With 2016 just days away, let’s take a look back on the epic year of good music that was 2015. I’m going share what I think were the top 5 best albums of the year along with a few honorable mentions to round out the list.
1. Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color
2015 was a monumental year for Alabama Shakes. Not only was Sound & Color their first album to reach number 1, it also garnered overwhelmingly positive critical praise all around, and is currently nominated for 6 Grammy’s including Album of the Year. This was also the year Alabama Shakes solidified themselves as the must-see live act of the year. I was fortunate enough to see them perform to a sold-out Greek Theatre crowd back in August, (the show I met Justin Timberlake at (he’s a huge fan of theirs) ), and let me just say that taking in the voice of Alabama Shakes lead singer, Brittany Howard, live, is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. To describe Howard as a powerhouse is an understatement. Whether live or on the recordings for Sound & Color, Howard has the ability to command each word she yelps, screams, croons and smacks in your face without it completely overpowering the moment. The crux of Alabama Shakes is soul and that soul lies in the strong musicianship of the band, but it’s largely held together because of Howard’s Janis Joplin-like register and presence. Her powerful voice soars on such tracks as “Gimmie All Your Love”, “Miss You”, and “Don’t Wanna Fight”. On the first track, “Sound & Color”, both a xylophone and bass are paired alongside each other and are synced in stunning symmetry for almost a full minute before Howards’ voice and the downbeat trickle in. Not only is “Sound & Color”, one of, if not the best song on the album, it has also become one of my favorite songs of all time. That may sound like a clichéd statement but I feel that any song that has the power to give you chills, each time you hear it (even on repeat) deserves to be in the conversation for all-time favorites. Please give this album a listen if you haven’t already. If Sound & Color, is only tapping into a small bit of what Alabama Shakes has to offer as they continue to mature as musicians and storytellers, we are in for many more great years of incredible music.
Download: Sound &Color//Future People//Miss You
2. Awolnation: Run
I’ve been in love with the voice of Awolnation’s front-man Aaron Bruno since high school. Long before the Awolnation days, Aaron fronted one of my favorite indie bands, Under the Influence of Giants. Although UTIOG and Awolnation have different sounds, Bruno’s voice has the ability to display fantastic range. This is showcased on the bands second album Run. With both their debut album, Megalithic Symphony and Run, Awolnation has the talent to create and perform music that can fit fine in either a rock arena or a hip hop lounge setting. Their music can deviate from either hyper like on the track, “KOOKSEVERYWHERE” which sounds like an outtake from a 90’s videogame soundtrack. They can be thoughtful and tender as shown in such tracks as, “I Am”, or “Fat Face”. My absolute favorite from the album is the track, “Woman, Woman”. When Bruno sing-screams, “I may be worthless without you/I’ll never decide to replace you”, you’re not sure whether to feel for the guy or just keep dancing to this infectious beat and worry about it later. I played out this album back when it was released in March of this year and I still play it out now. It has fantastic staying power and I hope this means Awolnation will too.
Download: Woman Woman//Run
3. Mark Ronson: Uptown Special
If you had ears in 2015, you heard “Uptown Funk” more times than you’d probably like to count, and rightly so. The construct of this song is straight up FUNKY and almost forces you to dance. But there are so many other delightful sounds on Mark Ronson’s fourth studio album. As a whole, Uptown Special transports the listener to what sounds like late 70’s early 80’s R&B, rock, and soul. Those sounds are represented on the tracks like, “Leaving Los Feliz”, “Crack in the Pearl Pt I and II”, and “Heavy and Rolling”. Uptown Special has a lot of diverse contributors including STEVIE WONDER (!!!), Miike Snow frontman Andrew Wyatt, and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. I dare you to listen to the below track, “Crack in the Pearl part II”, and not fall in love. If Stevie Wonder’s classic harmonica doesn’t get you going, maybe Wyatt’s voice with his similar cadence to Wonder will. Mark Ronson is such a solid producer, it’s incredible he doesn’t get more credit for creating such concise, thought out music.
Download: Heavy and Rolling//Crack in the Pearl Part II
4. Adele: 25
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Adele’s third and most popular album? 25 continues to break every record out there. You can find my review of 25 here. For me the true standout on 25 is the Bruno Mars co-written track “All I Ask”. An over-simplification of the song would be to call it stunning, powerful and beautiful but it truly is all those things! Adele is singing, excuse me, “sanging”, her butt off in this track that details the pleadings of a woman who doesn’t want to miss out on what could be her greatest love story ever. 25 is more modern in a way that both 19 and 21 weren’t. This album isn’t full of breakup songs but rather reflective pieces that follow a young women’s journey from adolescence into adult hood. Adele sad it best herself, “”My last record was a break-up record, and if I had to label this one, I would call it a make-up record. Making up for lost time. Making up for everything I ever did and never did. 25 is about getting to know who I’ve become without realizing. And I’m sorry it took so long but, you know, life happened.” Life certainly did happen and we’re glad she shared a piece of hers with us.
Download: Million Years Ago//Send My Love to Your New Lover
5. DA Wallach: Time Machine
I reviewed this album back in November but it still holds up as such a comprehensive journey into D.A Wallach’s approach to song writing and telling stories about love, regret, and longing. Never crowding a song with too much or too little instrumentation to tell a story, each guitar strum or piano chord is purposeful and delicate. Time Machine certainly doesn’t feel like a debut album because it’s so sure of its tone and place.
Download: Time//Time Machine