As we say goodbye to 2015, we reflect on the crème de la crème of albums that have graced our ears over the last three hundred and sixty five days. In this list, we have compiled our favourite LP’s, EP’s and mixtapes of the year and condensed them down to a mere twenty. It was tough, competition was fierce and it took a fair amount of deliberation but here are the top twenty albums of 2015 – as told by gal-dem.
20. OSHUN – ASASE YAA
Your favourite new hip-hop group OSHUN hail from the DMV region in the States, a burgeoning music scene that’s churned out the likes of Oddisee, Goldlink and Kali Uchis among others. These two talented best friends are the first of many incredible female musicians on our list giving us plenty cause to celebrate. OSHUN make afro-centric hip-hop that sounds straight out of the heydays of 90s ‘’conscious rap’’. Much like Joey Bada$$’s old school boom-bap style, there’s a danger that this recycled sound could come off gimmicky or contrived. After all, if listeners want to hear more 90s rap, there’s a rich catalogue of records waiting to be re-discovered, they don’t call it the golden age of Hip-Hop for nothing. But there’s enough passion and sheer love of the golden age in OSHUN’s music to make you forget the cynicism and get swept away in the nostalgia. An incredible lyrical accomplishment with soulful production that you could mistake for an un-released Dilla tape: ASASE YAA is a marvel of a debut.
Favourite tracks: Fuvk, The Next Day
19. Jamie Woon – Making Time
Understated, reserved, and delicate, London producer Jamie Woon resurfaced this year after stepping further out of the limelight after his debut release in 2011 which had hits ‘Lady Luck’ and ‘Night Air’ on it. He’d be put in between Burial, SBTRKT and Little Dragon in your playlist.
Jamie Woon makes timeless, multi-purpose music. His tracks are widely used in adverts and soundtracks but he still manages to stay under wraps despite this. Living proof that you don’t need to fix it if it ain’t broke, Woon swoons us on Making Time with his usual simple yet effective song-writing and melodic vocal range. He subtly introduces a slight folk sound alongside some horns on ‘Celebration’ and gently paces through an R&B sound throughout the record.
Favourite tracks: Sharpness, Forgiven.
18. Mo Kolours – Texture Like Sun
Joseph Deenmamode fills this project with skits, broken record samples and cuts from his hometown of London and ancestral path which takes us to Mauritius. This broken-beat, future groove sound from South London is one that could be pinpointed from a Reginald Omas Mamode IV, Al Dobson Jr and Jean Bassa. It’s no wonder they’re related. They drive these afro-influenced electronic productions that are birthed from an offbeat fusion between hip-hip, dub and funk. ‘Foundation’ is broken, choppy and filled with steelpan riddims taking it back to his Mauritian roots and ‘Orphan’s Lament’ lightly takes on death – with a trippy video too. It’s a dense listen, but somewhat playful as opposed to preachy in its political undertones.
Favourite tracks: Foundations, Harvest
17. Toro Y Moi – What For?
Chaz Bundick is clearly a workaholic. Fast on the heels of his electronic dance project Les Sins’ album release at the tail of 2014 and the accompanying North American mini-tour, he had time to release What For? in April, his fourth album under the Toro y Moi moniker. He took a full four months off before coming back with Samantha in the same year, a free mixtape featuring the likes of Kool A.D., Rome Fortune, Washed Out and Nosaj Thing. Though Samantha came out in the heat of summer, it is What For? that filled me with sunshine and beach vibes. It’s a significant departure from what Toro y Moi fans have come to expect: it’s more guitar, less chillwave. Maybe it’s because I went through a phase of being obsessed with both Big Star and Rooney in secondary school, but the pop rock influences were a welcome surprise to me. If you’ve never taken much note of Chaz before, this more accessible effort may be the gateway you need. If you’re a Toro y Moi purist then rest easy, he just dropped four new surprise tracks on his SoundCloud, I’m sure there’s another project in the pipeline.
Favourite tracks: Ratcliff, Lily.
16. Khruangbin – The Universe Smiles Upon You
The Universe Smiles Upon You came out quietly in the second half of the year to little fanfare yet there’s something mesmerising about this unique debut from Thai-funk band Khruangbin. Fans of Bonobo will recognise the name from his 2013 Late Night Tales instalment and they’ve stayed under the radar since then to come back with a solid tracklist of hypnotic instrumentals that puts you under their spell. I found myself revisiting this album throughout the day – on the train, waiting for a friend, while studying, in the evening winding down before bed. If you’re looking for something to refresh your iPod, don’t look further.
Favourite tracks: Zionsville, August Twelve.
15. Thundercat – The Beyond
This psychedelic jazz cat has featured on a couple of albums mentioned on this list – To Pimp a Butterfly, The Epic and he recently played in London at The Internet’s cancelled tour date alongside Little Simz. Stacked with his funky bass, his falsetto vocals, Herbie Hancock’s and Kamasi Washington’s instrumentation and Flylo’s layered production. It’s intergalactic and futuristic. It has emotional depth and social consciousness. It’s sombre and reflective. It’s short but sweet and a cheeky reminder from Thundercat that he’s still about.
Favourite tracks: Them Changes, Lone Wolf and Cub
14. Oddisee – The Good Fight
If you’ve never heard of Oddisee, his Tiny Desk Concert over at NPR Music is a great place to start. It’s the same video series that sent the internet into a daze last year when they exposed T-Pain’s remarkable singing abilities without autotune. They have a knack for making their guests feel comfortable in their own skin, and there’s something endearing about Oddisee’s nerdy confidence that asserts he’s just a regular guy. A guy with incredibly smooth bars and intricate production skills, it’s really a wonder it has taken this long for the world to take notice of Oddisee’s talent, 7 years in to his career. This time spent under the radar has been put to good use however; he’s been honing his craft to make The Good Fight his most solid effort yet, allowing him to show off his lyrical skills. A true wordsmith, Oddisee will keep you hooked from the opening verse.
Favourite Tracks: Book Covers, Contradiction’s Maze
13. Flako – Natureboy
Chilean-born London producer Dario Rojo Guerra is a self-professed sun and water worshipper, he claimed when explaining the title of his album to FACT, earlier this spring. Previous releases saw him leading with a much different sound to this cinematic and orchestral jungle dramatisation. “Natureboy retains the influence of South American soul, folk and cumbia Guerra absorbed as a child.” Flako has snatched the title for being the Attenborough of music this year with a strong sense of consistency and commitment to every last detail of this theme.
Favourite tracks: Lyrebird, The Odd and Beautiful
12. Tom Misch – Beat Tape 2
Tom Misch is flying the Union Jack high for hip-hop production – he’s old school. Classically trained, he’s one of the few that make beats the traditional way. Misch is a musician. Gorgeously cheerful tracks such as ‘Falafel’ brightened up a somewhat wet summer this year. His collaborators are carefully chosen to ensure the Beat Tape 2 is spilling over with refined synergic panache. From the number one UK hip-hip rising talent that is Loyle Carner, to Australian dreamy vocalist, Jordan Rakei, Tom Misch has an ear for inducing a two-step and steering clear of the 2012 MDMA-infected HOUSE sound as we hear on ‘Colours of Freedom’. Heavily influenced by Dilla, Badu and Maxwell, Misch is showing the world that the UK can do it too.
Favourite tracks: Nightgowns feat. Loyle Carner, Wake Up This Day feat. Jordan Rakei
11. JME – Integrity>
Mr Adenuga strutted back onto the scene after five years of silence with his third album Integrity>. In his usual, antisocial, nonchalant attitude, JME released this project independently on BBK’s label. Peppered with rowdy 140 dubstep-heavy productions and occasional nods to his brother, Skepta, Integrity> is unapologetically British and heart-warmingly playful (like on ‘Game’). JME is self-assured with no need for affirmation from anyone. He hasn’t changed since the days of 96 bars of revenge. His honesty is what makes him.
Fuck a label, fuck an A&R, fuck radio
-- ‘Same Thing’
Man don’t wear no watch on my arm
Look at my phone I can see wagwarn
Time, date, set my alarm
I don’t watch money, I invest that calm
This wasn’t the only project he released this year either. He made a mixtape in 48 hours for Noisey which was pure fire.
Favourite tracks: Calm, Test Me
10. Moses Sumney – Mid City Island
With only an EP under his belt, Moses Sumney made his way on to a coveted in-depth profile from Pitchfork by mid-2015. If that wasn’t impressive enough to catch your attention, he had co-signs from the likes of Solange, the Prime Empress of Cool, in his corner, not to mention opening slots for Sufjan Stevens. You’d expect a Black LA-based singer-songwriter’s sound to be more in line with the former than the latter, but you’d be wrong. I can’t imagine a better compliment to Sufjan Steven’s intimate confessionals than Sumney’s Mid-City Island, a refreshing collection of folk songs that recall early Jose Gonzalez or Nick Drake. In so many ways, Sumney could have been just another generic singer but there’s a unique quality to his cadence that renders his song-writing utterly compelling. We can’t wait to see what he has in store when he gets round to the full-length album.
Favourite Tracks: Plastic, San Fran
9. Kelela – Hallucinogen
In October we were graced with Hallucinogen which oozed sensuality entwined with vulnerability. I daren’t give it the dreaded ‘alternative R&B’ label but Kelela provided consistency in that she offered a new packaging of R&B, making it more palatable for those more tempted by an electronic sound. The Kelela-Night Slugs collaboration has made sense from the very start of her career, and this EP was her time to showcase her own songwriting and production talents.
Favourite tracks: All The Way Down, The High
8. Erykah Badu – But You Caint Use My Phone
Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ brought Aunty Erykah back. And for that Drake, we will forever be grateful. She remixes, responds (‘I’ll call you back’) to ‘Hotline Bling’. Erykah Badu is always active on the timeline. She’s a mother of three young’ns but she stays up to date on the latest in pop culture. In this mixtape she’s well and truly involved but schooling us for fun. She milks a whole heap of gems from a single concept of a Drake cover and made it into a 36 minute-long mixtape, whilst addressing social anxieties, whilst referencing a load of phone-related pre-existing tracks (‘U Don’t Have to Call’). I can’t really decide whether ‘Phone Down’ is a threat or a challenge, giving us scenarios we all know in which she would make us put our phone down:
I can make you put your phone down
Leave it at the crib, guarantee you wouldn’t miss it
And it wouldn’t leave your pocket
You see your friend but forget him
Your mama probably think you’re out there missing
The phone and sonic theme ties the project all together and best of all, she closes with another stellar collaboration with Andre 3 Stacks.
Favourite tracks: Phone, Hello ft. Andre 3000
7. Little Simz – A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons
Simbi Ajikawo is only 21 years of age but has already achieved more than most in her music career. Being co-signed by J. Cole, Andre 3 Stacks, and even Kendrick, she’s floating to the top of hip-hop and doing it all on her terms. Hailing from North London, Simz has her own record label, AGE 101 and this year has been huge: she filmed a video in South Africa, L.A and released her debut LP, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons. She’s been releasing music for around five years now but this felt like a coming of age project. Last week she enlisted Top Dawg Ent’s Isaiah Rashad, Mick Jenkins, ‘BBHMM’ ghostwriter Bibi Bourelli and Jesse Boykins III for a surprise EP package Age 101: Drop X.
Favourite tracks: Lights, Gratitude feat. The Hics
6. Ibeyi – Ibeyi
Paris-born Cuban twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz don’t sing in French or Spanish but a mixture of English and Yoruba, a Nigerian tongue passed down from their slave ancestors. Many of the songs make reference to Orishas within the Yoruba religion like Oya, Oshun or Eleggua, creating a spiritual current throughout the record. Over African percussions and delicate harmonies, the use of Yoruba verse turns their music in to a mystical and transcendent listening experience. At just 20 years old, Ibeyi showcased remarkable talent by releasing one of the most original and beautiful albums of 2015 and you can’t help but feel mesmerized with every listen.
Favourite Tracks: Oya, River
5. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
West Coast saxophonist, Kamasi Washington’s LP lived up to its name and then some. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and son of a jazz musician . Kamasi has been in the game for a while now, most recently featuring on Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead!, but has had his fair share in plenty more. The Epic is grand, contemporary, complex but accessible jazz in all its glory. It’s a long 3-hour album but the shortest high-quality lesson in jazz you’ll ever get. 2015 has been a big year for jazz. Kendrick brought it into the mainstream through his collaborative efforts with Thundercat on To Pimp a Butterfly. Kamasi Washington has been a big name in propelling contemporary jazz into the forefront of our minds for those who forgot it is still very much alive and kicking.
Favourite tracks: Askim, The Next Step
4. The Internet – Ego Death
Syd tha Kid and Matt Martians et al have been hard at work since their 2013 offering Feel Good. The Odd Future affiliates are living proof that R&B is not dead, nor is it restrictive: in lyrical content nor musical texturing. Syd’s honey-like vocals don’t shy away from explicit details on ownership and multiple lesbian love affairs in a patriarchal model. One might hope that a contemporary album like this would be filled with left-wing co-equality for both partners, but Syd isn’t afraid to show that she isn’t on it like that. Or at least hasn’t been in the past. It’s unorthodox, it’s original and if you’re a fan of N.E.R.D, you’ll love this gem.
Favourite tracks: Just Sayin /I Tried, Girl
3. Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
Contemporary psychedelic soul the way nobody else has ever done it. Their sophomore album sees the Australian four piece band honing in on a neo-soul vibe, brimmed with a wondrous balance of technique and natural cohesive flair. Moments filled with layers of vintage jazz, to a fluctuating otherworldly indie-folk, Hiatus Kaiyote demonstrate their undulating ability to oscillate within a body of purposeful magic. It’s a dense album, strapped with an arsenal of unbounded imagination, CYW is a journey into nature in a way that could never have been imagined before. Unpredictable song structure with winding song progression. This is sophisticated musicianship, probably too sophisticated for mainstream consumption.
Favourite tracks: Laputa, Breathing Underwater
2. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Kendrick said he always wanted to make an album like this. He just needed to penetrate the hip-hop scene a little first, build up a rapport and then unleash his creative vision on the world. Good Kid M.A.A.D City was Kendrick, but digestible Kendrick, that could readily be fed to the masses. TPAB upped the levs of complexity and pure raw emotional passion. TPAB is an album I am still listening to and learning from even having played it well over fifty times. TPAB is an album that has shed a new light on Kendrick as an artist and the agenda he is trying to push for black America and disperse throughout the world.
Favourite tracks: Institutionalized, Complexion
1. FKA twigs – M3LL155X
2015 has been a huge year for feminism. Musically, a lot of this is owed to the likes of FKA twigs. The visual EP released in July made a bold, unapologetic feminist statement. It is difficult to watch and listen to at times, as she features as an inflatable doll in a disturbing rape scene and hauntingly sings in a falsetto “I’m your doll”.
Speaking candidly both in her music and in interviews about the objectification of women in creative industries, M3LL155X is her boldest move yet. Birthing creativity (literally) during a timely period when Kiran Ghandi (drummer for MIA), ran the marathon whilst bleeding freely and vogueing in unity with the queer LGBTA community of dancers, twigs has shown she’s running in her own race; pushing her own boundaries and challenging the way in which we consume music.
Favourite tracks: Glass & Patron, Mothercreep