Oh what a year it was!
Adele reminded us all that you can still sell physical copies (if you’re the biggest female act, releasing a highly anticipated LP) setting records with 3.38 million units pushed in its first week. Taylor Swift started a trend of mainstream artists pulling their tracks off streaming services. Davd Grohl did a tour on one leg, while a Toronto city Councillor became everybody’s ‘internet Dad’ with the help of the Drake. The Weeknd finally gained the mainstream success he’s deserved, and rock music finally got good again with newcomer Courtney Barnett and seasoned veteran Kurt Vile. Apple Music (and Beats1) came into being, while old stalwarts like Rdio were bought by competitors.
This year was a incredible improvement over 2014 – and the programmers, clerks, consultants, editors and contributors of Playback and RXMusic are sad to bid it adieu.
Here are 50 of our favourites from 2015:
#50 – Ratatat | Magnifique
#40 – Jason Isbell | Something More Than Free
Without sacrificing his ability of lyrical precision, Something More Than Free showcases Isbell as an amazing performer and songwriter. Somehow, even as you listen to a copy of a recording, you still feel like you’re in the room watching an intimate live performance. This is a sound of a country music songwriter meeting the mastery of a great storyteller – major shades of Townes Van Zandt.
#39 – Joanna Newsom | Divers
As a lyricist, Newsom is second to none. Her dense lyricism is matched expertly with luxurious instrumentation, reaching the peak of her output so far. Not breaking from her own tradition of her bewitching style, Divers feels like the best ‘best of’ record of all time.
#37 – Blur | The Magic Whip
It’s difficult to call this record a comeback – even though it most certainly is. Reunited, Blur was able to put hard years of touring and botched recording sessions behind them to create an LP that is truly inspired.
#36 – Mbongwana Star | From Kinshasa
Very rarely is a debut record end up being a classic record for the ages. There’s a lot of artists out there defining themselves as a “future-sound,” but when a sound that actually sounds like ‘the future’ it feels like an arrival in a new city – a gripping mix of excitement, apprehension and sensory overload. This LP results in a sound that draws both from it’s roots and but stands on top of them only to look further and farther than ever.
#32 – Bjork | Vulnicura
Never compromising, this music hits even the most hardened music fan (and critic) to their soul. Gnawing, smooth and breathtaking, Vulincura shows Bjork, again, breaking every line she had set in previous undertakings. This record wipes away, in full, any memory of past works and leaves us with her most mature work to date.
#30 – Shamir | Ratchet
Yet another great debut making the “Best of…”, Ratchet is sneaky good. A completely honest pop record, Shamir makes good on the promise he has in his potential. The highs are high and the lows are low and the bootys shake. Heavy on the synths, bass and grooves – Shamir cuts through this noise with an amazingly virtuostic counter-tenor. In a year where big name artists whine about streaming services and fuss about release dates, Shamir does nothing but deliver an incredibly pure form of pop.
#29 – New Order | Music Complete
Engaging and effective, the album that New Order fans have been dreaming of for years is chocked full of guests. But by taking their time to find the right mix of contributors, New Order released their best record in almost 30 years. The album not only preserves their heritage but it also holds it’s own as an all-encompassing, fascinated and amazingly enjoyable record.
#28 – Kacey Musgraves | Pageant Material
It’s really tough not to go pop-country, but Kacey Musgraves stayed incredibly true to her core on her sophomore LP, Pageant Material. Smart, engaging, funny and still traditional (despite her taste for weed) this is arguably the best ‘true’ country record in a number of years.
#27 – Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
In a time where deeply personal songs and records are received with a cynical and un-caring gaze, Sufjan Stevens stripped away all pretense of ‘high art’ and creativity, and simply wrote an album about his parents. Beautiful and telling, Sufjan finally revealed himself and ‘the person’ he’s been writing throughout his entire career by finally revealing his ghosts to the world.
#26 – Future | DS2
Meeting all high expectations, DS2 is consistently awesome. Doubling down on the darker side, Future reaches the summit of the most successful period of his career. Brutal and beautiful this is Future’s best work in years.
#24 – Ryley Walker | Primrose Green
Ryley Walker breathes life into the nearly dead art form of 60’s art folk with Primrose Green. Sunny and jazzy, Walker’s second album was recorded with some of the best in the London scene and it produced a perfectly mystical sound. Almost indulgent the record and Walker’s band reanimates their specific aesthetic without adding too much when it comes to modern technique.
#22 – Grimes | Art Angels
The glorious electro-pop music Grimes created in Art Angels is impossible to resist. Funny and gritty all at once this record grows Grimes’ musical landscape to immeasurable heights. Uncompromisingly colourful and kaleidoscopic, this is the only album featured here that will make you want to shake your ass and cry it off all at once. A masterful feat.
#21 – Vince Staples | Summertime ’06
If this was the list of the least talked about rap records of the year, Summertime ’06 would top it. Vince Staples perfectly complimented his nuanced stories with focused and banging production. Illustrating realistic and first-hand accounts of gang life in Long Beach without trying to romanticize or shill out to commercial radio. It’s a lot to take in; sometimes too much. The 60 minute run-time feels like a marathon you did in a full sprint.
#20 – Chris Stapleton | Traveler
Finally breaking away from the days of cutting his teeth as a songwriter in Nashville, Country crooner Chris Stapleton broke out on his own with a variety of songs that casually go from Southern rockers to bluegrass waltzes, and back again. The depth and artistry of this record goes well beyond the first listen and the years spend behind the scenes churning out singles for Darius Rucker and Kenny Chesney has produced a country singer with an amazing set of skills.
#19 – Deerhunter | Fading Frontier
Fading Frontier is the most uncompromising record Deerhunter has made. Seemingly joyful and experimental, this LP has zero filler. An opus of experimental and intriguing rock.
#18 – Lana Del Rey | Honeymoon
There’s a hint of timelessness to this record. While still her standard intoxicating self, Lana Del Rey presents her most brilliant work. Although the album is at times boring, the record itself morphs continuously that makes the listener feel strung-out on different melancholic ideas.
#17 – Tobias Jesso Jr | Goon
Fragility is the name of the game when it comes to this Vancouver-natives debut. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Jesso uses his knack for songwriting and emotional delivery to create a crisp, clear and enticing record. Like all good pop songwriters Jesso makes the whole record – his personal tragedy in song form – feel universal rather than a concrete story.
#16 – Carly Rae Jepsen | E·MO·TION
How do you follow-up a career defining smash hit? The Pop world is paved with the careers of songstresses who have tried, and failed, to come back after their ‘big hit’. Instead of doing it in one hit song, Carly Rae does it in a whole record. Banger after banger rolls out of this LP making E·MO·TION one of 2015’s most interesting and spectacular Pop records. The problem with this record is that, well, it didn’t sell.
#15 – Kamasi Washington | The Epic
The Epic is significant almost due solely to the fact that it gained so much traction in 2015 as a contemporary jazz album. This just doesn’t happen anymore. A lot like other jazz records, if you’re not ‘into’ the art form you’ll probably just skip this one – however Kamasi Washington’s uncompromising holistic view of music and his saxophone playing makes him one of the first in a while to expand jazz to a wider audience.
#14 – Jamie xx | In Colour
Proving once again that ‘less is more’ – Jamie xx’s culmination of six years of work grows richer the more you listen to the spaces between. A master of the modern Miles Davis method of “it’s not the notes you play; it’s the ones you don’t” In Colour is an incredible solo debut of an artist giving a master class in pure musicianship.
#13 – Miguel | Wildheart
Another album from 2015 that benefited from its own lazer-like focus. Giving a big middle-finger to what is today’s “urban” R&B sound, Wildheart finds that mushy middle grounds between Frank Ocean, Prince and DaM-Funk.
#12 – Father John Misty | I Love You, Honeybear
Compelling and addicting, Father John Misty continues to explore wholly universal themes through his very personal and complex lens. An incredibly honest expression of love and self-loathing is not overpowered by the complex and beautiful melody and songwriting ability. I Love You, Honeybear is a fine blend of both character and technique.
#11 – Kurt Vile | b’lieve i’m goin down
Loose and blurry, Kurt Vile’s sixth studio album finds the artist sighing through his most diverse collection of tunes. Still self-deprecating despite becoming more and more successful, Vile remains deeply emotionally evocative.
And now, the Top 10!