Personal Top 10 Favourites of 2015

By chrisspurr chrisspurr
updated 9 days ago

An ordered list of my favourite albums from 2015, accompanied by an explanation as to why consisting of content from reviews published by various sources.


  1. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

    Release Date: February 9, 2015
    Genre: Indie Rock/Folk
    Favourite Track: I Went to the Store One Day

    Following a lengthy stint as a brooding solo singer-songwriter and as the drummer for choral-folk outfit Fleet Foxes, Josh Tillman decided to rebrand himself as Father John Misty. Originating after a mushroom-fueled revelation, the moniker became a full-on persona, a goofy, mystical Lothario who sang about Canadian shamans, talking dogs, the pretensions of writing a novel, and ass-based skin grafts on his promising 2012 debut Fear Fun. Preternaturally self-aware and simultaneously difficult and endearing, like a less divisive Lana Del Rey-type, Tillman’s musical alter-ego found him approaching music from a satirical and almost cartoonish head space. Fortunately, the masterful I Love You, Honeybear proves that Misty the character doesn’t overpower Tillman the musician. Instead, his silly antics and heady existential musings color the entire album. In many ways, I Love You, Honeybear is an album full of earnest and bombastic love songs that unrelentingly dive into the gritty details of a relationship’s complexity, based in part on his own recent marriage. The songs deal with deconstructing romance, from the philosophical reasons against it to the acerbic, self-loathing that questions whether one really deserves to feel it. Apart from the lush compositions and layered autobiographical themes, I Love You, Honeybear also succeeds perhaps most obviously from Tillman’s own incredible voice. With a welcoming tenor and a likeably schmaltzy delivery that finds him displaying loads of range and emotions, he’s able to give his subject matter the unforgiving and ultimately warm treatment it deserves.

  2. Tame Impala - Currents

    Release Date: July 17, 2016
    Genre: Psychedelic Rock
    Favourite Track: The Less I Know the Better

    Lonerism set Tame Impala up to disappoint. The 2012 album garnered universal praise, launching Kevin Parker’s group into the upper tier of festival lineups and cultish fan followings. The Australian band was left with two routes: rehash more psychedelic rock, but face the blame of taking the easy route; or do something entirely new, but lose fans in the process. Tame Impala takes a conscious risk on Currents, but when the ambitious Currents pulls you into Parker’s mindset, the switch from guitars to synths makes perfect sense. After two Tame Impala albums that centered on Parker's withdrawal from society, he has entered the stream of life on Currents and he's lonelier than ever. The bemused, occasionally melancholy isolation that defined Innerspeaker and Lonerism has metastasized into heartbreak, bitterness, regret. Currents is a break-up album, but it’s not the vindictive or regretful statement you might expect from an album with that label. It’s preoccupied with self-examination and existential change. It’s rare for an album shaped by a relationship to lean so heavily on observation rather than judgment. Parker’s not perfect, and he might not even achieve any meaningful change but he’s trying, and Currents documents that tough, painful sort of self-assessment.

  3. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

    Release Date: March 15, 2015
    Genre: Rap
    Favourite Track: Institutionalized

    The 79-minute To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick’s follow-up to 2012’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d city, tests any number of limits, including the length of time listeners can comfortably sit with an album and just how thoroughly a rap superstar can resist his knack for easy hooks. Spend enough time with it, though, and the album proves to be intensely alive, celebrating humans’ potential for triumph, recognizing how completely things can go awry, and condemning the scars left by American history. In piecing together his new album, Kendrick Lamar left certain things behind. The Compton rapper largely abandoned contemporary hip-hop structures in favor of a cosmic splat of jazz, soul, and funk. He’s said goodbye to his peers in Black Hippy and, with two exceptions, the need for guest rappers. That’s not to say that what he’s doing is unprecedented, because To Pimp a Butterfly absolutely radiates the complexities of long-established forms of black music; so many of these alto sax and trumpet flourishes double as reminders to listen to more jazz. It makes sense that the album lacks musical boundaries. Kendrick’s thoughts are all over the place, too – from Compton to Congress, from the lows of depression to the highs of artistic confidence. However, there is nothing as thematically prevalent as Kendrick’s urge for black Americans to rise above racism, squarely connecting his depression to the fame he has achieved following his last album. Lamar attempts to square his survivor’s guilt with the impulse to use his platform as a pulpit, taking aim at the music industry’s exploitation of ghetto life, institutionalized racism in America, and on himself for not doing more to help those suffering the same racism he escaped through fame. While artists like Lil Wayne, Eminem, and Drake are happily fighting for the title of greatest rapper alive, Kendrick is seemingly aiming for something higher than that, a position that uses the power of his voice to tout black power, equality, justice, and unity.

  4. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

    35 For Sale from $13.98

    Release Date: March 15, 2015
    Genre: Indie Rock
    Favourite Track: Depreston

    The tradition of songwriters telling stories that reverberate with a sense of place is strong; the tradition of Australian artists successfully selling songs about their neighbourhood to the world might be politely described as less time-honoured. Courtney Barnett, however, made that jump with her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. Barnett writes melodic, rhythmic guitar rock, mostly delivered deadpan and half-sung, half-spoken. Her music is steeped in sixties garage pop and the nineties underground that became the mainstream, but it is Barnett's song-writing that has won the most praise: dry, personal, and sharply observational about the part of the world she lives in. She has a great turn of phrase, and a great turn at phrasing, finding rhymes where they shouldn't exist. Like Stephen Malkmus or Kurt Vonnegut, Barnett looks at the mundane with a skewed perspective, turning it over in her mind and transmogrifying it into something extraordinary. Raised in Sydney-via-Hobart, Barnett has been based in Melbourne a relatively short time, but her songs could be used to sketch a map of the city's inner-north. They are true stories, all of them: fare-evading down the 96 tram line before riding to the roof of the Nicholas Building. Checking out a swimmer under the Aqua Profonda sign at the Fitzroy pool. House-hunting out in Preston. Without sounding laboured, she paints an impeccably honest image of the world around her, rife with humor, self-deprecation, and heartbreak. For an album that deals in low stakes, Sometimes I Sit and Think finds Barnett hitting some incredible highs.

  5. The Sheepdogs - Future Nostalgia

    Release Date: October 2, 2015
    Genre: Americana
    Favourite Track: Downtown

    Carrying on the proud Canadian rock and roll tradition of easy on the brain and ears classic rock and roll in the vein of the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive, The Sheepdogs' fifth studio album, the aptly named Future Nostalgia, sounds like the work of a seasoned bar band who decided to tweak their set of classic rock covers by writing their own versions. It’s hard to know for sure whether The Sheepdogs named this album Future Nostalgia with a sense of irony, but if they did it would be a bit of a surprise, because there’s nothing deliberately ironic about them or their music. Like all The Sheepdogs output to date, the music is drenched in a loving nostalgia for the seventies. Typically this nostalgia manifests itself in the aesthetic: hippie garb, free love, and endless drugs, but The Sheepdogs avoid this, instead concentrating on better aspects of the era to draw from: freedom of self-identity, a rejection of homogenized corporate America, and an understanding that a life spent without communal pleasures isn't one worth living. The Sheepdogs may draw inspiration from the past, but the sound they replicate is timeless. Future Nostalgia should be welcomed with open arms by classic rock sentimentalists but the melodic warmth, expertise and energy present on each track should be just as relevant to fans of rock music in general.

  6. Dance Gavin Dance - Instant Gratification

    Release Date: April 14, 2015
    Genre: Post-Hardcore
    Favourite Track: Something New

    Instant Gratification is in no way a great departure from the sound and experimental, yet surprisingly cohesive flow of 2013’s Acceptance Speech. In fact, the album plays more like a continuation of that record, with equal sonic diversity and even better cohesion, taking further chances than they did as a fresh unit creating Acceptance Speech. They’re not necessarily out there ideas, but some more rapping appears, as well as several instances of obvious electronic enhancements. You never know what will happen from track to track, but once you find yourself knee-deep in a song you realize this eclectic and often intense menagerie of rock is in fact an orchestrated testament to the power of finding a sense of peace within a world of chaos. Dance Gavin Dance have made their home in a world where anything can happen, and on this record, more than any release prior, you get the sense they’re finally feeling comfortable in their own skin.

  7. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

    Release Date: March 31, 2015
    Genre: Folk
    Favourite Track: Death With Dignity

    Sufjan Stevens had long been a staple American folk artist, creating six albums that split open at their seams with wonder before he took a left turn with the release of his electronics heavy, glitchy, 2010 album The Age of Adz. He’s since drained his music of all that, but Carrie & Lowell isn’t a return to the tentative woodsy footprints of his earlier works. Carrie & Lowell finds Sufjan Stevens sitting down for a long conversation with Death, and he’s brought just minimal accompaniment: gentle acoustic guitar, occasional piano, virtually no drums. The title refers to Stevens’ mother and stepfather, though the lyrics address the former more directly. She left Stevens and his siblings when he was a baby, and his memories of her stem mostly from summer visits to Oregon when he was a toddler and grade-schooler. He was with her when she died a few years prior, and his attempts to reconcile his feelings – of abandonment, love, resentment, confusion, self-loathing, nostalgia – are the sensitive tendons that resist and then go slack throughout these songs. It’s tricky territory to navigate and hardened hearts and ears might find it off-putting, but meet Carrie & Lowell on its terms and it’s revelatory. Stevens’ is looking, as he so often has, for a genuine connection, a chance to be nakedly honest in both his joy and sadness.

  8. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love

    5 For Sale from $4.00

    Release Date: May 26, 2015
    Genre: Indie Rock/Psychedelic Rock
    Favourite Track: Puzzles

    There are plenty of albums about heartbreak, but not so many about polyamorous relationships in which a third party leaves both you and your wife confused and heartbroken. Ruban Nielson befriended a young woman while overseas on tour and the relationship carried on via email and Skype until it expanded to include Nielson’s wife. The polyamory became a normal routine for a while, as the three settled comfortably into the Nielsons’ Portland home which also includes two young children. As the third party in the relationship eventually settled back into her prior living arrangements, the experience and its’ aftermath provided a singular focus for Nielson to create this album. Nielson might have tangled his emotions beyond repair during the making of his band’s third album, but you can’t deny the subject matter is compelling. The exemplification of that experience is crucial to making it one of the most unique records of recent years. At the centre of Multi-Love is Nielson, a middle-aged storyteller peering forward at the prospect of the world’s societal rules, confused by ardor, and crafting some hope from the comforts and experiences of the past. Shunning the themes of isolation and enhancing the sound of previous albums, Multi-Love plays against the established rock canon, but the stylistic overlap is still there. It excels at re-contextualizing Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s post-sixties influences into something more voluminous. There’s a colourful distinction between Multi-Love and its predecessors, previewed by the bright pink light that reigns the album cover. At once new and old, the album marks a crossroad not only for its creator, but for the heavy hearted romantics all over.

  9. Leon Bridges - Coming Home

    Release Date: June 23, 2015
    Genre: Soul/Rhythm & Blues
    Favourite Track: Twistin' and Groovin'

    The question with Leon Bridges is authenticity. It certainly looks as though Texan newcomer Leon Bridges was incubated in some major-label laboratory. Vintage soul was some of the most profitable material being exported at the time of this album’s release, and the 25-year-old seems precision-engineered, having emerged suddenly in just-so trousers, and with a voice that echoes Sam Cooke’s. However, the truth is stranger. Bridges was pushed into a studio by two members of White Denim, a Texan psych-punk band who had begun hoarding vintage analogue gear. Coming Home was recorded virtually live in a studio thrown together for the purpose; the results are decidedly authentic. When Bridges was growing up, the only records allowed in the house were gospel, or pop free from profanity or disrespect to women. The influence of his mother is palpable throughout Coming Home, as much of a slinky dancing record as it is a smiling-and-nodding record. This conservatism, though, seems more like borderline radicalism when re-cast against some of the more lurid, sexist, frenzied auto-tune excesses of modern R&B. Coming Home is, perhaps, a healthy reiteration of the classic sounds of succour in a time of need; a principled and mellifluous nay-saying. Often, blatantly retro acts can feel like Halloween costumes on a trick-or-treater: an approximation of something familiar worn temporarily to get something in return. The best retro acts, though, feel more like the work of professional costumers, the kind that get Oscars for making you believe they stepped right out of another era. On Coming Home, Bridges solidly aligns with the latter, his soulful R&B studied and nostalgic, but also immediate and emotionally true.

  10. Dr. Dre - Compton (A Soundtrack By Dr. Dre)

    Release Date: August 7, 2015
    Genre: Rap
    Favourite Track: Talk About It

    Compton is Dr. Dre's first record in 16 years, following news that his long-awaited Detox has been scrapped. Billed as a soundtrack to coincide with the new N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, the album finds him sounding charged-up, relevant, and coming to terms with his career for himself, not others. For the first time in more than a decade, Dre's inspiration met up with a corporate deadline, and you can see the appeal for him: an opportunity to bundle his final record with a blockbuster movie about his career's origins. The album's backward gaze is evident from the intro, where narration from an old TV documentary describes how Dre's California hometown went from black-middle-class idyll to a crime-ravaged extension of the inner city. Dre reminisces over past indignities and glories – but this is no dusty museum tour. Compton contains some of his most ambitious, idea-stuffed production ever, combining the layered bombast and narcotic ooze of his catalog's peaks with a bunch of bold new tricks. In this way, he's toying with the bookends of his career, polishing the story of his come-up while coming to terms with how to step away for good.