For the fifth year running I'm putting together my most listened to new albums of the year list. They aren't necessarily my favorite or what I'd consider the best albums released in the last year, but an objective list of new releases that I spent the most time with in 2015 (according to my Last.fm profile). This year saw a drastic shift in my listening habits when Rdio announced they were shutting down their service. This isn't going to turn in to a eulogy for my favorite streaming service of the past five years, but my main way of consuming and discovering music will be missed.
In 2011 The Joy Formidable's The Big Roar took home the title of most listened to album for the year. 2012 went to Purity Ring's Shrines. I spinned the hell out of Queens of the Stone Age's ...Like Clockwork in '13, and Benjamin Booker's self-titled debut got a lot of play last year. 2015 is going to start off with one hell of an asterisk, but here is the list, including a Spotify playlist of this year's albums if you'd like to listen along.
D'Angelo and The Vanguard - Black Messiah
*. Yes, this album technically came out in 2014. But a December 15th surprise release date for an album that was originally scheduled to come out in '15 allows this album to stay on the list. When I saw Black Messiah showing up on other year end lists (#4 of Rolling Stone's), I knew I wasn't the only one who thought the same.
When I started pulling my listening stats for the year, there was absolutely no surprise when D'Angelo came out on top. I fell in love with this album on the first play through and just keep coming back to it. The instrumentation, arrangement, and layers upon layers of these songs kills me. I'm amazed at the songwriting displayed here and wouldn't know where to start to even attempt to write music this smooth. The tracks flow from section to section without any clear or sudden breaks. Bass lines and drums stay consistent throughout a song and never get tired. On each listen I find myself grooving along instinctually. It's good. Real good.
I keep coming back to Black Messiah over and over again. It is hard to describe why, but I think you'll understand after sitting down with it. Most listened to new album of the year and my favorite are easily interchangeable here. [stag_video src="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEph_2Qx-7Q"]
Best Coast - California Nights
I'm a sucker for a great summer album and Best Coast nailed it with California Nights. With a release date right at the beginning of beach weather, it got a lot of play when driving with the windows down on the way to outdoor hangs. In Florida - that is pretty often.
On the other hand, I haven't queued this up in a few months. Even now, it's hard to listen to this album when it's dreary outside and dipping down in to the fifties. And I've could never really get behind Best Coast's other albums, before or after the release of this one.
So I'm going to chalk this one up to right place, right time. Summer Album of '15. [stag_video src="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U5LWokfRHY"]
Health - Death Magic
Death Magic should be higher on the list. Third is already a decent spot, but the only reason it isn't higher is because Health is not the most accessible band. You can't just throw them on around most people and whenever I recommend them to friends, I rarely find someone who really gets in to them. Nevertheless, I love the band, and Death Magic delivered what I'd been waiting for since their Get Color (the Max Payne 3 soundtrack sorta counted, but wasn't a proper new Health album).
They're loud and dark and dirty and I love it. [stag_video src="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3_dedjucgM"]
Tame Impala - Currents
"Ooo yeah, that is my jam." I'm pretty sure those were my first thoughts when I first heard Currents opening track "Let It Happen". The same catchy songwriting from Lonerism and InnerSpeaker, but something was different. Keep the guitars on the shelf and fire up the synths and drum machines.
If you're ever feeling bad after a breakup, this should be your go-to. The spacey riffs and light-touch vocals sugar coat some dark lyrics that show Kevin Parker is going through some shit.
This video for "The Less I Know The Better" is also one of my favorites. [stag_video src="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBzrzS1Ag_g"]
Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
I've got NPR's All Songs Considered to thank for getting me in to Courtney Barnett back when The Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas came out. There was a lot of hype prior to Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometime I Just Sit came out, and rightfully so - it's a solid all around album. "Pedestrian at Best" slays.
Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp
The organ part that starts Ivy Tripp gets me every time. The first track "Breathless" starts with this one killer organ line that holds up the song as the guitar and vocals build on top. It draws me in and suddenly I'm listening to the entire album. The rest of the songs are good, but not great. It's a good background work album. But it earns it's place on this list with that opener.
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
I gave Carrie & Lowell a few spins when it first came out, but like a lot of his music you have to be in the right mind set. Sufjan singing these very personal, beautiful songs about this dead mother is heavy, and the album quickly slipped from my rotation.
In October I had the chance to see Sufjan perform in town and it completely changed my outlook on Carrie & Lowell. He played the entire album with a full band, different instrumentation, and added parts. He added visuals - the home movies from his childhood that are at the heart of the album. It all came together to one of the best concerts I've seen in my life and led to a newfound appreciation for the source material.
Dawes - All Your Favorite Bands
All Your Favorite Bands snuck up on this list. It's good, but not great. I couldn't name a single track off the top of my head if asked. And it would take a lot to get me to see them if they came through town touring the album. But all around, it's solid music that will get you through the work day or long drive ahead. A very vanilla album that I can't even find the energy to write about anymore.
Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable Tragedy
What The Most Lamentable tragedy has going for it is content - 29 tunes crammed in to an hour and a half. That'll up the play count over the year. About halfway through, though, you'll swear you've been listening to this album for hours. The songs start sounding the same, or running in to each other, and it makes a listen almost exhausting. I'm really not sure how this album wound up on this list.
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
Before it's release, this album was hand picked to be the record of the month for Vinyl Me, Please, so I went in with high expectations and I was not disappointed. But like Carrie & Lowell, you have to be in the mood to sit down with it. It's lyrics are intentionally uncomfortable, it can be a bit of a downer, and it does not work as background music. I appreciate all of that, which is why I only listen to it when I can give it a proper listen.
As an aside, the way J. Tillman handles himself on stage and in interviews earns my respect. You can tell he puts it all out there, but doesn't take himself seriously at all.
Good albums that did not get enough play to make the top ten but still worth mentioning.