20 Kasey Musgrave Pageant Material
When I was working on my top 10 list I knew this wasn't strong enough--it doesn't hold up as well as Same Trailer, Different Park, but was sufficiently rewarding to stay in personal rotation for me for months.
19 Mumford & Sons Wilder Mind
Will I compare this album to Kings of Leon? Of course I will. I just did. But that's meant lovingly--that's a celebration of a sound that's more rhythmic, more urgent. They've always been tight (my first exposure to the band was turning on the TV late one night, something that helps me fall asleep and, hearing them I had to sit up and pay attention, that's how instantly taken I was with their sound) but this sound seems tighter. Like condensed. Potent.
18 Lana Del Rey Honeymoon
It was probably my haste to write her off that has cursed me to find her music more and more compelling (much like St. Vincent). She's making the same music but somehow she's making that music more appealing. Maybe the fact that she avoided a promotional barrage that would have me rolling my eyes at every encounter gave her a "playing hard to get" vibe that piqued my curiosity. Good call on her part.
17 Alabama Shakes Sound & Color
I was one of the few who didn't seem taken by their debut, but I definitely warmed to their sophomore outing. It felt looser, almost a bit chaotic, which made it seem so much fresher.
16 CHVRCHES Every Open Eye
You can tell I am still enamored with the band because I continue to indulge their stylized spelling. I was pleasantly surprised that they released an album this good so quickly after a debut that really stole my heart. In 2013 I thought they were the artist I thought most likely to fade in my esteem, to be faddish... I may have been wrong.
15 Stornoway Bonxie
I'm not sure what they did (I have a vague sense they were disenchanted with their record label, or vice versa and may have crowd funded the album) but they seemed to find their musical bearings again. It's an album that feels like a work for the love of the music, not for commerce.
14 Elle King Love Stuff
With the epic charm of "Ex's and Oh's" I would have been satisfied to find the rest of the album unremarkable (as one does). It's actually a bit daunting to find a lot of new artists producing solid albums (singles are so much easier to deal with). Had this come out 4 years ago I would have relegated her to the rash of post-Winehouse signings. The timing's wrong, but the sound, the mood, the lyrics... they qualify.
13 Eric Church Mr. Misunderstood
Church was a big part of why country music seems so vital to 2015's music. Mr. Misunderstood is a great fucking album. Let's not overanalyze it.
12 Father John Misty I Love You, Honeybear
It's the non-country country album. It has all the trappings with none of the tropes; but sufficient snark to always make me smile... "save me white Jesus".
11 Meghan Trainor Title
Confusingly titling both her debut EP and her debut LP Title didn't sit well with me, but it didn't use up much of the esteem she'd built up with me. She is a big part of the big dopey pop music I loved so much in 2015.
10 My Morning Jacket The Waterfall
The thing that stands out for me about this album is the sonic landscape it paints so joyfully. Chris Wilson celebrates every national park he visits in part through the music that accompanies his inaugural visit. If he hasn't heard this he should save it for a big, vast park, not waste it on the fucking Dry Tortugas.
9 Jason Isbell Something More Than Free
While not purely country, this is another part of the excellent country music from 2015. The album earned Isbell a Grammy for Best Americana Album and "24 Frames" a Grammy for Best American Roots Song (or something like that... Non-Classical).
8 Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
She received a lot of acclaim, including an out of left field Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, yet I didn't take to her immediately. But she's got enough jangly guitar spirited musical energy shit going on that I wouldn't last long. Ask your doctor if Courtney Barnett is right for you.
7 Florence + the Machine How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
7 Florence + the Machine How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Breakup albums are the best. I mean, someone ELSE'S breakup album. If someone wrote "Walking on a Wire" about me, well, that would be insane because I'm always a fucking joy to be around. I don't even care if this is genuine breakup album or if it's just hypothetical. It's good.
6 Ashley Monroe The Blade
Holy crap, this was love at first sight. Only not sight, but sound. This rekindled whatever fire I've ever had with mainstream country, and stoked it. It's got the best quality of Shelby Lynne's reboot album without the excessive focus on her ass.
5 Carly Rae Jepsen E-MO-TION
She may never achieve the greatness of "Call Me Maybe" again, but with work this solid she shouldn't feel disappointed. This is the album that 1989 tries to be. It also concludes my references to the greatness of pop music for the year.
4 Tame Impala Currents
Where the fuck did this album come from? Either this has been building slowly and I haven't noticed or something magical happened with them. Regardless, the band finds a sound that balances blue eyed soul, psychedelic, electro pop and another four or five genres that rarely warrant their own major heading in a musical taxonomy (they're down at the very specific level with things like math rock or pirate metal).
3 Chris Stapleton Traveller
It's as much southern rock as country, and its entry here concludes the greatness in country music thing I keep babbling about. Stapleton's been part of the staff songwriting machine in Nashville for some time, so forgive me if I don't find the songs as genuine as I hoped they'd be based on the reviews. A few too many references to whiskey, daddy, and prayer, as if dispensed from a country cliche generator. Still, somewhere between a work genuinely inspired by the death of his dad and Tim McGraw's Live Like You Were Dying (a hollow shell of an album allegedly inspired by the death of McGraw's dad) falls this album. Closer to the former than the latter.
2 Jamie xx In Colour
I found the album thanks to its inclusion in the Mercury Prize short list. I didn't expect to instantly engage with it, nor for it to last so long with me. Which just goes to show, my expectations are stupid as shit.
1 Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell
This was possibly, probably inevitable. While Stevens isn't actually planning to release albums celebrating all 50 states, this one is the Oregon album that would never be, recollecting summers in the state with his titular mother and stepfather in the wake of her passing. It's nostalgic, melancholic, smart, pure, and poignant; drawing on his core musical strengths. Pay attention Chris Stapleton and Tim McGraw, this is what heartfelt sounds like.