Josh Antonuccio, a Lecturer of Music Production and Recording Industry, recently shared his top albums of 2015 with WOUB in a series of year-end articles by WOUB staff and contributors.
Coming on the heels of numerous great releases from last year, 2015 proved to be another year of incredible music. With a plethora of long-awaited releases, as well as a heavy contingent of new artists releasing exceptional albums, 2015 provided many extraordinary musical moments across genres.
Outside of the albums and projects that I had the privilege of working on this year, here are the 42 albums that got the most attention from me in 2015.
1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
You’ll find this album at the forefront of nearly every year-end list, and for good reason. Lamar defied expectations (which were already significant), as well as musical boundaries, with his sophomore release. Featuring help from the likes of Flying Lotus, George Clinton, Pharell Williams, and Kamasi Washington (see #23), Lamar built a dense and sprawling diatribe, one that bent genres and blistered with innovative production. Lamar didn’t just put himself at the top of the game, he created an entirely new category.
2. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens came back in 2015 with an album of haunting transparency and melodic delicacy, harkening back to some of his early releases. The album is a return to form of sorts, yet cloaked in shades of grief and self-reflection, with the recent passing of his mother. Standout tracks like “Fourth of July” and “All of Me Wants All of You” showcase Stevens’ masterful writing, as well as his approach to the ethereal and the acoustic.
3. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
Another return to greatness, this time from ’90s/’00s punk purveyors Sleater-Kinney. After departing with 2005’s brilliant The Woods, the trio returned with a ferocity that has not waned with age nor experience. No Cities to Love reeled with Brownstein’s trademark growling guitar work and created new standards in their already-impressive repertoire, including the title track and the gloriously bombastic pop of “A New Wave.”
4. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
After breaking out of Australia with a double EP, Barnett struck back this year with her first proper album, one that brimmed over with grunge-era immediacy, raunchy guitar work and autobiographical lyricism. I saw Barnett debut this album at SXSW in March, as well as a set at the Newport Folk Fest in August, and in both cases, the crowd flocked to catch a set by this rising star. It’s worth noting that Barnett’s journey from obscurity to limelight was recently awarded with a Grammy nod for Best New Artist.
5. Tame Impala, Currents
Kevin Parker’s brilliant psych-pop outfit had big shoes to fill after 2012’s break-out album Lonerism. Parker broke away from his partnership with producer Dave Fridmann, and went on to record, produce, and mix Currents by himself. From its opening breaths, Tame Impala’s newest outing churned with instant classics, including “The Less I Know the Better” with its hypnotic distorted bass line and the dance floor-ready pop of “Let It Happen.” (Which sported a fantastically mind-altering video.)
6. Kurt Vile, b’lieve I’m going down
Another substantial album by Kurt Vile, replete with his signature songwriting and trademark slacker delivery. Tracks like “Pretty Pimpin’” find Vile at his most succinct and radio-ready, while “That’s Life, Tho (Almost Hate to Say)” careens with memorable melancholia. The album drifts sleepily through the back alleys of Vile’s imagination, displaying his penchant for innovative guitar riffs and rock balladry built from a love of classic songwriters.
7. Ghost face Killah, SOUR SOUL
One of the most underrated hip hop albums of the year, SOUR SOUL found the Wu-Tang alum teaming up with BadBadNotGood for a soul-drenched and street-level journey. This album rewards upon multiple listens, sprawling with jazz, sweeping strings and retro pop-infused instrumentation, with arrangements reminiscent of David Van De Pitte and Danielle Luppi, all accompanied by Ghostface Killah’s singular rapping style.
8. Natalie Prass, Natalie Prass
With her debut, this Richmond, Virginia-based singer-songwriter shined with an album of subtle and heart-wrenching songs, showcasing a gentle crooning style and knack for invasive melodies. “My Baby Doesn’t Understand Me” and “Birds of Prey” are standout tracks.
9. Deerhunter, Fading Frontier
Bradford Cox’s much-heralded outfit returned with a more refined album, following Monomania’s distorted pop inversions. With single-ready tracks such as “Snakeskin” and “All The Same,” Fading Frontier found Deerhunter in prime form, borrowing from ear-friendly FM radio sensibilities.
10. Protomartyr, The Sprained Intellect
Jilted, idiosyncratic, and bursting with the zeal of ’70s and ’80s era post-punk, this sophomore album delivered a propulsive song-cycle of rock and roll re-invention and guitar acrobatics.
11. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
Brittany Howard has emerged as one of the most unique female voices in music, in large part due to this sophomore album that defied nearly all expectations, showcasing the band’s new-found production focus and re-interpretation of classic soul.
12. Father John Misty, I Love You Honeybear
The alter-ego of Josh Tillman, Father John Misty’s narcissism and self-directed despair are only outmatched by the lush and electrified arrangements found here. People seem evenly split on this one, loving or hating it. One need only watch his Letterman performance of “Bored In The USA” to observe how simultaneously captivating and off-putting his music can be.
13. Chris Stapleton, Traveller
I had friends steering me to this album earlier in the year, until eventually the rest of Nashville (and country music) caught up to it. For a debut album, Traveler is astonishing, with its whiskey-eyed visions of love, loss and everyday survival. As such, Stapleton finds himself loaded with accolades from the CMA’s to the GRAMMYs.
14. Grimes, Art Angel
Grimes has been winning an audience for years with a string of crowd-pleasing albums (her 2012 SXSW performance was stellar), but with Art Angel she released her most cohesive and infectious album to date. Tracks like “Flesh without Blood” and “Artangels” qualify as some of the catchiest songs of the year.
15. Laura Marling, Short Movie
The British songstress provided a tapestry of reflections on romance, morality and the complications of modern relationships. Most comparable to Joni Mitchell, Marling stripped back her sound from her last album (the brilliant Once I Was Eagle) and emerged with an album of haunting and memorable introspection.
16. Swervedriver, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You
After nearly 15 years, this English ’90s favorite re-emerged with this transfixing album, blending a new, yet familiar, blend of rock, shoegaze and shadowy guitar work. Totally did not expect an album from them…ever again. A delight, on many levels.
17. Screaming Females, Rose Mountain
Punk at its near-finest, with shades of Throwing Muses and Pavement. Led by Marrisa Paternoster, the band delivered deliciously vicious rock masterpieces on their sixth album. Standout tracks include “Wishing Well” and “Rose Mountain.”
18. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
Isbell came back with a more stripped-down album after 2013’s Southeastern, while taking a familiar foray into lucid tales of the well-worn life, winning accolades from country, Americana and indie fans alike.
19. My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall
Jim James and company went into a months-long recording process after a four-year hiatus and the result was this triumphant return. The Waterfall is rife with spacious and guitar-driven anthems such as “Believe” and “Spring (Among the Living),” standing alongside the tender acoustic balladry of tracks like “Get the Point.”
20. Leon Bridges, Coming Home
Leon Bridges may very well have been one of the most discussed new artists of the year, channeling the smooth soul styling of Sam Cooke and early Stax. A terrific soul record.
21. Twerps, Range Anxiety
22. Belle & Sebastian, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
23. Kamari Washington, The Epic
24. Viet Cong, Viet Cong
25. Africa Express, Africa Express Presents Terry Riley’s in C Mali
26. Jamie xx, In Color
27. Godspeed You Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress
28. Riley Walker, Primrose Green
29. Craig Finn, Faith in The Future
30. Amazon, Sky City
31. Punch Brothers, The Phosphorescent Blues
32. Titus Andronicus, The Most Lamentable Tragedy
33. Destroyer, Poison Season
34. Yo La Tengo, Stuff Like That There
35. Cloakroom, Further Out
36. Elephant Micah, Where in Our Woods
37 Julien Baker, Sprained Ankle
38. Panda Bear, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
39. Disappears, Irreal
40. The Unthanks, Mount The Air
41. Motel Beds, Mind Glitter
42. Susanne Sunder, Ten Love Songs
Honorable Holiday Mention:
Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, It’s a Holiday Soul Party
Josh Antonuccio is a lecturer in the Music Production/Recording Industry program at the Ohio University School of Media Arts and Studies and a music producer and owner of 3 Elliott Studio. Josh also hosts and produces the Nelsonville Music Festival Gladden House Sessions with WOUB Public Media.
You can purchase these albums at Haffa’s Records in Athens or listen to Josh's Favorite Albums of 2015 on Spotify.