The Best Albums of 2015

Post Author:
impose best albums of 2014

2015 has been a curious year. Social injustice and civil unrest have us leaning ever on the precipice of war, or, at the very least, a mass shooting. And the unseasonably warm winter has us wondering if Kevin Costner is going to save us before we all have to make a swim for it. But there’s a common theme that runs through all shifts in culture; when things are bad in the real world, music is (often historically) good.

Our 75 favorite albums of 2015 have told the story of struggle and hope, with a voice of inclusion. Regardless of genre, social consciousness has been the thread that connects our listening choices for this year. From Pacific Northwest gender activism, to introverted rappers, to communists in Rhode Island, the musicians celebrated within this list remind us on a daily basis that art, is in fact, life. And life is better with these records in hand.

When the music hits…

The Top 20 Albums of 2015

20. Oshun, ASASE YAA

Oshun Asase Yaa

“Asase Ya is a term for Mother Earth,” Niambi Sala, one half of New York duo OSHUN, told us back in April. “Asase Ya, the project is in honor of Mother Earth, and respecting, loving, and appreciating the land in which we inhabit. She’s not gonna take care of us if we don’t take care of her. [It’s also about] Black Women as earth, uplifting and re-instilling certain principles and ideas … Our goal with this project is so the Black woman or anybody can transcend. We’re stuck in mental slavery. Throughout the project we go into liberation, freeing yourself and realizing who you are.”

READ: At home with Oshun by Andre Gee.

19. Try the Pie, Domestication

Try The Pie Domestication

Try the Pie was formerly the intimate, sweet-sung solo endeavor of Crabapple drummer Bean Tupou, but for the band’s newest full-length, Domestication, released this spring via Salinas Records, the band was filled out by Rich Gutierrez (of Sourpatch, Younger Lovers, Busted Outlook, Permanent Ruin) and Nick Lopez (of Ugly Winner). “I wanted to call it Domestication because it has a lot to do with private life,” Tupou told us in April. “The decisions that we make with ourselves, our instincts, and our subconscious desires create expectations of how we should act and how other people should act.”

READ: Try the Pie work against the tides by Victoria Ruiz.

18. Tenement, Predatory Headlights
(Don Giovanni)


In certain pockets of the punk world, people will tell you without hesitation that Tenement’s Predatory Headlights is the best record of the year. The 80-minute double-album has been about four years in the making; songwriter Amos Pitsch has clearly spent a lot of time both in his head and digging through record crates of out-there jazz and post-punk records, pinning such varied influences to the Tenement’s punk backbone at the record’s every turn. It was largely written and recorded at their Appleton, Wisconsin punk house, The BFG, but sounds bigger.

READ: Liz Pelly on “Hive of Hives”.

17. milo, So The Flies Don’t Come (Ruby Yacht)

milo so the flies don't come home

In returning to the moniker that broke him into the art rap gallery after the Scallops Hotel departure, milo is not the nerd we assumed him to be. His Hellfyre Club debut hinted of the shedding and Plain Speaking departed further into the psyche rather than the imagination. Unlike A Toothpaste Suburb, milo no longer feels the privilege of adventuring through imaginary places on So The Flies Don’t Come. In the title itself the suggestion is life, no wasted seconds, no cease in movement because the alternative is expiration.

16. PWR BTTM, Ugly Cherries (Miscreant Records)

PWR BTTM Ugly Cherries

Ugly Cherries is the title of PWR BTTM’s CS/LP released early September via the combined efforts of Miscreant and Father/Daughter Records, but it’s also the title of the first self-reflecting song singer Ben Hopkins has written about himself. Which is ironic given how much of the duo’s identity is centered around, well, their identity. “It’s a confrontation: an attempt to unpack my own queerness with humor and self care,” Hopkins told Spin, “I just got so fucking tired of wishing I was different so I decided to scream, ‘She’s all right’ until I actually was.” As Spencer Davis noted, ultimately, that’s the message of Ugly Cherries: queer lives, irreducibly complex, sound like more than token political narratives. Sometimes, they even sound like catchy, riff-heavy pop-punk.

15. Protomartyr, The Agent Intellect
(Hardly Art)

Protomartyr Agent Intellect

Replacing the “age of intellect” with the agent of it might be what those of us inundated with social media and the echo chamber of unsolicited opinions face daily. In one of the albums more intense moments, frontman Joe Casey simmers on “Cowards Starve” that “Social pressures exist / And if you think about them all of the time / You’re gonna find that your head’s been kicked in.” Unsettling as it may seem, anyone who’s spent more than a few moments looking at Twitter knows exactly what he’s talking about. Which is why we should all take a cue from the frontman at the song’s close and “go out in style.” As Casey and Protomartyr deftly illustrate, style and substance don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

14. London O’Connor, O∆

london oconnor O∆

“I feel when I was younger other kids were just able to do things, but I was always thinking about what the results were going to be,” O’Connor told us earlier this year. “I had all these thoughts and kids weren’t talking about that shit, so I would just skate and think.” This sense of introspection is at the core of O∆. One of the things that’s inescapable about O’Connor’s music is its overtly personal nature. On “Guts”, a tirade about the things he can’t stand, he goes as far as to specifically put a dude named Steve on blast, saying, “and all this nonsense, of this mother fucking continent / Fuck the nigga Steve.” But that frustration channeled as hate is only one side of the coin. In the description for the music video for his single “Love Song”, the 24-year-old puts out the fact that he didn’t lose his virginity till he was 21 and cites his mother being cheated on as the inspiration for the song. And all of this is wrapped in a pop-shell, highlighting O’Connor’s keen melodic sensibility and the skill and courage it takes to genuinely move between genres like synth pop and hip-hop/r&b without sacrificing what’s at the core of either genre.

READ: The Cinematic World of London O’Connor by David Turner.

13. Wax Idols, American Tragic (Collect Records)

Wax Idols American Tragic

On her 2013 album Discipline & Desire, Wax Idols’ Hether Fortune showed an aggressive interest in power dynamics. Written in the wake of her divorce, her third album, American Tragic, continues this exploration, honing in on the corruptible nature of power and the destabilizing effects incurred when it’s taken away. She sorts through personal grief and looks at what happens when emotional power on a larger scale is leached from marginalized groups. Calling it a big “fuck you’”to people who capitalize on the vulnerability of others.

READ: Wax Idols’ Hether Fortune’s tour essentials.

12. Empress Of, Me (Terrible Records)

empress of

“The biggest message in this record is that it’s hard to be comfortable with yourself,” Lorely Rodriguez told us about the making of her new LP. “It’s hard to love yourself. When you’re alone for so long you have to love yourself, otherwise you go crazy. I didn’t love myself. When you’re in New York there are so many distractions, there are so many people you can go to and forget that you have these insecurities.”

READ: Quinn Moreland’s Empress Of cover story.

11. Hop Along, Painted Shut (Saddle Creek)

Hop Along

Frances Quinlan believes Painted Shut is her clearest vision yet. It was the first time Hop Along had written a record together as a full band, but Frances was still on her own for lyrics. Instead of herself, Quinlan writes about the lives of others: the struggles of music legends Buddy Bolden and Jackson C. Frank (“Buddy in the Parade”, “Horseshoe Crabs”), being the bystander of an incident of child abuse (“Powerful Man”). “The hard thing about writing a song is you don’t have much time with the characters,” she says, imagining her characters like those of a comic strip.

READ: Cynthia Schemmer’s Hop Along cover story.

10. Krill, A Distant Fist Unclenching (Exploding In Sound)

krill a distant fist unclenching

“It’s not a ‘Feel Good’ album,” Jonah Furman told us back in March. “But it’s about stopping the anxiety of worrying about life. Relaxing, in a way. After a really intense time, what comes next? It’s good for people to listen to our music when they’re feeling really down on themselves or whatever, but I don’t want to make music that’s suicidal.”

Indeed, A Distant Fist Unclenching is the band’s best, most intricate work to date: still inherently sad, its narrative is straightforward yet surreal, dark yet brimming with light humor.

READ: Loren DiBlasi’s Krill cover story.

09. Shopping, Why Choose (Fat Cat)

shopping why choose

English post-punk outfit Shopping’s second album, Why Choose, sounds lean, brisk, and urgent. All of the instrumental tones are refreshingly clean and unadorned, keenly separated from one another in the mix, which instills the skittish grooves and wily guitar with rousing presence. For post-punk, understood as this sort of sonic criteria and performative vocabulary, sinew trumps muscle. Further, Shopping’s savvy subversion of marketing lingo persists from their first album, Consumer Complaints.

08. Jenny Hval, Apocalypse, girl (Sacred Bones)

jenny hval apocalypse girl

The most quietly provocative album of the year, Jenny Hval’s consummate Apocalypse, girl probes “the edge of history,” where bodies do a death-dance with capital and the culture wars’ familiar fronts erode. Few artists court inscrutability with such grace—let alone while, to the consternation of critics all year, coining and articulating “soft dick rock”—and even fewer with such immediate grasp of beauty. The music is gossamer and then synthetic, beat-based and then fractal, while Hval’s voice is hushed and then huge, choral and then almost painfully alone. And perhaps it demands continuous revisiting because it refuses resolution. Even, apparently, for Hval herself, who pondered Apocalypse, girl‘s album photo in a fantastic Pitchfork interview: “Is she exhausted by the elliptical? Is she humping it? Is she humping the system?”

READ: Jenny Hval evades neat definitions by Nina Mashurova.

07. US Girls, Half Free (4AD)

US Girls Half Free

Half Free is the closest thing to a pop album Meghan Remy & co. have released to date, but make no mistake: this is no sell-out, no pandering to an imagined public. The relative accessibility of this album—seductive hooks, clean production—is instead utilitarian, leaving no barriers in the way of Remy’s sharp storytelling. The women of Half Free are in varying degrees of resistance against the circumstances of their lives, varying degrees of pain; Remy’s narratives are both universal and specific: relatably horrific, perfectly human hells. This is pop as existential terror, pop on the precipice, skittering beats the singing reflections of our own gendered anxieties.

READ: Liz Pelly’s interview with Meghan Remy.

06. Fred Thomas, All Are Saved (Polyvinyl)

Fred Thomas All Are Saved

On this eighth full-length solo record, All Are Saved, Fred Thomas is singing like his life is at stake, like he’s distilled every hard-learned story so that he can explain them as quickly as possible with all of his heart. “I wanted to spit out all of the anger, love, excitement, resistance, confusion and hurt I’d ever felt through a lyrical filter that seemed like I was addressing it from the other side of life,” he told use in March. “At a distance from my own experiences even while they were happening.”

READ: Fred Thomas has more to say by Liz Pelly.

05. Eskimeaux, O.K. (Double Double Whammy)

eskimeaux ok

“The sound of this album is the most informed by the influence of the people directly surrounding me,” Gabrielle Smith a/k/a Eskimeaux told Impose earlier this year. “That includes Oliver listening to the radio all the time and Jack showing me really cool J-pop bands and myself wanting certain parts to sound like Tegan and Sara or Taylor Swift. Then on the other hand, I am super influenced by Oliver’s recordings and wanting create a ‘Bellows moment’ or have the song suck into itself to emulate Told Slant.”

READ: Quinn Moreland’s Eskimeaux cover story.

04. Al Rogers Jr., Luvadocious

Al Rogers Jr. Luvadocious

Uncompromising is the through line each loose Soundcloud upload has shared leading up to Al Rogers Jr.’s Luvadocious record. At least, at passing glance that would be an accurate read as a bouncy pop track like “BlueGreen” is stacked against “Honey” addressing the Baltimore uprising in May. And perhaps that uprising was the catalyst of Luvadocious, which is Rogers Jr.’s imagined world where god is feminine and love is not feared. Many of the anxieties explored on “Honey” like poverty and oppression are given deeper meditations on Luvadocious in hopes of discovering transcendence—liberation from that ghetto of the mind.

The Luvadocious concept explores this new world of fearless living through radio transmissions by Godina, the black goddess played by Baltimore radio personality Ladawn Black. The eponymous overture invites the listener to loosen up, conveyed through a side show introtoletuknow that Rogers Jr. has transported us to an alternate universe. That said, Al Rogers Jr. is not an eccentric-to-a-fault, Willy Wonka type guide promising immediate alleviation of strife. Yes, the record envisions utopian worlds, but that does not mean Rogers Jr.’s head is so far in the clouds he cannot see the cracks in the pavement.

03. Julia Holter, Have You In My Wilderness (Domino)

julia holter have you in my wilderness

“Before long, the Greek Theater will approach capacity, but Holter’s room feels cloistered and remote. Her new album, Have You in My Wilderness, performs a similar feat. In her words, it’s “rich, warm, and golden.” Flush with emotional texture, string melodies emerge from choral backdrops and recede behind Holter’s inimitable phrasing. She says that 2013’s Loud City Song was supposed to be “theatrical and orchestral,” but theaters seem modest for Have You in My Wilderness. It’s for the roofless auditorium. And yet, Holter’s expansive, lush record also feels steeped in ruminative isolation. It shares visions honed alone at home, not reaching out to listeners so much as drawing them inside.”

READ: Julia Holter: Pop Wisdom, Unraveled by Sam Lefebvre.

02. G.L.O.S.S., Demo (Not Normal Tapes)

G.L.O.S.S. Demo

G.L.O.S.S. stands for Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit. They are a five-piece hardcore punk band from Olympia, Washington. On January 16, they posted a demo on Bandcamp that exploded across certain corners of the punk world. Understandably so; their music is urgent and vital. In five short songs, they lay out personal histories, a rejection of masculinity, a rejection of societal expectation. Ultimately, the most important words needed to understand the power of a band like G.L.O.S.S., and the transcendent music that has come to define 2015, can be found in their own lyrics: “Medicalized under the knife,” begins “Masculinity Artifice”. “Expected to be grateful / Trapped in the lens / Of the CIS-gaze / Just another sad transexual / Masculinity / Was their artifice / Rip it away / Femininity / Always at the heart of us! / Trans girls be free!”

READ: Eric Phipps on the G.L.O.S.S. demo.

01. Downtown Boys, Full Communism
(Don Giovanni)

Downtown Boys Full Communism

No other group has maintained as strong a voice and as impassioned a message as Downtown Boys have in 2015. Led by the fearless duo of singer Victoria Ruiz and guitar player Joey La Neve Defrancesco, the Rhode Island activists take their brief moments on stage to speak honestly about police brutality, the prison-industrial complex, racism, sexism, gentrification; in punk tradition, these teach-ins are meant to educate and empower, to unify the crowd, make people think before they rage. That energy is preserved on their incredible full-length, Full Communism, through dueling saxes, ripping guitars and Victoria’s uncompromising passion. It’s a message not left for the underground elite; constantly touring and teaching, Downtown Boys remain committed to fracture the system that keeps so many down, even taking music criticism into their own hands by partnering with Demand Progress to launch Spark Mag. Few can match the aggression, and none have inspired us as much. Full Communism is likely the start of a long ride with the Downtown Boys. It might never rank as their opus, it’s just their best yet.

The rest of the Best Albums of 2015 in alphabetical order: