One of the most undeniably happy records of the year, Surf toes the thin line between corny and heartwarming, but Chance the Rapper and company continually find themselves on the side of the latter. Teamed up with (and released under the name of) longtime childhood friend Donnie Trumpet and Chance's backing band The Social Experiment, Surf is an album all about experiencing music in the way it should be — free, uninhibited and full of creative inspiration.
Surf by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
Released: May 28, 2015 | Self-Released
Track You Need To Hear: "Sunday Candy"
Track You Need To Hear: "The Hills"
Released: August 28, 2015 | Republic Records
Beauty Behind the Madness
by The Weeknd
After 2013′s disappointing album Kiss Land, many wondered if The Weeknd's signature "drugs-and-sex-and-more-drugs" brand of pop was on the decline. Beauty Behind the Madness shatters that notion and marks a triumphant return to form for the singer. The Weeknd has fully embraced his place atop the dark side of the pop world (“Don’t believe the rumors / Bitch, I’m still a user / I’m still rockin’ camo and still roll with shooters / I’m a villain in my city, I just made another killin’” he sings on "Tell Your Friends"), and proved he is here to stay.
Vince Staples is the latest hip-hop artist to come out of Def Jam Records’ camp, and he made his mark in a big way. Summertime ‘06 is one of the best-produced hip-hop albums — debut or otherwise — in recent memory, and finds a young rapper creating an authentic coming-of-age tale, helping him burst onto the scene in a genre that has become increasingly more difficult to break into. While Summertime ‘06 may have been slept on by some, Vince Staples and No I.D. created a record that will stand the test of time.
Summertime '06 by Vince Staples
Released: June 30, 2015 | Def Jam Records
Track You Need To Hear: "Lift Me Up"
For the first time in decades, Kamasi Washington has done what seldom few jazz artists can lay claim to — he has artfully crafted an album that can contend with the great jazz pieces from the Golden Age of Jazz. The saxophonist takes center stage, prompting reminders to the styles of Pharoah Sanders and early Herbie Hancock. The Epic is a truly epic work of art — 173 minutes over three discs — full of virtuosic solos from a great upcoming crop of jazz musicians. Genre-wise, The Epic is a combination of very expressive hard-bop and avant garde, but is just tangible enough for the everyday jazz listener.
The Epic by Kamasi Washington
Released: May 5, 2015 | Brainfeeder
Track You Need To Hear: "Miss Understanding"
On Jamie xx’s debut solo album, we find everything we’ve come to expect from The xx and more. However, In Colour tosses aside the scarcity of his band and embraces layers of sound that build upon each other throughout every track. Through the lush arrangements, tasteful features and unique samples, we find an artist not only finding his footing in the electronic music world, but setting a true standard of excellence.
In Colour by Jamie xx
Released: May 29, 2015 | Young Turks
Track You Need To Hear: "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)"
Track You Need To Hear: "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)"
Released: February 9, 2015 | Sub Pop
I Love You, Honeybear
by Father John Misty
If Wes Anderson released an album this year, we’re pretty sure it would sound something like Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear. On the album, nothing is taken too seriously, and Josh Tillman’s whimsical outlook on life and love fuels the journey through critiques of all things cliché and over-the-top. At its core, I Love You, Honeybear is an album written about love; though it may not feel like it, that’s what true love is — silly, lighthearted and beautiful.
Track You Need To Hear: "Should Have Known Better"
Released: March 30, 2015 | Asthmatic Kitty
Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens
How do you write a review of an album that a man made in reflection of the death of his mother? It’s a feeling no one should have to go through, but Carrie & Lowell enveloped us in Sufjan Stevens' world of personal anguish and invited us to join in his recovery process. Stevens’ seventh studio album deals with his heaviest source material to date, and marks a return to the soft-spoken vocals and the minimalist-but-intricate arrangements that beckon you to not only listen to every word, but feel it as well.
Track You Need To Hear: "Pedestrian at Best"
Released: March 20, 2015 | Marathon Artists
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
by Courtney Barnett
In the late ‘80s, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and Kim Deal of The Pixies had a lovechild who is now old enough to make music — and her name is Courtney Barnett. Obsessed with the mundane aspects of everyday life, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is one of the best rock records released in years. Barnett takes up the daunting task of sounding both completely familiar but refreshing at the same time — and absolutely succeeds at it.
Track You Need To Hear: "u"
Released: March 15, 2015 | Top Dawg Entertainment
To Pimp a Butterfly
by Kendrick Lamar
It should come as no surprise that To Pimp a Butterfly lands at the number one overall spot on this list. Not only is it the year’s quintessential hip-hop album, crafted by an artist more intent on creating a magnum opus rather than just a great album, it is a cultural, political and very personal statement. The music is a beautiful clash of chaos, mixing jazz elements, G-funk and lyrical assault, but this album is so much more than just the music: Its message is simply too important to ignore. From the world-proclaimed #BlackLivesMatter anthem ("Alright") to the album's emotional heart ("u") and everywhere in between, To Pimp a Butterfly is a true classic — and one that deserves every second of its seemingly unending praise.
Art Angels by Grimes
Released: November 6, 2015 | 4AD
Art Angels is the fourth studio album released by Grimes, and finally finds the Canadian singer-songwriter in her perfect element. On the album, she is brash, unapologetic, and at times, just plain weird. Art Angels also features some of Grimes’ most infectious melodies and shows that the singer isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what she believes pop music should sound like — something that is a welcome breath of fresh air for a genre over-saturated by filler.
Track You Need To Hear: "SCREAM"