2015 Year End Music Review – 60 Best Albums

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By all accounts, 2015 has been a great year for new music. Just going through the top albums list, we’re struck by how many albums we can look at and think, “I’ll still be listening to that album years from now.” The music industry is still trying to figure out itself: demand for vinyl albums are hard to keep up with, streaming services payouts are at an all time high, Adele and her people are cashing in loads of checks, yet for most musicians, making a living is tougher than ever. Musicians are relying on living in a tour bus, commercials, getting creative with merch, partnerships, etc. to bring in some kind of check to continue to do what they love.

But for the listener itself, 2015 is one hell of a great time to be alive. You’re not stuck with whatever radio stations or MTV force feed you. Instead options are abound. Music is more accessible than ever with the multitude of ways to listen to and discover new music online. If you are looking for music that pushes the boundaries, that doesn’t settle for the norm, there are no rules anymore, and this helps create an environment of more experimenting, reinventing the wheel. If you are one of those people that stick more to certain genre types as the music of your choice, whatever genre it is, you’re bound to find something great you love. All it takes is some digging, but it’s likely you’re new favorite band is right under your nose.

Sure one of the problems in 2015 is just the sheer amount of good music coming at you from every which way. It’s impossible to keep up with all of the latest, while spending the appropriate amount of time with each album. That’s why year end lists are subjective. There is no argument here, love what you love, it’s your ears.

Our year end list is just that, subjective. We tried to figure out which albums had the most impact on us, the ones that we wanted to keep coming back to, albums that challenged us. We’d love to tell you this is the list of all lists, but in reality there are plenty more albums we dug that we’d love to highlight, or simply albums we didn’t get to spend enough time with while we were obsessing over different albums. No this is just a list, as best we can do, to highlight our favorites of 2015. We hope you will check out the different albums, and discover something you may have missed, perhaps something to add to your own personal list. Of course our favorite thing is to hear from you, what did you love in 2015? What did we miss?

You can stream the full list of albums on our Best Albums 2015 Spotify playlist at the bottom. Here’s how we saw 2015:

Favorite New Discovery:

SUSTO. Photo By Jamie Platus

SUSTO. Photo By Jamie Platus

Early this year, a friend sent me a text saying that I had to check out her friend’s band SUSTO from Charleston, SC. She mentioned that SUSTO would be opening up in the summertime for Ben Bridwell and Iron & Wine at the Tabernacle. SUSTO’s name had began popping through my various feeds several months before, but I had never sat down to check them out. I was intrigued.

SUSTO released their debut self titled album in 2014. In early 2015, they released a live album: Live from the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, this was my intro to SUSTO. My affinity for SUSTO was immediate. Typically I don’t include live albums in the best albums list, choosing to stick to “new music”, but if I did, this album would be top 10 easily. It’s probably one of my listened to albums throughout the year.

SUSTO is currently working on their sophomore album, building on that momentum that has been a heck of a year for the band. With the stamp of approval from Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell, shows across the country and Europe in venues large and small, SUSTO has been hitting it hard, garnering plenty of praise along the way.

Described as cosmic/acid country, SUSTO is able to hit all the best sides of country, folk, Americana, and rock ‘n’ roll, with lyrics that are both accessible while still peeling a layer off the top and diving further in. SUSTO’s songs can get the crowds singing and dancing right along with them. Plus the #acidboys still keep it a little weird. But it’s Justin Osborne’s grit and passion in his voice that stands out, he pushes the listener to feel what he is singing.

I had the pleasure to interview SUSTO before their show at the Tabernacle if you are interested in hearing more about these guys. Luckily being in Atlanta, since discovering SUSTO early this year, I’ve been able to catch these guys live a few times. I’ve watched SUSTO quickly winning over new fans just like when I first heard them. It’s time to jump on this SUSTO bandwagon.

Hometown Love – Atlanta for the Win

What a year for the Atlanta music scene it’s been. We love the city of Atlanta that we call our home, and have always known plenty of talent has come out of here over the years. Bands like Mastodon, Manchester Orchestra, The Black Lips, Deerhunter, and plenty of more have made their mark nationally, and you can’t forget the hip hop scene either. But when compiling our Best Albums list, a recurring theme kept happening, releases from Atlanta bands kept appearing high up and throughout our list.

Looking at our list, Atlanta shows plenty of creativity, pushing the boundaries, and not settling for the norm. It’s a town that pushes each other, there are no rules, there is no true “Atlanta sound”. It’s just make great music. Whether it’s folk, punk, synth rock, or whatever, there is someone in this city creating something amazing.

100 Watt Horse. Photo By Mike Gerry

100 Watt Horse. Photo By Mike Gerry

Our top 5 albums of the year includes 100 Watt Horse‘s debut full length album, an experimental folk masterpiece that once again confirms George Pettis’ chops as a songwriter. 100 Watt Horse first came onto the scene last year with one of the best EPs we’ve heard in a longtime. The 100 Watt Horse EP showed Pettis’ talent to write scenic folk on par with bands like the Fleet Foxes. Not satisfied with the comparisons to these other bands, Pettis set out to experiment and make an album completely unique, choosing to intentionally record the album with lofi white noise. On EAFAFAFATTTA100 Watt Horse released one of our favorite debut albums in years. Read our full review here.

Oryx & Crake‘s long awaited sophomore album, Marriage, comes in at #5, a concept album that explores the inner workings of the daily struggle of marriage. It’s an album that can make you dance, cry, or all of the emotions at the same time. Read our full review here.

Sydney Eloise & the Palms. Photo by Mike Gerry

Sydney Eloise & the Palms. Photo by Mike Gerry

The top 10 is rounded out with two more from Sydney Eloise & the Palms and Algiers (sure they are spread across NYC and London, but Atlanta is still the hometown). Years of working on Faces, their debut album, Sydney Eloise & the Palms seemingly came out of nowhere this summer as their singles started popping up on CMJ, PASTE, NPR, and more bringing an expertly produced album of rock n roll influenced by sounds of the 60’s and 70s, George Harrison, Phil Spector, Fleetwood Mac, and more. Faces is an instant classic.

Algiers at Terminal West. Photo By Mike Gerry

Algiers at Terminal West. Photo By Mike Gerry

Algiers‘ self titled debut may be one of the most important releases of the year combining elements of punk, soul, gospel, and synth rock. It almost doesn’t make since, but if you are up for being challenged, Algiers works together perfectly. Algiers album is protest music, it’s not all warm and fuzzies, it’s real. And while they aren’t necessarily protesting today’s specific events, instead choosing to focus on the larger long running struggle, their music can apply directly to events that have been occurring around the world in 2015.

Scattered throughout the rest of our list are more compelling Atlanta releases that we loved this year. Tedo Stone’s Marshes is one of the best guitar albums of the year. Quiet Hounds released a beautiful album, Shake Don’t Shatter, emotionally fueled by the lead singer being separated from the band on the left coast. Black Linen‘s long awaited self titled debut sounds like nothing else out there, except maybe a Tarantino movie. The list is rounded out by two more Atlanta albums from Book Club and Hare and the Hounds that were both compelling and beautiful in their own right, and were on heavy rotation throughout the year.

In addition to this list, there was plenty more Atlanta music to love in 2015, Coma Girls, Mountain Party, Sea Ghost, plus a multitude of EPs. Interested in more about the talent coming out of Atlanta? Check out our friends at Immersive Atlanta’s list of 14 Local Artists to Watch for in 2016.

Best Country Album:

Chris Stapleton at PARKLIFE. Photo by Mike Gerry

Chris Stapleton at PARKLIFE. Photo by Mike Gerry

Ever since the invent of Nashville pop country, I’d cuss even the mention of country music as a crappy worthless form of music. But here we are the second year in a row with a country album in our top 20 albums of the year. Last year it was Sturgill, this year it’s Chris Stapleton‘s Traveller. Real, good country music is making a comeback, and it’s a reminder of why country music is such a large part of American music history. The former lead singer/guitarist of The SteelDrivers, Chris Stapleton isn’t new to country music, having also written at least 6 number 1 hits for country music’s “finest”. But with the release of his debut solo album, Stapleton started receiving the recognition he deserves nationally, which hit an all time high when Justin Timberlake joined him for the CMAs. Stapleton is able to bridge the gap beautifully between new “Nashville Pop Country” and Outlaw country of the past. This brother has an over abundance of soul stored deep within him.

Best Album to Chill and Get Lost to:

Port St. Willow’Syncope is an other worldly experimental album full of twists and turns. Put your headphones on and let Nicholas Principe’s high falsetto and ambient textures take your body over.

Longest Wait for Debut LP that Lived up to the Hype:

Great Peacock. Photo By Jamie Platus

Great Peacock. Photo By Jamie Platus

Nashville’s Great Peacock first appeared on our radar in early 2013 making waves at the PASTE SXSW showcase and with their debut self titled EP garnering plenty of plays around the world. We waited for 2 long years for the release of their debut LP Making Ghosts which finally came to our ears early in 2015. With a mix of songs from the EP and new tunes, Great Peacock made a quintessential album for a true southerner. Call them Americana, Folk, or Country, see them live and call them rock ‘n’ roll, or just call them one of 2015’s best.

Best Hip Hop Album:

Obviously Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp A ButterflyWe are by no means the experts on hip hop, but the hype behind’s Kendrick’s latest is much deserved, topping many year end lists. There are no rules for Kendrick, he’s constantly molding, experimenting, and in 2015 he brought one of the best hip hop albums in years.

Best Loud Rock Album:

For us, Viet Cong‘s self titled album is one loud and epic 7 song masterpiece. Seeing them live this year at Shaky Knees Festival only served to kick what we were hearing into hyper drive. While we aren’t sure what name they will go by in the future, announcing plans to avoid controversy and change the name Viet Cong, we know this is one band we will continue to follow. If your driving down the highway with a need for speed, Viet Cong will have your foot heavy, getting you from point A to B in a hurry. Watch yourself.

Best Summer Album:

Since first coming onto the scene with The xx, Jamie xx has become one of the hottest producers in the world. In 2015 Jamie xx released his debut solo album In Color, enlisting friends like Romy (of The xx), Young Thug and more. Molding plenty of influences such as tropicalia, funk, R&B and more,  Jamie xx had one of top albums of the year, perfect for any summer in the sun with club bangers, dance hits, and plenty to chill you out. All we know is put on Jamie xx and there’s gonna be good times.

Biggest Sophomore Album Jump:

Alabama Shakes. Photo by Amanda Eckert

Alabama Shakes. Photo by Amanda Eckert

Sure the hype for the Alabama Shakes started way before Sound & Color came out this year. The hype started immediately with their first few singles released a few years ago, garnering national attention through radio play, commercials and more. Anyone with a half working ear could tell that lead singer Brittany Howard is a force. But the questions existed, were they a one trick pony bringing back soulful sounds of the past, or could this possibly be a band that grabs ahold of popular music’s future. With Sound & Color, the Alabama Shakes have taken a huge leap forward as a band creating something that is uniquely their own. The hype is more than deserved and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for The Shakes.

Most Amazing Somber Album:

Sufjan Stevens at Cobb Energy Centre. Photo By Mike Gerry

Sufjan Stevens at Cobb Energy Centre. Photo By Mike Gerry

One of the most powerful things about music is working through the struggles of life, whether creating that music, or as the listener, relating the words and chords to your own real life struggles. On Sufjan Stevens latest, Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan has stripped the music bare, writing one of the most gorgeously sad albums in years. Carrie & Lowell is a memorial to Sufjan’s mom who died in 2012, suffering from both schizophrenia and depression, and was an alcoholic. Carrie left Sufjan when he was only a year old, limiting his contact with her to when he and his siblings visited Carrie and her new husband Lowell in Oregon during summer visits. The memories are real, this album could easily have you break down crying alone. But there are still elements of hope within the music. Carrie & Lowell is one the most amazing albums of 2015.

Best Retro Soul:

Leon Bridges at Variety Playhouse. Photo By Mike Gerry

Leon Bridges at Variety Playhouse. Photo By Mike Gerry

What a year it’s a been for Ft. Worth, TX’s Leon Bridges. After following in love with some of the greatest soul artists of long ago, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and more, Leon decided that’s the music he wanted to make. He brought back a sound to the forefront of popular music that hasn’t been done this well since those times. Sure some people like to argue in their year end lists and such, that we should be looking towards the future in our music, instead of reliving the past. But best albums are best albums, and this one certainly had one of the biggest impacts of the year. It’s not like Leon is the first to try to bring back this sound, he’s just doing it better than everyone else. It’s good old fashioned authentic soul music that has united people in all different walks of life, all while Leon Bridges and his talented big band sells out venue after venue, even as they continue to get bigger and bigger. The future is bright for Leon Bridges and we can’t wait to see what else he has in store. In the meantime Coming Home is one of the year’s best.

Best Lyricist: 

Courtney Barnett. Photo By John McNicholas

Courtney Barnett. Photo By John McNicholas

Father John Misty or Kurt Vile could easily fit here, what with Kurt able to say so much in such a minimal way. Or Father John Misty’s ability to write such amazing love songs that are so heartfelt, yet still keeping his skepticism for love and relationships, all while throwing in plenty of FJM one liners in the middle of song that can crack you up, and challenge to figure out his intent. But on Courtney Barnett‘s proper debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Barnett continues to build on the lyrical style she started with The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. It’s not just the lyrics themselves that make Barnett great, but it’s in her delivery that makes her unique and stands out. Barnett is able to look inward in such an amazing way. Plus she can shred with the best of them. Spending time with Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit and picking through the lyrics of Barnettdiscovering something new with each listen has propelled this album to one of the year’s best.

Best Album For the Hardworking American:

Andrew Bryant

Andrew Bryant

Sure Jason Isbell has been lauded as one of this generation’s best songwriters, and deservedly so. Isbell flies the flag of the hardworking American, and once again he is on point with Something More Than Free. John Moreland is another one that could easily win this category. Moreland’s High On Tulsa Heat is another brilliant album that perfectly represents the midwest. But since releasing his 6th solo album early in 2015, Andrew Bryant‘s This Is The Life has lived at the top of our list of best albums. Bryant is one half of one of our absolute favorite bands from the last few years, Water Liars, so we were initially excited to hear Bryant’s solo material. In This Is The Life, we found an album that could fit right in with other Water Liars records. When hearing Andrew Bryant’s album, you hear one of the best written albums this year, so imagine our surprise to find out that up until this point, it’s been Justin Kinkel-Schuster who’s been Water Liars main songwriter, not Bryant. This just speaks volumes about what a talented band Water Liars is with two incredible songwriters. For 2015, Bryant’s latest solo offering delivered a perfect inward looking album about a man navigating  his way through life. This Is The Life stands out as one of 2015’s absolute best albums, an album that will continue to prove it’s worth over time.

Best Album of 2015:

Tame Impala at Shaky Knees. Photo By Jamie Platus

Tame Impala at Shaky Knees. Photo By Jamie Platus

With Tame Impala‘s Currents and Father John Misty‘s I Love You, Honeybear, both are top to bottom phenomenal albums. There isn’t a song to skip through, they are all great. Since the release of each album in 2015, both were albums we were immediately taken to, both have sat at the top of our chart since each release. In reality, these are simply 1A and 1B, but if we must, we went with FJM’s album as #1. I Love You, Honeybear never gets old, with our ears perking up with every listen.

I Love You, Honeybear is a lovestruck album, in only the way Father John Misty can do it. FJM can be somewhat controversial in the lyrics and things he says and does, some people just don’t get him (though I’d say an overwhelming number of us sure do want to get him). He’s funny, he’s challenging, he’s a skeptic, and while listening to FJM, the listener wants to dive further into to his psyche, why include certain lines and words are the way he phrases them? All marks of a great album. But on the surface, the music is amazing, it’s relatable, and there are some amazing love songs on this album, even from the cynic himself, who may not like the idea of love and marriage, FJM has found himself in the middle. And he is able to perfectly describe working his way through that skepticism to possibly find true love sharing life with that one partner.

On Tame Impala’s Currents, could there be a more perfect break up album? If only all break ups could go down as Kevin Parker would like them too. People change, sometimes it’s for the best, but that doesn’t mean there needs to be a disdain for a soon to be ex partner. The hope is you both move on to something better, finding something more real and longterm. Musically, this album is a lesson in perfectly placed threads and needles throughout. While Parker went slightly away from the psychedelic rock he became known for, choosing to go more synth, sonically it’s still a psych album. A kind of other worldly album that lives in Kevin Parker’s head, and now on our record players. Plus Parker continues to push the boundaries on his vocals, proving he can sing almost anything, and make it great.

Tame Impala and FJM owned our most listened to albums of 2015, thus deserving the recognition as 2015’s best.

Top 60 Best Albums 2015:

60. Modest MouseStrangers To Ourselves

59. Heather Woods BroderickGlider

58. Gardens and VillaMusic For Dogs

57. Avid Dancer1st Bath

56. PalehoundDry Food 

55. Natalie PrassNatalie Prass

54. Lower DensEscape From Evil

53. BraidsDeep In The Iris

52. The Holydrug CoupleMoonlust

51. Grand Lake IslandsSong From Far

50. Will ButlerPolicy

49. Lord HuronStrange Trails

48. Hare and the HoundsA Moth, a Flame

47. Tobias Jesso Jr.Goon

46. Youth LagoonSavage Hills Ballroom

45. Mac DemarcoAnother One

44. De LuxGeneration

43. Jacco GardnerHypnophobia

42. EL VYReturn To The Moon

41. EZTVCalling Out

40. Majical CloudzAre You Alone?

39. Unknown Mortal OrchestraMulti-Love

38. Book ClubOne-Way Moon

37. John MorelandHigh on Tulsa Heat

36. CemeteriesBarrow

35. Panda BearPanda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

34. WilcoStar Wars

33. PONDMan It Feels Like Space Again

32. Matilde DavoliI’m Calling You from My Dreams

31. WIDOWSPEAKAll Yours

30. The DistrictsA Flourish and a Spoil

29. Black LinenBlack Linen

28. Neon IndianVegas Intl. Night School

27. Quiet HoundsShake Don’t Shatter

26. Tedo StoneMarshes

25. Mystic BravesDays of Yesteryear

24. Beach HouseThank Your Lucky Stars

23. My Morning JacketWaterfall

22. Other LivesRituals

21. Jason IsbellSomething More Than Free

20. Beach HouseDepression Cherry

19. Chris StapletonTraveller

18. Houston in the Blind Limbs

17. Port St. WillowSyncope

16. Great PeacockMaking Ghosts

15. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly

14. Viet Cong: Viet Cong

13. Kurt Vileb’lieve i’m going down….

12. Jamie xxIn Colour

11. Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color

10. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell

9. AlgiersAlgiers

8. Sydney Eloise & the PalmsFaces

7. Leon BridgesComing Home

6. Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit 

5. Oryx & CrakeMarriage

4. 100 Watt HorseEverything Is Alright Forever and Forever and Forever and Thank You Thank You Thank You Amen.

3. Andrew BryantThis Is the Life

2. Tame ImpalaCurrents

1. Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear

 Listen to our Best Albums playlist on Spotify:

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Mike Gerry

Head music fiend at OpenEars Music

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