Because end-of-year lists are always prone to controversy, let me just come right out and list the albums that you will not find in the roundup below: Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late; The Weeknd’s commerical breakout Beauty Behind the Madness; I Love You Honeybear, from that dude Father John Misty, a favorite among a handful of respectable publications (Pitchfork, A.V. Club); and, despite selling more than 25 million copies in its first week, Adele’s third studio album, 25. Indeed these are fine albums in a sea of other noteworthy releases. But you already knew that.
The list below, instead, represents the albums enjoyed by GP staffers over the course of the past year — those that kept popping up during after-hours poker sessions, late-night Halo marathons and long-distance flights to the far-flung corners of the globe (New Zealand, Chile, Norway, Japan). Some are commercial successes that merely impressed us with their compositions, lyrics or throwback sounds. Others are albums that the mainstream missed, and which we believe deserve a closer look. Now without further ado, here they are, in no particular order: GP’s favorite albums of 2015.
Artist: Chris Stapleton
Label: Mercury Nashville
Key Tracks: “Tennessee Whiskey,” “Nobody To Blame”
A respected songwriter — whose songs have been recorded by Kenny Chesney, Adele, Time McGraw and Brad Paisley, among others — Chris Stapleton made his solo debut with Traveller, a record on many critics’ shortlists for best country album of the year. Recorded in Nashville, the album is inspired by a road trip Stapleton took following the death of his father in 2013.
Artists: Shye Ben Tzur, Johnny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express
Label: Nonesuch Records
Key Tracks: “Roked,” “Junun”
Produced by Radiohead’s Nigel Godrich, Junun is the collaborative effort of Israeli artists Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood (also of Radiohead) and the Indian ensemble the Rajasthan Express. Recorded in the Mehrangarh Fort, in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India, the making of the album was filmed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, The Master) and released as a documentary under the same name, which premiered on MUBI.
Artist: Kamasi Washington
Key Tracks: “Change of the Guard,” “Askim”
Experimental jazz musician Kamasi Washington, who’s accredited on Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 To Pimp a Butterfly, also released his debut solo album, The Epic, this past year to near universal acclaim. Expansive and searching — with appearances by Miles Mosley and Thundercat, among other artists of note — the album runs a total two hours, 53 minutes.
Artist: Tame Impala
Label: Modular, Universal, Fiction, Interscope
Key Tracks: “Let It Happen,” “The Less I Know The Better”
Tame Impala’s much-awaited third album, Currents, was largely recorded in Fremantle, Australia, where the band’s lead singer and songwriter Kevin Parker resides. Many saw the album as a transition to more upbeat, disco-influenced compositions. Charting at number three in the United Kingdom and number four in the USA, the album was teased prior to its release in July by a slew of singles releases, including “Let it Happen, “’Cause I’m a Man”, “Disciples” and “Eventually.”
Sound & Color
Artist: Alabama Shakes
Label: ATO, MapleMusic, Rough Trade
Key Tracks: “Don’t Wanna Fight,” “Future People”
Nominated for Best Album of the Year at the 2016 Grammy Awards, Sound & Color was recorded by Alabama Shakes over the course of a year, and finally debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 upon its release in April.
Artist: Vince Staples
Label: ARTium, Def Jam
Key Tracks: “Norf Norf,” “Señorita”
Vince Staples’ debut solo double LP, Summertime ‘06, lyrically chronicles the 22-year-old rapper’s life after the age of 13. Production is accredited to Def Jam’s No I.D., the “Godfather of Chicago hip hop,” who’s famously produced tracks for Jay-Z, Kanye West and Common.
Artist: Jamie xx
Label: Young Turks
Key Tracks: “Gosh,” “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”
English producer and DJ Jamie xx (Jamie Smith), also of indie band The xx, worked on In Colour for five years, accumulating samples from a variety of sources, like television broadcasts and throwback tracks — including the 1971 song “Good Times” by The Persuasions.
To Pimp A Butterfly
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Label: Top Dawg, Aftermath, Interscope
Key Tracks: “King Kunta,” “Alright”
Perhaps the most-hyped release of 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly was recorded from 2012 onward, and features collaborations with Flying Lotus, Thundercat and Snoop Dogg. The album, described as a fusion of funk, spoken word and jazz, was nominated for best album at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Artist: Courtney Barnett
Label: Mom + Pop Music, Marathon Artists, Milk!
Key Tracks: “Small Poppies,” “Pedestrian at Best”
Australian artist Courtney Barnett recored her debut LP, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, in 2014 with Australian-Canadian record producer Burke Reid. It shines with Barnett’s lyrical wit and signature deadpan singing style.
Artist: Leon Bridges
Key Tracks: “River,” “Coming Home”
American gospel and soul singer Leon Bridges’ retro-fitted breakout, Coming Home, thrives on the sound of 1960s rhythm and blues and went viral shortly after its release in June. It was nominated for Best R&B Album at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
Key Tracks: “Brought to the Water,” “Come Back”
San Francisco-based metal band Deafheaven live-recorded New Bermuda in April, which was met with universal acclaim upon its release in October. Many critics praised its progressive sound and ability to push metal new directions.
Key Tracks: “Flesh without Blood,” “Realiti”
Art Angles, the fourth studio album from Canadian artist Grimes (Claire Elise Boucher), was her highest charting yet; it has pop at its heart, but draws influences from an array of different genres.
Key Tracks: “Alive,” “Vanity”
The second studio release from underground producer and DJ Arca (Alejandro Ghersi), who helped produced several tracks on Kanye West’s 2013 album Yeezus, Arca is less aggressive than Xen, the album that preceded it, but the textural space of the record is just as raw.
Carrie & Lowell
Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Key Tracks: “Should Have Known Better,” “The Only Thing”
Sufjan Stevens’ seventh studio release, Carrie & Lowell, was mostly recorded in his home studio in Brooklyn (some tracks, including “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross,” were recorded on an iPhone). Inspired by the death of his mother, Carrie, in 2012, the album was seen as a return to his indie folk roots upon its released in March.
Artist: Mac Demarco
Label: Captured Tracks
Key Tracks: “Another One,” “No Other Heart”
Technically a mini-LP by Canadian-born artist Mac DeMarco, Another One was recorded in his home studio in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York. Described by DeMarco as an album about love, DeMarco keeps it fresh with his unique indie pop sound of jangly guitars and synthesizers.
Viet Cong by Viet Cong
Half Free by U.S. Girls
DS2 by Future
Crush by Lettuce
I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl by Earl Sweatshirt