Top 89 of 2015: Albums


Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett performing live at Rock the Garden 2015 in support of her debut album (Teddy Wolff for MPR)

We asked, you voted! All December long, you — the music lover — voted for your favorite albums released in 2015, and the results are in!

Be sure to tune in to The Current's listener-curated Top 89 countdown on Dec. 31, 2015 starting at 5 p.m. CT with a rebroadcast on New Year's Day starting at 10 a.m. CT.

5. Leon Bridges, Coming Home


Leon Bridges blasted on to the charts in 2015 with his soulful debut album Coming Home. Songs including the title track, "Better Man" and "Smooth Sailin'" are all loved by The Current audience. NPR Music' Ann Powers traces Bridges' influences:

Bridges has been open about the process by which he became a vintage artist. He's a millennial who educated himself through online listening; he doesn't even have the dust from record-store bins on his fingers. (He does haunt vintage clothing stores, though.) His mother is what ties him physically to the era his music so strongly honors: One song he wrote, "Lisa Sawyer," put him on this path, and it's her story, beginning with her birth in New Orleans and moving through a youth in a poor loving family toward her Christian conversion as a teacher. "Lisa Sawyer," which features a doo-wop arrangement and a Bridges vocal that's more Nat King Cole than Cooke, is a son's expression of respect and bottomless affection, and it personalizes this project in a way that makes all of Bridges' studied appropriations shine with love.

4. Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear

Sub Pop

With his highly anticipated sophomore album under the moniker Father John Misty, Josh Tillman did not disappoint. Host Jill Riley breaks down the bits and pieces she loves about the album:

Apart from his lyrical abilities, I really love the music arrangements on a number of the tracks: "I Love You, Honeybear" has a cool country-rock, pedal-steel vibe; "Chateau Lobby 4 (In C for Two Virgins)" has a great moment when the mariachi horns are playing; "When You're Smiling and Astride Me" sounds like California in the '60s and early '70s with its simple pop, yet cheesy movie-score arrangement. Another example of a song that sounds like California is "Strange Encounter," which to my ear sounds like the score of Valley of the Dolls meets Gram Parsons. "Bored in the USA" and "Holy Shit" have simple arrangements, yet powerful messages in the lyrics. Father John Misty is saying all the things about life that we are all too afraid to admit to ourselves.

3. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color

Rough Trade

Another sophomore slump avoided! Alabama Shakes surprised old fans and new (including Price) with Sound & Color. Host Jill Riley describes the album that can't be categorized:

It's hard to put my finger on what Alabama Shakes are all about. When I describe their sound to people, I generally say, "They're a soul/rock band from the South." But I know that's far too simple a way to describe their vibe. In reality, Alabama Shakes draw from a number of sounds and genres. The new record Sound & Color jumps into a number of different zones. The album opener, the title track "Sound & Color," eases the listener into the record with a cool vibraphone groove. "Miss You" has a classic soul-ballad vibe that ends with a heavier rock riff and some rippin' leads vocals by Howard. "Shoegaze" is another highlight, as far as nailing the rockin' soul sound I've come to expect from Alabama Shakes.

2. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

Mom + Pop

Courtney Barnett won us over with her double EP A Sea of Split Peas, but it's her debut album that cemented her place in our hearts. Mark Wheat reflects on Barnett's journey to her full-length release:

The stakes may have been high, but all you have to do is glimpse the coverage from South by Southwest to know she's pulled it off with aplomb. Especially as she has obviously taken so much care to present it as a complete album — a real LP — perfectly paced and even self-referential as a piece. There's a line in song nine, the driving 'Debbie Downer' that says; "don't stop listening, I'm not finished yet," suggesting that she's actually referring to you the listener, having spent all eight previous songs with her, thinking, 'I got her'; but she's not done yet. Song ten takes an appropriate twist towards the abstract, with almost avant garde guitar stabs and an atmospheric feel that the rest of the record had not even alluded to. And in that penultimate song on this collection, she gives us her pièce de résistance of verbal gems, ending the song with; "All I want to say is..." leaving us hanging beautifully after smart lines, like; "Don't ask me what I really mean / I am just a reflection / Of what you want to see / So take what you want from me." Which leaves me almost unable to review the record, second guessing anything that I have previously thought about the lyrics I've been immersed in for so long.

1. Tame Impala, Currents


It's not often that the most buzzed about album also happens to be the best album, but here we are. Host Bill DeVille compares Currents to its predecessors:

Currents heads in a different direction from the first two albums. Parker has taken Tame Impala from solitary headphone music to a more dance-floor-ready sound. It's psychedelic music that you can dance to -- OK, it's not exactly funkadelic, but it's sort of funky, without losing its psychedelic edge. As Kevin Parker recently told The Guardian, "I don't like the idea that I'm a one-trick pony, even if I am! No matter what else I do, I have to make sure that Elephant isn't Tame Impala's biggest song anywhere."

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