While most entertainment publications rushed to release their year-end lists by the first of December, we decided to wait until all the year’s albums had actually been released before making our final ranking. It’s good that we did, too, because one of our favorite records was released right around the time kids were getting out of school for the holidays and their winter break.
2015 was an impressive year in music, full of addictive albums from a variety of artists and genres. After many listens, carefully weighing pros and cons, and rearranging the list over and over again, we have finally decided our top 15 albums of 2015. With tastes ranging from djent and progressive metal to synthpop and country-tinged alt pop, our list included a unique mix of singers and bands who all captured our full attention this year. All of these albums are excellent, and deserve to be remembered for years to come.
Here are 15 of our favorite albums of 2015:
15. Baroness – Purple
Baroness’ fourth studio album, Purple, kicks off our list. Just released in mid-December, it’s the also the newest record here, and our impressions are still fresh. Purple takes elements of early Baroness and mixes them with the sound of their more recent albums. It’s less diverse and experimental than Yellow & Green, and therefore takes an extra listen to really get into it. However, it grows on you quickly and proves to be a strong, very consistent album tailored more for a live setting. The high points may not be as high, but neither are the lows as low. Purple is a solid effort and one of our favorite albums released this year.
Highlights: “Morningstar,” “Shock Me,” “Fugue”
14. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
Chvrches released their first album in 2013, and their follow-up is this year’s Every Open Eye. Lauren Mayberry’s sweet, girly vocals are a driving point among most of the songs, though Martin Doherty occasionally takes over singing duties, mixing it up and lending a fresh sound to the album. Overall, Every Open Eye is tighter and cleaner than the band’s previous record, and shows clear evolution. The album isn’t perfectly even, dipping down a couple times in between the better tracks, but all in all it’s a marvelous, delightful record.
Highlights: “Never Ending Circles,” “Leave A Trace,” “Down Side Of Me,” “Playing Dead,” “Bow Down”
13. Elle King – Love Stuff
Elle King has the honor of being the only debut album on our list. Her lead single, “Ex’s & Oh’s,” is what first caught our attention, and the consistency and spunk of her album Love Stuff held it tight. The album’s songs blend elements of country and blues with alternative rock and pop, making for a unique style that’s all Elle’s own. Elle has a rougher, at time raspy voice comparable to the likes of Janis Joplin or Stevie Nicks, but she also knows how to use it more melodiously. Love Stuff promises a great career, and we’ll look forward to hearing more from Elle King in the coming years.
Highlights: “Ex’s & Oh’s,” “Under The Influence,” “Jackson,” “Make You Smile”
12. Vanessa Carlton – Liberman
Vanessa Carlton’s long-awaited fifth studio album, Liberman, finally came out a year behind schedule after the birth of Vanessa’s first child this January. While none of the songs are about her daughter, Vanessa does focus on family themes throughout the album, including the title that pays homage to her grandfather. Liberman is most comparable to Vanessa’s previous album, Rabbits On The Run: Both have a delicate minimalism that puts the voice and melody front and center, and both transport the listener to a dream or a place in history. Vanessa’s cascading piano is still at the forefront, but a couple of songs stray into new territory where she is instead accompanied by gentle guitar. Liberman is a grand album that further develops Vanessa’s new sound.
Highlights: “Willows,” “Operator,” “Nothing Where Something Used To Be,” “Unlock The Lock”
11. Ellie Goulding – Delirium
The most musically generous singer on our list is Ellie Goulding with her third album, Delirium. The standard edition features an impressive 16 tracks, while the deluxe and the Target editions round us out at a staggering 25 tracks. Although some may say albums should be whittled down to only the best 10-12 tracks, we disagree: The more, the merrier. And luckily for us, Delirium is a strong album all the way through. In fact, many of the bonus tracks are actually among the best here, proving that even though it may not be “radio friendly” doesn’t mean it’s not a spectacular song. There’s more room for experimentation with longer track listings. Delirium is the most full pop Ellie has gone yet, but not at the expense of the captivating earthy quality we first knew from her. The songs here range from fun and tongue-in-cheek to earnest and breathtakingly beautiful, and cement Ellie’s place among the greats.
Highlights: “Something In The Way You Move,” “Love Me Like You Do,” “Don’t Panic,” “Army,” “Lost & Found,” “Scream It Out,” “The Greatest,” “I Do What I Love,” “Paradise”
10. Hilary Duff – Breathe In. Breathe Out.
Hilary Duff’s big comeback finally came in the form of Breathe In. Breathe Out. a full eight years after her previous album. 2007’s Dignity introduced a slick dance pop sound, more confidence, and more songwriting involvement from Hilary. It was an impressive record, but then Hilary took a break to start a family and get to know herself. She started working on her new album in 2013, and in 2015 we got to hear just how much she’d evolved in the time that had passed. There was plenty of single material here, though the era was prematurely cut short. Breathe In. Breathe Out. moves between slick dance pop and folky, personal tunes, and they balance out to create one of our ten favorite albums of the year. We will be excited to hear more from Hilary… but hopefully without such a long wait this time!
Highlights: “Confetti,” “Breathe In. Breathe Out.,” “Lies,” “Tattoo,” “All About You,” “Outlaw”
9. Fall Out Boy – American Beauty/American Psycho
Fall Out Boy’s second album since their 2013 comeback is the dynamic American Beauty/American Psycho. This record seems to bring together “old Fall Out Boy” with “new Fall Out Boy” – elements of thrashing punk rock and snarl combined with sleek pop production and melody. It’s a flashback and a look to the future all at once. Songs like the punk rock title track, the Munsters-referencing “Uma Thurman,” and the ’80s sounding “Fourth Of July” bring nostalgic joy, while songs like “Centuries” and “Immortals” make it clear they aim for timelessness. American Beauty/American Psycho is a great balance of all they’ve done so far while never backing away from the future.
Highlights: “Irresistible,” “American Beauty/American Psycho,” “Centuries,” “Uma Thurman,” “Fourth Of July”
8. Adele – 25
It should come as no surprise that Adele has unleashed another record-breaking album. She already proved what she could do with 21, and now her followup is continuing in the path she set forth. 25 isn’t very different from its predecessor. As before, its epicenter is big ballads that the world can relate to, tugging at the heartstrings with soul and sincerity. On the other hand, Adele still has a cheery relaxed side too, poking fun at her ex’s new flame and telling people to act their age. While the songs on 25 are reliably of high quality, at times Adele feels too comfortable. It works this time – why fix what ain’t broke? – but Adele may want to switch things up come her next album.
Highlights: “Hello,” “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” “Water Under The Bridge,” “Million Years Ago”
7. Periphery – Juggernaut: Alpha & Juggernaut: Omega
Ever ambitious, Periphery is the only band here with not one, but two albums. Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega are separate records with unique styles, but together they create a full story that is all the more impressive. Since they create a complete narrative and act as connected concept albums, we’ll count them as one release here. Juggernaut: Alpha is the more immediately accessible of the two, and stands out just a bit more than its partner. It starts the story with ten hard-hitting yet emotional songs told from the protagonist’s perspective. Juggernaut: Omega is darker and heavier, reaching the hellish depths to which the character falls. It’s a tougher listen, but equally rewarding. Both albums are amazing and deserving of praise and remembrance.
Highlights: “Heavy Heart,” “The Scourge,” “Alpha,” “22 Faces” / “Priestess,” “Hell Below,” “Omega”
6. Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Coma Ecliptic is Between The Buried And Me’s best album so far, and one of the best of the year. It’s zealous and paints a complete story, not only through the lyrics, but also through the music. The band spends less time on rapid death metal playing than usual, this time focusing more on strong melodies and richer arrangements. Between The Buried And Me have always been masters at their craft, but on Coma Ecliptic the full extent of their skill shines more than ever. The best songs on the album alternate between those that are most minimal and enchanting, and those that are most eclectic and frenzied.
Highlights: “Nodes,” “The Coma Ecliptic,” “Famine Wolf,” “The Ectopic Stroll”
5. Kelly Clarkson – Piece By Piece
Kelly Clarkson’s sixth standard studio album (and seventh if you include her 2013 Christmas record) is an important milestone in the singer’s career. Piece By Piece is the last album in her original six-record contract from American Idol; it’s also the first album Kelly has released since getting married and having a baby, and these events gave the album its titular masterpiece song. “Piece By Piece,” a promise to her daughter, is a highlight on Kelly’s new record. Other highlights include the euphoric, single-worthy “Take You High” and the gloomy John Legend duet, “Run Run Run.” While Kelly certainly stepped into exciting new territory, Piece By Piece also plays it safe nearly as much as Stronger did four years earlier. It’s a fine effort from Kelly that demands multiple listens, and hopefully an indicator of more experimentation once she signs her new contract.
Highlights: “Invincible,” “Take You High,” “Piece By Piece,” “Run Run Run” (feat. John Legend), “Nostalgic,” “Bad Reputation,” “In The Blue”
4. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Florence + The Machine’s third album is their biggest yet, not only in quality, but also in filmic grandiosity. While their first album had major highlights, it was uneven and had a few low points. Their second album was much more consistent, still with some clear standouts and a fair number of songs that were simply good. It was an improvement, but 2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is the culmination of the upward trend. The new album is consistent, too, but with outstanding songs this time outweighing the good ones. There’s not a dull moment on the record, and How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is the most enjoyable album Florence + The Machine have put out yet. The series of accompanying music videos only enhances what is already a masterpiece.
Highlights: “What Kind Of Man,” “Queen Of Peace,” “Long & Lost,” “Mother,” “Hiding,” “Make Up Your Mind”
3. Muse – Drones
Muse’s seventh studio album, Drones, is the best they’ve released in nearly a decade. The band have always been eclectic and expansive, and the last three albums have each been successively bigger and more grandiose than the last. Muse truly does grandiosity well: “Supremacy” is a prime example of that. But Muse is also great for rocking out, best exemplified on their 2003 album, Absolution. Their newest album, Drones, is the first since Absolution to really let loose and just rock. This time, loud guitars are at the forefront instead of synths, and the result is an album that is more even in quality and mood. Drones is a concept album, and proof that Muse can make listeners still want to sit down for 12 tracks in a row. But don’t worry, fans of epic Muse: The band will likely jump back into their other talent for the grand next time.
Highlights: “Psycho,” “Mercy,” “Reapers,” “The Handler”
2. Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
Lana Del Rey is reliable and supremely talented, and so far all of her albums confirm these facts. Last year’s Ultraviolence introduced a more rock and psychedelic sound for her – in contrast to the trap and hip-hop influenced big production of her major label debut – and Lana had a follow-up idea for her fourth record. Honeymoon delves further into the past, combining elements of each of her previous albums and taking them into the days of Hollywood divas and tropical, lush vacations. The first half of Honeymoon is calm but sets the tone, only to be muddled by the middle of the album. The latter half is where the pace mercifully picks up more and Lana goes for bigger statements. Honeymoon will take you from a secluded jungled island to a murky club to an Italian riviera to a James Bond film – all seamlessly and effortlessly. Lana Del Rey is a true master of her craft, and Honeymoon just the latest shining proof of that.
Highlights: “Music To Watch Boys To,” “Religion,” “Salvatore,” “The Blackest Day,” “24,” “Swan Song”
1. Ghost – Meliora
Ghost’s third record, Meliora, is our favorite album of 2015. This Swedish band has been on the rise for a few years now: Their first album caught the attention of big names like Metallica’s James Hetfield, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, and Iron Maiden. Their sophomore release continued to grow their loyal fan base, and by 2015, it was high time for Ghost to win over anyone who somehow hadn’t caught on yet. Meliora has the best of both worlds, taking the straightforward punch of Opus Eponymous and the lush grandiosity of Infestissumam. They channel Deep Purple and old horror films, creating an album that is rooted in the past while forging the future of metal. Meliora plays like a gripping scary movie, and Ghost’s meticulous appearance helps keep the fantasy real. Every song on Meliora is captivating, and by the end of it, you too will be converted.
Highlights: “Spirit,” “Cirice,” “Mummy Dust,” “Absolution,” “Deus In Absentia”
What were your favorite albums of 2015? Anything we got wrong? Let us know what you think in the comments, and we’ll see you in 2016.