I almost decided not to make a list this year. It would be the first time in a decade of considering myself a serious music fan and occasional amateur critic that I didn’t cap the year with a retrospective post about my favorite albums, songs, and more. Every time I opened up my “All 2015” playlist in iTunes, I felt hopelessly behind on new music. There was too much there, and at the same time there wasn’t enough. I was more conscious than ever of what I wasn’t listening to. There’s just no way to give every critically and culturally significant album a fair shake in one year, but that’s okay (and if I’m being honest, I can’t complain – I spent a precious half hour of my life listening to the Lil Bub album). In the end, I decided that it was still worth it to take a little time at the end of the year to collect my thoughts on a few of my favorite releases. I’m not going to pretend this is a definitive best-of list. It’s just ten records I loved this year, and I hope you love them too.
My Favorite Albums of 2015
Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
I like to call Beach Slang “the best band in the world.” I know it’s a ridiculous statement, but when I’m immersed in this album, I genuinely believe it. It’s an urgent, electrifying ode to the present tense, to the importance of being alive right now.
mewithoutYou – Pale Horses
While the band is in top form as always, Aaron Weiss’s lyrics are the true highlight – a beautiful tapestry of religious philosophy, literary allusions, and personal anecdotes in which the intimate and the apocalyptic are addressed in equal measure.
Desaparecidos – Payola
Political firebrand has always been my favorite of Conor Oberst’s many modes, and his biting indictments of Wall Street executives, racist cops, and more on Payola are an ideal match for the band’s raucous guitar work.
Laura Stevenson – Cocksure
Wheel is a tough record to follow. Cocksure lacks the gravitas of Stevenson’s 2013 masterpiece, but it charts new territory as her most rock and roll album yet while maintaining the wordplay that makes her songwriting so great.
The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven
I have more negative things to say about No Closer To Heaven than any other album on this list. The muddy mix buries the vocals in a wash of guitars and cymbals. The three-act structure makes for strong theme building, but the divisions between the acts are so sharp that I wish it had been a series of three EPs. And I won’t even start on Jason Butler’s guest spot. Despite all that, I still listened to this album more than anything else this year. The guitar and drum work is great, and Dan Campbell remains the best vocalist and lyricist in the scene.
The Island of Misfit Toys – I Made You Something
I recently watched The Island of Misfit Toys play this album in full for the release show at Lincoln Hall. I’ve never seen a band more visibly proud and triumphant on stage. It was a joyful experience.
The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Harmlessness
Harmlessness is sprawling in the best way, expanding outward from emo in all directions and taking cues from post-rock, folk, and elsewhere. It also has the best drum sound I’ve heard all year.
Jeff Rosenstock – We Cool?
Jeff Rosenstock may have retired the Bomb the Music Industry! name, but We Cool?“ still feels like a natural successor to Adults! and Vacation.
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
My growing interest in country music is almost entirely due to Jason Isbell’s Southeastern. The same vivid storytelling that drew me into that album returns on Something More Than Free, and Isbell’s stellar backing band takes a more prominent role without upstaging the songwriting.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett is the only artist on my list that I hadn’t listened to before 2015. I think it was the title that initially caught my attention, but her clever lyrics and crunchy guitar riffs kept the album in rotation throughout the year.
Here are some of my favorite songs from albums that almost made this list.
- Noah Gundersen – “Topless Dancer”
- Dawes – “All Your Favorite Bands”
- Butch Walker – “21+”
- Sorority Noise – “Using”
- Tobias Jesso Jr. – “Hollywood”
- Speedy Ortiz – “The Graduates”