Top 50 Albums of 2015

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There’s only a couple weeks left in 2015, and we’re ready to call it. As years go, this was a pretty dark one for the planet, and it’s reflected in the music that we listened to. The best hip-hop records of the year reflected the racial divide that still exists no matter how much progress we think we’ve made. The best electronic records of the year took on outsider communities and made beauty out of that alienation. The best metal records of the year reveled in both raw emotions and a theatrical kind of darkness. And goth is pretty much stronger than it’s been in years. Which isn’t to say that everything’s been a bummer. To the contrary—the best music of 2015 provided us with solace, relief, catharsis and joy. It reminded us of why we became fans in the first place.

There’s not one single thread that runs through our top 50 albums of 2015, but more than any other year in recent memory, this batch of records feels overwhelming. Music was powerful this year because it had to be. We hope you enjoy and find a similar sense of solace, joy or catharsis in our list of the best albums of 2015.

Four Tet Morning/Evening50. Four Tet – Morning/Evening

Kieran Hebden’s eighth studio album is entirely composed of two 20-minute tracks—”Morning Side” and “Evening Side”–which are essentially two iterations of the same concept, both customized for their eponymous time of day. This idea is common in Indian raga music, and appropriate here as Hebden explores his own family heritage, after having investigated a set of Hindu devotional music left to him by his late grandfather. By incorporating playback singer Lata Mangeshkar’s stunning, clear vocals into his own cyclical electronic programming, he is able to fuse beautifully the Eastern and Western elements of his background. One of Four Tet’s most personal, and best, albums to date. – MP

Earl Sweatshirt best albums of 201549. Earl SweatshirtI Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
(Tan Cressida/Columbia)

Released in the shadow of Kendrick Lamar and Drake’s albums, I Don’t Like Shit… is an excellent rap record eclipsed by a dominant hype machine. While Doris was mostly an exercise of Earl Sweatshirt’s rap skills, this follow-up is basically a recording of his existential crisis as he completely removes himself from the past. The majority of I Don’t Like Shit is grounded in seclusion, but part of Earl’s frustration isn’t with the world. It’s with himself, positioning himself as his own worst enemy. Earl Sweatshirt certainly might have had some other personal hang-ups and, with the demise of Odd Future lingering in the digital ether, he’s shifted his priorities to focus on creating potent rap music on his own. I Don’t Like Shit serves as not just a transition from Doris, but a brand new starting point for his own personal innovation. Perhaps the end of Odd Future might not be such bad thing. – GM

Holly Herndon Platform48. Holly HerndonPlatform

Holly Herndon’s sophomore effort may be unpalatable to a wider audience—the Bay Area musician admits that her university is considering Platform as a candidate for her final thesis—but those unwilling to endure the synaptic crossfire of Herndon’s programmed beats will be missing out on a conceptual marvel. Surveillance, digital boundaries, ASMR and post-scarcity capitalism are just a few of the subjects given a nudge to. And while the intellectual onslaught of choir samples and stuttered thumps might repel the listener relentlessly, a hook-laden chorus or an acid-house groove will always lie in wait to invite them back in. – JM

top 50 songs of 2015 Kelela Hallucinogen EP47. KelelaHallucinogen EP

Kelela’s less-is-more approach doesn’t just apply to her intoxicating take on R&B. To date, her output’s been fairly limited, and after she built up an impressive rumble of buzz with late-2013’s Cut 4 Me, its follow-up EP Hallucinogen ended up being delayed for about half a year. Six new songs aren’t that much to expect an audience to wait a couple years for, but it certainly helps that these songs are all essentially perfect. Conveying beauty and emotion with economy and a quiet intensity, Kelela works with producers such as Arca and Kingdom to redefine what R&B can be while keeping honest, palpable feelings at the front of each gorgeously orchestrated work of electronic minimalism. Her world is smoky and sparse, sometimes even alien, but her warm blood pulses through its passages and arteries, providing both a grounding and comfort that more misanthropic works by the likes of The Weeknd never could. This is music built on feeling, in every possible sense of the word. – JT

KEN Mode Success review46. KEN ModeSuccess
(Season of Mist)

KEN Mode made a significant shift with their sixth record, moving away from the seething metal of their previous albums and adopting the sardonic humor and feedback-driven hum of classic noise rock. This sea change is heralded by opening track “Blessed,” a song as heavy as any you’ll hear this year that features a Cop Shoot Cop-esque double bass attack. They’re able to capture the energy of prime Amphetamine Reptile noise without losing their twisting sense of melody or fierce, confrontational songwriting. The instrumental pound of the album never lets up, and the record is all the better because of it. Having Steve Albini behind the boards certainly didn’t hurt, either. – KN

best albums of 2015 Beach Slang45. Beach SlangThe Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us
(Polyvinyl/Big Scary Monsters)

It may have been a while in arriving (by their standards, at least), but the lengthily-titled debut from Philly punk firebrands Beach Slang was certainly worth the wait. Packing raw emotion, massive hooks and the sort of grit that will go towards filling the hole left by the demise of The Gaslight Anthem, the quartet’s opening statement doesn’t mess around: 10 songs, 26 minutes, song titles like “I Break Guitars,” “Noisy Heaven” and “Young and Alive.” You know what to expect, but the energy and insight of frontman/lyricist James Alex will still leave you floored. – GO’M

best albums of 2015 Future44. FutureDirty Sprite 2

You’d think ditching traditional hooks and a persona turn from catchy street romantic to wounded, drug-besotted hedonist would isolate a rapper from the mainstream. But Future’s fanbase has grown alongside the creativity and brutal honesty of his music. Floating through synth-driven, trap-music-in-hell production by Atlanta stalwarts including Southside, Metro Boomin and Zaytoven, DS2 gives us a dime tour of Future’s debauchery. Codeine-and-soda is practically mainlined, booze is guzzled, women are fucked and cast aside. But none of it sounds fun—songs like “Blood on the Money” and “I Serve the Base” make that clear. That’s why it works. He’s well-aware of his flaws and isn’t proud, but like all addicts can’t stop himself. – LG

Donnie Trumpet Surf best albums of 201543. Donnie Trumpet and the Social ExperimentSurf

Chance the Rapper made a name for himself after dropping the phenomenal mixtape Acid Rap, but what would soon follow would be something more profound and adventurous. The debut album by his band, Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, Surf is a revelation and a testament not only to new frontiers in hip-hop, but also to the creative resurgence coming out of Chicago. While not strictly (but kind of) a vehicle for Chance The Rapper, he’s not a driving force behind Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment. Surf truly does feel like a collaborative piece made by a collective of people with the sharpest creative minds and with the intention to produce one of the most ambitious records released this year. Boasting an array of stellar guests (including Busta Rhymes and Erykah Badu), Surf is a record played out like a fully realized dream. Part of the charm that makes Surf special is that it’s never boring, overflowing with abundantly rich content. Where Chance The Rapper and his cohorts will take listeners next is unclear, but it’s likely to be yet another fantastic journey. – GM

Natalie Prass best albums of 201542. Natalie PrassNatalie Prass

One of 2015’s most treasured discoveries is Nashville’s Natalie Prass. Her debut album had been sitting around for a couple of years before Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb label was able to give it the promotion it deserved. From the Nina Simone-style swell of opener “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” to the Muscle-Shoals-style backing of “Your Fool” or the Joanna Newsom kookiness of “It Is You,” all boosted immeasurably by White’s own production, Prass’ confidence and dexterity for a debut album is remarkable. As the winter draws in, this album will be more valuable than any woolly jumper or open fire could ever hope to be. – MP

top 50 songs of 2015 Destroyer41. DestroyerPoison Season

Given his prolific output and his unabashed desire to rid everyone’s memory of his last full-length, Kaputt, Dan Bejar took a long time to finish Poison Season. And yet, none of the tracks over its 53-minute runtime feel beleaguered or contrived. The cacophony of space-echoed saxophones and glam-rock noodling on tracks like “Dream Lover” and “Times Square” call up to mind the balladry of Transformer-era Lou Reed. But whether showcasing his own trademark eccentricity through oddball wordplay, delivering a jivey speak-sing over a slick groove, or referencing Highway to Hell (sans irony), Bejar does make one thing clear: he would rather “take his chances on the road” than yield to listener expectations. – JM

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View Comments (7)
  • Out of all the lists I’ve read in the last few days yours is by far the best, meaning I agree with it the most. You have some great picks other people have overlooked. The one record I just don’t get is Father John Misty. Is there anything more disgustingly hipster in this world? Musically boring as all hell, and the level of cleverness I would have found amusing in middle school, maybe.

    • I don’t get it either. Rather, I ‘get it’, and can say it’s a good album. But I don’t *like* it. But hey, that’s democracy. Thanks for reading our list!

    • There are quite a few things more disgustingly hipster than FJM, including but not limited to Destroyer, gastropubs, Whit Stillman films, composting, Win Butler…

  • Hey nice job! I’m pleased with this list, and I’m incredibly impressed to see so many female artists represented here! I know, I know, it’s because they made wicked good art. But still…ladies! Yeah!

    And yet . . . it does seem that every yearend list Treble produces, the number one slots/top five usually fall into the same genre. What up with that?

    Wasn’t it Run the Jewels last year? Maybe you guys have noticed this trend?

    • We had two hip-hop Albums of the Year in a row, but I think in general it tends to change from year to year. Deafheaven was #1 in 2013. Frank Ocean was #1 in 2012. St. Vincent was #1 in 2011.

  • Cheers to seeing this list a little late. I’ve enjoyed reading your site all year, and look forward to seeing what’s in store for next year! Check out my Top 50 too if you so desire. I see some overlap!

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