Music Features

Top Albums of 2015

Well, it all comes down to this: our official list of the top albums of 2015. As voted by the entire staff of No Ripcord, we reveal the fifty albums that we most enjoyed over the past year.

. . .

50. Lana Del Rey
(UMG Recordings)

From lollipop-sucking lolita to film noir vixen, Lana Del Rey’s musical personas only intensify with time. Fortunately with each record, her antics have not yet overstayed their welcome. On Honeymoon, Del Rey remains obsessed with drugs, violent men, the miseries of fame, and the relationship between life and art. Yet her penchant for sensory extravagance in her lyrics defines the album’s brilliance: “Pink flamingos always fascinated me,” she quips on Music To Watch Boys To, before crooning “Now it’s time to eat soft ice cream’’ on Salvatore. Admittedly, Del Rey’s artistic idiosyncrasies no doubt result in experiments that many would consider ridiculous, but her eccentricities manage to be strategic without sounding calculated. Her languid soprano is its own spectacle, gliding over T.S. Eliot poems and lush odes to foreign lovers, exuding an odd beauty that makes Honeymoon one of the most interesting pop records in a while. Luiza Lodder


49. Neon Indian
Vega Intl. Night School
(Mom + Pop Music)

It has been a strange last four years for Neon Indian. Somewhere in between losing an entire album’s worth of material on a drunken night, delivering a TED talk about retro pastiche, and contributing a track to Grand Theft Auto V, Alan Palomo found time to reinvent his hazy aesthetic. Perhaps we are better off without listening to his aforementioned “lost” album — after all, time can allow a musician to distance themselves from their ingrained influences. And let’s face it: VEGA INTL. Night School is brimming with such manic creativity and cartoonish funk that it is hard to regret the way things turned out anyway. Ridding himself of the digital reverb and bit-crushed saturation of his previous album Era Extrana, Palomo crafts a fantastical plethora of arcade whizzes and reggae guitar stabs on standouts like Annie and Smut! Spectacular album aside, let’s hope we don’t have to wait another four years the next Neon Indian release. Joseph Moore


48. Jme
(Boy Better Know)

Grime is a genre more oriented around singles and live shows than albums; it’s about immediate, situational energy more than carving a narrative. As such, Integrity is probably the best grime album after Boy In Da Corner. You get a very direct sense of what JME is about – his work ethic, his independent spirit, his clear superiority in a field of fake wannabe rappers. He can come across as a little cloying about his unstereotypicality – he’s a vegan, he doesn’t smoke weed, he’s really into Pokemon – but his at times slightly awkward posturing is just what makes him so endearing, relatable. It’s been a great year for grime; there’s been something of a reappreciation of the genre, boosted by great singles from the likes of Stormzy, Novelist x Mumdance, and of course JME’s brother Skepta – and the hype’s only going to grow in 2016. Stephen Wragg


47. Mount Eerie 
(P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.)

It’s tempting to hear Sauna as the conclusion of a quadrilogy of Mount Eerie records themed around the four elements: After Wind’s Poem (air), Clear Moon (earth), and Ocean Roar (water), Sauna’s first sound is breath stoking a quiet fire – but the concept of a sauna involves all four elements. Elverum’s songwriting has gradually delved deeper into phenomenology – into the essence of the emotions brought on by encounters with the natural world (in its most all-encompassing sense). There’s no “hidden meaning” behind a song like Pumpkin – it’s a song about Elverum seeing a smashed pumpkin at the bottom of a cliff, going to a bookshop, going back and seeing the same pumpkin. Emptiness is about Elverum thinking about emptiness, then throwing a sheet of glass into a river. He wants to create the feeling of something irreducible to a song, and at times gets very close to succeeding. Stephen Wragg


46. Majical Cloudz
Are You Alone?

 There’s a very good reason why the “love song” has always – and will always – reign supreme in the world of music – it’s all we really want in the end. But perhaps the reason why many love songs pass us by so unassumingly is because we never really know if the artist is really feeling what they’re saying. For Devon Welsh, this notion is unacceptable, and perhaps what makes Are You Alone? such a potent tribute to love and togetherness is the honest emotion dripping out of every pore. Welsh and fellow soundsmith Matthew Otto have proven they’re more than effective at this with 2013’s Impersonator, a sparse, aching meditation where Welsh crooned his bleeding heart over Otto’s intimate productions, but with Welsh sharpening on focus to the all-too relatable realm of loving and feeling loved, the duo’s sound becomes even more beautiful and relatable than ever before. Peter Quinton


45. Blur
The Magic Whip

Now that the hoopla of the album's release has died down, we can weigh its true worth. To my ears, it vanishes the bad memories left by the undercooked Think Tank. Graham Coxon may not be a flashy guitarist, but his cerebral lines add dimension to tracks like Go Out and Pyongyang. Most of the album was recorded during an aborted recording session in Hong Kong, yet Ghost Ship and Thought I Was A Space Man have retained some local colour, which is fused with a stranger-in-a-strange-land vibe. This ties in with the themes of loneliness and alienation that pop everywhere, the lyrics at loose emotional ends. All in all, a worthy addition to the group's catalogue. Angel Aguilar


44. Wilco 
Star Wars

​The sound is nothing like it, nothing comparable at all, but I haven't been this excited about a Wilco record since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which is etched in my mind since a youth long gone. I don't know if Star Wars will have that kind of longevity, but the Velvet Underground vibe that comes with the surprise release is ​instant summer nostalgia. Jeff Tweedy channels Lou Reed throughout the record without being derivative (except on the pointedly on-the-nose You Satellite, but it's a good track, and I'll forgive it), and I'll admit this might be reason enough for me to like it. Others may dismiss the album for the same reason. I for one welcome ambitious homages -- intentional or otherwise -- from my favorite artists. Gabbie Nirenburg


43. Wolf Alice
My Love is Cool
(Dirty Hit)

Wolf Alice is cool. Everything about the four-piece makes them likable, from their name to their ability to kick it up several notches any moment. But what may be the most noticeable on their debut is how effortlessly they switch up their style from one track to the next. Going from the serene Turn to Dust to the highway rock of Bros to the heavy reverb-laden riffs of Your Loves Whore shouldn't work at all. But Wolf Alice expresses such grace and confidence that you're willing to follow them down any musical paths they're willing to take. If you do, you'll be rewarded with songs like the face-melting, anthem-ready Moaning Lisa Smile. And that's just the first four songs. It doesn't let up from there. Say hello to this year's best new band. Joe Marvilli


42.Chelsea Wolfe
(Sargent House)

There’s an unsettling fuzz tone at the beginning of Carrion Flowers, the first song from Chelsea Wolfe’s Abyss, and it perfectly introduces the album while not completely giving anything away. Yes, the album is dark and those who are familiar with Wolfe’s past work should expect nothing less. But, the macabre songstress ably combines elements of Jarboe-era Swans, sludge metal and gothic folk without pandering to cliché, creating sonic and enveloping shadows that exude remarkable beauty: the eerie waves of song that flutter beneath the high-volume charge of Dragged Out, the ghostly string melodies the wind through Grey Days, and the cold isolation and abrupt piano strokes of appropriately titled The Abyss. With Abyss, Wolfe has delivered what I consider to be her most realized work, which cements her place as a distinct voice, one with a unique and captivating passion. Sean Caldwell


41. Mountain Goats
Beat the Champ

Beat The Champ is a loving ode to those that brutalize their bodies for the entertainment of countless fans, the earnestness of which is hard to shake. It would have been easy for this to be a gimmick record drenched in ever-winking irony, but frontman and lyricist extraordinaire John Darnielle imbues this concept with a sincerity and depth that is rarely ever achieved on some artists’ finest efforts. Best of all, the concepts that Darnielle touches on are not exclusive to wrestling aficionados, but rather universal — which in a sense ‘unmasks’ his subjects and reveals them to be no different than anyone else existing in this outrageously complicated world of ours. Andrew Ciraulo


40. Beach Slang
The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us

It’s easy to look at Beach Slang’s approach to bleeding heart, wildly optimistic punk rock and tag it as juvenile, but I highly doubt this is something front man and punk lifer Sam Westin would take offense to. Packing in raucous chords, blazing feedback, and shout-along choruses in about 20 minutes, The Things We Do doesn’t have time to dwindle on the bullshit of reality because it’s too busy pumping the heart through a roaring amplifier in a way only rock and roll can do. And when each second is packed with this much catchy splendor and fiery immediacy, tracks like Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas, I Break Guitars, and Filthy Lights are sure to fulfill the album title’s blunt romanticism and bring together all the misfits and misunderstood kids who have no choice but to treat music as their safe haven. Peter Quinton


39. Kurt Vile
b'lieve i'm goin down

Another year, another excellent Kurt Vile record. When it comes to end of year lists, Vile has already become a victim of his own consistency, doomed to turn up in the lower reaches of the chart for the rest of time. While it's impossible to dismiss anything he conjures up, it's also hard to get too excited about it because of the familiarity factor and the generally even standard of songwriting. b'lieve i'm goin down demonstrates some subtle musical progressions, but it these are only revealed on repeated deep listens. Deep, attentive listening - and, I would argue, a higher placing - is exactly what an artist of Kurt Vile's calibre deserves. David Coleman


38. Beach House
Thank Your Lucky Stars
(Sub Pop)

Beach House probably did themselves no favours with their album release strategy this year. Following their much anticipated fifth album by just a couple of months, album number six’s sudden arrival probably baffled a fair portion of the band’s fanbase. Considering Beach House’s commitment to finely tuning their signature shoegaze-y dream-pop sound, it’s fair to question the band’s insistence that these nine tracks wouldn’t fit on the previous album. However, on the same note, given that the band obsessively pursue the capturing of a single time, place and mood, it’s also clear to spot the nuances that divide the two records. Where Depression Cherry was the optimistic warm haze of a summer afternoon, Thank Your Lucky Stars was the cooler (but no less beautiful) sharpness of an autumnal evening. Mark Davison


37. Jamie Woon
Making Time
(Polydor Ltd.)

After his debut album, Mirrorwriting, didn’t quite live up to the hype, Jamie Woon seemed to largely disappear from public view. His return was very much a slow burner, but that suits the pace of Making Time perfectly. He’s grown into his sound, and his own brand of neo-soul now comes across as well-judged and assured. Crucially, he’s managed to stud the album with great tracks throughout its length this time. Sharpness is as stylish as Lewis Taylor or D’Angelo, and the swinging Celebration is greatly ameliorated by the weary croak of Willy Mason. Making Time closes with Dedication, an outstanding song which slowly builds around you until you’re fully enveloped in its warm sounds, singing along with its hypnotic refrain like a religious incantation. The album no one was clamouring for delivers beyond our wildest expectations. Joe Rivers


36. Petite Noir
La Vie Est Belle

For once, it’s heartening to witness a talented songwriter of African descent with a unique sound that doesn’t fit some generic, blanket term like “world music”. Yannick Ilunga, better known for his moniker Petite Noir, writes seductive, dazedly expressive pop songs that don’t fit into any particular shape. La Vie Est Belle does share one correlation with his half-Congolese, half-Angolan ancestry in that it brightly pulses with distinct rhythmic polyrhythms, but the similarities pretty much end there - these are also sonically adventurous songs that jig forward with a broad physicality that’s wholly inimitable. Ilunga’s deep, alluring baritone introduces audiences to a robust, yet inviting performer that expertly contrasts sustained metered patterns with striking synth accents into one all-embracing rapture of melody. His presence truly feels like the beginning of something new in our current pop landscape, reminding us that true individuality starts from within and not from without. Juan Edgardo Rodríguez


35. Mbongwana Star 
From Kinshana
(World Circuit)

Rare is the non-English language album that makes a splash in the world of “indie” and “alternative” music fans and publications that the mere fact that Mbongwana Star’s From Kinshasa is on this list is something of a miracle. Much-acclaimed but under heard, one can hope it opens up the ears of American and British listeners to new sounds not just from Congo, where the band hails, but to the rest of the world. African music is filtered to these nations through influence, from songwriters like Paul Simon or David Byrne to acts like Vampire Weekend and tUnE-yArDs, and the nonstop energy and unparalleled rhythms on From Kinshasa are reminders that while those acts know what they are doing, there is something just as significant happening on the home shores. Mbongwana Star has asked the alternative/indie world to take notice, and we can only hope that more will listen. Forrest Cardamenis


34. Prurient
Frozen Niagara Falls
(Profound Lore)

It’s not impossible for an artist to make their masterpiece well over a decade into their career, but it’s also not very easy, and if you’ve been making the kind of challenging, inaccessible music that noise lynchpin Domenic Fernow specializes in, make that double. However, doubling up is just what Fernow did in making his finest, largest, and most beautiful record to date as Prurient. Frozen Niagara Falls might be somewhat accessible by Fernow’s standards, but the 90-minute symphony of blackened romance is undoubtedly an endurance test, an endless cavern of shrieking feedback, throat-shredded vocals, and eerie synths. Many likely won’t get past the droning feedback whine that opens the colossal Myth of Building Bridges, but those who follow through and surrender themselves to the pounding heartache of Dragonflies To Sew You Up, the splattered synth blood of Every Relationship Earthrise, or the mournful atmosphere of Greenpoint will find one of the most emotionally harrowing albums of 2015. Peter Quinton


33. Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Allegedly born out of the experiences of a polyamorous relationship between lead singer Ruban Nielson, his wife and a girl whom he met in Tokyo in 2013, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s third studio album release, Multi-Love, is an exploration of the emotional highs and lows of modern relationships. As a result, the record is both complicated and beautiful in equal measure. Yet with a slightly crisper, more pop-influenced sound than on the band’s first two albums, it is – in spite of its complex subject matter - arguably more accessible than their previous efforts. And it’s also, frequently, downright fun. Craig Stevens


32. John Grant
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
(Bella Union)

Upon hearing John Grant’s third solo record open with a recital from 1 Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient, love is kind…”), you’d be forgiven for thinking the success and acclaim from Pale Green Ghosts had gone to his head. Luckily for us, that verse segues into a stellar title track, where Grant’s irrepressible rich baritone has never sounded better. After Pale Green Ghosts’ foray into electronica confused some fans who had fallen in love with Queen Of Denmark’s lush Americana, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure affords Grant the opportunity to spread his wings even further. Snug Slacks sounds like Bowie’s Young Americans bent through a nightmarish prism, Voodoo Doll has a chorus of spasmodic, urgent funk and Disappointing uses the vocals of Tracey Thorn to devastating effect. By the time the same Bible verse is being quoted to close the record, you’ll forgive John Grant anything. Joe Rivers


31. Titus Andronicus
The Most Lamentable Tragedy

Something of a disappointment greeted Titus Andronicus when they followed up the beloved 7+ minute punk scream-along anthems of The Monitor with the much more subdued pop-punk tunes of Local Business. Three years and a double-album later, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is cause to revise history. Titus Andronicus has not been the punk band early fans wanted for most of the band’s life now, and although the latest effort can encourage the moshers with songs like Dimed Out, it’s the sentiment of tunes like I Lost My Mind and a cover of the Pogues’ Come On Siobhan and Pair of Brown Eyes that the band really lives for. Going pop without a singer who can sing is a bold move, but The Most Lamentable Tragedy ultimately works for the same reason as The Monitor: Because singer Patrick Stickles believes it. Forrest Cardamenis


30. Shamir
(XL Recordings)

​The debut release from the beautifully mature, honey-voiced genderfuck phenom Shamir is a fluid mix of genres on a smooth electronic base. The Las Vegas native doesn't identify as male or female, so it doesn't bother me too much that when I first heard him sing, I thought his tenor/alto belonged to a woman influenced by the jazz greats. Ratchet boasts some truly unique dance tracks that blend jazz, R&B, and hip hop influences seamlessly. He weaves these in through slower, crooning numbers with surprisingly emotional messages: "You know doesn't get darker unless you expect it to/it just gets harder to contain the truth." Platitudes? Maybe. But he's not wrong, and sung so beautifully, the record echoes these sentiments over and over: keep pushing, do the work, make a scene, follow the dream. Gabbie Nirenburg


29. Florence & the Machine
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Ceremonials was unfocused and overwrought. It seemed Florence Welch had been confused by the mirage of pop stardom, but this time around the decks are cleared. The thundering Ship To Wreck intimates that the road of excess leads only to pain, wisdom to be found somewhere else. The unobstructive production allows the performances to shine through, setting the proper aural stage for the bereavement of Mother and the soul-cleansing of St. Jude. Still, Welch thrives on drama, and her powerful voice gets a workout on tracks like What Kind Of Man and Delilah, realizing in the latter that: "These chains never leave me, I keep dragging them around." This struggle against the world's torrent is precisely what keeps the songs alive. Angel Aguilar


28. Holly Herndon

Although Glitch and IDM are typically disassociated from the human voice, Herndon unequivocally embraces it in her experimental electronic Platform. Jittery laptop-produced textures are synthesized with pitch-shifted a cappella, recurring field recordings of running water, and alliterative spoken word clusters. Even on Lonely at the Top, the album's most scripted, subdued phase, Herndon translates the anxieties and absurdities of futurism - now modernism - with a wry humor through language both familiar and alien. In humanity's clash with digital technology, Herndon's musical sci-fi craft persistently reaches for "new ways to love," as boldly printed across the panels of the physical artwork. While a handful of the tracks' icy beats and fractured harmonies conjure Vespertine-era Björk associations, Herndon's obsession with evolution make her music impossible to pin down and contain, as it seeks not only a new platform for her voice but voice in itself. Grant Phipps


27. Speedy Ortiz
Foil Deer
(Carpark Records)

Indie rock is getting increasingly out of vogue, but a few bands keep the flame alive – Speedy Ortiz sound like they wish they were the contemporaries of Polvo, Pavement, and The Breeders (because let’s admit that indie rock peaked somewhere in the mid-90s). 2013’s Major Arcana was an interesting if patchy record, and Foil Deer is more adventurous than its predecessor, imbued with the same wry, snarky attitude and even more prepared to go for the jugular. Their songs are full of weird chord progressions with moments of freewheeling glee (see especially: Ginger), power-poppy bounce (Swell Content) and even a pseudo-disco curveball (Puffer). Sadie Dupuis’ literate, finely-detailed lyrics are the record’s strongest idiosyncracy – somehow she always sounds forceful through the layers of abstrusion. Stephen Wragg


26. Hop Along 
Painted Shut
(Saddle Creek)

One of the most promising bands to come out of Philadelphia’s continuing indie rock Renaissance, Hop Along can be seen as a lower-profile counterpart to Speedy Ortiz. Both boast mercurial female lead singers crafting whip-smart lyrics around knotty, restless musical arrangements, and both are deeply connected to the classic indie touchstones. But where Speedy Ortiz’s chief influences can be traced back to the likes of Pavement and Sebadoh, Hop Along harken back to the recklessness and punch of The Replacements above all, right down to Frances Quinlan’s Westerbergian throat-shredding howl. It’s a truly unforgettable voice, one that’s used here to express the poignant insecurities and failures of Quinlan and her characters, who constantly seem to fear the foreboding outside world and respond by retreating into themselves. It’s a wonder that her self-deprecation doesn’t seem like false modesty when it’s soundtracked by some of the year’s best rock and roll. Brad Hanford 


25. Deafheaven
New Bermuda

While the stitches between the molten aggression and transcendent chime of their 2013 debut Sunbather were conspicuous and jarring, Deafheaven find a way on New Bermuda to seamlessly refine their genre-bending aesthetic through five awe-inspiring crescendoes. Each suite is a harrowing expedition into the despair of suburban life, the inevitability of death, and loss. If this descent into darkness might have been too angst-ridden and self-pitying for a lesser band, Deafheaven manage to pull it off with aplomb. The quieter, contemplative moments on tracks like Come Back bring to mind the celestial guitar arpeggios of Siamese Dream, while the frost-bitten interplay on closer Gifts For The Earth sounds like a benzedrine-influenced collaboration between Alcest and Slint. But above all, New Bermuda evokes the modern human condition with such ferocity and unbridled truth that it’s hard to imagine how Deafheaven plans to follow up such a powerful sophomore effort. Joseph Moore


24. Dr. Dre
(Aftermath / Interscope)

Dr Dre, the unmatched talent scout. Compton, released alongside Straight Outta Compton, drew together each great rapper he’s worked with: Ice Cube, Snoop, Eminem, Kendrick, and, this record’s revelation, Anderson. Paak. He even brought in the genius DJ Premier to outshine him on the fantastic Animals. The pigheaded sexism was still present, but so were those chilled out funk beats that got us grooving to The Chronic. Billed as a soundtrack to the city, Compton was a distillation of everything that made LA rap so irresistible and so ignorant. It was Andre Young’s view of the city, obsessed with how cool the word murder sounds, utterly commercial, but full of enough talent to keep hitting the play button. James McKenna


23. Tobias Jesso, Jr.
(True Panther)

Crisp chords, hyper-saccharine melodies, and all the pathos of 70s ballad--on the surface, this sounds like a formula for James Blunt-style schlock. But Tobias Jesso Jr. embraces these elements and emerges with Goon: a heartfelt, compelling, and neatly composed collection of post-breakup anthems and tender serenades. Somehow, Jesso manages to prove that cheesiness is not necessarily an enemy of quality (Adele seems to have known this for a while, and given her tweet about his music, must have recognized this alchemic talent in him). It is as though Jesso pinpointed the perfect time, place, and technique for indulging in sentiment. Jesso puts his vulnerabilities on display on Goon, achingly howling, “How could you baby?” and asking of his lover, “Why can’t you just love me?’’ He makes no attempt at removing glitches and vocal imperfections, contributing to the raw and unpretentious feel of the album. At his best, Jesso evokes the dignified emoting of the best Beatles ballads and the offhand piano-pounding charm of Billy Joel without ever pandering to his listeners. Truly, Goon is entirely his. “Think I’m gonna try in Hollywood,” he sighs halfway through the record. With an album like this, he’s got a one-way ticket. Luiza Lodder


22. Laura Marling
Short Movie
(Virgin EMI)

When you record an album as beloved as Once I Was An Eagle, it looms like a mountain over whatever you do next. For a follow-up, you can either try to replicate that previous record's success or you can do something new. Laura Marling, not one for sequels, went for the latter, crafting an expressive addition to her body of work with Short Movie. To do so, she stepped outside the traditional musical language of folk music, bringing in electric guitars for the first time. It doesn't seem like a huge step, but for the reinvigorated Marling, she had a new set of songwriting tools. The results are songs like the electrifying False Hope, about Hurricane Sandy's impact on New York, the door slam of Don't Let Me Bring You Down and the dusty Howl. Five albums in, and she's as brilliant as ever. Joe Marvilli


21. Deerhunter
Fading Fronteir

What’s left to say after a 15-year career and 6 full-length releases? Frontman Bradford Cox found plenty more, and a new perspective on life, after being struck by a car that severely injured him late last year. Cox, who suffers from Marfan syndrome, favors a stream-of-consciousness lyrical style that ruminates, anxiously and plaintively, on themes of aging, spirituality, and mortality. Fading Frontier is thematically consistent, but Cox’s stance has changed and evolved into something slightly optimistic. “I believe we’ll find that elusive peace now”, he opines on Leather and Wood, later admitting “I can’t believe there’s no hope.” That zen outlook proves accomplice to some swagger (call it Coxiness) as the funk-tinged guitar line of Snakeskin comes out swinging just one track later. The accident, however horrible, has its revitalized victim making some of the best music of his career. “I’m still alive,” Cox asserts, and that’s something. Benjamin Jones


20. Jenny Hval
Apocalypse, Girl
(Sacred Bones)

Within the first minute or so of Apocalypse, Girl, Jenny Hval poses the question, “What is soft dick rock?” A sloganeering question to be sure, (it appears on a t-shirt), Hval’s light, angelic and characteristically provocative third album plays as if reading through a poet’s journal, thematic elements seeping into accompanying tracks with vocal melodies peppered throughout its mostly spoken make-up. With a very transparent and personal stream of consciousness and barely a chorus to provide anchor, Apocalypse, Girl is replete with insecurity, sexuality, and the examination of a woman’s place in society. “You say I'm free now, that battle is over, and feminism is over and socialism's over. Yeah, I say I can consume what I want now,” she says in The Battle’s Over, one of her more compelling stanzas. Though the album sways toward pretension to some degree, (“I’m 33 now. That’s Jesus-age,” she observes in Heaven), Hval’s open and frank perspective demands attention and the music that carries her words is just as lovely to absorb. Sean Caldwell


19. Beach House
Depression Cherry
(Sub Pop)

Admittedly, Beach House fans didn’t have many great new arguments to throw at detractors this year. Remarkable consistency has always been Beach House’s biggest selling point and cause for complaint, so aiming to scale down the widescreen grandeur of Bloom and Teen Dream for a softer, simpler approach more akin to earlier releases is hardly a way to sway the opinions of the unenthused. But honestly, those who stick with the group know it’s their loss, because despite the fact that Depression Cherry hardly drifts from the groups patented sound – save for the MBV skuzz of Sparks and spoken-word psychedelia of PPP – the album is perhaps the clearest demonstration of Victoria Legrend and Alex Scully’s mastery of woozy, longing vibes and heartache-drenched melodies. In a sense, Beach House have never been more cerebral and elemental with their approach. Opener Levitation is the sonic approximation of flying in a lucid dream, while standout Beyond Love flawlessly captures the elemental force of a heart bursting with love in slow motion. With the duo proving their mastery of capturing immense beauty and sadness so perfectly with the few tools they implement time and time again, there’s just no room for cheap gimmicks in Depression Cherry’s blissful world. Peter Quinton


18. Oneothrix Point Never
Garden of Delete

Garden Of Delete feels a lot like the natural culmination of all of Daniel Lopatin’s experiments to date. It unites all of the atmosphere of Returnal, the looping textures of Replica, and even the abstract sublimity of R Plus Seven under one single work and adds wandering guitar riffing and distended video game soundtracks in to the mix as well. But these sonic additions are not just for texture’s sake, but rather in service of an underlying narrative. Yes, unlike any other OPN record, Garden of Delete contains a highly identifiable narrative. With a little bit of internet excavating, listeners can engage with a very involved storyline revolving around an alien named Ezra, a fictional band called Kaoss Edge (the lauded inventors of “hypergrunge”), and the tragic accident that lead to the untimely cryogenic freezing of their lead singer, Flow Kranium. But all of this is significantly less important than the music itself, which is about as cerebral and innovative as anyone familiar with OPN could expect. Andrew Ciraulo


17. Torres
(Partisan Records)

Mackenzie Scott doesn't know what to do with her demons. Over the course of the beautifully raw, wrenching Sprinter, the woman known as Torres screams her lungs out on Strange Hellos, smirks her way through Cowboy Guilt and embraces denial on Ferris Wheel. "I am a tired woman/In January I will just be 23," Scott sings mournfully on New Skin, her fingers picking away at the fretboard. While Scott turns the mirror to herself for her sophomore effort, everyone is shaped by their environment. No one leaves here unscathed. Over the title track's guitar crunch, she blames the flaws in her church as a reason to leave her life in Georgia behind, both running away and running towards something. This introspection reaches a devastating peak on Son, You Are No Island, a harrowing maelstrom of betrayal from God's perspective, and on The Exchange, detailing an adoptive parent and slowly diving into the topic of suicide. "I'm underwater," Scott breathes, barely managing to get the words out. It's a captivating end to an album that mixes the personal and the spiritual, where Scott pours out her secrets, loathing and love. When it's all said and done though, there's one word that fits Sprinter best: revelation. Joe Marvilli 


16. Alabama Shakes
Sound & Color
(ATO Records)

Brittany Howard’s shriek in the opening seconds of Don’t Wanna Fight explodes with inspiration. Is it despair? Is it elation? Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color dodges all the categories we expect music to abide by. Not content in the “revival band” label thrust upon them after their debut album Boys & Girls, the band reveals newfound depth and breadth on their sophomore effort. Every track crackles with a grittiness found in the best rock records, and then simmers with that quintessential blues cool drawn straight from Muscle Shoals. Gimme All Your Love sees Howard belting with an intensity that evokes Janis Joplin, and boasts some top-rate guitar noodling. This Feeling is a slow-burning gem with lyrics that double as a post-breakup balm and consolation for those wearied by an intolerant world. Indeed, the Shakes lean into other genres with instinctive ease--the psychedelic bent of Future People lends an otherworldly texture to an already entrancing album. The result is an expression of soul that transcends genre limits and infects every guitar lick, every drumbeat, every vocal run. By these standards alone, the future seems promising for Alabama Shakes. Luiza Lodder


15. Bjork
(One Little Indian)

The break-up album is a tried-and-true songwriting trope that has resulted in some of the finest albums ever made, so leave it to Björk to find a way to reinvigorate the form. Vulnicura was written in response to her breakup with visual artist Matthew Barney, and besides having some of the most direct lyrics you could imagine – "I wake you up/In the night feeling/This is our last time together", she sings on History of Touches – the sharp turn away from pop music leads to fragmented soundscapes, as if trying to find new musical forms to better approximate her emotional state. Even while holding down the avant-garde, many of Björk’s best songs have had considerable pop appeal, but Stonemilker aside, it’s hard to find that pop grounding on Vulnicura. The album ends suddenly, signifying in a more formalized manner the lack of true closure that Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell needed lyrics to convey, and eerie cello solos and electronic loops are far more memorable than any actual hooks. Much was made of Björk’s use of an orchestra on Vulnicura, but after thinking big-picture with Biophilia, it’s a focus on the song structures themselves that allowed Björk’s return to greatness. Forrest Cardamenis


14. Viet Cong
Viet Cong

With the rhythm section of defunct noise-rock band Women, Viet Cong bring with them an onslaught of convoluted grooves. As labyrinthine as the blueprint is, it’s nothing less than a warped playpen for sporadic bursts of cambering, skewed melodies to wreak jagged disorder. Not unlike the enticing bedlam that was Women’s music, strident, droning textures envelop the soundscapes, but there is a susceptibility that bubbles beneath the boorish whirr that’s never under wraps completely. This record is by no means an easy listen – opening track Newspaper Spoons is a searing, ear-splitting introduction to the record, and there’s no splashes of colour to shine light on the viscous, monochrome tones that radiate from the music. Viet Cong is fraught with dynamism, consistently perplexing and eccentrically exhilarating, and there hasn’t been an album anything remotely like it in 2015. Carl Purvis


13. Protomartyr
The Agent Intellect
(Hardly Art)

One key thing to understand about Protomartyr is that, unlike other punk bands with a license of advocacy, they don’t seethe. The Detroit foursome are quiet cynics who dare to equally insult and accuse with an intellectualism that is devoid of any overt elitism. It often requires one to construct an abstract, to seek some fundamental truth when it’s not within reach, and somehow the way in which they perform has a determinate character of immediacy. The Agent Intellect is worthy of admiration, one that finds well-read songwriter Joe Casey seeking a modicum of optimism within the disentranced, spent atmosphere that surrounds him. This time around, though, Casey isn’t just the detached observer that tries to find some semblance of control, but also becomes an active participant in his own existence. He puts himself in a vulnerable, even human, place, whether he’s thinking about his late mother or condemning the “innocent” beings that corrupt our efforts to live meaningfully. There’s still a lot to feel angry about, but the only way Protomartyr can extinguish the fire that burns inside of them is through vigilant compassion and ascending, powerful hooks. Juan Edgardo Rodríguez


12. Vince Staples
Summertime '06
(Def Jam)

​2015 may be the year for astonishing debuts from the astonishingly young, those who have lived through far more than they should have. Vince Staples has created an epic, and I mean this as much in the literary sense of the word as I do in the musical. Summertime '06 is a haunting hip hop Homeric Odyssey of a young kid from Long Beach who lived his childhood in fear. From the unsettling bass opener to the gunshot that begins the record in earnest, the rest of the pieces fall into place and hold the listener relentlessly engaged. The double album is an apologetic, earnest, unedited account of the American black experience that I can't begin to relate to. But I can listen. I can tell you the kid doesn't just have a story to tell, but also has a phenomenal flow and an ear for hip hop that is just accessible enough to allow that story to have a far enough reach to affect people who might be able to change lives for the kids who come after. "My music is me saying, 'This is the problem.' But I'll acknowledge it. Cause nobody else is going to acknowledge it." Sing O Muse of the rage of Vince Staples. Gabbie Nirenburg


11. Destroyer
Poison Season

Half the fun of a new Destroyer album is anticipating the new direction that Dan Bejar inevitably plans to take, so in retrospect, lead single Dream Lover was misleading. Poison Season’s elegant baroque-pop is a far cry from the song’s Springsteen-esque exuberance, though its inclusion on the album isn’t unjustified. This may be Bejar’s most musically varied album, no small feat considering his past body of work. From the imaginary spy-movie soundtrack Midnight Meets the Rain to the gorgeously cinematic Bangkok, the record presents a lush variety that reflects the city at its heart, or at least Bejar’s ideal vision of it. His lyrics are as abstruse as ever, but the three versions of Times Square and the occasional urban reference make it clear that the album is, above all, a bohemian love letter to New York. Poison Season is also the rare 2015 album that shines brightest in its second half, which plays like a suave, jazzy New-York-at-night counterpoint to the string-drenched first half. And just like Manhattan, at the center of it all lays Times Square, a song so joyful it somehow makes you believe you actually could fall in love with, well, you know. Brad Hanford

10. Julia Holter
Have You In My Wilderness

One of the most alluringly poetic art pop albums in recent memory, Have You in My Wilderness seems at once instinctive and unfathomable. And that's precisely it; the accumulating literary influence of the epic Greek tragedy Hippolytus, American poetry of Frank O'Hara and Virginia Woolf, and French novella Gigi of past projects are essential to elevating Holter to new heights. Here, she modestly unveils Berlin Stories and Chance Acquaintances as sources of inspiration to explore the concept of the album itself as memory. String/woodwind arrangements that would make the legendary Angela Morley blush, complemented by this preoccupation with longing and distance, secret rendezvous, and lost time, both personal and manifold, define its musical memory (through the spirits of Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Nico, '60s Scott Walker, and Brian Wilson). Whether palpable or mythological, Holter invites the enigmatic phenomena of the night into her realm of soft focus and passing silhouettes. Wilderness' infinite, elliptical suggestions and transcendent crescendos converge on the heart-rending ballad, Betsy on the Roof, which yields its subject preeminence while its unrequited narrator dramatically, repeatedly pleads for an answer below. Holter's adaptable timbre and ability to unify a diversity of artistic influences lend her masterful album such depth of feeling, even when steeped in ambiguity, from the title of the commencing lyrical excursion, Feel You, to the echoes of its stormy denouement. Grant Phipps

9. Tame Impala
(Modular / Interscope)

For album number three, Kevin Parker traded the fuzzy, guitar-driven textures of Innerspeaker and Lonerism for effects-laden synthesizers and dance-friendly beats. There’s the headline, but the real news is how little it mattered. Currents, being another visionary product of its singular creator, built upon the melodicism, production quality, and general excellence of its predecessors. On the epic 7-minute single Let It Happen, for example, Parker crafts an inventive bridge using a half-second loop and phaser effect that collapses suddenly (is that a drop?) back into the main passage. The snarling bass riff opening The Less I Know the Better is a highlight, but only because of its interplay with the drum line and bright-timbered guitar arpeggios. The Moment is no different as its insistent shaker rhythm meshes with an active bassline during the chorus. The synergy is killer, and on yet another Tame Impala record, its fingerprints are everywhere. Parker has stated that songs come to him spontaneously and fully-orchestrated. Listening to the results, his assertion is eminently believable and elicits two truths: there’s a creative force at work on Currents, and a change in instrumentation did nothing to stem its tide. Benjamin Jones


8. Joanna Newsom
(Drag City)

Joanna Newsom’s fourth album is a sequence of meditations on the nature of time, travelling, and love. The titular metaphor diverges into several meanings - characters fall from planes, nosedive into landmines, spend hours below the sea searching for pearls. Divers is immaculately orchestrated - not just the dense string and woodwind arrangements but the finer touches - that jaw-dropping guitar tone on Leaving the City, the hoot of an owl on Time As a Symptom, and the slivers of reversed harp on Anecdotes after she delivers the line “Round every bend I long to see / Temporal infidelity". Newsom's imagery is even more cryptic than usual, taking scenic routes to make her points, even dipping into science fiction (Waltz of the 101st Lightborne) and renaissance art (Sapokanikan). Divers is another utterly absorbing record in Newsom’s impeccable oeuvre, glistening with detail, full of wisdom and wonder. Stephen Wragg


7. Sleater-Kinney
No Cities to Love

Dropped in January, a whole decade after what was presumed the Olympia-trio’s swansong, No Cities To Love was one of the first truly excellent albums of 2015. It’s an impeccable blend of hard and soft and up and down, and brisk too, clocking in at just a shade over 30 minutes. The songs are tightly packed and rush headlong from one to the next, and Corin Tucker’s voice sounds sharper and more incisive than it has done at any point over the past two decades. Guitar music in 2015 has been extrusive in its quality rather than its quantity, and the melodies that Tucker and Carrie Brownstein rage war with are industrious and razor-sharp, raging over straining structures and teetering on the edge of control. This is a record brimming with turbulent post-punk anthems, and a white-knuckle ride you’ll be desperate to take again. Carl Purvis


6. Grimes
Art Angels

Since Claire Boucher’s last album, 2012’s Visions, her reputation has consistently grown, heaping the weight of expectation upon Art Angels. However, the album’s gestation was anything but smooth, with Boucher jettisoning a stellar single from the album (Go) and attracting a mixture of amusement and bemusement for a pop-heavy Boiler Room DJ set, which included her dropping Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You… in August. Happily, Art Angels proved to be the seamless hybrid of instantaneous bangers and idiosyncratic weirdness we were all hoping for. Previously released demo REALiTi is brilliantly beefed up, Flesh Without Blood should be a radio hit, and Kill V. Maim sounds like an after-school technicolour riot. Mashing up electro, K-pop and hip-hop as if it were the most natural thing in the world, Art Angels proves the Grimes is a star for our times – the laptop producer who shows that dedication, invention and a keen ear can make you one of the hottest names in the business. It’s exciting to imagine where she might go from here. Joe Rivers


5. Jamie XX
In Colour
(Young Turks)

I’ll be (not) the first to admit that I didn’t “get” In Colour until I slid a pair of headphones on and sat placidly through its entirety. The allure of Jamie XX’s debut album is its subdued complexity and focus on textured production rather than experimental audacity or directness. These aspects may relegate the album to the background on a casual first listen, but Jamie’s consistently morphing instrumentation certainly doesn’t belong there. Vocal samples, synthetic chimes, and distant electronics are content with shuffling in and out of the frame of the producer’s future garage panorama. Tracks like The Rest Is Noise and Sleep Sound linearly explore a collage of varied loops over a repeating chord progression, simultaneously giving a sense of déjà vu and transience. The result is a record that is exceptionally easy to listen to as whole, yet difficult to parse into individual pieces. Each track has an introspective life of it’s own: unwilling to be subverted or dissected, but begging to be listened to — over and over again. Joseph Moore


4. Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear
(Sub Pop)

In a crop year of break-up albums, this one goes against the current. Marital bliss is championed here, even if it comes with a side order of debauchery. J. Tillman's characters are aimless, their brains toasted by chemicals and the West Coast sun. Judging by the title track, the only solace for these trainwreck lives might be found in unconditional love. Chateau Lobby #4 ties the knot with violins and mariachi horns, capturing flashes of clarity between drunken bouts: I haven't hated all the same things as somebody else since I remember. The production is lush, with most tracks sweetened by strings and pedal steel, keeping the listener unguarded for the emotional ambush. Tillman cuts loose on the hard-driving The Ideal Husband, which has nothing to do with Oscar Wilde but still has some clever turns of phrase: "I've done things unprotected and proceeded to drive home wasted." Bored In The USA and Holy Shit are of a piece, the gears of disillusion spun by small grievances and loss of faith. The album confirms Tillman's place among our top artists. Angel Aguilar


3. Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
(Mom + Pop Music)

Having already gushed over the album opener Elevator Operator in our Top Tracks feature, it's a pleasure to have the opportunity to write more complimentary words about Courtney Barnett's sensational debut record.  In a year dominated by established artists - Barnett is the only artist in our top ten to really break through in 2015 - the Australian singer-songwriter has provided a breath of fresh air. Amazingly, she's done it by revitalising a stale genre (90s slacker indie-rock) that no one particularly seemed to miss. But Barnett is no throw-back act; ok, so Pedestrian At Best sounds familiar, but lyrically it's a step ahead of the game, a breathless torrent of wit and self-deprecation. While up-tempo highlights come thick and fast, one of the record's more subdued moments is my personal favourite. Depreston, an understated gem about house-shopping in the suburbs, is a perfect example of Barnett's rare ability to draw something remarkable from an experience that most would regard as mundane. In the next track, the jauntier Aqua Profunda!, she repeats the feat with a humourous tale of fleeting attraction in a public swimming pool. There's simply too much talent on display here for Courtney Barnett to be a flash in the pan. If she can improve on this brilliant debut, and I think she can, we are in for some treats in the years ahead. David Coleman


2. Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell
(Asthmatic Kitty)

After the excess and invention of Illinoise and Age of Adz, the news that Sufjan Stevens was going back to his folk roots and ditching grandiose concepts for a record about his mother and stepfather seemed potentially disappointing. However, while Carrie and Lowell might be Stevens’ most intimate record (quite literally so in the snatches captured on an iPhone in his hotel room) it feels like his widest- reaching. Stevens as a person has always been a little reserved, but by stark contrast Carrie and Lowell is a devastatingly honest account of his troubled relationship with his mother and her recent death. While often extremely uncomfortable, it’s never feels like an overly burdensome confessional, thanks to his skills as a writer. Frequently drawing on vivid memories of childhood summers spent with Carrie and Lowell in Oregon (so much so that it arguably could be the third part of Stevens’ 50 states project), Stevens’s songwriting is universal through its sense of specificity, while mythological and religious references and shimmering electronic details add much-needed moments of beauty and contemplation to provide respite from a prevailing sense of blunt horror. One of 2015’s toughest records, but also one of the most extraordinary. Mark Davison


1. Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp a Butterfly
(Top Dawg)

Sometime between its original release to now, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly went from surpassing lofty expectations to becoming a salient figure of moral and socially conscious art. Rarely are albums fortunate enough to exist in a culturally relevant period, when many of the themes it presents fittingly evoke our tense, critical times. Of course, it wasn’t intended to be that way. The fact that it emerges with such a prescient understanding of the need for activism can only be attributed to Lamar’s pointed, observational barbs, an artist who expresses a deep empathy for those around him while acknowledging that he’s just as conflicted as the rest of us. To Pimp a Butterfly requires your attention - it’s a sprawling, jazz-tinged opus that ushers a fresh, dynamic emphasis on Lamar’s differing attitudes after the more familial good kid, m.A.A.d city, whether he’s somehow anguished by success, circumspect about his future, or blatantly angry about the racial tension that surrounds him. And even through all this, he’s positive that he’ll achieve a higher purpose even if he’s inadvertently brought along a battalion of listeners who also express a wanting to exist. Hip hop never was and never will be the problem, but in 2015, Lamar’s vision of America sure sounded like the solution. Juan Edgardo Rodríguez

. . .

So there you have it: our top albums of 2015. We'd love all of you to chime in and tell us what were your favorite albums of this year by reaching out to us either on twitter (@noripcord) or our official facebook page. We hope you enjoyed the list and our coverage of the year; wishing you all the best for the holidays and see you again in 2016.