A Year of Beautiful, Weird Grooves: 9 Best Albums of 2015

There's more music out there than any one person can realistically ever listen to, and 2015 saw the release of many new albums by many artists. 

Regardless of what anyone wants to tell you, the year was really dominated by a limited number of releases, in terms of quality and buzz. But the most popular music isn't necessarily the most amazing.

The music industry in 2015 was perhaps more fluid than it ever has been which has opened the door for a wider variety of styles to come to the forefront and attract significant fan bases. 

You could say it was the year of experimentation. While ornate arrangements bespeaking progressive days of old have been trending towards the forefront of popular music for at least a couple of years now, 2015 probably saw the most successful, most experimental music gain popularity in decades. 

So we're running down our top 9 albums of 2015-- alphabetically --because it's all music. If it's on this list, it's the "best" to someone. 

1. Consider the Source - World War Trio


via Consider the Source

New York City's Consider the Source returned this year with a triple album for the ages. World War Trio, three discs of Sci-Fi Middle Eastern Fusion at its finest, is exactly what Source fans needed in 2015.

After five years without a studio album and two live albums in the interim, CTS crowd funded $30,000 and produced three discs of life-giving sound. The first disc, a six-part opus entitled, "Put Another Rock in That Bag," stands alone and was released before the last two discs. 


It spans all of time and space, integrating classical styles and very contemporary methods. Discs two and three cover more of the "traditional" Consider the Source sound, with their heavy instrumental stylings blending ever so smoothly with jazz, funk, and progressive elements inherent to Source.

You can catch Consider the Source on New Years Eve at the Playstation Theater in support of the Disco Biscuits. You can grab tickets here. For other awesome NYE plans, check out our guide.

2. D'Angelo & the Vanguards - Black Messiah


via Papermag

For 14 years after D'Angelo's 2000 album Voodoo, the world only heard him featured on music with kings like Snoop Dogg and J Dilla. 

There was plenty of drama in the near decade-and-a-half of studio album silence, including arrests and a car accident, while D'Angelo outgrew his insecurity around his sex symbol status. He taught himself to play guitar and stayed in the swing of things behind closed doors.

Though Black Messiah was released in December of 2014, it might as well count as a 2015 album because everyone was living off it until around March simply because it's amazing. 

With controversy and activism coming to a boil surrounding NYC, Ferguson, Baltimore, and more, Black Messiah was themed to the times, reflecting national unrest and the need to pull together-- a far cry from Voodoo's more traditional R&B wares.

3. Dopapod - Never Odd or Even


via Metro Times

Northeastern progressive dance four-piece Dopapod saw their greatest year yet in 2015, playing Bonnarroo and beyond following the massive success that is Never Odd or Even

Although it's a November 2014 release, it shone so brightly we can't consider it a 2014 album-- it deserves recognition here because it's stayed fun until this day which is much more than many similar bands can claim. 

Never Odd or Even continues down the path Dopapod set out on with their 2012 release, Redivider, with the notable inclusion of vocals which makes their progressive dance-rock style much more digestible to new fans, illustrated perfectly by bassist Chuck Jones' vocals on "Nerds." 

4. Dr. Dre - Compton


via 20some

For hip-hop heads, anticipation around Dre's Compton was so palpable it could be sliced with a knife. 

After scrapping the doomed Detox album and starting from scratch, Dre assembled a ferocious team of lyricists to create Compton, including Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, The Game, Ice Cube, Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, and featured most the newbie Anderson .Paak (who's now on everybody's radar, and may be considered the best new popular artist for many people out there). 


Production was handled by a series of giants like DJ Premier, Dem Jointz, and Dre himself among many others, and the album has an extremely contemporary feel to it, featuring enough ornately devised and electronic elements for you to wonder, "Wait, is this really a Dre track?"

It's not a collection of obviously G-Funk type beats. Yes, that flare is present, but Compton is more of a challenge to absorb than your usual Dre fare, and that's a very good thing. 

The density one finds on Compton compared to 2001 is impressive, and perfectly suited to the year's progressive hip-hop. In short, a bunch of old school Dre beats wouldn't have done the trick. 

5. FKA twigs - M3LL155X


via The Vinyl Factory

FKA twigs is one of the more impressive pop stars planet Earth has ever seen. Living in the groove of "experimental" music that has resurged so much in popularity over the last couple of years, twigs' M3LL155X is an exercise in exactly that-- progress. 

Perhaps the least obvious and most stunning aspect of M3LL155X is the chilling nudity surrounding her vocals. Whereas other artists in her position would be utilizing heaps of vocal effects, twigs' voice sounds mostly clean for the majority of the record, unless a given mood is called for.

That is to say, for a vocalist, she's chillingly up front with her voice and style, which only stand out more than expected in conjunction with such outlandish and experimental beats. 


6. Kamasi Washington - The Epic


via 8Tracks.com

If 2015 is the year experimental, progressive music made a comeback, then Kamasi Washington's The Epic led the charge. 

The LA-based saxophone virtuoso made a splash on the popular music scene arranging portions of Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar albums, and went on to captivate the imaginations of countless listeners, serving as something of a "gateway drug" to jazz. 


Young people like to throw the word "epic" around a lot without realizing that it's supposed to describe something of near unimaginable scope, brilliance, or difficulty. "Epic" should describe an odyssey, not a slam dunk-- but Washington's album is both. 

It's three discs, nearly three hours long, and features two drummers, keyboard players, and bassists. The Epic includes Broadway-esque melodies and throwbacks to jazz's golden age, while grounding every track with an inexhaustible curiosity. 

All one can do is surrender to the flow of it, as it doesn't move like other albums on this list, or even longer Best-of lists for 2015. The Epic is its own animal-- up to date with throwback references in melody and arrangement rather than lyricism.

7. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly


via Jezebel

It may be true that more people agree on Kendrick Lamar's king status than anything else. To Pimp a Butterfly is probably the best album of the year. Its hyper-relevant social observations are astute and moving to anyone with a heart.

To Pimp a Butterfly marked fantastic growth for the most dynamic young rapper in the game, Kendrick Lamar. Tracks like "King Kunta" and "Alright" exude a positive and constructive afrocentric charisma much needed in a year wrought with trials and tribulations for the African-American community. 

In contrast to Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City,  Lamar's delivery on Butterfly is noticeably settled. Rather than alternating between four or five different cadences, Kendrick's using only two or three and focusing more on what he's saying to potent effect.

The instrumentals are just as impressive, reaching back in time and forward into the future simultaneously in much the same way as Southern California comrades Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington. 

8. Kurt Vile - b'lieve i'm goin down...


via Slant Magazine

To a degree, every Kurt Vile release sounds pretty similar. Major influences revolve around country, folk, rock and roll or new wave while remaining grounded with a solid sense of humor that may be easy to miss for some, while being the focal point for others. 


b'lieve i'm goin down isn't much different from that winning Kurt Vile formula, except it's positively darker. In Vile's own words, "It's definitely got that night vibe..." and rightly so as it was written at mainly at night.

It's another album in the Americana vein including Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, while carrying a distinctly contemporary tone with gleaming sarcasm and of course, banjo. 

9. Tame Impala - Currents


via The Current

Tame Impala's Currents was one of the most anticipated albums of the year, and for most people, it was a surprising win. 

Instead of carrying on down the pop-meets-psychedelia path with bunch of Black Sabbath-type riffage added for good measure, Currents is basically a disco album. It's danceable in a way no other Tame Impala release has managed to land. 

More importantly, it's dreamy as all hell. It almost sounds like a Xanax-laden night on the beach. Currents was released to almost unanimous critical acclaim, begging the question, "Would they praise anything just because it's Tame Impala?"

Well, maybe. The record does have its detractors who claim it doesn't include enough variety, like it's one long kind of sad song you can sort of dance to. Others claim it's the best album of the year, and perfectly oriented towards introspection and dance. 

Regardless of what anyone says, it's hard not to sing along to the hook on, "'Cause I'm a Man."

Check out 7 Best TV Shows We Watched in 2015. 

[Feature Image Courtesy Instagram] 

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