Here we are again, folks. Another year has come and gone, and quite a lot of phenomenal music fell into our laps along the way. Everything from hip-hop to shoegaze revival made its way onto the indie (and not-so-indie) charts, and we wanted to take the time to reminisce a bit before continuing our inexorable march into the brave new world that 2016 promises to herald.
We put this list together as a team. Each one of our writers, editors, photographers, fat-cat executives, and the barely-sentient AIs that run our social media submitted a list of their top picks of 2015, and we whittled them down through a grueling process of passive-aggressive email arguments. What remained is what you see here.
While we wanted to include the bigger-name albums that really lived up to their hype, this list focuses on a good number of smaller artists that might not have gotten much recognition when they were released. This isn't an act of charity or anything—all of these records are excellent—we simply got tired of seeing the same twenty things on every year-end roundup.
So without further ado, ThrdCoast is excited to present you with the best albums of 2015. We hope you dig 'em as much as we did.
Son Lux - Bones
In an emphatic followup to 2014's Lanterns, Son Lux hit us with another inventive, experimental, and occasionally batshit insane album this year in the form of Bones. Like everything else they've put out over the years, the only thing predictable about it was its unpredictability, and with standouts like the angular "You Don't Know Me" and slow-building "Your Day Will Come," this is one we'll be coming back to for years.
Turnover - Peripheral Vision
Virginia-based Turnover's latest effort, Peripheral Vision, is an absolute heartbreaker. Their unique style of post-punk has an almost indescribable smoothness to it—each track feels like all the elements have melted together, like crayons you left out in the sun. Plus, if you're in the right mood, "I Would Hate You If I Could" will straight up make you sob like an adolescent.
Jamie xx - In Colour
Punchy, eclectic, and hugely fun, Jamie xx's sophomore solo LP In Colour shows a much more vibrant and, quite frankly, interesting side than his recent work with The xx. You've all probably heard plenty about this on other sites, but we think it deserves some serious year-end recognition.
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
What can we say that hasn't already been said? To Pimp a Butterfly is a friggin' masterpiece, and it deserves the accolades with which it's been showered all year.
Sports - Naked All The Time
In a scene that's more or less overflowing with dream pop, it's an impressive feat when a band can set themselves apart with an album as elegantly smooth and well written as Sports' Naked All The Time. Awash in hazy synths and reverb-drenched guitars, this one can bring you to a midsummer afternoon even in the dead of winter.
Jaakko Eino Kalevi - Jaakko Eino Kalevi
Finnish electro-pop musician Jaakko Eino Kalevi is, first and foremost, a character. His self-titled album opens with a track titled "JEK," in which the chorus is simply a repetition of his name (in case you were curious about how to pronounce it). Singing in both English and Finnish throughout, Jaakko Eino Kalevi ranges from mopey and contemplative on tracks like "Double Talk" to almost absurdly funky on "Hush Down," and nails every mood in between.
Vinyl Williams - Into
Experimental pop darlings Vinyl Williams dropped their second full-length release this year to wild acclaim, and for good reason. Into is a cosmic trip right down to the album art (which looks like an Escher sketch put through Google's Deep Dream), and meanders its way through fourteen dreamy tracks that perfectly balance ambiance and pop sensibilities.
Mild High Club - Timeline
Sometimes a band's name sums up its sound more artfully than our notes ever could. That's certainly the case with Timeline, Mild High Club's latest lackadaisical, marginally psychedelic project on Stones Throw Records. Like a half-assed hit on an idyllic summer day, it's hard to tell if the bliss is coming from the drugs or the weather—but it's certainly there.
Lightning Bug - Floaters
NYC four-piece Lightning Bug produced an impressively creative hybrid of dream pop and shoegaze with their debut LP Floaters. It's an album that isn't afraid to let its mind wander, but the band manages to bring things back to earth with walls of fuzzed-out guitar before it ever starts to feel aimless. This was one of the more pleasant surprises we came across this year, and we're looking forward to seeing what they do going forward.
Ava Luna - Infinite House
Ava Luna delivered once again with this year's Infinite House, a confident, expressive album that blurs the lines of R&B, soul, art rock, and indie pop to fantastic effect. The vocals are vibrant and the songwriting is as tight as ever, proving that these guys are absolutely at the top of their game.
Rick Alvin - Doing Melting
A relative latecomer (just released in early December), Rick Alvin's Doing Melting is a bold experiment in sound collage that pretty drastically challenges what it means to make an indie pop album. Elements of trip-hop, samples of classical greats like Holst, and references to The Sound of Music come together to make this one of the more bizzare, yet intriguing records of 2015—and all this from a member of super-twee pop group Miniature Tigers.
Palm - Trading Basics
On their full-length debut Trading Basics, noisy New York (now Philadelphia) math rockers Palm put together a collection of explosive, surreal music that manages to be both elusive and completely mesmerizing. They're happy to pull the rug out from under the listener at any point, but there's a certain beauty to having your expectations flipped on their head more times than you can count.
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
Squarely in the "duh" column of this list is I Love You, Honeybear, Father John Misty's latest opus. The album is a soul-bearing, contradictory exploration of true love and how it changes you (or doesn't), replete with all the showmanship and cleverness that has defined J. Tillman's songwriting since his debut. Plus, we figured if we didn't include it, somebody would call the Indie Police on us.
The Japanese House - Pools To Bathe In
Someone once described The Japanese House's most recent album, Pools to Bathe In, as "Imogen Heap for people with taste." We don't want to throw shade at Heap, but they certainly have their similarities: lots of vocal modulation, understated beats, and an absolutely gorgeous—if melancholy—aesthetic.
Guerilla Toss - Flood Dosed
Psych-punk is a fairly under-served genre, and Guerilla Toss' short EP Flood Dosed made us wish that wasn't the case. Their matter-of-fact vocal delivery and erratic, funky instrumentation is refreshingly weird and raw, and the songwriting is incredibly inventive throughout.
Tei Shi - Verde
Ever since we first heard "Bassically" last year, we've been anticipating great things from Tei Shi. Lo and behold, Verde is just as fantastic as we'd hoped, and our only complaint is that it's too damn short.
Krill - A Distant Fist Unclenching
Krill is high-energy and rough around the edges, and always manages to feel just a hair shy of coming completely unhinged. There's an art to finding that sweet spot, and 2015's A Distant Fist Unclenching does so magnificently.
L'Impératrice - Odyssée
France seems to be the international capitol of synth pop these days, and L'Impératrice has produced a beautiful addition to the pantheon with their latest EP Odyssée. It's easy to get lost in their shimmering synths and airy vocals, but you could just as easily dance your ass off to them.
Attacrobat - Howl
Irish duo Attacrobat are pretty hard to categorize. Their Howl EP is soulful, experimental, and clearly world influenced—not unlike Yeasayer—and they effortlessly blend vocal-forward pieces with dynamic beats to make a seamless, genre-transcending whole.
Incredible Polo - AGES
Nancy, France-based producer Incredible Polo (aka Paul Malburet) is a master of engrossing synth pop, and AGES is him at his best. Spacey, hypnotic, but nonetheless plenty substantial, this is an EP that punches well above its runtime.
Cloud - Zen Summer
A bright, fuzzy wall of joy, LA-based Cloud's debut album Zen Summer is as exuberant as it is thoughtful. Never glossing over the fact that most of its celebratory vibe comes from overcoming some pretty dark emotions, though, moments like the triumphant shouts of "I'm all right! I'm all right!" on "Sunshine Psych" reliably put smiles on our faces.
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
Yeah, yeah. Everyone says Sufjan is irrelevant and uncool these days, and they're all going to put him on their year-end lists anyway. Because he's really, really good at writing records that quite literally make us cry. Mission accomplished, Sufs.
Miya Folick - Strange Darling
Miya Folick's Strange Darling is a stunningly beautiful EP. It's intimate, confessional, a little bit self-loathing, and holy hell does Miya have a great voice. This is how you do singer-songwriter folk-rock with some chutzpah.
Michael Hix - Aeon
If you like ambient music, Michael Hix's Aeon is a must-listen. It's artfully paced, and despite having a bit of that sameiness that ambient music tends to fall prey to, Hix sustains a subtle dynamism throughout the record that keeps things moving. It didn't get much attention when it came out, and it probably won't because it isn't the sexiest genre out there, but we wanted to give this one its due.
Superhuman Happiness - Escape Velocity
We don't even know where to start with this album. Is it an EP? An LP? A new category entirely? Whatever it is, it's phenomenal. We have no idea what genre to call it, other than experimental indie pop, but it jumps so far all over the place in any given thirty seconds—let alone in a song—that any attempt to do so would necessitate a big, fat asterisk. It's weird, but it's not inaccessible, and super catchy from time to time. It's tightly recorded and fascinating as far as structure goes, and "Middle Ground" is one of our favorite songs of the whole year.
Land Lines - The Natural World
Land Lines' latest record, The Natural World, does minimalist chamber pop really, really well (we're not even sure you can call it chamber pop, but they use a double bass so we figured we'd roll with it). Lead singer Martina Grbac has one of the most powerful voices we've heard all year, too, which doesn't hurt.
Busdriver - Thumbs
LA indie rapper Busdriver's Thumbs is simply phenomenal. As packed with biting social commentary as it is with nerdy pop-culture references ("I remember when Vegeta stomped Bardock's neck in"), this LP ranges in tone from down-tempo grooves to heavy-duty bangers like "Hyperbolic 2." Plus, it has some great guest appearances, like Del the Funky Homosapien, Kool A.D., and milo to round it all out.
Squiggly Lines - Astronaut Jumps, Nobody Misses the Landing
This quaint little EP seems to have flown under most radars, but we love it. It's quirky, the track names are clever (each one is a single word from the title, in order), and utterly approachable. It's lackadaisical and self-deprecating, but in a way that seems unique among semi-bedroom projects. There are some fun Greek mythological themes peppered throughout, and humorously enough, "the" is probably the best and most expansive track on the album. Definitely worth a listen if you missed it.
No Joy - More Faithful
Shoegaze is back (real, actual, 100% shoegaze, guys!). No Joy's More Faithful does it better than pretty much anyone else we heard this year. 'Nuff said.
Happy Fangs - Capricorn
We're suckers for riot grrrl rock bands, and San Francisco's Happy Fangs do it with such gleeful, irreverent energy on Capricorn that we couldn't help but fall in love. They wrote a song about a vulture that can do karate called "Hiya Kaw Kaw." They had a guy in a werewolf costume chase them around on stage in the middle of the concert we attended. And their guitarist's name is literally, on his birth certificate, Michael Cobra. What more do you need?
Torres - Sprinter
Torres' Sprinter is an intense, strong-willed, artful album. Putting PJ Harvey and Portishead alums on this was a masterstroke; the atmosphere is dark, but still enjoyable to dive into. It simmers and pulsates in a way that feels very different from the rest of this year's indie rock, and we can't get enough of it.
Vince Staples - Summertime '06
In a year that was dominated by so much fantastic hip-hop, it was hard to stand out. Vince Staples' Summertime '06 was one that managed to pull it off with a bleak, ominous vibe and some really impressive beats, and if you get the chance to see him live, do it. He wears himself out completely on stage—no reservations, no posing like he's too cool, just a guy putting on an explosive performance until he's damn near completely exhausted. It's a sight to behold.
Girl Band - Holding Hands With Jamie
We're still sort of reeling from this one. Girl Band's Holding Hands With Jamie is completely manic, psychotic, and explosively cathartic, but there's a level of detailed experimentation here that deserves a lot of respect. There's not really a good way to ease into it, so you might as well put on your crazy-glasses and dive right in.
Frog - Kind of Blah
Texturally, Frog's full-length debut Kind of Blah is cozy, comforting, and absolutely lovable. It's a bit of an emo-esque take on bluegrass, which has set it apart from many other ostensibly similar acts and makes it a definite standout for the year.
Nao - February 15
Funky, infectious, and just downright cool as hell, Nao's February 15 EP is really exceptional. The blend of experimental electronics and throwback vocals create an intriguing stylistic harmony that made this one of our favorites of the year.
Sandy's - Prom
San Francisco-based solo act Sandy's (aka Alexi Glickman) put out a warm, enchanting, endearing little collection of songs earlier this year called Prom, and it was something of a sleeper hit in our office. Unpretentious and approachable, these tracks have a tendency to worm their way into your brain and pop up when you least expect them.
Chastity Belt - Time To Go Home
There's something fantastic about a no-bullshit, all-girl punk band, and Chastity Belt are the ones to beat. 2015's Time to Go Home tackles sexist double standards without ever losing sight of the raucous, hard-partying attitude that makes punk great, and does so with such nuance that it's pretty easy to look up and find you haven't listened to anything else for over a month. We know from experience.
Julia Holter - Have You In My Wilderness
Julia Holter's vulnerable, almost hymnal chamber pop is as stunning as ever on Have You In My Wilderness. We were more or less enraptured by every track, and it's probably safe to say that there are few artists with as distinctive a vocal style (remember that great, matter-of-fact "I can swim / It's lucidity / So clear" from "Sea Calls Me Home"?).
Grimes - Art Angels
We mostly know what to expect from Grimes by now, but Art Angels found new ways to surprise us regardless. This is an indie-pop masterclass, and we're just happy that Grimes is still doing her part to make weird cool again.
Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett is one of those authentic, affable artists it's difficult not to fall in love with. Her latest album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, has been the butt of god-awful puns on every music site worth its salt this year, and the attention is well deserved.
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment - Surf
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment's Surf takes some time to grow on you, but once it does it's there for good. Spanning everything from R&B and hip-hop to jazz, this is a wildly creative album that only gets better with time.
Gemma - As Ever
Featuring Ava Luna's Felicia Douglass front-and-center, Gemma is another excellent addition to New York's burgeoning alt-R&B scene. Accompanied by Erik Gundel's masterful beats, Douglass' voice shines as an absolute revelation, even for those of us familiar with her other work.
Tame Impala - Currents
Of course, what self-respecting year-end list would be complete without Tame Impala's latest LP? Currents was a phenomenon this year, and while we think the hyperbole surrounding it is mostly just that, it's still a great record that we've unapologetically enjoyed through and through.