I can’t quite remember a year better for music in recent times than 2015. There seems to have been so many good releases across all styles. Old acts have returned with wonderful comeback albums, established acts have kept form with their new releases, while there have been some amazingly talented new artists emerge onto the scene. With this, I have chosen my top ten albums or 2015. This was a very hard task as there have been so many good albums and I do not for one second consider this a complete list, or indeed a list of the “best” albums of the year. Just the ten albums that stood out for me in 2015 and that I connected to in a big way.
Fat Freddy’s Drop – Bays
New Zealand’s reggae fusion kings came back in 2015 with their fourth album Bays. This album was a continuation from Blackbird with techno, funk and soul elements being explored more by the band, but without compromising their traditional reggae and dub influences. I thought they wouldn’t top Blackbird but they matched it with Bays, an album that will be played at many BBQs over summer.
Key Tracks: Wairunga Blues, Slings and Arrows, Fish in the Sea, Cortina Motors
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday
Noel has been in the news more for his mouth than anything else this year, but he did also release an album and a very good one at that. Chasing Yesterday is a big step forward musically from his debut, exploring prog and jazz influences more especially. The anthemic Oasis-like songs are still there, but these are balanced out nicely by tracks such as “Riverman” and the brilliant “The Right Stuff”. P.S. there are sax-crimes galore throughout this album and it is wonderful.
Key Tracks: Riverman, The Right Stuff, Do The Damage, Ballad of the Almighty I
Marlon Williams – Marlon Williams
Marlon Williams was one of the stars of New Zealand music for 2015, with his debut album of alt-country folk wowing everyone that has listened to it. His musical success also earned him a best male solo artist Tui at the New Zealand music awards. Williams’ songwriting on his self-titled debut is stunning, while his voice is truly unique and to my ears sounds like a mash-up of Roy Orbison and the Ink Spots. Williams definitely has the star quality to make it overseas and that should be a formality that happens sooner rather than later.
Key Tracks: Dark Child, Lonely Side Of Her, When I Was A Young Girl
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
The band whose currency has arguably grown the most this year is Unknown Mortal Orchestra, with their alt-pop masterpiece Multi-Love being recognized across multiple music publications as one of the best records to come out this year. I loved this album from the first listen with its pop, funk, psychedelic and indie influences absolutely hooking to me. Tracks like “Ur Life One Night”, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” and “Necessary Evil” are just full of infectious grooves that get you dancing, while the delicate jazz experimentation seen in “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty” with its sax solo was an unexpected, but pleasant twist in proceedings. Ruban Nielson got this one spot on and he deserves all the accolades coming his way as a result of it.
Key Tracks: Ur Life One Night, Can’t Keep Checking My Phone, Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty, Necessary Evil
New Order – Music Complete
One of the comebacks of the year had to be New Order with their album Music Complete. What an absolute banger of an album with pop and dance tunes coming at the listener from everywhere. I wasn’t planning on listening to this album because you don’t often expect “older” acts to continue to release music as good as their glory days. However, New Order surprised me and released a top class album almost as good as their classic 80s material. Even a lawsuit and an ongoing spat with former member Peter Hook won’t dampen the success the band deserves out of this release.
Key Tracks: Restless, Plastic, Tutti Frutti, People On The High Line
Paul Weller – Saturns Pattern
Paul Weller’s 2015 album Saturns Pattern for me is his best in years. The song-writing was well crafted, while the Modfather seemed intent on experimenting with different styles and sounds. On this album, there is Velvet-Underground avant-garde, good old-fashioned soul, pop, psychedelia and even hard rock, something incredibly unusual for Weller. Along with New Order’s album, Saturns Pattern is the biggest surprise for me album-wise in 2015 and hopefully, Weller makes it out to New Zealand as I for one would love to see these songs performed live.
Key Tracks: Pick It Up, I’m Where I Should Be, Phoenix
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett is what guitar music needs right now, a confident lyrical singer-songwriter. She sings in an Aussie accent and plays distorted raucous guitar. Her wonderful album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is one of the albums of 2015, with its mixture of indie pop sing-a-longs and loud guitar-heavy belters shaking what is currently a monotonous rock scene. I came to this album late in the year as I had to hear what the fuss was around Barnett. I am so glad I got to find her music in the end and I am pretty sure she ain’t going anywhere. Her success in 2015 has been rewarded with a Grammy nomination for best new artist.
Key Tracks: Elevator Operator, Small Poppies, Dead Fox, Debbie Downer
Blur – The Magic Whip
If I had to pick one album that to me was the album of 2015, I would probably pick Blur’s comeback album The Magic Whip. This album was released under a weight of anticipation from myself as I had been waiting for new music from Blur for a long time. And, they delivered over and above my expectations with an album arguably as good as their great 90s albums. This album has it all, classic pop Blur “Lonesome Street”, Damon Albarn Blur “New World Towers”, Gorillaz Blur “Ice Cream Man” and some areas where Blur have never been before in the form of funk reggae “Ghost Ship” and prog space rock “Thought I Was A Spaceman”. The songs are brilliant and the fact they recorded in Hong Kong with the album coming from a series of jam sessions adds to the narrative around the album in what was a great comeback from these Britpop masters. Please, please, please Blur come to New Zealand, even if it is just for the cheese rolls Alex James.
Key tracks: Lonesome Street, Go Out, Thought I Was A Spaceman, Ghost Ship, Pyongyang
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Everything has been said and written already on Kendrick Lamar and this album that there really is nothing left to say. This album to many is the defining album of 2015 and probably deservedly so. For me, I think it is just bloody fantastic a rapper is again picking up on the social themes within the African-American community and going in deep with this lyrically. I am a critic of a lot of modern hip-hop as I think much of it has been co-opted and lacks the authenticity of a lot of old school 80s and 90s hip-hop. Kendrick is a massive exception and this album is a modern-day masterpiece which will be remembered in the hip-hop canon for a long time to come. The added bonus of the likes of George Clinton, Kamasi Washington and Thundercat featuring are an added bonus musically that makes this record just that extra special.
Key Tracks: These Walls, Alright, Complexion
The Arcs – Yours, Dreamily
Dan Auerbach debuted his latest project The Arcs this year and their album Yours, Dreamily explored both old and new ground. Yes, you could hear the Black Keys in tracks like “Outta My Mind” and “Pistol Made Of Stone”, but there was also some experimentation and musical development on this album which made it very enjoyable. The bands alternative/contemporary take on blues, soul, and R&B on tracks such as “Cold Companion” and “Chains Of Loves” well and truly established Auerbach’s position as one of the leading blues-rock collaborators going round. The fact he surrounded himself with awesomely talented musicians such as Leon Michels for this project also helped a lot. Jack White, I guess it is your turn now to match the marker laid down here.
Key Tracks: Outta My Mind, Cold Companion, Chains Of Love, Rosie (Ooh La La)