#40: Björk – Vulnicura

It’s always breaking news when Björk announces a new album because, like some of the most renowned artists in music, she transforms herself into something completely different with every release. She’s had better success with certain transformations than others for sure, and this year’s Vulnicura is one of the more successful. The sense that she is particularly comfortable working in this particular skin translates into Björk’s most confident expression in over a decade.

Enlisting newly minted electronic producers Arca and The Haxan Cloak while re-exploring some of the early beats and string arrangements found on 1997’s Homogenic, Vulnicura is a fascinating document of sweeping melancholy. There might be some interactive media aspect that Björk would like you to play along with outside of the listening confines, but the record stands alone as a stroke of emotionally charged, highly focused art that feels refreshingly experimental, even by Björk’s standards. – David Fisch

Listen: “Black Lake

Bjork Vulnicura

#39: Foals – What Went Down

Foals might be the best rock band on the planet right now. Their continuous growth is serious evidence, but What Went Down is the ultimate proof. In a year when many of the best albums come from hip hop, EDM, indie, and the like genres, Foals gave the ultimate “fuck it” and released an album that just plain rocks.

From the first hits of the title track, which opens the album, it’s clear that What Went Down is going to be more intense than much of Foals’ previous work. The guitar tones are heavier, the drums are louder, and the vocals reach new heights. From a group that started as an indie-dance band, Foals has grown into a real powerhouse. The first single they released from the album, “Mountain At My Gates,” proves this point both thematically and sonically, staying true to the Foals sound while showcasing a heavier tone. – Gerry Doot

Listen: “Mountain At My Gates

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#38: Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

With their latest album, Fading Frontier, Deerhunter found a new way to tell their old story. The haunting and anxious melodic structures fans have come to expect from the Atlanta group are still in full effect, but the aggression of their previous albums is somewhat subdued on their seventh studio LP.

Bradford Cox, Lockett Pundt, Moses Archuleta, and Josh McKay bring wisdom and experience to Fading Frontier, and while the progression from present frustrations to past reconciliation is evident in the scope of Deerhunter’s discography, it is most noted in this album. On album track “Leather and Wood,” the group speaks of finding “elusive peace,” and after many years of searching, they quite possibly have found it with this album. – Christine Perez

Listen: “Leather and Wood

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#37: Joey Bada$$ – B4.Da.$$

With the complex and conscious rap songs on his debut studio album, Joey Bada$$ revealed just how talented he really is. The tracks on B4.Da.$$ explore the many different topics the Brooklyn rapper is passionate about while showing he can create impactful music that anyone can enjoy.

The album features a classic hip-hop sound paired with samples from artists like Wu-Tang Clan and Nas and includes some of Joey Bada$$’s best work to date (“Christ Consciousness” and “Hazeus View” are must-listens). While his previous mixtapes, 1999 and Summer Knights, showcased his originality in sound, B4.Da.$$ put Joey Bada$$ on the map as an artist worthy of mainstream attention and landed him a spot on this year’s Top 50 list. – Kimberly Quitzon

Listen: “Paper Trail$

Joey Bada$$ - B4.Da.$$

#36: Lady Lamb – After

One of the more unique artists to release an album this year was Lady Lamb (formerly Lady Lamb The Beekeeper). The East Coaster can easily be lumped in with artists such as Courtney Barnett, but her sound really goes above and beyond such simplistic categorization, both sonically and lyrically. Anyone who can release a song with a line about their great-grandmother’s sister being deemed a saint and having their body moved into the Vatican is clearly walking on fresh ground.

A brilliant album from an artist everyone should listen to, After references ’90s rock, prog rock (occasionally), and even exhibits hints of jazz. The occasional sing-songy chorus will grace a track, reminding the listener that Lady Lamb’s longing vocals have a brilliant sense of melody, complementing songs that travel to places one would never expect. The refrain of “Billions of Eyes” almost sounds annoying until it sticks with the listener in an infectious, endearing way, whereas “Spat Out Spit,” despite its name, shows complete musical maturity. – Gerry Doot

Listen: “Spat Out Spit

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#35: Kehlani – You Should Be Here

If you haven’t heard of Oakland, CA singer Kehlani yet, you’re bound to very soon. While she technically hasn’t released an official studio album yet, she changed the face of R&B in 2015 with her latest mixtape, You Should Be Here.

The mixtape reflects on some of life’s toughest lessons and dichotomies. With great production and solid lyrics (plus some help from Chance The Rapper and BJ The Chicago Kid), Kehani is poised to become the next Lauryn Hill, and her official record deal with Atlantic Records is sure to help things along. – Kristen Meza

Listen – “You Should Be Here

Kehlani - You Should Be Here

#34: Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People

I can honestly say that I had never even heard of Ezra Furman until I stumbled across his stripped-down, acoustic cover of LCD Soundsystem’s “I Can Change” this summer. The Chicagoan’s version of the track really highlighted the sincerity of the lyrics, which I previously overlooked in favor of the danceability of the song’s instrumentals, and impressed me enough that I quickly circled back to discover where this multi-faceted vocalist and instrumentalist had cocooned from.

I learned that Furman had been around for some time, adopting a DIY approach to getting his music out there, even launching a Kickstarter to fund his 2013 LP, The Year of No Returning. His 2015 release, Perpetual Motion People, became a must-listen for me, and its deliberate and distinct Gordon Gano-esque vocals paired with whimsical indie-punk, some recurring trumpet, heavy hooks, and blunt, almost self-mocking lyrics all lend to an irresistibly fun and addictive album that will likely continue to gain traction as more and more people discover this eccentric indie gem. – Jillian Goldfluss

Listen: “Lousy Connection

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#33: The Chemical Brothers – Born In The Echoes

Easily one of the most anticipated electronic albums of the year, The Chemical Brothers’ Born In The Echos is a little bit special. It won’t go down in the books as the duo’s most memorable record (that has to be Surrender). Hell, it might not even be remembered that well just because the EDM landscape thrives on novelty above all else, fueled by baby-ravers and the global party culture, which is a shame because Born In The Echos is actually great, even if it doesn’t sound that new.

The title is appropriate, though. Most of the tracks on the album sound like they could have been inspired by an earlier Chemical Brothers song. Normally that would equal boring, but the reality is that The Chemical Brothers’ style has changed significantly over the two decades they’ve been active. On this single album, you get psychedelic rock (“I’ll See You There”), minimalist electronica (“EML Ritual”), and throwbacks to the big-beat era of electronic music (“Go”). Born In The Echos is a varied record, but it sounds just like The Chemical Brothers. – Marcus Slater

Listen: “Go

chemical brothers born in the echoes

#32: Destroyer – Poison Season

Dan Bejar has been churning out indie baroque rock as Destroyer for almost twenty years, but it really wasn’t until 2011’s pop crossover record Kaputt that he found himself in the indie spotlight. While that record might have landed him in the minds of musicians and a new generation of fans everywhere, this year’s Poison Season — his tenth record — is his grandest release to date.

A masterfully crafted ode to the poetic singer-songwriter efforts of yesteryear, Poison Season is a robust turn for Bejar, with expansive and multi-layered rock, pop, blues, and jazz styles revolving around Bejar’s thematic lyricism. There’s almost a sense that you’re actually traveling through “Times Square” over the course of the record, and Bejar’s personal battle of passion vs. impassion towards the city is so elaborately written that his words and demeanors become relatable. It’s as cinematically produced as some of this year’s best records, even as you pick at the darker, finer details. – David Fisch

Listen: “Times Square

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#31: Joanna Newsom – Divers

Compared to the ornate compositions on Ys or the afternoon-consuming length of Have One On Me, 2015’s Divers felt like less of a statement than a consolidation of Joanna Newsom’s talents. It was just a regular old album with eleven songs over fifty minutes. Of course, this is Joanna Newsom, so “regular” actually means another collection of otherwordly and utterly dramatic music, with Newsom’s divisive voice and tar-dense lyrical approach at the center of it all.

The less conceptual approach freed up Divers’ creator to make some of the most direct and beautiful music of her career, never more so than in the heart-wrenching climax to “Sapokanikan,” one of the songs of the year. Newsom is still the leader in a field of one, out on her own in her self-contained referential universe and all the more important for that. – Jay Chirinos

Listen: “Sapokanikan

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