Overall, 2015 has been a really good year for music. We’ve seen long-awaited followups, surprise releases, mixtapes, EPs, and been introduced to some new artists who are sure to make waves in the next few years. Here are ten albums (in no particular order), some you might know and some you might not, that show part of the best 2015 has to offer – so far, anyway – and a song from each album that I think is a good starting place.
Joey Bada$$ –B4. DA. $$
New York-based Joey Bada$$ gave us his major label debut this January in B4. DA. $$. This album doesn’t take many risks, but it proves that you don’t need to be experimental to make some damn good music. This could have been released alongside the classics of 90s hardcore east coast rap, and would stand on its own.
Top Pick: Paper Trail$
Drizzy’s surprise-release album/mixtape/whatever took the world by storm, and I can say it’s the first Drake album I’ve ever really enjoyed. While Drake is definitely still Drake, his lyricism seems a bit more mature on this release, and the production is jaw-droppingly good, front to back. Even if you don’t like Drake, this a highly enjoyable release.
Top Pick: Know Yourself
Father John Misty –I Love You, Honeybear
Every time I listen to this album, I find something new. It’s deep, layered, and complex, but at the same time is so readily accessible and enjoyable – it’s really a phenomenal piece of music. FJM’s lyrics can be heart-wrenching and sincere on one verse, then ironic and entertaining on the next. The instrumentation and production across the album is phenomenal. It’s hard to say too many good things about I Love You, Honeybear, and you should definitely give it a listen.
Top Pick: Bored In the USA
Lupe Fiasco –Tetsuo & Youth
After a series of disappointing albums, never able to live up to Lupe’s early work, he returned triumphantly with the 80-minute long Tetsuo & Youth. A dense album, full of complex beats and esoteric lyrics, but still eminently listenable. Expect this to show up on some best-of lists in December.
Top Pick: Mural
Death Grips –The Powers That B
Okay, so technically the first half of Death Grips’ latest release The Powers That B (called Niggas on the Moon) was released in 2014. Still, this year saw the full release of The Powers that B, including the long-awaited second half, Jenny Death. TPTB is a puzzling, brutal, and challenging album, but it’s so good. NOTM is some of Death Grips’ most confusing music, incorporating chopped-up Bjork vocals and cryptic (even by Death Grips standards) lyrics. Jenny Death, on the other hand, is a throwback to Ex Military and The Money Store, featuring aggressive guitars and endlessly quotable lyrics delivered in MC Ride’s trademark shout. If you’ve never listened to Death Grips before, Jenny Death is a good starting place, but Niggas on the Moon might be better served for when you’ve truly tasted the Death Grips kool-aid.
Top Pick (Niggas on the Moon): Up My Sleeves
Top Pick (Jenny Death): The Powers That B
If there’s one debatable album on this list, it would be Torres’ sophomore release, Sprinter. Even so, I believe in this album, and I believe in Torres. This is a deeply emotional indie rock album from bona fide rocker Mackenzie Scott, featuring both arena-sized heavy-hitting rock tracks and softer, cleaner ballads. From one end of the spectrum to the other, Torres and her expressive guitar playing work amazingly – able to jump from aggressive power chords and belting vocals to slow, heart-wrenching whispers. I don’t expect this album to win any awards, but Torres has proven definitively that she is to be taken seriously.
Top Pick: Sprinter
Earl Sweatshirt –I Don’t like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Earl’s latest album is claustrophobic, depressed, paranoid, and just really fucking dark. That being said, it’s also phenomenally well done. Clocking in at barely 30 minutes, IDLSIDGO feels longer than it really is, due to its oppressive and dark sound, but at the same time manages to be utterly hypnotic. Production (handled almost entirely by Earl himself) is top-notch, from the off-kilter bounce on “Huey” to the jarring, lo-fi grumble of “Grief” and everything in between. This is Earl’s best project, and is also the most Earl-sounding Earl project out there. Absolutely a top-notch release.
Top Pick: Faucet
Young Fathers –White Men Are Black Men Too
Hip-hop/pop/RnB/etc trio Young Fathers came back this month to release White Men Are Black Men Too, which may be their most impressive release to date. Shedding a lot of the hip-hop influence that marked their early career, Young Fathers prove with this release that they’re extremely competent songwriters and musicians. Keep an eye on these guys.
Top Pick: Shame
Kamasi Washington –The Epic
Lasting for two hours and fifty-three minutes spread across three disks, up-and-coming jazz musician and saxophone god Kamasi Washington’s The Epic can really only be described in that word – epic. But I don’t just mean that it’s big and I don’t just mean that it’s great; I mean that this thing is almost Homeric, almost comparable to The Odyssey or The Iliad, with a repetition of themes and phrases, a sense of journey and evolution, and so much more. But yeah, this thing is massive, and it’s really fucking good. I’m not a jazz expert, but I know something special when I see it. The Epic is special. On your next road trip, when you’re writing your next paper, the next time you lock yourself in with video games all day, something, you owe it to yourself to listen to this whole thing.
Top Pick: Re Run Home
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Are you surprised? This album is a safe bet for #1 of the year, at least so far. A marked departure from the more “standard” west coast hip-hop of Section.80 and good kid m.A.A.d city that brought Kendrick to the top, To Pimp A Butterfly manages to best even Kendrick’s already-phenomenal discography. So much has been said about this already that I don’t want to just gush – you know this album already. If you somehow don’t, listen to it right now. Fun Fact – Kamasi Washington (see above) is a featured sax player across TPAB.
Top Pick: King Kunta
So there – ten albums released so far this year that I think everyone should pay attention to. What did I miss? Why am I wrong? What doesn’t deserve to be heard? Leave your comments!