Bjork – Vulnicura
A harrowing, cathartic but beautiful record. The parallels with Vespertine are clear, and go beyond the musical similarities – where Vespertine was about falling in love, Vulnicura is about breaking apart, and the two albums effectively bookend a real-life relationship. Strong songwriting, stunning string arrangements and cutting-edge beats with perhaps Bjork’s most emotional vocal performance yet.
2. Death Grips – Jenny Death
Once again, Death Grips put out a fantastic record that sounds like nothing else out there. Technically the second disc of a double album, “Jenny Death” follows 2014’s “Niggas on the Moon”. It’s totally off the hook: crazy synths, fucked up beats, fuzzed-to-the-max guitars, and some of MC Ride’s most out-there vocals. “Turned Off” is the finest rap/punk crossover track ever written; “On GP” is easily my song of the year.
3. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Everything about this album is fantastic. The songwriting, the production, the sardonic lyrics… flawless.
4. Horrendous – Anareta
Fuck, this album is amazing. Horrendous have taken up the mantle from the sadly departed Chuck Schuldinger and produced a death metal masterpiece, with crushing riffs, off-kilter time signatures and flawless musicianship from start to finish. Strewn throughout the chaos are stunning moments of beauty that show how life-affirming even the most brutal music can be.
5. Grimes – Art Angels
A singular work of impeccable songwriting and visionary production. Remarkably catchy but surprisingly deep, there’s something new every time you listen. This is what all pop should sound like.
6. Container – LP
This album just ticks all my boxes. Pulsating, distorted synths hammer over aggressive techno/hip-hop drums, like a beat-oriented Merbow.
7. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
A darker, heavier set with more “classic” metal influences, but no less gorgeous than Sunbather. Love it.
8. FKA Twigs – M3LL15XX
A foreward-thinking, slinky and sensuous EP that showcases FKA Twigs’ unique vocal talent, accompanied by an incredibly imaginative and visually stylish long-form video. I just wish there was more of it.
9. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
What an album. Easily the best “mainstream” hop-hop release in a long, long time, it’s easy to see why Kendrick Lamar’s latest has topped year-end polls here, there and everywhere. Jazzy, funky, brilliant.
10. Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa
This is simultaneously one of the most unusual yet enjoyable albums I’ve heard all year. Highly rhythmic, danceable grooves with off-kilter guitar riffs and vocal melodies. I’d love to see these guys live.
11. Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed
Wow. Not that Nile have ever put out a bad album, but this new one really brings an intensity that hasn’t been there since “In Their Darkened Shrines”. A lot of the lyrics deal with the annihilation of ancient cultures, and there are parallels that can be drawn to the destructive acts of Daesh. However, geopolitical allegory aside, what really matters is that this is an insanely heavy tech-death metal album with Nile’s best songwriting in a decade or more.
12. Squarepusher – Damogen Furies
As Apex Twin did with “Syro” last year, Squarepusher has released a “back to basics” album that melds together the best of his various influences and pisses all over everyone else. Manic, jazz-inflected drill-n-bass drum breaks and wild bass guitar runs, held together with strangely catchy synth melodies and surprisingly danceable grooves. (Also, check out the video below – 360 degree animation!)
13. Pyramids – A Northern Meadow
Icy, tremolo-picked guitars wash over stilted programmed drums, while high-pitched melodic vocals soar above. Pyramids are definitely out there on the left-field fringes of the black metal spectrum, but they’re never less than compelling, and this is an album of great beauty, with moments of sorrow and joy in equal measure.
14. Peaches – Rub
Peaches is just nasty. Like, dirty, fucked-up nasty. And fucking great. This is another bass-heavy, minimalist trip with sex-crazed lyrics and some great guest vocals form Kim Gordon and Feist. My kind of party album.
15. Eagles of Death Metal – Zipper Down
Obviously the tragic events in Paris have somewhat overshadowed this release, but EODM’s latest album is a stone-cold sexy boogie-rock classic that deserves to be remembered.
16. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
This was an unexpected pleasure. Catchy, energetic songs with fantastically sarcastic lyrics, a joy from start to finish.
17. Sumac – The Deal
I can’t believe I missed this when it came out at the start of the year. A new album from former Isis bandleader Aaron Turner, this is sludgy post-metal of the highest order, harkening back to the earliest days of Isis with more than a hint of early Mastodon as well (particularly in the drums).
18. Mutoid Man – Bleeder
A collaboration between Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky and Converge’s Ben Koller? It’s hard to see how I couldn’t love this album. Fortunately it doesn’t disappoint, merging the best elements of both bands – crushing metallic hardcore with a strong sense of melody – and throwing in some classic guitar-hero noodling to the mix.
19. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
This, to put it mildly, is not normally my kind of thing. A simple, old-timey country record with lyrics about love, life, working hard, and occasional references to God. But there’s a lot more depth to this album than that broad description suggests, and more importantly the songs are just really great.
20. Clutch – Psychic Warfare
Clutch knock it out the park once again with another classic slab of stoner rock. All the hallmarks are there – kick-ass riffs, pounding drums, and Neil Fallon’s compelling storytelling and commanding vocals.
A few more songs I loved from albums that didn’t make the cut.
Le1f – Koi
Kelela – Rewind
High on Fire – Carcosa
Puscifer – Galileo
Torche – Minions
Baroness – Chlorine and Wine