Best of 2015

Essential albums

Whether it was tear-stained confessionals by Björk, Girl Band's frenzied exploration of mental anguish or Kendrick Lamar’s outpourings of politically-focused fury, our favourite albums of 2015 have run the gamut of human emotions. Enjoy the best of the year below.

The Top 10

  • Floating Points - Elaenia
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    Having spent the last few years sandwiching mix-athons with BFFs Four Tet and Caribou in-between his neuroscience PhD, you wouldn’t have thought Sam Shepherd had time to squeeze in an album. Such a vast array of vocations, however, informs the wonderfully idiosyncratic quality of his debut. Subtler than the rapturous acid wiggle of last year’s EP Nuits Sonoires, Elaenia foregrounds Shepherd's life-long love of classical and jazz music, as flawless improvisations embellish ethereal brass-arrangements and bubbling boogie-rhythms. Without settling on a fixed direction, Shepherd’s seven glorious “suites” gently hark back to the abstract utopias of his early excursions, resulting in a dreamy blend of orchestral lullabies and gentle dancefloor preludes.
  • VILLAGERS - Darling Arithmetic (Deluxe Version)
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    Where 2013’s {Awayland} saw Conor O’Brien expanding Villagers into a collaborative project, and upsizing his arrangements, this follow-up marks a return to his solo roots. Self-recorded at home in Malahide, near Dublin, Darling Arithmetic finds O’Brien favouring the intimacy of acoustic guitar and piano, and deliberately eschewing figurative language in order to deal candidly with former relationships. As both the title-track and album opener ‘Courage’ attest, the sparser the arrangements, the more devastating the listening. The fact these deeply-personal stories feel universal can only be testament to O’Brien’s skill as a songwriter.
  • Leon Bridges - Coming Home
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    Though born in the same year as Taylor Swift, 25-year-old Texan Leon Bridges could almost have been beamed in from a bygone era. Kitted out in sharp-tailoring and exuding old-fashioned, matinee idol charm, the former gospel singer effortlessly distills all the smooth soulfulness of Sam Cooke and Ben E King into his misty-eyed melodies. There’s some seriously strong songwriting on display here too, and the tracks are beautifully arranged, flecked with Hammond organ and punctuated by swing beats and the warm rumble of double bass. The result is a debut deferential enough to make rhythm and blues aficionados nostalgic, but with enough originality and verve to entice younger fans.
  • Björk - Vulnicura
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    Astounding as Medúlla, Volta and Biophilia are, the more high-concept Björk’s work becomes, the further removed we listeners can feel from the human being behind the artist. Perhaps that’s why this ninth album feels especially arresting. Dealing with the disintegration of her relationship with long-term partner Matthew Barney, Vulnicura sees Björk detailing her fears and sorrows with astonishing candour, while stripping back labyrinthine layers of instrumentation to a staple palette of clipped beats, minimalist electronics and heart-tugging strings. The result is an extraordinarily brave and beautiful record, and arguably her finest full-length release since 2001's Vespertine.
  • GIRL BAND - Holding Hands With Jamie (Explicit)Contains explicit content
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    Boundaries are of little importance to Mullingar-locals Girl Band. In their blistering take on one of Blawan’s savage cuts, the four-piece established their disregard for guitar-rock conventions, and the decision to base their debut album on the psychotic episode of lead-singer Dara Kiely continues this non-conformity. Striking the perfect balance between brilliant and bizarre, Holding Hands With Jamie sees Kiely and co annihilating eardrums in nine electrifying blows. Surreal lyrical content - ranging from Sudocrem to Top Gear - is mercilessly buried beneath visceral, techno-inspired noise-rock, filled with raw, puncturing distortion. A thrilling debut.
  • Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (Explicit)Contains explicit content
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    Dispelling the myth that braggadocio and solipsism are inseparable from major league rap, To Pimp A Butterfly finds Kendrick Lamar picking over personal struggles and societal injustice, to deliver an unflinching examination of what it means to be a black American in 2015. In the wake of the recent events in Ferguson and the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin (which is explicitly referenced on ‘The Blacker The Berry’), it’s no surprise that racial prejudice and police brutality loom large here. What might surprise the million-plus people who bought Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, is Lamar’s integration of esoteric musical influences to create ambitious, atypical arrangements, frequently rooted in free jazz and P-Funk. Combine these with the Compton rapper’s dexterous, deeply-inventive vocal delivery, and you have a dense yet richly-rewarding listen.
  • Soak - Before We Forgot How To Dream
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    Though only 16 when she released her debut EP in 2014, Bridie Monds-Watson had been a firm fixture on the Derry gig circuit since the age of 14. Now a nationally-recognised talent, the Northern Irish singer-songwriter is releasing her beautifully-understated debut through Rough Trade Records. Exhibiting her multi-instrumentalist talents, the wistfully-named Before How We Forgot How To Dream sees Soak interspersing her delicate strain of indie-folk with string-laden instrumentals, laced between poignant lyrics. Long-time fans, look out for the revamped version of 'Sea Creatures', her heartfelt ode to a troubled friend.
  • Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear (Explicit)Contains explicit content
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    Briefly Fleet Foxes’ (somewhat-apathetic) drummer, Josh Tillman returned to his solo career in 2012, rechristening himself “Father John Misty” simply because he enjoyed the bizarre juxtaposition of imagery. This irreverent approach to nomenclature gives you a fair insight into Tillman’s songwriting style too. Ranging from the string-driven, Mariachi horn-flecked Americana of ‘Chateau Lobby #4’ to the Harry Nilsson-style piano balladry of ‘Bored In The USA’, this latest collection excels in its pairing of absurdly beautiful melodies with hilariously deadpan lyrics. The result is a record that feels reassuringly “classic” and thrillingly original at the same time.
  • Foals - What Went Down
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    Inspired by “the chaos and ferocity” of performing Holy Fire’s heavier moments live, Foals headed straight to France with Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford to channel that energy into album number four. The upshot is, arguably, the five-piece’s most ambitious outing yet. From the raw aggression of the gothic-tinged title-track to A Knife In The Ocean’s dramatic climax of digital shrapnel and nose-diving guitars, What Went Down is a record bursting with bold musical statements. Of course, there are still traces here of the band that made Antidotes and Total Life Forever - the needling guitar lines that drive ‘Night Swimmers’ and the widescreen melancholia of ‘London Thunder’ - but, at its core, What Went Down is an album that prizes the physical above the cerebral.

The rest of the best...