The 50 best albums of 2015
Every year we are astounded at just how many brilliant new albums bands have given us over the past 12 months. This year is definitely no exception.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Double J team submitted their favourite albums of 2015. We tallied up the votes and came up with the 50 most popular records of the year. Truth is, we could have easily put together a list of 100 and still left off some amazing recordings. This is a seriously fine list of albums.
There are unexpected comebacks and anticipated debuts. Epic hip hop marathons and charming, unassuming indie pop. There's music from Africa, America and, of course, a hell of a lot from Australia, among other countries.
We hope some of your favourites are on here and that you discover a few new gems that will become treasured records in the years to come. We can't wait for the next batch of brilliance to hit in 2016.
Here are the 50 best albums of 2015, according to us.
50. Custard – Come Back, All Is Forgiven
Sixteen years since their supposed final album Loverama, Custard returned. It kinda felt like they never left.
Come Back, All Is Forgiven is remarkably solid. Both David McCormack and Glenn Thompson have the same wry and relatable way with words as always. While the thought of Custard being mature is enough to make any fan shudder, there is less insistence on wacky sonic detours and wild experimentation than on past Custard records.
Custard were a band that meant so much so it's a relief to know that their first album in 16 years can slot into their wider catalogue and not feel weird. No Custard fan ought to be disappointed by the band's comeback album. We'll always be a little sore that they left us for so long, but, now they're back and all is forgiven. – Dan Condon
49. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
BADBADNOTGOOD teaming up with an icon of hip hop was a blindingly obvious collaboration. This album had to happen. Sure, the Canadian trio’s distinctive psych-soul instrumentals stand up on their own, but together with Wu-Tang's Ghostface Killah the painting got the frame it deserved. And I want to hang it up in every room of the house.
Unlike the Sour Soul title suggests, the fruits of this album suit a varied palate. The album showcases a sonic and emotional breadth a lot of hip hop can sometimes struggle to achieve. Ghostface Killah’s dynamic, stream of conscious style rides every well-thought wave. This is a cohesive album that you can revisit again and again. – Mike Williams
48. Jess Ribeiro - Kill It Yourself
Barely Dressed/Remote Control
Jess Ribeiro's latest record has a beautiful menace. Atmospheric and scary, bold and relaxed. The opening gambit and title track ‘Kill It Yourself’ hit me hard with its gentle but intimidating rollick. ‘Hurry Back to Love’ pleads with a desperate urgency.
Under the production watch of Mick Harvey, every minor chord resonates to the end, into the ample space.
This album is proof that despite what Star Wars had led us to believe, a turn to the Dark Side is not a bad move. One to listen to in front of the fireplace in an unfamiliar cottage. – Henry Wagons
47. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
The lo-fi fog lifts a little to let the funk shine through on the third record by multi-instrumentalist Ruban Nielson.
The New Zealander’s slippery falsetto coats gooey synths, while claustrophobic disco rhythms drive each song through a psychedelic-pop landscape which has become an Unknown Mortal Orchestra trademark.
The title track is the highpoint here, a glimpse into the polyamorous relationship Ruban was living in during the recording. The experience informs the whole album. It prompts questions about the nature of desire, love, choice, responsibility and memory.
But the soulful mood on Multi-Love is often upbeat and life affirming. And love, in all its forms, can conquer all. – Ryan Egan
46. Deradoorian – The Expanding Flower Planet
Records like this are fun because as you unpack them. You feel like you are unpacking the inner workings of a unique creative mind, stepping into someone else’s exotic vision of what pop music can be.
Deeply musical and deeply playful, The Expanding Flower Planet is experimental pop songwriting at it’s most compelling. Deradoorian’s distinctive multi-layered vocals intertwine with the rhythms of krautrock and psych.
Stepping out from a key role in Dirty Projectors and following on from a string of high-profile collaborations, Deradoorian proves no less ambitious than any of her collaborators. Each song zings with its own delightfully eccentric internal logic. – Tim Shiel
45. Songhoy Blues – Music In Exile
Songhoy Blues first came to my attention on the Damon Albarn helmed Africa Express' Maison Des Jeunes album. It was a collaborative showcase of musicians from Mali with Albarn, Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Brian Eno and Ghostpoet.
Since then, the political climate in Mali deteriorated. Songhoy Blues were forced into exile and their lives were in danger if they continued practicing music.
This is the literal starting point for this album. Produced by Zinner, the record charts the group's experiences of dislocation and homesickness. But it manages to still sound hopeful, even jubilant at times.
Musically, it merges the ancient and contemporary into a sound that is their own. It is a musical celebration of life that proves that even in the darkest of times, there is still beauty. – Myf Warhurst
44. Darren Hanlon – Where Did You Come From?
From Broken Hill to Nashville to New Orleans, Darren Hanlon wrote and recorded his fifth album on a journey you’d call freewheelin’ if it was the '60s. Today you’d shake your head at someone’s poor organisational skills.
But that’s what makes it special – a bunch of strange musicians recording in strange studios. They add sweet country and roots elements that sit comfortably alongside Hanlon’s urban folk blueprint.
From a shoot out on a cross country bus to memories of Halley’s Comet, Hanlon takes the adventures we could have planned but never did. He shares the heartbreak and yearning we also experience but articulate pretty badly.
The guy from Gympie is at his couch bunking, studio hopping, muso swapping best. – Dorothy Markek
43. Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
UK producer, DJ and musician Mark Ronson returned early in 2015 with his Uptown Special album. It saw him break firmly into the mainstream and once again show an uncanny knack for surrounding himself with the right musical collaborators.
The '80s-channeling 'Uptown Funk' featuring Bruno Mars took the worldwide single charts by storm. But cuts featuring Kevin Parker, Mystikal and Ronson's deep-south Gospel church discovery Keyone Starr were the real standouts.
Sometimes these 'producer'-type albums can become a mish mash of too many guests and too little vision, but not here. Ronson walks the line between musical credibility and pop sensibility. And I thank him for getting Stevie Wonder into the ears of a new generation. - Lance Ferguson
42. Christine And The Queens – Christine And The Queens
Heloise Letissier aka Christine and The Queens radiates equal parts strength, vulnerability and warmth. Her debut is a collection of carefully crafted, restrained, minimal electro-pop. It's made potent via some irresistible melodies and her quietly confident delivery. Not to mention her sharp suited dance moves that Madonna herself has admitted to using.
She is both poignant and powerful in her observations and experiences. It’s strange to think that ‘Christine’/Heloise might have never created a single song - she only did so on the encouragement of some drag queens she met in London. What she’s given us in this self titled release is evocative, intimate and an absolute treat to dance to. – Caz Tran
41. Tim Rogers & The Bamboos – The Rules Of Attraction
On paper, the combo of Australia’s premier soul outfit with the front man for one of You Am I is a bit odd. But when the formula works, it works. That’s why it made perfect sense for The Bamboos and Tim Rogers to follow up their single ‘I Got Burned’ with a full album.
Listening to The Rules of Attraction you’ll feel like tapping you’re into a cross-section of soul history. Authenticity in music can sometimes be hard to gauge, but there is no questioning The Bamboos are the real deal. See for yourself. – Mike Williams
40. Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin
I was new to Ghostpoet, so the fact Shedding Skin was a dense departure from his usual mono-syllabic approach meant little. In my headphones this was an extension to the half–thought out ideas Dean Blunt had started on last year’s Black Metal album.
‘Yes I Helped You Pack’ is a hint at the agony to come, leading to ‘That Ring Down The Drain Kinda Feeling (Feat. Nadine Shah)’ - the sexiest self-pity lament you’ll hear all year.
The tracks that feature genre-defying female guest vocalists helps stem any sense of self-indulgence. The insular nature of Ghostpoet’s lyrics become less claustrophobic and appear more multi-dimensional.
These are languid urban love-letters whispered with the authority of hard-won experience. It’s like Tricky and Leonard Cohen raised a boy with street smarts and a poet’s heart. Sigh. – Tatjana Clancy
39. Wilco – Star Wars
"What's more fun than a surprise?" Jeff Tweedy asked cheekily on instagram as he introduced us to Wilco's ninth studio album. In a year when fans of another Star Wars were being incessantly teased, this album dropped out of nowhere, no endless teaser trailers required. Instead it was free to download, right now. Surprise!
Kitsch kitty cover art and silly title aside, the fuzzed up, lean rock on Wilco’s most concise album in years took plenty of unexpected turns.
Tweedy worked largely alone, the band adding the gloss and grit to finished arrangements and basic tracks. The result is at times wild and weird but always Wilco. No surprise there. – Ryan Egan
38. Oh Mercy - When We Talk About Love
Four albums in, Alexander Gow, the man that maketh Oh Mercy, has crafted an endearing collection of jangle-pop classics.
Every song comes from the heart, with stories of love, desire, separation, loneliness and regret rendered with care. From the bouncy melancholy of 'Sandy' to the yearning 'Lady Eucalyptus', each song is beautifully crafted.
When We Talk About Love is a high point for Gow as a confessional songwriter, displaying a mastery of melody to be admired. He wrote the summery songs during a period overseas and released them into the heart of the Australian winter. But it's a record to be enjoyed any time of year. – Ryan Egan
37. Lianne La Havas – Blood
Lianne La Havas' Blood is a very different record to her 2012 debut Is Your Love Big Enough? Where that record was warm and soulful in a Bill Withers-meets Bon Iver kind of way, Blood is far more grandiose, with big, jazzy arrangements and a deep neo-soul influence.
La Havas' songwriting has hit a new level on Blood. It's ambitious pop music that hits those lofty heights that it's clearly striving for.
The new direction works well for La Havas and these songs are brilliantly constructed examples of quality jazzy neo-soul. Given she's still such a young artist, the mind boggles at how good her writing will get as she creeps further into her 20s. - Dan Condon
36. Julio Bashmore – Knockin' Boots
British producer Julio Bashmore's (aka Matt Walker) debut album came complete with a dizzying array of top quality guest vocalists (Seven Davis Jnr, Bixby, J'Danna) and a healthy disrespect for the purist stance that sometimes permeates soulful house music. It is this renegade attitude that makes the music on Knockin' Boots so vital, fresh and downright fun.
Tunes like 'Holding On' and 'Rhythm Of Auld' and 'Kong' wrap up disco, funk and classic house influences with high tech production informed by Bashmore's early love of the dubstep genre.
People often bandy about the term 'great party album', and some think this descriptor is condescending to ones 'work'.
Julio Bashmore understands making people dance can be high art in itself. He has created an immaculate, rich, portable, pop-up, take-home party for us all. - Lance Ferguson
35. Beat Spacek – Modern Streets
Beat Spacek's Modern Streets buries deep into your subconscious with shuffling rhythms, crunchy synth lines and the infectious hooks of neo-soul romantic and UK expat Steve Spacek.
Every moment is instinctual, every nugget a stream-of-conscious download of endearingly naff electro-funk, anchored by non sequiturs about cups of tea, love and sunshine.
Do I believe for a minute that this record is about growing up on the London streets, about UK club culture in the 1980s? Hell no. Its about a restless future-soul explorer who reached for the cosmos but instead found himself in Bondi, playing with his kids and an iPad, stumbling his way into making the feel good record of the year. – Tim Shiel
34. Beach House – Depression Cherry
Beach House's Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally defied convention in 2015, releasing two albums just a couple of months apart. Was it too much of a good thing? Possibly, because Depression Cherry was in and of itself another high water mark for the band.
Impressionistic and full of gorgeous melodies, Depression Cherry cherishes atmosphere. Its songs reach for that intangible, elusive emotional space beyond words.
Is it loss? Love? Or just a feeling of weightlessness, which makes you never want to come down? – Karen Leng
33. Dick Diver – Melbourne, Florida
Dick Diver have consistently delivered albums with a strong visual lyricism invoking heartbreak, hilarity and complexity. They paint, through song, an idea of Australian suburbia that no one has dared to tackle since Paul Kelly.
The band’s third album Melbourne, Florida continues with the band’s style of singing true to their Australian accents but with the added flourish of dreamy backing vocals and intricate instrumentation.
You could go as far to say this album is what it might sound like if Fleetwood Mac had formed in Brunswick. – Lia Tsamoglou
32. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
With their trademark pop smarts and an infectious sense of fun, Hot Chip hit the dance floor once again with Why Make Sense?
Their sixth album is both reflective and celebratory. It's built on good time grooves, but also offers poignant reflections on personal relationships and a "world that’s just gone wrong".
Their remixes and stints as club DJs has kept Hot Chip’s finger on the pulse of electronic music. But their love of classic soul, disco and hip hop enriches this album.
It makes sense, no matter where you hear it. – Karen Leng
31. Blur – The Magic Whip
If you had to describe the typical Blur die-hard, you’d call them an optimist with high expectations. Always hopeful the guys would patch up a relationship broken by booze and boredom.
Twelve years on from Think Tank, they did just that. Catching everyone by surprise after an intense recording session in Hong Kong, the result was an album that served up all the best bits of Blur.
It’s faithful to the band’s Britpop origins (‘I Broadcast’, ‘Lonesome Street’) yet allows Graham to wig and scuzz (‘Go Out’). It builds on grooves both experimental (‘Thought I Was A Spaceman’) and languid (‘Ghost Ship’) and mirrors themes on Damon Albarn’s 2014 solo album.
It might not be their best album but their legacy is preserved nonetheless. And I’m bloody glad they’re back. – Dorothy Markek
30. Ben Salter – The Stars My Destination
Ben Salter is an itinerant guy. His somewhat nomadic existence rubs off on The Stars My Destination in a big way. Despite Salter's profound Australian lilt, it barely feels like an "Australian" record.
The songs range from raucous and primal to soft and sad, but there is still cohesion. One of the benefits of a voice like Salter's is that the songs tie together quite easily. A fairly liberal use of strings and piano are other sonic touchstones that keep most of the songs sounding similar as well.
Ben Salter has written many great songs over the years, and the 11 songs here are as good as any of them. But it's not as if this is the ultimate Salter artefact. Instead, it feels like another stamp in the passport that is to be his lengthy, diverse career. - Dan Condon
29. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
Before this album, Jim James made his second solo album Regions of Light and Sound of God. It was a work of ego, with big and dynamic arrangements that could only have been made by a solitary mind. James’ return to a grand scale My Morning Jacket album is a clear and superb reaction to his prior solo experience.
The Waterfall reeks of a man excited to re-enter the room with his cronies and have a blast. Sharing the load and pushing their group synergy to its limits, almost to the point of derailment.
This is an album than spans the full gamut of volume. From quiet to loud, with the most delicate of acoustic numbers to thunderously rollicking four to the floor stomp.
It's a beautiful, scary ride. Like a vintage rollercoaster, it's thrilling for its peaks and troughs but exhilarating because, at any moment, the whole thing could just about fall apart. – Henry Wagons
28. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
Even though Fading Frontier might be Deerhunter’s most accessible to date, that doesn’t mean they’ve left their weirdness at the door.
Eccentricities run wild amongst the classic rock riffs of the record, with nods to R.E.M., Tom Petty and INXS all clearly stated.
A serious car crash in late 2014 gave Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox a “perspective-giving jolt”.
After the bratty anger displayed in 2013 album Monomania, Cox almost sounds at peace with the world in these songs. But look a little closer and creeping behind the façade of contentment is mortality.
After a year convalescing and a lifetime of being different, Bradford Cox is at a new stage of acceptance. - Peta Waller-Bryant
27. The Chemical Brothers – Born in The Echoes
Within seconds of Born in The Echoes starting, you know you’re set for an adrenalin rush that could only be the handiwork of dance music veterans like The Chemical Brothers.
Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons deliver a forward focus on their signature sound. Big elastic beats, rumbling bass and swirling acid soaked psychedelic grooves, doused in a good measure of pending chaos.
Where big drops and euphoric sonic payoffs seem to be the MO in a crowded dance music scene, we’re damn lucky to have the Brothers with their thoughtfully formed roadmap, offering up an alternate path to joyous escape. – Caz Tran
26. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
There's not a note out of place on Jason Isbell's Something More Than Free and everything is warm and tasty, as is the trademark of producer to the Americana stars Dave Cobb.
This record is a true songwriting masterclass. Every turn of phrase is considered and directed. Isbell’s previous album, the lauded Southeastern, was written in the wake of booze and bluster. Something More Than Free comes across more transcendent and broad in its sage-like storytelling.
From the shimmer of ‘24 Frames’ to the working class lament of ‘Speed Trap Town’ every narrative mainlines the heartstrings. - Henry Wagons
25. Floating Points - Elaenia
In the hands of Sam Shepherd, analog synthesisers don’t simply come to life, they actually sound alive. They gurgle and flutter, restlessly shifting and unfolding like some gorgeous mutation.
Cosmic synths and hypnotic grooves have always been the key elements of the Floating Points sound. But nothing quite prepared me for the leap he would take here on his first album length statement. He throws strings, choirs, live drums, guitar and bass into the mix to create a luxurious and timeless record that transcends any jazz or electronica tag.
Plus - and don't ask me how I know this - it’s a killer make-out record.
Listen to this album with someone you love, and then mark a date in your calendar nine months from now. If it’s a girl, why not call it Elaenia? – Tim Shiel
24. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
Natalie Prass began writing the songs for her debut self-titled record in 2009. Soon after, she joined forces with musical kindred spirit and childhood friend Matthew E White.
The pair recorded at White’s Spacebomb attic studio with limited budget and limitless connections. They enlisted the house band, with an added orchestra of horns, strings and woodwind.
These are songs of the sun setting on love. The end of a relationship and all the hurt, despair and grief that comes with it. The intricate and powerful instrumentation supports Prass’ lithe voice, which is full of emotion.
Sweet and lush, and at times heart-achingly dissonant, Natalie Prass has delivered the perfect breakup record and given us a brilliant, fresh take on the current soul revival. – Peta Waller-Bryant
23. New Order – Music Complete
No one doubts the strength of New Order’s output since their rebranding from their Joy Division past. What did deserve some new scrutiny was the band’s ninth studio album Music Complete. It came after a significant hiatus and after the acrimonious exit of original bassist Peter Hook.
Hook’s departure is, surprisingly, not missed on a thumping back-to-their-roots electronic record. Music Complete fulfils frontman Bernard Sumner’s original desire to be played at high volumes in New York clubs.
There's more nostalgia in the sparse artwork of Peter Saville and the return of keyboardist Gillian Gilbert. It's even in the guest vocals from La Roux’s Elly Jackson for ‘Tutti Frutti’ and Iggy Pop’s ‘Stray Dog’.
It's a break up record you can dance to, as simple as it is complex. – Tatjana Clancy
22. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Rough Trade/Remote Control
How do you follow up one of the most hyped albums of the decade? If you're Alabama Shakes, you release a second album that's far, far better. Sound & Color is a masterful cut of indie soul that sets the band apart from so many of their peers.
Brittany Howard has the most affecting voice that rock'n'roll has heard in many years. The band then back this powerful instrument up with complete class. Their arrangements have so much space, but they can be raucous and rollicking at the same time.
It’s astonishing that Alabama Shakes can play such raw soul music and still make it sound completely modern. – Dan Condon
21. Joanna Newsom – Divers
Bewitching to some, odd to others, Joanna Newsom’s startlingly original folk evokes strong feelings. But Divers, her fourth album, is her most compelling and accessible yet. Newsom is a masterful storyteller and her tales are woven with intricate instrumental detail.
Baroque orchestration surrounds her trademark harp. An intricate web of clavichords, harpsichords and marxophones around her expressive falsetto. Divers is breathtakingly beautiful and Newsom is a true free-spirit to cherish. – Karen Leng
20. Dan Kelly – Leisure Panic
Dan Kelly's Leisure Panic is a brilliantly executed concept album.
The majority of the album is about travelling, from Angkor Wat to Northern New South Wales, Greece to the Pacific Highway. Every tale is paired with fairly diverse but never disappointing music. Pastoral folk, dark, skewed rock, krautrock and general indie fare are all in the mix somewhere.
But the album holds together and that's down to the subject matter. Kelly's exploration of different takes on a single idea means he can get away with more experimentation than usual.
Just in time for the summer holidays, Dan Kelly delivered the road trip album of the year. – Dan Condon
19. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
Julia Holter's music hasn't always been accessible. But she's been marrying outsider ambition with more easily digestible pop in recent years and Have You In My Wilderness sees her continue in this vein.
The ideas are still wonderfully off the wall though. Holter continues to make unique music that is hard to categorise. It's hard imagine her ever not doing so. Her voice is as powerful an instrument as the album's biggest orchestral moments. It is consistently casual, but prominent. Her lyrics are laid bare on top of gorgeous compositions.
Have You In My Wilderness feels like a record that is going to age wonderfully. Holter has surely hidden plenty of ideas in these lush arrangements. – Dan Condon
18. Marlon Williams – Marlon Williams
I first took notice of Marlon Williams on a rainy night in Auckland, New Zealand. I stumbled into a venue in which he brutally slayed a crowd with a version of Elvis' 'I Can't Help Falling in Love'. Everyone was an embryonic pulp on the sticky pub floor, flooding it with tears. It is an epic power this man holds, in both voice and presence.
On his debut full length album, I'm happy to say he uses his powers for good! He could have chosen to take this record into bland vocal schmaltz that could lead him well into the empty pop stratosphere and an artistic wasteland.
Instead, songs like 'Strange Things', 'After All' and 'Dark Child' take this album through dark and delicate twists and turns. He creates angelic suspense and moments of genius that any Choose Your Own Adventure fan will sit back and marvel. – Henry Wagons
17. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Free jazz, psychedelic funk, classic soul, modern hip hop, cinematic interludes, slinky R&B. All this and more features on the groundbreaking To Pimp A Butterfly from Compton's Kendrick Lamar.
His 2013 album Good Kid, m.A.A.d City was so good that it felt like it might be his pinnacle. To Pimp A Butterfly is so much better that it feels like a pinnacle in modern music.
It's 79 minutes long and every one of those minutes features dense, leftfield lyrical, musical and production ideas. It's tough going trying to grasp it all at once, which is part of its brilliance. Every time you listen to this album, you'll discover something new.
It might feel a little bit intimidating at first, but it's worth spending a little time on it. It's a modern classic. – Dan Condon
16. John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
John Grant has a back story that makes others pale in comparison. After getting sober after years of drug and alcohol abuse, he moved to Iceland and released a handful of acclaimed albums. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is his third and it’s brimming with the brutal honesty and humour that we’ve come to expect from him. Remember, this is a man who announced he was HIV positive on stage at a gig. He holds nothing back.
The title of the album is loosely translated to “mid life nightmare” and this is a document of where he is now. It’s equal parts hilarious, sad, brutal and playful. Musically, it’s opulent and diverse. Some songs are dressed in strings, others in techno beats and synths. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll relate, you’ll love. – Myf Warhurst
15. Sarah Blasko – Eternal Return
Five albums into her career, one of Australia’s most distinctive vocalists and songwriters is still reinventing herself. From the first synthy bursts of opener 'I Am Ready', you know you’re in for something a little different from this Sarah Blasko record.
Blasko pushed the strings and orchestral sounds of her previous record aside, armed herself with an '80s synth and dove headfirst into writing a pop record.
While the pace is a bit different, this is still classic Blasko. She sounds as confident and refined as ever. Her voice is bold, moody and soaring as she tells the stories of love and friendship at the core of this great album. It’s hard not to get caught up in it all. – Peta Waller-Bryant
14. Jamie xx – In Colour
Young Turks/Remote Control
With fellow The xx members Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft appearing, Jamie xx's In Colour feels like more of a sidestep from The xx’s sparse melancholic beauty than a departure.
It’s an album born of the London club scene, where Jamie xx has become an in demand DJ. Shades of trip hop, jungle and dubstep permeate. There’s there’s no doubt Jamie xx can fly a dance floor, but the moody tunes here feel more like suited to a solitary dance at 6am before wandering home alone.
After some inspired remix work alongside Radiohead, Gil Scott-Heron and Four Tet plus R&B royalty Drake and Alicia Keys Jamie xx has proved himself a master of mood. He's adept at conveying more with less and he brings this brevity to many of In Colour’s most rewarding songs. – Karen Leng
13. You Am I - Porridge & Hotsauce
Although recorded at the studio of Daptone Records, Porridge & Hotsauce ain’t exactly oozing soul (save for ‘Two Hands’ with its big horns and gospel backing).
It’s great to hear Davey Lane on two songs (‘Buzz The Boss’, ‘Out To The Never Never’) with drummer Rusty Hopkinson channelling Animal vs Dave Grohl on the latter. Sweet, stirring strings make their mark on the poignant ‘One Drink at a Time’ and on ‘Daemons’ Tim Rogers lays himself uncomfortably bare.
Ten albums in, You Am I know what makes a great rock'n'roll band. It's a formula that goes beyond suits and haircuts. This is the sound of a band still loving what they do; pushing their instruments, voices and vocabulary to make (and keep) us happy. – Dorothy Markek
12. Laura Marling – Short Movie
Laura Marling’s time of isolation and self-exploration floating around Los Angeles has given rise to a tougher and more direct tone. This tone is perfectly accentuated by her electric guitar on Short Movie. She sounds fierce but also distantly expectant of those that have wronged her like a knowing maternal figure.
There’s an anxiety, wariness but also defiance that pervades these songs. At 25 years of age Marling has documented what feels like a lifetime’s worth of experience over her many great releases.
But the restlessness which compels this artist ensures whatever journey she undertakes next will reap her fans many rewards. Short Movie is no exception. – Caz Tran
11. Oddisee – The Good Fight
Mello Music Group
Washington DC's Oddisee released an album that had us both swinging from the chandeliers and staring out the window in deep contemplation.
The Good Fight's genius lies in the way it integrates organic, live instrumentation and samples into its beats. There's feel good warmth emanating from tunes like 'That's Love' and 'Counter-Clockwise'.
Oddisee mostly eschews the well-worn hip hop tropes in favour of provoking thoughts through his sheer eloquence and impassioned flow. This makes The Good Fight a hip hop album safe to play in front of Mum as well. – Lance Ferguson
10. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
Milk! Records/Remote Control
This hardly seems like Courtney Barnett’s debut record. It kinda feels like she’s been casually shouting the lines of her generation around these parts forever.
Every song is a story, told with character and humour in a way which is uniquely Australian and uniquely Courtney Barnett. Each line is a snapshot of not only what’s happening in her head, but your own at the same time.
From the Australian housing crisis, to wanting to go out when your bed is more inviting, and organic vs non-organic vegetables – these songs aren't trying to change the world. Though their honesty means they probably will anyway. – Peta Waller-Bryant
9. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
There’s been a lot of new soul that sounds like old soul this year, but this debut release by Texan singer Leon Bridges deserves its spot at the top of the pile. Coming Home has all the landmarks of a good soul record. It’s faithful to traditional, simple recording techniques. Bridges also matches it with a retro visual aesthetic.
It’s a simple, sweet and honest record sung by a man with a voice that deserves the comparisons to greats like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. A perfect Sunday morning record. – Myf Warhurst
8. Blank Realm – Illegals In Heaven
Bedroom Suck Records
Illegals In Heaven saw Brisbane's Blank Realm go into an actual recording studio (namely The John Steel Singers' Plutonium Studios) for the very first time. And it paid off.
It's hard to pigeonhole Blank Realm. If there's one characteristic that remains consistent through this album, it's that they're almost trying to be a pop band, but never allow themselves to become predictable. There's something unique about every sound and arrangement, but they're all clearly based on a love and understanding of great music.
There's not a bad song on Illegals In Heaven and barely any of the tracks in the cohesive set sound alike. In 2015, they didn't just follow up their most successful album, they've obliterated it. – Dan Condon
7. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m going down
Kurt Vile's b’lieve I’m going down is still a driving record to get lost in, but the hazy afternoon sun of previous album Walkin on a Pretty Daze has set and the lights are low.
Vile wrote most of the album at night and his lyrics harness his ability to tap in and out of consciousness. ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is the earworm hit, but ‘Wheelhouse’ is his desert jam favourite. Deservedly so, as we contemplate with Vile the universal concept of being alone in a crowd of friends.
If the sparse arrangements make you feel too much, just Google Kurt Vile and Lorde. – Tatjana Clancy
6. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
From the opening bars of the anti-capitalist 'Price Tag', Sleater-Kinney go for the jugular. No Cities To Love, blazes forth with an urgency, a passion and a momentum which holds the listener in a vice like grip from start to finish.
What a relief for all who feared the fire of Sleater-Kinney’s incendiary rock'n'roll might have dwindled to mere embers in 2015.
Sounding just as connected to their riot grrrl roots as ever, Sleater-Kinney play like a band possessed. Their songs filled with taut, tightly wound dynamics, spikey guitars and coiled melodies.
The impassioned vocals of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker are once again front and centre as they address the personal and political with spitfire lyrics. Sleater-Kinney’s eighth album is quite possibly their best. – Karen Leng
5. Tame Impala – Currents
Tame Impala's third album Currents marked a musical departure point for songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker. Never content to sit on his laurels, he largely eschewed the psych-rock tropes of the earlier records, revealing a 13-track opus of (often) downtempo, synth-heavy, dream pop gems.
The epic 'Let It Happen' is the anthem of 2015 for me, 'Disciples' is 1:48 of condensed pop purity, and 'Yes I'm Changing' says it all.
Currents' brave new sound polarised a few early on, but time has passed and the album has seeped into the collective musical conciousness. It already feels like a classic. Kevin knew we'd all catch up to him eventually... – Lance Ferguson
4. Björk – Vulnicura
Vulnicura reminds us that not only is Björk one of the most influential artists of the past 20 years, but she might just be one of our modern culture's most articulate empaths.
"Moments of clarity are so rare/I better document this," she sings. Thus begins a deconstruction of a relationship breakdown and its devastating personal and familial effects. An exploration as complex as life and love itself.
Add to that some of the most gorgeous and generous arrangements of her whole career and you have an album that confirms Björk as one of the most important voices of our generation. – Tim Shiel
3. Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
Hiatus Kaiyote returned this year with an album that raised the bar for Australian soul music. Choose Your Weapon roared out of the gates with a magic-wielding Mandrill and a collection of music that enthralled, enchanted and stupefied us.
Built on a tapestry of jazz, soul, electronica and telekinetic band interplay, tunes like 'Breathing Underwater', 'The Lung' and 'Molasses' prove that not only are Hiatus Kaiyote one of our national musical treasures, they're also international game-changers. – Lance Ferguson
2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
I wonder why such a quiet, uncomfortably bleak album is universally loved by fans and critics.
The splendiferous production of The Age of Adz has vanished. Sufjan Stevens' seventh album features only guitar and delicate voice, with occasional piano and gentle synth.
Stevens has used the songwriting process to express grief, loss and confusion after the death of his estranged mother. Further glimpses reveal relatable feelings of despair and loneliness... and one or two shameful desires.
Few artists have the courage to share a harrowing personal experience without some respite through black humour or even a hint of a bright side. Fewer still have such command of instrument and language that they succeed without sounding mawkish or milking the emotions. – Dorothy Markek
1. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Father John Misty casts himself as an idle drifter, an amiable misanthrope. At times he sings hopelessly romantic words. At other times he reminisces casually about lewd encounters with intoxicating charm.
He counters pretty melodies with sardonic quips and putdowns. We witness his cynicism: "Love’s just an institution based on human frailty" he sings on Holy Shit.
This transforms into a cautious acceptance of love and what it entails on album closer 'I Went to the Store One Day'. But the nagging doubts remain. It’s not a happy ever after, we all know that, despite the fantasies society projects onto us.
But, even so, this is an album about love in the truest sense. The space between the beautiful and the bleak. What we love and loathe. What we believe and what we ridicule.
Where Father John Misty ends and Josh Tillman begins lives a small measure of the real complexities of humanity. Listening to someone wrestle with that and approach a cautious realisation at the album’s conclusion is both a poignant and deeply satisfying experience.
– Caz Tran