The 20 Best Albums of 2015

Earlier this week, we posted our 60 Best Songs of 2015. You can find that here.

Picking albums are trickier, though, because, frankly, it’s hard to keep our attention for 10 or so songs. But these are the ones that did it so well. So much, that we couldn’t get enough.

Here are the 20 Best Albums of 2015.

Speakers in Code

20. Quiet Hollers, Quiet Hollers
Louisville’s Quiet Hollers were my favorite new discovery this year; their self-titled debut reminds of nothing so much as it reminds me of the National, as it’s all lush guitars and baritone vocals and vague longing and wanting and desire. –Agatha Donkar

19. Frank Turner, Positive Songs For Negative People
The thing is that I’m a negative person who likes positive songs, and also Frank Turner, and so this record was meant for me. Frank’s songs have always been positive songs for negative people, for losers and lovers and the folks out there who aren’t ever going to be famous, and to put a title on that and make a whole record that’s imbued by the spirit of the first single, “Get Better”, that’s the perfect Frank Turner record. –Agatha Donkar

18. Langhorne Slim & the Law, The Spirit Moves
This record was a quiet release of a quiet album, and it took me months to come around to its quiet, but once I did, I spent a lot of dusky twilights with the record, sitting on my back porch with a beer and a moving spirit. –Agatha Donkar

17. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
Although I would love to hear Jason Isbell make a loud rock record, Something More Than Free is a solid follow-up to the impossibly beautiful album that came before it (Southeastern). It’s starts off with a country song (“If It Takes a Lifetime”) and ends with reflection (“To A Band That I Loved”). “24 Frames” is pretty good, too. –Jason Gonulsen

16. The Bottle Rockets, South Broadway Athletic Club
The Bottle Rockets are still St. Louis’ best band. And they proved it once again with songs like “Dog,” “Monday (Everytime I Turn Around),” and “Big Lotsa Love.” And, yes, Brian Henneman is still the best songwriter you may not have heard. Change that. –Jason Gonulsen

15. Metric, Pagans in Vegas
Metric wasn’t supposed to be working on new material, but the result was Pagans in Vegas, an album about taking what’s yours, celebrating what you have in front of you rather than sitting and waiting for the next (better) thing. It’s about being the best and being the worst, and then just living your life. “It’s hard to see from where I stand, there’s a future close at hand and it’s worth living,” sings Emily Haines on “Celebrate.” Yes, it really is. –Jason Gonulsen

14. Rhett Miller & Black Prairie, The Traveler
Black Prairie is a lot of the Decemberists when they’re not being the Decemberists, and Rhett Miller is my beloved Old 97s frontman; Rhett’s solo records have always had a different kind of feel than 97s records, which I love. This one is a little darker and a little funnier and a lot more complex than previous records, and I think that the musicality of having a full band with their own sound and their own ideas behind him, who aren’t his normal bandmates, was a boon to Rhett here. If this is the kind of songwriting he’s doing, combined with last year’s 97s’ album, we’re in for some real treats in the next couple of years. –Agatha Donkar

13. Meg Myers, Sorry
We waited a long time for Sorry, and it not only didn’t disappoint, but it successfully captured Meg Myers’ true artistry: passionate, and “a bolt from the blue,” in her own words. “Motel” is the perfect opener, complete with a brief spoken word by the late Townes Van Zandt. –Jason Gonulsen

12. Glen Hansard, Didn’t He Ramble
I find Glen Hansard’s music to be absolutely sincere. The man does not waste words, and I would imagine he does not release anything that is not dear to his heart. “Grace Beneath The Pines” is as beautiful as anything released this year, as is “My Little Ruin.” –Jason Gonulsen

11. Jill Andrews, The War Inside
“The most beautiful part of ourselves is the part we hide,” sings Jill Andrews on “Get Up, Get On.” Some parts of The War Inside are experimental, and some parts are stripped back gems like “Back Home,” which, frankly, makes me cry just about every time. –Jason Gonulsen

10. Ryn Weaver, The Fool
Aside from being a dynamic and wild performer, Ryn Weaver sure knows how to craft an album. This is a pop masterpiece in my eyes, and some of these songs like “New Constellations” are lyrically deep. The Fool is an essential listen. — Jason Gonulsen

9. Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher’s Daughter
Brandi Carlile has always been an amazing singer, but for The Firewatcher’s Daughter, she took her music to places she had not reached prior. “Mainstream Kid” is rough and wild, and “The Eye” was our favorite song of 2015. Carlile is special and superb. –Jason Gonulsen

8. Ryan Adams, 1989
The best parts of Adams’ 1989 make you think. Taylor Swift’s original “Out of the Woods” is booming and anthemic, but Adams’ acoustic version builds into contemplative doubt — that maybe we’re never really out of the woods. And maybe that’s okay — maybe that’s what keeps us going while everyone continues to make faces, while everyone continues to talk without doing. –Jason Gonulsen

7. Houndmouth, Little Neon Limelight
Just two albums in, Houndmouth is already the real deal. I still listen to Little Neon Limelight almost every week, and I still think “Sedona” is the best song to begin an album in 2015. The ceiling is high for this band, and I agree with them: “If you want to live the good life, you better stay away from the limelight.” –Jason Gonulsen

6. Dawes, All Your Favorite Bands
Late-night drives and hot french fries. Waiting for phone calls. Things happen. This is what All Your Favorite Bands is about — the moments in life, the waiting, the damage done. When almost every other band on the planet freaked out about being more and more different, Dawes remained who they were. And I applaud them for that. –Jason Gonulsen

5. Josh Ritter — Sermon on the Rocks
If The Beast In Its Tracks was a glorious stand alone moment of heartbreak and hope, then Sermon on the Rocks is the album that probably was supposed to come after So Runs The World Away; it sounds like the places that The Historical Conquests was going, and what I’ve always loved about Josh is that his records sound just like him and always like whatever newness he loves. So Sermon is stunning and wild, louder than So Runs and more grown-up than Historical Conquests, and it’s just the Josh Ritter record I wanted him to make. –Agatha Donkar

4. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
“Don’t back down: nothing can be changed.” Sufjan Stevens gets to the point on “Should Have Known Better” — the past is not going to be re-written. And we might not hear another album like Carrie & Lowell for quite some time. This is an incredibly deep and sad collection of songs. –Jason Gonulsen

3. Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material
I like to sing to this album. I like to relax to this album. I like to drink to this album. Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material has it all, and while some have written that it “tackles tough and controversial issues,” I’m gonna call bullshit once and for all: Musgraves really sounds like she’s singing about whatever the hell she wants. And what’s so controversial about that? –Jason Gonulsen

CO-ALBUMS of 2015…

1. Gary Clark Jr., The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
“This is something you can’t touch, this is something you feel” Gary Clark Jr. sings on “The Healing.” And that sums up his terrific album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, well. It is our co-album of the year because it did what Gary Clark Jr.’s last album, Blak and Blu, couldn’t: it brought what we couldn’t touch, what we couldn’t be, to life. And Lord knows we need some healing. –Jason Gonulsen

1. Wilco, Star Wars
Star Wars is our co-album of the year, and it’s Wilco’s best album in a decade. It’s an un-polished, fuzzy mess that sounds like a child screaming down an icy hill on a slide for the first time. I get lost in “You Satellite” and I find total joy in “Random Name Generator.” It’s a full album, though, and it’s best experienced when you’ve devoted enough time and focus to let it all hit you at once. –Jason Gonulsen

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