The year is drawing to a close, it’s a time to look back and take stock of what went before. As the prophecy foretold, Unicorn Booty has convened the Council Of Matts (also known as our music and arts writers: Matt Craven, Matt Lawrence and Matt Keeley) to discern the very best music of 2015. Some of them are chart-topping hits, others are more obscure; all of them were essential listening in 2015.
Take a look at our list, presented alphabetically by artist, and see if your favorite album made it — if it didn’t, we hate to be the ones to tell you, but you are wrong.
25 — Adele
Sure, the album is the very definition of “populist,” but Adele is the only artist capable of uniting everyone together. Rejuvenated by her time away, she came roaring back, her voice infused with a new-found calmness that only motherhood can provide. The record-shattering 3.38 million copies that 25 sold in its first week didn’t hurt, either.
Standout Track: The River Lea
When you get to a certain age — 34, for instance — it’s suddenly discomforting to recommend bands that you obsessed over in high school. Suddenly it seems like the date on your carton of relevance might have already passed unnoticed. Still, the wordy Scottish sextet’s ninth album is one of their finest, as catchy as the stuff they were doing ten years ago, and possibly even more so. Not only that, but it’s a concept album to boot — each song is supposed to sound like a different type of Eurovision submission.
Standout Track: Enter Sylvia Plath
It looked like Blur were never going to get back together, what with frontman Damon Albarn monkeying around with Gorillaz. Even when the band did finally reunite for a brace of well-received London shows, the announcement of a new LP was still a glorious surprise. Thankfully, the new album delivered: Eschewing their guitar-heavy trademark Britpop sound, The Magic Whip was a surprising and inspired love letter to the Far East.
Standout Track: Mirrorball
If it’s not already an oxymoron, Damian Cowell is most famous for being one of the Australian anonymous members of art-rock band TISM. Since TISM broke up, he’s had a few projects (ROOT!, The DC3), and this is the debut of his most recent group. Cowell’s lyrics are wickedly satirical and his gift for pop hooks are well-served with the legitimately great disco arrangements. Whatever Cowell does is worth checking out, and the Disco Machine is no exception.
Standout Track: I’m Addicted To Moderation
Gliss Riffer — Dan Deacon
Dan Deacon‘s usually given the EDM label, and while that’s not wrong per se, it doesn’t really get to the depth of what Deacon does. He combines electronic and acoustic instruments (including an actual player piano he’s rigged up with MIDI!) His music is a little hard to label — he’s experimental yet poppy, heavy yet funny, weird yet accessible. He’s also collaborated with the phenomenal Adult Swim show Off The Air twice — this year for a short film based on his song “When I Was Done Dying”.
Standout Track: When I Was Done Dying
Honeymoon — Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey, returned after last year’s indie-rock influenced Ultraviolence, with an album of evocative dream-pop that hearkened back to her debut. The cinematic production made every song sound like a long-lost James Bond theme, and it acted as the perfect backdrop for Del Rey’s magnificently detached vocals, as she sang about getting high by the beach, and…err…eating soft ice cream.
Standout Track: God Knows I Tried
Sangre Cita — Dënver
The formerly twee duo comprised of Mariana Montenegro and Milton Mahan returned this year with the surprisingly great Sangre Cita. From the calculated disco of opening single “Los Vampiros” to the J-Pop shell of “Mai Luv,” this album is by far the greatest thing to come from the Chilean duo.
Standout Track: Mai Luv
Paper Gods — Duran Duran
‘80s new-wave survivors, Duran Duran, came back with their best album in a decade. While the opening title track suggested a somber, reflective album, they got the party started with upbeat bangers, inspired guest-vocalists, and knowing nods to their past.
Standout Track: Butterfly Girl
FFS — FFS:
Super-groups almost always suck, as they fail to be more than the sum of their parts. But this extraordinary fusion of American ‘70s quirksters, Sparks, and British art-rockers, Franz Ferdinand, was a treat. The songs were catchy yet angular, unintentionally highlighting what makes both bands so great. And on “Collaborations Don’t Work,” FFS crafted the most beautifully ironic and self-knowing mission statement ever.
Standout Track: Collaborations Don’t Work
Tetsuo & Youth — Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco’s fifth album is a step forward for the artist, and his strongest album since The Cool. Fiasco’s lyrics are stronger than ever, and Tetsuo & Youth feels like a complete statement — and the album cover is a legitimately outstanding piece of artwork. This album may have been overshadowed by To Pimp A Butterfly, but it’s equally outstanding.
Standout Track: Chopper
Rockland — Katzenjammer
The third album from the Norwegian quartet of multi-instrumentalists (seriously, they play at least fifteen instruments between them) is a little poppier than their previous two records, which have a Weimar-era cabaret feel to them. But whatever style of music Katzenjammer is doing, it’s always worth checking out. (Worth checking out too is Marianne Sveen’s solo project, Dandylion, which spans all genres.)
Standout Track: “Curvaceous Needs”
To Pimp A Butterfly — Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s newest album has swept the Grammy nominations this year, and with good reason. President Obama even thinks it’s great. Like good kid, m.A.A.d. city, it’s a concept record, but not quite as upfront about it — and the backing band, featuring a lot of jazz greats, including bass wizard Thundercat, means this album is absolutely solid. Check it out.
Standout Track: King Kunta
Froot — Marina and the Diamonds
Following up on the electropop of 2012′s Electra Heart, Marina Diamandis returned with an album of strange, sultry songs that pushed the boundaries of what “pop” can be. Diamandis’ unmistakable voice worked wonders, both as a seductress (the title track) and as a sensitive soul (”Blue”).
Standout Track: Solitaire
No Place In Heaven — Mika
After the lackluster Origin of Love, thankfully Mika is back to his poppy best. Mika’s strength has always been in his arena-friendly Freddie Mercury-esque voice, and No Place In Heaven showcases the singer the way he should be. This album will stand alongside his first two, Life In Cartoon Motion and The Boy Who Knew Too Much as yet another masterpiece in Mika’s hopefully long career.
Standout Track: Good Guys
Reality Show — Jazmine Sullivan
Straight up R&B isn’t as commercially fashionable now as it was in 2009, when Jazmine Sullivan first traded busted windows for her busted heart. That’s a shame, because Reality Show features Sullivan embodying a dozen different characters on an album that’s light on dreary slow jams and heavy with soul.
Standout Track: Stupid Girl
Ten Love Songs — Susanne Sundfør
Six albums down and still in her twenties, Norwegian singer-songwriter, Susanne Sundfør, knocked it out of the park with Ten Love Songs, a sophisticated look at the interplay between love and violence.
Standout Track: Accelerate
Dial-A-Song Direct — They Might Be Giants
This year, They Might Be Giants resurrected their old Dial-A-Song service, where you could call a number (844-387-6962), and — this part might blow your mind — hear a song. The band has also recorded a brand new song and music video for every week. Technically, it’s not an album — three albums will collect all the music, and two of those, Glean and Why?, are already out, and the third, Phone Power, will be out early next year… but why not take the drink-from-the-firehose approach?
Standout Track: ECNALUMBA
Thunderbitch — Thunderbitch
Surprise albums out of nowhere are always fun — but every once in awhile, they’re phenomenal too. Thunderbitch is a side project from Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes and members of Clear Plastic Masks, and it’s a thirty minute slab of pure garage rock. It’s unpretentious, fun, and above all else, rockin’. Seriously, if all side-projects were as great as this, they wouldn’t have a bad name! (Okay, okay, Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color deserves to be on this list too, but everybody already knows how great that album is already.)
Standout Track: Leather Jacket
Viet Cong — Viet Cong
Politics of the band name aside, Calgary quartet, Viet Cong, assembled one of the year’s best rock albums, a seven-track abyss of droning guitars capped off by an eleven-minute dirge called “Death.”
Standout Track: Silhouettes
Fifty Shades of Grey: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The 50 Shades of Grey film was a limp dick, but the soundtrack got us hard, thanks to an alluring combination of sultry covers (AWOLNATION’s reworking of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”) and inspired originals (the Weeknd’s “Earned It”). It was the hottest 61 minutes and 41 seconds of our year!
Standout Track: Love Me Like You Do
(featured image via Ralph Aversen)