2015 has been a fine year in music (although listening to most radio stations this might be difficult to tell). The consistently high quality of album releases surpassed that of last year, making it quite a task compiling and ranking a list of only 30 releases.
It was also a great year for local music: in 2014 we could only find room for two Australian albums in the top ten, while this year’s top ten boasts 50% local talent. Let us know how our list shapes up against your own.
- Dallas Frasca – Love Army
The Upside News album of the year is Love Army, quite simply a monster of a record. Coming straight out of the Led Zeppelin II playbook, the LP is characterised by high-energy blues rock, driving riffs and a huge sound. On top of that, front-woman Dallas Frasca has one of the best voices in the country: textured, soulful and Joplin-like. “The album grabs you from the opening riff of ‘Success is the Best Revenge’, with its stomping rhythm and catchy chorus, and it never lets you go.” Aussie rock is alive and well. Read the full review here (along with our Dallas Frasca interview and live review).
- The Basics – The Age of Entitlement
“The Age of an Entitlement is one of the most important Australian albums in a long time. The fourth studio LP from The Basics strikes a flawless balance between insightful social commentary and skilfully crafted songs that are in equal measure catchy and moving, serious and fun.” In a stellar year for Australian releases, Kris Schroeder, Wally De Backer (Gotye) and Tim Heath deliver an album that perfectly captures the current political and cultural milieu in this country, yielding a set of outstanding songs in the process. You can read our full album review here, as well as a live review and band interview.
- Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People
“Perpetual Motion People is an album with an old-fashioned feel exploring some very modern ideas … Furman is a restless soul who makes a virtue of the fact, managing to channel this into music with an infectious, frenetic energy. Rolling through indie-rock, punk, folk and old school rock’n’roll, and with diverse instrumentation (mixing in distorted guitars, pacey drums, clarinet and sax), the songs have immediate listening appeal. Furman is also an intelligent lyricist who is equally at ease name checking Dostoevsky as he is exploring gender identity.” Read our full album review here.
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
Mutli-Love comes with a curious backstory, inspired by Ruban Neilson’s experience of a polyamorous relationship. The triumph here is that the potentially salacious baggage never overshadows the musical genius at work on the songs. “The great appeal of the album is the way the music gels. It’s a fantastic, innovative mix: what you might get if you threw Prince, Freddie Mercury, Daft Punk and Stevie Wonder into a blender. Every aspect feels like it has been meticulously placed, making it a real treat to listen through the headphones.” Read the review here.
- Flavia Coelho – Mundo Meu
Flavia Coelho has to be one of the most dynamic live acts on the planet; she was the standout performer at this year’s WOMADelaide festival. Mondo Meu manages to capture her amazing energy with an infectious blend of genres: an intoxicating cocktail of dub/reggae, rap, pop and Afro-Brazilian styles, with some gorgeous, playful melodies. Press play and let the carnival begin. Click here to read our interview with Flavia Coelho. You can also read reviews of her performances at WOMADelaide Day Two and Day Three.
- Cold Chisel – The Perfect Crime
“This is a full tilt rock’n’roll album; it’s loud, fast and dirty, barely allowing the listener to pause for breath. But there’s also the subtly sophisticated song-writing that we’ve come to expect from Don Walker and co, making this a consistently satisfying listen … an outfit who are supremely relaxed and confident in who they are and executing this very well.” Read the album review in full here, along with our review of their recent performance at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
- Sarah Blasko – Eternal Return
Sarah Blasko heads in a new direction for her fifth studio album, serving up some delicious disco and synth-pop. But the intelligent song-crafting and unique vocal style remain (in fact, she has never sounded better). “Inventive and thoroughly listenable, Eternal Return is another high point in the career of a beautifully creative soul.” Read our interview with Sarah Blasko here, along with the full album review.
- Du Blonde – Welcome Back to Milk
Indie / folk songstress Beth Jeans Houghton undergoes a Ziggy Stardust scale re-invention as the brash, edgy Du Blonde. “Helping Houghton to harness this raw energy in the transformation is Jim Sclavunos (drummer for the Bad Seeds and Grinderman), who both produces and plays on the album. This is one of those collaborations that works perfectly, resulting in a high-octane record that’s beautifully raw and honest, while revelling in moments of baroque bombast.” Read our full review here.
- Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
“It’s rare that a band reaches acclaim with their debut album and then manages to top that with the follow up. But that’s what Alabama Shakes have achieved with Sound & Color … What makes the second record stand up so well is that, rather than succumbing to the temptation of rehashing the same sound, the band has pushed themselves into new musical areas. And as a consequence of taking this risk, there’s a raw edginess on the new album not present on the debut.” Click to read the review in full.
- Gang of Youths – The Positions
This startling debut album is drawing many favourable comparisons. In its nuanced construction, The Positions brings to mind Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs (which came near the top of many best album lists last year, including ours). But there’s a long line of influences here, including Arcade Fire, The Killers, Springsteen and U2. Sitting comfortably among such giants with their first album, Gang of Youths are one of the most exciting Australian acts to have emerged in recent years.
- Kamasi Washington – The Epic
You set yourself quite a task calling an album The Epic, but this is an apt description for the three hours of jazz that Kamasi Washington serves up in this three disc effort. The saxophonist / bandleader has built quite a profile playing with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Kenrick Lamar, but the inspiration here comes straight from jazz greats likes John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Mixing this up with moments of funk, gospel and film score, the music here is both inventive and immediately engaging.
- Pond – Man It Feels Like Space Again
The world’s attention might have been on Pond’s musical cousins Tame Impala this year (with whom they share band-members), but Man It Feels Like Space Again is an even greater triumph of sonic creativity. This is a brilliant psychedelic jam with an inventive spirit and delivered with good humour. “With this album they have taken ownership of some old sounds, making them feel fresh again.” Click to read the Upside News interview with Pond and a review of the album.
- Matthew E White – Fresh Blood
The founder independent studio / record label Spacebomb, Matthew E. White is doing great things at the moment, both as a producer and creator of music. His second album channels Motown and Stax, with some glorious old school rhythm and blues / soul. “The overwhelming impression from listening to Fresh Blood is how deeply White cares about his craft. He meticulously uses the methods of the past without being stuck in the past, delivering a collection of refreshing, well constructed songs that make for an outstanding album, an offering of great substance.” Read the review here.
- Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
“Julia Holter’s Have You In My Wilderness is a superbly constructed piece of chamber pop in the Kate Bush / Regina Spektor / Tori Amos vein. Her music walks a fine line: experimental and challenging, while also managing to be accessible and engaging. In lesser hands it could be a bit of a mess, but Holter executes in exacting fashion, creating an album of penetrating beauty that is full of surprises. Her songs manage to sound both serious and breezy, with compositions that are inventively crafted around handsome melodies, syncopated rhythms and diverse instrumentation.” Read the album review here.
- Songhoy Blues – Music In Exile
Africa is serving up some of the best blues music right now. The desert blues takes the traditional music form and infuses it with a fresh hypnotic energy. Songhoy Blues is the latest proponent, delivering the triumphant debut album Music In Exile (produced by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). The title is quite literal: the four-piece from Mali were forced into exile when jihadists took over their town and threatened to cut off the hands of anyone caught playing music. It’s incredible that the songs created under such circumstances sound so joyous and danceable. Catch them at WOMADelaide next March.
- Holy Holy – When the Storms Would Come
When the Storms Would Come is another excellent debut album in a fine year for Australian music. With lush sounds and mature, introspective song-writing, the duo has something of that Crowded House magic to their music. With a rapidly growing profile (including endorsement from Liam Gallagher as the best band he’s heard in years), it would be a wise move to catch them now as they tour the country in coming weeks.
- Paul Kelly – The Merri Soul Sessions
Paul Kelly indulges his love of soul and gospel, working with a house band and series of guest vocalists. What began a humble project grew into something quite remarkable, proving that Kelly is one of our greatest song-writing talents no matter what the genre is, while showcasing some of the country’s best singers. Click to read our review of Paul Kelly’s recent live performance of The Merri Soul Sessions at A Day on the Green.
- The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
15 years into their career The Decemberists deliver another excellent album with What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World. “As the title suggests, this is an album that explores the very different sides of human experience. It’s bittersweet and very satisfying. With sweet melodies and lush orchestrations, and all packaged up in beautiful, clear production, this is an album worth getting lost in.” Read our full review and interview with front-man Colin Meloy.
- D’Angelo – Black Messiah
There’s so much going on here, both musically and lyrically, that Black Messiah might have been an unholy mess, but D’Angelo brings together all his threads in a dazzling triumph. This is neo-soul / R&B done with a jazz aesthetic. If you mixed together Sly Stone, Prince and Outkast you might come up with the something like the creative brilliance of Black Messiah.
- FFS (self titled)
Quirky indie-rock outfit Franz Ferdinand team up with legendary glamsters Sparks in an unlikely but very worthwhile collaboration. “The album takes a few listens to work its magic. But part of its charm is that it does ask something of the listener: just surrender to the journey and go with it … It’s really quite refreshing to hear music that expects something of the audience, where the reward lies in repeated listens rather than the obvious, but fleeting, hook.” Read our full review here.
- My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
“The Waterfall, the first album from My Morning Jacket in four years, is a gorgeous slice of Americana … Working in an expansive musical landscape that delivers both big and intimate moments, the arrangements here are well-constructed, often opening up to some great extended instrumental sections … And while the listener may easily discern sounds from the past, with much of the record echoing early to mid-seventies rock, the retro is never forced or gratuitous.” Read our review of The Waterfall here.
- Syzmon – Tigersapp
There is a tragic backstory to this posthumously released debut, but Tigersapp stands tall on its musical merits as an album of rare beauty. “The music is bright, lively and brimming with ideas. The crafting of the tracks gives us insight into Szymon as a musical perfectionist, whose compositions are delicate and painstaking in their construction.” Read our full review here.
- Wilco – Star Wars
How Jeff Tweedy and co were able to get away with calling their album Star Wars we may never know (along with the point of the cat on the cover art), but Wilco remain an enigmatic joy. The record shows once again why these guys are one of the most respected acts of their generation, with interesting songwriting, an energetic sound and a great deal of humour.
- Tame Impala – Currents
It was impossible to miss Tame Impala in 2015, with Currents garnering acclaim across the globe. The album represents a new direction for the outfit, with synth sounds preferred to guitars. “The new material is best enjoyed through headphones, where the sonic creativity can be best appreciated … Tame Impala create a musical landscape and invite listeners to give themselves over to it, rewarding those who accept.” Read the full review here.
- Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
“A feast for the ears, Why Make Sense? displays an abundance of creativity in the production mix. But there’s also striking restraint here, with enough space that the listener never gets overloaded. What separates Hot Chip from many other electronica acts is that they do, indeed, sound like a band. And with all the cleverness on show, Hot Chip don’t forget the value of a strong melody.” Read the full album review here.
- Public Service Broadcasting – The Race for Space
A concept album in the true sense, The Race for Space brings to mind The Dark Side of the Moon, both in its inventive use of sound and its lunar themes (although here treated literally rather than symbolically). It’s a genre-bending affair that blends electronica and indie-rock with carefully orchestrated sound-grabs, making for an immersive listening experience. Read our interview with J.Willgoose, Esq from Public Service Broadcasting, as well as a review of their WOMAD performance from earlier this year.
- Mark Knopfler – Tracker
We are a fair way from Dire Straits here: Knopfler is doing his own thing and doing it very well, continuing his alt-country / roots trajectory of recent solo recordings. But there’s also enough that’s familiar here; he still has one of the most distinctive guitar sounds around. “Tracker is a relaxing, enjoyable and engaging listen from start to finish.” Read the review here.
- Mac Demarco – Another One
“In contrast with the slacker image, wild live performances and wonky guitar sounds, Mac DeMarco is swiftly developing into an astute and sensitive song-writer … Another One is a work of surprising intimacy, with pared down instrumentation and a focus on the agony and ecstasy of relationships.” Click to read more.
- Destroyer – Poison Season
Dan Bejar of New Pornographers fame has crafted an album of rough, poetic charm. “If Bob Dylan fronted the E Street Band, while flirting with Van Morrison style orchestrations and adopting a chaotic, post-punk ethos, you might end up with something like Poison Season. This is an album of constant surprises: challenging, intelligent and listenable.” Read more here.
- Eagles of Death Metal – Zipper Down
Overshadowed by the terrible tragedy in Paris, Eagles of Death Metal released a fantastic rock’n’roll album in the latter part of this year. Zipper Down delivers a hedonistic boogie jam, reminding us that sometimes music takes itself too seriously. This is great tongue-in-cheek fun.
Compiled by Matthew Trainor