BEST NEW MUSIC 2015

The best new albums of 2015 (so far), as selected by the editors of Pitchfork.
  1. Empress Of's Me
    Empress Of is the alias of Lorely Rodriguez. Her debut EP consisted of shimmering synthpop, and now, she's stepping up as an avant-R&B auteur with pop star potential. Her first proper LP, Me is not just Rodriguez's most outwardly pop-focused work to date, but also her most restlessly experimental and lyrically raw. The bulk of Me forms a concept album of sorts documenting the life cycle of a relationship.
  2. FKA twigs' M3LL155X
    M3LL155X (pronounced 'Melissa') builds on her previous work, exploring ideas of psychic and interpersonal dominance and submission, but drills down almost completely into self. The EP takes that ur-feminist mantra "the personal is political" as a starting point, and if we need a feminist pop star, then twigs is it.
  3. Beach House's Depression Cherry
    Beach House's newest album, Depression Cherry, might have the silliest, or at least the most inexplicable, title in their catalog, but in every other sense it’s another impeccably measured step forward. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have grown so adept at spinning dreams that they can turn all the lights on the set and still dazzle us.
  4. Dr. Dre's Compton
    Billed as a soundtrack to coincide with the new N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, the album finds him sounding charged-up, nimble, and relevant. Dre has always relied on other rappers and producers for inspiration, and his own legacy is tied up in showcasing talent, lifting and rearranging it for his own cause. On Compton he's taken the approach and doubled down. While the album is frequently personal, it's also communal, and shows Dre coming to terms with his career for himself, not others.
  5. Future's Dirty Sprite 2
    Dirty Sprite 2 brushes aside the pop overtures of Future's sophomore album Honest. Building off a powerful three-mixtape comeback run, DS2 is bleak and unforgiving, a redemption story for a man who is certain it’s too late for his soul to be redeemed; instead of a triumphal arc, we burrow deeper and deeper into Future’s dystopian universe. This is music for nihilists, for the reckless, for those who embrace darkness because they don’t see another option.
  6. Tame Impala's Currents
    Nearly every song on Currents is a statement of leader Kevin Parker's range and increasing expertise as a producer, arranger, songwriter, and a vocalist. Parker is writing pop songs here, and doing them justice, and Currents is the result of a supernaturally talented obsessive trying to perfect music. The album ends up being Parker's most convincing case for solitude yet—he knows perfection can be achieved only inside the studio and that progress is the ultimate goal outside of it.
  7. Miguel's Wildheart
    On Wildheart, Miguel makes good on all of his cross-genre dabbling of the past five years. The album soars with shiny guitar lines and sky-high vocals, while the pompadoured singer explores a sex-positive attitude that focuses on pleasure and partnership instead of one-sided pursuit. If Frank Ocean is young soul's prismatic, consciousness-expanding Marvin Gaye, Miguel's the reliable Al Green.
  8. Vince Staples' Summertime '06
    Vince Staples' first full-length for Def Jam is brilliant. The Long Beach rapper expresses complex ideas in plain, hard sentences, ones that can be handed to you like a pamphlet. His rapping is conversational, but these are the conversations you have when all optimism has been burned away.
  9. Thundercat's The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam
    The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam is a spellbinding, 16-minute, six-track sequence from Thundercat—an artist who has been in the public eye plenty this year already, thanks to prominent spots on albums by Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington. The songs here are airy, while Thundercat's lyrics reliably invoke death, mourning, and vulnerability.
  10. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment's Surf
    Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment serve as Chance the Rapper's touring band, and on Surf, he and the group tap into a wide-ranging, joyfully meandering spirit. The album touches on a multitude of ideas and moods, but above all, it's a celebration of friendship and a tribute to the alchemic power of collaboration.
  11. Jamie xx's In Colour
    In Colour, Jamie xx’s full-length solo debut, is the dazzling culmination of his last 6 years. On it, he gathers up elements of everything he’s done—moody ballads, floor-filling bangers, expansive and off-kilter collaborations with vocalists—and packs them tightly in a glittering ball that reflects fragments of feeling back at us. It’s the album as raucous dancefloor party where the thrill of the moment never quite obliterates the wistful sadness that comes from knowing it will all end too soon.
  12. Nao's February 15 EP
    On February 15, London singer-songwriter Nao plays with just as many disparate influences—purple-hued funk, smoky neo-soul, muted washes of dubstep and other UK bass permutations, the faint pulse of deep house—but integrates them so seamlessly that the stylistic breadth barely registers. She has an imaginative yet piercingly simple way with words; her lyrics are unembellished but specific, stirring in their directness like an unexpectedly moving still-life painting.
  13. Holly Herndon's Platform
    Holly Herndon is an ambitious composer whose work is based on samples and her distinctive voice. Her vision was already clear on her first album, Movement, but her range broadened and deepened across a slow but steady stream of intoxicatingly dense singles; Platform is the most complete representation of her music yet. Though Herndon’s music is at its core "cerebral"—all surface details and richly layered textures—it still exhibits warmth and emotion.
  14. Shamir's Ratchet
    Ratchet, from Las Vegas singer-songwriter Shamir Bailey, feels like a study in the best dance-pop of the past decade. It's an honest, earnest pop record, as Shamir elaborates on the gutsy melodies of his early demos and singles. It's a record about the sine wave of adolescent emotions; Shamir, a cherub-faced fashion kid with a voice like Crystal Waters, flips easily between confidence and vulnerability.
  15. Jim O'Rourke's Simple Songs
    Jim O'Rourke's first solo album on Drag City in six years finds his brilliant ear for arrangement and love of dark humor intact. O’Rourke is always clever and funny, but the driving force in his music is the art of the arrangement. Many of the greatest pleasures on Simple Songs come from how certain instruments are layered together, how the chords are voiced and the harmonic progressions unfold.
  16. Prurient's Frozen Niagara Falls
    With Frozen Niagara Falls, Dominick Fernow has taken strengths from his entire oeuvre to reach deeper into himself and produce what may be his best record yet, one that brings all the fulfillment of noise and transcends them all the same. He offers an endless, probing self-exploration that simply isn't found in noise, metal, hardcore, power electronics, whatever harsh music you can think of. In that regard, Niagara is a landmark not just in Prurient's discography, but within extreme music.
  17. Kamasi Washington's The Epic
    Kamasi Washington, a member of the studio band that composed To Pimp A Butterfly, has released a triple-album set that functions as an extravagant love letter to (among other things): soul jazz, John Coltrane (various periods), and 1970s fusion leaders like Miles Davis and Weather Report. What The Epic comes to sound like, over the course of its significant running time, is a generational intervention.
  18. Young Thug's Barter 6
    Barter 6 is composed, patient, even subtle—an album neither fans nor detractors saw coming. It argues that his greatest asset all along was not his wackiness or his surprising inner hitmaker—it’s not even his voice, or at least, not entirely. It’s Thug’s uncanny and singular way of piecing a song together, a skill he has doubled down on with this release: a way with vocal technique, melody, and detail-oriented composition that makes the bizarre seem approachable and the familiar feel new.
  19. Lower Dens' Escape From Evil
    Lower Dens have toyed with the raw pleasure of pop music in the past, but they've never embraced it like this. Escape From Evil siphons its aesthetic from the storied pop of the '80s, but it's not content to stop at homage. The Baltimore band uses the past, its clichés and its innocence, as a lens through which to imagine a queer and open future.
  20. Jlin's Dark Energy
    Menace is a sensation endemic to footwork, the Chicago-borne genre of heart-racing house music that is predicated on going harder and better than anyone else on the floor. Dark Energy, the first release from the Indiana producer Jlin, contains all the hallmarks of the subgenre—frenzied pacing, arrhythmic kick drums, a graphic command of blank space—but executed with a clear-eyed self-determination. The music's happy/scary tension taps into the thrill and release in activating anger.
  21. Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell
    Sufjan Stevens has always written personally, weaving his life story into larger narratives, but here his autobiography is front and center. Carrie & Lowell is a return to the stripped-back folk of Seven Swans, but with a decade's worth of refinement and exploration packed into it. The lyrics here are masterful and carefully shorn, and the music is as well.
  22. Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
    A young writer with a working sense of humor and no apparent agenda, Barnett feels like a refreshing anomaly in 2015: A young songwriter who is smart but not intellectual, humble but not wimpy, into the past but not theatrical about it, aware of her feelings and aware of how too many feelings makes everyone bored. Even the album's biggest moments grow from small places, and in the end, Barnett returns invariably to herself, a subject she finds hard enough to understand.
  23. Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly
    The follow-up to good kid, m.A.A.d city is a dense and complicated album. The mood is wry, theatrical, chaotic, ironic, and mournful, often all at once. Underneath the tragedy and adversity, To Pimp a Butterfly is a celebration of the audacity to wake up each morning to try to be better, knowing it could all end in a second, for no reason at all.
  24. Tobias Jesso Jr.'s Goon
    Tobias Jesso Jr. has a knack for writing songs that you feel like you’ve heard before, even if you can’t quite pin down a precise antecedent. Jesso’s approach is to state things plainly, dress them up in a gorgeous tune, and sit down and deliver it in the most spare and economical manner possible. Goon isn’t an album of layers; what you hear is what you get, which in this case turns out to be something special.
  25. Levon Vincent's Levon Vincent
    Levon Vincent's self-titled record, which consists of 11 tracks spread across eight sides of vinyl, is a half-lit maze, an exploration of dance music at its most subterranean. But even as the record reinforces his reputation as one of techno's most determined purists, it also suggests that his talents are more varied than perhaps anyone has given him credit for.
  26. Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late
    The surprise release of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, a mixtape arriving on the six-year anniversary of Drake's star-making So Far Gone, has inspired much speculation: Is it a ruse to close out his Cash Money deal? But the music itself gives Drake room to breathe outside the lumbering commercialism of his studio albums. There’s little in the way of obvious singles here, but Drake’s never more formidable than when he’s shadowboxing, and at its flashiest this feels like his Rocky run.
  27. Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear
    I Love You, Honeybear, Josh Tillman's second full-length as Father John Misty, is by turns passionate and disillusioned, tender and angry, so cynical it's repulsive and so openhearted it hurts. Tillman's brain tells him the world is a cesspool but his heart tells him to stay open just a little longer. One is usually louder than the other but Honeybear is an album where both are constantly talking.
  28. Aphex Twin's Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP
    If last year's Syro was a masterful summation of the sound Richard D. James pioneered on his classic 1990s Aphex Twin releases, Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 is a very good reminder that there was also experimentation going on alongside the canonical LPs. Piano, prepared and otherwise, features heavily, but so do various drums and wood and metal percussion instruments. James has a handful of ideas, he comes in and executes them perfectly, and then he gets out.
  29. Natalie Prass' Natalie Prass
    Nashville-based singer Natalie Prass has created an album of relationships troubled by misunderstandings, of earnest lovers caught in the claws of the unmerciful. Matthew E. White's Spacebomb band lends her songs a string-and-horn-heavy instrumentation, giving her perspective on passionate romance some pomp and circumstance. There’s idealism in her voice that’s tempered by heartbreak without falling prey to cynicism—like the bitterness has been skimmed off the top leaving an evergreen sweetness.
  30. Björk's Vulnicura
    Björk's ninth proper full-length, filled with lush arrangements and some of her most heart-wrenching singing, can be slotted among the most human, emotionally candid, even functional of art forms: the breakup album.
  31. Viet Cong's Viet Cong
    Viet Cong's impressive full-length debut consists of dark, simmering post-punk. Their mission is not altogether different from that of Women, the short-lived and sorely missed indie deconstructionists in which half of Viet Cong previously served. Most of all, this is a record of exertion, where the physical investment in live performance is meant to stimulate creativity, those demoralizing tours inspiring smarter use of the studio.
  32. Sleater-Kinney's No Cities to Love
    The mighty Sleater-Kinney return a decade after their last album, 2005's The Woods, and they haven't lost a step. No Cities to Love is the band's most front-to-back accessible album, amping their omnipresent love of new wave pop with aerodynamic choruses. The album has the particular aliveness of music being created and torn from a group at this very moment—tempered, but with the wild-paced abandon that comes with being caged and then free.
  33. Panda Bear's Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
    More streamlined than Person Pitch, yet more rhythmically robust than Tomboy, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is Panda Bear’s toughest, grimiest, and funkiest album to date. But all that extra grit and groove doesn’t come at the expense Lennox’s unmistakable melodic graces, which still provide each song with its pulse. Taken as a whole, Grim Reaper feels like a gradual process of Lennox trying to tune out the extraneous noise of modern life and focus on what’s truly important to him.