Audiohammock's Top Albums of 2015

2015 was a great year for music of all genres. Here you will find our staff picks for our favorite releases of the year. Unordered and unadulterated, just a delicious list of albums for your enjoyment.

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Ghost Poet - Shedding Skin

Genre: Hip hop

Calling Ghostpoet a rapper doesn't mean exactly what it usually does. Maybe it's spoken word, but Obaro Ejimiwe deals with contemporary strife in a life well outside the fast lane. Fighting, drinking and patience wearing thin, his voice is bellicose, edged with danger, as he gets the beatdown we all get at the hands of love and life. -Dylan Brown

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Genre: Indie rock

When the face melting single, "Pedestrian At Best" dropped, it was an effortless nuclear weapon of prosaic songwriting. In the middle of it, Courtney Barnett promised to exploit us, but with a carefree ease she gave us way, way more than our money's worth -- a record of ornate simplicity and depth. -Dylan Brown

The wit and charm that Barnett gives off is finally vitalized in a full length record and it pays off in immense dividends. From the opening ruckus of "Elevator Operator" to the epic expansiveness of "Kim's Caravan", Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit has a vast ocean of intriguing thought that goes well beyond the enjoyable playfulness on initial listen. -Russ Bashaw

Viet Cong - Viet Cong

Genre: Rock

Rising from the ashes of Canadian art rock group Women, one of the best indie rock bands of the late 2000’s, Viet Cong had a lot of pressure riding on them to deliver something interesting and special. And although their sound isn’t necessarily the freshest, there is enough strength in songs like “March of Progress,” “Continental Shelf,” and “Death” to establish Viet Cong as one of the best post-punk records of the year. -Adrian Rucker

This is it. Finally. After their promising EP, Viet Cong have made their first album. They have found the sound of a forward-thinking, wide-eyed high school punk rocker and have it committed to an album that intensifies and suffocates by coming at you in all directions. This is post-punk rock done right, with a genuine sense of excitement and originality. This is a band showing more potential with each passing year. Let’s hope the rest of their colleagues can get back to making something this well constructed. -Bryan Kocurek

Name controversy aside – the debut from FKA Viet Cong is an incredibly impressive collection of tense, furious and chaotic post-punk tracks. Further, the album’s perfect live transition led to the group being the best live band of 2015. Post-punk has recently begun another revival, and this album will go down as the benchmark for the genre’s third wave. -Declan Boyer

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

Genre: Hip hop

To Pimp A Butterfly is one of the most cohesive and lyrically astounding albums to come along in the past six years (personally, it’s head and shoulders above his debut). Track by track, the best of Kendrick Lamar’s output is a testament to hip-hop as a vessel for creativity and moving poetry. Though there are transitional tracks, it feels like there is no filler, and Lamar releases his gift on the mic. Honestly, the album doesn’t break new ground, but just like good kid, he has crafted an intelligent, grounded yet otherworldly hip-hop masterwork. -Bryan Kocurek

To Pimp A Butterfly is an incredibly personal album that gives the listener a ticket on the emotion roller-coaster that Kendrick has experienced over a lifetime. -Ethan Sapir

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love

Genre: Indie Rock/Pop

Bolstered lyrically by lead singer Ruban Nielson's polyamorous relationship with a woman who came to live with Ruban and his wife in their home, Multi-Love is an intriguing look at the boundaries of love, love lost, and the fleetingness of everything inbetween. -Russ Bashaw

Multi-Love finds Unknown Mortal Orchestra building on the psych-pop elements of their first two albums and incorporates new influences from R&B, funk, and dance music, making for a glitzy and danceable record filled with catchy pop bangers. The album is anchored by the lead singles “Can’t Keep Checking MY Phone” and “Multi-Love,” as well as including some excellent deeper cuts that make the final product an inventive, psychedelic fusion that just begs to be listened to. -Adrian Rucker

Mikal Cronin - MCIII

Genre: Indie Rock

Over 3 mundanely titled releases, Cronin's brand of pop rock has evolved in to anything but mundane. With one listen to this album it is easy to be hooked. While the sound and idea behind the songs on MCIII isn't much different from his previous releases, it is better release that is more focused. -Joseph Fielgate

MCIII’s implementation of new musical ideas and instruments create an added layer of depth into Mikal’s already sophisticated power pop sound. Mikal’s ability to combine unique elements of music has continuously evolved throughout his career, and MCIII is a great indication of his ability. The future of Mikal Cronin’s career is incredibly exciting as with every release he continues to slowly reveal more and more of his pop genius. -Declan Boyer

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

Genre: Post-rock

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are royalty in the post-rock world and this album is no misstep from that. While it may not be on the same godly level as F#A#(infinity) or Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is still a masterpiece in itself and stands as one of the best releases of 2015. -Masen Matthews

Joanna Newsom - Divers

Genre: Indie folk

Divers is one more breathtaking Joanna Newsom album from her one-of-a-kind voice and writing style with a surplus of instruments that have been building since her 2004 debut. If you don’t have a soft spot for heavy instrumentation and superfluous words, you may not be thrilled with where these songs exist, but it’s difficult to deny the power of her grandiose writing. -Bryan Kocurek

Speedy Ortiz - Foil Deer

Genre: Indie rock

Speedy Ortiz's debut was a fantastic album that showed a lot of promise and this album fulfills that promise. Everything that was great about Major Arcana is still present on this sophomore album, yet done better and with more variety. The funk of "Puffer", the insanity of "Homonovus", and the pop-punk of "Swell Content" proves that Speedy Ortiz isn't just a nineties sound-a-like band like many claimed them to be. Foil Deer is a powerful statement of a record that won't be soon forgotten. -Ethan Sapir

Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated At Last

Genre: Rock, Garage rock

After ten magnificent full lengths in an eight year span, it is no surprise the best band in music is once again responsible for one of the year’s best albums. Mutilator Defeated At Last provides new looks at both garage rock and Thee Oh Sees, while still feeling familiar. John Dwyer is once again working with a full band, which adds an infectious energy that hearkens back to band’s incredible Carrion Crawler/The Dream EP. Similar to Ty Segall’s excellent 2014 release Manipulator, Mutilator combines the best elements of all previous material from Thee Oh Sees to create their most balanced, effective and consistent album in an already prolific history. -Declan Boyer

From the opening snare of "Web" to the closing kaleidoscope gem of "Palace Doctor" (my favorite song this year), Mutilator Defeated at Last is an adrenaline inducing ride of garage rock straight to the. Right before you overdose on excitement "Holy Smoke" comes in to offer a sweet repreive before "Rogue Planet" melts your face off. You'll listen to this one often, and you'll listen to this one loud. -Russ Bashaw

Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

Genre: Electronic, Psychedelic pop

Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, the fifth studio album from Animal Collective member and critical darling Panda Bear hit the indie world by storm. The washed out tropical vibe, hip-hop style drum breaks, and trademark droney vocals pleased longtime fans as well as reaching a new audience with the record peaking at #2 on the Billboard Independent Albums chart. Although the record represents a poppier sound than most are used to with Panda Bear material, his work is never compromised for the sake of popularity and the whole thing is a delightful and satisfying listen. -Adrian Rucker

Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is an interesting album in that it's lyrical exploration is engaging in a way that deals with the journey towards death and decay in the most optimistic and introverted of ways amongst alternating percolating vocal harmonies. While it's a safe guess that the Panda Bear avatar could be coming to a close (based on interviews with Noah and lyrical subject matter) it's nice to look back at the trail of albums released under the moniker and smile knowing Noah's fictional journey towards the grim reaper was a pleasant one. -Russ Bashaw

Duke Garwood - Heavy Love

Genre: Blues

Coming off a duet record with Mark Lanegan, Garwood ventures out on his own to provide a sonic journey worth embarking on. The music has antiqueness to it – likely due the strings of blues being pulled. There is desolation sprawling all over this record, but it is very easy to live in the space Garwood has created. -Anthony Saia

Seckou Keita - 22 Strings

Genre: World

22 Strings is 50+ minutes of pure bliss from perhaps the world's best kora player. The vocals are sparse, only appearing on 3 tracks, but it gives way to a flowing river of emotion and sound that is captured here perfectly from a man and an instrument that the world deserves to know more about. -Russ Bashaw

The Mountain Goats - Beat the Champ

Genre: Indie rock

Beat the Champ is a veritable goldmine of allusions and nostalgia. But where this LP truly shines is in its appeal to someone who's never watched a wrestling match. Darnielle's masterful storytelling-from his character building all the way down to his incredibly lifelike imagery-makes Beat the Champ a robust and slickly produced piece of work across the board with wrestling serving as the bloody, sweaty glue that holds it all together. Its appeal-much like the world to which it pays homage-is universal. -Des Delgadillo

Yppah - Tiny Pause

Genre: Electronic, Downtempo, Ambient

Before there was Tycho there was Yppah and the latter has returned in striking fashion. Taking up one of the best roster spots on the Ninja Tune label, Yppah (real name Joe Corrales Jr.) uses an amazing blend of ambient, electronic beats, drums, and occasional psychedelia and rock influences to put you in a stellar mood from the outset. A remarkable release that will spark a relationship within you. -Russ Bashaw

Royal Headache - High

Genre: Rock, Punk

A dark horse that hard charged its way onto the list, this Aussie punk outfit sounds kinda like retrograde Japandroids. The punk is nothing revolutionary, but this level of joy, vigor and romantic tendencies should never go unrecognized. -Dylan Brown

The chemistry found on High may be temporary-- the status of the band constantly changes-- but this mixture gives them a chance to showcase their different facets: from love songs masquerading as punk ala "Wouldn't You Know" to soulful rock ("Need You"), aching lyrics ("High"), and, of course, straight up punk rock ("Electric Shock"). There is not a false step on here, and though the music they make falls in and out of popularity often, I am so happy for music that makes me feel things, and having those feelings wrapped up in a savory indie rock concoction. -Bryan Kocurek

The Smoking Trees - TST

Genre: Psychedelic rock, Garage rock

As the lines between psychedelic and garage rock continue to blur, the second album from The Smoking Trees stands acts as a breath of fresh air. The spacey psych-pop of TST would not sound out of place on the legendary Elephant 6 Collective, as both carry an uncanny ear for melody and thirst for experimentation. While not as mind-melting as some other psych albums released in 2015, TST stands with Revivalised as the two most immediately enjoyable albums of the year in the genre. -Declan Boyer

Algiers - Algiers

Genre: Post-punk, rock

Post-punk has been done in almost every way imaginable. From depressive and gothic to happy and poppy, it takes true innovation to make post-punk stand out in the modern music scene. And innovation is precisely what makes Algiers’ self-titled debut so damn good. If you had told me one of my favorite records of the year would combine post-punk, gospel, and industrial, I would think you’re crazy. But after the initial singles, “But She Was Not Flying” and “Black Eunuch” dropped, I was hooked. And the album certainly did not disappoint. Every track has a dark vibe, powerful lyrics, and unique production and instrumentation, making for an all-around excellent album. -Adrian Rucker

Beach Slang - The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us

Genre: Punk rock, Rock

Beach Slang are very good at what they do, even if what they do has been done before. You would be forgiven if you thought some tracks on their debut album where Gaslight Anthem tracks recorded with members of Japandroids or even Cloud Nothings. This album is fun and relentless, which Beach Slang doesn't apologize for. -Joseph Fieldgate

Ryley Walker - Primrose Green

Genre: Singer/songwriter, Folk

Ryley Walker's second album effortlessly channels classic troubadours from the '60s and '70s, thanks in large part to its awe-inspiring guitar work. While Nick Drake may be the immediate comparison, the addition of a jazz backing band creates a sound reminiscent of Tim Buckley. -Declan Boyer

U.S. Girls - Half Free

Genre: Pop

Some of the darkest pop of the year (lyrically), Meg Remy takes you to places you don't want to go. Something sinister lurks about on Half Free and you'll enjoy trying to decipher it even if you don't necessarily feel like you should. -Russ Bashaw

Caspian - Dust and Disquiet

Genre: Post-rock

Dust and Disquiet fails to do anything truly reinvented, but it also doesn’t need to. Songwriting steals the show here as this effort stands out as one of the best albums that the genre has spawned in recent years. -Masen Matthews

Steven Wilson - Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Genre: Progressive rock

In true progressive rock fashion, records have to tell a story. Steven Wilson, the undisputed king of prog rock does that on this release, modeling the record around the real-life story of Joyce Carol Vincent who passed away in her apartment and lay there undiscovered for almost three years before she was found. The record is a musical journey of light to dark, weighed down by urban and societal detachment. Wilson’s skill as both a songwriter and producer allowed him to make songs that deserve a wider audience than he has currently. While on the same level as Pink Floyd and King Crimson, some would automatically agree, guitarist Guthrie Govan’s guitar solos might have to convince you further. For everyone else, this record is simply an intelligent work of art. -Anthony Saia

Fuzz - II

Genre: Rock

Fuzz are a trio of some of the most accomplished musicians in a busy garage psych scene, which results in one of the most satisfying albums of the year. Similar to Wand’s 2015 Golem (also on this list), or Thee Oh Sees 2013 release Floating Coffin, II is an excellent example of how to properly execute a ‘heavy’ album while still maintaining the perfect amount of accessibility.

Everything Ty Segall touches turns to gold and Fuzz's second album is certainly no outlier. Pay particular attention to guitarist Charles Mootheart on this album as his riffs and guitar work (dare I say) rival some from the band's drummer. -Russ Bashaw

The World Is A Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid To Die - Harmlessness

Genre: Post-rock, Emo

Few bands get the chance to follow up a genre-defining album; 2013's Whenever, If Ever was the biggest (and, arguably, best) emo album of the past 15 years. Needless to say, Harmlessness had high expectations. The World Is' new lineup meant an easier listening album than their debut; the harsh vocals that may have scared away listeners on their debut are replaced with a new, female vocalist. Harmlessness capitalizes on all of the talents of the band to make an emotional and well-rounded record. -Joseph Fieldgate

The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die is the best band of this so-called "emo revival" and this is because they are barely emo. On this new record, TWIABP&IANLATD show that they are just a fantastic band, not a fantastic emo band. Everything that was great about their debut album is still here, just in a more cohesive format. "January 10th, 2014" might be the best song the band has put out and sets a new standard for all the copycat emo bands out there.-Ethan Sapir

Kurt Vile - b'lieve i'm goin down...

Genre: Indie rock

This song collection is musical pointillism, dabbing thousands of tiny dots that gradually blur into a larger whole — a feeling of shotgun-on-the-road trip wanderlust. With vintage Vile philosophizing, the record is a delicious continuation of his previous work, my favorite LP of 2013. -Dylan Brown

Julia Holter - Have You In My Wilderness

Genre: Baroque pop

Sounding like an earth goddess roaming the world, Julia Holter’s voice on Have You In My Wilderness is strong yet unassuming; a heavier, more masculine tone would sound grievous against a set of airy arrangements. But as much as we often believe artists would stick to what made them well-known, I can’t blame Holter for opening up to light-heartedness and warmth. If you are a fan of sun-lit pop ala Beach Boys or Holter’s breezier songs, you will find some of her best stuff on this album. -Bryan Kocurek

Have You In My Wilderness uses a sea of comfortable sounds to keep the listener in a sort of warm stasis if you will. While perhaps not as immediately accessible as past releases, the album and it's gorgeous string arrangements and lengthy instrumental sections towards the end of tracks propel it to the front of an all of a sudden crowded genre. Have You In My Wilderness rewards the most studious of listeners as one of the year's best. -Russ Bashaw

The Wheelers of Oz - Revivalised

Genre: Psychedelic rock

Although Australian psych has seen an embarrassment of riches in 2015, none are able to match the hazy, sun-drenched garage of The Wheelers of Oz debut Revivalised. With new music on the way early next year and the incredible confidence and success of Revivalised, The Wheelers of Oz are an important band to watch in the rapidly expanding garage-psych scene. -Declan Boyer

Hallucinatory riffs and vibrating bass lines that don't overcrowd put this psychedelic album at the top spot of a genre that is by no means lacking. Just like San Diego in the '70s, this one is easily recommended. -Russ Bashaw

The Amazing - Picture You

Genre: Post-rock, Prog

If there's any "rock" album on the list that I have trouble defining it's Picture You by the Swedish band The Amazing. From beautiful melodies and soundscapes to '60s organ swells and head turning guitar passages, The Amazing have crafted one of the years best albums, one that manages to simultaneously relax and amp up the listener. The fact that the vocals are sung in English is simply a bonus, this album transcends language. -Russ Bashaw

Foxing - Dealer

Genre: Indie rock, Post-rock

Foxing’s sophomore LP does away with all of the immediacy and sharpness that characterized its predecessor. The Albatross was a great record, but this takes everything in a subtler, slow-burning direction. What is lacks in excitement is ultimately made up with phenomenal songwriting and layer-upon-layer of precise instrumentation. Dealer is an album for a rainy day, and it’s an outstanding one at that. -Masen Matthews

Foxing's sophomore album sees them refine their sound and production to make a cleaner sounding album than The Albatross. Dealer is a difficult album to listen to; themes of loss and loneliness make it apparent that this was also a difficult album to make. The emotion in Conor Murphy's lyrics and voice can stand on their own, but, when paired with crisp, well-produced instrumentation, Dealer is truly on of the year's best. -Joseph Fieldgate

Stephen A. Clark - Lonely Roller

Genre: R&B

An open heart laid bare on expertly crafted synthesizer can go a long way. With vocals are as smooth as a long slow exhale after a deep draw on a cigarette, Mr. Clark bathes his after-dark scenes in neon and a bright young R&B star is born. -Dylan Brown

Wand - 1000 Days

Genre: Psychedelic rock

The pop hooks of Golem are emphasized on 1000 Days, which continues to prove Wand’s ability to craft their influences into a completely unique and individual sound. The tonal shift might be jarring for long time fans, however the group’s willingness to embrace their influences and pop sensibilities allows for a more nuanced, and at times more fun listening experience. -Declan Boyer

Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable Tragedy

Genre: Indie rock

The Monitor proved Titus Andronicus are the most ambitious group in punk rock, and The Most Lamentable Tragedy further cements this legacy. With 29 songs and an over 90 minute runtime, The Most Lamentable Tragedy ran the risk of running stale and overstaying its welcome. However, front man Patrick Stickles is once again a force of nature both lyrically and vocally, while the band sounds as furious and intense as ever. -Declan Boyer

If nothing else, Titus Andronicus released one of the most ambitious rock albums of 2015. It's hard to not at least respect the album for trying to keep a captive audience through an hour and a half, and it actually succeeds for the most part. The Most Lamentable Tragedywon't be remembered as Titus's best album, but it will be remembered for how close it got. -Ethan Sapir

Zachary Cale - Duskland

Genre: Folk rock, Rock

Zachary Cale sings and strums like the singer/songwriters of legend and he's pretty damn good at guitar too. Duskland brings 9 seriously sizzling tracks to the burner and you'll be thinking about them long after the flame's gone out. "Low Light Serenade" is in contention for track of the year. -Russ Bashaw

Tame Impala - Currents

Genre: Indie rock/pop

On first listen, Tame Impala’s third album, Currents, may seem disappointing at first. Even I was confused after the first full listen through and I consider Lonerism and Innerspeaker to be modern psych-pop masterpieces. Why? Why would Kevin Parker abandon his swirling guitars and crunchy drum patterns for this over-produced synthpop garbage? Once you dive into the record, the answer becomes clear. The theme of the album is change. Kevin is changing and he doesn’t care what you think. And once you accept that he isn’t making music just because his fans want it and he’s doing it for himself, everything becomes clear. Suddenly what seemed like cheesy 80’s worship becomes so much more than that. The synth lines and bass licks that seemed intolerable before suddenly become funky and danceable, the cringeworthy lyrics become expressive of the writer’s emotional state, and the “overproduction” peels back its many layers to reveal an immaculately produced vision of Kevin Parker’s psyche. And although it may be a bit indulgent at times, if this gets things off of Tame Impala’s chest and leads the way for more incredible albums, I’m all for it. -Adrian Rucker

The songs on Currents no longer feel etched from a place of solitude and isolation as much as on Lonerism as Kevin reinvents his attitude towards certain emotions through the use of pop music. Up against the layered harmonies of past songs like “Alter Ego” and the mostly guitar-less “Nothing That Has Happened,” it is not out of the realm of possibility that Parker took such a left turn for his third album. By splicing the cringe-worthy with the inviting, he showcases his fascination for all music; where he gets his hooks, melodic lines, or transitions no longer matter. Bravo. -Bryan Kocurek

Florence and the Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Genre: Rock

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is undoubtedly a step forward for Florence and the Machine. It’s removed the clutter from Ceremonials and replaced it with a booming elegance, while matching the scope of the instrumentation with the deeply intimate and human nature of Welch’s lyrics. Unfortunately, poor pacing and lack of passion in the latter half of the album stop How Big, How Blue How Beautiful from being Florence and the Machine’s masterwork; but the album is still a sight to behold at it’s peaks, much like a towering mountain, the brilliance of the sky or the warm glow of a sunrise. -Colby Pierson

mewithoutYou - Pale Horses

Genre: Rock

Pale Horses is an undeniable return to form for a band that hasn’t put out a release this captivating in nearly a decade. Every moment from the subtle opening chords of the title track to the final sonic barrage that is “Rainbow Signs” is engaging, genuine, and downright classic. This release is a slap in the face to anyone who thought mewithoutYou was on the verge of burning out, and it’s clear that they still have all of the energy and musicianship that they ever have. -Masen Matthews

Jose Gonzalez - Vestiges & Claws

Genre: Indie folk

Vestiges & Claws is a subliminal offering yet one that requires more than a casual ear. Jose's combined acoustic playing and rhetorical lyrical weight shoot for the heart of human reasoning and hit a chord of awareness that is neither antagonistic nor overtly politically critical. Recommended mindfulness. -Russ Bashaw

Mark Lanegan - Houston Publishing Demos 2002

Genre: Rock

I know, I know. This record is only demos – but let me just say this: This record of demos, in my opinion is better that a lot of other things that came out in 2015. The bones of future songs are there, but these songs are fully realized. Lanegan could have put out this record in 2002, but for whatever reason, decided to hold on. That said, the tracks have aged well, and there are bits a pieces that were harvested for later songs on later Lanegan records, but all told this is a fantastic release from one the Pacific Northwest’s greatest of all time. -Anthony Saia

Grimes - Art Angels

Genre: Indietronica, Art pop

Grimes followed up her fantastic Visions with one of the most anticipated releases of 2015. Her fourth release sees the most full-fledged Grimes release yet. While many of the sounds are not unfamiliar, the arrangement of them together on an album is. This is one of the most diverse albums of the year, but it works. You would be forgiven for thinking this album is a mixtape made of alternative pop songs, which is just what Grimes wanted. -Joseph Fieldgate

Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon

Genre: Baroque pop

With a timeless voice and overriding feeling that you've heard these songs before, Jesso wanders from one legendary piano man to the next -- Randy Newman, Billy Joel and Paul McCartney. It's hard not to be happy for this sap who had to get chewed up and spit out by Hollywood to finally, and deservedly, hit the big time. -Dylan Brown

Timbre - Sun & Moon

Genre: Folk

Sun & Moon is the idealistic debut album from harpist extraordinaire Timbre Cierpke. With roots in indie folk, classical music, and progressive pop, Sun & Moon is a two-hour thematic journey about the connections found in everything, especially art. Side one focuses on more “traditional” songwriting (even though several tracks break the seven or eight minute mark), while the second half is mostly classically orchestrated compositions, allowing Timbre to fully develop her ideas into something amazing. While the Joanna Newsom comparisons are bound to occur, Timbre sets herself apart with her piercing falsetto, elaborate instrumentation, and catchy melodies. -Adrian Rucker

Lupe Fiasco - Testuo and Youth

Genre: Hip hop

Tetsuo and Youth is uniquely dense and anti-commercial to the point where it’s a shame that more people haven’t listened to it. Lupe has come a long way since the days of The Cool, and this album is highlighted by its lengthy but calculated structure, its 5-8+ minute tracks, and its heavily political messages. -Masen Matthews

There is a new energy coming from Lupe and aurally this record crafts a scene that doesn’t allow you to gloss over and forget. Lupe gets you to immerse yourself in the pictures he paints. -Anthony Saia

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell

Genre: Indie

Sufjan Stevens’ well orchestrated baroque pop has always brought him popularity and critical acclaim but what he can do with just an acoustic guitar and his voice is almost as good. On his seventh album to date, Sufjan channels tragic life events, nostalgia, and every emotion he has to write eleven beautiful indie folk songs about love, life, and loss. While not as instrumentally dense and complex as the Age of Adz or Illinois, it is nonetheless powerful and moving in its own right. The skeletal instrumentation complements Sufjan’s perfectly controlled falsetto as it belts out some of the best lyrics of the year. -Adrian Rucker

With anticipation set so high there will be fans that will leave Carrie & Lowell disappointed, and to be honest this album doesn’t seem fated to rise above his other two classics. When Sufjan Stevens the folk artist is on he’s devastating, and with an album about his sadness over his mother Carrie’s death he pushes past the clouds and into the stratosphere. It seems equivalent to any “important” folk album of this new century- “Should’ve Known Better” and “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” will certainly become essential tracks of the decade- like Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, but elevated by a more concentrated form of grief and his knack for intimate settings. -Bryan Kocurek

Jamie XX - In Colour

Genre: Electronic

The XX has yet to release a truly outstanding record, but it’s safe to say that this will do in the meantime. In Colour blends the perfect amount of mellow electronic groove and upbeat pop and many of the tracks here are pure gold. “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” in particular showcases an excellent guest appearance from Young Thug, making it a popular hit that won’t make jaws clench when it comes on. Between that and other gems like “SeeSaw” and “Strangers In a Room”, In Colour deserves a place on top ten lists this year. -Masen Matthews

Brandi Carlile - The Firewatcher's Daughter

Genre: Folk-rock, Americana

Grounded in Americana, Carlile and the brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth use a dusty sonic palette to make one of their most brilliant records to date. The group slides into folky melancholy in places, where in others, there is room for a country stomp or two. Interestingly enough, they even venture into full-throttle rock & roll which, surprisingly works insanely well. This record shows a trio that has played with each other enough to know what works and what doesn’t. Fortunately, there isn’t a throw away song on this record. The songs also seem well worn and lived in, causing a resonance to happen long after you’re done listening. -Anthony Saia

Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon

Genre: Future-soul

Not many people have heard of Australian neo-soul outfit Hiatus Kaiyote. Even with a grammy nomination under their belt, the group can’t seem to break out of the underground. This is quite an injustice considering the quality of their releases so far, and Choose Your Weapon exemplifies this perfectly. Psychedelic, jazzy, and smooth, but never boring, every track is a trip through the sounds of immensely talented musicians as they play their funky intergalactic songs of peace and love. -Adrian Rucker

Happyness - Weird Little Birthday

Genre: Indie rock

Spinning Weird Little Birthday is like Cialis for a twentysomethings' flaccid nostalgia for Pavement and the underachiever 90s. It's put up or shut time, so the London trio's steady slacker rock is a chance to procrastinate one last time. -Dylan Brown

Ghostface Killah & BBNG - Sour Soul

Genre: Hip hop, Instrumental Hip hop

What do you get when you combine a Canadian Jazz Trio and arguably the best Wu-Tang Clan member? Soulful soundscapes and hot bars – that’s what. This record is unconventional but the use of jazz licks behind a prolific hip hop artist like GFK give a different view of hip hop that was sorely needed. Tony Starks doesn’t waste time, or breath on this record, which clocks in a little over 32 minutes and also features Danny Brown. -Anthony Saia

Blur - The Magic Whip

Genre: Indie rock

Waiting twelve years to release an album will always garner high expectations. Fortunately, Blur did not seem to feel this pressure and recorded most of The Magic Whip over 5 days in Hong Kong. The spontaneousness of this album's conception is felt in the simple sound of the album. Fortunately, simple works for Blur, The Magic Whip is full of beautiful melodies sprawled over basic chords and keys. Hopefully the follow-up comes before 2027. -Joseph Fieldgate

Blur returns in splendid fashion and the themes touched on in The Magic Whip go from the personal ("My Terracotta Heart"), to the global ("There Are Too Many Of Us") as Albarn and company manage to weave beautiful melodies with the use of traditional and non traditional instruments alike. The Chinese takeover of Japan continues, yet this time and if only for a brief moment, it sounds damn beautiful. -Russ Bashaw

Kamasi Washington - The Epic

Genre: Jazz

With The Epic, jazz musician Kamasi Washington turns the tables on anyone who were inspired by the jazz influence of Kendrick Lamar’s current magnum opus. He gets rid of any new listener’s pretense with vitality and breadth of vision, and I feel like I should make an apology for my years of skepticism. -Bryan Kocurek

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color

Genre: Rock

Sure they've broken into the mainstream but there's certainly worse bands you can hear on commercial radio. The Alabama Shakes are the real deal and Brittany Howard's larger than life stage presence is captured vibrantly on this, their excellent sophomore album. It sounds polished and it is, but beneath a behemoth budget there still remains a genuine pleasantry about the band shows they're more than 15 minutes. -Russ Bashaw

It is refreshing to see how more money and more hands involved don’t always have to compromise a core sound.The Alabama Shakes have masterfully crafted an album that is surprising considering the predictability of the genre. -Adam Tucker

Jeff Bridges - Sleeping Tapes

Genre: ASMR

Jeff Bridges doubles down on his cult hero status and emerges unscathed with Sleeping Tapes , a free "album" released earlier in the year. I say "album" because the 15 tracks are more of a ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) introduction as opposed to something truly musical. With Tibetan bells and intriguing if not sometimes creepy noises coming across your earbuds, the amount of sleep you'll get while listening is certainly debatable. What isn't debatable however is the charm that Bridges exudes in tracks like "Temescal Canyon" where he narrates a journey with you by his side. Worth the price of admission alone which again, is free. -Russ Bashaw

Bjork - Vulnicura

Genre: Electronic, Art pop

Vulnicura is much darker than anything in Bjork’s discography. She builds her pop moments and hooks like on “Lionsong,” where she meticulously weaves electronics and harmonized vocals. When she delves into the darkest corners of her mind on “Black Lake,” the results are exhaustive yet remarkable. The album’s focus on her heartbreak and rebirth is admirable, but like 1997’s Homogenic, my personal favorite, the true feat is her melding of electronics and strings and use of atmosphere and space. Peerless work. -Bryan Kocurek

Wand - Golem

Genre: Psychedelic rock

Los Angeles-based Wand burst onto the scene in 2015 with two unique and impressive full lengths. With Golem, the addition of Chris Woodhouse as producer adds an extra grime and emphasis on riffs which make it one of the heaviest, and best, garage-psych albums of the year. However, Hanson has an uncanny ability to find melody in even the heaviest places which leads to moments of incredible bliss. -Declan Boyer

Vince Staples - Summertime '06

Genre: Hip hop

In the surroundings of perfectly sequenced, subtly built, coherent, and emotionally affecting hip-hop, Vince Staples’ Summertime ’06 shimmers like a diamond. Full of feeling, this dour album is pristine, complex and slightly overwhelming. And that’s where the listeners have to make a gamble: by letting this single-minded voice with unforgettable backers and unforgettable beats into their ears, Staples has created an album that is meant to be explored, with many dark corners and countless rewards. -Bryan Kocurek

Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

Genre: Indie rock

An unflinching meditation on love in modern life, there is something to love or loathe about Father John Misty's second record, but there is no questioning his ability to write a song that can make you laugh, think and not give a two shits about sounding pretentious. Big questions often do. -Dylan Brown

Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect

Genre: Post-punk

Protomartyr are not the most innovative band, but they are really good at what they do, which is making post-punk. Their sophomore album, Under Color Of Official Right, was my eight favorite album of 2014 and this album continues their trend of very solid, if not incredible, music. After three very good albums under their belt, I wouldn't be surprised if Protomartyr release something truly amazing in the near future. -Ethan Sapir

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Paper Mache Dream Balloon

Genre: Psychedelic rock

Paper Mache Dream Balloon is the latest release in King Gizzard’s quest to conquer every musical style and structure. The long-winded jazz jams of Quarters! have been replaced by heady, at times tender, acoustic psych folk. The band’s desire to use only acoustic instruments leads to their most immediate and surprising stylistic change to date, but the change results in an interesting, easy going and fun album. -Declan Boyer

Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge - Twelve Reasons to Die II

Genre: Hip hop

Ghostface Killah is a busy fellow. This long-awaited return to work with Adrian Younge was two years in the making, and serves as GFK’s twelfth studio release. There is a story being told here, the record’s lyrics serving as a narration. With Younge’s Linear Labs flavor behind GFK and a cast of great guest artists (RZA, Raekwon, and Vince Staples to name a few), this album’s story-driven flow allows it to become a knockout. -Anthony Saia

Jim O'Rourke - Simple Songs

Genre: Alternative Rock

Simple Songs is anything but as it is a beautifully structured and arranged album that just sounds damn good. O'Rourke and his accompanying cast lay it on thick with acoustic and electronic guitars, pedal steel, piano, strings, mandolin, and a myriad of woodwind instruments. Spending time with Simple Songs is a pleasure akin to listening to the great uncle you always liked but never got to spend enough time with. -Russ Bashaw

What was your favorite album this year? Email us at and let us know! We'll read your email on one of our future episodes.

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