It’s that time again for us to share our ‘Albums of the Year’ list with you, like we have done religiously since 2012. This year especially, has blessed us with some exciting new music, from Afrobeats and Pop, to Grime, Hip Hop and R&B, to Rock, Indie and everything in between. This year also saw Taylor Swift spat with Spotify over music streaming, Meek Mill battle it out with Drake over ghostwriting, and Nicki Minaj come for Miley Cyrus’ neck over the VMAs.
Adele came back and broke every sales record available, One Direction lost Zayn Malik and broke up soon after, and Kendrick Lamar got nominated for 11 Grammy Awards. However all that pales in comparison to the real reason we are here. The first part of our ‘Albums of 2015’ list, curated by Matt Hobbs, William Kitchener, Joshua James, Oli Kuscher, Jack Walters, Qurat-ul-Anne Sikander, Joseph Horne and myself Ayo Adepoju, highlighted the best albums of the year from #50 to #21 and you can check them all out HERE, we continue our countdown from #20 to #11 below.
20. Troye Sivan – Blue Neighbourhood
The debut of famous Youtuber, Troye Sivan, has rocked the charts, and with valid reason. this album holds true to every aspect of Troye’s identity, because as he said, he won’t be writing songs about girls because that wouldn’t be real – this honesty has helped attract millions of young LGBTQ+ fans that have found solace in Troye’s words, support and endless inspiration; inspiration that lasts for days. Blue Neighbourhood is an album about loss, love and being young. These electro pop anthems are sure to get stuck in your head for weeks to come. Songs like “Lost Boy” and “Talk Me Down” that will stay on repeat for ages yet.
19. Marianas Trench – Astoria
A brand new Marianas Trench album after four years is absolute bliss, especially when that album manages to completely entrance and evoke such genuine emotion from the listener. This album, Astoria, their fourth studio album, showcases what Marianas Trench are truly about: reinventing themselves and putting every ounce of their energy into their music. They don’t believe in doing anything by halves or by thirds; when you put on a Marianas Trench record, you can be sure to be treated to a complete show and nothing less. This album is about love and loss and it teaches one how to learn to cope with that tumultuous ride, something that is most touched upon in one particular song: “Dearly Departed”. It’s a new kind of pop that completely reinvents the genre and touches the soul.
18. TesseracT – Polaris
The first TesseracT album since the return of former frontman Dan Tompkins did not disappoint, in fact it more than exceeded expectations. Polaris is packed full of the intense rhythmic grooves and ambience that we associate with the progressive metal band from Milton Keynes, and with Tompkins’ vocals sitting at the forefront once again, it just feels right!
The production on Polaris is perfect. Acle Kahney and James Moneith’s guitars balance a tight low end with a smooth top, Amos Williams’ bass cuts through with his percussive slap and pops and thumb picking, and Jay Postones’ snare drum is just… wow! The nine-track masterpiece is one of our favourite albums of the year, and we can’t wait to see it performed live when they tour the UK in February 2016.
17. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
One of the best albums we have heard this year with countless hit singles and lyrics relatable to all walks of life. It is no wonder Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd has been nominated for countless Grammy Awards including ‘Album of the Year’. This album shows a rise from underground collaborator to arena performer and although it is still quite raw in parts, he has charmed the world with one of the best falsetto voices since Prince. The lyrics to each and every song are heartfelt and honest as he paints the picture of divulging in countless sins and countless women. There is a song for every mood which is what makes a great album great in the mediocrity of a lot today’s popular music.
16. Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes
Sun Kil Moon is now the primary recording of the singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek. Sun Kil Moon released an album last year titled Benji to widespread critical acclaim, which gained him increased exposure. This year he has released a new album which carries on with the dense and extremely personal lyric writing that we heard on Benji albeit this album is a change from the previous album. The songs are much more unconventional in terms of the compositions structure and length, the electric instrumentation gives a harder edge to the songs and at certain times the songs develop into a garage rock sound rather than the acoustic folk of the last album.
Kozelek’s new album Universal Themes captures the beauty of life, love and friendship retrospectively it also can bring the most sorrowful and poignant times of life such as separation, illness and death which Kozelek predominately depicts. Kozelek’s autobiographical lyrics details his everyday life from visiting friends, touring, to sport and even Kozelek having a part in a film being filmed in Switzerland. Kozelek declares the impact of his music in the lyrics to “Ali/Spinks 2” – “I write songs that make people laugh, cry, happy” which certainly rings true to us.
15. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
A humble genius. Words that aren’t mutter enough. A musician that dresses in simple clothing with efficient album covers that don’t shout or draw attention to themselves. Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist has proved her gift of experimentation and musical explorations in her previous three under-the-radar outings, but the decision to push her vocals into the forefront, making “the lucidity so clear”, as Holter sings in “Sea Calls Me Home”, is what makes Have You In My Wilderness a worthy entry to her exquisite portfolio.
Her voice cam be best described as like honey on a spring day. Whilst Holter used to make music that could be perceived as being cold, intense and haunting, forming goosebumps on winter skin. Her new album switches temperatures and is more warm and approachable – without compensating the intelligence – taking on the role of someone that could guide and nurture saints through the world’s problems. The fact that she can show a different side to herself, that’s just as compelling, demonstrates her elastic capabilities and freeing yourself from familiarities is a theme she covers on her 4th album.
Her beloved companions of the harpischord and other unappreciated instruments like the double bass continue to be part of her sophisticated idiosyncratic style but the way songs shift in mood in their climaxes, is a testament to Holter’s power to tease listeners to a false sense of comfort and to tell stories multi-dimensionally. Holter still provides riddles and will never fail to surprise.
14. Justin Bieber – Purpose
This is the standout album of the year that finally saw child star Justin Bieber mature musically into R&B stardom after much publicised struggles with growing up. Purpose features production from the likes of Skrillex, Poo Bear, MdL, Benny Blanco and Diplo and has non-stop smash hits like “Sorry”, “What Do U Mean” and “Love Yourself”. The album as a whole is a R&B masterpiece, with well written lyrics and some great collaborations, which never threatens to fade throughout. The general feel of it seems like it should have released ten years ago in R&B’s glory days. Justin has definitely laid the foundations for a fruitful, purposeful career with this effort which will go down as one of the best albums of the year.
Justin Bieber’s transformation from boy to man seems to be complete. There is a maturity in Purpose that has not been present in any of the Canadian’s previous music. Through smart collaborations, he was able to end up with an album that is perfect for what the mainstream of today are listening to. Everything nowadays centres around dancing – people want to dance, and Bieber saw this. The hit track “Sorry” is a prime example, combining catchy lyrics with a beat that you can dance to and a drop that you can build yourself up to. Congratulations Justin – you made it!
13. Floating Points – Elaenia
From the first few seconds of album opener “Nespole”, it’s quite clear where Floating Points‘ loyalty lies – the soft, filtered synths dragging you back to the early 90’s ambient techno crowd of Orbital and Future Sound of London. Elaenia may have many hallmarks of some of electronic music’s best loved acts, but manages to etch out its own profile all the same.
“Silhouettes (I, II & III)” perhaps best reflects the myriad of styles that make up Floating Points’ music; at 10 minutes and 43 seconds it is comfortably the longest track on Elaenia, its three distinct segments providing an exposition of Floating Points’ styles, from chiptune to jazz and orchestral compositions. It’s the perfect track for a new listener, the cautious, ominous build up eventually gives way to a swirling vocal and violin melody. Elaenia feels so accomplished and assured for a first album, its almost a wonder that this LP has been so long in the making – although Shepherd’s careful, methodical approach to the album clearly took some time to master.
A lot less club-worthy than previous works, Floating Points’ Elaenia is a masterpiece. The word ‘floating’ has never been so apt with the album evoking the the feeling of drifting and falling in relaxation. It almost feels alive as it fluxuates with dynamics and instrumentation, with rhythm seeming to come and go as it pleases.
12. Grimes – Art Angels
Two tracks into the long awaited Art Angels from Grimes and it’s quite clear there’s a concerted shift away from the sound of Claire Boucher’s previous LPs. “California” is Grimes’ glossiest and least lo-fi track to date, if not for its idiosyncratic production and empowering lyrics, it could easily pass for a Katy Perry record. Likewise, the crescendoing, filter heavy guitar riff and heartfelt chorus “you had every chance to destroy everything, now you know” of “Flesh Without Blood” seem destined for mainstream radio play, and provide the stand out track of the album.
It was always a tall order to top the breakout success of tracks like “Oblivion”, but Art Angels will appease long time fans and new listeners alike. Boucher’s impressive array of vocal styles is matched by an eclectic set of influences, from Mariah Carey to Soft Cell. While Grimes may have shaken up her instrumentation, swapping sequencer loops for a more conventional, band-like arrangement, her unmistakable style remains imprinted on this record. Art Angels is as instantly identifiable and as intensely engaging as its predecessor.
11. Years & Years – Communion
Yet another band that’s been making waves, Years & Years released their debut studio album, Communion, earlier this year. This is one album that is breaking all the stereotypes and prejudices most people have about pop music. It’s a compilation of songs incorporating pop music and electronica, creating something entirely too pleasing to the sound, with songs such as “Take Shelter” and “Eyes Shut” that really do leave your eyes closed in an effort to better absorb the music and the sentimental and hard-hitting lyrics.
Years & Years have to be the surprise package of 2015, releasing hit after hit in what is a supremely talented but crowded British music industry. Two number ones and a number one album prove just how loved this electro-pop outfit really are. The song writing and the lead singer’s voice are second to none with some pristine production found throughout the album. The energy they bring on “King” and “Desire” is what has drawn the fans in and if they can continue this energy in the New Year, they can start it as well as they have ended it. They have also become one of the best bands to see live and it is not hard to see why.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2015!