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.

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Review: Man Overboard – Heavy Love

Man_Overboard_-_2015

Man Overboard has always been that band that stood just on my peripheral vision. Their battle ready slogan of “Defend Pop Punk” made you root for them, but something was always just a little off. “Cliffhanger”, off of the new album Heavy Love does a good job of explaining what I mean, as dual singers Nik Bruzzese and Zac Eisenstein rattle off the lyrics, “I realized that I’m a natural second best / And whatever is against me, I’ll appear as something less”.

But that isn’t this album. Heavy Love is the first Man Overboard album that really grabs what the band should have been all along and never lets it go.

Man Overboard have a definite hardcore fanbase, but they’ve seemed unable to really take advantage of the pop punk community in the way that their peers have over the last few years. Part of that, I believe, is that their albums have always felt lopsided. There are a few very good songs, and a plague of what could be argued as filler. Heavy Love feels like the first album that takes advantage of Man Overboard’s talent as songwriters. It’s the first album of theirs that I didn’t find myself skipping tracks on the second listen through.

In many ways, it reminds me of Saves the Day’s In Reverie or Weezer (pick any of the colored albums). The band has the confidence to push themselves in ways that they never had before, mixing smooth surfer rock and the harsh crunch of heavier pop punk successfully over emo lyricism.

In many ways, I wish this were the self-titled album of the band’s career, as it gives their sound the full body that it has always deserved. The guitars are heavy where they need to be, melodic and crisp. Listen to the way they pop and bounce during “Invisible”, the Say Anything/Franz Ferdinand styled breakdowns of “Deal”, or the control and melody of “A Love That I Can’t Have” before breaking into an all-out fury as the song fades to a close.

Nik Bruzzese’s bass rumbles along slightly overshadowed by the guitars, but pounds out some solid melody. Joe Talarico’s drumming seems a bit restrained during parts of the album, but unleashes full power when the songs break into choruses or solos. He basically commands “Deal” with quick snaps and rolling snares throughout the song.

Nik and Zac’s vocals are the best they’ve ever been. Zac’s deeper voice is a perfect balance to Nik’s surprisingly high notes. They really push themselves in ways that I’m not sure I’ve heard before.

Perhaps the biggest complaint that I’ve heard against Man Overboard is that their lyrics are regularly hit or miss, often covering the same material. Expect more of the same, just much, much better. With an album title of Heavy Love, it’d be ludicrous to think that the subject matter would be about anything other than relationships. It’s disappointing that the band hasn’t explored much beyond this subject matter, but what is reassuring is that it’s consistent this time around: the choruses are memorable, the verses are simplistic, but hold a depth the last albums lacked.

Heavy Love’s themes revolve around broken relationships. What is weird is that the songs don’t even seem particularly angry, but the overall tone is that of frustration with attempting to fix relationships. Lines like “If you never come home / Then you really must know / I adored you, and I adore you now” from “Splinter” or “And I already know / Cuz I can already tell / From how it feels / And how I just keep looking at you / I keep your pictures and I stare right at you”, from “She’s In Pictures” litter the album. It’s explored territory for sure, but there’s no arguing a good chorus when you hear it.

Heavy Love is what Man Overboard should have been a few years ago. This is the album that they should be known for. It doesn’t have the simple pop songs that makes a band stand out initially (see “Dead End Dreams”), but is instead packed full of every element that makes a pop punk record great. There is a lot of territory that the band isn’t covering and few places that push the boundaries of the genre as much as their peers. But Heavy Love is a solid album and a fun listen that justifies all the time invested in hoping the band really comes out on top.

As the verse in “Cliffhanger” ends, the band shout defiantly, “And the sad thing is that I’ve never been better / But if you look at the facts, you know I’ve never been better”.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and first encountered Man Overboard on the Warped scene. A $5 CD started this journey into following them. Defend Pop Punk!