Mia Mala McDonald

The 25 Best Albums of 2015
The 25 Best Albums of 2015


Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear

No one else makes music like Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, a pseudo-cult leader who combines a singer-songwriter’s earnest aesthetic with Prince’s flamboyance and a talent for satire as dry as dirt. I Love You, Honeybear—truly catchy, truly hilarious—finds Tillman playing equal part folk hero and sarcastic balladeer. As he spins acoustic tall tales decrying both the impossibility of love and the impossibility of living without it, it’s unclear whether even Tillman knows where his character ends and he begins, creating a living monument to the 21st-century musical celebrity, a bizarre amalgamation of talent, confession, and obfuscation. How fitting that he rose to national attention performing his ennui ballad “Bored in the U.S.A.” on Letterman, featuring a player piano, a laugh track, and jokes about subprime loans. Like that famous performance, I Love You, Honeybear is at once tragic, heartfelt, cathartic, and tremendously funny, proving the old adage: There’s little difference between laughter and tears. Jesse Nee-Vogelman

The 25 Best Albums of 2015


Vince Staples, Summertime ’06

Vince Staples incited the wrath of the hip-hop police with a tweet that dismissed the influence of the classic rap canon on his music (“In 1999 I was 7 years old and toy story 2 had just dropped you niggas really think I was worried about hip hop?”), but on his monstrous, unrelentingly dark double album, Summertime ’06, is worthy of that very canon. Sure, its production eschews samples and scratching for Latin rhythms (“Senorita”), gloomy house beats (“Surf”), and twisted Yeezus-indebted electronic pulses (“Hang N’ Bang”), but lyrically it’s a no-frills dive into the psyche of the young black male, conflicted about romance and rapping to white audiences who wouldn’t dare step foot in his neighborhood. Like the rap legends he says haven’t influenced him, Staples burns down the past and creates a sound that’s more dangerous than they ever imagined—a hip-hop story as old as the genre itself. Rainis

The 25 Best Albums of 2015


Grimes, Art Angels

Whereas Claire Boucher’s past work as Grimes felt intentionally obscured, perhaps as a way to hedge against her undeniable pop instincts, Art Angels is shamelessly open. Boucher seems to have indulged her every whim: the dive-bomb guitars on the nü-metal-gone-right of “SCREAM,” shoegazing phasers slicing up the bubblegum hooks of “Flesh Without Blood,” the wistful K-Pop of “Pin.” At every turn she’s challenging herself to invent a new sonic palette, a new mashup of genres. It never feels shoehorned or forced, since Boucher has internalized her influences, as eclectic as any Internet traveler’s music library on shuffle, and repurposed them into a work that feels welcoming in its experimentation rather than exclusionary. Art Angels is the sound of a truly self-styled pop star emerging from the bedroom, as delightfully weird as ever. Rainis

The 25 Best Albums of 2015


Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett doesn’t waste even a second getting down to business on Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. As soon as the needle drops on the album’s opening cut, “Elevator Operator,” she immediately embarks, in a laconic Aussie brogue, on a verbose slice-of-life tale replete with a great journalist’s eye for detail over an invigoratingly upbeat bed of wiry guitars and buzzing Wurlitzer. The result is the wittiest, rockingest, most life-affirming song that’s probably ever been written about a guy considering jumping off a roof. That infectious energy rarely lets up on the rest of the album, and Barnett never lets her wry, rambling wordplay, at times laugh-out-loud hilarious, get in the way of fashioning maddeningly catchy vocal hooks. “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you,” she claims over a ferocious guitar stomp on the single “Pedestrian at Best.” But we might have to anyway: Sometimes I Sit and Think is undoubtedly one of the most exciting debut rock albums to come along in ages. Winograd

The 25 Best Albums of 2015


Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

Few albums in recent memory have seemed so intensely timely and vital as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. For America, 2015 has been a year of violence and awakening. On his third LP, Lamar addresses both equally and with a deftness that crystalizes his reputation not only as the greatest MC of his young generation, but also as a dynamic political voice and the country’s social conscience. Coupling his poetic lyricism and lofty intellectualism with a tremendous musical ambition that combines funk, jazz, and unprecedented vocal flexibility, it’s no surprise that To Pimp a Butterfly stands after just nine months as a modern classic. “Alright” is already a canonical anthem of hope for justice and faith in future redemption. “King Kunta” is the rare song as equally applicable to the club as to the scores of protests sweeping urban America. To Pimp a Butterfly is more than the best album of the year; it’s an awesome chapter in the making of a legend. Nee-Vogelman