I’ve put together a list not of the most grossing, highest charting, fastest streaming albums but of the ones that made the most impact on my life this year: the ones that got played so much they soundtracked a season, the go-to’s for a late night road trip, and the albums that felt like they somehow came from my personal experience. Here are my top albums of 2015 along with some standout tracks that didn’t get enough attention.
Bombastic EP – Bonnie McKee
Eclipse – Twin Shadow
Delirium – Ellie Goulding
- Communion – Years & Years
Frontman Olly Alexander’s clear, emotive vocals keep everything in line as Years & Years bounces from reggae influenced screaming-with-windows-down hooks to glittering, optimistic alt-pop to heartfelt diary entry style ballads with an 8-bit beat. Each track is tight and confident. The band has done a stellar job in forging their place somewhere between Imogen Heap and Kygo. Such a beautiful place to land.
You might have missed: Shine, Eyes Shut, Border
- Rebel Heart – Madonna
We all know Madonna’s 13th (!) studio album leaked nearly in full before it was even officially announced. While that may have held back sales, it certainly didn’t stop our Madge. It forced her to stand by the project, and to really reveal her passion behind the work. She had a vision for her record. Part futuristic leaning dance-pop, part singer-songwriter acoustic strumming, Rebel Heart shows both sides of Madonna’s rebellion aurally and lyrically. Madonna worked with some of the biggest producers of the 2010’s, Diplo, Avicii, and Kanye West, but pushed even them to create sounds that were completely unexpected.
You might have missed: Devil Pray, Iconic, HeartBreakCity
- Dumblonde – Dumblonde
After trying to make Danity Kane work again (and then again after that), Aubrey O’Day and Shannon Bex, decided to reformulate and rebrand. What they produced is indie electro-pop duo Dumblonde. Working primarily with songwriter Candice Pillay (Christina Aguilera), they released a compact 11-track set featuring stuttering vocal effects, electronic drum kits, bouncy synths and cryptic lyrics. A bit unexpected from the ashes of an R&B girl group, but the dreamy, mysterious club sound perfectly fits a piece of the pop landscape we didn’t know was missing.
You might have missed: Dreamsicle, Waiting On You
- 25 – Adele
Is Adele’s 25 overrated? Probably. Is she the singular best voice of our generation? Probably. Sometimes an album is important not for its revolutionary sound, but for its world wide appeal. Adele had the biggest album release in recorded history this year with her third album. The primary reason for her success is her incredible talent: she’s not only a powerhouse vocalist, but also a genuine and heartfelt storyteller who connects with listeners in an instant. This was all very apparent on her first two albums, but 25 was actually different, no matter how overrated. There’s more intricate production, deeper layers, and more mystery in her lyrics. This is not just a vocal recording with a piano on each track. And it’s not all breakup ballads either! She’s dealing with more interesting complexities in her life now. Adele’s kept her timeless appeal, but made something modern an slightly unexpected with the help of new collaborators like Ryan Tedder (Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce) and Max Martin (Britney Spears, Kesha).
You might have missed: Send My Love (To Your New Lover), River Lea
- Froot – Marina and the Diamonds
For her sophomore LP Electra Heart, Marina Diamandis worked with the who’s-who of pop (Dr. Luke, Diplo, Greg Kurstin, Rick Nowels) and it worked. So for her third album, Marina decided to take it a step further and prove she could make an impeccable record alone. Written and produced with only the help of David Kosten, Froot takes away the characters and face paint but none of the sheen or snarl that we love about Marina. The lyrics are still punchy and the melodies still soar. The production still glides and slinks but the instruments are clearer here. Gone are the wobbles and skitters: Marina deliberately insisted she be “produced like a band.” What we end up with is somewhere between her first two albums, proving she’s learned from both processes and grown as a musician.
You might have missed: Forget, Immortal
- Breathe In. Breathe Out. – Hilary Duff
The lukewarm reception of 2014’s promo singles “Chasing The Sun” and “All About You,” and eventual split from her husband changed the course of Hilary’s comeback. She finally returned in 2015 with her fifth album, a glittery set of kiss-off pop anthems, sing along bops and dance floor ready EDM-lite. Never mind that none of this seemed to chart or get played anywhere (that wasn’t hooked up to my Spotify or TouchTunes account), Breathe In. Breathe Out. plays like a real pop album from beginning to end. The album seems to find a middle ground in these fresher, cleaner songs and the folkier material Hilary had worked on in 2014. It’s part break up record, part Swedish influenced bubblegum (thanks to Tove Lo, Bloodshy) part girlish sing along. Perfectly cohesive? No. But it comes off endearing from someone who had a change in creative direction and influences.
You might have missed: Lies, Arms Around A Memory, Night Like This
- Blue Neighbourhood – Troye Sivan
YouTube Star is no longer a proper title for Troye Sivan. LGBT Warrior, Trip-Pop Hitmaker, Poignant Songwriter, Heartbreaking Crooner… these are just some of the alts I’ve come up with. After the release of his second major label EP, it was clear Troye Sivan was “the next big thing.” In part as the next left-of-center pop superstar: with alternative pop artists like Sky Ferreira, Charli XCX and Solange putting out better records than their considerably more famous contemporaries, it’s no small feat to be a successful alt-pop star. The other reason Troye is on everyone’s radar is that he is the most notably out pop star… ever? His songs are the real life diary entries of a troubled gay teen trying to make sense of his small town, religion, coming out and finding love. The Lana-reminiscent (and also Emile Haynie produced) “Talk Me Down” is full of distant yells and orchestra swells. “Heaven” produced by Jack Antonoff and co-written by Grimes is skittering and moaning. Hip-hop and a piano ballad become one on “Fools.” “Lost Boy,” written with frequent collaborator Allie X, employs tropical melodies and percussion that would fit on Bieber’s latest (inferior) album. The moody production compliments the lyrical content perfectly throughout. It’s a comprehensive, polished, introspective listen.
You might have missed: Lost Boy, for him., Cool
- Every Open Eye – Chvrches
Chvrches have made a name for themselves by crafting alternative synthpop featuring Lauren Mayberry’s shinning vocals. At first listen, Every Open Eye might sound too much like the band’s debut. After repeated listens, which would still be warranted even if it was The Bones of What You Believe pt.2, you’ll notice the production is clearer, the vocals are stronger and the songs seem to take up more space. Though these songs were crafted in a basement, they beg to be shouted, danced to and celebrated in an arena. Lauren’s voice is more confident, there are live instrument sounds, and the songs stand apart as separate stories. The ends have been tied up, creating a more approachable album. You’ll be playing this album from beginning to end again and again.
You might have missed: Bury It, Playing Dead
- The Desired Effect – Brandon Flowers
For his second solo LP, The Killers frontman enlisted super producer Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Sky Ferreira, Charli XCX) to make a near perfect collection of bright melodies, introspective lyrics and sonic surprises that has still got me listening at the end of the year. Rechtshaid lifts Flowers crystalline voice with live drums, 80s synths, piano riffs and enough texture to transcend both alt-rock and pop. There’s the gospel background singer on “Lonely Town,” 70s Springsteen influence on “Diggin’ Up The Heart” and a straight up danceable driving rhythm on “I Can Change.” Think of this album as the score to a colorful, moody 80s film.
You might have missed: I Can Change, Lonely Town
- E•Mo•Tion – Carly Rae Jepsen
If, after the huge success of “Call Me Maybe,” you’d told me that my favorite album of 2015 would be from Carly Rae Jepsen… well I might have believed you. Her 2012 release Kiss was better than most critics writing her off as a one hit wonder would ever realize. Her 2015 third studio album, however, is pop perfection. Ranking on year-end lists from the likes of Rolling Stone, Time, and Complex, the album is a unanimous pop favorite. The public might have slept on this incredible collection of 80 dance-pop inspired jams, but that doesn’t undermine the incredible album. While the 80s are certainly a popular era to call on in pop music (or just name your album after…), Jepsen has used references from the era, (with help from Dev Hynes, Mattman & Robin and Sia) her pining, soulful lyrics and an energy and enthusiasm unmatched in pop today. Her moody, colorful record had guts while still supplying solid sing along material. I could go on about each song, but if you take anything way from this, I hope the nostalgic, dreamy, saxophone-assisted opener “Run Away With Me” evokes the same sense of euphoria in you as it did me. And then just let the album play from there. Songs will get stuck in your head, take you back, draw you in and connect with you.
You might have missed: Gimme Love, Boy Problems, Making The Most Of The Night, or maybe the entire album.