If there’s one consistent story in 2015, it’s quality music rising into the mainstream. Just look at the big stories of the year: Tame Impala, Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Jamie XX…all of these artists are responsible for making tasteful sounds popular. It’s a beautiful thing to see pop radio being replaced for a more hands-on exploration of music, and as that continues to happen, I feel like music blogs take on more of a roll as taste-makers. No one is relying on Casey Kasem to give them new music anymore. Instead, as music releases, it is up to the internet to boost it up. If an artist goes viral, it’s because enough people thought it was awesome. That happened a lot this year, and it seemed to happen to musicians making quality sounds.
Here’s my 35 favorite releases of the year, including a heavy leaning on hip hop and jazz. Every person has a sound of their year, and you’ll see what mine was after perusing through the list. Check out something you haven’t heard before, and always keep digging for new music.
-Chris Tart [editor-in-chief]
35. Four Tet – Morning / Evening
This two-track EP hardly qualifies as an album, but at 40 minutes long, it also isn’t the shortest effort on the list. Four Tet created some beautiful music with “Morning” and “Evening,” and despite not feeling like a record, the project was great.
34. Neon Indian – Vega Intl. Night School
The 80s synth sound was alive in 2015, with Vega Intl. Night School and others putting a new spin on a vintage sound. This is a party record that you can play all the way through to soundtrack your good times.
33. Ducktails – St. Cathedral
He may be best known now for his role in Real Estate, but Matt Mondanile is also an awesome solo musician. St. Cathedral takes the bedroom project Ducktails to the next level with awesome production and luscious sounds. It’s different than Real Estate, but a natural progression for the guitarist/singer who has already released multiple albums with the Ducktails project.
32. Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD – Sour Soul
What did you think would happen when Ghost linked up with some of the dopest beat players out there? BADBADNOTGOOD laced the Wu-Tang God with a bunch of beats, and Ghost did his damn thing with them. The result was different than either party’s typical record, which showcased a depth that would have otherwise went unseen.
31. Cheatahs – Mytholigies
Mythologies is vital shoegaze album from a band that I had never heard of. I first listened to this when Rough Trade was playing it one day while I was lurking around the shop. Just goes to show you that even if you’re pockets are empty, a trip to the record store can yield great, new music.
30. Marc Cary – Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2
The Harlem-based keyboardist released a great, modern jazz album with Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2. If you’re itching for some smooth jazz that dives into drum ‘n’ bass, hip hop, and some worldly sounds, then look no further.
29. Snoop Dogg – Bush
Snoop Dogg might be hip hop’s most versatile OG. With Pharrell by his side, Snoop actually impresses with his funky, 70s-inspired album Bush. Guests include Kendrick Lamar and Stevie Wonder…who else could pull that off?
28. Khruangbin – The Universe Smiles Upon You
Khruangbin’s music is a total anomaly: it’s trippy, but well-structured with a definite groove. It’s equal parts thai-funk and psych-surf. It’s unlike anything else you’ve heard, but isn’t trying too hard. The trio has a bright future, and the universe is certainly smiling upon them, as it is us.
27. The Breathing Effect – Mars Is a Very Bad Place For Love
Here’s another album that takes jazz concepts and dresses them up for the modern age. These kids are young, and doing this Dark Side of the Moon-ish jazz sound that I just can’t get enough of.
26. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…
As one of the present day’s most interesting singer-songwriters, Kurt Vile had a high bar set for his sixth studio album. He reached it with a variety of folk, indie, and rock all tied together by his unique brand of Dylan worship.
25. Bad Plus Joshua Redman
The Bad Plus and Joshua Redman are four of the better jazz musicians out there playing. When they got together to create an album, it didn’t disappoint, as the complex compositions keep you on the edge of your seat for the duration of the listen.
Brainfeeder did wonders for jazz in 2015. Amongst their releases was Kneedelus, the collaborative effort between Daedelus and Kneebody. After a sort of clunky start, the LP smooths out to deliver some of the most intriguing music of the year. This record is full of meditative moments, avant-garde stylings, and a unique approach from two unlikely companions.
23. The Game – Documentary 2-2.5
Game came back strong with three discs worth of material between the Documentary 2 and the 2.5 release that came shortly after. By collaborating with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Nas, Anderson .Paak, Dr. Dre, Drake and more, he rose to the top with a fresh batch of tracks that further fostered the ‘new west’ sound.
22. Lettuce – Crush
We’re so stoked that Lettuce followed up 2012’s Fly. As one of the hardest working live bands in the business, Lettuce’s members have been busy with Break Science, DRKWAV, and Pretty Lights Analog Future Band, not to mention working alongside a huge number of musicians. It would seem that the other projects have helped Lettuce to hone in on a sound that wasn’t achieved in the earlier days of more straight-laced funk. The new stuff can get dark and moody, and with a tasteful dose of electronics, Crush is one of the best releases of the year.
21. Young Thug – Barter 6
I tried to understand Young Thug for a while to no avail, and then Barter 6 came out. This weirdo’s melodic style of rap was perfected with this record, in my opinion, as he passed up on club bangers to make something a bit more, dare I say, tasteful.
20. Title Fight – Hyperview
Title Fight was a band I got into when I was going to hardcore shows 7 or 8 years ago. They were playing pop-core stuff that wasn’t unlike Saves The Day’s early material or Lifetime, so when I heard the shoegazey greatness of “Chlorine,” I was more than intrigued. It’s cool to see adolescent music grow up, and Hyperview is the epitome of just that.
19. Ty Dolla $ign – Free TC