The 15 Best Albums of 2015
Head to The A.V. Club to read more about why each album deserves its spot, and to see how our individual critics ballots break down: http://avc.lu/1R36zhc
- •Hop Along, Painted ShutThe second album from Philadelphia’s Hop Along, Painted Shut, boasts a distinct voice that separates the band from the rest of the pack. With stunning vocals from Frances Quinlan, it's an album that explores what it means to be alive, for both better and worse.
- •Wilco, Star WarsStar Wars goes all in for the band’s most angular record since Jeff Tweedy wrestled his personal demons on A Ghost Is Born. Bringing everything from fuzzy psychedelia to languid space pop into its sonic wheelhouse, Wilco celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015 with some of its most unusual but rewarding songs to date.
- •Julien Baker, Sprained AnkleWhile the album’s been pegged as a sad listen—due to Baker tackling subjects such as substance abuse, death, break-ups, and a crisis of faith—it’s welcoming in the catharsis it offers. Baker plumbs the depths of her soul, creating a record that culminates in a calming exhale for anyone who accompanies her on this harrowing journey.
- •Kurt Vile, B’Lieve I’m Goin DownB’lieve I’m Goin Down is Kurt Vile’s most introspective and emotionally resonant album to date. There is an impressive cohesion to this collection of hazy songs, but the way that they alternate between twangy Americana and jangly indie rock keeps things from bogging down into a miasma of sameness. The way they each individually soundtrack Vile’s own intense self-analysis is crushingly powerful.
- •Protomartyr, The Agent IntellectThe Agent Intellect is a dark and driving LP that touches on everything from sex-offending priests to frontman Joe Casey’s love for his parents. It’s not a huge departure for Protomartyr, but that’s not a bad thing, especially considering the Rust Belt-based post punk act is pretty darn solid already.
- •Torres, SprinterTorres’ Mackenzie Scott began as raw and emotionally direct on her 2013 debut, but on follow-up Sprinter, those characteristics are magnified and honed. Lyrically, Scott sings about family, faith, and heartache with clear-eyed honesty, but the record’s frequent turns into distortion and rage serve as the perfect foil for Scott’s drawn-out and bare masterpieces.
- •Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just SitShaggy and noncommittal, the songs feel bigger than these recordings, as if they’re simply sketches that Barnett could amend at a moment’s notice. Or maybe that’s just her greatest trick as a songwriter, exuding wit and pathos without veering into pretension or fastidiousness. You can sit and think about them, or you can just sit with them. Barnett doesn’t care either way.
- •Waxahatchee, Ivy TrippThe fuzzy throb of noise that seeped into Ivy Tripp was the missing ingredient that made the ongoing alternations between hushed, spare confessionals and joyous pop-rock come across as of a piece, rather than simply paired together via necessity of the album format. Combining Rainer Maria-esque rock workouts with potent homespun meanderings, Crutchfield now comes across proudly confident, even at her most stripped and raw.
- •Beach Slang, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like UsThe group’s debut full-length, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, not only channels the gleeful abandon that made the ’90s pop-punk underground so vital, it stirs in an intoxicating dose of gruff, Replacements-esque songcraft. Weathered and wistful, The Things We Do is an open letter to youth, heartbreak, and the clutter of memory that makes us who we are.
- •Vince Staples, Summertime ’06It’s an album that never sees the need to announce its own importance, yet its examinations of race, violence, and morality are every bit as provocative and insightful as Kendrick Lamar’s more formal explorations of the same subjects on To Pimp A Butterfly. And while some critics pushed back against Lamar’s record as overly serious or simply not fun enough, those criticisms don’t apply here: Even when its themes get heavy, Summertime ’06 crackles with speaker-rattling menace.
- •Father John Misty, I Love You, HoneybearPrickly and cynical, Josh Tillman’s charade as a folk-pop showboater may not be the easiest pill for some to swallow, but he endears by exploring his vulnerabilities and shortcomings on I Love You, Honeybear. The former Fleet Foxes drummer applies the band’s lush musical arrangements to his warped worldview, delivering a sweeping album about love that is keenly aware that it’s a cliché.
- •Grimes, Art AngelsWhere Visions had a more ’80s, dream-pop sensibility, on Art Angels she crafts tracks that are endlessly danceable, wildly ferocious, and decidedly more modern. On both “California” and “Flesh Without Blood” she offers the first Grimes songs that could conceivably be staples on Top 40 radio stations across the country. Art Angels proves that even when Boucher goes for broke with pop hooks, her songs will always bare the distinct mark of Grimes.
- •Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & LowellCarrie & Lowell is a muted, gorgeous album that might as well be dedicated to Death himself. Like Elliott Smith, who’s Stevens’ spiritual forebear here, all that crushing sadness somehow alchemizes into beauty—sometimes cathartic, sometimes just crushing. It’s tricky business, getting this vulnerable, but Stevens has made a pretty astonishing career by following his heart to high and low places.
- •Sleater-Kinney, No Cities To LoveIt’s no surprise that Sleater-Kinney’s first record since returning from their extended hiatus is as good as everything else in their catalog. What’s more gratifying is that No Cities To Love achieves this while pushing the band into even more empowering territory. o Cities To Love honors and respects Sleater-Kinney’s legacy, but doesn’t handcuff the band to the past.
- •Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A ButterflySprawling (16 tracks, nearly 80 minutes), dense, and heady, To Pimp A Butterfly overwhelmed from the start, and it was clear that Lamar had achieved something special—that its status as a “monumental piece of work” would only grow more pronounced on repeat listening. To Pimp A Butterfly perfectly captures its era, but immortality awaits.