Karl’s albums of the year: 2015

 Following on from my favourite tracks of 2015, here are the 10 albums from this year that got the most replay value out of me. There were plenty of contenders, and it took me forever to whittle this down from 30 to 20 to 15… to 13… and finally to 10, which just indicates how robust the field was this year. It’s really pleasing to see artists continuing to approach albums as a communicative piece of art, as opposed to a collection of good songs with occasional filler. I feel that every album here had a clear message, a cohesive sound, and above all, they’re as fresh as it gets.

Grimes – Art Angels

 The eagerly anticipated follow-up to 2012’s Visions, Grime’s colourful, melodic modern synthpop & electronic album Art Angels is a clear progression in Claire Boucher’s approach to songwriting, composing and singing in particular. I think this album is incredibly accessible, the lead singles pack one hell of a punch, “REALiTi” especially. Grimes continues to be a dynamic and exciting figure in the contemporary electronic scene.

Key Tracks: Flesh Without Blood, Kill V. Maim, ArtAngels, REALiTi, Venus Fly, Butterfly

Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.$$

 Brooklyn-based rapper Joey Bada$’s debut album B4.DA.$$ is essentially a throwback to early 90s style Boom Bap, executed brilliantly. There’s a superb mix of socio-politically conscious and introspective lyricism, with some more upbeat party songs, such as the bonus track “Teach Me”. Clever album title too – a play on Joey’s stage name, pronounced ‘before da money’. Seemed to attract a fair amount of criticism for oversaturating the album with old school beats and not sounding contemporary enough, I think it was fresh, the subject matter is especially relevant and contemporary, but it’d be great to see Joey show his versatility by going down a different path in his next project.

Key tracks: Paper Trail$, Piece of Mind, Hazeus View, Like Me, No. 99, On & On

Erykah Badu – But You Caint Use My Phone

 We gotta thank Drake later for this! Erykah Badu proves she can churn out quality material even when inspired by light pop rap, in this case Drake’s “Hotline Bling” which sparked her remix, leading to this phone-themed mixtape. Quite remarkable that this was recorded in just a few weeks, and the tracks sort of flow seamlessly like it was one big recording session, as all good concept pieces should. Didn’t expect an appearance from Andre 3000 (“Hello”), who absolutely nailed the best feature spot of the year.

Key tracks: Caint Use My Phone (Suite), Cel U Lar Device, Phone Down, Dial A’Freaq, Hello

Pusha T – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude

 IT’S JUST A PRELUDE?! Pusha T has claimed the late-year honours with this substantial yet punchy 30-minute album, acting as a precursor to King Push which is expected to drop early 2016. Of all the elements you look for in a hip hop record, I think the verses and wordplay here are what really sells it, I’ve listened to it multiple times and keep hearing new lines or quips that surprise me. The production and feature spots are also major strengths, at times it sounds like a best-of Kanye’s production (mainly College Dropout & Late Registration but there are elements of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy too) which makes sense considering Pusha’s now the president of GOOD Music.

Key Tracks: Untouchable, M.F.T.R., M.P.A., Keep Dealing, Sunshine

Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion

 Three years in the making, and it shows! Another example of how much great electronic and synthpop there was this year. I still remember hearing “Run Away With Me” for the first time and nearly falling off my seat. Described by her as a love-letter to 80s pop music, but I think it transcends that aesthetic. Everything on this album is vibrant and packed with well-crafted melodies and Carly delivers some of the best hooks I’ve heard this year. Be warned, a large majority of the album is infested with earworms. It’s a massive progression in her development as a musician, she’s taken huge strides since the days of “Call Me Maybe”.
Key Tracks: Run Away With Me, Emotion, Gimme Love, All That, Boy Problems

Royal Headache – High

 Rock & Roll in 2015? Still sounding fresh? That’s exactly what High delivers, an excellent follow-up to Royal Headache’s self-titled 2011 debut. It’s a mix of British-style punk rock, garage rock that takes cues from The Strokes, and as with the previous album, lead singer Shogun is what seperates this band from the rest. His vocal style, which ranges from punkish yells and screams (“My Own Fantasy”, “Another World”), to sombre, soulful crooning (“Wouldn’t You Know”). The last album was kinda noisy and lo-fi, this one’s more polished with some better production without ruining the group’s sound. 
Key Tracks: My Own Fantasy, Need You, Another World, Wouldn’t You Know, Carolina, Little Star

The Chills – Silver Bullets
 The first Chills album since 1996, and Martin Phillipps delivered in every regard. I’d rank this right up there with their best output, slotting in easily alongside Submarine Bells. From those first resonant chords of “Warm Waveform” right up until the bright, upbeat guitar throughout “Molten Gold”, Silver Bullets is simultaneously familiar and fresh. 
Key Tracks: Warm Waveform, Silver Bullets, Underwater Wasteland, America Says Hello, I Can’t Help You, Molten Gold

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

 Courtney Barnett proves she can do just about anything with a guitar and a captivating set of lyrics on Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, the quintessential folk-rock portrayal of quarter-life crises that people in their mid-20s often experience in this part of the world. Ranges from rollicking & energetic (“Pedestrian at Best”, “Aqua Profunda!”) to melodic & heartfelt (“Depreston”, “Small Poppies”), a tour de force in the truest sense.
Key Tracks: Pedestrian at Best, Small Poppies, Depreston, Aqua Profunda!, Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

 What can I say that hasn’t been said? I was anticipating this album ever since good kid, m.A.A.d city and it exceeded my expectations in every way possible. So pleased to see Kendrick’s efforts pay off by breaking through into mainstream appeal and acceptance. It’s staggeringly well produced, features a range of eclectic sounds, instrumentation and sampling, and Kendrick’s rapping and wordplay has reached another level. It’s really just a celebration of African American music, and another chapter in Kendrick Lamar’s engrossing journey.
Key Tracks: Wesley’s Theory, King Kunta, These Walls, Alright, The Blacker The Berry, i

Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School

 VEGA INTL. Night School is loosely a concept album, fashioned in the style of 1980s synthpop around the façade of a neon-lit nightclub, just as the artwork suggests. Chillwave tends to get a bit of a bad rep for its obsession with nostalgia and older aesthetics, but I think this album is incredibly fresh and original, outshining a few contemporary releases that blatantly re-hashed 1980s synthpop. (CHVRCHES, looking at you) The middle section in particular is spectacular, starting with the infectiously groovy “The Glitzy Hive” and ending with prog-synth extended piece “Slumlord” and “Slumlord’s Re-lease”.
Key Tracks: Annie, The Glitzy Hive, Dear Skorpio Magazine, Slumlord, Slumlord’s Re-lease, 61 Cygni Ave


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