In the year 2015, I listened to 110 new releases total, a combination of LPs, EPs, and mixtapes. It was a great year for jazz and pop, in particular, and a bad year for moody nu-metal (what year isn’t, though?). Here are my ten favorite albums of 2015 (plus five honorable mentions).
Christian Scott’s Stretch Music is a jazz album that tackles various different styles and subgenres of jazz, including the Latin-inspired “TWIN” as well as “Tantric,” a moody piece of cool jazz with trap percussion. Special props go to flutist Elena Pinderhughes, whose excellent performances can be found all over this album.
Joey Badass’s B4.Da.$$ is the young New York rapper’s first studio album and the second-best hip-hop album of 2015. Badass continues to impress lyrically, especially given his age. Pro Era producers Kirk Knight and Chuck Strangers continue their trend of boom-bap hip-hop beats, and in this, Badass seems most at home. Having said that, it would be unwise to go into B4.Da.$$ expecting it to sound entirely like a hip-hop album from the early 1990s; there are a few surprises along the way.
Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden of Delete is easily my favorite electronic album of the year. The production is glitchy and strange, creating an album that’s unlike most electronic music put out these days. You can’t really dance to it, but if you want to be unnerved for an hour, it’s a perfect listen.
Punch Brothers’s The Phosphorescent Blues is another knockout album from perhaps one of the most underrated music acts working today. As usual, they blend elements of classical with progressive bluegrass, but unlike their last album, 2012’s Who’s Feeling Young Now, The Phosphorescent Blues is a generally much more subdued piece of work. Special recognition must be given to the closing track, “Little Lights,” which uses a chorus of fan-submitted vocals to create a truly beautiful outro to the album.
Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love is the band’s first album in roughly ten years, and it sounds as if they were never gone. The instruments sound sharp and gritty, Carrie Brownstein still wails with uninhibited power, and the songwriting is as pointed as it’s ever been. No Cities to Love is a triumphant return for the “riot grrrl” pioneers, in which they reclaim the throne as the greatest punk act in the business.