Every year, I write about my favorite music from the previous twelve months (here is last year).  It’s actually a pretty tough task, I buy somewhere around 40-50 albums a year.  Most of them are forgettable, but certain albums stick around and get a lot of rotations.  Some even turn into life long albums.  Some good examples of life long albums can be found in this year’s groupings.

That’s really why music is my favorite art.  It opens your eyes to a lot of things and frames the other events in your life.  When Frank Sinatra plays, I remember living on 26th and Dupont hanging out with my roommates.  When Wolf Parade comes on, I remember biking around Lake Harriet and Calhoun.  When Aesop Rock’s Daylight plays, I remember walking to class at St. Cloud State.  If you name most of the artists in my musical catalog, they usually have memories associated.  It’s the soundtrack to your life.  That’s really enjoyable for me.

There are a few things happening music wise right now that need mention–a huge amount of my listening is done at home through Sonos, which isn’t tracked in last.fm, so tracking it is harder.  Also this year I’ve started building playlists again, which means certain music is highlighted a lot more over albums due to repetition in those playlists.  I’ll need to figure out how to track better in the future.

Also of note–these albums need not be released this year, just new to me.  Without further ado, here are my picks for best albums of 2015.

Honorable Mentions:

The Kinks:  The Village Green Preservation Society  — Originally released in in 1968, this is one of their best albums (many would say their best).  This is a great family album, no swears, lots of sing along choruses and a good mix of musical elements to keep it fresh over time.  If you’re new to the Kinks this is probably a good place to start.

Oasis:  Definitely Maybe — A 1994 album from the UK rock supergroup, this was the one that put them on the map.  Like “What’s the Story Morning Glory” after it, the music is strong throughout with tons of memorable singles.  I listened to this most of the summer and is a good high energy offering.

Titus Andronicus:  A Most Lamentable Tragedy —  a 1.5 hour punk rock power house, extremely huge in scope and pulled off well by Patrick Stickles and company.

Waxahatchee:  Ivy Trip — This was a year filled with great female vocalists and bands.  I’ve always wondered previously why so many of my favorite bands had male singers, but this year it was very different.  Which is fantastic.  Waxahatchee is Katie Crutchfield, and she put together an amazing effort here.  Lots of differentiation from track to track with great guitars and plenty to keep you coming back for more.

Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell —  By all means this could be in the top ten, but it wasn’t a Sufjan year for me.  This is one of his tightest albums front to back, but it is sad and not always something that seems like listening to.   That said, if you are a fan of his work at all you already own it.  If you aren’t, you’re missing out on one of the better singer songwriters the indie genre has to offer.

Chvrches:  The Bones of What You Believe  — This album is old news by now, but I haven’t actually gotten around to picking up the Chvrches newest release in 2015.  This is a very solid first showing from the electro pop outfit from Scotland.  The lead singer has a great ability to bring together the melodies of her synth counterparts and they put together an album that has big compositions throughout.  The reviews are saying that their most recent release is a of the same vein, at some point in 2016 I’ll get that too.  If you are into synth pop this is a must.  If you aren’t but are looking for a fun album, this will still work well.

Actual Count Down

10.  Will Butler:  Policy  — Easily confused with his older brother, Win, both of the Butler brothers are in the acclaimed indie band Arcade Fire.  One of the best bands of the last decade, Arcade Fire has mostly been recognized for Win.  It turns out that Will has a really good voice as well.  This is his first offering, hopefully he does many more.  The album is filled with sporadic bursts of energy and bluesy guitar rock, backed by fast paced drums and lots of distinction.  Policy is polished and impressive as a first effort, however it is more like an EP than a bona fide full length.  Still well worth the time.

9.  Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I just Sit The Aussie burst onto the scene last year with a split EP, which is also very good, and this year put out a proper full length.  Both works are quirky, funny and well written compositions.  Barnett can play fast and slow, with a rock rhyming similar to Dylan on Subterranean Homesick Blues or with a lilting disinterest that hooks you that’s all her own on Depreston.  Each song has it’s own character and will make you laugh or smile.  It’s a meandering write up that will make you think about how you view your life.  It’s really good.

8.   Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman:  Lice  — I’ve lauded Aesop’s ability enough around here, however I am new to Homeboy Sandman.  His flow is extremely different from that of Aes, but they work well together on this five song split work.  It’s only an EP, but moves fast and has good variation from song to song.  Many collaborations like this do not work due to stylistic incompatibility, but these two should definitely put out more work.  Great intro to either of these artists and better yet you can download for free here.

7.  Desaparacidos:  Payola —  This was an excellent album from a band no one expected to put out more music.  Their last album was released in 2002, which actually made my best of list at #3 of 2009.  This is a punk rock album, but any music that Conor Oberst works on seems to have more melodic sophistication than your typical punk band.  The guitars are great, the sing along choruses and verses are great, the ideology is based on similar themes to “Read Music / Speak Spanish” – which honestly isn’t a bad thing, but makes you question how long Gen X musicians can write albums like this.

Again this is well put together and I highly recommend it, but to a certain extent I expect the musicians to move on to other pursuits due to a reality where little changes.  I’m not advocating for it, but you saw it happen with lots of artists from the 60’s, they grew older and moved on.  You can argue the merits of that eventuality, I would, but it’s interesting to see a band like Desaparacidos avoid that moral gravitational pull in their writing and energy.

6.  The Mountain Goats:  Beat the ChampThere’s little left to say about John Darnielle.  He wrote a concept album about professional wrestling and it’s fantastic.  Heel Turn 2 may be my favorite song of the year.  Like other tMG offerings, there are some songs that don’t fit as well in the cadence of the album overall, but the ideas and variation make their work so much fun to listen through.  You’ll always find something different and likely learn something new about yourself in the process.

5.  Bob Dylan:  The Cutting Edge (Bootleg Series) There is already a longish post about this offering here.  It lives up to the hype.  If you are new to Dylan this is a phenomenal way to get down.

4.  Front Bottoms:  Back On Top  ––  This is the best of the Front Bottoms’ three albums.  The guitars and vocals are tighter.  They even begin to add some back up vocals similar to how early Bright Eyes albums do and it’s a much richer sound.  This is an album looking back and forward simultaneously, giving thanks for the disinterested youth and finding the strength to look forward with self reliance.  Power pop punk rock at its best from a band you likely haven’t gotten into yet.  But you should.

3.  Beach House:  Depression Cherry — Back in a big way, Beach House blew everyone away this year with a fantastic album in Depression Cherry, followed up two months afterward with another very good full length Thank Your Lucky Stars.  This band is really amazing in that their sounds are so much different than most others, yet they continue to find new interesting ways to express themselves with instrumentation and gorgeous, lush arrangements.  Dream pop at it’s finest.

2.  Bob Dylan and The Band:  Basement Tapes Raw (Bootleg Series) —  I was certain that this was album of the year in January.  I listened to it nonstop and continue to listen to it today.  These songs are absolutely timeless classics, and sound so much better than the original releases do.  Thirty eight tracks of Dylan and the Band riffing on country, blues, folk and anything else that sounded like fun at the time.  They sound like they are having fun and have been doing it for decades.  Nothing is important, nothing means anything except the music — which doesn’t take anything seriously either.  Opening the first album with near gibberish and ending on the same note, they make it a point to show that music doesn’t have to be serious.  The second album is similar, but they end with one of the best songs ever written, I Shall Be Released — gorgeous and painstakingly important.  Like Marley’s Rastaman Chant, the song points out how life is only a journey that comes to an end.  The beginning of the album is focused on enjoying it.

1.  Alvvays:  Alvvays —  It’s hard to believe it, but Alvvays dethroned Bob & the Band by consistently getting rotations.  This is another female fronted alt rock offering.  It’s a pretty short album that is filled with high energy, interesting tunes.  Tough to put a finger on why it’s so good overall, but the songs just flow together and the album is easy to listen to at any time.  There are some pieces of music that win out due to their continuity, this is one of them.  It’s a fantastic album and I can’t wait to hear what they do next.