This is obviously not meant to be a definitive or exhaustive list of the albums that bowed in 2015, but rather just a highlight of some of the great music that came to our ears. I mean, 2015 also saw some pretty terrific and noteworthy albums from the likes of New Order, Twin Shadow, Florence + The Machine, Third Eye Blind, Blur, Wilco, Belle and Sebastian, Ryan Adams, Tame Impala, and Neon Indian. So, the five albums below just scratch the surface—but these are five of the very best of 2015.
Beach Slang, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us
By the time you reach the “doo-doo-doo” refrain at the end of “Bad Art and Weido Ideas”—the second track and first single from Beach Slang’s debut The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us—you know you’re listening to something special. The band’s rough-hewn-yet-polished punk sound and thematic lyrics recall The Replacements, but also a generation’s worth of other great bands, though perhaps not as explicitly. Beach Slang offers a fresh sound, and the album’s energetic rush is at odds with the dark, nostalgic lyrics. Yet above all, it’s completely sincere and thrilling. Standouts: “Hard Luck Kinds,” “Bad Art and Weirdo Ideas”
Butch Walker, Afraid of Ghosts
On his seventh solo album, rock n’ roll troubadour Butch Walker gets mellow and introspective with Ryan Adams behind the boards. Afraid of Ghosts is Walker’s most intimate work yet, musically and lyrically; there are no big hooks or Def Leppard-sized choruses, and this mode suits Walker just fine. What’s emphasized here is Walker’s influence from Dylan, Springsteen, and Adams himself. The crisp, warm production suits this batch of Walker’s songs, which is one of his strongest in an already great catalogue. Standouts: “Chrissie Hynde,” “Father’s Day”
Destroyer, Poison Season
Dan Bejar has had an eclectic and prolific career, co-headlining the New Pornographers in addition to his day job with Destroyer. Poison Season is the first full-length since 2011’s great Kaputt, but augments that album’s smooth soft-rock sound with more Bowie-inflected chamber pop. It’s a varied and adventurous album, from the laid-back “Times Square” to the army of saxophones of “Dream Lover” to the funky, blaxploitation-inflected “Midnight Meet the Rain.” It’s the most well-rounded Destroyer record yet. Standouts: “Dream Lover,” “Midnight Meet the Rain”
Line and Circle, Split Figure
Line and Circle’s debut, Split Figure, is at once instantly familiar and excitingly new. Like their contemporaries Real Estate, Line and Circle draw deep on the kind of jangle pop that were hallmarks of college rock in the 1980s and early-1990s. Yes, the band draws heavily from the sounds of early 1980s R.E.M. and Toad the Wet Sprocket (in the best way), but they make those sounds their own. Split Figure is enigmatic, heartfelt, and natural—unburdened by trying to sound contemporary. Standouts: “Like a Statute,” “Mine is Mine”
CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye
CHVRCHES 2013 debut—The Bones of What You Believe—showed a band with great promise, setting high drama against lush, driving indie synthpop. Their follow-up, Every Open Eye rounds the rougher edges, with its sights set on the pop charts with anthems like “Leave a Trace,” the Depeche Mode-referencing “Clearest Blue,” or the slinking funk “High Enough to Carry You Over.” This new album ups the ante by making the music itself more dramatic and cinematic, pushing the band’s sound and scope further. Where The Bones of What You Believe sounds like the band playing in basement clubs, Every Open Eye is CHVRCHES filling stadiums. Standouts: “Leave a Trace,” “Empty Threat”
Bonus! Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Collected Recordings 1983-1989
Here’s a bonus, too: 2015 also saw the release of a Lloyd Cole and the Commotions box set, Collected Recordings 1983-1989, which contains 1984’s Rattlesnakes, 1985’s Easy Pieces, and 1987’s Mainstream, plus two discs’ worth of demos, rarities, and b-sides. While Rattlesnakes is the undisputed masterpiece, the impeccable remastering makes a case for Easy Pieces and Mainstream being fairly great overlooked albums in their own right. Easy Pieces and Mainstream have long been out of print, so I’m very glad these albums are now easily found once again.