Darian Bolin’s Top 15 Albums of 2015

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15 – Yeezer – orig. by Kanye West and Weezer; remixed by Chuckie Nuggets

As good as you want it to be, but yet better than anyone would ever expect it to be, Yeezer is more than just a mashup – it’s a wonderful and total reimagining. Its biggest accomplishment, however, is making “Beverly Hills” seem like a song that isn’t totally terrible.

14 – Star Wars – Wilco

Another highlight in a career full of them, Star Wars is unique from its predecessors, an album possessing a sense of kinetic rock energy that doesn’t sacrifice Jeff Tweedy’s stellar songwriting or any of the instrumental boldness shown time and time again throughout Wilco’s discography.

13 – Tell Me I’m Pretty  – Cage the Elephant

Though it isn’t quite as musically or lyrically interesting as Melophobia, Cage the Elephant’s Grammy-nominated previous album, and it does often sound like an early-era Black Keys album (most likely due to the input of producer Dan Auerbach, the lead singer for said band), Tell Me I’m Pretty is still unique and distinctive enough to match the reputation for change Cage the Elephant has frequently displayed between albums.

12 – California Nights – Best Coast

California Nights continues Best Coast’s career-long love letter to California with an album that sounds like California feels: bright, sunny, and smooth, along with a fair share of deeper moments of quiet introspection.

11 – The Magic Whip – Blur

After a 12-year gap between studio albums, Blur returns with an album that combines all the best aspects of their previous work, while also being fresh enough to blaze a trail into the future.

10 – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World – The Decemberists

A sort of return to form for The Decemberists, showing that they can balance the distinctive indie folk sound that made them famous, along with a little bit of the more mainstream sensibility hinted at on The King Is Dead, their last album.

9 – Every Open Eye – CHVRCHES

Showcasing more confidence, bolder production, better vocal performances, and an overall “bigger” sound, CHVRCHES’ sophomore record breathes new life into the formula set up by their electrifying debut.

8 – American Beauty/American Psycho – Fall Out Boy

After Save Rock and Roll, an album released after a five-year hiatus, everyone knew Fall Out Boy was back. This album really hammers the point home. Bits of everything great about Fall Out Boy are on this album, including “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” probably the best song of their career. A hard-hitting album, an album that combines anthemic, stadium-ready rock jams with some more outside-the-box songs. The big plus, though, is that even through all the change, it still is instantly recognizable as a Fall Out Boy album.

7 – Pleasure to Meet You – Dead Sara

Pleasure to Meet You carries the raw energy and intense vocal performance of Dead Sara’s debut and changes it up, creating a much more interesting and experimental album, with plenty of surprises.

6 – Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

Emotional, intimate, and downright beautiful, Carrie & Lowell turns Stevens’ grief at losing his mother and makes something special out of it, something that at times feels less about sorrow and more about hope and memory. Stevens brings a quiet delivery, almost like a whisper, bringing an even deeper sense of sorrow to everything. This is an album that plunges more for the heart than the mind, cutting deep in every possible way.

5 – Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes

On Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes have crafted an album that is deliberately weirder than their previous album, Boys and Girls. This effort is a testament to the beauty of controlled chaos, with a stunning cohesiveness permeating the experimental and varied instrumentations as well as the classic blues-esque guitar work of songs like “The Greatest” and “Gimme All Your Love,” songs that wouldn’t have been too out of place on Boys and Girls.

4 – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – Florence + The Machine

Grandiose without feeling overblown, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is arguably the most mature album Florence + The Machine has ever put out. As per usual, the best part is lead singer Florence Welch’s vocal delivery; she belts out every word as if it’s the last word she’ll ever sing, putting her all into every song. Thematically, this album is the polar opposite of Florence’s last album, Ceremonials – where that one revolved a lot around death, this one is about life, about loving life, and about learning to live again.

3 – Art Angels – Grimes

On Art Angels, Grimes embraces a more pop-centric sound, but at the same time maintains the originality present on her previous works. Art Angels is in many ways an anti-pop album, combining catchy hooks with lyrics that in many ways seem to be against the idea of being an artist, like in “Flesh Without Blood.” An overall brighter album than Grimes’ previous work Visions, but not without an underlying sense of darkness slipping through the cracks.

2 – Hamilton – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Honestly, I never expected to like a Broadway album so much. I checked this out based on a recommendation, and I found that this was an unexpected gem of the year. Hamilton takes the educational motives of Schoolhouse Rock, combines it with the flow and machismo of modern hip-hop, and then throws in several other influences to create a wonderfully cohesive, educational, and fun album that isn’t at all hampered by a need to see the visualization of the songs and story.

1 – Beat the Champ – the Mountain Goats

This album came out in April, pretty early in the year. After it released, I spent all year waiting to see if any album could dethrone this one as my favorite of the year. Many came close, but none quite made it.  The best thing Beat the Champ does is turn an idea that could go so wrong – an entire album centered around the world of professional wrestling – and turns it into something that can be understood and connected with, regardless of one’s previous knowledge of the subject. On top of that, the instrumentals have more flair to them than previously displayed on a Mountain Goats album, like the horn section on “Foreign Object,” or the gentle closing piano melody on “Heel Turn 2,” the album’s high point. As far as I’m concerned, Beat the Champ is the champ.