It may be a simple revelation, but this year I’ve come to realize that music will never go out of style. Even with the ever-increasing distractions and advancements of the 21st century, music still holds a influential place in this world, if not a necessary one. From the deepest pits of loneliness to the most joyous highs, we reach for it. Some more than others, but in some way we all connect with it. To motivate, to relate, to celebrate, or to just be a companion on a drive, bus ride or walk. The vast styles and genres do shift and the ways and devices we use to listen continue to change, but music has yet to lose any prominence or power. It seems as long as this world is spinning, songs will be created and songs will be played, and we will be listening.
Here are some of my favorite albums from the past year. Albums that accompanied several different moods and occasions throughout 2015. Songs that played in the background or the forefront, over the minutes and hours, days and weeks.
10. Chvrches – Every Open Eye
The highly anticipated sophomore LP from the Scottish trio made good on the first loves of the band’s synthpop debut. Every Open Eye zeroes in on a winning sound– one that is hook-heavy and danceable, yet still fierce and compelling. Nowadays, few rock bands are able to enjoy both critical and commercial success– Chvrches is one of those few.
9. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
In the often crowded field of new singer-songwriters, Natalie Prass stood out to me this year. Her beautifully sparse and clear delivery syncs effortlessly with the debut album’s rousing production as well as its more intimate, quieter moments. These are songs anchored by the confidence and understanding that only begin to arrive in our mid-to late-twenties.
8. Albert Hammond, Jr. – Momentary Masters
Following the excellent 2013 EP, AHJ, The Strokes guitarist returned this year with his bustling third solo album. Of all the Strokes side projects over the years, Hammond’s albums have always felt to be the most complete and dedicated efforts. Get hung up with “Losing Touch” and “Drunched in Crumbs,” swoon away with “Coming to Getcha.”
7. Fall Out Boy – American Beauty/American Psycho
It’s no secret, Fall Out Boy were champions of the 2000s emo era. Now at a time when most of those bands are reliving past glories with 10th anniversary album tours, the Chicago/Milwaukee-rooted foursome are celebrating catchy and memorable new songs. American Beauty/American Psycho freshly blends invigorating samples with the band’s trademark earnestness. Not to mention, Pete Wentz returns to top form in his clever lyric game: “I’m sorry every song’s about you/ the torture of small talk with someone you used to love.”
6. Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
I first heard Goon played in a record store. I was browsing used CDs when it came on over the speakers. From the introductory notes of “Can’t Stop Thinking About You,” I was hooked. When was the last time I heard a contemporary artist poignantly deliver heartbreaking piano ballads? Play Goon from start to finish, fall in love as I did.
5. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
I knew Josh Tillman sang about strange details, but I never knew it all collectively came together until I heard I Love You, Honeybear. I’m still hung up on the emotionally rich title track and enamored with the grand sways of “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me.” Or as “Chateua Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” puts it best, “You left a note in your perfect script: ‘Stay as long as you want’ / I haven’t left your bed since.”
4. Grimes – Art Angels
“Flesh Without Blood” might be my most played track of 2015. All the sugarcoating of a perfect pop song, but anchored with the intensity and sincerity of a girl gone pissed off. Prior to this album, I always felt Grimes was a bit too mystical for me to really soak up. Art Angels changes that. Claire Boucher has put together her best and most accessible album yet; she’s in compete control. But, as we learned from “Butterfly,” if you’re looking for a dream girl, she’ll never be your dream girl.
3. EL VY – Return To The Moon
The National are my favorite band. And though I initially felt EL VY might be Matt Berninger’s budding integration into new collaborations and sounds, I now see it as a fitting compliment to his role in The National . Return to the Moon accents much of what Berninger does best in his home band, and his pairing with Brent Knopf’s rich instrumentation is a successful one. Return To The Moon recalls some of that beloved murky sexiness found on The National’s earlier albums Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and Alligator. “Careless,” “No Time to Crank the Sun” and “Paul is Alive” are current favorites.
2. Lower Dens – Escape From Evil
I loved “Brains” off of 2012’s Nootropics. That track is epic, soaring and untamed. On their now third album, the Baltimore band found a way to corral all that ambition into a commanding pop entrancement. Dive in with the cool “Ondine” and the enchanting “To Die In L.A.” and from “Quo Vadis” to “Société Anonyme” you’ll only get pulled in deeper.
1. Beach House – Depression Cherry
When I had time to play an album all the way through, more times than not this year, it was this album. I’ve enjoyed Beach House’s music for years, yet Depression Cherry had me hooked as if I was listening to the band for the very first time (and I haven’t even got around to Thank Your Lucky Stars yet). The duo’s past releases, though brilliant and moving, have been entrenched in my own nostalgia, old feelings and past memories. Depression Cherry, on the other hand, is a reawakening– less of a look back, and more of a “what’s next?”