Another year, another raft of excellent music is cast upon us.
Not only does the quality of music that invades our inboxes and our timelines seem to exponentially get better year on year, but there’s now more of it than ever before. It’s an obvious and much laboured point, but when you sit down to tally up your favourite records of the year, it’s a foolhardy task knowing there are bound to be some great release that somehow slipped through the net.
With that caveat out the way, between a core group of contributors we’ve selected the 20 best albums of 2015 from Bonafide’s corner, which include a free jazz opus, comeback records by a legendary indie rock group and electro artist, a two-track LP, an EP and a full on symphony. Happy listening.
20) Floating Points – Elaenia
Sam Shepherd’s debut album was never going to be anything less than a tour de force, except Elaenia was one in a way that not many people were expecting. The dance floor is left in the distance, and he instead partook in an unenviable task of composing neo-classical hooks in a challenging yet accessible way. Sound contradictory? It is, for everyone apart from Shepherd. The cognoscenti may sneer, but the results were wonderful.
19) Knxwledge – Hud Dreems
Stones Throw brought Knx to a wider audience this year, confusing a whole new crowd with missing letters and spaces. Hud Dreems is a gorgeous collection of beats, each choice from the famously prolific producer leaving you thirst for more as tracks seem to collide as a result of all-too short running times. His collab with Mndsgn and Anderson Paak as NxWorries will be stellar in 2016.
18) JME – Integrity
If any musical movement defined 2015, it was the upward trajectory (or more to the point, renaissance) of grime. The Adenuga brothers were central to the genre’s rebirth, with Skepta taking over America and JME releasing the mammoth Integrity, featuring a mix of old classics like Serious and 96 Fuckries with new bangers Man Don’t Care and Test Me.
17) Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is a wonderfully dark, down-beat album that seems entirely uninfluenced by anything other than Sweatshirt’s own world and interests. It is short, thoughtful and side-steps many of the pitfalls that have blighted Sweatshirt’s peers. Here’s an artist who’s nihilism seems serious, and who’s occasional playfulness all the more sincere.
16) Future – Dirty Sprite 2
Following the heat of the 56 Nights and Beast Mode mixtapes, Future Hendrix dropped his DS2 album out of the purple; it came fast and had every car and club rattling all summer.
15) Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
This has been largely absent from lists so far this year. Perhaps it didn’t reach enough people initially, maybe it’s a little too long… personally there’s not many other albums released this year that marry musical complexity with pop accessibility. A beautiful, incredible journey of an album.
14) Erykah Badu- But You Cain’t Use My Phone
Standout tracks include Dial’ Afreaq, featuring samples by Uncle Jamm’s Army/Egyptian Lover and Phone Down. The whole album sticks to the theme of Tyrone, one of Ms. Badu’s classic songs about a fictional phone call from her bum of a boyfriend. The album deserves repeated listens and once that happens, it’s infectious.
13) Tame Impala – Currents
It would be hard to argue that there has been any indie rock band as consistent as Tame Impala over the last five years. The term ‘indie rock’ is used in the loosest sense here, as they imbue their sound with heavy dollops of synthpop and disco on third album Currents, and especially on anthemic lead single Let It Happen.
12) Four Tet – Morning/Evening
At just two tracks measuring roughly around the 20-minute mark for each Morning/Evening isn’t the type of album you can dip into. Rather, it is an absorbing and gorgeous record that requires repeated listening to unravel the intricate sonic and emotional nuances that exists within. Four Tet proving yet again that it is possible to marry high concept with feeling.
11) Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
It’s been quite the year for breakup albums. Bjork, Tobias JJ, Coldplay. Even bits of Hiatus Kaiyote’s LP have their fair share of heartbreak. But Prass’ is more than heartbreak. It’s a torrent of pain, loss and desolation, crafted into songs achingly beautiful. They’re great songs, but thanks to Spacebomb’s rock solid arrangements, it’s even better.
10) Oddisee – The Good Fight
Woefully under-recognised in the kingdom of hip-hop music despite being one of the hardest working cats in it (he’s done 120 live shows this year alone), rapper and producer Oddisee churned out one of the most heartfelt albums of 2015 with the backing of his live band, Good Compny. Opener That’s Love wears its heart on its sleeve, while Belong To The World acts as both a very personal piece and a validation of being the ‘odd’ one outside of the crowd.
9) Egyptian Lover- 1984
The king of electro-hip-hop is back with 1984, which was a pivotal year for the Los Angeles-based producer considering his debut album, On the Nile, came out that year. From Into the Future and Killin’ It, it bumps with classic boom-bap beats and Egyptian Lover’s seductive lyrical musings.
8) Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
After winning the Mercury Prize in 2014 for Dead the Scottish three-piece absconded to a studio in Berlin to trump their award-winning debut with White Men Are Black Men Too. Structurally it’s almost a typical pop album — with 12 tracks all around the 3-minute mark packed full of catchy hooks — but that’s where the convention ends, because it is at times a thematically complex yet visceral record that has all the trappings of a classic.
7) Modest Mouse- Strangers to Ourselves
Isaac Brock and company returned with its sixth studio album early in 2015, which upon initial listen, felt like it fit perfectly in the Portland-based group’s incredible catalog. Standout tracks include Shit In Your Cut, Coyotes, Lampshades On Fire and Pups to Dust. Brock’s innate ability for writing poignant lyrics and playing guitar make him one of the best in the biz.
6) Kelela – Hallucinogen EP
Kelela reached new heights this year with her outstanding Hallucinogen EP. We all know that she has the whole sultry, hazed out R&B vocals on lock, but there was a greater variety of production she worked on here, demonstrating just how versatile and singular an artist she really is.
5) The Internet – Ego Death
Syd tha Kid’s project The Internet hinted at the potential of the band with their debut record Purple Naked Ladies in 2011. They further threatened to break into the elite bracket of R&B acts with 2013’s Feel Good, so when they came through with their magnum opus Ego Death this year, it arrived with an overriding sense of satisfaction that they had finally fulfilled their potential.
4) A$AP Rocky – At. Long. Last. ASAP
Rocky dropped the album the fans needed, Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 had the club on smash from the end of last year, LSD had the crazy video, he made a Rod Stewart sample bang and gave core fans what they needed while still pushing creatively and bringing solid features on board (Future, M.I.A, UKG et all). RIP A$AP Yams.
3) The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
A lofty third place finish for The Weeknd, aka Abel Tesfaye, may raise some eyebrows but Beauty Behind The Madness is at least deserving of the bronze medal. Brutally honest and at times, plain brutal: “Don’t believe the rumours, bitch, I’m still a user” (Tell Your Friends) themes of hedonistic drug use and casual sex sit incongruously with an album that easily went to no.1 in its first week.
But that’s the beauty of this record; the production oscillates between darkness and light but its always full, think Quincy Jones’s work with MJ on Bad and even Kanye’s (a producer on BBTM) efforts on 808s & Heartbreak, while Tefaye channels the inner turmoil of Marvin on What’s Going On (minus the political context). But the end result is something altogether different, unique and indisputably contemporary. Perhaps this is the sound of maximalist R&B, and what’s most surprising about it is that I really, really like it.
2) Kamasi Washington – The Epic
This fiercely joyful celebration of jazz music, spread across three discs, showed Washington as an innovator with an eye on the pleasures tradition can still bring. The Epic is a perfect companion piece for anyone interested in the creative milieu that helped spawn To Pimp a Butterfly.
1) Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
What is there to say about To Pimp A Butterfly that hasn’t already been said? K-Dot somehow managed to top the epic Good Kid, M.A.A.D City with a record that was intensely political, complex and universal in its message. Good Kid may have been the personal story of Kendrick’s own life, but TPAB is the story of America, told from its one true voice.