Top 15 albums of 2015.

My ranking of the top fifteen albums of the year is below, and reflects my own personal preferences, with a balance between albums that have a few standout songs and ones that worked better as cohesive units. You can see last year’s top 14 albums list for a comparison. I heard a lot more than I ranked here, but getting to fifteen albums I truly liked and would recommend wasn’t even easy.

Linked album titles go to full reviews. My ranking of the top 100 songs of the year will follow in a few days.

15. Drenge – Undertow. The British duo’s follow-up to one of my favorite albums of 2013 was a bit of a disappointment, because I loved their raw guitar-and-drum sound and wasn’t thrilled with the expansion into bass lines and reverb effects, but the album was a step forward in sound and songcraft – it’s just not more of the same when I actually wanted more of the same.

14. Horrendous – Anareta. (amazoniTunes) I only found a few extreme-metal releases in 2015 that I liked at all, including Tribulation’s The Children of the Night (Swedish black metal with some classical elements), Krisiun’s Forged in Fury (very dark Brazilian death metal with strong technical riffing), and even Children of Bodom’s I Worship Chaos (highly melodic death metal but the lyrics leave a lot to be desired). Nothing could touch Horrendous’ sophomore album, the followup to 2014’s Ecdysis, itself one of the best metal albums of that year. Horrendous is marketed as death metal, but it’s really highly technical progressive metal with death growls. You get relatively few blast beats, and the heavier turns are more akin to classic thrash than the more extreme corners of death metal. If you remember peak Death (the Chuck Schuldiner band that helped establish the subgenre), Horrendous has picked up where that group left off.

13. Twerps – Range Anxiety. Weird, jangly, lo-fi indie pop from Australia that veers from hooky to annoying and back again.

12. Of Monsters and Men – Beneath the Skin. Much-maligned, as it lacked the big hooks and choruses of their debut, My Head is an Animal, but I found the record more mature in lyrics and music, and appreciated the greater production emphasis on Nanna’s vocals.

11. Jamie xx – In Colour. (amazoniTunes) Who knew that the real talent in the Mercury Prize-winning trio The xx was producer/keyboard player Jamie xx, whose brilliance came out in this ebullient collection of electronic and dance songs, highlighted by the two singles that feature his sometime bandmate Romy, “See Saw” and “Loud Places.” In a sea of monotony in electronic music, Jamie xx managed to stand out.

10. Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. The Scottish group’s best record in years may have been uneven, but featured three standout tracks to start the album and Stuart Murdoch’s now-expected lyrical brilliance throughout.

9. Iron Maiden – Book of Souls. Go figure: the lads had one more masterpiece in ’em. I could have done without the eighteen-minute closer or the mortifying “tribute” to Robin Williams, but on an album of this length there are plenty of highlights, enhanced by the stylistic shifts by the multitude of songwriters who contributed.

8. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt. (amazoniTunes) This is the first true hip-hop record I’ve included on my year-end lists, with Gibbs’ delivery and old-school writing separating him from the hordes of rappers who can’t hold a candle to the kings of the Golden Age. Two highlights: “Extradite,” featuring Black Thought of the Roots; and “Fuckin’ Up the Count,” which samples from and is based on a famous scene from The Wire. But as with most contemporary rap albums, Shadow of a Doubt has some cringeworthy lyrics, especially Gibbs’ free use of the female-dog epithet.

7. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love. Nine years away and the ladies of Sleater-Kinney came back better than ever, with tighter songs and stronger hooks than any of their previous album showcased.

6. Wolf Alice – Our Love is Cool. (amazoniTunes) One of the few pleasant surprises in the Granny Award nominations was seeing Wolf Alice get a nod for Best Rock Performance for “Moaning Lisa Smile,” although that might be the fifth-best track on their debut album. Ellie Rowsell has one of the sexiest vocal deliveries of the year, particularly when her fierce side comes out on tracks like “You’re a Germ,” while the band seems to channel everything from mid-90s Britpop to late-70s British steel.

5. Superhumanoids – Do You Feel OK?. I really feel fine, thanks, especially after listening to this indie-pop trio, led by singer Sarah Chernoff’s soaring vocals and backed by one strong melody after another.

4. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye. CHVRCHES’ second top-five album on my lists – and second top-12 album on the Billboard charts – in the last three years was more of the same but better, like a hybrid of their first record and the Purple Rain-era Prince records the band members so revere.

3. The Wombats – Glitterbug. ($5 on amazoniTunes) I never reviewed this album but included one track from it on each of four straight monthly playlists. Lead singer/guitarist Matthew Murphy is a clever, witty wordsmith who also has a great knack at crafting hooks that sound like ’80s new wave but are still novel. I could easily have put a half-dozen songs from Glitterbug on my top 100, including tracks that I omitted like “Emoticons,” “Give Me a Try,” and the not actually baseball-related “Curveballs.”

2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. By far the best lyrics of any album I heard this year, as Barnett expanded her range with more rock-heavy tracks and fewer of the folky ballads that dominated her A Sea of Split Peas double EP release. She’s a modern Bob Dylan for her way of telling a story within a four-minute song, setting scenes and working in dialogue without even abandoning her meter or rhyme scheme, and there are so many wry couplets on this album that she might have missed her calling as an existentialist comic.

1. Grimes – Art Angels. Grimes’ fourth record was a quantum leap forward from 2012’s Visions in every way, and was 2015’s best album for its combination of genre-bending sounds, strong melodies, and improved lyrics. Claire Boucher, who records under the nom de mic Grimes, is a chameleon, shedding her skin from one track to the next, changing textures and styles yet still producing a cohesive collection of songs that never lets up and delivers one strong hook after another.


  1. Nice list. Love the Chvrches record, but feel like it’s pretty front-loaded. First two singles are probably both top 15 songs of the year, but set up an unsustainable pace for the rest of the record. First four songs are great. “Bury It” is good, but the breakdown sounds like it came straight out of a Japanese arcade game.

    Love that Courtney Barnett record. Have you heard Bully? Seems like it would fit on this list.

    • Gave Bully a bunch of listens, but she’s really just yelling and their music seemed unfocused. Mourn does that same kind of music but much better, IMO.

  2. Thoughts on Tame Impala – Currents? I saw you had a few of their tracks in your monthly music updates during the year.

    • Listened to it once again last weekend, and I find it really monotonous outside of 2-3 tracks (including this one and “Disciples”). He veers too far into adult-contemporary territory for me. This is (IMO) the danger of one guy writing and recording everything himself, without someone else to tell him to cool it.

  3. Please check out Steven Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. Easily makes this list…

  4. Did you get a chance to check out “+-” by Mew? They get labelled prog rock but this album was pure pop dreams. Songs with Bloc Party guitarist and kimbra. “Rows” is my favorite song of the year.

    • Yeah, it was OK, not among my favorites. I think their songs tend to go on too long, too.

  5. Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly seems like a clear omission, particularly with Freddie Gibbs’s album making it on. Any reasoning behind that?

    • Kendrick is awful. I don’t even think he’s a good rapper, never mind his music.

  6. Tickled to see one of my favorite baseball writers is into both Belle and Sebastian and Horrendous. Great list.

  7. I thought the Father John Misty album was amazing. Lyrics alone were worth my top five.

    • Boring. Can’t change the station fast enough when he comes on. And that cover of “Heart Shaped Box” took a mediocre Nirvana song and made it worse.

  8. I expected all year that Courtney Barnett would be my personal #1 but lately I’ve been gripped by the music from the Hamilton musical. Did you ever give that a listen? (I gather you’re less of a hip hop guy than me, remembering that you mentioned you connect with “To Pimp A Butterfly”.)

    • DIDN’T connect, I meant of course. Damn it.

    • I think I’ll have to see the musical to connect with Hamilton. Listening to it on Spotify did nothing for me – if anything it turned me off, because without the play in front of me I found some of the rhymes embarrassing. And I think Lin-Manuel Miranda is an absolute genius, too.

  9. No Earl Sweatshirt? Best rap album this year other than maybeeee Kendrick Lamar

  10. Lots of female vocalists on this list; not a criticism, just an observation. I’ve noticed that for me as well recently, I wonder if it’s just a great time for female artists or if it’s just us getting older?
    Anyway, great list, thanks.

  11. re: Earl Sweatshirt. I disagree. I don’t find his 2015 effort as good as Doris, but his tonality and macabre sort of delivery style to me are very enjoyable. The album grows on you over time, as well. Not sure how many, if any, listens you gave it to. Overall I think holding today’s rappers to the 90s or 80s is just an impossible standard to reach, and I try not think of these measured against guys like 2pac or Big L or Gangstarr

  12. No Alabama Shakes?

  13. Keith did you take the My Morning Jacket album for a ride at all?

  14. Hey Keith, the Wolf Alice album is My Love is Cool not Our Love is Cool.

    Great list, thanks for sharing.


  1. […] last year’s top 100, andmy top 15 albums of 2015; I refer to both links numerous times […]