It’s only the start of 2016 and yet 2015 already seems like a distant memory. With plenty of albums to look forward to this year (Rihanna, The 1975 and The XX, to name but a few), it seems fitting to look back at 2015 and remind ourselves of the truly fantastic albums that the year gave us. I have made the executive decision to release the article in 2 parts (because I can), with part 1 featuring albums that were released in the first 8 months of the year.
10. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness. Released 28th August.
Canadian singer The Weeknd has rocketed to stardom ever since the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack song Earned It was released at the beginning of the year. Since then the singer has gone from strength to strength; his single Can’t Feel My Face went on to become a monster hit and his biggest to-date, and expectations were high for his second studio album Beauty Behind the Madness. Luckily for him the album was well received, thanks to his Michael Jackson-esque soulful voice and sophisticated production. The odd dull track stops the album from being a masterpiece, but this is by far the best album Abel has released and it’s a worthy addition to the list.
Best tracks: The Hills, Often, Acquainted
9. Halsey – Badlands. Released August 28th.
Twenty-year old American singer/songwriter Ashley Frangipane, aka Halsey, first captivated listeners last year with her EP Room 93. Her distinct vocals and brilliant pop production bring comparisons to Ellie Goulding, which is no bad thing, though the content of her songs often delve into darker matters such as drugs and loneliness. The build up to her début album Badlands was unusually large considering her status as a relatively unknown artist, and the LP proved to be everything her fans were hoping for. In a year filled with amazing début albums, Halsey’s Badlands still manages to stand out thanks to its creative lyrics and on-point production.
Best tracks: Hurricane, New Americana, Hold Me Down
8. Django Django – Born Under Saturn. Released 4th May.
British ‘art rock’ band Django Django impressed fans and critics alike with their first album back in 2012; their unique blend of psychedelic grooves with wild western influences combined with a style of chanting-singing made them one of the years’ hottest new acts. A collective sigh of relief, then, when the band decided to emulate and expand upon their sound for their sophomore album Born Under Saturn, with a heavier focus on dance beats and surf guitar. The album may not have created a hype storm the way their début did, but this is to be expected when its predecessor was featured on many ‘best albums of 2012’ lists. Born Under Saturn proves that sometimes it’s best to stick with what you know, and as the saying goes: ‘if it aint’ broke…’.
Best tracks: First Light, Reflections, High Moon
7. Marina and the Diamonds – FROOT. Released 16th March.
Releasing one song a month as part of a promotional campaign for an album is a daring move, and it takes a particularly daring artist to think of it. It should come as no suprise then that Marina and the Diamonds decided to do just that, and the campaign remains the most imaginative one of the year. These ‘froots of the month’, along with the subsequent release of the album FROOT, proved that the half-Welsh half-Greek singer-songwriter still has a knack for writing a catchy chorus, though it’s the uniqueness of Marina’s voice that truly sets her apart from the rest. The album doesn’t have the same impact as her previous two, though that’s more of a testament to the exceptionally high standard which she has established and shouldn’t be taken as a criticism. There is no denying that FROOT is a brillaint album, and it thoroughly deserves its place in this prestigious list.
Best tracks: Froot, Blue, Immortal
6. Jamie XX – In Colour. Released 1st June.
Best known for being the man responsible for indie pop group The XX’s dream-like production, Jamie has made the rather sensible decision to release his début solo album in order to make the wait for their third album more bearable. What makes the album interesting is that despite the lack of instruments and the vocals of Romy and Oliver, it still manages to feel like the spiritual successor to Coexist: the wistful melodies, the raw vocals and the occasional dance-floor banger are all present. In Colour is an album that can be listened to no matter what mood you’re in, and it feels just as comfortable playing in the background whilst you potter on your laptop as it does full blast in your car’s stereo. An amazing album, and one that is sure to keep The XX fans happy until their long awaited third album drops.
Best tracks: Loud Places, Stranger in a Room, Hold Tight
5. Tove Lo – Queen of the Clouds. Released 11th May.
The Swedish singer-songwriter first made waves with her single Habits (Stay High) back in 2014, and since then her début album has been eagerly anticipated. Fortunately, it did not disappoint; every track is brimming with chart potential and the three separate sections give the album a unique sense of structure and in no way feels tacked-on. Though the record often delves into darker themes such as drugs and depression, it never makes the listener feel miserable and the numerous light hearted tracks help to establish a fun tone to the album. A must listen for any pop fan, Queen of Clouds has certainly set the bar as far as pop début’s go. Lets hope that album number 2 is not too far on the horizon.
Best tracks: Talking Body, Stay High (Habits Remix), Like Em Young
4. Madonna – Rebel Heart. Released 9th March.
The news of a new Madonna album is often fraught with groans and sighs from many of the British public, and the phrases “she’s too old” and “it’s embarrassing” inevitably ensue. However, like with most of her albums, anyone who actually listens to it qucikly changes their tune as Madonna time and time again proves that she is the undisputed queen of pop. Her thirteenth album, Rebel Heart, is no exception, and whilst there are a few dull tracks, most are pop perfection and are on par (if not superior) to the big hits of fellow artists such as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. Tracks like Iconic and Devil Pray prove that the singer still knows the value of quality production, whilst Ghost Town provides a more delicate side to Madonna’s usually hard exterior. Madonna is proof that age is just a number, especially when the music is this good.
Best tracks: Living For Love, Devil Pray, Iconic
3. Little Boots – Working Girl. Released 10th July.
Little Boots’ transition from commercial pop to sophisticated dance may have brought about a decline in her popularity over the years, but when the quality of her albums are this good it’s hard to fault her logic. Working Girl is a testament to the Blackpudlian’s ability to create a refined dance record, one that doesn’t adopt the ‘throw everything you’ve got and hope some of it sticks’ attitude that is so prevalent in today’s dance scene. Thanks largely to the fact that Victoria plays a vital part in all of her records’ production, her voice blends seamlessly with the music in a way that makes you want to listen to the album from start to finish in one sitting. A quality dance record does not need to be filled to the brim with massive bass drops and A-list singers, and there is no better proof than Little Boots’ latest offering.
Best tracks: Better in the Morning, Taste It, Real Girl
2. Years & Years – Communion. Released 10th July.
Electronic trio Years & Years are the latest UK act to break out of obscurity and become a commercial success, though their combination of slick production with Olly’s unique vocals means it comes as no surprise. Despite some concerns that the group may have peaked too soon with their astounding single King, their début album Communion did not disappoint. The group’s uncommon style of glossy beats is prevalent throughout the album, and many tracks such as Eyes Shut showcase lead singer Olly’s impressive vocal range. Years & Years have managed to not let early success deter them from their original vision and as a result Communion feels like a lovingly crafted piece of art. 2015 really has been the year for Years & Years, and with a record that’s as good as this it wouldn’t be surprising if the group had one or two more hurrahs in the new year.
Best tracks: King, Shine, Ties
- Charli XCX – Sucker. Released 16th February.
English singer Charli XCX managed to break into the mainstream back in early 2014 with the hits Fancy and Boom Clap, and in doing so showed the world her unique style of ‘brat pop’ that sets her apart from the plethora of other female pop artists. It’s this unique style that makes the singer’s second album, Sucker, so refreshing; every track is instantly catchy and the f-you attitude that permeates it never irritates. There are no filler tracks, the sign of a truly fantastic album, and unlike so many other LPs it feels as if Charli has had complete control over its production and theme; there is no ‘ballad track’ or ‘dance-floor filler track’ that seems to be the standard for most pop albums. Sucker is proof of what can be achieved if an artist keeps their integrity and sticks to their guns, and it thoroughly deserves its place as the best album of the first half of 2015.
Best tracks: Breaking Up, Need Ur Love, Sucker