A few months ago I thought to myself: “Self, is it 1997 again?” I was rocking to Marilyn Manson, Blur, Noel Gallagher, and Prodigy… Timbaland kept my head nodding… Bjork released something that sounded Homogenic… (Seriously, all those things happened in 1997 AND now again in 2015. Whaaaat?) Yes, I’m aging and nostalgic, but in my defense, my old heroes are still making new music. As the year progressed, some other familiar faces joined the fray. I thought 2014 was a huge year (seriously, go back and see how many gigantic — but ultimately disappointing — records were dropped last year) but this year is proving to be stellar. It’ll be interesting to see who survives until December and how the love-rankings change… Here goes:
1. Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor
This album did not leave my car’s dash for about 2 solid months. A return to form, a concise, tight work from a man who has finally matured and settled into a realistic and content place. Catapulted into my top 5 Manson albums of all time, which is no small feat.
Must: “Deep Six” | “Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” | “Devil Beneath My Feet” | “Cupid Carries A Gun”
2. Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect
Since 2004, Brandon Flowers has been one of my spirit animals. We’re the same age, and even though our lives are completely different (see: Mormon rock star vs. doubting Catholic nobody), every lyric he writes hits me right where it counts. If this was a Killers album, it’d be my 3rd favorite after Hot Fuss and Battle Born.
Must: “Can’t Deny My Love” | “I Can Change” | “Lonely Town” | “Untangled Love”
3. Empire – Original Soundtrack
What. A. Show. Thank God for Timbaland, because this soundtrack is just stacked, start to finish, with absolute bangers that hearken back to a funner, more bombastic time in hip-pop (i.e. Timbaland c. Missy Elliot-era & Timbaland c. JT/Nelly Furtado/2008 glory). The show is so good it could carry these tunes, but they stand on their own.
Must: every single song, except for the Courtney Love/Jennifer Hudson/Mary J. Blige songs… yes I’m serious, the cast can hold their own.
4. Carly Rae Jepsen – E MO TION
Yeah I’m surprised too. No idea from what corner of the pop heavens this glorious album descended from, but holy hell, it’s perfect. She deserves more credit and airplay for this. ’80s-tinged gems that are catchy, fun and not the least bit corny. Unfortunately, it seems like this record might get buried by Taylor’s unstoppable 1989 (still got legs!) but she really deserves at least some kind of Tove Lo-level exposure.
Must: “Run Away With Me” | “Emotion” | “Gimme Love” | “Your Type” | “Love Again”
5. Daniel Johns – Talk
I love Silverchair. I love Dissociatives. I love anything Daniel Johns does. Yet I still went into this with some trepidation. In the end, I’m still onboard. Whereas B.Flow is my Vegas spirit animal, Daniel Johns is my Australian walkabout guide. Produced by Lorde’s guy, it sounds like Sam Smith and Frank Ocean at some points, but it’s all Daniel. The Silverchair fans that never got past Frogstomp (lulz) are so pissed about this, but if you’ve been keeping up with his career, this is a wonderfully logical progression. Gorgeous.
Must: “We Are Golden” | “By Your Side” | “Cool On Fire” | “Dissolve” | “Chained” | “Faithless”
6. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Took a few spins, but the ol’ California spirit finally hit me. A great breakup album, it has a few bangers. Not as many as her previous records (Ceremonials is still my fave), but enough to warrant repeat listens. There are a few slower same-same tracks, but you can easily skip them and jump right to the good stuff.
Must: “Ship To Wreck” | “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” | “Queen of Peace” | “Hiding” | “Make Up Your Mind”
7. Dr. Dre – Compton
16 years later. This album is not a singles/hits collection. It’s not a party record. It’s a journey through Dre’s history, past and present, coming full circle at the “end” of his career. It’s exhilarating, heavy, and intense. It just came out, so I have no doubt that it’ll climb in my rankings by the end of the year. It’s quite the experience.
Must: “Genocide” | “Loose Cannons” (skip the murder skit at the end… yikes) | “One Shot, One Kill” | “Just Another Day” | “For The Love Of Money”
8. Kelly Clarkson – Piece By Piece
Nothing new here, just a solid, adept collection of pop gems from one of the best voices we have today. We’ve got some Sia collabs, some sappy (but so, so moving) ballads, and one particular banger that should not have used anything dubstep-inflected (so 2012) but that works so well. One of my favorite songs of the year, “Take You High.”
Must: “Heartbeat Song” | “Invincible” | “Someone” | “Piece by Piece” | “Take You High” | “War Paint”
9. Muse – Drones
I’m still on the fence about this one. It’s tied with The 2nd Law as the worst Muse album ever (doesn’t bode well for our heroes’ trajectory) but it actually has more good songs on it than its predecessor. So confusing. That old riff spirit is back and the songs are concise, but when you go back and listen to Origin of Symmetry (which Matt said they were trying to spiritually recapture) it’s really not the same. Sigh… downward spiral since The Resistance era ended…
Must: “Dead Inside” | “Psycho” | “Reapers” | “The Handler”
10. The Prodigy – The Day Is My Enemy
BOOM! This is a violent little record. Even though they’re “electronic,” Prodigy were always more comfortably lumped in with more aggressive and physical rock and metal acts (just look at their live shows). Their latest is just pure fury. Nothing new here, nothing really to write home about (nothing will ever beat Fat of the Land, even though Invaders Must Die comes really close). Just a straight-up punch to the face.
Must: “The Day Is My Enemy” | “Nasty” | “Rok-Weiler” | “Rhythm Bomb” | “Get Your Fight On” | “Wall Of Death”
11. Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
Great background music. Fun all-around record. Gets placement here simply for “Daffodils.” What. A. Song. (there’s also that song with Bruno Mars… maybe you’ve heard it a few times on the radio…)
Must: “Summer Breaking” | “Feel Right” | “Uptown Funk” | “Daffodils” | “In Case of Fire” | “Heavy and Rolling”
12. Big Data – 2.0
Where’d these guys come from?! This is one of those albums that can be played at parties from now until the end of time. Fantastic groovy songs with a wide array of exciting guests (Rivers Cuomo, Dragonette, Kimbra), but nothing beats the glory of “Dangerous,” one of the best songs of the year.
Must: “Business of Emotion” | “Dangerous” | “Clean” | “Snowed In” | “Get Some Freedom” | “Perfect Holiday”
13. Blur – The Magic Whip
Full disclosure: my family is from Hong Kong, where the boys recorded this album. So I came in super biased. Luckily they deliver. Anything is better (in my book) than 13 and Think Tank. There’s some of the their old energy here, a lot of solid pop tunes, and a little Gorillaz energy seeping in (“New World Towers” and “Thought I Was A Spaceman”). Happily surprised with how good this turned out.
Must: “Lonesome Street” | “Go Out” | “I Broadcast” | “There Are Too Many Of Us”
14. Tame Impala – Currents
By year end, this will probably climb up a few spots. It’s taken me a few listens to really appreciate the soundscapes. I was worried about the hype heaped upon this one, but so far, it’s delivering. Groovy, smooth, super catchy. Ronson’s “Daffodils” was just a taste of what Kevin Parker was up to… It’s an album of 70s-inspired dreamy space groove.
Must: “Let It Happen” | “The Moment” | “The Less I Know The Better” | “Disciples” | “Cause I’m A Man”
15. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday
I miss Oasis. You miss Oasis. Thank God he was the genius behind Oasis because this is basically another album’s worth of perfect Noel tunes. Nothing too revelatory here, but it’s so familiar and comforting to hear him do what he’s so good at. With some psychedelia tossed in for good measure.
Must: “Riverman” | “In The Heat of the Moment” | “While The Song Remains The Same” | “Ballad of the Mighty I” | “Revolution Song”
And then we have the “Close but no cigar” ones that kept this from being a “Top 18” list… they’re awesome albums, but as the year has progressed, they haven’t had the staying power as the 15 above:
1. Bjork – Vulnicura
It really is a gorgeous, heart-breaking album. But I’m not in the right place right now and this is NOT what I would consider feelgood stuff. It’s way too heavy for me right now, despite the moments of beauty and “classic” Bjork that’s shining through. It’s just too sad.
Must: “Stonemilker” | “Lion Song”
2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
This album is great, don’t get me wrong. And it is home to my favorite song of 2015 (“Pedestrian..” IS BEST). Her lyrics and delivery are stellar, the songs are cute, but I don’t see this staying in rotation past this year. Who knows.
Must: “Pedestrian At Best” | “Aqua Profunda!” | “Depreston” | “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party”
3. You + Me – rose ave.
Here simply to give it some exposure and remind myself that there are some gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous tunes on this record (a project from Pink and her guy friend). “You and Me” and “Unbelievers” are worth the price of admission, but I haven’t listened too thoroughly to the other tracks. Yet. This will likely get me through Autumn and Winter, so we’ll see whether it jumps by year end.
Must: “Capsized” | “You and Me” | “Unbeliever”