Mia Mala McDonald

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

 

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Every year, around this time, the gifts get wrapped, the trees get trimmed, and we declare the album dead…or undead…or less dead than we thought. Speaking of broken records, Adele’s recent sales coup—selling more albums in one week than anyone in history, and then setting another record seven days later by becoming the first artist to sell over one million copies of the same album in two different weeks—quashed the notion once and for all that consumers aren’t interested in the long format. Turns out they just need more reason than ever to shell out the cash. And like we do every December, we’re giving you 25 of them. While many are as heart-wrenchingly personal as 25 (which, no, did not make our list), not all of them are of the bombastic, wind-blown, parody-friendly variety. Joanna Newsom upped the stakes by scaling back on the whimsical Divers, Kendrick Lamar made the socially conscious personal on the timely To Pimp a Butterfly, and ’90s mainstays Janet Jackson and Björk made unexpectedly understated comebacks this year with Unbreakable and Vulnicura, respectively. Adele’s latest juggernaut may have already outsold all four of those titles combined, but if ingenuity and craft are as legitimate measures of success as Nielsen SoundScan figures, then the rumors of the LP’s demise are indeed greatly exaggerated. Sal Cinquemani

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

25

Disclosure, Caracal

Or, the sophomore slump sidestepped successfully, though even the lads themselves feel the pressure (“Echoes”). Notably more downbeat, shady, and, yes, “Nocturnal” than their name-making Settle, Disclosure stays true to their roots, paying homage not to the EDM headliners who they’re increasingly compared to, but rather the paragons of deep-house realness they learned from. Be it in the gospel initiative of “Holding On,” the magisterial clattering of “Magnets,” or the juicy compression of “Willing & Able,” Caracal keeps a tight focus on the elementals: unpredictable basslines, committed vocalists, synthesizer lines that counterpoint the melody instead of beating listeners into submission. If “such repetition” is truly giving them “cause for concern,” they could’ve fooled us. Henderson

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

24

Jason Derulo, Everything Is 4

For his second great pop album in as many years, Jason Derulo keeps to his winning formula of precision-tooled three-minutes-and-change bangers and ballads, organically adapting it to up-to-the-minute contemporary trends, and even anticipating a few. Lead single “Want to Want Me” embraces the ballistics-grade synth attack of Taylor Swift’s 1989, while “Cheyenne” offers a better Off the Wall-era MJ update than the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” Derulo could’ve chosen to coast his way through a satisfying Talk Dirty follow-up on these more in-vogue nostalgist impulses, but instead he flavors Everything Is 4 with impeccably judged gambles like “Broke.” The song brings together Stevie Wonder’s chain-gang harmonica and Keith Urban’s down-home banjo to locate a shared blue-collar lineage in two distinct Southern milieus, and its bonkers production—a mash-up of country, gospel, and dubstep—proves Derulo exceptionally gifted at allowing influences of pop music’s past shape its progression in the present. Sam Mac

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

23

Laura Marling, Short Movie

It can be difficult, especially in a modern landscape where music seems to grow more loud, captivating and abundant every year, to adequately appreciate the humble pleasures of someone strumming tunefully on an acoustic guitar. With Short Movie, Laura Marling manages to cut through the noise, releasing an album that stands as one of the year’s most quietly captivating, as well as one of its most relevant statements on contemporary sexual politics. Packed with low-key feminist anthems and sly takedowns crafted with tuneful wisdom and biting wit, Marling’s latest, most ambitious album boldly confronts pressing issues of equality and freedom, without the singer-songwriter ever needing to raise her voice above a righteously assured medium tone. Jesse Cataldo

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

22

Ashley Monroe, The Blade

Not since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has a country artist released an album so totally sure of its own craft, so deserving of its place in a contemporary country field that will never be as accommodating toward it as it should be. Miranda Lambert’s watershed could be seen as more high-concept (both an affectionate ode to the pleasures of small-town Southern living and seething critique of its rampant sexism), but The Blade has its own discreet agendas as well. Monroe’s album is feminist not for turning a shotgun on male oppressors, but for owning their vices: The narrator of “If the Devil Don’t Want Me” moans that “there ain’t enough whiskey,” while the one of “I’m Good at Leavin’” brushes off “I do’s” for “hony-tonks and bars.” On an album full of cutting gestures, finding feminine agency in identification with folly might be its deepest. Mac

The 25 Best Albums of 2015

21

Selena Gomez, Revival

Selena Gomez’s pointedly titled Revival represents yet another transformation for the Disney princess turned teen-pop singer turned semi-serious indie actress. “I’m reborn in every moment, so who knows what I’ll become?” she says during the title track’s spoken-word introduction. “It’s my time to butterfly,” she goes on to sing, the word “butterfly” serving as both a state of being and an intransitive verb. While in the world of female pop singers the metaphor of emerging from a cocoon, and the concept of maturity in general, is usually analogous to the shedding of one’s clothes (as it most certainly is here, with Gomez posing nude on the album’s cover), there’s an emotional nakedness throughout the lyrics as well. Gomez’s approach to more serious subject matter, whether it’s a refreshingly sincere, unaffected take on a well-worn topic (“Sober”) or her unapologetically anti-feminist stance on lead single “Good for You,” embodies a newfound sophistication. Cinquemani

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