Our countdown of the best 40 albums of 2015 has shown what a vibrant and varied range of music has come out over the past 12 months.
Jay Rock – 90059
Emile Haynie – We Fall
A producer for Eminem, Lana Del Rey and Kanye West, New Yorker Emile Haynie called in some big-name favours for his own debut. As well as Del Rey, Haynie persuaded Florence Welch, Romy xx, Father John Misty and even Brian Wilson and Randy Newman on board.
Rather than a bunch of random tracks, Haynie’s guests helped vary the flow of his break-up concept album. The results made for the scope of the best Broadway musicals, with expansive ballads his stock-in trade. An overlooked masterpiece set to become a cult classic in years to come.
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
Abel Tesfaye looked like he’d come a cropper with his disappointing debut Kiss Land, but 2015 was the year The Weeknd went from mystery to world-beater. He wowed with Can’t Feel My Face at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and popped up on the 50 Shades Of Grey soundtrack.
Can’t Feel My Face was the sound of summer. Whether it was about drugs, a dentist or sitting on someone’s face, everybody was busy toe-tapping along. But the drugged out bombast of The Hills and the infectious Often truly represent his sound. Even if some of the lyrics suggest he hasn’t quite matured, he’s a definite future festival headliner.
Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People
A fluid, slippery mix of Bruce Springsteen’s energy, John Lydon’s confrontational attitude and the carnival spirit of early Dexy’s, Chicago singer Furman built on the slow-burn acclaim of his previous two albums to conjure up something magnificent. A celebration of an outsider finding success to be everything he hoped, Furman’s fourth album is like the leap Pulp made on His N’ Hers. Like Jarvis Cocker, Furman is both an unlikely star and someone who could never have been anything else. His live shows are routinely brilliant too.
Blur – The Magic Whip
Nobody expected a new Blur album in 2015, least of all the band themselves. A few days of downtime during cancelled dates in Hong Kong saw them in a shabby studio knocking out bits and bobs. After putting them aside, Graham Coxon cast his eyes over the tracks again and began to construct them into shapes he handed over to Damon Albarn for his approval. He wrote lyrics to fit.
The results were worth it, and the constraints on recording actually helped to create a record worthy of Modern Life Is Rubbish. As Alex James admitted, if they’d had time to think, the immediacy of comeback single Go Out or the punky venom of I Broadcast wouldn’t have happened. And that would have been a shame.
Future – Dirty Sprite 2
Right from the opening line of Dirty Sprite 2, “I just fucked your bitch in some Gucci flip-flops,” there’s a defiance to the album, as Future swipes at anyone he feels has wronged him. For its arresting delivery and visceral energy, DS2 knocks Kendrick Lamar out the park.
Whether dealing with drug use, being screwed over by the industry or the ugly demise of his engagement to Ciara – all through the Atlantan’s damaged vocal tone, and equally raw production values – this is the sound of a musician in full control of their music whilst entirely off the rails personally.
Jamie xx – In Colour
With his first true solo album, Jamie xx distilled all the UK dance music he loves so dearly into a cohesive palette. From the Young Thug-featuring summer anthem I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) through the Orbital-tinged Gosh to the uplifting melancholy of Loud Places with xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft, In Colour broke genre boundaries and won plaudits across the board. It’s just a shame there was no true live shows off the back of it, as they could have been something really special.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett’s debut full-length built on the impressive mini-album A Sea Of Split Peas and demonstrates exactly how the Aussie has established herself as the queen of nonchalance.
Pedestrian At Best isn’t pedestrian in the slightest and bares one of the biggest choruses of the year, Depreston is probably the best actually pedestrian song around, whilst Dead Fox is her most overtly political song to date, sharply tackling the destructive powers of Australian big business. A deadpan delivery over ragged jams marked Barnett out, confirming her as the inheritor of Pavement at their slacker prime.
New Order – Music: Complete
As the band admitted to Loaded, they knew they were under pressure to create something extra special for both their first album in a decade and their first ever without Peter Hook. Having decided to go back to their electronic side with Gillian Gilbert back in the band, the results were more spectacular than even they could have wished for. La Roux and Iggy Pop guested, but this was New Order back to their insular, dogged best.
The likes of Plastic and Singularity were a subtle update of their early electropop, while People On The High Line took the hedonism of their rave album Technique and mutated it into something thrillingly new from any band. Grown men wept at their triumphant accompanying tour, and who could blame them?
Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
It could have been such a mess: The Machine’s second album Ceremonials was patchy, and Florence Welch was rumoured to have gone haywire in the four years since.
She had indeed slipped her moorings, but whatever heartbreak and booze had done to her personally, it was worth it for a wonderful statement of intent. There were brilliant anthemic singles in Ship To Wreck and What Kind Of Man, which proved handy for her last-minute Glastonbury headline slot. But there was much else to ponder too, all with tunes uppermost.
Welch had always been a star. Album three saw her make the album fit for her charisma. Spectacular.