2015 had a lot of great releases, from some of best artists in the industry and some newcomers, we’re going to take a look back and see which ones rose to the top and why.
Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats, self-titled – Hands down the best album of the year. Period. Soul, blues, gospel, R&B, Garage Rock, hand claps, foot stomps – it’s all wrapped up in this epic breakthrough album for Rateliff. The fact that legendary Rhythm and Blues label Stax Records in Memphis released it, should tell you all you need to know.
Wilco, Star Wars – Jeff Tweedy brings Wilco back more energized than the band has been in several albums. Sounding as fresh and visceral and melodic as they did on their mid-90’s classic “Being There.” Songs like “Random Name Generator” and “The Joke Explained” carry the same air of whimsy, desperation, sarcasm, and melody that made Wilco the band we love.
D’Angelo and The Vanguard, Black Messiah – It only took fifteen years for D’Angelo to follow-up the modern soul classic Voodoo with Black Messiah, and yes, it was worth the wait. This collection of gritty, baby-making music comes from a place so deep, that James Cameron hasn’t even managed to build a submarine that goes down that far. But this album has a conscience, as well; touching on social issues such as inner-city violence and systemic injustice, it came out just as the flames of Black Lives Matter were finally beginning to get noticed. This album carved his face on Mount Rushmore of composers alongside Prince and Niles Rodgers.
Ryan Adams, 1989 – We all know what we thought when we heard Ryan Adams was going to be covering Taylor Swift’s entire 1989 album…he’s going to expose this silly fraud for what she is. And nope, we were wrong – he proved that beneath all of her social media veneer and pop-princess lacquer – there are beautiful and engaging lyrics filled with heartbreak and whimsy hidden under all of those synthesizers, auto-tune, and drum machines.
Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free – On Something More Than Free Jason Isbell finally finds the right balance between spinning yarns, and telling a universal truth. Kicking around for a decade and a half now, Isbell blew up a few years ago with his last album – the deeply personal Southeastern – on Something More Than Free he steps out of himself a bit to allow bleeding wounds to heal, and focuses on a larger picture of southern life.
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly – It’s hard to imagine this album isn’t at the top of everyone’s list (and from what I can tell it mostly is), and with good reason. Besides the fact that Kendrick Lamar is without a doubt the most profound lyricist of his generation – this album flourishes into jazz, funk, and even classic hip-hop, making this more of a mission statement than just another chart topping album.
Father John Misty, I Love You, Honey Bear – I’m not sure there was a better song written in 2015 than “Bored in the U.S.A.” – but the rest of the album flushes out to be an astute, sarcastic, apathetic and sometimes hilarious commentary on life and love in the new millennium.
The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness – If you wrote The Weeknd off as a vapid, Canadian pseudo-R&B star after his last album failed to capture the artist’s bizarre charisma. But when he came back this past year with the dark, infectious Beauty Behind the Madness he solidified his reputation as a writer and composer up there with Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson.
Dr. Dre, Compton – Dre comes back with a boom, releasing the self-referential album Compton. Inspired by the experience of producing his own bio-pic “Straight Outta Compton,” the nostalgia of looking back made for a collection of songs that offer an excellent portrait of his beloved hometown and struggle to get out. Regardless, it’s always hard not to smile when Eminem and Kendrick Lamar show up to spit fire with Dr. Dre.