SCM Music’s Top 50 Albums of 2015
2015 HAS BEEN an exceptional year for music. We’ve seen a wide range of exceptional albums, from jazz, to rap, to metal, to folk, to indie and beyond. Sure, we also had The BRIT Awards censor Kanye West, Sam Smith produce the most underwhelming Bond song of all time, and Adele break the internet, but all that seems like nothing when you had so many great releases this year. These releases have been listened to and re-listened to, and lo, we have the SCM Music end of year list. More than ever it was difficult to compile a definitive list of the best albums of 2015, with some unfortunately not making the cut. But you can be assured that those that did are excellent, genius, spectacular releases that are all worth your time.
Why you should check it out: This is symphonic black metal at it’s best; dramatic, passionate and gigantic.
Key Cut: Come Back
Why you should check it out: Coral’s lead guitarist goes back to his roots (literally) for a sentimental fourth solo album.
Key Cut: Daniel
Spacebomb/Startime International/Caroline International
Why you should check it out: Beautiful orchestration? Check. Stunning voice? Check. Great lyrics? Check.
Key Cut: Bird of Prey
Why you should check it out: The combination of metal and folk flows together seamlessly.
Key Cut: Sleep to the Sound of Waves Crashing
Why you should check it out: It’s quirky, experimental, but extremely enjoyable.
Key Cut: Window Shades
Castle Face Records
Why you should check it out: If you like your music clunky and sounding like something from a sci-fi b-movie, this is the album for you.
Key Cut: Web
Why you should check it out: One of the better shoegaze albums of the year with an undeniable funk and sneer.
Key Cut: Foolin’ Around
Warner Music Norway
Why you should check it out: Norwegian songstress produces ten blissfully wonderful electronic songs that wrench the emotions
Key Cut: Memorial
Why you should check it out: With total swagger, Neon Indian gives Mark Ronson a run for his money when it comes to upbeat music.
Key Cut: Dear Skorpio Magazine
41. Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes
Why you should check this out: Mark Kozelek literally brings us into the folds of his ever changing lifestyle with some experimental folk music.
Key Cut: The Possum
Why you should check it out: Sleater-Kinney’s return could not have been more triumphant with this album packed full of Riot Grrrrrl hits.
Key Cut: Price Tag
39: Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Why you should check it out: Panda Bear once against proves he can work without Animal Collective on another great solo effort.
Key Cut: Mr. Noah
Why you should check it out: Froot is pure pop perfection, topping Madonna, Bieber and Miley *shudder*.
Key Cut: Froot
37. Eagles of Death Metal – Zipper Down
Why you should check it out: EODM once against show that not having fun when making music ruins it.
Key Cut: Save A Prayer
Why you should check it out: Scottish Art-Rockers live up to the hype on their second release.
Key Cut: Pause Repeat
35. C. Duncan – Architect
Fat Cat Records
Why you should check it out: The Mercury-nominated composer presents us with some of his finest indie slow-burners.
Key Cut: Architect
Why you should check it out: One-woman electronic project Lonelady gives us a debut laden with grooves and beautiful electronic glitches.
Key Cut: Groove It Out
33. Slug – RIPE
Why you should check it out: The Northern rockers’ debut is full of personality, humour and, most importantly, damn good songs.
Key Cut: Greasy Mind
Blood and Biscuits
Why you should check it out: It’s upbeat, fun and just downright enjoyable. It’s near impossible to not like this release.
Key Cut: Struck Matches
31. Empress Of – Me
Why you should check it out: Honduran/American singer finds her funk through a synth-laden, impressive sophomore album.
Key Cut: How Do You Do It
Why you should check it out: Charli XCX proves she’s not just a one hit wonder with tune after tune.
Key Cut: Break the Rules
Why you should check it out: The British DJ has rarely been so harmonious and at peace with his sound.
Key Cut: Morning
28. Gaz Coombes – Matador
Hot Fruit Recordings/Caroline International
Why you should check it out: Supergrass front man takes one massive step out of his former band’s shadow.
Key Cut: 20/20
Why you should check it out: Post-Rockers at their most accessible without losing a single bit of integrity.
Key Cut: Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’
26. Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
Why you should check it out: Young Father’s new release is arguably better than their Mercury winning predecessor.
Key Cut: Shame
Why you should check it out: Easily one of the more likable Indie records of the year, with some exciting instrumentation.
Key Cut: Heroine
24. Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Why you should check it out: Florence and co. cement their reputation as festival headliners and give us their best album at the same time.
Key Cut: Mother
Why you should check it out: Ghost Culture gives us one of the best electronic albums of the year with this stunning release.
Key Cut: Glaciers
22. Foals – What Went Down
Why you should check it out: Foals make changes to their musical direction, making it their best since their debut.
Key Cut: Mountain At My Gates
Why you should check it out: John Grant once again proves why he is the king of smart and sassy lyrics.
Key Cut: Disappointing
20. Sexwitch – Sexwitch
Why you should check it out: The collaboration between Bat for Lashes and Toy is a surreal one. Sexwitch’s self-titled album has been dipped in pulsating rhythms and chunky bass lines. Natasha Khan’s vocals are some of her best, as she literally screams and howls her way through songs. Never a dull moment, Sexwitch often feels like the soundtrack to a satanic ritual.
Key Cut: Helelyosa
Why you should check it out: While Taylor Swift’s 1989 was excellent, Adams’ spin on Swift’s songs are a breath of fresh air. Sounding like Bruce Springsteen and the Smiths’ love child, Adam’s takes us on some rockin’ highs and tender lows. The emotion of Swift’s lyrics are given an entirely new meaning, thanks to both Adam’s musical mantra and diverse vocal performance.
Key Cut: Blank Space
18. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Why you should check it out: Barnett had already established herself as one of Australia’s brightest stars, but Sometimes I Sit… cemented that claim. Punky, straight talking numbers such as ‘Elevator Operator’ and slower, daunting numbers like ‘Kim’s Caravan’ show just how diverse Barnett can be.
Key Cut: Pedestrian at Best
Why you should check it out: Colleen Green gives us nothing short of ten, really good, grungy, lo-fi songs. Her vocals are reminiscent of the blunt girl bands of the 90s, with her lyrics equally to the point. It’s an album that dwells very much on the past, while looking forward to the future. The music borders on pop-punk, but a sarcastic eye roll and slacker rock agenda keeps it on the straight and narrow. A damn enjoyable album.
Key Cut: TV
One Little India/Sony/Megaforce
Why you should check it out: Björk’s latest release is also her most heartbreaking. Recorded after the split with her partner, Vulnicura is the story of heartbreak, redemption, strength and family. This album is not an easy listen, however, but the result is something beautiful, yet also haunting. At the core though, it’s Björk at her best.
Key Cut: Lionsong
Why you should check it out: Their first and only release under the Viet Cong name, the Canadian band managed to produce an album that sounds like the four horses of the apocalypse hurdling across a bombed out city. It’s monumentally imposing, and songs like ‘Death’ and ‘March of Progress’ really add to the dystopian feel of the music. While not a cheerful record, it proves to be at the very least a thought provoking listen.
Key Cut: Newspaper Spoons
Why you should check it out: Now on their fourth record, Ought continue to produce some quirky art punk numbers. Front man Tim Darcy’s vocals echoes that of Thurston Moore or David Byrne, switching from trembling near-flasetto to spoken word in the blink of an eye. Sun Coming Down is the band’s best release yet, and is dripping with personality.
Key Cut: Beautiful Blue Sky
Why you should check it out: Julia Holter’s latest studio album was a beautiful affair. Dainty strings, glorious keys, layered vocals, and even some more fast paced numbers. There are some truly gorgeous moments on Have You in My Wilderness, and contains some songs, such as ‘Silhouette’ and ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ that will get under your skin and take you to higher places.
Key Cut: Silhouette
Why you should check it out: The second full length album by Scott, Sunshine Redux barely hits the half hour mark, but packs more psychedelic madness into it than any other release. Sunshine Redux flows effortlessly from track to track, taking the listener through time changes, reversed noises, chaotic strings and just general utter madness. It’s a trip you won’t even need to be high for.
Key Cut: Ripe for Love
Why you should check it out: Art Angels took Grimes from bedroom pioneer to pop superstar. This album saw her master some killer beats, on songs like ‘Realiti’, ‘Venus Fly’ and the title track, while indulging her experimental side on ‘SCREAM’ and ‘Butterfly’. Art Angels represents a Grimes who has found her feet, and in doing so created some exciting and brilliant pop music.
Key Cut: Kill V. Maim
Why you should check it out: Sufjan Stevens already had a reputation for doing great albums, but Carrie & Lowell brought out the singer’s personal side, and this is reflected in the stripped back, more acoustic instrumentation. Carrie & Lowell is a very raw album, but also very beautiful. It’s Sufjan exposing his soul for all to see, and what we do see is humbling.
Key Cut: Death With Dignity
Why you should check it out: Tame Impala had been known for their incredibly psychedelic rock music, but Currents was the start of their shift towards pop music. While tracks ‘Let It Happen’ and ‘Past Life’ might show Kevin Parker still has a experimental side, but ‘The Less I Know the Better’, ‘Yes, I’m Changing’ and numerous other songs show Tame Impala focusing on a funky, catchy vibe. Not only that, but they do it incredibly well, making Currents a largely smooth transition between genres.
Key Cut: The Less I Know the Better
Peski Records/Heavenly Records
Why you should check it out: Falling into the niche genre of the ‘Welsh language, political, sci-fi’ album, Y Dydd Olaf is a triumphant solo effort for Gwenno Saunders that earned her the Welsh Music Prize this year. The laid back trip hop/electronic numbers are given some smooth production, so fantastic bass lines and glitchy sound effects. Gwenno’s layered vocals are heavenly, angelic and compliment her music perfectly.
Key Cut: Y Dydd Olaf
Why you should check it out: Much like Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra made the transition from psychedelic music to more funk based rhythms. Songs such as ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ and the title track exhibit UMO’s new found ability to jazz up their usually sober sound. ‘Puzzles’ and ‘Stage and Screen’ are typically UMO, but at the same time feel more developed, more alive. Multi-Love is UMO at their best, with some of their best songs, making a great sound.
Key Cut: Can’t Keep Checking My Phone
Why you should check it out: The Epic is one album that truly lives up to it’s name. Spanning nearly three hours, Kamasi Washington and his delve into jazz grandeur. With some spectacular orchestral and choral arrangements, The Epic may not be the easiest listen on this list, but it’s definitely one of the most adventurous. Tracks such as ‘The Magnificent 7’, ‘Change of the Guard’ and ‘The Message’ all reach for the 13 minute mark, but stay interesting with some passionate and genre-defining playing.
Key Cut: Malcolm’s Theme
Why you should check it out: Joanna Newsom strips things back slightly after her triple album Have One On Me. While the track listing has been shortened, Newsom’s music is as intricate and beautiful as ever. Divers is first-class for Newsom lyrics and instrumentation, with some interesting vocal work to top it off. Stories are sung through songs ‘Sapokanikan’, ‘Waltz of the 101st Lightborne’ and numerous others as Newsom weaves a beautiful tapestry of words.
Key Cut: Leaving the City
Why you should check it out: Katie Crutchfield is the understated heroine of 2015. Her previous albums have set the stage for her to make something incredible. Enter Ivy Tripp. It’s giant mixing pot of folk, experimental, alternative and lo-fi music brings together all of Waxahatchee’s past ideas with amazing results. The dull opening growl already indicates a change to her mantra, while ‘La Loose’ and ‘Summer of Love’ revisit old ideals. Past themes from Cerulean Salt are revisited and expanded in ‘Under a Rock’ and ‘The Dirt’, and new techniques are experimented with, such as on the amazing closer ‘Bonfire’. From start to finish, Ivy Tripp is an absolute delight to listen to.
Key Cut: La Loose
Why you should check it out: Compiled during several years of touring, remixing and DJing, Jamie XX’s solo debut is blissful. From the Radio One samples on ‘Gosh’ to the underrated ‘Obvs’ to the joyous ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’, In Colour is a triumph and proves Jamie XX to be royalty when it comes to indie electronica. When some critics claimed the Mercury Prize short list didn’t represent British music, they clearly never listened to this album. Jamie XX’s use of modern pop culture references and chilled out beats make it perhaps one of the most relevant albums in 2015 U.K.
Key Cut: Loud Places
Why you should check it out: What can be said about To Pimp A Butterfly that hasn’t already been repeated by every end of year list so far? It’s an important album, not just in terms of Kendrick’s musical development, but in establishing the increasingly tense atmosphere in the United States. On TPAB, Lamar avoids the radio friendly should he’d perfected on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, in favour of a more phiosophical approach. Bar ‘King Kunta’ and ‘The Blacker the Berry’, Lamar opts for sprawling bee-bop jazz, spoken word poetry and left field beats. But the results is deeper and less pretentious then you’d think; with every listen, or with every news feature, To Pimp A Butterfly grows more relevant, with it’s message gradually seeping under the listener’s skin.
Key Cut: King Kunta
Bella Union/Sub Pop
Why you should check it out: We’ve been through a few ‘personal’ albums on this list, but none of them top the deep cuts of I Love You, Honey Bear; the album that contains songs that Father John Misty felt embarrassed performing in front of his family. Taking inspiration from his former Fleet Foxes band mates, Misty quips and quirks his way through songs like ‘The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.’ and ‘Bored in the U.S.A.’. Then there are more tender cuts which really cut to the core, especially the closing song ‘I Went to the Store One Day’, which will actually move you to tears, and it’s predecessor ‘Holy Shit’ which is incredibly uplifting. Father John Misty really upped his game on this album, creating what is undoubtedly his emotional masterpiece. It’s enough to even top the humbling statements of Kendrick Lamar, the modern dance of Jamie XX and the weaving story-telling of Joanna Newsom. Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honey Bear is without a doubt the album of the year.
Key Cut: I Went to the Store One Day
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