The Best Albums of 2015: #20-#11
Presenting our picks for the 20 best albums of the year. All albums released during 2015 are eligible, except for Adele's 25 because paying for non-Spotify music is for the birds and I simply won't do it.
20) Drake and Future, What a Time to Be Alive
Drake can do pretty much whatever he wants at this point, including create an album with an artist with whom he does not exactly mesh. While most tracks sound like Drake wedged into every song of a Future record, a handful of true bangers buoy the album overall.
What a Time to Be Alive serves as a decent snapshot of rap music in 2015, for better or worse. For that reason alone, it deserves inclusion on lists as sacred as this one.
Cream of the crop: "Jumpman", "Big Rings", "Diamonds Dancing"
19) Chris Stapleton, Traveller
Every year, it seems, an artist from some secondary genre is plucked from relative obscurity and presented as an undeniable force in music. For most of us, Chris Stapleton is that artist in 2015.
Count me among the uninformed when it comes to bluegrass and country music. I am, however, a bit of a dark liquor connoisseur, so a connection with this Stapleton fellow was inevitable.
For the general public, a few worn-out tropes ruin the entire genre of country music. While plenty of those boxes are checked as Traveller rolls on, nothing feels forced or as in-your-face as, say, a guy sitting in the bed of a pickup truck drinking beer out of a can and gleefully naming off the mascots for damn near every football team in the SEC. And I appreciate that.
Cream: "Fire Away", "Parachute"
18) Big Sean, Dark Sky Paradise
The legend of Big Sean is well-known, mostly because he's recounted it a thousand times.
To recap: Sean worked hard in hopes of making it, subsequently made it, and has spent his entire career talking about how he made it.
Thus far, that's been quite tiresome. Thankfully, Dark Sky Paradise includes several big-name features that distract us from Sean's traditional themes. With their help, there are more hits than misses on a Big Sean album for probably the first time ever. Here's hoping the trend continues.
Cream: "One Man Can Change The World" ft. John Legend and Kanye West, "Blessings" ft. Drake, "All Your Fault" ft. Kanye West
17) Mac Miller, GO:OD A.M.
Sharp, fun, and digestible for the masses, GO:OD A.M. is a welcome departure from the depressed and woozy Malcolm McCormick we've come to know the last few years. At 17 tracks, it's a little bloated, but that minor flaw doesn't obscure these two thumbs up.
Cream: "The Festival" ft. Little Dragon, "Clubhouse", "Rush Hour", "Weekend" ft. Miguel
16) Justin Bieber, Purpose
Cream: If we have to tell you, you probably aren't super interested in the first place.
15) Tame Impala, Currents
Lack of expertise has never stopped those of us at Eight Screens from tossing out opinions on certain subjects. "Psychedelic rock" is obviously one of those areas.
If you want to be a music snob, go ahead and analyze every lyric, chord, and rhyme scheme in every song you listen to, assign each a rating based on a complicated point system, and create a bell curve of rankings in Excel. We'd rather just boil it down to, "does it sound good?"
Currents sounds great, and a few tracks in particular keep the album accessible for those who might otherwise be turned off by the trippy cover art and unkempt group members.
Cream: "'Cause I'm A Man", "Eventually", "New Person, Same Old Mistakes", "The Less I Know The Better"
14) Wale, The Album About Nothing
Wale has spent much of his career trying to be all things to all people, with limited mainstream success. TAAN represents a return to a rabid, if diminishing, fan base. The result is Wale at his best.
Still, one gets the feeling it's not good enough for the man who once called Complex to rant about being snubbed from a year-end list.
We could go on, or you can check out the full review from May here.
Cream: "The Matrimony" ft. Usher, "The White Shoes", "The Girls On Drugs"
13) Kate Boy, One
If there's a gene for loving female-led Euro-Oceanic synth-pop groups, surely my unborn children are already hoping it doesn't skip a generation.
The first two songs on this debut are so good the remaining tracks seem average by comparison. They are not!
Shout, don't sing, along to these hooks in the privacy of your car or while practicing for your interpretive dance debut at the community theatre.
Cream: "Midnight Sun", "Northern Lights", "When I Was Young", "Burn", the rest of the songs (this album should have been higher on the list tbh)
12) Leon Bridges, Coming Home
It's easy to dismiss Leon Bridges as nothing more than a slickly packaged novelty act. After all, there isn't exactly much competition in the "throwback gospel soul" arena at the moment. Leon Bridges is good business.
But by all accounts, he is as authentic as they come. There is no schtick here. Without a good present-day comparison, I'm comfortable saying Leon Bridges is the best at what he does...and it's really enjoyable.
Cream: "Coming Home", "River", "Lisa Sawyer"
11) The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness
No album more successfully gussies up the the vices of the artist for public consumption than Beauty Behind the Madness, a project that finally launched The Weeknd into stardom once and for all.
He is a Michael Jackson for the modern era, a Bruno Mars for your teenage daughter, finally placing one foot over the line that separates network TV acceptance and the shadowy part of the internet from which Weeknd emerged.
This release solidifies that straddle, never more clearly than during the Grammy-nominated "Can't Feel My Face". The potential Record of the Year is about cocaine, and yet is the album's only track not flagged as "explicit" on Spotify. Mission accomplished.
Cream: "The Hills", "Often", "As You Are"