Time again for my annual best-of music review! Each year, I pick my ten favorite “new” albums of the year, where “new” means new to me, but not necessarily released in 2015. Any albums I bought in the calendar year are eligible for the list, regardless of when they were released.

One interesting development this year is that music that I’m getting via my kids (now 20 and 17) continues to get better. Most notably, two of the albums in my top ten would have never been there if it weren’t for my daughter’s influence: Twenty One Pilots and The Front Bottoms. Arguably that number should be three, as I wouldn’t have bought Elvis Depressedly’s CD if I hadn’t gone to the Front Bottoms show where they were the opening band. That said, I’ve become more willing to delete albums from the kids that only have one or two decent songs on them (cough One Direction cough); those don’t appear here at all.

Here are my 2015 selections, in alphabetical order by artist (I pick the top 10, but I don’t order them further than that). The links are to Wikipedia, and a playlist of all these albums is on Spotify.

Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Bartnett – This rollicking debut album is one you’ll also see on a good many critics’ best-of lists for 2015, and deservedly so. She has a lot of clever, poignant songwriting, and the songs have a nice variation across the course of the album. Lastly, I won’t deny it: that she sings with a pronounced Australian accent is an automatic plus-one, at least.

Dodge and Burn, The Dead Weather – Since 2007, when I started choosing top-ten albums, Jack White and Allison Mossheart’s various bands (White Stripes, The Kills, Dead Weather, and solo Jack White) have landed on the list with nearly every album they put out. The trend continues this year with another solid entry as the Dead Weather super-group/side-project. The bad news is that they won’t be touring behind this album; the good news is that it’s because they’re each working on new (separate) projects. Look for one or both them here again next year.

New Alhambra, Elvis Depressedly – As noted above, I only heard of Elvis Depressedly because they were one of the openers at the Front Bottoms show I went to with my daughter. They sounded great, and in true indie fashion they were selling their CD at a table in the back. At only $5, I was willing to take a shot, and I’m glad I did. It’s short – just 21 minutes – and not something I want to listen to all day, every day. But it’s good stuff, inventive and interesting (you can get it from their Bandcamp page for just $5, too).

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence + the Machine – A new Florence album is an automatic buy, and a good bet for automatic inclusion in this list. That she was one of the few Austin City Limits Festival acts I was excited for this year only boosted her stock. There are more 3-star tracks on this album (six) than any other on this list, but that still leaves ten great Florence songs. Also, what a video for the single What Kind of Man.

Back on Top, The Front Bottoms – This is a band that I’d heard before, but it was my daughter’s intense love for them that made me really listen. That, and buying scalped tickets for her via Craigslist for their instantly-sold-out show at The Parish, and going to it with her. What started out as doing a favor for her turned out to be one of the best concerts I’ve been to in a while. This CD is their newest, and it edged out the others to land on the top ten; see tracks from their earlier work in the Best of the Rest mix, below. (Instagram.)

No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney – I could hardly have been more excited when Sleater-Kinney, one of my favorite bands of all time, announced that they’d reunited and had a new album already done. I bought it, and a ticket to see them at Stubb’s, as soon as I possibly could, and was rewarded with all the great music I expected. I won’t say it’s my favorite S-K album – reaching that status would well-nigh miraculous – but it’s a fantastic return to form and everything I could have asked for. (Instagram.)

Show Us Your Mind, Summer Cannibals – This is a band I heard of via the Sound Opinions podcast, and they’re absolutely great. When it came time to start picking albums for this list, this was one of the first no-brainer choices I made. There isn’t a ton of variation in song style: lots of defiant lyrics, sneering vocals, and solid rock backing it all. But since I love the one style they play, that’s no problem at all.

Blurryface, Twenty One Pilots – The second entrant to this year’s top ten that came via my daughter, with a big boost from their very solid ACL Fest sets (we watched the first weekend’s webcast, the second weekend in person); their intensity and authenticity are hard to resist. Their genre is hard to classify, though I guess hip-hop would be the closest fit. As with The Front Bottoms, this is their newest; tracks from their older efforts can be found in the Best of the Rest mix, below.

Ghost Notes, Veruca Salt – The reunion of 90s alt-rockers Veruca Salt wasn’t as widely anticipated as Sleater-Kinney’s, but it was similarly unexpected, and another big one for me personally. When I heard that Nina Gordon and Louise Post had stopped hating each other and started working together with their former Veruca bandmates on a new album, it was about two milliseconds before I backed their PledgeMusic campaign. The result was a solid album that I like a lot. Still waiting to see some U.S. tour dates, though.

My Love Is Cool, Wolf Alice – As they say: last but certainly not least, is Wolf Alice. Another of the (alarmingly small number of) bands I looked forward to at ACL Fest this year, they had the decency to not disappoint. Good, driving, and dark-ish hard rock; I look forward to hearing where this young band goes. (Instagram.)

That’s it for my ten favorite “new” albums of 2015.

And then there are all the rest of the albums. To complete my annual time capsule, I also make a playlist of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut, ordered not alphabetically, but in the best mixtape order I can manage with such a wide assortment. This “Best of the Rest” is also a playlist on Spotify, though this year I had more than the usual number of tracks not available there (four – I’ve linked up all but Taylor Swift’s in the list below).

  1. Flashlight – The Front Bottoms, The Front Bottoms
  2. Car Radio – Twenty One Pilots, Vessel
  3. Caja De Madera – Mala Rodríguez, Bruja
  4. Win Again – Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint
  5. Keep You On My Side – CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye
  6. Style – Taylor Swift, 1989
  7. En El Dancefloor – María Del Pilar, Songs + Canciones I
  8. Shadows – Au Revoir Simone, Still Night, Still Light
  9. The Next Messiah – Jenny Lewis, Acid Tongue
  10. Slow Ride – Foghat, Dazed and Confused
  11. Instigators – Grace Potter, Midnight
  12. Free Ride – The Edgar Winter Group, Even More Dazed and Confused
  13. Psychedelic Quinceñera – Tacocat, NVM
  14. Lone Star – The Front Bottoms, Talon of the Hawk
  15. Poor Ellen Smith – Wussy, Public Domain, Volume I
  16. Ven (Beautiful) [feat. Juieta Venegas] – Ceci Bastida, La Edad de la Violencia
  17. Breakfast in Bed – Wussy, Live at Cake Shop
  18. Ode to Sleep – Twenty One Pilots, Regional At Best
  19. Wrong Club – The Ting Tings, Super Critical
  20. KAGOME – Babbe feat. Sasi, Radiant Dancefloor
  21. Celebrate – Metric, Pagans in Vegas
  22. Au Revoir (Adios) – The Front Bottoms, Talon of the Hawk

– saw band live this year


Past years’ bests: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014