Well, Hello! *Adele-esque quiver*
It’s that time of the year again – we’re literally drowning in ‘Best Of’ lists! 2015 has been quite the year musically – may we have a collective Amen for the stellar comebacks that rocked the year? Generic crap ruled the charts mostly – it’s amazing how artists refuse to challenge the boundaries of Pop musically (Whips and nae naes? Seriously?). Unsurprisingly, album sales have sunk to a new low – that’s exactly what happens when you worship the ordinary. But a certain Ms Adele reminded everyone of the good old days – and for a while, it seemed like it was the late 90’s and early 00’s again! Also, when was the last time Madonna, Janet Jackson, Enya, Bjork, Mariah Carey, Monica all charted on the Billboard 200 within the same year, and the # 1 album consistently sold over a million copies weekly? Which basically means good ol’ fashioned timeless, classy, Pop remains endlessly superior to Fetty Wap. 30 years deep into their careers – Madonna’s still teaching girls one-third her age on how to entertain the world in style, and Hallelujah for Janet Jackson for reminding us what a real album sounds like, while redefining the way an album is promoted and sold.
Personally, the year has been good to me. As always, I’ve counted my blessings and lived it up (rather, burned it up!). The following top 50 albums reflect how the year was for me. It’s a list of my personal favorites – and not the Billboard 200. I usually don’t loose any slee(e)p over what critics say, and I do not need to include Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly‘ on my list just cuz every other list has it, just to add to the oomph factor (don’t get me wrong – I like the album, I just couldn’t identify with it). Listening to Carly Rae Jepsen doesn’t make me any less of a music lover, nor does listening to acts like Ibeyi (I’m sure 90% of you do not know who they are) or Lalah Hathaway make me any superior. I’m just doing me, and like a certain legend sang this year – I’m gon’ be alright ;)
So without further ado, here are my favorite albums of 2015. The top 25 get a much deserved shout-out!
50. Badlands – Halsey
49. Love Stuff – Elle King
48. Blue Neighborhood – Troye Sivan
47. Beauty Behind The Madness – The Weeknd
46. Pentatonix – Pentatonix
45. Reality Show – Jazmine Sullivan
44. Storyteller – Carrie Underwood
43. Cheers To The Fall – Andra Day
42. Art Angels – Grimes
41. Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett
40. Tomorrow Is My Turn – Rhiannon Giddens
39. Interstellaires – Mylene Farmer
38. Nina Revisited : A Tribute To Nina Simone – Various
37. Pretend – Seinabo Sey
36. Giants – Andreya Triana
35. White Light – The Corrs
34. Picking Up The Pieces – Jewel
33. Hallucinogen (EP) – Kelela
32. Hysteria – Katharine McPhee
31. Unbreakable Smile – Tori Kelly
30. Blood – Lianne La Havas
29. Communion – Years & Years
28. Calling All Lovers – Tamar Braxton
27. Every Open Eye – CHVRCHES
26. Title – Meghan Trainor
And now, the coveted top 25!
25. You Should Be Here (Mixtape) – Kehlani
It was Jhene Aiko, Tinashe and Banks in 2014, while burgeoning R’n’B/Nu Soul chanteuse Kehlani was the torch-bearer of Aaliyah’s legacy in 2015. A gorgeously ambitious and intense debut.
24. M3LL155X (EP) – FKA twigs
‘Will you f*** me while I stare at the sun?‘, the glassy-voiced FKA twigs wails on ‘Glass And Patron‘, one of the stand-out tracks on easily the year’s most paranoid and cryptic EP. Don’t bother categorizing her into a specific category.
23. Revival – Selena Gomez
Ms Gomez pulls a ‘Stripped‘ – and does a good job of it. Although she may not have the chops or the chutzpah Ms Aguilera displayed a decade ago on her ground-breaking effort, tracks like the Janet-esque ‘Hands To Myself‘ finally pushes her outside her rather mundane Disney Princess comfort zone.
22. Know-It-All – Alessia Cara
Canadian R’n’B newbie Alessia Cara had one of the biggest songs of the year with the soulful Billboard Top 10 smash of a lament – ‘Here‘. If it’s a hint of old-school Soul that you’re searching for – Cara’s defiant début album ‘Know It All‘ is just what you need.
21. Wallflower – Diana Krall
I’ve never not liked a Diana Krall album. Lush, elegant, eclectic – the Canadian Jazz Goddess’s mesmerizing vocals always, always deliver. Her 12th studio effort ‘Wallflower‘ is no different.
20. But You Caint Use My Phone (Mixtape) – Erykah Badu
Neo-Soul iconoclast Erykah Badu unleashes a fun mixtape, the title of which is a reference of her legendary 1997 kiss off smash ‘Tyrone‘. Although I’d prefer a full-length Badu extravaganza (Lord knows Badu fans have longed for one since 2010’s ‘New Amerykah Part 2 – Return Of The Ankh‘) – the psychedelic Soul-Funk experiment by the High Priestess of Neo-Soul is a fun diversion.
19. Honeymoon – Lana Del Rey
Definitely better than the rather directionless ‘Ultraviolence‘ had to offer – Lana Del Rey’s ‘Honeymoon‘ is as dramatic/cinematic as a Lana Del Rey album should be. It’s also her most cohesive effort till date – with ethereal highlights like ‘The Blackest Day‘ and ‘High By The Beach‘.
18. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – Florence + The Machine
‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful‘ is essentially an intense and cathartic punch on Florence Welch’s ex’s face. She pulled it off quite well – the album debuted at # 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, becoming her first one to do so.
17. Montevallo – Sam Hunt
Released in 2014, I really got into Sam Hunt’s début effort ‘Montevallo‘ this year. I had my doubts about Hunt’s mishmash of EDM/Hip Hop/Country – I guess my pre-conceived notions about how the album might sound stopped me from giving the songs a good listen. I’m glad I did – cuz ‘Break Up In A Small Town‘ and ‘Make You Miss Me‘ were two of my favorite songs of the year. Hallelujah for the death of Bro-Country!
16. 50 Shades Of Grey (OST) – Various
Oh my.. *rolls eyes*! Beyonce, Ellie Goulding, The Weeknd, Sia & a host of other artists provided some of the year’s best erotica as everyone’s favorite billionaire control freak Christian Grey unleashed his whips and cuffs on Ana Steele.
15. Emotion – Carly Rae Jepsen
Easily one of the most solid Pop efforts of the year – the critically hailed ‘Emotions‘ by Carly Rae Jepsen is an 80’s homage done right, and would have made Cyndi Lauper proud. The nostalgia-inducing ‘Lets Get Lost‘ is the album’s best moment.
14. Woman – Jill Scott
Grown and sexy, Ms Scott’s 5th studio effort ‘Woman‘ is yet another intimate slice of life served slickly by the Queen of Cosmic Soul. ‘Lighthouse‘ is the album’s highlight.
13. Code Red – Monica
On ‘I Miss Music‘, one of the most poignant tracks of R’n’B icon Monica’s 8th studio album ‘Code Red‘, Ms Mo laments – ‘I miss Michael and Whitney and Tina and James/And the Fugees and Lauryn, I miss Kurt Cobain/I miss Stevie, I wonder would things be the same/I miss music‘. It’s hard for a 90’s baybeh like me to hold back a tear or two as Monica asks again and again – ‘What Am I Gonna Sing To?‘. ‘Code Red‘ is Monica’s heart-felt gift to R’n’B – which is fast becoming a lost art.
12. Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves
Not quite as perfectly imperfect as her Grammy-winning superbly sassy major label début ‘Same Trailer, Different Park‘, Kacey Musgrave’s ‘Pageant Material‘ is a more calculated and meticulous affair. Irrespective, the genre-bending Country princess delivers one of the year’s best albums, and man – can this girl write! Her sense of humor easily makes her one of the finest lyricists of our generation. One of my favorite lines this year? ‘Pissing in my yard ain’t gonna make yours any greener‘ – on the lead single ‘Biscuits‘. How can you not love this realness?
11. Jackie – Ciara
A decade removed from her triple platinum début ‘Goodies‘, Cici delivers her most personal effort yet in the form of her 6th studio effort ‘Jackie‘. Standout tracks – the enigmatic Janet Jackson-influenced ‘Dance Like We’re Making Love‘, the brilliantly shady ‘I Bet‘, and the breezy Disco-R’n’B-fied ‘Kiss And Tell‘.
10. 25 – Adele
Oh Adele! It was ‘Hello‘, ‘Love In The Dark‘ and ‘When We Were Young‘ that got me. ‘Nuff said!
9. The Blade – Ashley Monroe
When it comes to the broken-hearted blues, Ashley Monroe is the Mary J Blige of Country music. Few in the genre can keep it as real and raw as Ms Monroe – and her stunning third studio album ‘The Blade‘ carries the mark of a bona fide Country anti-traditionalist. The utterly gorgeous title track is one of my favorite ballads this year – ‘I let your love in, I have the scar/I felt the razor against my heart/I thought we were both in all the way/But you caught it by the handle, and I caught it by the blade‘.
8. Vulnicura – Bjork
Undoubtedly the most raw, agonizing and painful record of Bjork’s career, inspired by the break-up with her partner Mathew Barney, ‘Vulnicura‘ is the ‘feel, deal and heal’ Bjork needed to move on in her life. ‘A juxtapositioning fate, find our mutual coordinates‘, she grieves in the sublimely devastating ‘Stonemilker‘ – my fave Bjork track this decade. Bravo!
7. Love Life – Tamia
Canadian R’n’B Goddess Tamia is undoubtedly one of the most underrated vocalists of the genre. Consistently delivering quality albums for the past 17 years, Tamia mesmerizes, seduces and keeps it comfortably intimate yet again with her 6th studio album ‘Love Life‘ – her best till date. The phenomenal ‘Sandwich And A Soda‘ and ‘Stuck With Me‘ are the best tracks on the album, brilliantly showcasing Tamia’s warm, restrained vocals – this is R’n’B at its finest!
6. Rebel Heart – Madonna
The #UnapologeticBitch kinda lost her way on the aural debacle ‘MDMA‘, but with ‘Rebel Heart‘ – her finest work since 2005’s genre-defying ‘Confession On A Dance Floor‘ – the Queen returns with a touch of class, as well as crass. Irrespective of the drama plaguing the album (the leaks, the fall – ouch!, Instagram controversies, missing out on the Billboard # 1 spot), it’s Vulnerabladonna that shines through on her 13th studio album. ‘Joan Of Arc‘, ‘Rebel Heart‘ and ‘Ghosttown‘ are three of the Queen’s best songs in precisely a decade. I wonder why Madge would go with the rather average ‘Living For Love‘ or the campy ‘Bitch I’m Madonna‘ as singles.
5. Untamed – Cam
My favorite Country album of the year – ‘Untamed‘ is an album I would have expected Country icons Trisha Yearwood, Shania Twain, Lee Ann Womack or Jo Dee Messina to release. With the Grammy-nominated Gold-certified lead single ‘Burning House‘ literally, um, burning up the charts – debutante Cam’s serving of nostalgic Country-Pop is a full-bodied, smooth affair. Gorgeous melodies, rich productions, the right amount of sass and vulnerability – ‘Untamed‘ should hopefully be just the beginning for Cam. The highlights are ‘Mayday‘, ‘My Mistake‘ and ‘Half Broke Heart‘.
4. Ibeyi – Ibeyi
French-Cuban twins Naoma and Lisa-Kainde Diaz, popularly known as Ibeyi, seamlessly weave together an organic, spiritual and sparse Yoruba extravaganza of Jazz, Hip Hop, Soul, Cuban Folk and Electronica on their ambitious self-titled début album. Easily one of the best albums of the year – the standout tracks are the stunning ‘Oya‘ and ‘River‘. Definitely give this one a listen if you’ve enjoyed the ‘Volta‘ or ‘Homogenic‘ – era Bjork.
3. Lalah Hathaway Live – Lalah Hathaway
I’ve rarely enjoyed a live album THIS much! Donny Hathaway’s two-time Grammy-winning daughter Lalah Hathaway celebrates her 25th year in the industry by delivering an intimate concert at West Hollywood’s Troubadour, the same place where Donny Hathaway recorded his iconic 1972 album of the same name. The resulting album – the Soul chanteuse’s seventh – showcases the veteran’s enormous talent and incredible set of pipes. Warm, mellow, intimate – this album’s for your baby-making playlist, while the 11-minute-long Luther Vandross cover ‘Forever, For Always, For Love‘ is all about candlelight dinners.
2. Dark Sky Island – Enya
Enya’s magnificent harmonies can soothe the most ravaged of souls. Each song on ‘Dark Sky Island‘ – the elegant enchantress’s 8th studio effort and her first in 7 long years – luxuriously captivates, nourishes and eventually immerses the listener in the spiritual warmth created by her endlessly ethereal vocals. My favorite cuts on the album are ‘So I Could Find My Way‘, ‘Sancta Maria‘ and the bonus track ‘Pale Grass Blue‘ (someone please play this one at my wedding). Enya’s albums may not be too different from each other – but there’s a reason why this one-woman-industry’s starry spell has moved a stellar 80 million albums worldwide without performing a single concert.
And now, my favorite album of 2015!
1. Unbreakable – Janet Jackson
Let’s get one thing straight, Janet Jackson is religion for me. In 2015, an older, wiser, grown and sexy Ms Jackson awakened from her 7 year slee(e)p and re-teamed with her sacred ‘dads’ Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The result? ‘Unbreakable‘ – the legend’s stunning 11th studio album, and her best in a decade – roared in at # 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, with precisely zero promotion, zero interviews and zero live performances. A few tweets and a magnanimous world tour in support of the album did the trick. Oh and did I mention the album was an independently released effort? With the album hitting # 1 (her seventh!!), Ms Jackson (if ya nasty) became the only artist of color in history to have a # 1 album in four consecutive decades, and the third artist after Bruce Springsteen and Barbra Streisand to achieve the feat. It’s safe to say Queen Janet Jackson is still very much in control – and the world in general missed her. An introspective amalgamation of 1997’s classic ‘The Velvet Rope‘ & 1989’s ‘Rhythm Nation‘ – ‘Unbreakable‘ (the album as well as the title track) is Janet’s optimism and nostalgia-drenched ode to her fans, family and faith. Ironically, it’s not Janet’s anger that fuels the album – one would expect her to vent, especially since she’s been unfairly blacklisted and ridiculed for over a decade after her career-stalling Super Bowl controversy. Instead, Janet forgives. She does not forget, though – her wounds lay bare on the somber ‘After You Fall‘ and ‘The Great Forever‘ (It might sound strange to you/What you think, it don’t mean nothing at all/Doesn’t change who I am/Doesn’t change who I love). The socially conscious Janet makes a very welcome return as well, with the poignant anthem ‘Should’ve Known Better‘ (“I had this great epiphany/ And rhythm nation was the dream/ I guess next time I’ll know better” ), as well as the masterfully crafted ‘Black Eagle‘ (“Every life matters, we all need to do better / A smile, a kind word, or extending a hand / Helping someone to feel human again”) and ‘Lessons Learned‘. The euphoric ‘Take Me Away‘, the bedroom scorching quiet storm ‘No Sleeep‘ (feat. J Cole), and the dance-floor anthems ‘Burnitup‘ (featuring Missy Elliott),’Night‘ and ‘Dammn Baby‘ are classic, classic Janet. The cathartic ‘Broken Hearts Heal‘ is Janet’s ode to Michael Jackson – this is the ‘Together Again‘ of 2015. Vocally, Janet has never sounded so damn fine – the Country-fied ‘Well Traveled‘ (the song that essentially defined me this year) and the triumphant album closer ‘Gon’ B Alright‘ are proof enough of her vocal chops. As a placard-bearing member of the Jtribe, I’m proud of my idol for gifting us a sonic masterpiece, breaking records, and blazing a trail without trying to fit into the musical landscape of 2015. For showing the world yet again how it’s done – take a bow, Ms Jackson, take a damn bow!