Top Ten Albums of 2015

This year I almost dreaded doing this list because I heard so much great music that I knew I would leave something off. In fact, as I survey the list I can think of a number of other albums I would like to include. But I’m not changing it now.

First, let’s start with my honorable mentions:

A Most Lamentable Tragedy, Titus Andronicus – This is a 90-minute punk rock opera from one of the best and most unique bands in the world. It was about the lead singer’s struggles with manic depression. It was amazing and exhausting to listen to. I will probably never make it all the way through it again.

Uncomfortable, Andy Mineo – One of the best rappers on the Reach Records label released his sophomore album this year. It’s a great collection of songs, especially “Now I Know”, “Uncomfortable”, and “Desperados”.

Beneath the Skin, Of Monsters and Men – The follow up to the unbelievably successful My Head Is An Animal avoided the traps of other bands like Mumford and Sons who tried to follow their debut too quickly. Beneath the Skin is different from the first album in many ways and has some great songs on it. It lacks the repeat listening quality of the debut, but overall it’s further proof that the Icelandic band is one of the best in the world.

Vitals, MuteMath – It took a long, long time for MuteMath to finally release another album. This one sounds like a true follow up to their first album and was definitely worth the wait. MuteMath has been one of my favorite bands for a long time and I hope this album takes them to new heights in popularity.

Fetty Wap, Fetty Wap -Idc idc idc idc this was awesome. It has four great songs and I honestly haven’t listened to the rest of the album because I have no need to.

Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd – I really wish I had an instrumental version of this album because the lyrics are so wildly explicit and completely unrelatable to my life that I can’t listen to it very much, but the production is absolutely incredible.

And now, my ten favorite albums of 2015:

10. Yours Dreamily, The Arcs

When I first heard about this I didn’t know how into it I wanted to get. I love a lot of what Dan Auerbach does, especially with the Black Keys, but I was afraid this “other band” thing might get a little too strange. And Yours, Dreamily is definitely strange, but it’s also pretty incredible. If feels like being in a garage in a hip part of Mexico City in 1960. I have no idea what that would be like or if that kind of place ever existed, but Auerbach is great at giving you a feel for a place and time, even if that place or time is completely made up.

9. Hasta La Raiz, Natalia Lafourcade

This one is most likely a curveball for  you and I promise I’m not choosing this album just to show I’m some sort of extreme hipster. Lafourcade is a very famous Mexican singer and songwriter who won multiple awards at this year’s Latin Grammy’s. I watched a good portion of that show because nothing was on that night and I discovered her. Her album is really amazing, featuring some great songs including the title track, “Mi Lugar Favorito”, and “Vamanos Negrito”.

8. All Your Favorite Bands, Dawes

If Dawes isn’t one your favorite bands then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. A classic American rock band, Dawes has a long list of great albums and this year’s effort fits perfectly in with every other album they’ve made. The title track is an ode to youth and the stupid dreams therein. I really don’t think anyone could hate Dawes, maybe they aren’t your style, but you have to admit they are good at what they do.

7. Delilah, Anderson East

This one of the most delightful surprises of the year. East is from the same hometown as Alabama Shakes, but bears little similarity to them musically. He’s a soul crooner through and through, and with the help of the man with the Midas touch in Nashville, Dave Cobb (not the last time I’ll mention him), East put together an album full of great soul tunes. From the snarling “Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em, and Forget ‘Em” to the quieter yearning of “What A Woman Wants To Hear” this is an album that grabs you from the start and doesn’t quit.

6. Let The Good Times Roll, J.D. McPherson

I love J.D. McPherson and his band. They play 50s and 60s style rock and roll and rockabilly music with a modern twist and they do it better than anyone. The energy McPherson brings to each song and each show is so exciting and creative that he infuses new life into an old style of music. Even naming a song “Let The Good Times Roll” seems like a derivative title, but McPherson doesn’t use the words or music of the older songs with the same name. Instead it’s a fresh take on an old idea. McPherson and his band are a site to behold live, check them out if there’s ever a show near you.

5. The Verdigris, Beau Jennings

This is one of the most unique and ambitious albums I heard this year. The Oklahoma singer-songwriter set out to write an album and make a documentary about the life of fellow Oklahoman Will Rogers. Rogers is one of the greatest Americans and had an unbelievable impact on the country and the world. But what Jennings does brilliantly in this album is relate the life of Rogers to himself and, by extension, the listener. Switching narrators in each song fully frames the story of Rogers, “Wheat King of Oolagah” tells Will’s story from the perspective of his father, “First Line of a Dream” is from Beau’s own dreams, and “Me & Wiley” is from Will’s thoughts as he and Wiley Post flew on their fatal plane voyage in Alaska. That song is the most emotional and beautiful song of the year, made all the more powerful with the perspective gained by the previous tracks coming together in the penultimate song on the album. This is an album that you must listen to from beginning to end and it gets better with each listen. The documentary is also worth checking out if you get a chance to see it.

4. Traveller, Chris Stapleton

It’s been the year of Chris Stapleton in country music. Shockingly enough, this album has earned some major accolades from the mainstream country world and the alt-country/americana world. Very few artists have that kind of crossover appeal in these increasingly divisive genres. Stapleton has the cred in the mainstream world because of his years of songwriting for major artists, but he earns the outsider credit from his awesome voice and his work with Dave Cobb. Without a doubt, this is the best pure country album of the year.

3. Something More Than Free, Jason Isbell

Isbell may be the best living and active songwriter in the world. After years with the Drive By Truckers writing songs in the throes of addiction and destruction, and after his brilliant 2013 solo album Southeastern which often portrayed a man wrestling with nascent sobriety and finally, breathlessly, seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, Something More Than Free is Isbell’s first truly hope-filled album. It reflects where he has gotten in life, with a wife and a newborn and a few years of clean living under his belt. Isbell’s cutting lyricism lives on and his picture perfect descriptions of life make each of his stories relatable. Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the great Dave Cobb produced this album as well. I should just make Dave Cobb number 1 on this list.

2. Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes

Earlier I mentioned that Of Monsters and Men didn’t fall into the trap of releasing a follow up album too close to their brilliant debut. Alabama Shakes had the same strategy, except they blew their debut out of the water. Instead of honing in on the Roots Rock that shot them to fame, Brittany Howard and co. took their sound in a totally new, otherworldy direction. Their debut sounded very much like a rock album made by kids from Alabama, this album sounds like a perfectly crafted, full piece of fantastic rock and roll. I’ve made the mistake in the past of comparing Brittany Howard to Janis Joplin or Aretha Franklin. The reason that’s a mistake is that Howard is incomparable. There’s only one Brittany Howard.

1. Coming Home, Leon Bridges

I’ve talked about this album all year so if you know me well you’ve probably heard me talk about it. Leon’s story is great, and I won’t recount it all here. A very, very short summary is this: About a year and a half ago he was busing tables, and a few weeks ago he played Saturday Night Live. Obviously, a lot happened in that year and a half. He’s gotten a lot of attention for his throwback style of R&B and Soul, but I think some people overlook the completeness of his debut album. Every song is great. He wrote them all with his band and you can feel the authenticity in the lyrics. Even though the sound is old school, his music is from his heart. Songs about his mother (“Lisa Sawyer”) and grandparents (“Twistin’ and Groovin'”) fit in with classic love songs like “Coming Home” and “Smooth Sailin'”. But it’s his gospel songs that may be his most powerful. The songs “River” and “Shine” could be sung in any church in America. Despite being on a major label and playing to secular audiences, including the SNL nationwide audience, Leon stayed true to himself and his beliefs. Those two songs aren’t just “gospel” in their sound, they are the Gospel of Christ in their lyrics. How many people get to sing these lyrics on SNL?

Been traveling these wide roads for so long
My heart’s been far from you
Ten-thousand miles gone
Oh, I wanna come near and give you
Every part of me
But there’s blood on my hands
And my lips are unclean
In my darkness I remember
Momma’s words reoccur to me
“Surrender to the good Lord
And he’ll wipe your slate clean”
Take me to your river
I wanna go
Oh, go on
Take me to your river
I wanna know
Leon quoted the book of Isaiah on Saturday Night Live (and in a Beats by Dre commercial) and he did it so beautifully that you couldn’t not love it! I’m so excited to see where his career takes him and I’ll be cheering him on the whole way.*
*Full disclosure, I first tried to interview Leon in May and have exchanged over 45 emails with his representation trying to get one scheduled. Doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, which stinks for me. But it’s good for his career because that means he’s so busy with bigger and better things that he doesn’t have time for me. Just wish I had been able to get that done before he blew up. Oh well.
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