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My Ten Favorite Records Of 2015

The music of 2015 delighted and surprised me to no end. The albums described below are all tied to memories from this rollercoaster of a year. My favorite artists (Joanna Newsom, The Mountain Goats) continued to innovate and evolve and I also discovered new musicians and performers that quickly found a special place in my heart (Hop Along, Natalia Lafourcade). Oh and this year, Carly Rae Jepsen reigned supreme. I will admit that I’m surprised at how little overlap there is between this list and the one at wrote at the halfway point of the year back in July. That’s only a good thing. Let’s count ‘em down and then share your favorite records of 2015 in the comments below!

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10. The Mountain Goats - Beat The Champ

Merge Records / Via mergerecords.com

With Beat The Champ, John Darnielle has created another branch in his twisted and beautiful mythology. These tales of brittle mortality will rock and resonant with you even if you don’t get the references. These are human tales, lovers and yes, fighters too. The Mountain Goats have created a tapestry of dirty, damaged, and broken dreams with Beat The Champ, and I want to fight alongside them, tooth, nail, and all.

Essential Tracks: “The Legend Of Chavo Guerrero” “Heel Turn 2” “Animal Mask”

9. Braids - Deep In The Iris

Arbutus Records / Via arbutusrecords.com

At first blush, Raphaelle Standell-Preston and company are making the kind of dance pop that feels fit for a museum with Braids. The stately, ornate tunes of Deep In The Iris feel distant if not melancholy, but dig your heels in and underneath you'll find a the seething, gnashing teeth of history just bubbling under the surface. That’s the thing, these tunes are alive and will grab your attention like a clap of thunder and the shock of lightening. Dive in.

Essential Tracks: “Miniskirt” “Letting Go” “Warm Like Summer”

8. Natalia Lafourcade - Hasta La Raíz

RCA Records / Via lafourcade.com.mx

Hasta La Raíz roughly translates “to the root” in Spanish. Mexican singer-songwriter/producer Natalia Lafourcade has created a collection of powerful pop tunes infused with a flurry of genres from new to jazz and more that feel primal and exciting. Yes, my Spanish-speaking skills aren’t quite up to snuff, but like the album title suggests, Lafourcade is attempting to dig deep into how we feel and how that expresses itself in our daily lives. Hasta La Raíz will infect your heart and your body.

Essential Tracks: “Mi Lugar Favorito” “No Más Llorar” “Estoy Lista”

7. Elvis Depressedly - New Alhambra

Elvis Depressedly / Via elvisdepressedly.bandcamp.com

Chillwave got a much needed dose of intimate reflection with Elvis Depressedly’s New Alhambra. A tight batch of introspective psychedelic acoustic wizardry, Mat Cothran makes these nine tunes feel as lived in as a comfy old sweater. It’s cool to try and feel okay. On New Alhambra, the darkness is held at bay long enough to take a deep breath and keep moving forward.

Essential Tracks: “N.M.S.S.” “New Heaven, New Earth” “Wastes Of Time”

6. Grimes - Art Angels

4AD Records / Via 4ad.com

Nobody else is making music like Claire Boucher and Art Angels is her raging id. These songs dance and claw their way with grace as Grimes tackles the haters and herself. It’s messy business, but Boucher is up to the task filling these songs with flourishes that remind me of everyone from Spice Girls to Enya to Mariah Carey, but funneled through the weird pop of the new century. There’s no going back after you’ve moved your body to Art Angels.

Essential Tracks: “Kill V. Maim” “California” “Easily”

5. Coheed And Cambria - The Color Before The Sun

Coheed And Cambria / Via coheedandcambria.com

Can Coheed And Cambria really succeed without the Amory Wars, the long-running sci-fi epic that has been told over the course of all their previous seven albums? With The Color Before The Sun, the answer is a significant “hell yeah.” Ditching the story conceit, Claudio Sanchez and the rest of the band have crafted a pop-punk album that kicks so much ass. The Color Before The Sun feels fun, fresh, and vital, and is easily their best in years. I love it.

Essential Tracks: “Atlas” “Ghost” “Island”

4. Hop Along - Painted Shut

Saddle Creek / Via saddle-creek.com

Frances Quinlan and her bandmates in Hop Along make the kind of music you scream and sing along to either by yourself after having a bad day or in the middle of a pit with your friends and strangers. Painted Shut, a mix of rawkish folk and punk, is filled with Quinlan’s rich storytelling that feels simultaneously intimate and epic. Everything about this record is wild. I’m in awe of the alchemy at hand and deeply grateful for the magic Hop Along have created here.

Essential Tracks: “Happy To See Me” “Sister Cities” “Texas Funeral”

3. Vanessa Carlton - Liberman

Dine Alone Records / Via dinealonerecords.com

If you haven’t been turned onto ‘late period’ Vanessa Carlton you better get on board. After the wide-eyed romp on Rabbits On The Run in 2011, Carlton is back with Liberman, a cool collection of tunes that remind me of water, marble, and glass. On here, Carlton is again a marvel at creating expansive yet minimal spaces, the songs vacillating in-between quiet fury and icy resilience. Liberman is the sound of looking down from a mountain into the haze and losing yourself in that moment forever.

Essential Tracks: “Matter Of Time” “House Of Seven Swords” “Operator”

2. Carly Rae Jepsen - E•MO•TION

Interscope Records / Via interscope.com

Let the record state that Carly Rae Jepsen has been making pop with a keen eye that was frankly under-appreciated. On E•MO•TION however, Jepsen is turning everyone's heads with her brand of sincere pop. Every track is an absolute smash, nabbing and grabbing from her favorite influences and filling it with an earnestness that is neither cloying nor nihilistic. She just is, and E•MO•TION is undeniably great. Welcome true believers.

Essential Tracks: “When I Needed You” “Warm Blood” “Run Away With Me”

1. Joanna Newsom - Divers

Drag City / Via dragcity.com

Goddamnit Joanna you did it again. Divers is less a culmination of her career, being more of a menagerie of all of her records, literally stacked on top of each other with flourishes that sound more sci-fi than fantasy. More importantly Newsom once again moves you to think deeply and feel fully. Divers is an overwhelming opus, every note essential, every moment a triumph. It’s a record that makes my heart race, my stomach sick, and my face smile uncontrollably. I’m alive.

Essential Tracks: “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne” “Leaving The City” “You Will Not Take My Heart Alive”

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