The end of the year has arrived, a bit warmer than usual, but here nonetheless. Naturally, it’s time to count backwards. Let’s talk tunes!
Each month brought new releases from our favorite artists, delighting listeners and filling their commutes, their workouts, their parties, their chill-seshes — and also filling their top 10 lists. Well we’ve done those people 5 better: Here are Vimbly’s top 15 Albums of the Year. This is a condensed, yet comprehensive look at the music that had us swaying, grooving, head bobbing, even occasionally crying in our office chairs. Was it easy to pick only 15? No, it certainly wasn’t. It took a lot of hashing out, and a good amount of button-holing and back-room dealing, but we found a way. Many deserving records were left out: None of the 7 combined releases from Young Thug or Future made the list, and we had to leave out other favorites like Viet Cong, Sun Kil Moon, and Justin Bieber. Without further ado, we start at #15:
15. Third Eye Blind, Dopamine
It’s been six years since the last Third Eye Blind album — and for some of us (or at least the one that voted for this) that was too long a time. Six years of crawling through the desert, in desperate need of some Third Eye Blind-flavored Vitamin Water. Dopamine isn’t exactly a carbon copy of the band’s former music, but it certainly provides that Vitamin 3EB. Complete with a heaping portion of nostalgia-charged anthems with deeper sadness buried below, this album’s hard not to love.
Listen to: Rites of Passage
14. FKA Twigs, M3L155X
FKA Twigs’ sound is a cocktail of pixie pop and R&B, accompanied by haunting vocals and lyrics. M3LL155X, pronounced Melissa, is technically an EP with only 5 songs. They just happen to be 5 of the most impactful, beautifully crafted, and cohesive songs of the year. FKA Twigs has used M3LL155X as an outlet to portray details of a sexual and feminine self-discovery, with vulnerable and pained lyrics. The groans in the background represent the main character’s frustrations and battle against the domineering patriarchy. And at only 18 minutes, you know what you should do when it’s over? Play it again.
Listen to: In Time
13. Kurt Vile, b’lieve i’m goin down…
“Take a chill-pill, bro.” Anyone ever told you that? Chill-pills can be habit forming, and might drive up your health insurance premiums. Instead of supporting Big Pharma, chill out in style with “b’lieve i’m going down,” courtesy of one of chillest bros that ever broed.
Kurt Vile generally peddles in the type of languid sunny-day guitar rock that might make a listener lose track of things and ask themselves, “Wait, didn’t I already hear this guitar solo?” “b’lieve i’m going down” employs a bit of a darker soundscape, but it’s still in keeping with Vile’s trademark shaggy-dog style. The humor and incisiveness of the lyrics are the big progression: “Pretty Pimpin” describes an existential crises in the most hilarious way possible. A man looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognize the person he sees…but he “was sportin’ all my clothes, I gotta say pretty pimpin.”
Listen to: Pretty Pimpin
12. Milo Greene, Control
Milo Greene is not a guy, by the way, he is a they, and they’re a band. Let’s just get that out in the open. But if it were a guy, it would almost be like he took his first shower ever for this album, and by that we mean that they really cleaned up their sound. Milo Greene 2.0 comes complete with an up-tempo dance vibe riddled with lush layers and glistening vocal harmonies. Speaking of, each member of Milo Greene equally contributes to vocals, lyrics, and instrumentals — almost as if they were as one body. The result? A beautifully crafted record with catchy, addicting, well-written songs. Great job, Milo. Every one of you.
Listen to: White Lies
11. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
An exceptionally talented lyricist and songwriter, Courtney Barnett’s here to stay, and her album shows it. Her songs grow on you more with each listen, every time more rewarding than the last, revealing secondary meanings, subtle melodies, and hidden themes. Many of the lyrics are, for lack of a better term, “found poetry.” On “Dead Fox,” a tune nominally about driving on the highway and looking at roadkill, the chorus is “If you can’t see me, I can’t see you” — which is commonly written on the back of trucks. It also doubles as an awesome line about relationships, employing two separate colloquial meanings of the word “see.” First, “see” as in to understand, or “get” someone, and then “see” as in “to date someone.” Yeah, she’s a thinker.
Listen to: Debbie Downer
10. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
Twelve songs of Brittany Howard’s raw and soulful voice — how can you go wrong? Exactly, you can’t. Straddling the line between soul and psych rock, Alabama Shakes brought their heavy southern hand into the indie world with Sound & Color. The best thing about this album is that each beautifully crafted song lands on a different emotion. With a range so wide and pipes like Brittany Howard’s, this record is unstoppable. And so are the Shakes.
Listen to: Guess Who
9. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, Surf
This album has it all — R&B, hip hop, indie, funk, rock. Chance the Rapper followed up his breakthrough 2013 mixtape not with the expected solo debut, but rather with a genre-defying collaboration with a full band. Even while taking a backseat in the creative process, Chance, with his nimble vocals, maintains an outsized presence. This album is quite noticeably an ode to friendship and has a feel-good vibe. Each song is poetically sound. What Surf shows, more than anything else, is that Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment has an incredible musical and lyrical range that is outrageously valuable in the music scene.
Listen to: Miracle
8. Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon
Oh, Lana, you’ve done it again. Another addicting album of songs that either fill hearts or break them into a million pieces — and we love it. Honeymoon’s got an evident film noir influence, with 1940s-50s sounds surrounding you like ghosts of an eerie, romanticized past. While still reveling in the melancholy wandering that Lana has made her staple, this one emerges different. Is it the Italian murmurs in Salvatore? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s the drugs, the femme fatales, and the sexual exploration. Whatever the cause, Lana Del Rey seems never to run out of new tricks.
Listen to: Religion
7. The Vaccines, English Graffiti
Upon making English Graffiti, Justin Young said: “We wanted to make something that sounds amazing next year and then terrible in 10 years.” While we can’t speak for the latter part of the quote, we can certainly vouch for English Graffiti’s 2015 status. The Vaccines’ haunting melodies haunt the listener into a state of garage punk/indie rock/grunge pop hypnosis. With lyrics like “Served an ultimatum on a silver platter / I was on a plate but it doesn’t matter,” how can anyone resist this release from the English indie rockers?
Listen to: Dream Lover
6. Jamaican Queens, Downers
These Detroitians really had to hit a high mark after Wormfood in 2013, and while a lot of people might say this one isn’t as juicy, we’d beg to differ. The key to this concept album is a great pair of headphones. Once again, Jamaican Queens hold the crown in structure: as in, they throw it the eff out and take you on a one-way trip without a ride home. We love little details like the glass breaking beat in Never Felt Love and the deep-doubled Octaver vocals throughout. Though their sophomore album has a general drop in energy, there’s still plenty of that JQ essence listeners crave, including electronic/dance beats, catchy AF hooks, Spencer’s sassy lyrics/Bowie-esque vocals, and even a few melodic motifs returning (ex. Anna). Is it low-key, existential and depressing at times? Sure, but that’s what you signed up for. It’s an album called “Downers.”
PS There’s a great track-by-track breakdown here.
Listen to: Bored + Lazy
5. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Oscar Wilde once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.” Case in point: Josh Tillman. Stuck in a musical rut? Write songs from the point of view of a wry, absurd misanthrope! The Father John Misty character, some mix of cult leader, lounge singer, and late career Bill Murray, has freed Tillman from his own self-seriousness, ironically allowing him to write the most emotional and touching songs of his career. Beneath Father John Misty’s sneering lies an intense vulnerability, his cynicism a mask for heartbreak. The brief surfacing of his genuineness makes those moments all the more meaningful. It doesn’t hurt that the melodies and production are simply amazing.
Listen to: The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.
4. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
While 2014’s Heavyweight Champion rap album Run the Jewels II was stuffed with equal parts, yet clearly delineated, swag-rap and socially-conscious rabble rousing, Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 #1 contender splits the difference, beautifully merging hip-hop’s two dual impulses (wordplay-heavy braggadocio and social commentary) into one confrontational, ungainly mess of a thing. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Throwing funk, soul, and jazz into the equation, this is certainly one of the most difficult albums to ever become a phenomenon — and one of the most important albums of all time as well. To Pimp a Butterfly is captivating, intense, and spectacularly of the moment.
Listen to: The Blacker the Berry
3. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Contrasting Sufjan Stevens’ bombastic yet somewhat clinical previous releases, Carrie & Lowell is one of the most emotionally fraught albums we’ve heard — not only in 2015, but ever. Stevens’ melodies and gentle voice, accompanied mostly by sparse instrumentation and soft synths, envelop you in a warm, comfortable cocoon. It’s a harrowing yet beautiful experience. Songs focus on Stevens’ relationship with Carrie, his schizophrenic mother who died of cancer in 2012, and her husband Lowell, who came to serve as a father-figure for Sufjan.
Listen to: Death With Dignity
2. Tame Impala, Currents
Tame Impala: Providing perfect walking music since 2007. This synthy blend of warm feeling and nostalgia stood out not only for its overall good vibes, but for the flatout great tunes that accompanied them. “Let it Happen” and “The Less I Know the Better,” two singles, stand out for their writing and production. Currents covers a wide range of the emotional spectrum, from melancholy loneliness, to a love of adventuring (hey, sounds like Vimbly!). Kevin Parker’s pipe dream has become a reality with this new record, applicable and appealing for nearly any situation — whether as commute entertainment, bad dancing accompaniment, or night-time chill out soundtrack.
Listen to: The Moment
1. Grimes, Art Angels
We already knew that Grimes was a solid songwriter, but this time she turned an id-trip into a pop album. Rumour has it, Claire Boucher went all Bon Iver to knock this one out, shutting herself up in the mountains only to return with a full set of songs. The 10 Commandment Method seems to have worked well, according to genre-breaking hits like “Kill V. Maim,” “California,” and “Venus Fly.” And let’s not forget those tasty idiosyncratic morsels, “Flesh Without Blood” and “Realiti,” which don’t break genres so much as they just plain ignore them in the first place. She really opened up for this one and the result forms a fitting dichotomy. Raw but polished. Truth and diamonds all over this deck.
Listen to: Kill V. Maim
Another year in the books, another year closer to the glue factory. But there’s no reason to go down that inexorable road in silence — rock out to your favorite tunes! If any of these albums written about have piqued your interest, we’ve made a Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure, which can be accessed here. What were your favorite albums of the year? Let us know in the comments! Here’s to a 2016 filled with more awesome music.