Rob Sheffield’s Top 20 Albums of 2015
1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Too many great albums this year for a mere Top 10 — just cutting it down to my 20 favorites is a challenge. But even in a year as bountiful as 2015, Kendrick loomed over everyone, an already-crowned Greatest Rapper Alive reaching so much further than he needed to. He lives up to all the boasts of “Control” with a sprawling state-of-the-union address that’s also a personal tale of leaving home and getting lost. Even in such a public musical event, it’s full of hushed moments you can pass by for months before rediscovering. The one that hits hardest for me is the president’s favorite: “How Much a Dollar Cost,” where Thom Yorke piano chords and a Ronnie Isley vocal cameo haunt K-Dot’s head while he contemplates everything he dreads about his past and his future.
2. Grimes, Art Angels
My favorite bathroom-wall graffiti of 2015, from the beloved Bushwick rock bar Palisades: “if you like her because you like chaos … and her sadness makes you care … LEAVE HER THE FUCK ALONE.” Apart from making me wish I’d used this bathroom when I was 19, this message is basically the takeaway from Grimes’ synth-pop time bomb. Claire Boucher warps her voice in an electro hall of mirrors, whether she’s playing a bloodthirsty cheerleader in “Kill vs. Maim” or an ingenue in “California,” venting feelings of fury and desire so intense they can devour a heart from the inside. (She sings less like Kate Bush than the Utah Saints sampling Kate Bush, which is quite a feat.) What Room 237 did for The Shining, she does for the fourth Bananarama album. In a year when most worthwhile music was either raging noise or flirty twirl-pop, Grimes wanted to be both.
3. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
Fact: Every day you don’t air-drum along with Janet Weiss at least once is a waste of your time. Sleater-Kinney came back strong, not just playing the year’s fiercest shows — the best live band I saw in 1996 was the best live band I saw in 2015; no surprise there — but bringing these urgent new tunes when they could have just played the hits. Something I love about their reunion is how un-neurotic it is: There’s no redemption arc, nothing that needed proving, just a bunch of great new songs that wanted to get written, and who else was gonna do it? Renewals like this practically never happen. But this one did. Turn it on, turn it on, turn it on.
4. Royal Headache, High
Best stage banter of 2015, courtesy of Royal Headache singer Shogun: “This song’s about getting older. I like it. Being young sucks. You guys have a lot to look forward to.” I never heard of these Australian punks before, but they kick through their wild mood swings all over High, savagely sincere yet almost always funny, all in half an hour.