5) Beauty Behind the Madness — The Weeknd
It’s hard to argue with this one considering the Weeknd was everywhere this year. When my roommate wasn’t playing Beauty Behind the Madness on repeat in our apartment while she did the dishes, hit singles “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills” were blaring from the speakers of every party. “Earned It” was featured on the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack. He even collaborated with Lana del Ray and Ed Sheeran. And the album’s popularity isn’t all hype. Abel Tesfaye’s sensual voice blends effortlessly with downtempo R&B beats and dark synth production. Singing sultrily of drugs and sex, the Weeknd crafted the perfect soundtrack to the darkest of fantasies.
4) Blurryface — Twenty One Pilots
I’m not gonna lie — I’m a huge sucker for Twenty One Pilots. At the beginning of my senior year of high school, a friend introduced them to me by taking me to their show. Their live performance completely floored me. While Vessel holds a special place in my heart, Blurryface certainly lives up to the high standard Twenty One Pilots set for themselves. The songs are highly versatile, from the dramatically swelling, gritty “Fairly Local” to the pop-rock ballad “Tear in My Heart” — a love song singer Tyler Joseph penned for his wife. The production and the songwriting feels tighter, each song growing to maximum rawness and power in a live setting. Bringing us a fresh batch of shout-along anthems, existential musings, ukulele riffs and rap verses, the duo has crafted one of the most addictive albums of the year.
3) Light Up the Dark — Gabrielle Aplin
Light Up the Dark is Gabrielle Aplin at her full potential. As a fan of Aplin back when she was a rising YouTube star, I originally fell in love with her when she released English Rain in 2013, a collection of beautiful acoustic songs that highlighted her skillful songwriting and warm, sweet vocals. While English Rain was gorgeous, Light Up the Dark kicks ass. Her sound has matured significantly, with polished production daring to delve into a slightly edgier soundscape. Aplin has proved herself to be an artist capable of much more than bedroom acoustic guitar covers. She belongs on a stage with a band behind her, clad in black, strumming out bluesy electric guitar chords while she howls into the mic — just like in the striking black-and-white music video for the album’s title track and lead single, “Light Up the Dark.” This doesn’t mean she’s lost her acoustic soul, though — laid-backed tracks such as “Heavy Heart” and “A While” highlight the ethereal voice and instrumental prowess that gained her fans in the first place.
2) Art Angels — Grimes
I’m painfully aware I’m late to the game with Grimes. For the longest time, I’ve just been baffled by her. But finally, with Art Angels, I’ve found my in. This might make it her most accessible work yet — but that doesn’t mean it’s any less weird, undefinable and endlessly fascinating. Claire Boucher’s high-pitched, breathy voice sounds angelic at times, like a creepy possessed doll at others. “Kill v. Maim” features her voice elevated to chipmunk-high heights, spelling out “B-E-H-A-V-E” girlishly. Clearly the most out-there song on the record, “SCREAM” features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, who gasps and growls fiercely in Mandarin. Other songs feature upbeat pop melodies and cheerful instrumentation over pained lyrics. With this incredible release, I think I can say I’m on the Grimes train for good.
1) After — Lady Lamb
Lady Lamb’s After is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated albums of 2015. Personally, I’ve found Lady Lamb, aka Aly Spaltro, to be the most interesting and innovative new artist I’ve come across in a while. Creating songs that meander thoughtfully, each song is like getting a glimpse into her old-soul stream of consciousness. She often eschews typical pop song structure, instead taking unexpected twists and turns that grab the listener, keeping you on your toes. She does indie rock in a way that gives new hope to the genre. Her lyrics are clever and thoughtful, and the song structure and instrumentation is complex, never staying in the same place for too long. When I saw her live last spring, I found the album soared to even greater heights on stage. Time and time again, she roared into the mic with an intensity almost to her voice’s breaking point, but then backed off to croon sweetly. Never predictable, always lovely.
Madeline Wells covers music. Contact her at [email protected].