It was a mission that seemed impossible at first, but we've whittled down our Top 20 Albums Of 2015:
20. Justin Bieber – Purpose
In the biggest hijacking of tween culture since the raunchification of Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber's 'Purpose' has managed to convert the masses, broadening the pop icon's market to ironically include those who swore against him. His fifth album to have sold more than one million copies in the US alone, 'Purpose' sees Biebs ditch the saccharine bubblegum pop for an electro-dance approach, rich in vocal samples, beat breakdowns, and effective RnB atmospherics. The album is spearheaded by the Jack Ü collab "Where Are Ü Now" – one of six tracks produced by Skrillex – while club anthem "Sorry" called in the sonic talents of BLOOD (formerly known as Blood Diamonds). It's all magic hands on deck, and all vibes on the dancefloor.
19. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
26-year-old Fort Worth native Leon Bridge's debut LP 'Coming Home' captures the soul and spirit behind Motown maestros like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin. Along with unabashed soul revivalists such as (the late and great) Amy Winehouse, Jil Scott and Alabama Shakes, Bridges doesn't mind reveling in the past, lacing his brand of blue-eyed soul with traditionally spirited, affected melodies, classic gospel-flavoured backing vocals, vibrant horn arrangements and hearty vintage organ solos. What makes Bridges particularly special is that while he is probably the most unashamed 'lifter' of a beloved era bygone, he never comes across as an insincere or unoriginal imitator. On "Smooth Sailin'", Bridges croons away with a confident charisma, oozing just the right balance of restraint and soulful 'cool'. With singles like "Coming Home" and "Lisa Sawyer" (a particularly special dedication to his mother), the talent-beyond-his-years shows off a perfect affinity with his female backing vocalists, trading backwards and forwards with an irresistible charm. After just one listen through of 'Coming Home', it's quickly evident that Bridges' deeply nostalgic, no-bullshit appeal is way too potent to ignore.
18. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
2015 will largely be remembered for the year that hip-hop flaunted its dominant, pervasive nature – not only in the music world, but in both fashion and the film as well. 2015 also served as the year in which little-known artists broke through on the back of exposure from new sharing and streaming avenues like Apple Radio, Soundcloud and Spotify. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats are one such band. Rateliff's solo projects have been unforgivably under-appreciated for far too long – but the moment the multi-talented genius announced his forthcoming soul-rock revival group 'The Night Sweats', the future immediately seemed a lot brighter. There were stellar live performances, coveted late night spots (Jimmy Fallon), and the release of their stunning self-titled LP. At 11 tracks and 40 minutes long, the joyous ode to an era bygone is spearheaded by Rateliff's shocking vocal range and delivery. It's a once in a lifetime voice from a once in a lifetime artist, whose formerly dimly-lit career is rightly illuminated for all to see.
17. Purity Ring – Another Eternity
Purity Ring are quite possibly one of the most promising, wholly reliable proponents in the realm of future pop. Back in 2012, breakout tracks like the ethereal "Fineshrine" or the otherworldly "Obedear" erred carefully on the fine line between accessible and abstract, pleasing both regular electronic pop fans and alternative-loving tastemakers alike. This year, their astoundingly polished sophomore effort 'another eternity' acted as a continuation of their wispy, paradisiacal sound, but the Canadian duo instead decided to step over that delicate line and embrace an even cleaner, almost stadium-ready aesthetic. Lead single "begin again" is a swirling, dramatic pop masterpiece, resting almost entirely on a newly-assured, uncharacteristically weighty vocal from Megan James. From the romantic, string-laden opener "heartsigh", to the pleading honesty of "bodyache", or the hip-hop-inspired samples and thumping beat behind "stranger than earth", 'another eternity' is an album to indulge in, carefully crafted by two musicians with serious chemistry and a deeply assured understanding of what they do incredibly well.
16. Oh Wonder – Oh Wonder
One song a month for a whole year – that was the promise from south-east London duo Oh Wonder. And they delivered. Again, and again, and again, and again. Their unorthodox release model, culminating in a self-titled album comprising the individual tracks, has worked ever so effectively in their favour. With over twenty million SoundCloud plays to date, the release was the cherry on top for Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West. The pair's synth-pop sensibilities drizzle the LP in a romantic, modest glow; from the cushioned beats and jazzy chords in "Technicolour Beat", to the Coldplay-like dramatic strings and hushed harmonies in "Drive", Oh Wonder's electronic-tinged ballads make for an enchanting, introspective revelry.
15. A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP
A$AP Rocky is a creative chameleon. Since dropping his 2013 Billboard number one LP 'Long.Live.A$AP', Rakim Mayers has dived into acting, directing, modelling, and a range of other entrepreneurial endeavours. With 'At.Long.Last.A$AP' – his triumphant return just over two years later – we see not just an eclectic rapper, but an artist who has secured an unshakable relevance that allows him ample room for a bit of left-of-field experimentation. As a whole, 'At.Long.Last.A$AP' is a picked-and-pulled collage of genres and influences, borrowing from the worlds of vintage rap, Houston lean, psychedelic rock, blue-eyed soul, and even classic rock. There's still those signature trap-laced, star-powered rap bangers – the Schoolboy Q collab "Electric Body", or "Everyday" with Miguel, Rod Stewart and Mark Ronson are well and truly turn-up tracks for the ages – but with moments like the stark highlight track "L$D", Rocky swaps out his spitfire for a new slurred croon, contrasting afflicted moans and falsettos over dramatic whispers and ominous samples. At album number two, Rocky is already branching out and challenging himself, but it's a form of careful experimentation that honours his multifarious influences while never alienating or leaving his core audience behind.
14. Alpine – Yuck
It'd been a while between drinks for Aussie six-piece Alpine. After marking their territory in the land of glossy indie rock with their debut record 'A is for Alpine', the Melbourne outfit packed their bags and hit the road, before returning to the studio to work on album number 2. Refusing to fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump, Alpine hit the ground running with the buoyant, upbeat lead single "Foolish". 'Yuck' soon followed; it's the group's 10-track expression and onomatopoeic gag-type reaction to the amalgamation of feelings experienced before, during and after being in love.
An experimental record in its own right, 'Yuck' delves into sounds and arrangements highly uncharacteristic of indie pop, but with enough poise and prowess to keep their irresistible charm firmly intact.
13. Miracle – Sounds Of The Youth
Despite the release of a number of Aussie hip hop albums this year, 2015 is undeniably the year that this boy became the man. After parting ways with Sony Music, Sydney-based rapper Miracle wiped his Soundcloud clear, heralding the beginning of a fresh new chapter in his burgeoning career. What followed were a string of popular remixes and an inspired, eclectic mixtape in 'Sounds of Youth'. Taking the reigns on a majority of the production – alongside regular collaborators Willstah and Dopamine – Miracle flexes his pop sensibilities, flaunts his lyrical finesse and expresses his knack for sampling in what is essentially a masterclass in modern Aussie hip hop.
12. Jamie XX – In Colour
Rumours had been circling for years about Jamie xx embarking on a solo venture away from revered minimal electronic three-piece The xx, so you can imagine the level of momentum when 'In Colour' finally hit shelves. Bursting through and securing the top spot on Billboard's Dance/Electronic charts with the catchy-as-all-hell Young Thug and Popcaan feature "I Know There's Gonna Be Good Times", the LP affirmed and unveiled the multi-faceted, distinctly diverse production chops the world knew Jamie Smith had in him. The album is a refreshing divergence from The xx's sparse, repetitive arrangements; bangers, fat grooves, and developed sampling line each track, positioned exquisitely from the loop vortex of "Gosh" to the melancholic musings of "Loud Places".
11. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf
From the opening moment of Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment's hotly anticipated debut LP, it's obvious what you're in for. It was made clear from the outset that 'Surf' is in no way Chance The Rapper's album, and although his signature voice and creative imprint can be heard all the way through, the album's focus is fixed wholeheartedly and purely on the value of community and commonality. No one who appears on 'Surf' outstays their welcome, and like a well-oiled team, each and every player understands their role under the guiding hand of Coach Donnie Trumpet. Big Sean drops a cartoonish, catchy verse on "Wanna Be Cool", the Social Experiment's singular point of ideal, and Busta Rhymes comes out of nowhere on the tongue-in-cheek summer hit "Slip Slide". On an album so steadfast in its commitment to community, Chance's gravitas is simply too magnetic not to note, and his reverberating charisma takes centre stage on the one-in-a-million track "Sunday Candy". There will never be a song – or album for that matter – quite like that ever again.
10. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Whether you love her or hate her, it's nearly impossible to argue that Australia's golden indie girl Courtney Barnett hasn't had a career-defining year. Since releasing her critically acclaimed debut album 'Sometime I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit', Barnett has been handed one coveted accolade after another – not to mention Triple J's album of the year award. The record is a refreshingly down-to-earth delivery of Barnett's thoughts and experiences; throw that in with her iconic deadpan ramble and endearing, nonchalant Aussie persona, and you've got yourself a pretty remarkable debut.
9. Miguel – Wild Heart
"I genuinely believe that I make better music, all the way around."
Miguel's seemingly outlandish comments on Frank Ocean at the start of the year have, in an odd way, gained notoriety and solidity. 'Wildheart' is Miguel's 'Channel Orange'; it sounds nothing like anything out there right now, and it's the result of years of experimentation and the pursuit of perfection. Sex is also a shared focal point, of which Miguel deals with in a sublimely intimate way, best signified in the swooning, sensual "Coffee". To quote the age old philosophical question – "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Ultimately, empirical data is the quantifying factor for scientific legitimacy, and if Franks progressive, landmark experiment has been long forgotten, Miguel's tree is crash landing and causing quite the ruckus.
8. VInce Staples – Summertime ’06
A couple of mixtapes and Odd Future guest features later, and Cali rapper Vince Staples was well and truly ready for a full-throttle debut album. "Summer Time '06' oozes ambition and demands attention, spreading carefully tailored beats, swelling synths, and tight percussion across two glorious discs. Staples' flow is to be marveled as he weighs in on issues both personal and political, and even his singing chops are dipped into on pulsing number "Summertime", including the hard-hitting line "My teachers told me we was slaves / My mama told me we was kings." It's this no-frills lyricism that separates him from his peers, complemented by progressive arrangements and too-real themes that renders 'Summer Time '06' 'a force both entirely relatable and refreshing.
7. Hermitude – Dark Night Sweet Light
Australian Music Prize winners Hermitude are one of the brightest lights (pun intended) in the Australian electronic hip hop scene, trailblazing their way into our hearts with their debut LP 'Alleys To Valleys' all the way back in 2003. From humble beginnings in the Blue Mountains, the duo have successfully traversed a range of genres and styles, calling in a wealth of Aussie talent and brushing shoulders with god-level international and local DJs and producers. 'Dark Night Sweet Light' is their most energetic release yet, littered with festival-ready singalong melodies, blistering synth hooks and perfectly-placed features from rising Aussie stars like Young Tapz, Chloe Kaul, Mataya and Yeo. Explosive singles "The Buzz" and "Searchlight" are primed for stadiums and the festival world, with soul-swallowing drops that could get even the most adamant of alt-electronic snobs moving. Meanwhile, album tracks like "Through The Roof" or "Ukiyo" conjure comparisons to fellow genre-hoppers Rudimental, or the abandoned party-starting energy of The Cat Empire. Hermitude aren't afraid to observe and apply what's going on around them, and in the end, their willingness to adapt actually serves as their biggest drawcard.
6. GoldLink – And After That, We Didn’t Talk
"I feel like 99% of niggas lie in they raps; I don't."
At the ripe old age of 20, Soulection's Goldlink released his debut mixtape 'The God Complex', a combination of soft nods to hip hop with uptempo waves of house music – a genre the rapper has officially coined as 'future bounce'. Fast forward one short year later, and the Washington emcee returned to the ring for round 2 with his honest-to-God debut record 'And After That, We Didn't Talk'. A concept album in every sense of the word, 'And After That...' explores Goldlink's experiences in a romantic relationship at the age of 16 and the breakup that ensued. Goldlink's quickfire rhymes and unique rap-singing flow intertwine with bright synths, sharp electronic rhythms and cruisy beats. The end product? a transparent insight into Goldlink's state of mind, smeared with heartache and a dose of harsh reality.
5. The Internet – Ego Death
Odd Future is sadly no more. Both Earl and Tyler's albums this year didn't include each other for the first time ever, and their personal career trajectories couldn't be further apart right now. Earl is establishing himself as even more morose than once perceived, and Tyler's otherworldly creativity is now winding its way through fashion and film-making. However, one former Odd Future affiliate and neo-soul advocate – The Internet's Syd Tha Kid – suffered no such year of musical purgatory, sharing a third and best LP to date with her exquisite soul/RnB outfit. 'Ego Death' is a journey into a dynamic, fascinating and unique artist and human; each track feels both oddly personal and jarringly hyper-realistic. "Girl" – the albums centrepiece – will in future be seen as The Internet's watershed moment. It's a stunning track in every sense of the word, with Syd's hypnotic vocals floating tangibly through muted drum snaps and dystopian synth lines. The Internet are certainly here to stay.
4. Drake – If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
In February, Drake pulled a Bey and unleashed 'If You're Reading This It's Too Late' into the world without so much as a heads up – not that anyone was complaining. The "mixtape” (debatably an album, as it was released commercially through his label) smashed streaming records on Spotify, clocking up more that 17.3 million streams in the first three days. Mind you, the previous record was 15.1 million streams for the Canadian rap mogul's 'Nothing Was The Same'. Nominated for best rap album at next year's Grammys, the release is Drizzy at his best – lyrically, structurally, and sonically. From the thrilling city-claiming “Know Yourself”, to the suave, simmering “Jungle”, Drake's versatility and multi-faceted mastery once again takes centre stage.
3. Gang Of Youths – The Positions
"Deep in the breath of a carrier / Coughing up blood is the worst case scenario / No way in hell is this happening / To us I don't care if it kills me / I promise you won't die, swear."
It's shockingly stark, doleful lines like those in the first verse of the piano-led slow burner "Knuckles White Dry" that capture just how personable and raw Gang Of Youths' debut album 'The Positions' really is. As a collection of songs from the heart and mind of frontman Dave Le’aupepe, caught in the emotional throws of loving a girl with cancer, it really comes as no surprise just how heartbreaking of an album it can be. But despite all the visceral, raw allusions, and the morose, confronting subject matter, there is a cinematic air of triumph and ironic bliss that pervades 'The Positions'. The rambunctous, acidic "Poison Drum" brims with defiant energy, building slowly and carefully to reckless abandon, passionate war cries and a flurry of wailing guitars after the five-minute mark. The U2-esque "Radioface", or the cheeky, theatrically exuberant "Magnolia" are captivating, stadium-ready declarations, depicting a man once broken and battered but now at peace with the demons of his past and ready to move on. If Gang Of Youths keep this up, there'll be plenty for Le’aupepe to dive into.
2. Tame Impala – Currents
From the opening warped swirls and 8-bit synths, the comparisons between 'Currents' and Tame Impala's first two LPs were already all but dead. An album which saw Kevin Parker part ways with the guitar as his primary weapon of choice, 'Currents' is his most expansive, melodic and focused album yet. Often diving into uncharted waters, long gone are the hazy guitar-led tracks Parker once called home; instead, what we have here is a reliance on bass guitars and synth tones, which sees the record navigate the realms of psych-rock, electronica and funk unrestrained. On the surface, 'Currents' appears to be an album about failed relationships and the pitfalls of mankind, but what it really represents is change – a change that sees Parker release himself from his comfort zone into the creative unknown. On 'Currents', this humble genius breaks free from the shackles of his prior two records and into a new, progressive horizon.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
There is no more significant album this year than Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp A Butterfly'. Whilst 2015 saw the rise of hip hop and Kendrick's status as king cemented, it was also a dark, challenging year in many respects. Rampant racism reared its ugly, backwards head; black Americans were gunned down and murdered by those whose job is simply to serve and protect. As expected, there was backlash from the African American community, which was initially rivaled by a contentious claim from Kendrick in which he was perhaps wrongly perceived as blaming the death of Michael Brown on the victim himself. His statement was carefully unraveled and explained on the god-level emcee's epic follow up to his beloved 2012 album 'Good Kid, M.A.A.D City'. Comparing the two is not easy, but on 'TPAB', Kendrick's creativity, story-telling, rapping and production reaches all new heights. Lamar manages to weave a poignant spoken word poem throughout the core of the LP, including a 10-minute conversation with TuPac himself, intoxicated verses on the jarring "U", and an important inversion of lead single "i", in which he masterfully returns to nuanced topics like depression and suicide. But besides the exemplary production – courtesy of Flying Lotus and Thundercat, amongst others – it's TPAB's inherent 'blackness' which will undoubtedly cement it alongside the greatest rap albums of all time. Kendrick is the voice of this generation for young black Americans – a minority too often pigeonholed into white culture's constraints and expectations. To those who oppress, and to those who seek to empathise, but can never truly relate, Kendrick reminds them in the most reassuringly positive way possible – "We Gon' Be Alright".