By Robert Masiello
Another year races by, another onslaught of fantastic music releases to keep up with. In a world that appears to be “going to shit,” as a dear friend put it so eloquently last month, it only seems fitting that many of the year’s very best albums are somewhat tortured and unpredictable.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, with pop music finding new saviors in Grimes and Carley Rae Jepsen.
The following selection represents a peek of what the year had to offer, but is by no means comprehensive. More importantly, this is not a ranked list. It is incomprehensible to rank high quality music, particularly across genres. How could it be argued that the year’s best techno release is somehow “better” than one of the superb folk offerings?
That being said, Writer’s Bone presents to you the 10 Best Albums of 2015:
“Art Angels” by Grimes
Tumblr kids lost their shit when Grimes released “Visions” in 2012, a set of ethereal, handcrafted electronic pop tracks that needed no big-name collaborators to gain traction. At that point, I didn’t quite get Grimes. I respected her, but “Visions” didn’t resonate with me the way it did with others. As such, when it was finally revealed that she was releasing a follow up, I couldn’t buy into the hype. Factor in a pre-release video that basically encompassed everything I found irritating about her, as well as the promise of “alter-egos” and diss tracks on the new album, and I never even intended to give “Art Angels” a listen. Fortunately, I came around. This is a maniacal, subversive, thrilling, infectious beast of an album. Entirely self-produced, this isn’t the sound of Grimes selling out; it’s the sound of a songwriting force to be reckoned with. Best of all, it’s not a cynical or ironic take on pop music. It just slays.
“Vulnicura” by Bjork
While nothing that Bjork puts her name on could be considered bad, it’s safe to say that her releases over the past 10 years didn’t quite measure up to her classics such as “Homogenic” and “Vespertine.” Fortunately that changes with “Vulnicura,” a devastating breakup album that could not have been made by anyone else. This album chronicles her failed marriage to Matthew Barney with mesmerizing arrangements, soaring vocals, and searing lyrics. This may be Bjork’s “complete heartbreak album,” as she explained in an interview, but she never plays the victim. “I am bored of your apocalyptic obsessions,” she seethes in the stunning centerpiece “Black Lake.” Distinctive producers Arca and The Haxan Cloak lend a haunting electronic soundscape to several tracks, but this is Bjork’s work, and she’s never overshadowed by their input.
“A Year With 13 Moons” by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
“A Year With 13 Moons” is a stunning foil to “Vulnicura.” Both are “breakup albums,” but whereas “Vulnicura” is propelled by Bjork’s dynamic voice and painstaking lyrical details, “A Year With 13 Moons” lacks both words and voice. Not quite ambient and not quite shoegaze, these 16 tracks represent the gradual disintegration of a relationship, capturing moments of romance, longing, and disappointment along the way.
“Grind” by DJ Richard
No, perhaps the world didn’t need another icy, bleary-eyed techno record. But if it’s good as this, we’ll take it. It’s 2:00 a.m., and you just stepped out of the club. Your eyes adjust to the streetlights. You’ve sent your ex a text you’ll most definitely regret in the morning. Your cab driver is quiet, and the only sound is a cold rain against the windshield. Your life has never felt more cinematic than this exact moment. This is the soundtrack. As far as techno goes, Grind won’t necessarily light up the dance floor, but it will accompany you in the afterhours.
“Carrie & Lowell” by Sufjan Stevens
I had lost hope in Sufjan Stevens. Of course, like every other sensitive teen of the 00’s, his seminal album Illinois provided a wistful soundtrack to my high school experience. But after the overblown, misguided mess that was 2010’s “The Age of Adz,” I had no interest in his output going forward. Then this year, he dropped the delicate, masterful Carrie & Lowell, a poignant examination of his troubled relationship with his late mother. The album tackles big themes—grief, neglect, suicide, lapsed Christianity—with grace and wisdom. Rather ironic that, in detailing the collapse of his faith, Sufjan crafted his most spiritual album to date.
“Wildheart” by Miguel
Imagine if Lenny Kravitz and Bruno Mars recorded an album together. Now imagine if it didn’t suck. I know that’s a tall order, but it’s the only way I can begin to describe “Wildheart.” Miguel’s comeback somehow fuses R&B, funk, and dad rock into a breezy, hook-filled album that sounds like little else. Tackling a variety of subject matter, from fleeting relationships (“Leaves”) to igniting a party (“Waves”), Miguel is flawless throughout. Better yet, “Wildheart” is devoid of the misogyny and tastelessness that continues to plague neo-R&B artists like The Weeknd.
“E*MO*TION” by Carley Rae Jepsen
The woman behind 2012’s inescapable “Call Me Maybe” released a sublime pop album this year and…no one bought it. The singles flopped. Pop radio ignored her. Please tell me what’s going on here. In a world where smut like “Cheerleader” and “Rude” become number one hits, the impeccably executed songs of “E*MO*TION” have gone largely unheard. It’s a shame, because Jepsen is smart, talented, and just the right amount of weird. Whether she’s falling in love, falling out of love, or cruising for a hookup, the music is catchy, charming, and quirky from start to finish.
“Frozen Niagara Falls” by Prurient
Little can be said about this massive double-album, which sits at the intersection of electronic music and black metal, it simply must be experienced. “Frozen Niagara Falls” features tortured vocals, blitzkriegs of noise, and harsh static; it’s not for the faint of heart. And yet, for all its nihilism and despair, it’s perhaps Prurient’s most accessible work yet. The album’s narrative focuses on New York City, painting it mostly as an unforgiving, dystopian world. But for all its bleakness, the core of this album nearly begs for human connection. “The East River isn’t romantic anymore you know / that’s where the suicides go,” he mutters on “Greenpoint,” one of the few moments where his words come through with clarity.
“Platform” by Holly Herndon
One could conceivably write a thesis about “Platform,” so trying to interpret it in 100 or so words feels unjust. This album is many things. It’s a series of electronic compositions that celebrate the human voice. It’s an unhinged critique of capitalism. It’s an ode to technology. It’s a warning. It’s a masterpiece.
“M3LL155X” by FKA Twigs
No one is making music like FKA Twigs right now. No other artist possesses her clarity of vision, her focus, her sultriness, or her strength. Last year’s “LP1” dazzled, but her “M3LL155X” (pronounced “Melissa”) EP from this year is somehow even stronger. Equal parts terrifying, mesmerizing, and beautiful, “M3LL155X” showcases FKA Twigs’ most complex, enthralling songwriting to date. “In Time” probably has the most Top 40 potential of any song she’s released, sounding like a darker, more lush Rihanna track. But while Rihanna often sounds like she’s being brash for the sake of being brash, FKA Twigs’ songs are far more confident and elegant.
For more playlists, check out our full archive.