With 2015 wrapping up, there’s no denying that this past year was a huge one for music lovers alike! Indie to pop, to rock and country, fans were in for surprises from their favorite artists and bands with releases popping up every week, and a few even very suddenly. From Coldplay to Mumford & Sons, Kacey Musgraves to Chris Stapleton, One Direction to Selena Gomez, Lana Del Rey to (Queen) Adele—2015 saw something for everyone of all the music genres. The way our playlists are turning out, what will the new year hold for music? We will have to wait and see!
As we head into another year and get ready to ring in 2016, our staff shares an eclectic mix of their favorite albums from 2015, in no particular order. Did your favorites make the list?
Kelly Clarkson: Piece By Piece
Elizabeth The: Clarkson’s album played a significant piece in my music listening activities in 2015. I remember blasting that upbeat first single, “Heartbeat Song” on the car stereo back in January and feeling so revved up for the year to come. The album stuck with me throughout the months, inspiring confidence (“Invincible”) when I needed a boost and eliciting emotion (“Tightrope”) when I needed a release. But no song affected me more than her most personal song yet, “Piece By Piece,” the happy-ending bookend to “Because Of You.” Her display of vulnerability and vocal power makes this my favorite album of the year.
David Cook: Digital Vein
Katherine Hernandez: My favorite album this year is definitely David Cook’s much anticipated Digital Vein. Normally I don’t listen to much modern music, but Cook’s album is engaging and a worthy follow up to 2011’s This Loud Morning. It’s hard to pick a favorite song because there are quite a few standouts on the album. Upon first listen, I put “Better Than Me” and “From Here To Zero” on repeat, but currently I find myself listening to “Home Movies (Over Your Shoulder)” the most. My favorites change all the time, though, which to me is the sign of a strong album. Though his previous albums had more strictly uptempo songs, the more mellow vibe of Digital Vein allows Cook to really show off his voice in a way that he hasn’t before, and seeing him perform these songs live in October really drove that home. Most of all, though, I never skip songs when I’m listening to Digital Vein because the entire album as a whole is so strong, which makes it my favorite of 2015.
Years & Years: Communion
Andrew Rogers: I chose this album in particular because it’s one that I fall back on when people ask what I’m listening to seeking a recommendation for good music. The best way I can describe their music is a cross between Sam Smith and Ellie Goulding. They’re British, their music is a little angsty, it doesn’t shy away from same-sex relationships, but it’s also catchy electro pop. If I were to pick a track you should start off with, I’d say “King,” but I listen to the whole album front-to-back on the regular.
John Moreland: High on Tulsa Heat
Desi Rottman: With John Moreland’s gruff exterior—unkempt beard, tough tattoos, ball capped-head—you wouldn’t expect his songs to be filled with such longing and loss as seen on this year’s High on Tulsa Heat. His 2015 release continues his tendency toward lyric-driven Americana with tracks like the title track. His songs are suited perfectly for his hard-to-ignore voice: sweet, sad, honest. My favorite song from the effort, “Heart’s Too Heavy,” represents his best—from the melodic guitar intro, to the way he so clearly wails “it’s hard to get high when your heart’s too heavy,” this is my album of the year.
Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free
Meg Quinn: There are two other albums (Traveller by Chris Stapleton and Mr. Misunderstood by Eric Church) that were fighting hard for this spot and made it such a difficult choice. But the thing about Jason Isbell is that he is one of those artists that turns everything he touches into gold, making it impossible to not put him at the top of any “best of” list. Something More Than Free came out mid-July and I’ve listened to it, or parts of it, every day. If you look to the lyrics of songs before anything else, than you need this album if you haven’t already gotten it; I really believe that Jason is one of the great songwriters of our generation. It’s so difficult to pick out a favorite song, and it really changes depending on the day and my mood, but “Flagship” is a masterpiece of a love song.
Mumford and Sons: Wilder Mind
Tania Hussain: There was a lot of controversy prior to the release of Wilder Mind as it was reported early on that the band chucked away their signature banjos. But if The Beatles can make great and relevant music post-moptop, why can’t this quartet do the same? Though this year saw a ton of releases that I loved a lot like Brandon Flowers’ The Desired Effect, Luke Bryan’s Kill The Lights, or Adele’s 25, this is the defining record of my 2015. Soft and gentle, this folksy band doesn’t completely shy away from their distinct sound. While “Snake Eyes” is a track that reverberates with my life and certain relationships, “Tompkins Square Park” is my absolute favorite and a love song that has the power to make me cry. Come to think of it, a lot of the tracks on this record do, but it’s beautifully cathartic in that sense and says a lot about the emotion they’re pouring in. It’s a phenomenal record and proof that the band is a continuous driving force no matter their direction of sound as they continually deliver the same clear-eyed, frank and full-hearted intensity we all love.
Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Janna Jeffrey: “Hamilton,” the Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, has become something of a phenomenon since it hit Broadway in August of this year. The cast recording album is making waves in ways that few others have before it—it’s being talked about, and for good reason! The show’s music combines hip-hop, rap, Broadway, pop, R&B, and jazz styles in interesting and innovative ways, with lyrics that make late eighteenth-century American history relevant to today. On top of all that, the cast album is expertly produced—everyone who was involved in putting this album together brought their A game. It is, hands down, one of the best-sounding OBCRs I’ve ever heard—and, given that it includes almost the whole show in its entirety, is wonderful for those who can’t manage to get tickets to the perpetually sold-out show itself. The “Hamilton” Original Broadway Cast Recording is a true gem that will surely become a milestone in Broadway’s history.
One Direction: Made in the A.M.
Jessica Fritz: The one album that I was looking forward to hearing all year was One Direction’s fifth project, Made In The A.M., and it did not disappoint! This album was the one Harry, Liam, Niall, and Louis had the most involvement in, which resonates deeply within its songs. I love how it ultimately manifested itself as a love letter to fans. This is especially true in the song “History.” Instead of a tear-inducing, nostalgic tune, they chose to gift us with a cheerful, dock-of-the-bay-style track that truly captures the familial bond that can only be understood by those in a fandom. This is the type of album that makes you feel like you’ve walked in to a party, and despite this being their last one for a while, I’ll be patiently awaiting my next invitation.”
Third Eye Blind: Dopamine
Nicole Drum: I’m a die hard Third Eye Blind fan (we call ourselves Misfits, by the way) but even I wasn’t sure what quite to expect with the band’s first full-length release in six years. Dopamine was a record that was promised countless times only to be pushed back again and again but I can honestly say it was absolutely worth the wait. From the energetic opening track “Everything Is Easy” to the more experimental rock-opera style “Get Me Out of Here” front man Stephan Jenkins connects to the 90s alternative rock staples the band is (unfortunately) best known for like “Semi-Charmed Life and simultaneously shows its currency, freshness, and musical fangs. With contemporary references to smartphones, millennials, and Occupy as well as brilliant layering of influences such as David Bowie the now five-piece band reinvents itself while staying utterly timeless. Be sure to check out my favorite track, “Exiles.”
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What was your favorite album from the past year? Let us know in the comments below.