Decibel Founder/Curator – Best Albums of 2015


Another year of sonic excellence has passed, leaving me compelled to create a “best of” list. For 2015 I decided on keeping it to 50 albums, spanning all genres. Looking back there were several trends that came through on my list, which I attempt to articulate below.

The most glaring trend that was apparent to me both as a professional music supervisor and DJ has been the dramatic backlash to mainstream EDM in 2015, something that many have been predicting for the past couple years. Looking at all the “best of” lists this year, the once dominant mainstream EDM artists are practically nonexistent. What I do see is an emerging “back to basics” trend in electronic dance music that harkens back to classic house and techno that was being produced in the late eighties to early nineties. Some examples from my list would include Romare, Kerrier District, John Tejada, Julio Bashmore and Duke Dumont, who continues to chart the tops with songs that sound more and more like C & C Music Factory (I’m bringing back Hammer pants BTW). One thing to mention, it can be tough to gauge electronic dance music based on the album format alone as the majority of dance music releases traditionally come in the form of singles or EPs. For that, I have a separate list going, which you can listen to on Spotify.

Picking up on the current trends in electronic music, this year delivered several of the most vocal heavy, melancholy electronic music albums in recent memory. This list includes Bob Moses, Howling, Maribou State, Nosaj Thing, Flako, Jamie xx and George Fitzgerald, most of whom delivered stellar debut albums this year. These albums all carry with them an “autumn mood”, rife with heartbreaking lyrics, minor chords and a rhythmic pulse that connects them back to electronic dance.

There was also a noticeable increase in left-field electronic music albums produced by women in 2015, including Holly Herndon, Colleen, JLin, Nocturnal Sunshine, Dasha Rush, Helena Hauff, Natasha Kmeto and Grimes to name several. With young “for woman, by woman” electronic music focused collectives like TUF (Seattle), (L.A.) and Discwoman (NYC) all pushing the envelope, I’m confident we’ll see more of this trend in North America.

Another trend that I found refreshing was that of brutally honest hip hop albums that traded in cliché subject matter and production technics for candid look into the artist’s psyche (e.g. Kendrick Lemar, Vince Staples, Earl Sweatshirt, Junglepussy). This has been sorely lacking in hip hop in recent years and a trend I sincerely hope inspires other artists in the genre to drop the pageantry.

In many ways mirroring the return to honest hip hop, R&B has been coming back strong in 2015 with stellar releases by The Internet, Jazmine Sullivan, Kelela, Kehlani and Andra Day, that latter of whom sounds uncannily like Amy Winehouse. Though they have more of a traditional live blues element to them, I would also include Hiatus Kaiyote and Alabama Shakes, whose brilliant Sound & Color album cracked my top 10.

With the rise of quality television, 2015 saw an increase in proactive television scores, in particular Cliff Martinez’s score for The Knick, Season 2 and Mac Quayle’s score for Mr. Robot, which I feel is the most interesting series to hit network television since Twin Peaks. The most memorable scores of 2015 though both graced the silver screen in my top two films of 2015, Sicario (score by Jóhann Jóhannsson) and Ex Machina (score by Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury).

I was also to happy to hear more electronic oriented psychedelic rock the likes of Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Deerhunter and !!! (chk chk chk), all of whom continue to cross over into new territory with slick production and strong frontmen. I’ve always appreciated this sound and attitude, particularly when it’s remixed by Soulwax.

Lastly, some of the most poignant and certainly poetic albums this year came from American alternative folk/singer songwriters Sufjan Stevens, Father John Misty, Kurt Vile, Beach House, Julia Holter, Low and Panda Bear. All of them delivered stellar albums in 2015, which I feel includes some of their strongest work to date.

So that’s my summery of 2015 in relation to album releases. Not the best year of the past five year; but certainly a transformational one, highlighted by a return to great song writing and strong lyrical content. -Sean Horton

If you have a Spotify account, you can listen to all of these albums and more in their entirety here.

1. Kendrick Lamar – How To Pimp A Butterfly : Aftermath / Interscope Records
2. Dave DK – Val Miria : Kompakt
3. Tame Impala – Currents : Modular Recordings
4. The Internet Music – Ego Death : Odd Future, LLC
5. Kelpe – The Curved Line : Drut Recordingsfla
6. Howling – Sacred Ground : Monkeytown Records / Counter Records
7. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell : Asthmatic Kitty Records
8. Floating Points – Elaenia : Luaka Bop
9. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color : ATO Records
10. Jóhann Jóhannsson – Sicario Soundtrack : Lions Gate
11. Flako – Natureboy : Five Easy Pieces
12. Holly Herndon – Platform : 4AD
13. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness : Domino
14. John Tejada – Signs Under Test : Kompakt
15. Carla Morrison – Amor Supremo : Cosmica
16. Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury – Ex Machina Soundtrack : Black Lot Music
17. Maribou State – Portraits : Counter Records
18. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear : Sub Pop
19. Colleen – Captain Of None : Thrill Jockey Records
20. Jamie xx – In Colour : Young Turks
21. Kerrier District – 4 : Hypercolour
22. Kurt Vile – believe i’m going down… : Matador Records
23. Junglepussy – Pregnant with Success : Junglepussy
24. Bob Moses – Days Gone By : Domino
25. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love : Jagjaguwar
26. Romare – Projections : Ninja Tune
27. Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show : RCA Records
28. Cliff Martinez – The Knick Soundtrack, Season 2 : HBO, Inc.
29. Rival Consoles – Howl : Erased Tapes Records
30. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier : 4AD
31. Jlin – Dark Energy : Planet Mu
32. Beach House – Depression Cherry : Sub Pop
33. Nocturnal Sunshine – S/T : I/AM/ME
34. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper : Domino
35. !!! (Chk Chk Chk) – As If : Warp Records
36. Luke Vibert – Bizarster : Planet Mu
37. Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon : Sony Music
38. Low – Ones and Sixes : Sub Pop
39. Natasha Kmeto – Inevitable : Dropping Gems
40. Andra Day – Cheers To The Fall : Warner Bros. Records
41. Julio Bashmore – Knocking’ Boots : Broadwalk Records
42. Dasha Rush – Sleepstep : Raster-Noton
43. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06 : Def Jam Recordings
44. Helena Hauff – Discreet Desires : Werkdiscs
45. Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete : Warp Records
46. Ta-ku – Songs To Make Up To : Fool’s Gold Records
47. Nosaj Thing – Fated : Timetable Records
48. Grimes – Art Angles : 4AD
49. Kamasi Washington – The Epic : Brainfeeder
50. George FitzGerald – Fading Love : Domino