2015 is the best year in music since I started paying attention to anything beyond what was readily available on the radio. We were treated to a lot of great comebacks, as well as reformations, and there was such a deluge of inventive and expertly constructed albums (particularly in metal) that it was impossible to consume it all.
Narrowing down my list of personal favourites to only ten was a miserable exercise since of the 120 or so new albums I heard, many were outstanding. Ultimately, however, these following ten albums all managed to do something to distinguish themselves for me and became staples of my listening. Not all of these will be popular choices, but hopefully you find something in here that becomes a new favorite for you as well.
Here’s to a great 2016, and with no further ado let’s begin…
10. Born of Osiris – Soul Sphere
23 October – Sumerian Records
Born of Osiris had the benefit of low expectations going into Soul Sphere, off the heels of their worst received album yet, Tomorrow We Die ∆live.
By all accounts, they have more than made up for that misstep with one of the most engaging, memorable, and ferocious albums of the year. Each song is fully realized and devoid of the filler that plagued earlier releases; and best of all the guitars and synths play off each other beautifully without one element ever overpowering the other. BoO have gotten back to writing challenging songs with distinctive, futuristic sounding atmospheres and metal fans are all better off for it.
9. Veil Of Maya – Matriarch
12 May – Sumerian Records
Veil of Maya are yet another band who had a lot to prove this year. In elite metal circles, this album has been panned for introducing a new vocalist who does a lot of clean singing and for containing simplified guitar work relative to their other material, but in my eyes it is a great success.
VoM were always a band I enjoyed, but undoubtedly much of their work ran together. The great singing on this album does wonders to reduce the monotony of past albums and at only about thirty-five minutes it certainly does not wear out its welcome. Matriarch gave me a much needed adrenaline rush on tired mornings and while it is simplistic sounding initially, the phenomenal bass and drum work reveal themselves on subsequent listens.
This was an unexpected standout for me this year and I only wish I gave it a chance sooner.
8. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
23 June – Interscope
Oh how wrong was I to write this lovely young woman off as a one-hit wonder back when “Call Me Maybe” infected radio stations in 2012.
After hearing that Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album was garnering praise from people I trusted, I reluctantly gave Emotion a chance and was absolutely delighted with a fresh, diverse, warm, and playful pop gem.
Jepsen has written some of the best hooks I have heard in years and there is not a clunker in the bunch. Everything is so bright and catchy and reminiscent of the songs Madonna was recording thirty years ago. There is so much to be said for Emotion, but the best I can say for it is that if you don’t find something to love here then you may be taking your music, and yourself, far too seriously.
7. Susanne Sundfør – Ten Love Songs
16 February – Sonnet Sound Limited
Susanne Sundfør is a fairly prolific young artist, but her music only came to my attention early this year when Ten Love Songs came out to great fanfare. She is a tremendously talented multi-instrumentalist and while a lot of her work is jazzy electronic-pop, she also takes tremendous risks with this latest record, swinging from massive hooks as found in “Accelerate” to the 10-minute soaring epic “Memorial”, in which she pours sorrow into intricate piano playing.
Ten Love Songs is intimate, cold, brash, quiet, creepy, and inviting over the span of 45 minutes, and it all makes total sense. Sundfør has already enjoyed touring with likes of Royksopp and Robyn, and if either of those visionaries means anything to you then you will absolutely love this album.
6. Good Tiger – A Head Full Of Moonlight
6 November – Self-Released
Losing The Safety Fire earlier this year was tough for a lot of prog metal fans, so naturally when Good Tiger formed out of the ashes not long after, with soulful singer Elliot Coleman and technical drumming prodigy Alex Rudinger on board, everybody was thrilled, and in turn expectations were pretty high.
Somehow, A Head Full of Moonlight has surpassed all the other work that any of its members have been associated with prior to this—which is really saying something. This album is extremely varied and Coleman’s vocals are so odd and ethereal but manage to blend perfectly with the complex polyrhythmic guitar playing.
If you’re a fan of progressive metal and miss The Mars Volta, or you’re waiting for another Closure In Moscow album after last year’s amazing Pink Lemonade, Good Tiger’s debut scratches that itch and then some.
5. Grimes – Art Angels
6 November – 4AD
Claire Boucher, who goes by the handle Grimes, is almost single-handedly responsible for the entire package (songwriting, production, artwork, and more) of the most quirky and interesting pop album I have heard in well over a decade. There are more standard, albeit brilliantly executed songs on here (“California” and “Butterfly”) but also incredibly bizarre tracks throughout such as “Kill V. Maim” and “Belly of the Beat” that will appeal to those who like off-kilter beats, j-pop, and screaming vocals. Grimes has made a major standout that can be enjoyed by casual listeners and audiophiles alike.
4. From First To Last – Dead Trees
28 April – Sumerian Records
Throne To The Wolves was one of my favourite albums of 2010 and it was unbelievably aggravating to me that From First To Last broke up shortly follow its release.
When it was announced they were finally reforming to record a new full-length, with their strongest lineup so far – including most of their original members plus metal juggernaut and Periphery vocalist Spencer Sotelo – I had a nice soft cry and waited with baited breath for it to come.
When Dead Trees finally arrived on my birthday I lay in bed that morning, and at full blast soaked up the finest post-hardcore I’ve heard since their break-up. Sotelo’s vocals are an outstanding fit for what FFTL are doing now, and my only complaint is that Matt Good’s excellent singing is under-utilised.
The songs are punchy, brief, and feature huge riffs with superb drumming. I was already thrilled to have FFTL back, but I’m ecstatic that Dead Trees easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with their finest work.
3. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
25 September – Virgin EMI
The little Scottish synthpop-band-who-could completely annihilated my expectations with Every Open Eye. CHVRCHES‘ debut album a couple of years back was on my radar and had a few nice tunes, but was ultimately the sound of a band who came across as inexperienced and timid.
Every Open Eye, on the other hand, is certainly is an eye-opener, with every single track from beginning to end showcasing the kind of poppy perfection that most bands would kill to write. Lauren Mayberry’s vocals are effervescent and have grown by leaps and bounds from the first album to now, buoyed effectively by pulsing synths.
Just looking over the track list now while writing this blurb, I’m amazed at how strong a reaction I have to each of these songs. Everything CHVRHCES have done on Every Open Eye is perfect and deserving of all the success they are seeing now.
2. Periphery – Juggernaut: Alpha / Juggernaut: Omega
27 January – Sumerian Records
Periphery’s second album was my favourite record of the year back in 2012 and this double-album effort of Juggernaut: Alpha & Juggernaut: Omega is just as strong as an overall package. My love for this album has not diminished at all since its release all the way back in January, despite how many times I have listened to it—which according to Spotify is more than any other album this year.
Alpha has the brightest hooks that Periphery have ever recorded with “Alpha” and “Heavy Heart” particularly memorable and radio friendly, however it’s where Periphery delve into the abyss of heaviness that I find them most compelling. Omega may have light fare like “Priestess”, but it also has the grooviest and most relentless songs I have heard all year with “Graveless”, “Hell Below”, and highlight song of the year “The Bad Thing” helping me eek out that last deadlift rep. With Juggernaut, Periphery have cemented themselves as one of my favourite bands of all time and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.
1. The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth In Reprise
4 September – Equal Vision Records
Everything I said in my review of Act IV back in September holds true as I’m writing my year-end summary 4 months later. I have lost count of how many times I have listened to this album front-to-back, but fittingly for the season, Act IV is the gift that keeps on giving.
This is particularly true for long-time fans who are bound to appreciate the numerous callbacks to The Dear Hunter’s earlier masterpieces, however I believe that the music on display here is something that is timeless and transcendent. Casey Crescenzo has never sounded so strong and confident and while there is much to digest between the exquisite orchestration of each song (particularly the theatrical opus “A Night on the Town”), there is also an elegant sensibility that is available to anyone who can appreciate brash rock music without paying mind to the progressive elements.
Act IV is a revelation which absolutely lives up to the lofty expectations of its predecessors and it is too dramatic, bombastic, and grandiose to have been dethroned by anything else this year.