Best Albums of 2015: Yahoo Music Staff Picks


It’s that most wonderful time of the year, which means we’re making our lists and checking them twice. No, not our holiday shopping lists — our year-end best album lists, of course. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, followed by Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color, are the obvious favorites this year, surfacing on many of our staffers’ year-end top 10 countdowns. But 2015 was an extremely diverse, spoilt-for-choice sort of year, as the individual rankings below readily attest.

Listen to our wide-ranging 2015 album picks below, and have a not-so-silent night.

Overall Yahoo Music Top 10

1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
2. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
3. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
4. Kacey Musgraves - Pageant Material
5. The Weeknd - Beauty Behind the Madness
6. Tame Impala - Currents
7. Grimes - Art Angels
8. Chris Stapleton - Traveller
9. Blur - The Magic Whip
10. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

Dave DiMartino, Executive Editor

1. The Apartments - No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal
2. Robert Forster - Songs to Play
3. Brian Wilson - No Pier Pressure
4. Miami Horror - All Possible Futures
5. David Gilmour - Rattle That Lock
6. Momus - Glyptothek
7. Drenge - Undertow
8. Cheatahs - Mythologies
9. Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Style
10. Gold Celeste - The Glow

The first album of new material in years from Australian Peter Milton Walsh of the Apartments is fantastic, emotionally profound, and maybe the most moving collection of songs I’ve heard in years. Untouchably great. –DD

Lyndsey Parker, Managing Editor

1. Brandon Flowers - The Desired Effect
2. Daniel Johns - Talk
3. FFS - FFS
4. The Darkness - Last of Our Kind
5. The Dead Weather - Dodge and Burn
6. D.A. Wallach - Time Machine
7. Years & Years - Communion
8. Shamir - Ratchet
9. Slaves - Are You Satisfied?
10. Adam Lambert - The Original High

Brandon Flowers’s second solo album is basically the greatest Killers album never made, distilling all of his day-job band’s Springsteenian bravado and Duran Duran-damaged New Romanticism into one perfectly glossy pop product. And the haunting “I Can Change,” with its genius Bronski Beat sample, is perhaps the most affecting indie ode to unrequited obsession since the Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen in Love.” –LP

Billy Johnson Jr., Senior Editor

1. Stacy Barthe - BEcoming
2. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
3. Big Sean - Dark Sky Paradise
4. Dr. Dre - Compton
5. The Game - The Documentary 2.5
6. Tina Campbell - It’s Personal
7. Erykah Badu - But You Caint Use My Phone
8. Jazmine Sullivan - Reality Show
9. King Los - God, Money, War
10. Tasha Cobbs - One Place Live

It’s a shame that Stacy Barthe is so underrated. It would be impossible to find another soul singer this year who is more eclectic, vulnerable, transparent, and inspiring. BEcoming is an incredibly enjoyable and therapeutic listen. - BJ

Wendy Geller, Senior Editor

1. Dwight Yoakam - Second Hand Heart
2. Ashley Monroe - The Blade
3. Kacey Musgraves - Pageant Material
4. Chris Stapleton - Traveller
5. Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard - Django & Jimmie
6. George Strait - Cold Beer Conversation
7. Kelsea Ballerini - The First Time
8. Cam - Untamed
9. The Weeknd - Beauty Behind the Madness
10. Billy Currington - Summer Forever

In a genre that is – of late – constantly attempting to redefine itself (and then excuse/defend itself for doing so), Dwight Yoakam’s 2015 Second Hand Heart set was a welcome entity. Put simply, the 59-year-old icon can effortlessly achieve what kids half his age are struggling to do: create country that sounds completely fresh and original, yet familiar. Second Hand Heart leans less on experimentation than its equally sparkling predecessor, 2012’s Three Pears, with Yoakam choosing instead to put a heavy dose of Los Angeles piss and vinegar from his earliest years into the mix. Takeaway: California country in skilled hands remains badass stuff; turn it up. –WG

Tiffany Spott, Video Producer

1. Leon Bridges - Coming Home
2. Chris Stapleton - Traveller
3. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
4. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love
5. Thunderbitch - Thunderbitch
6. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
7. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy (10th Anniversary Edition)
8. My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall
9. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
10. Gary Clark Jr. - The Story of Sonny Boy Slim

Once I heard the comparisons to Sam Cooke (my “comfort food” music), I raced to check out Leon Bridges’s sound. He is now prominently featured in my Spotify playlist with Sam and Otis, and they’re getting along just fine. –TS

Chris Willman, Writer

1. Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge 1965 – 1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: Collector’s Edition
2. Original Broadway Cast Recording - Hamilton
3. Dawes - All Your Favorite Bands
4. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
5. John Grant - Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
6. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
7. Ryn Weaver - The Fool
8. JD McPherson - Let the Good Times Roll
9. Muse - Drones
10. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color

Whether you went down the rabbit hole of the two-CD set (brilliant), six-disc configuration (even better, for completists), or 18-CD version (exhaustively stunning, for beyond-completists), Dylan’s 2015 collection of outtakes, rehearsals, and alternate arrangements from his “electric period” proves something us mortals could only have suspected: that when a genius is in peak form at a moment in history, every false brushstroke can feel as God-ordained as the keepers. If you wanted to feel that same exhilaration over a brilliant wordsmith who can do no wrong in something contemporary, you only had to look to 2015’s best all-new album: the thrilling cast album for the hip-hop musical Hamilton. –CW

Jon Wiederhorn, Writer

1. Deafheaven - New Bermuda
2. Tame Impala - Currents
3. Blur - The Magic Whip
4. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
5. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
6. Lamb of God - VII Sturm Und Drang
7. Baroness - Purple
8. Sleater Kinney - No Cities to Love
9. Speedy Ortiz - Foil Deer
10. Slayer - Repentless

When hipsters got turned onto Deafheaven’s second record Sunbather, which mixed burning black metal and psychedelic shoegazer haze, the band became infinitely more popular. So it stands to reason that Deafheaven would make an even more indie-friendly follow-up. True enough, New Bermuda incorporates more additional scenester sounds, from the lazy guitar wriggles of Built to Spill to the brooding tones of Low. But the band also blends additional metallic firepower into its multifaceted assault, making for an album that’s as fascinating as it is feral. –JW

Paul Grein, Writer

1. The Weeknd - Beauty Behind the Madness
2. Kacey Musgraves - Pageant Material
3. Leon Bridges - Coming Home
4. Don Henley - Cass County
5. Coldplay - A Head Full of Dreams
6. Diana Krall - Wildflower
7. Jill Scott - Woman
8. Adam Lambert - The Original High
9. James Taylor - Before This World
10. Josh Groban - Stages

How did the Weeknd come to have so much success this year? You could say he earned it. “Can’t Feel My Face” owed a strong debt to Michael Jackson, but “The Hills” and “Earned It” showed other sides of his musical personality. –PG

Craig Rosen, Writer

1. Eagles of Death Metal - Zipper Down
2. Ryan Adams - 1989
3. EL VY - Return to the Moon
4. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
5. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
6. Dead Weather - Dodge and Burn
7. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
8. New Order - Music Complete
9. Wilco - Star Wars
10. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

On Nov. 13 in Paris, 89 fans and/or associates of the Eagles of Death Metal were senselessly gunned down by terrorists. In a small symbolic gesture to victims of the attack – and also because it’s an album filled with goodtime grooves and an awesome cover of Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” that tops the original – EoDM’s Zipper Down is my top album of the year. Vive le EODM. Vive le rock! –CR

Lori Majewski, Writer

1. Duran Duran - Paper Gods
2. CHVRCHES - Every Open Eye
3. Grimes - Art Angels
4. Marina & The Diamonds - FROOT
5. Christine & The Queens - Christine & The Queens
6. Kacey Musgraves - Pageant Material
7. The Weeknd - Beauty Behind the Madness
8. Blur - The Magic Whip
9. New Order - Music Complete
10. Jamie xx - In Colour

How many bands are even still together after 38 years, let alone still making relevant music? In 2015, Duran Duran released an album (their 14th) that suggests the ‘80s legends are just now at the height of their powers. Paper Gods – a top 10 debut, the band’s first in 22 years – is an overstuffed box of chocolates. There’s the audacious seven-minute title track with Elbow-esque intro; the funky, Nile Rodgers-powered first single (“Pressure Off,” featuring Janelle Monae); an easy-listening “Ordinary World”-style ballad (“What Are the Chances”). There’s even a bizarre guest spot from Lindsay Lohan as a doctor who diagnoses a patient with “Dancephobia.” Because four decades in, Duran Duran will do whatever they damn well please, thank you very much. –LM

The Reverend Shawn Amos, Writer

1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
2. Chris Stapleton - Traveller
3. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
4. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
5. Mark Ronson - Uptown Special
6. Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night
7. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
8. Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool
9. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats - Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
10. Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free

Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar pulls hip-hop into high art and stops jazz from being a four-lettered word in 2015. –SA

Laura Ferreiro, Writer

1. Blur - The Magic Whip
2. Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool
3. Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness
4. Tame Impala - Currents
5. Django Django - Born Under Saturn
6. Marika Hackman - We Slept At Last
7. Grimes - Art Angels
8. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
9. The Arcs - Yours, Dreamily
10. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color

Proving that an extended hiatus doesn’t mean that their best work is behind them, Blur’s The Magic Whip recalls the British band in its heyday while still sounding thoroughly modern. Created in a Hong Kong studio during an unexpected tour break, the album boasts subtle Asian influences with some dark tones that underlie the rollicking Britpop sound that made them famous. This is a beautifully rendered work by musicians who’ve spent years honing their craft and are still at the top of their game. –LF

Rob O'Connor, Writer

1. The Sonics - This Is the Sonics
2. Duke Garwood - Heavy Love
3. Richard Hawley - Hollow Meadows
4. Joshua Radin - Onward and Sideways
5. Cairo Gang - Goes Missing
6. The Apartments - No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal
7. Martin Newell - Teatime Assortment
8. Iron & Wine - Archives Series, Volume No. 1
9. David Berkeley - Cardboard Boat
10. Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge ’65-’66, Bootleg Series, Vol. XII

Just as Tacoma, Washington’s Sonics rocked like no one else in the early ‘60s, their furious attack still astounds on their latest album, This Is the Sonics, released 50 years after their debut. The key to their appeal remains singer Gerry Roslie, who belts it out like a man on fire. Original members, guitarist Larry Parypa and saxophonist Rob Lind, keep it simple and focused. No frills, just solid rock…and roll. –RO

Steve Baltin, Writer

1. Florence & The Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
2. City & Colour - If I Should Go Before
3. Robert DeLong - In the Cards
4. Twenty One Pilots - Blurryface
5. Adele - 25
6. MGK - General Admission
7. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
8. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
9. Hermitude - Dark Night, Sweet Light
10. Mumford & Sons - Wilder Mind

Why have Florence Welch and her Machine become one of music’s biggest festival headliners? Because Welch is a true rock star. In an era remarkably devoid of personalities, she’s a genuine, charismatic, and riveting performer and personality. Oh, and as evidenced by this stellar album, she is a monster songwriter, too. –SB

Robert of the Radish, Writer

1. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
2. Kurt Vile - B'lieve I’m Goin’ Down…
3. New Order - Music Complete
4. Tame Impala - Currents
5. Josh Ritter - Sermon on the Rocks
6. Grimes - Art Angels
7. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
8. Dave Rawlings Machine - Nashville Obsolete
9. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
10. CHVRCHES - Every Open Eye

Consistently beautiful, emotionally powerful, elegantly sparse, and peacefully sublime, Sufjan Stevens’s Carrie & Lowell is proof that pop music can have real artistic weight. In a music landscape that provides big paydays for mechanically-separated, sugarcoated regurgitate, Stevens delivers a blinding point of light. –RotR

Tristram Lozaw, Writer

1. Irvin Mayfield - Irvin Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Playhouse
2. JD McPherson - Let the Good Times Roll
3. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment - Surf
4. Ryley Walker - Primrose Green
5. Jamie xx - In Colour
6. Bang on a Can All Stars - Field Recordings
7. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
8. Rudresh Mahanthappa - Bird Calls
9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet & Other Distress
10. Arthur Russell - Corn

With a week’s worth of rich, brass-laden tracks – performed by dozens of guests exploring the gamut of Crescent City styles and vibrantly recorded live at trumpeter Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the French Quarter – the 7-CD / 290-page book set Irvin Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Playhouse, from Basin Street Records, is a top-shelf celebration of Irvin’s “love supreme,” New Orleans jazz. –TL

Lina Lecaro, Writer

1. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
2. Madonna - Rebel Heart
3. Tame Impala - Currents
4. Dr. Dre - Compton
5. Eagles of Death Metal - Zipper Down
6. CHVRCHES - Every Open Eye
7. Marilyn Manson - The Pale Emperor
8. Duran Duran - Paper Gods
9. Giorgio Moroder - Déjà Vu
10. Grimes - Art Angels

A flawless melding of classic Zep-ish rock swagger and old-school bluesy bombast, no other release came close to moving my body or soul like Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color did in 2015. –LL

Chuck Arnold, Writer

1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
2. Stacy Barthe - BEcoming
3. Adele - 25
4. The Weeknd - Beauty Behind the Madness
5. Janet Jackson - Unbreakable
6. Flo Morrissey - Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful
7. Ruby Amanfu - Standing Still
8. Rhiannon Giddens - Tomorrow Is My Turn
9. Miguel - Wildheart
10. Drake - If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

On a whole 'nother level than anything else dropping in 2015, Kendrick Lamar’s indisputable masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly gave the Compton MC back-to-back classics. To paraphrase Muhammad Ali, he floats like a butterfly and stings like a killer bee. –CA