As we ease into the halfway point of 2015, it’s time to pause, light up the grill and enjoy the summer, bathing ourselves in the glorious new music that this year has yielded. We are pleased to present a list of albums that we feel have bubbled to the top of the heap. And while there are some significant absences (Sleater-Kinney, Tobias Jesso Jr.), we hope this feature will inspire you to seek out some of the smaller names here. Thank you for reading the site and we will return with regular content on Monday.

algiersAlgiers – Algiers (Matador)

This is the shot in the arm that indie rock needs. Algiers play aggressive music with high ideas, maintaining a level of social consciousness that manages to not be preachy. By mixing icy, arch post-punk with a warm-blooded gospel fervor, they’ve made the sort of album that terrifies and inspires in equal doses. Make no mistake: Algiers are pissed off, and given how the world is going these days, it’s hard not to blame them. However, they handle their rage with an elegance that isn’t often seen in rock these days. Algiers isn’t revolutionary music in the artistic sense, but it may well start a revolution of another kind. – Kevin Korber



wrestlersAmerican Wrestlers – American Wrestlers (Fat Possum)

You can judge an album by its cover, in this case a Jon Love photograph of someone in a tiger suit waving from New York’s Fifth Avenue. The big cat beckons you to an album of constantly catchy lo-fi hard pop songs. American Wrestlers is Glasgow-born Gary McClure, who moved from Manchester to Missouri to be with the woman he loves. He made this album with a cheap bass and 8-track recorder picked up at a St. Louis pawn shop. For now, he keeps his factory job, but these songs are good enough that he should be able to say goodbye to his day job soon. – Pat Padua



bjorkvBjörk – Vulnicura (One Little Indian)

Longevity is rare and longevity with excellence is nearly impossible. I say nearly due to a small and truly magnificent set of artists, and Björk is undoubtedly one of them. Bjork was already cemented as one of the greats with her stellar 10 year plus run from Post to Medulla, but after a short break in “good” not “great” territory, Vulnicura isn’t just great, but on par with Homogenic as one of her finest. Giving credence to the whole “Björk is an alien” theory, Vulnicura in both emotional quality and music is singular– a glitch-pop symphony that painfully, yet gracefully, traces a relationship’s decay into death. It feels unfair for us mortals. – Nathan Stevens



braidsBraids – Deep in the Iris (Arbutus)

On Deep in the Iris, Braids frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston confronts head-on the manner in which women, herself included, accept mistreatment at the hands of men – be it men who claim to love them or strangers who would lust after them – in blunt turns of phrases and recollections. In rejecting this acquiescence, she seeks to empower herself and others. The fusion of Standell-Preston’s malleable voice–soft at times and demonstrative at others–and lushness of the keys and percussion on this record illuminate her intolerance of her old ways and the old ways of others, making the sentiments expressed that much more haunting and inviting for repeated listens. – Ray Legendre



cgreenColleen Green – I Want To Grow Up (Hardly Art)

With I Want To Grow Up, Colleen Green has taken a massive step forward not only in terms of fidelity (she’s left the bedroom behind in favor of an actual studio), but also in her incisive lyricism and emotional vulnerability. Throughout the album, Green manages to put into hook-laden guitar pop emotions and sentiments specific to those early thirtysomethings struggling to leave behind their adolescent trappings and fully embrace adulthood. Be it addictions (chemical or otherwise), social anxiety or a desire to simply stay in and watch television, I Want To Grow Up is full of universally relatable themes delivered in Green’s somewhat detached, melodically memorable style, helping to make this album one of the year’s best. – John Paul



courtneybCourtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom+Pop)

Debut accolades tend to over-hype new artists, but in the case of Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, all that drooling over her poetry of the mundane is well deserved. The topics themselves are never novel or interesting per se, but that, discerning music fan, is the point. Her stories may be rambling and steeped in modern boredom, but they are indelibly honest. Barnett tackles house-hunting, homebody life and depression in many forms, constructing characters and places that are explicitly Australian, in some cases, yet universal. Blending elements of ’90s slacker culture and even folk-ish lyricism, Barnett’s delivery (verging on the monotone) of everyday observations captures the prevailing listlessness of her generation in fuzzed out indie-rock. – Katherine Springer


Force Black 3Current Value – Force Black EP (Bad Taste Recordings)

Despite the “liquid” sound that has become increasingly homogenous across the Drum & Bass spectrum in recent years, several labels are bucking the western trends with seemingly oblivious gusto. One of the most notable was the Nitro EP from Berlin’s Current Value. After it destroyed headphones the world over, it caught the attention of the hybrid label/showcase known as Bad Taste Recordings. They subsequently released the dark and sinister ear candy called Force Black EP in May of 2015. It’s a groundbreaking six track EP which joins the
prestigious company of household names in the scene like Noisia and Chase & Status with one of the strongest releases of the year. – Darryl G. Wright



i-love-you-honeybear-400x400Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop)

It wasn’t until after Josh Tillman abandoned a solo project of hushed, melancholic songs and quit Fleet Foxes that he found his calling as Father John Misty. Now, with his sophomore album, I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman has revealed a newfound confidence and swagger in his music. Written about his recent marriage, the album meticulously dissects modern notions of love while shining a spotlight on Tillman’s every insecurity. The divide between elation and agony is blurred by sarcasm and mockery—but the range of emotions makes for one of the most genuine releases of the year. No other album so finely straddles the line between cutting, backhanded irony and
heart-splitting sincerity. – Michael Danaher


mcmurtryJames McMurtry – Complicated Game (Complicated Game)

Like his father, novelist and Brokeback Mountain screenwriter Larry McMurtry, James McMurtry is a storyteller. And more than a quarter century into his career, he is at the height of his narrative powers on Complicated Game. The album eschews the growling guitar riffing and political fervor of his last album, 2008’s Just Us Kids, in favor of mostly downtempo, acoustic-based Americana arrangements that place the focus on McMurtry’s wry baritone relaying stunningly vivid, alternately witty and heartbreaking slice-of-life vignettes like the rural character study “Copper Canteen” and the gut-wrenching returning soldier’s drama “South Dakota” (“I won’t get nothing here but broke and older/I might as well re-up again”). – Jeremy Winogard



jamiexxJamie xx – In Colour (Young Turks)

All hail the year’s smartest and most emotionally evocative dance record – In Colour. Jamie xx’s solo debut is both a tribute to English raver culture and a forward-thinking crystallization of his singular aesthetic of bass-rattling beats, glacial guitar lines and deeply intimate vocal performances. He’s no one-trick pony, though – In Colour gracefully leaps from anthemic, gospel-tinged slow burners (“Loud Places”) to glitchy trip-hop (“Gosh”) to your perfect summer BBQ soundtrack (“I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”). Surrender yourself to Jamie xx’s stunning sonic tableau. After all, God is a DJ – and Jamie xx preaches a mighty good sermon. – Zachary Bernstein



kamasi1Kamasi Washington – The Epic (Brainfeeder)

You really shouldn’t impose the word “jazz” on Kamasi Washington’s monster, three-hour plus new album, The Epic. That would be like calling Blonde on Blonde simply a “rock album” or the fourth Led Zeppelin record “heavy metal.” The best music transcends genres and The Epic does just that. Sure, there are doses of soul jazz, funk, experimental jazz, R&B, acid jazz and even some of the hip hop flavor Kendrick Lamar used in To Pimp a Butterfly, another genre-busting journey where Washington and his sax were involved. It takes time to delve deep in The Epic – it’s three frigging hours – but those who take the time will be rewarded with one of the best albums of the year. – David Harris



kendrickKendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Aftermath)

Very rarely does an album, almost in name alone, push all accepted limits of music, poetry and cultural boundaries so deftly, all the while illustrating hope against the brutalizing and damaging effects of endless drug wars and militaristic cops. Not only is To Pimp A Butterfly possibly the greatest, most creative and organic hip hop record in a decade, but it is both a socio-political and musical statement that deserves high standing in the history of hip hop. Sure, preaching on politics may not be the best way to go about selling records, but Kendrick’s ambitious attempt to inspire generational change beautifully shunned convention and resulted in a record the listening public may not have wanted to hear, but needed to hear – even just to remind us that this kind of record is still possible. – Craig Clemens


11183_JKTShamir – Ratchet (XL)

Shamir turned heads with his debut Northtown EP, but his first full-length album is a brilliant delivery on potential. A nuanced portrait of a creative goofball whose wit masks a sharp, observant mind, Ratchet bolsters a year already packed with politically conscious instant classics with a more socially minded LP that embodies queer identity with slang and an aesthetic fluidity that constantly morphs between disco, house, R&B and hip-hop. But it’s also the party album of the season, and a track like “On the Regular,” with its stuttering beat and half-time bass under arapidly delivered vocal, is such pure modern pop that even Carly Rae Jepsen would stop in her tracks to admire it. – Jake Cole



Sonic Jesus artworkSonic Jesus – Neither Virtue Nor Anger (Fuzz Club)

Imagine a double album full of your favorite gloomy bands from the past fifty years. The first disc churns on with a droning guitar wash, thundering drums, a Krautrock icy blast on bass and electronics, and dismal vocals. More percussive if as distorted as those on the post-punk disc, disc two drifts from Northern Europe’s chill into Eastern and indigenous moods. Sonic Jesus allows the space of two discs to delve into their more jittery early-80s and the more lysergic late-60s directions of their forebears. It’s a clever combination, and for all the dark corners they explore, it’s an inviting place. – John L. Murphy



carrie-lowellSufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)

Leave it to Sufjan Stevens to craft what may be his most masterful album as a tribute to the fractured relationship he had with his late mom. After being abandoned by his mother, who struggled with addiction and mental illness, Sufjan was able to patch together a relationship during trips to visit her and his stepdad in Oregon. He ditches the electronics he’d been flirting with of late and relies on tenderly plucked guitar. His use of religious allegory has never felt more natural, and his more abstract affectations give way to the intensely personal. And Lowell, Sufjan’s stepdad, even helps run their Asthmatic Kitty label, truly making what could be the album of the year a family affair. – Josh Goller



Viet_Cong_self_titled_album_coverViet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar / Flemish Eye)

In a year of many tempests in teacups on college campus, one came courtesy of Calgary post-post-punks Viet Cong, whose performance at Oberlin – where else? – was cancelled when their name was found to be “appropriative.” Similar objections were raised against Gang of Four, Joy Division, and the Durutti Column in their time (brilliantly dramatized in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People), and while it might be doubly hubristic for Viet Cong to put themselves in such hallowed company – which also includes Pere Ubu, the Pop Group, and Swans – their bold, brittle, thrillingly unpredictable take on the modernist outer limits of art-punk more than merits the comparison. – Benjamin Aspray



waronwomanWar on Women – War on Women (Bridge Nine Records)

Hardcore music is generally defined by breakneck tempos, grim chord progressions, and furious vocals. While War on Women, a co-ed feminist hardcore band from Baltimore, Maryland, does all of that incredibly well, their debut LP offers so much more. They blend nearly every stylistic iteration of hardcore with elements of punk, riot grrrl and thrash, creating a sound unique and transcendent of their influences. They also do exactly what hardcore was always meant to: spit visceral and urgent lyrics in your face loud enough to make you want to reevaluate just about every facet of your life. – Nick Gregorio

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