Fans of Abel Tesfaye, more commonly known by his stage name, The Weeknd, were (impatiently) waiting for the Canadian producer’s third release following his 2012 debut Trilogy and 2013’s Kiss Land. After what seemed like forever, fans were finally gifted with Beauty Behind the Madness in late August although three singles had been released before the album dropped, the earliest of which, “Often,” came in July of the previous year!
Beauty Behind The Madness is a wide-arrayed compilation with both solo tracks as well as a number of collaborations with some of music’s hottest including songstress Lana Del Rey on “Prisoner,” Ed Sheeran on “Dark Times” and a production credit for none other than Yeezus himself, Kanye West, on “Tell Your Friends.” Though these high-profile collaborators and his spot on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack with “Earned It” helped Tesfaye succeed commercially (his latest record got to #1 in the US, UK and Australia to name just three), his newer sound left fans sitting on the fence. Though there are some classic sounding Abel tracks on the album like “Shameless” and fan favorite “Often,” we were introduced to another side of Tesfaye with his more pop-infused tracks like “Can’t Feel My Face” leading the press to dub him “the new Michael Jackson.” This album may not fit in with the rest on this list, but I’ve had it in constant rotation since it’s release and have yet to get tired of it which surely is the mark of a great album. To listen to some of my favorite “classic” The Weeknd tracks, be sure to check out “Rolling Stone,” “Wicked Games” and “The Birds, Part I.”
words: Laura Ersoy
Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
Transforming from a folk-tinged pop duo to indie-rock breakthrough act, 2015 has been a big year for London’s Wolf Alice. I saw them perform in 2013 when the band had amassed a teasing mix of singles like “Leaving You,” “Fluffy,” and their debut Blush EP, and was left captivated by ‘their sound’ (an odd sentiment considering the variety in the band’s repertoire). It’s no surprise then that the album was one of my most highly anticipated and, thankfully, it delivered. It wasn’t just me with high hopes. By January of this year they’d won Best Breakthrough Artist at the UK Festival Awards, featured on BBC’s Sound of 2015 and were the “most blogged” thanks in part to their grunge revivalist tag.
As they continued to relentlessly tour and grow their fiercely loyal fanbase, Wolf Alice announced the release of debut album My Love Is Cool in February alongside their new loud-mouth of a single, “Giant Peach.” Slated for a June release, the LP was set to include fan favorites “Bros” and “Fluffy” as well as plenty of new tracks. The 12 track record is proof, as the band admit, that they’ve refined their unconventional blend of folk, electronic and grunge influences into something more middle of the road although elements still remain: the energy and bite on “You’re A Germ” and classic indie-disco leanings on “Lisbon” juxtapose the quieter moments like the hazy synths of “Soapy Water,” the dreamy “Swallowtail” and haunting opener “Turn To Dust.” Wolf Alice finished the year with a Mercury Prize nomination for this ‘coming of age’ record and also earned the title of iTunes’ best new artist. Away from the accolades though, it’s simply a delight to listen to and that’s why My Love Is Cool is my album of the year.
words: Andrew Sharp
Florence + the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Florence + The Machine have consistently proved that they’re not going anywhere. After a three year hiatus on the album front, the British band’s latest offering is featuring in any and every self-respecting “Best Of 2015” album list. Formally comprised of stunning songstress Florence Welch and stellar instrumentalist Isabella “The Machine” Summers, the indie rock outfit dressed their album’s eleven tracks with hard hitting singles, soaring vocals and anthemic productions.
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful features an array of powerful tracks, ranging from the furiously anthemic “What Kind of Man” to the brass-assisted “Queen of Peace.” Other album highlights include the colossal “Ship to Wreck,” assertive “Make Up Your Mind” and delicate “Long and Lost.” With its wide soundscape, the album successfully uses searing guitar, heavy drums, blaring horns and orchestral arrangements. While wholly different sonically, each track represents the tumultuous nature of “trying to learn how to live and how to love…rather than trying to escape from it.” The magnificent third album is a well deserved return to form for the band. With imagery rich lyrics, monumental arrangements and unrivaled vocals, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is an accomplishment for Florence + The Machine and demonstrates their artistic strength, which keeps surprising and surpassing the charts.
words: Christine Mathewson
Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface
Blurryface not only marked Twenty One Pilots’ best US chart performance (it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200) but also heralded success across the Atlantic. Their fourth album was their first to chart in the UK, peaking at 14. Admittedly I only became a fan of the duo in February this year but since then my life has changed quite dramatically. However, what makes this album more special to me was when I got to see them live in July. Topic wise it touches on issues ranging from growing up to media manipulation, topics not often touched upon by others while vocally, Tyler amazes when reaching for the crazy high notes like in “The Judge” and “Ride.” They have definitely brought their own flair to the music scene, combining ukulele melodies and rapping into their songs, something I can’t recall ever hearing before. Having had the album on a loop for several months following the release, my love for it bordered on worrying obsession at times. What a time to be alive.
words: Kenneth Ong
James Bay – Chaos and the Calm
England’s very own fedora-donned troubadour, James Bay, has had an outstanding year which has most notably featured him nabbing the Critics’ Choice BRIT Award, supporting Taylor Swift on the European leg of her most recent tour, a slot on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage and three Grammy nominations, the results of which will be announced in February 2016. The most relevant point to this though is his platinum selling debut album Chaos and the Calm which I’m happy to call my favorite album of 2015. Although 25-year-old Bay is widely known for his blues-y melodies and poignant lyrics, the album also contains feet-stomping, rhythmic-clapping worthy songs that fans—old and new—can sing along to. Chaos and the Calm is aptly named for its perfect mix and contrast across the record. As the year comes to an end, I am very glad to say that I was one of the millions of fans who got to witness one of his energetic and captivating performances. The energy of the record translates across wonderfully to stage whilst off it he is humble and genuine. I’m so thrilled and proud of his hard work, passion, and dedication, and already look forward to album number two!
words: Christine Nguyen
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Father John Misty is everyone’s favorite sardonic, sarcastic narcissist and his I Love You, Honeybear album topped my own personal list. Chock full of darkly witty examinations of America and modern culture, songs like “Holy Shit” and “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” are tongue in cheek and seem to be delivered with the hopes that the listener will catch on to the quiet lampooning of its subjects. However, Josh Tillman reminds us that as much as he portrays himself as a detached critique of culture, I Love You, Honeybear is also raw and open. Songs like “Bored in the USA” and “I Went to the Store One Day” are emotive and drip with real fear of the unknown possibilities of growing old and the disillusionment that can come with it. Vacillating between sincere and sarcastic, Father John Misty is full of contradictions and a healthy dose of pretension. Josh Tillman carefully crafts his stage persona and his music to make us think deeply about who and what we accept as givens. He’s ridiculous and honest and I Love You, Honeybear manages to be a million different things at once. Certainly it is an album that won’t be left behind in 2015, I expect it to be one of my best loved for years to come.
words: Celia Cummiskey
Years & Years – Communion
Years and Years’ Communion is a huge leap for the electro-indie trio and one of the most memorable albums of the year. It is not only musically impressive and in my top 25 most played, it digs deep into your soul and brings out that suppressed diva inside of you. With the album boasting four fantastic singles, it’s safe to say Years & Years are onto great success. The album’s first release, “Desire”, was a successful introduction and charted at 22 in their native UK. What followed was the band’s first number one single, “King,” and then “Shine” which peaked at number two – each bringing credibility to the British trio. The album’s best moments are in the dance melodies and Alexander’s insane vocals. The groovy island vibe of “Take Shelter” and Alexander’s soulful style in “Shine” are testaments. My favorite song of the album, “Real,” boasts a brilliant dance beat amplified by Alexander’s pleading vocal cadence and lyrics. While the tracklist of Communion could be a little more diverse, the numerous hits on the album validate the capability of this sprouting trio. Fans, including myself, will be expecting this underground band, who have had such a breakout year, to further bask in the spotlight in 2016.
words: Erin Hampton
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
It was only April when Sound & Color was released, and yet it’s been a contender for album of the year ever since. After their universally lauded debut “Boys & Girls,” Alabama Shakes leaped and soared over the sophomore slump. This silky, marvellously produced record proves that the Shakes have staying-power without having to lean back on their previous accomplishments or sticking to a formula. Instead, Sound & Color is a testament to this group’s musical prowess. They’ve developed, matured, and expanded their sound. For most of the record, the tone is mellow, somewhat melancholy, packed with both R&B grooves and punchy, blues-rock power chords. The album is sleek, sexy, slow-burning (aside from “The Greatest,” which swaps soul for its upbeat tempo). In a time where vinyl record sales are at its highest, and where people put their phones on “shuffle” as they go about their day, Sound & Color is a remarkable album that anyone could (and should) enjoy either as a whole, from start to finish, or as a collection of individual, stand out songs.
words: Lorenzo Cabello
CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
This year, Chvrches followed up their 2013 breakout debut album The Bones of What You Believe with Every Open Eye. Expectations were high, but the Scottish trio delivered. Everything about this record felt a level higher than their debut, lyrically, sonically, and beyond. Lauren Mayberry’s vocals were strong already but sounded more powerful and polished on their sophomore effort. Her performance was certainly aided by the content of the songs. From aggressive to triumphant, this record covered just about every mood and tone. This kind of emotional range is refreshing to hear from a modern electronic band. It was truly a group effort, with superb work on synth, guitar, and seemingly everything else under the sun from Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, who occasionally treats listeners by taking over on vocal duty. With Every Open Eye, Chvrches came back bigger than ever without losing sense of their electro-pop style that is loved by so many.
words: Ashley Seydel
The Neighbourhood – Wiped Out!
The Neighbourhood’s Wiped Out! is the epitome of California cool with a brazen epicenter. Expectations for their sophomore offering were high following the massive success of 2012 alt-pop single “Sweater Weather,” and the quintet made it clear that the new NBHD will depict maturity as a unit to launch their success. The record is a slew of dramatic build ups and theatrical melodies. Lead single “R.I.P. 2 My Youth” and companion “The Beach” display an ambience of recklessness and liberation. Singles, “Prey,” and “Cry Baby” offer simplicity and rawness with an upbeat catch. Highly anticipated was “Baby Came Home 2 / Valentines” is the sequel to “Baby Came Home” from their first EP. It retains the sensual aura but blends the minimal echoes and alluring acoustics of the band’s new sound. “Ferrari” and “Greetings From Califournia” are midnight anthems, fan-favorite “Daddy Issues” is a provocative play, and “Wiped Out!” is like a drug that will send listeners into a personal high. The Neighbourhood seems to have found their wine and are getting drunk off of triumph and with Wiped Out! they have managed to create a candid, genuine snapshot of who they are.