When I was a freshman/sophomore in college, I insisted that my “best albums of the year” lists were unequivocally correct. Whichever top 25 albums I listed were, by all measures, the absolute “best” of the year, no questions asked. With a little perspective, I now know that that was completely ridiculous. The 25 albums represented here are the “best” to me, according to my limited world view. I try to keep that world view as open as possible so that all albums are welcome here. I also try to take into account an album’s importance, reach, and influence on a larger scale. But ultimately, these 25 albums are the ones I loved listening to the most. I immensely enjoyed them, and I hope you did/will too.
We were provided with an embarrassment of riches in 2015. Beloved artists returned with flawless albums (Sufjan Stevens, Sleater-Kinney), artists in their peak pushed the boundaries into completely new territory (Kendrick Lamar, Grimes, Tame Impala), and newcomers hearkened back to classics from days past (Leon Bridges, Natalie Prass, Tobias Jesso Jr.). This was my favorite year for music since 2012 — there were so many songs that would have qualified for this list if they had come out any other year, but the competition was just too much in 2015.
Also, special thanks to Taylor for the awesome cover art.
Before we get to the top 50, here are 15 honorable mentions that it killed me to exclude.
This was a feature that I used to do for the Daily Californian’s Arts & Entertainment blog. I decided to give it life again here. At the end of each month, I’ll post a feature highlighting five quality tracks released during that month.
October will probably remembered as the month that Adele said “Hello”. I thought about including it as one of my five tracks, but the idea of this post is to introduce people to songs that they maybe haven’t heard, or to songs that they can maybe appreciate in a new way. Everyone on the planet knows about “Hello,” so here are five additional songs that ruled my Spotify this month.
1. Grimes: “Flesh Without Blood”
Grimes finally announced her much-anticipated follow-up album to 2012’s Visions (which contained one of the best songs of the decade so far) — Art Angels, which comes out this Friday. Over the last year or so, Grimes has generated a lot of questions about what direction she would take on the new album, the primary question being: how ‘pop’ will it be? Last year, she released the extremely polarizing, intended-for-Rihanna track “Go”, which saw Grimes embracing full-on, drop-heavy, banger pop like never before. Would the new album go further in this direction, or was “Go” just a one-off? The questions only grew when reports came out that she scrapped an entire album because she believed it “sucked”. And it didn’t make her intentions any clearer when she denounced her own songs publicly, saying she hates “Oblivion” (which is ridiculous) and doesn’t like “REALiTi” a demo she posted on YouTube in March that I consider to be one of the best songs this year. If she hates her best songs, then what does she think is good?
ANYWAY, I’m just glad that all the speculation will be put to rest very soon. “Flesh Without Blood” is, without a doubt, another embrace of pop. On first listen, I was slightly disappointed — I thought it wasn’t as imaginative as her best work on Visions. It certainly was catchy, but it seemed a little too basic, too obvious, too simple. It just felt like all she did was provide a slight update to the guitar riff from “Since U Been Gone” — which, don’t get me wrong, is a pop masterpiece, but it’s not weird. The ultimate credit to Grimes — in both her music and her personality — is her innate weirdness. Where was the weirdness?
I was dead wrong though. Nuances and intricacies revealed themselves on repeated listens, and I realized that “Flesh Without Blood” isn’t basic at all. It’s teeming with unexpected sound effects sprinkled throughout, it skillfully adds and takes away elements at just the right time, and the various intersecting melodies are perfect. The lyrics are well-constructed and vivid: “Your voice, it had the perfect flow / It got lost when you gave it up though” and “I don’t see the light I saw in you before.” And did I mention it was catchy? This is a blast-in-the-car type of song. Art Angels looks to be very, very interesting.
Grimes is a perfectionist, she cares what the public thinks, and she’s delusional. That all sounds much harsher than I mean it to be, but it’s mostly true. Grimes, who creates ingenious, enveloping soundscapes all from her computer, scrapped an entire album’s worth of songs last year, claiming that it “sucked.”
Her decision to forego the album was partially due to negative public opinion of her one-off single last year, the poppy, radio-friendly (but still radio-shunned) “Go”. Grimes originally intended for Rihanna to sing on the track, but her camp declined, so she released it herself, causing a rift among her fans between those that appreciated her new direction and those that hated it. Grimes noticed the backlash and decided to start over.
But this week, she released a demo from the “lost album” called “REALiTi.” In the video description, she calls it “a mess,” but if it’s a mess, it’s a transcendent and beautiful mess. It’s an amazing song, and it makes me REALLY want to hear the other tracks that were scrapped. Grimes is an unparalleled talent — witness it here.
Here’s my experience with Grimes’ lead single, “Oblivion”:
- Read all the hype about Grimes, downloaded the album.
- Heard “Oblivion” about 3 times, didn’t think much of it.
- Watched the video, thought it was cool, then promptly forgot about it.
- Heard the song on my iPod again on the way to work 2 weeks later, thought it was pretty dang catchy in a mysterious way.
- Watched the video again and LOVED IT. Oh the dissonance! Oh the male/female dynamic! Oh the awkwardness of an indie geek in a jock’s terrain!
- Watched it yet again and developed favorite moments: when she courteously allows that guy to walk through the camera shot at 0:41; the two black dudes at 0:52 who are like “This song is super weird, and this chick is SUPER MORE WEIRD, but I’m down”; the ultimate bro doing the YMCA at 1:12; the lisp at 1:39; the return of the bro at 1:46, this time with his arm around Grimes, a chick that he NEVER would have even acknowledged in high school; whatever that dude is doing in the back at 1:58; everything that’s happening at 2:55; the collision and smile at 2:57; the swag at 3:26; the black dudes’ return at 3:30, with the guy on the left looking amused, the guy on the right looking awkward, and Grimes loving every second; and the general attitude of “These people probably think I’m insane but I don’t care, this is awesome” displayed throughout the video, but encapsulated at 3:45.
- Watched this interview, realized the lisp was not a fluke, and thought she was so weirdly cool in a natural kid of way.
- Blasted “Oblivion” non-stop ever since. Sick song, sick video.