Top 10 Albums of 2015

Best-albums-2015

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not the holidays – it’s time to subjectively rank beautiful works of art so that we can collectively decide what the “best” album of 2015 was!

As obnoxious as the endeavor sounds, it never ceases to please. Indeed, a healthy debate about some of the year’s best music helps us reflect on what we loved about the past twelve months. These albums were not only culturally relevant and intricately constructed works of art, they were the soundtrack to our lives. What you’ll find below is an eclectic mix of artists and genres, each providing a unique voice and perspective.

While the list below reflects our opinions on a year filled with great music, you may find yourself in disagreement. Never fear! We’d love to hear your thoughts – share your favorite albums of 2015 with us in the replies!

10-heavy-loveMan Overboard – Heavy Love

Man Overboard have always been a band you want to love. Heavy Love perfects their sound, creating an album that I think will be their classic. Each of their albums have been enjoyable, but this one flawlessly delivers until the final breakdown fades away in “The First Degree”. “Splinter”, “Cliffhanger” and “A Love That I Can’t Have” are genuine staples that don’t try to reinvent pop punk, but showcase the greatest aspects of the genre with sharp guitar work and frantic drumming. For a band that seemed to have been slipping a bit a few years ago, Man Overboard are at their absolute best and appear ready to conquer the genre. – Kyle Schultz

9-thats-the-spiritBring Me the Horizon – That’s the Spirit

Bring Me the Horizon can’t seem to stop reinventing themselves and smashing our preconceived notions. The English rock outfit has completely shed their metalcore-by-the-numbers past and transformed into something far more interesting. While 2013’s Sempiternal appeared to be the final step in their post-hardcore progression, That’s the Spirit is an unexpected left turn of a record, deeply influenced by post-grunge and alt-rock sounds. Oli Sykes embraces his new smoother role as frontman with a surprisingly delightful delivery, whether he’s getting gritty on “Throne” or using his falsetto to great effect on “Doomed”. Bring Me the Horizon are no longer held captive by the confines of their previous scene – in this new world, the sky is the limit. – Kiel Hauck

8-beauty-behind-madnessThe Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness

Abel Tesfaye has no problem whatsoever presenting himself as a complicated, damaged individual, even as he croons deep into your soul on what may be his most accessible work to date. Beauty Behind the Madness is a debauchery and drug-filled pop extravaganza to the tilt, solidifying The Weeknd as one of the most captivating artists in music today. Whether it’s the horror-laced smash “The Hills” or the dark dance of “I Can’t Feel My Face”, no song is what it seems on the surface. From moment to moment on Beauty, it’s difficult to know whether to celebrate or collapse in tears. Maybe that’s the point. – KH

7-noel-gallagherNoel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

Chasing Yesterday is a return to form for Noel Gallagher. While his first solo album was a refreshing acoustic based pop album, Chasing Yesterday returns Gallagher to where he reins supreme – the rock world. Each song is a highlight of the album as a whole, which features some of his best guitar solos outside of Oasis. Gallagher sounds like he had fun writing it, and it pays off. What stands out the most about this album is how timeless it feels. These songs sit somewhere between modern rock and classic Brit pop, but a song like “You Know We Can’t Go Back”, with its thundering beat and mountainous bass, feels like you’ve known it forever. – KS

6-american-beautyFall Out Boy – American Beauty/American Psycho

Ever since their comeback a couple of years ago, Fall Out Boy have utterly dominated the industry. American Beauty/American Psycho is a perfect pop record, utilizing hooks and choruses that only FOB could write and pushing Patrick Stump’s incredible vocals to insane new heights at every turn. While Save Rock and Roll brought the band back with a stunning new sound, American Beauty/American Psycho perfected it. “Novocaine” alone features a dark, deep tempo that slowly morphs into a near-disco beat that only builds on Stump’s impossibly high vocals. “American Beauty/American Psycho” is the most chaotic song the band has ever written, drawing the listener in with a rich beat and obnoxious bass flaring over light guitars and Stump’s simple, sharp lyrics. Fans may complain that they miss FOB’s pop punk golden years, but there’s no denying that the territory they’re treading now is what they were made for. – KS

5-every-open-eyeCHVRCHES – Every Open Eye

When Lauren Mayberry sings, “Here’s to taking what you came for / And here’s to running off the pain” in the opening moments of Every Open Eye, it’s a declaration of CHVRCHES’ strongest trait. The sophomore album from the Scottish synthpop trio is an exercise in movement, providing glistening beats to compliment Mayberry’s sweet delivery, which is often rife with acidity, despite her tone. If the Bones of What You Believe was one of the most promising debuts in recent memory, Every Open Eye confirms CHVRCHES as the best band to rise from the electro-pop scene. – KH

4-comptonDr. Dre – Compton: A Soundtrack

It was a long, 16-year wait for Dr. Dre’s follow-up to 2001, but Compton comes just in the nick of time. Serving as a soundtrack of sorts to Dre’s journey since the inauguration of N.W.A., Compton packs a much-needed wallop. Sure, the album serves as who’s who of current and past hip hop royalty, but the voices within speak on behalf of an entire community, reaching even beyond the Compton city limits. Dre’s production once again affirms his legendary status, as each beat tells its own story. From the liquidy grip of “Deep Water” to the dirty grind of “One Shot, One Kill”, Compton is one of the most ambitious and deeply moving hip hop albums of the decade. – KH

3-imbueThe Early November – Imbue

The Early November has never been a band to shy away from bigger things, which made Imbue a welcome surprise. As a long-time fan of the group, hearing them ditch the poppier elements of their style in favour of darker, alternative sounds gave them a glow that hasn’t seemed to be there since 2003’s The Room Is Too Cold. Though emo elements are still prominent lyrically, the band sounds more relevant than they ever have. Ace Enders, a man known for his stellar song writing and incredible vocal range, pushes himself farther than we’ve ever heard him in his fifteen year career in songs like “Better This Way”. The haunting re-recording of “Digital Age” sends the band out on a high note as a rallying cry for music everywhere. – KS

2-no-closer-to-heavenThe Wonder Years – No Closer to Heaven

Once again, The Wonder Years have gone above and beyond what anyone expected of them. At this point in their career, it’s hard to imagine ways for the band to push the boundaries of their style of pop punk, but they have delivered yet another genre defining performance. Writing about worldly issues for the first time, The Wonder Years took savage shots at the pharmaceutical industry, abusive parents, and police violence while maintaining the personalized storytelling that sets the band so far above their peers. From the buzzing shred of guitars on “I Wanted So Badly to Be Brave” to the soft strums and rampaging fury of “Cigarettes & Saints”, No Closer to Heaven finds the extremities of sound and the band’s innate ability to perfectly capture emotion, fear and the optimism needed to fight through. – KS

1-pimp-a-butterflyKendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

How do you follow up good kid, m.A.A.d city, one of the most heralded hip hop albums in recent memory? With an unapologetic funk and jazz infused record that seems to defy classification, of course. It’s hard to tell at times whether To Pimp a Butterfly is a letter penned to Kendrick himself, or the collective outcry of the black community in America. No matter, as the album demands your attention from start to finish, leaving little room for rebuttal. Kendrick spits venom on tracks like “The Blacker the Berry” and “For Free?”, but songs like “King Kunta” and “Alright” border on celebratory. To Pimp a Butterfly refuses to go down easy and requires repeated listens due to density. It’s also the most important album of the year, while still managing to be the best, which is no small feat. – KH

Honorable Mention:

Mayday Parade – Black Lines

Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

As It Is – Never Happy, Ever After

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Posted by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Dr. Dre – Compton: A Soundtrack

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Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre isn’t the album we were waiting for. It’s the album we didn’t even know we wanted. Inspired during the filming for “Straight Outta Compton”, Dre walked away from Detox, an alleged forthcoming album over a decade in the making, to create what we currently have on our hands. Compton isn’t Detox, but it’s sobering in the best way possible.

Dre’s past solo work, The Chronic and 2001, are more than just landmark releases – they’re cultural touchstones that serve as definitive examples of hip hop sound for their respective eras. That Dr. Dre would release an album 16 years later that captures a disposition and dialogue that aligns so deeply with current events while simultaneously expanding on present sonic trends should come as no surprise.

You can buy Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre on iTunes.

You can buy Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre on iTunes.

It’s hard to boil Compton down to one particular theme, but it’s clear that this release appears to be Dre’s own personal retrospective on over two decades of west coast hip hop and its cultural impact on a city and the country as a whole. That’s a lot of weight for one release to carry, but Dr. Dre’s shoulders bear the burden alongside friends, both new and old. This isn’t unexpected – Compton’s voice is and has been a collective and collaborative one ever since N.W.A. took the scene all those years ago.

This time around, it’s hard to ignore the painful situational similarities. The L.A. Riots feel not as a distant historical event, but rather as an aching reminder of how little has changed and how much racism continues to plague our country. There is frustration and despair present on Compton to be sure, but there’s also hope.

To listen to Compton is to transition back and forth between time periods, both thematically and sonically, sometimes getting lost along the way. This creates for wonderful moments when verses from the old guard sound remarkably current and urgent. Listen to the way the tempo changes on “Loose Cannons” when Xzibit takes the stage or the throwback beat on “Issues” that makes room for Ice Cube to drop the line, “Today was a good day”.

As with every Dre release, though, blossoming voices get plenty of space to speak, and Compton is no exception. Unsurprisingly, Kendrick Lamar takes every opportunity to flex his muscles, defiantly spitting, “Still I got enemies giving me energy, I don’t wanna fight now / Subliminally sent to me all of this hate, I thought I was holding the mic down” on “Darkside/Gone”. Other up and comers like King Mez and Jon Conner get their chance to shine as well.

Dre spills some guitar riffs across his canvas on “One Shot One Kill”, providing a grimy beat for a confident Connor to spit, “I told my city, ‘Hold me down,’ now look how high they hold me up”. The track is a perfect backdrop and you can feel Dre’s ability to capture an emotion in the music. Just like “One Shot One Kill”, all of Compton is layered with an intentional feel for not only the individual rappers who appear on the track, but the message we take away.

“Deep Water” and its aquatic vibe is a perfect example. Here, the menacing beat offers Lamar an opportunity wrestle with his past and present experiences with his home city in a moment that feels like a spiritual extension of good kid, m.A.A.d city. “I’m a C-O-M-P-T-O-innovator, energizer / Inner-city bullet fly til that bitch on auto pilot” he spits before lamenting, “This is life in my aquarium”. As the track ends with a drowning Lamar gasping for help over the sounds of delicately placed horns and a clanging buoy, the imagery is excruciating.

When Compton isn’t meditating on the past turned present struggles of the city itself and the divide between a projected and actual reality, it’s reflecting on the musical movement it spawned. Both Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg contemplate on the genre they spearheaded and sneer at the fraudulent fallout on “Satisfiction”. And what would a Dre experience be without longtime sidekick Eminem losing his mind for 32 bars? Em spends his time on “Medicine Man” reflecting on his own journey alongside the Doctor, while predicting his eternal persistence as he fires, “And I hope my spirit haunts the studios when I’m gone / My picture jumps off a poster and just floats through the halls / And fucking goes through the walls like the ghost of Lou Rawls”.

In perfect fashion, Dre is able to tie the entire ruminating whirlwind together with “My Diary”. The closing track speaks deeply of Dre’s appreciation of his roots and his fond memories of friends in the lab when it all started. “I remember when I got started my intention was to win / But a lot of shit changed since then / Some more friends became enemies in the quest of victory / But I made a vow, never let this shit get to me / I let it pass, so I consider that part of my history…And don’t forget that I came from the ghetto”.

In just over an hour of runtime, it’s easy to forget about Detox. That album may surface one day, but it’s hard to imagine it having the same cultural weight that Compton brings to the table in 2015. It’s a record littered with violence – something that in the late 80s was a jolt from the comfortable confines of suburban safety for many. Now that violence bangs like a gong, resounding in the eardrums of indifference to racial hate and the brutality and death that ripple out of it.

For over two decades, Dr. Dre has been at the forefront of a movement that offered a glimpse into a reality that feels so foreign for so many, juxtaposing his storytelling against a backdrop of timeless music and sound. If Compton is the closing chapter for Dre as a solo artist, it’s an appropriate ending. Time will tell if the album earns the same cache as his past work and stands the test of time, but right now, it feels like a dose of the right kind of medicine.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.