Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
2015 3

The Fifty Best Albums of 2015

10 December 2015, 09:45

From A$AP Rocky to Viet Cong, here are fifty records from 2015 that you really need to hear.

Over the course of a few solitary days spent putting together the longlist of Best Fit's favourite albums of 2015, it hit me just what a great year it is for the concept behind an "album".

The fifty records on our list were chosen as a showcase for their groundbreaking innovation, musical and lyrical excellence, and their ability to use the album format as a creative tool.

Little Simz, Björk, Kendrick Lamar, Torres, Lonelady and Sufan Stevens are just a few of the artists who turned in outstanding work that relied on the framework of the album to structure their ideas. Sometimes the impact came from the struggle with the album format. Either way, blisteringly wonderful things happened.

One album stood our beyond all others though. Julia Holter made 2015's most unexpectedly perfect record. It's a record that - more than any other this year - demonstrates the unshakable bond between itself and the listener.A career high for Holter, she remains suprised and humbler by the reception Have You In My Wilderness received. "I just wrote songs and they somehow all seemed to work together," Holter told us. We talked to her in depth about the album's creation and how Holter feels a few months on from its release to celebrate it topping our albums of the year.

At its core, Best Fit is also about musical discovery and with that in mind we've tried to reach a little further across the year to highlight some of the underdogs on our list too: Floating Points, Daniel Romano, Kode9, Danny Seth, Sóley and GoldLink mined their own peculiar and brilliant takes on genre.

We haven't ranked these records. We all have our favourites. What a time to be alive huh?

A$AP Rocky

At.Long.Last.A$AP

If you can stretch your imagination five, ten, or even fifteen years down the line, you can sense on this record what at some new juncture will become the familiar clichés, tired tropes and default, uniform aesthetics for a new era of burgeoning musicians, even weirder and more fucked up than this one, looking to reconstruct and re-define the culture from within.

And, if you’ve got that far, you can begin to envisage, forming in the yet to be cast shadow of this record, the strange phantasmal outline of some obscure, unheard of rap collective, emerging in the ashes of the post-Obama, post-internet “swag-rap” era, equipped with a whole new wardrobe, a different cross-over influence and a whole new vocabulary, about to storm the palace and set the cycles in motion again.

Arca

Mutant

Arca has a masterful talent for interweaving synthesizers and a tremendous technical understanding of building tracks that are at once gorgeous and metallurgical. On Mutant, his virtuoso skill continues to shine, albeit in an even less structured environment than his debut, Xen.

Bill Ryder-Jones

West Kirby County Primary

Through the intelligent, measured expansion of the artistic characteristics for which he has been so respected since his departure from The Coral, Bill Ryder-Jones has confirmed his place among this country’s most vital contemporary songwriters with West Kirby County Primary.

Bjork

Vulnicura

Vulnicura is stark and powerful in a way that Björk has merely danced around for years. Here, in these songs, she has shed all of her skin: the lavish costumes, the genre-defying ambiguity, the punk rock empowerment, the unwavering emotional fortitude and the entirety of all assumed personalities that one might instinctively assign an icon.

On Vulnicura, she is simply Björk: a rattled human being caught within an emotional vortex, letting off the sort of violent chemical reflexes we are all prone to. Vulnicura is humanity at its most volatilely sublime.

Bully

Feels Like

Feels Like has that same infectious intensity that Weezer’s debut had; similarly capturing that coming-of-age spirit with refined rhythms and soaring guitars that can be both furious and fun. They’re sounds we’ve all heard before but done spectacularly. Couple that with Bognanno’s fearless honesty and Feels Like is an explosive debut that demands your attention. It’s the sort of record that leaves you chomping at the bit, excited to see what Bully have up their sleeve next, and very much deserving of the hype.

{pagebreak}

CocoRosie

Heartache City

Heartache City has much more in common with the band’s first two albums, the freakiness of their folk here is undeniable, but the tracks all share a strong backbone of hip hop and afro-beat which elevates them above the streamlined pop melee.

Courtney Barnett

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett isn’t the voice of our generation. She’s just a voice in our generation. Lucky for us, she’s the most interesting one we’ve got. Sometimes is the work of probably the best lyricist writing today, and roundly deserves to be an album for the ages. If it’s not, that’s only because she’ll have found a way to top it next time around.

Daniel Romano

If I've Only One Time Askin'

In its modern incarnation, country music has been lambasted for the predictability of its narratives (which include, and are mostly limited to, unabashed declarations of American patriotism, tales of love gone wrong, and sorrows drowned in booze). Daniel Romano’s brand of country is of a decidedly different ilk: the term 'authenticity' springs to mind, but If I’ve Only... is more than an effective imitation.

Like all great country records, Romano’s is cathartic - your heart aches for him and with him - and it is this emotive sway that makes the record a success.

Danny Seth

Perception

Danny Seth creates an atmospheric project that fully explores his own sound, style and ethos as a rapper. Once getting past its often dark elements, there’s a creative individual and interesting artist to be found underneath the initial perception of the Danny Seth brand that is sure to unfold.

This is one of the most complex and thought provoking records of the year from a frontrunner in alternative UK hip hop.

Deafhaven

New Bermuda

The five-piece side-stepped the easy option of giving the listener Sunbather II, refused to pander to the metal community by compromising their experimental tendencies and instead made a record that's not necessarily better than Sunbather but one that could end up being more important or influential. Deafheaven have stood up for what they believe in - it's time everyone listened.

{pagebreak}

Deradoorian

The Expanding Flower Planet

The Expanding Flower Planet is a record that’s equally concerned with the big questions of 'why are we here?' as it is with more personal ones on the nature of love. It’s a very brave record where Deradoorian eschews the traditional language of pop music to create her own pictures and conversations and turn them into brilliantly beautiful songs. Even though it took a while for Angel Deradoorian to write her first album, the destination she’s arrived at is a wonderful place.

Destroyer

Poison Season

Whether Poison Season is approached as an exhibition of those many individual pieces, or as an ensemble affair weaved subconsciously together, that conflicted point of view leads the listener to treat the whole LP as an exploration. There's no need for a thread, as the listener is constantly drawing their own through the record. We're not exploring a city with hidden alleys and a story behind every door... we're exploring a psyche, an open and immense and immeasurable expanse - from some angles unchangeable, and from others endlessly changing. In other words: a piece of art.

Dilly Dally

Sore

It’s rare today to see rock and roll frontwomen of the Kim Gordon, Kathleen Hanna or even Courtney Love ilk, a whirling dervish of unconventional femininity, power and don’t give a fuckery amplified through a prism of electric guitars with attention grabbing ability. However, with debut album Sore landing from Toronto outfit Dilly Dally, we might have found one.

EL VY

Return to the Moon

The term ‘side project’ often brings with it a flippancy that suggests that the work in question has perhaps been crafted with less thought or care than the artist’s primary venture. To suggest as such of Return to the Moon would be to do it an extreme disservice; it’s complex, witty, and - crucially - taps into a side of each man’s creativity in a manner hitherto unseen.

Emilie Nicolas

Like I'm A Warrior

Emilie Nicolas doesn’t sound like anyone else. Like I’m A Warrior is an astonishing body of work, showcasing her ability to inhabit her own singular universe and make the listener feel like they live there as well. Its power, poise and panache proves the old clichés are often true – the best things are worth waiting for.

{pagebreak}

Empress Of

Me

Me is both a fabulous anthology of boisterous pop songs, and a timely, revelatory album for a lot of people to live vicariously through. It’s not exactly a Catcher In The Rye or Less Than Zero type coming of age story, but Rodriguez has the potential to spark enlightenment of reality with her sentiments of self-realisation and emotional honesty.

Ezra Furman

Perpetual Motion People

Perpetual Motion People lives up to its title. Furman never sounds like he's fronting the same band on any two tracks, and the copious, fascinating sleevenotes which accompany the record give every song its own address. In the essay, Furman talks candidly of pivotal moments in his life which he drew on for the making of the record: suicidal thoughts in his early twenties, his rising popularity, coming out as non-gender-binary.

Ultimately, he comes to the realisation that "I would never fully join this society; I would always be somehow outside of it...If nothing else, it's an interesting way to live."

Father John Misty

I Love You Honeybear

I Love You, Honeybear is love not as a transformative experience or something that enables the person or persons in love to undergo a metamorphosis; it’s warts-and-all love, an admission that being in love might make you happier that you’re with someone who loves you back (and, importantly, understands and accepts your flaws) but it doesn’t change your worldview, your pessimistic nature, your self-destructive traits – just as you are unable to change your partner’s particular characteristics by falling in love.

Floating Points

Elaenia

Floating Points has always stood out by making electronic music able to bridge a gap between dancefloors and bedrooms without alienating either camp and Elaenia is as impressive and rewarding as you want to be. If you’re looking for some music to jog to, this probably isn’t it. But for an album to lose 40 minutes in – to remember what it feels like for an LP to challenge the listener to stay enveloped for its whole duration – look no further.

Foals

What Went Down

What Went Down is a consolidation and refinement of Foals’ artistic strengths and explorations over their previous trio of albums. Yet, after dashing and long-stepping their way from squawking math-rock curios to, at once, hulking but limber rock titans, Foals has reached a precipice. It’s not difficult to see certain harm peering over the edge, though the veneered beauty of the scenery below may prove too enchanting to pass up.

{pagebreak}

GoldLink

And After That We Didn’t Talk

GoldLink's And After That We Didn’t Talk is a triumphant debut, a record that cements his status as a trailblazer in modern hip-hop both for his pioneering, house-influenced sound and his gifts as a skilled, charismatic storyteller.

Gwenno

Y Dydd Olaf Gwenno

Given that the words are sung predominantly in a tongue classified as a ‘co-official language’ by the EU (there are twenty four ‘official’ languages’) the melody and mood have to work harder than they would if sang in a familiar language. The task is to grab attention and empathy and convey the emotion of the lyrics in musical rather than literal form and Gwenno pulls this off beautifully.

Y Dydd Olaf is a marvellously magical mixture of elation, anger and sorrow and is very lovely indeed. With the opening salvo of her solo career Gwenno has added another album to the growing list of this year’s highlights.

Holly Herndon

Platform

It’s the plethora of new directions pushed in that makes this such an engrossing, worthy follow-up to Movement. While still creating boundless, exceptional fringe-pop, on Platform Herndon is finding countless new ways to hold our attention: deploying a greater sense of narrative, an emboldened melodic arsenal and enough enthusiasm to remind us why she remains a vital voice in peripheral pop.

Jamie XX

In Colour

This isn’t dewy eyed nostalgia all weighed down with rose tinted reverence, though: he makes a respectful nod to the past by rifling through jungle and garage and so on, but each track feels like a poignant and yet propulsive reflection of Jamie’s personality and experiences. It’s almost enough to make you want to sell all your earthly possessions, move to east London and take up skateboarding just to encounter some of the wasted romance and wide eyed club sub cultures that In Colour is so clearly steeped in.

Jamie XX may have spent his years patiently absorbing the minute details of UK dance music, but by now he feels like one of its driving forces: a voyeur-cum-auteur who with In Colour will surely come to define so many of those subcultures that he was inspired by himself.

Jenny Hval

Apocalypse, girl

Apocalypse, girl is staggering in so many ways; funny, shocking, engaging, musically ambitious and uncompromising. Music which delivers instrumentally, lyrically and thematically is hard to come by butJenny Hval carries everything off with an almost unbelievable aplomb.

Forget your fears of this being allegedly experimental or difficult music…not just one of the best of 2015, Apocalypse, girl is one of the best records in a very long time.

{pagebreak}

Joanna Newsom

Divers

With her latest masterpiece, Joanna Newsom mostly jettisons the sprawling and the slow-building in favour of punchier, more immediate compositions. The push and the pull of the past five-and-a-half years underlie additions to and expansions of her musical toolkit... [and] with a formidable knack for telling an engaging story in the space of a song, Divers is further proof that, as a lyricist, Newsom is second to none...it all comes down to her love of language and its ability to evoke mental landscapes.

Julia Holter

Have You In My Wilderness

In name, Have You In My Wilderness implores listeners to step into a barren landscape. In actuality, the record is anything but bare: it’s lush and nuanced and layered. Holter’s voice is pliable in a way that it has never been before; shedding and adopting personas with a deft turn of phrase or vocal maneuver—evidenced with the breezy and conversational “Everytime Boots” and the cool spoken word interludes of “Vasquez”.

Ultimately, it almost feels unfair to refer to it as a pop record; its influences are varied and comparisons to the likes of Joanna Newsom or Cat Power fall short. Holter’s sound and approach are entirely her own—Wilderness is scholarly but not overly-calculated, ornate but not lavish.

In a career that has been nothing short of innovative, this arguably marks a creative peak. It's our Album of the Year and we spoke to Holter to find out more about the creation of the record and how she feels about it months after release.

Kendrick Lamar

To Pimp A Butterfly

To Pimp a Butterfly is a rich, noir-ish contemporary take on the Faust myth, a story of depression, temptation and redemption set in hotel rooms, prisons and hospitals, all against the churning backdrop of gang wars and racial inequality in America. Nothing here is exactly what it seems; it all plays out on the scale of myth. “I don’t see Compton” Kendrick says. 'I see something much worse/The land of the landmines, the Hell that’s on Earth.'

Kode9

Nothing

Kode9 bled deep meaning into ones and zeroes to make them human and were it only a series of bangers it wouldn’t be the textured and imperfectly lifelike experience it is. Nothing continues his life’s work to twist and distort. To invert boundaries and genres and do more. Yes at times it seems like there’s a little something missing. Yes at times it could use something more. But there is and it could. It’s called Nothing. Sometimes that’s the point.

Kwabs

Love & War

He’s not gone down the big pop route on Love + War and yanked in a bunch of high-profile super producers to bulk up, instead relying on his own talents and, where needed, collaborators which he has a great creative partnership with — and the results speak for themselves. The rejigged “Layback” with Okumu is a slick, West Coast hip-hop inspired charmer with chopped-up vox and cascading beats; “Look Over Your Shoulder” thumps with vigour, fusing gothic synthwork and pitched percussion with Kwabs' strained tones.

{pagebreak}

Lana Del Rey

Honeymoon

Del Rey has that uncanny ability to sound both modern and retro at the same time but walks a very singular path. So let’s hope this isn’t adieu but an au revoir, because Honeymoon reaffirms her ability to make important, masterful pop music that doesn’t pay a blind bit of notice to fashion and it's all the better for it.

Little Simz

A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons

Little Simz explores and challenges all perceptions of what she should be throughout A Curious Tale…. Flexing her rapping abilities, intertwined with her choice of instrumentals and interludes with “This Is Not an Interlude” and taking us out with the remarkable "Fallen".

It’s not only a very solid debut, but it’s one with the power to break down and challenge the way things are done in the music industry.

Lonelady

Hinterland

Lonelady’s Hinterland plays like a greatest hits from a parallel universe. Recorded on a Tascam eight track in her Manchester flat, Hinterland feels homely and economical, but in no way cheap. After a debut as esoteric as Nerve Up, Hinterland’s accessibility is a surprise.

Although it's not explicit, the cold industrialism of Manchester bleeds through these tracks. Not the shiny new Manchester of posh bars and shiny architecture, more the monochrome Manchester of 1982, failed nights at the Hacienda, Factory Records album tracks from the likes of Section 25 and A Certain Ratio, and visions of dirty rain coats flapping in the wind.

Ludovico Einaudi

Elements

When you hear an album was inspired by the likes of the periodic table, Euclid’s geometry, Kandinsky’s writings and the matter of sound and colour, you get a sneaking suspicion that it might be just a little bit special. And never one to disappoint, Elements is as breathtakingly beautiful and poignantly polarised as one would expect from one of this generation’s finest classical talents. While much of Ludovico Einaudi’s piano-heavy back catalogue is known by many from Shane Meadow’s This is England franchise, his more experimental material receives little exposure in comparison. An ever-growing presence in more recent releases, the Italian maestro continues his movement into the sphere of electronica with his latest 12-track offering – and with great effect.

Majical Cloudz

Are You Alone?

Are You Alone?, the third record from the Canadian two-piece, showcases Majical Cloudz’s unrelenting ability to continually move the listener and conjure vivid emotional responses. With a slight expansion in sound, but yet with the core DNA of their sonic aesthetic intact, they present a musical novella of love and loneliness that aims (tastefully) for the heart and the big time.

{pagebreak}

Marina & the Diamonds

FROOT

A lot of the LP is indeed about a particular relationship. It’s a catharsis.As she said in our interview, this is the first time she’s felt content – not happy – and that glimmers through. While she’s aware that she’s brought pain – not just to her former partner, but to herself – she’s assured in her decision, and has flourished in spite of heartache. Over her sonic triptych, she’s mined that vein, and the result is FROOT – not only the first album written, produced and for herself, but also remarkably candid in her fear of death, legacy and memory.

This is Diamandis at her best. It’s almost worrying that she’s got to follow it up at some point.

Mercury Rev

The Light in You

In many ways, Mercury Rev is at heart a tale of two love stories. The first is between its main protagonists, singer Jonathan Donahue and guitarist Grasshopper, the two constants throughout the band’s career. The second is their mutual love of music. The Light In You combines both subtexts quite beautifully.

Micachu & the Shapes

Good Sad Happy Bad

Good Sad Happy Bad is both challenging and engrossing. But it's the simple yet subtle investigations into questions and actions that are intrinsic to our daily existence which makes this record so exceptional. It's pop music, but it says big things. You could call it “art”. You could call it “pop”. Ultimately, this record – like the rest of their material – challenges why that distinction even exists in the first place.

Nadine Shah

Fast Food

Patience is a virtue that Shah holds dear on this record. From being able to withstand love’s incessant grind, to the ability to control how the noise develops, it’s an album that only moves when she wants it to. Fast Food isn’t as labyrinthine as her debut – exits are neon-lit fire escapes rather than barricaded doors – but it is just as powerful. In the fat-stripped odes to beautifully imperfect romance, Shah provides us with something infinitely more relatable, and considerably more efficient in making us feel like our gut’s turned to lead.

Natalie Prass

Natalie Prass

It’s the clarity in the way Natalie Prass sings about fears, insecurity and heartbreak that’s one of the most startling things about her debut album. To have that confidence and assurance on her first collection of songs is quite an achievement; Prass’s vision is clear: yes, I’m broken and I’m down but I know I’m going to get through it.

{pagebreak}

Neon Indian

VEGA INTL Night School

Given it draws on Palomo’s earlier dance-oriented project and was written on a cruise ship (with assistance from Palomo’s brother, who was playing bass in the house-band at the time), it's a world away from his recent work with the Flaming Lips, but that’s not to say this LP has any of the geriatric charm of a Caribbean cruise either. Finished at DFA’s Plantain Studios in New York, the record is more reminiscent of a drunken night-time drive through the Lower East Side: neon lights, fluorescent colours and noise. Skipping down the track list of VEGA INTL Night School is to jump from party to party, scene to scene, on a Saturday night. House, disco, indie-pop - it’s all here. It sketches the city at night. The second half of the title - “night school” - alludes to Palomo’s own personal thesis about human behaviour. As he sees it, we all get a little bit more honest at night, a bit freer. That’s where we learn about people.

Shamir

Ratchet

This is an album held together not by cotton candy quirks or the clang of cowbell, but by the inimitable Shamir being Shamir. Though his voice has been compared to that of Civil Rights singer Nina Simone, and the disco that gives this set its danceability once sparked a fire that burned beneath white, heterosexual male culture in the 60’s and 70’s, Shamir is a timely revolution unto himself, “no gender, no sexuality, and no fucks to give.” You can set aside your boxes. Chin up, eyes out, Shamir looks ever outward on Ratchet, staking his claim as the foremost purveyor of future pop for future people. People like Shamir. People like you and me. Just people.

Soley

Ask The Deep

Whilst the songs on Ask The Deep aren’t as immediate as those on Sóley’s previous output, the knack for creating introspective pop is ever present, and that’s kind of the whole point. The emotion is raw and never shies away from bubbling to the surface. But Ask The Deep is just as capable of pulling you under with the weight of its melancholy heft, and these emotional depths prove to be the most rewarding.

Songhoy Blues

Music in Exile

Music in Exile manages to turn such a sad starting point into some seriously jubilant sounds. The album is as deeply steeped in traditions as you'd expect from a band with a direct link to no less a deity of Malian music than Ali Farka Toure (guitarist Garba Toure's dad Omar Toure used to be the late, legendary guitarist's percussionist). By injecting the ancient song forms with the cranked-up spirit of the past masters of the electric Blues and some of the rock flash of Jimi Hendrix, however, Songhoy Blues create a distinctly modern and youthful take on the familiar Desert Blues template; equally hypnotic, but infused with the hectic hustle of the city rather than the solemn contemplation and slow paces befitting an endless ocean of burning sand.

Sufjan Stevens

Carrie & Lowell

Despite its light-handed approach, Carrie & Lowell strikes with a sort of urgency unparalleled across the Sufjan Stevens' 15-year career. Each song feels like a demon the artist simply had to face sooner than later - so much so that he sums up the album's ethos in its very first song, Death with Dignity. In a few short words, Stevens elucidates the exasperated plight of his longing, determination and forgiveness in the face of the inevitable: "forgive you, Mother / I can hear you / And I long to be near you / But every road leads to an end."

{pagebreak}

Tamaryn

Cranekiss

Cranekiss shows the logical progression of an artist who quite rightly acknowledges that she’d gone as far as she could with the aloof murkiness of her first two albums. By taking a sharp turn into the light, the shades of grey of her older material have been splattered by blasts of glorious technicolour, a move resulting in her best album to date.

Tobias Jesso Jr

Goon

There lies something of a tension in Tobias Jesso Jr.'s hymns of failure, softly articulated emotional deserts, and his burgeoning success as a pop artist. It's not that famous people aren't miserable, they're just differently miserable; they are legibly, theatrically miserable. And some of the exhaustion on Goon is a lack of emotional range. The continued packaging and shrinking of love and misery for commercial consumption, something Jesso Jr. doesn't do cynically, but he does it so well and so often.

Torres

Sprinter

Sprinter, the second full-length from the Macon, Georgia-raised and Brooklyn-based alt. country troubadour Torres (aka) Mackenzie Scott is simply stunning. It arrived two years after her self-titled debut, a record with a lengthy gestation period and lots of dark relationship traumas. Few would consider that record anything less than exceptional, but Sprinter surpasses even that. In many ways it’s the most personal album we’ve seen in 2015. Intensely introspective, we see Scott traipse through her subconscious, dismantle religion – not to destroy but dissect its inner workings – and provide a critical vignette of what Southern American life is like to someone with a quiver of gripes.

It’s a ruthlessly effective album too. At every turn you’re met with a salt-of-the-earth sincerity, gut-pour emotions and the stark reality of what goes on inside Scott’s skull. There’s an honesty that’s unflinching, and tough topics with complex non-solutions are embraced with wide-flung arms; this is an artist unafraid to peel back and reveal the grotesque, writhing, oozing innards of society’s flashpoints, and she does so with undeterred poignancy.

U.S. Girls

Half Free

This record is a veritable patchwork of perspectives. It elevates the voices of women who, on paper, might seem broken, were it not for Remy’s ability to trade desperation for cynical dynamism. Though they don’t make reparations, Remy ensures that the cast of Half Free have their respective moments of redemption.

Viet Cong

Viet Cong

There is no denying the raw power of Viet Cong and anyone with punk in their heart will connect with this album. Away from all the technological, medicinal and social advances of the age, in the forefront of our minds we are constantly (made) aware of human misery and degradation. Death is our common denominator. Death is our malefactor and great unifier. The best albums allow us to ruminate on life’s big questions, giving insight not only into the mind of the artist but reflecting the sentiments of the beholder, and Viet Cong does exactly that.

Share article
Email

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next
News
Listen
Reviews