As 2015 rapidly comes to an end, we've selected the 50 best albums of the past year.
There was certainly no shortage of great music this year, and that made narrowing down a list of nearly 300 staff selections a rather difficult task.
As in previous years, the list certainly could have been longer, but we do feel the final roster is a reflection of some of 2015's best and brightest musical compositions.
Our 2015 year-end coverage will continue through the month of December with Best Songs of the Year, Artists of the Year, Best TV Shows of the Year and more, to be announced.
See the 50 Best Albums below.
MILEY CYRUS MILEY CYRUS & HER DEAD PETZ
This surprise, Flaming Lips-assisted record offered an unfiltered look at one of today’s most polarizing pop stars. Expectedly weird and tripped out, it definitely wasn’t a label-sanctioned affair (she self-released it anyway). And while many of her peers would never attempt such a stunt, this was actually a great career move.
MIGOS YUNG RICH NATION
The rap trio proved they’re more than a buzz act with this energetic, ambitious debut record. Despite delays leading to the release, the wait was worth it. Opting to let their MC skills literally do the talking instead of relying on varnished production, their risk paid off. They’re still not where they could be, but they’re on the move now.
THE STAVES IF I WAS
Produced by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, this bold and lofty record showcases the sibling trio’s strengths with such intense precision, yet it never strays from the organic harmonies we’ve come to love. This album was brighter but not blinding, just enough to see layers that had probably been there all along.
YEARS & YEARS COMMUNION
The British trio provided one very intentional album, which happened to be their first. Despite their relative youth, they know exactly who they are already and that’s crystal clear on this record, which is light on fluff and full of anthem energy, unleashing a diary of heartbreak without ever cutting too deep.
TORI KELLY UNBREAKABLE SMILE
The California songstress declared her mission in the album’s title track, acknowledging she’s aiming to “sell out shows without taking off my clothes.” And from start to finish, that empowering positivity fused with her powerhouse vocals and shimmering pop songs resulted in a dynamic album.
YOUNG THUG BARTER 6
The rapper remained unpredictable while offering a more polished version of himself on this 13-track collection. If entertainment was the goal, he exceeded expectations. He’s certainly capable of more, but he definitely made big moves with this set.
THE ARCS YOURS, DREAMILY
The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach somehow found time between touring and producing everyone else’s records to form this new project, and what a delight it turned out to be. With a healthy dose of garage rock and psychedelic, bluesy tempos, it was a quite a satisfying listen.
RYN WEAVER THE FOOL
Another newcomer this year, the young songstress proved to be one of pop’s most promising future stars, with this glimmering first record. Merging love, loss and pain with folksy beats and sheen, she laid a solid foundation for what could very well be a lengthy career.
SEINABO SEY PRETEND
Opening with her breakout single “Younger,” the Swedish singer’s debut full-length provided further evidence her native country is definitely exporting some of the best pop music. Explosive and passionate, quirky and emotional ,it was one of the most intoxicating albums released this year.
THE WEEKND BEAUTY BEHIND THE MADNESS
Abel Tesfaye made it no secret he was chasing superstardom. And that’s exactly what he achieved with this album, which openly embraced the commercial world and toned down the “madness” perhaps for the sake of appealing to the common denominator. But perhaps the “beauty” was that he did it without really sacrificing his carnality.
BEST COAST CALIFORNIA NIGHTS
While the West Coast pair seemed intent on carving out a mainstream space for themselves with this ultra-glossy record, their best moments were ultimately their least polished, when that raw, gritty angst is most evident.
PURITY RING ANOTHER ETERNITY
A lush, fully realized pop album, this record didn’t try too hard and didn’t disappoint. It became clear this time around the duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick are aiming higher in their career, and that’s not a bad thing at all. They still have room to grow, but this album suggests they have the chops to keep moving.
FOALS WHAT WENT DOWN
Distinctly Foals but bursting with new energy, this record showcased a more refined and exuberant sound. Never overwhelming, it punched and pulled back at just the right moments, remaining steady throughout and marking a big leap forward for the band.
The Beyoncé and Run the Jewels collaborator finally nabbed the spotlight with this jittery, ambitious solo debut. Reflective of Radiohead and even RTJ to an extent, the record isn’t without its flaws, but the young musician has offered a vivid picture of where he’s going and yes, we’d like to follow.
TROYE SIVAN BLUE NEIGHBOURHOOD
The actor-singer gave us an early Christmas gift with his debut record, which happens to be one of the smartest and most entrancing pop albums of the year. From track to track, it never loses its balance and sense of depth, driven by heartache, young love and optimism.
BEACH HOUSE DEPRESSION CHERRY
It was a truly mesmerizing record, a work of pop art while refusing to seem flashy or contrived. By the album’s end, the duo had quietly taken a giant step forward with an eloquent and very personal set of music.
MARK RONSON UPTOWN SPECIAL
Even without its mega-hit lead single “Uptown Funk,” this January release was instantly one of the year’s most brilliant and timeless offerings. With help from Bruno Mars, Stevie Wonder, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt, this infectious album was undeniably authentic, sophisticated and sexy—many times all at once.
LANA DEL REY HONEYMOON
Rather than flipping the script in an attempt to prove naysayers wrong, the 30-year-old singer formerly known as Lizzy Grant put her foot down, made herself at home and invited the rest of us to the party. A gloomy, dreary, wonderful party. Affirming that she knows exactly who she is and she’s OK with that, this might have been her purest record to date.
SLEATER-KINNEY NO CITIES TO LOVE
With a healthy dose of nostalgia and a set of crisp, concise songs, Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss managed to make a thunderous return after 10 years, somehow picking up exactly where they left off and proving rock is far from dead in the process.
FLORENCE + THE MACHINE HOW BIG, HOW BLUE, HOW BEAUTIFUL
Florence Welch teamed up with Adele producer Paul Epworth and made a record worthy of a star. And she proved to be among the year’s biggest ones, with a consistent stream of festival-headlining material brimming with glorious pop hooks and raw emotion.
Instead of offering radio-ready material, Miguel peeled back layers of himself and poured his soul into a full record of ferocious, sensual cuts, threaded together by a level of transparency we had previously not seen from the singer.
HUDSON MOHAWKE LANTERN
This refreshingly brilliant record solidified Ross Birchard’s standing as one of this generation’s greatest producers. The Scottish music maker created a blissful balance of experimentation and illuminating soundscapes, ultimately pushing against the boundaries of electronic music and the industry as a whole.
DONNIE TRUMPET & THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT SURF
While fans eagerly awaited a new Chance the Rapper, the Chicago MC instead joined forces with Donnie Trumpet for a consistently rich, powerful record. With guest appearances from Erykah Badu and J. Cole, the 16-track album served as sort of a religious experience and filled a glaring void in hip-hop.
LIANNE LA HAVAS BLOOD
The British songstress took bigger risks this time around and it paid off tremendously,as this sleeper record turned out to be one of the year’s best. Reflective of an artist who seems to have found herself, it was a brilliant listen, highlighted by her honest vocals and pure lyricism.
She didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel of pop, but this dark, shiny, fizzy record fits in snugly between previous offerings from the likes of Lorde and Lana Del Rey. Anchored by standout “New Americana,” this debut LP easily positions Halsey as one of pop’s brightest rising stars.
WOLF ALICE MY LOVE IS COOL
The British alt-rockers proved the hype was well-earned, delivering an invigorating and confident debut record. Striking the perfect balance of slow simmering waves and explosive jolts, it did so without overwhelming listeners and instead inviting us back for more.
COLDPLAY A HEAD FULL OF DREAMS
A record which ironically could mark the end of Coldplay, it’s also Chris Martin and Co.’s best work in years. It’s honest in ways not heard since X&Y, which arrived a decade ago. And it’s also refreshing and sprightly, even while remaining fragile and ultimately bittersweet.
WILCO STAR WARS
This surprise album may have seemingly come out of nowhere, but it consisted of a fresh and cohesive set of carefully crafted music. While on the surface, it might appear as going back to their roots, this record is actually much more experimental and animated than we’ve come to expect from Wilco. And perhaps that was the real surprise.
BIG SEAN DARK SKY PARADISE
Emerging from the shadows of some of the game’s biggest players right now, this represented a career benchmark for Big Sean, perhaps best reflected in “One Man Can Change the World,” which grapples with the loss of his grandmother and underscores Big Sean’s transition from a kid spitting rhymes to a man ready to lead.
JASON ISBELL SOMETHING MORE THAN FREE
This marked the triumphant return of a songwriter more sure of who he is, flush with all the Southern charm of his previous work while revealing a simmering poignancy we hadn’t yet seen from him. He’s one of his generation’s truest songwriters, and this record only made that more evident.
CHVRCHES EVERY OPEN EYE
Managing to avoid the sophomore slump, the Scottish trio built on their acclaimed debut with a new level of crisp, glimmering pop while confidently staying the course, acknowledging no need for left turns because their formula is clearly working.
FATHER JOHN MISTY I LOVE YOU, HONEYBEAR
Josh Tillman outdid himself with this remarkably gorgeous sophomore offering, weaving humor with puffy love songs and transparent madness. He knew exactly what he was doing here, crafting a savvy narrative that’s simultaneously snarky and tender.
KACEY MUSGRAVES PAGEANT MATERIAL
Following a big breakout in 2013, Musgraves defied critics and the country music system with an album that tracks her growth as an artist as well as her confidence in her role as somewhat of an outsider, while also navigating through life as a newly minted star.
NEON INDIAN VEGA ITNL. NIGHT SCHOOL
This officially marked the end of Alan Palomo’s other project VEGA, but it was also the remarkably infectious rebirth of Neon Indian. A glimmering, imaginative work, it showcased the Texas native’s true musical capabilities and left us hungry for more.
YOUNG FATHERS WHITE MEN ARE BLACK MEN TOO
The Scottish outfit somehow topped their Mercury Prize-winning 2014 album Dead with this riveting fusion of politics and poetry. While they arguably ventured further outside the hip-hop box, they created a timeless record that’s in a league of its own.
COURTNEY BARNETT SOMETIMES I SIT AND THINK, AND SOMETIMES I JUST SIT
The Australian singer-musician proved to be one of the year’s best storytellers with this addictive and charming full-length. With her girl next door appeal and candid lyricism, Barnett put herself on par with the big leagues and gave us one very satisfying album.
Building on a wealth of buzz over the past year, Vegas native Shamir Bailey did not disappoint, bringing plenty of dazzle and lights for a truly mesmerizing debut record. A kind of magical listen, it made clear he’s a star in the making.
SURFER BLOOD 1000 PALMS
At first, it appeared this was likely a stopgap while the band continued to pursue bigger things. But with closer examination, it turned out to be hardly a pitstop as much as it was a glimpse into the band’s journey. While risks were limited this time around, their growth was still evident.
DRAKE IF YOU'RE READING THIS IT'S TOO LATE
Perhaps this wasn’t Drake’s best work yet (he originally pushed this as merely a “mixtape”), but this was the most himself he’s ever been. Rightfully cocky and yet polished, Drizzy took command of the rap throne, even while knowing it’s only for a moment. But this was his biggest moment yet and he owned it.
ALABAMA SHAKES SOUND & COLOR
Coming off a weighty debut, Brittany Howard and Co.’s sophomore full-length was nothing short of stunning. Gritty, confident and conscientiously off-center, this was an immersive listen. A powerful experience that demands your full attention for every minute of its 12 tracks.
CHRIS STAPLETON TRAVELLER
Months before his big wins at the CMAs and viral performance alongside Justin Timberlake, the Kentucky country-bluegrass singer released one of the year’s most authentic, pure albums. After years as a songwriter for others,this son of a coal miner proved he’s long overdue for the spotlight, without flash or frenzy, just good old fashioned heart and soul.
VINCE STAPLES SUMMERTIME '06
This was far more than just one of the best rap debuts of the year. And for someone who says he doesn’t like rap culture and plans to retire from music shortly after the next president is sworn in, the 22-year-old made one of hip-hop’s most precisely bold and vital records, easily thrusting himself into the genre’s most promising MCs.
In a career represented by numbers, Adele Adkins somehow managed to defy the odds and all the numbers with a record-breaking third outing. While not perfect—and sometimes too safe—25 is a reflection of someone who knows exactly what she wants. Ex-lovers? Maybe throw in some more pop elements this time? Who really cares. The people were starving for big, sweeping Adele songs, and that’s exactly what she gave us.
GRIMES ART ANGELS
After scrapping albums worth of material in the making of this record, Grimes crafted a signature masterpiece. It’s weird and wobbly when necessary, while also being distinctly bright and glossy. She somehow managed to walk the very fine line of making a big pop record without sacrificing her dark side. And she also nudged pop music forward in the process.
LEON BRIDGES COMING HOME
Nostalgic, yes, but the Ft. Worth, Texas, singer gave us so much more than just a retro-sounding album. Marking his debut with a series of tracks that transport listeners back by decades, the singer’s true gift isn’t defined by genre or time, but rather with soul. From start to finish, his first LP was an entrancing listen and a breath of fresh air in the midst of a music industry bloated with gimmicks.
JAMIE XX IN COLOUR
The xx’s Jamie Smith could have easily satisfied fans with some easy ear candy, but he instead offered something far more intricate and poignant. It’s a bold effort and it’s very clearly intentional, rather than a collection of songs. Weaving through hip-hop and disco while never feeling disjointed, the album was one of the year’s best surprises.
SUFJAN STEVENS CARRIE & LOWELL
At 40 years old, Stevens has made some of the best work of his career. In fact, this album was perhaps his most transparent, earnest record yet. With nods to mental illness and religion, it’s Seven Swans fragility with a haunting dose of a terrible, beautiful reality. The story he’s telling is certainly his to tell, but as you listen, you feel as if it’s your own.
CARLY RAE JEPSEN E•MO•TION
Coming off a massive hit like “Call Me Maybe,” Jepsen chose to make a well-rounded pop album versus chasing another juggernaut. Her instincts served her well, because this was indeed the best pure pop album of the year. With assistance from the likes of Dev Hynes, Sia and Ariel Rechtshaid, all 12 of these carefully crafted gems proved Carly Rae is no fluke. And with work like this, she’ll be around for a long time.
KENDRICK LAMAR TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY
While this might not have been the album fans had been expecting from Lamar, it was the album he needed to make. Of all the many directions he could have gone post-good kid,m.A.A.d city, he instead followed a new route. The result wasn’t necessarily pretty; in fact, this album was brutal and at times painful. But it was honest. It was real. And there’s simply no denying, this was one of the most important albums of 2015.
TAME IMPALA CURRENTS
From the moment lead single “Let It Happen” arrived, we knew we were in for something special. And that’s exactly what the Aussie outfit delivered. Kevin Parker is confident and also vulnerable, and while the album seems like an organic progression, there’s also a crisp, perhaps newfound energy brimming from this record, cementing the band’s place as one of music’s latest mainstays.