to this album time-and-again to give grounding to many emotions this year.
Torche – Restarter (2/24)
Such a fun band. Doom-pop, indeed.
Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden (2/24)
1984 called. They’re still got some classic riffs left over. And oddly enough choosing some Christian themes to wail about, although the band denies being believers.
Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh (3/11)
Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons released his second solo album as Blanck Mass, adding a bit more structured dance rhythms to his monumental walls of synth.
Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire (3/24)
Even when you get the Brians in a proper studio for the first time, they still sound like they’ve managed to fill in the gaps betweens air molecules with pure noise.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell (3/31)
Somehow manages to fully embrace beauty and despair in a tenderness that Mr. Stevens has uniquely pioneered. Like Bjork, shows you can’t quite return to where you started without everything you’ve lived since then.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (3/31)
I’m just so glad they’re back and in full-swing. There’s a lot more of an embrace of the reference points made with all the side bands that sprang from the ashes of GY!BE’s first run as they’re all smashed back together in the new unit. Keep it coming.
The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ (4/17)
I can’t not like John Darnielle. I just can’t do it. Everything he puts out under the Mountain Goats moniker is pure gold, this past year’s album included. I never thought I’d get so immersed in stories about failed pro wrestlers. The best storyteller working in music today.
Mew – +- (4/24)
Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of “And the Glass-Handed Kites”, Mew have brought back some old faces and put out a fantastic new record that demonstrates all their strengths. Crystal-clear and locked-in.
Knxwledge – Hud Dreems (5/5)
My laid-back instrumental hip-hop album for this year. Not as avant-garde as Flying Lotus, nor solidly jazz as much of Madlib’s work; although you can hear the influence of both here.
Allen Stone – Radius (5/26)
Perhaps the most fun I’ve had a show in a long time. Stone sound like what would have happened if Justin Timberlake had kept it pure soul and somewhat underground. And had poor choices in glasses.
mewithoutYou – Pale Horses (6/16)
Best “best of” that’s actually a new album.
Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble (6/19)
The Bard. Hansard ages beautifully, making the transition from the Frames and Swell Season to his elder-statesman status as a national treasure for Ireland. I had the honor of seeing him perform this year, and the man oozes authenticity.
The Frames – Longitude (6/26)
Speaking of Glen! New Frames! Kind of!
The Velvet Teen – All is Illusory (6/30)
The perennial “Why the &(#&^ Aren’t They a Bigger Deal?!?!” Award winners. “Sonreo” is the best song to feature a player piano this year.
Wilco -Star Wars (7/16)
Wilco put out albums like Radiohead put out albums. There will never be another “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/Kid A”, and that’s okay. These guys rarely disappoint.
HEALTH – DEATH MAGIC (8/7)
This band sounds like the music they play in the background of clubs in future sic-fi music.
Myrkur – M (8/21)
My first reaction to a beautiful danish model doing progressive black metal is, “that’s so not KVLT”. Then I realize, nor am I, and I jam this record on a sunny drive in Florida.
Battles – La Di Da Di (9/18)
Battles boldly put out a record that honed in on their eccentricities rather than sticking with previously easy-grab formulas.
Max Richter – From Sleep (9/21)
One of my favorite contemporary composers writes an eight-hour piece intended to be slept through? It would work if it wasn’t so gorgeous. The was perhaps the most beautiful record of 2015.
Deafheaven – New Bermuda (10/2)
Many of us waited with baited breath for this sequel to Sunbather to drop in October, and I don’t think it disappointed in the slightest. Deafheaven refined their skills while managing to get heavier, pushing though the blacklist to the backlash to the backlash in order to embed themselves in the pantheon of modern metal.
Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect (10/9)
Protomartyr reminds me of bands I was really in to, like, ten years ago. I’m glad someone is doing that drab-who-cares post-punk thing.
Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone? (10/16)
A surprise discovery at the local record shop, “Downtown” was my favorite song to sing loud in my car whilst driving late at night.
Wrekmeister Harmonies – Night of Your Ascension (11/13)
Best high-concept baroque doom metal. I love the idea of metal being a space for collaboration and experimentation in high art fashion these days.
Kurt Stenzel -Jodorowsky’s Dune (11/18)
This is perhaps the most left-field contribution to this list: an improvised soundtrack to a documentary about a movie never made of a book I’ve never read. But I’m a sucker for synths.
Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman – Lice EP
Two of my favorite rappers put out a fun little five-song collection at the end of this year. Kudos to sampling vintage Linkin Park!
SUNN O))) – Kannon (12/4)
Finally, the lords of low end release their first full-length in six years. I appreciated the demos and collaborations in the space between, but to hear the stripped-down return to vintage O))) reveals a refinement and maturity in their musicianship. Where Monoliths&Dimensions showed a maximalist expanse in instrumentation and style, Kannon (recorded at approximately the same time) shows an inward concentration in the small details. Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results.
Baroness – Purple (12/18)
Disclaimer – I have not dug into it full-scale. Wasn’t crazy about their last double album, but I have high hopes!