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15 Great Albums You Didn’t Hear in 2015

A hyper-limited Pink Floyd EP and more under-the-radar picks

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

These albums may not have burned through your playlists in 2015, but at least one Rolling Stone editor or contributor thinks it should've. 

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Armies, ‘Armies’

There's no voice quite like Dave Gutter's, a weathered coffee-and-cigarettes growl that can turn vulnerable to vicious and crackles like a vintage Fender amp when he screams. That voice is the result of the thousands of shows over the last 20 years fronting Rustic Overtones, the funky, psychedelic Maine rock institution that, to a certain crowd, are as synonymous with the state as Moxie soda and going "upta camp." Gutter pays the bills as a songwriter; he's had tracks on recent albums by Aaron Neville, Tedeschi Trucks Band and in the Netflix show Narcos. His latest project, Armies, started as one of those gigs when he was hired to write a series of duets that were to be used in commercials and films. The project fell apart, so Gutter took his poppiest songs ever into darker directions. He teamed up with friend Anna Lombard, whose understated, ethereal vocals defined records by folk group Gypsy Tailwind. With Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's duets in mind, their voices blend perfectly on an excellent set about characters that are sad, vengeful, seedy, sneaky and jealous. Patrick Doyle

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Beauty Pill, ‘Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are’

This is a peculiar art-rock record, adventurous both for the band and the listener: There's a riddle about a frozen five-ton mastodon and seven-minute jam in which singer Chad Clark reverse-Brad Paisleys at a colonialist coffee shop. But it's also an easy record to fall into. Washington D.C.'s Beauty Pill surrounds the listener with electronics (added partially because heart surgery left Clark unable to lift his guitar), and the band incorporates these new sounds in unexpected ways, making experimental music that genuinely sounds like the product of experimentation. Its lyrics can be an equal source of wonder. "My neighbor's wi-fi's called 'Magic Negro' now," Clark sings on "Drapetomania!" "I am gonna burn his house down." A pause. "… if I may." Nick Murray

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Chaos Echœs, ‘Transient’

The subversive, hypnotic French group Chaos Echœs are heavy metal by trade, but closer to ominous, ambient horror-movie music than headbanging fodder. The band – which contains former members of the more traditional death-metal group Bloody Sign – is so arty in their approach to snail's pace doom that you don't so much listen to their debut full-length as you absorb it. It's the sort of thing Matthew Barney hears in his sleep: Over the course of 60 minutes, the crew doles out hypnotic patterns of crushing, pulsating, air-compressed guitar riffs; evil-monk chanting; gremlin growls; chromatic church organ and velvety drapes of art-noise. By the time it turns into a jazzy, demented circus swirl toward the end of the third track, "Advent of My Genesis," it doesn't seem all that strange. Kory Grow

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Stanley Cowell, ‘Juneteenth’

In a year when Kamasi Washington vacuumed up accolades for his explosive tour de force, another jazz artist released his own epic – one more subdued, but no less stirring. On his solo album, Juneteenth, Stanley Cowell, the 74-year-old piano great best known for co-founding the storied Strata-East label in 1971, commemorated the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery in the U.S. with a kind of analog remix. His 30-minute title suite and its companion tracks, including a remarkable improvised coda, scramble the DNA of American songs ranging from "Dixie" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" to "Strange Fruit." The set makes room for saloon-style blues, concert-hall modernism and churchy gospel, recasting the sad saga of slavery and Civil Rights as an impressionistic portrait of struggle and hard-won uplift. Hank Shteamer

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Ryan Culwell, ‘Flatlands’

Acoustic, haunting and erudite, Ryan Culwell's Flatlands fits neatly between Jason Isbell's Southeastern and James McMurtry's Complicated Game: country music for tortured intellects, exploring the internal struggle of both loving and wanting to leave one's home. In Culwell's case, that's the Texas panhandle, where he grew up next to wheat fields and oil operations. Like his native environs (Culwell now lives in Nashville), Flatlands can be bleak: "The whole world goes black," Culwell moans in "Darkness," one of many standouts. In the spooky, malevolent "I Think I'll Be Their God," he's a domineering husband with a devil on his shoulder, singing about plans for his wife: "I'ma lay her ass down in the dirt and wait around nine more months." And on "Amarillo," which introduces the album, Culwell exalts in resignation. Should he stay or should he go? Not even he seems to know, but it's satisfying listening to him try to figure it out. Joseph Hudak

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Hama, ‘Torodi’

The soulful, cycling electric blues melodies made world famous by Saharan rock bands like Tinariwen are turned into melancholic robot dance music in these gorgeous solo synthesizer compositions by Nigerian keyboardist Hama. Using the wavering tones of a vintage Yamaha keyboard and programmed beats that don't always exactly line up, he's become a much-traded sound blasting from memory cards through local cell-phone users. Minimal but never sparse, his tunes have the lilt and shimmer of folk songs but his machine reveals a unique humanity, like Kraftwerk or Neil Young's Trans. "Futurist?" he told an interviewer at the No Fear of Pop blog. "No. My music is 100% traditional." Christopher R. Weingarten

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Love of Diagrams, ‘Blast’

This Melbourne power trio specializes in dredging their hooks in distortion, then applying structures that make the fuzz seem rock-solid. Vocalist-bassist Antonia Selbach is the group's fulcrum, her tart vocals and hardy basslines standing pat while guitarist Luke Horton takes flights of fancy. The gulping "Racing" finds the band alternating between unabashed freneticism and sullen contemplation, culminating in an abrupt end that feels like a needed catching of breath. Maura Johnston

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Pink Floyd, ‘1965: Their First Recordings’

Two years before Pink Floyd's 1967 debut Piper at the Gates of Dawn landed on record store shelves, the group – which still included guitarist Rado Klose – entered a recording studio and laid down their first recordings. The material sat in the vault for 50 years, but under Europe's new "use it or lose it" law, the group was forced to release the material to extend the copyright. In turn, an historic recording by one of rock's most esteemed groups was quietly released as a double seven-inch limited to 1,000 copies. Syd Barrett nuts were salivating at the chance to hear pristine versions of psychedelic tunes like "Lucy Leave" and "Remember Me," while "Walk With Me Sydney" is one of the earliest-known tunes penned by Roger Waters. It's a fascinating look at a band in their most embryonic stage. Who knows what amazing things they'll be forced to release in the coming years? Andy Greene

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

PWR BTTM, ‘Ugly Cherries’

"My girl gets scared/Can't take him anywhere" announces Ben Hopkins on the title track of their band's debut, with a riff echoing "Wild Thing" and shredding that imagines Eddie Van Halen after six Mai Tais. Ugly Cherries is rent-party punk in glitter and kimonos that kicks against various tyrannies – gendered pronouns, queer-bashing, broken hearts, coming-of-age – in songs that are goofy, sweet, pained, sloppy and exhilarating. And if Hopkins and Liv Bruce's genderqueer heroics feel precisely of their moment, they also advance a radical history of glam-rock and drag, with a reminder that horniness, the need for self-actualization and the injustice of normalcy have fueled rock & roll from the days of Little Richard. Will Hermes

Really Big Pinecone, 'Really Really Big Pinecone'

Really Big Pinecone, ‘Really Really Big Pinecone’

Anyone who's got a soft spot for Elephant 6 bands like the Olivia Tremor Control, Circulatory System and Elf Power will love this Brooklyn trio's spin on lo-fi psychedelic pop. Nearly all the songs on their cassette release, Really Really Big Pinecone, are under three minutes, but they pack miniature worlds into each. The sweet, sad little melodies of "Murky Depths," "I Would" and "Backup Plan" blast off into trippy swirls at a moment's notice, like a warm mug of chamomile spiked with something crazy. If you're feeling extra adventurous, hit Bandcamp to dive into some even weirder ambient noise-collage music these guys made after the album. Simon Vozick-Levinson

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Anoushka Shankar, ‘Home’

Sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar was renowned for the clarity he brought to the ragas he performed. Anoushka Shankar, his daughter and disciple, brings a similarly enchanting lucidity to the two classical compositions heard on Home, her second tribute to her father since his death in 2012, and her first classical release since 2001's Live at Carnegie Hall. Home features her father's own Raga Jogeshwari, which unfolds melodically and majestically (with Ravi's own tabla player, Tanmoy Bose) over 36 minutes. She "encores," as it were, with the energetic and ecstatic "Celebration" Raga Manj Khamaj that Ravi performed at Woodstock '69. Home is jaw-dropping virtuosic fun, a powerful testimony to a father-daughter relationship, and a beautifully recorded introduction to the Indian classical tradition. Richard Gehr

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Tove Styrke, ‘Kiddo’

A former teen queen (she placed third on Swedish Idol) takes some time to get her head and music together, then comes back with a second album determined to reach the masses with songs about burning down the patriarchy. A feminist pop statement full of mechanized fun and human spirit, Kiddo cops its title from Uma Thurman's vengeful samurai assassin in Kill Bill, draws inspiration from Peaches and Patti Smith, and name checks Britney, Beyoncé and Cinderella. The manifesto, as laid out in "Number One" (about looking out for self and gunning for the top of the pops): "Drain the noise of bullshit with stomps to the beat." Along with those stomps you get chanted hooks, pelvic bass thrusts and hypnotic synths that swoop from sweet to sour. Some songs, like the manic bubblegum of "Even If I'm Loud It Doesn't Mean I'm Talking to You," simply stand up a woman's right to be herself in public. Others are more explicitly political, like "Borderline," where "gents of the empire" strangle Styrke's desire. But all of it –  even the heartbreak ballads – seeks liberation of the body and mind, as well as thrills in the dark. It's a party worth joining. Joe Levy

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Tenement, ‘Predatory Headlights’

Just a great pop-punk record, stacking high hard-charging meat-and-potatoes guitars and old-timey alt-rock-radio melodies. Tenement have been around for about a decade, working out of Appleton, Wisconsin (not very fun fact: Appleton is also the home of red-baiting 1950s Senator Joseph McCarthy). On Predatory Headlights they make what feels like a career statement – 25 songs in 78 minutes (one minute less than To Pimp a Butterfly), filling out insanely catchy songs like "Crop Circle Nation," "Feral Cat Tribe" and the Cheap Trick-worthy "Garden of Secrecy" with experiments like the nine-minute piano-clamor rumbler "A Frightening Place for Normal People." They arrive at something like the Afghan Whigs or Social Distortion attempting a spin on Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything. Trim this down to an hour and it'd be one the year's best rock records – even if that year was a little closer to 1995 than 2015. Jon Dolan

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Chelsea Wolfe, ‘Abyss’

Like P.J. Harvey trading her red vamp dress for black or Lorde trying out pure heroin, downer-rock chanteuse Chelsea Wolfe went darker and more depressive on album number five – but she also got slinkier and sexier. If her previous records were grey days, moody but ultimately monotonous, Abyss saw the storm clouds finally break and electricity scratch the sky. Ebb-and-explode epics like "After the Fall" and "Maw" display a welcomed new sense of dynamics, while Wolfe's long-simmering flirtation with metal becomes a full-on suicide-pact romance on the beautifully doomed-out "Iron Moon" and "Dragged Out." Her vocals, too, bleed more vividly: On Abyss, Wolfe is more willing to cry, scream and soar – and as a result, so her listeners with her. Brandon Geist

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear in 2015

Young Greatness, ‘I Tried to Tell Em’

First off: Best name. Best title. Best yearning, poignant, fingersnapping Atlanta trap single of 2015 not by an ATLien – "Moolah" – about whippin' work in the kitchen to support your dreams (producer, Jazze Pha). The most charged New Orleans rapper post-Weezy, Teddy "Young Greatness" Jones is a child of the Katrina-ravaged 7th Ward, hence a Houston exile, and in related news, a former Louisiana Department of Corrections guest. Released via Migos' Quality Control, his mixtape is a bold flex of lyrical vigor, all mesmerizing bluntness and hunger, the cohesive, refined sound of a dude with no choices left who knows he's gotta pack every 16 with a resonant hook, flow and undeniable heat. So that's what he does, over 18 tracks, very few misfires, very much aspiring greatness. Charles Aaron

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