#10: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
The latest release from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Multi-Love, is perhaps their most confident effort to date. The trio has honed their psychedelic/lo-fi sound over the course of three albums to create a record that’s beautifully cohesive while staying true to the group’s more experimental tendencies.
The list of adjectives you could use to describe the album’s title track goes on and on — dreamy, groovy, mellow, poppy, percussive — but it never once crosses over into muddled territory. That beautiful marriage of genres and inspirations summarizes Multi-Love as a collective work perfectly. – Lesley Park
#9: Miguel – Wildheart
What do you do when you’re an artist who finally breaks through and gains some attention by playing by your own rules? You keep on keepin’ on, dude.
Miguel was lauded by critics and fans alike after disregarding the stupid rules of musical genres on his last album, Kaleidoscope Dream, and that eclectic approach is ramped up even further on 2015’s Wildheart. His talent paired with that willingness to defy convention is why a single record could house such seemingly disparate tunes as the perverse sex jam “The Valley,” the poignant pop ditty “Coffee,” and the gangsta-love ballad/pistols at dawn soundtrack “NWA” (featuring none other than fellow Los Angeleno Kurupt) and still feel cohesive. It’s also why Miguel landed himself so high on this list of 2015’s best albums. – Sean Kramer
#8: Jaime XX – In Colour
Little by little did we get a peak at what would become Jamie XX’s full-length debut. Superb singles from a then-unknown album would pop up here and there over the course of a few years, and while his work as a master-class remixer and member of the band The xx was more than enough to prove his ability to put gold on wax, I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the end result of his various solo efforts, this summer’s In Colour, which is essentially constructed of the same gold, but in this case, it’s the gold that comes from the pot at the end of a rainbow.
In Colour sets out to be exactly what its album cover purports, a wonderland, one comprising intoxicating, introverted electronics and guest features that are absolute bangers. From the moment “Gosh” lays down its beat and expands through to the sleepy, dance floor head trip of “Girl,” it is a gorgeously colorful and carefully curated production.
Any one of these tracks could stand on its own in the club, but their success lies best in this electronic narrative, which weaves in and out so effortlessly that what you think you heard in the years leading up to In Colour’s full release feels so new and vibrant. “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” pretty much says it all. – David Fisch
Listen: “Loud Places”
#7: Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit isn’t just one of the best debuts of 2015 — it’s one of the best releases of the year, period. A definitive indie-rock release, this album is an auditory blend of minimally produced garage rock and Australian Courtney Barnett’s distinct, oftentimes monotone vocals.
But the true star of the album is the lyrics, which tackle everything from mundane grocery outings to existential crises with blunt, sometimes scathing wit. “Pedestrian At Best” manages to skirt the line between profoundly compelling and off-the-cuff with a certain effortlessness that lyricists who’ve been going at this for much longer than Barnett almost certainly find enviable, all while being a damn fun song to boot. – Lesley Park
Listen: “Pedestrian At Best”
#6: Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
The ever-dangerous sophomore album — it really can make or break a band, especially when that band got so big so quickly after releasing its debut. With Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes made a point to broaden their dive bar, groove-rock sound to something that is more than just unique, bringing a truly artistic vision to their debut album’s establishing sound.
When “Don’t Wanna Fight” hit the radio, it raised many an eyebrow, sparking the curiosity of fans and critics expecting a lot from Alabama Shakes. When “Give Me All Your Love” was released, we knew Sound & Color would be high on more than a few Album of the Year lists, including this one. – Gerry Doot
Listen: “Give Me All Your Love”
#5: Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
Hip hop has been kicking ass all year, but Vince Staples’ debut is of special note. He’s one of the fastest rising stars in the industry thanks largely to Summertime ’06, a two-disc journey into the world of young Vince in Long Beach. The content is familiar (struggle in Southern California), but Vince’s flows and lyrics are calculated. Not a syllable is dropped without Staple’s making sure it rides the beat.
And the beats?! “Senorita” and “Norf Norf” are harder than damn diamonds. Then there are collaborations like “Surf” with Kilo Kish, which rolls with a sinister rhythm over a beat that’d be well-suited to your local warehouse party. More than anything though, Vince Staples is new. That Vince is as intelligent as he is and his debut album is as good as it is has me excited. The future is dope. – Marcus Slater
Listen: “Norf Norf”
#4: Kamasi Washington – The Epic
The year’s most glorious surprise: a young saxophonist and band leader from South Los Angeles, fresh from contributing to our favorite album of the year, brings together his group of seriously talented musicians to drop a near three-hour-long jazz opus (did any album this year have a more suitable name?) that reignited mainstream interest in jazz in a way no record has done in living memory.
The Epic was no revivalist nostalgia fest either. It was as edgy as it was warm, nodding to the past while creating a blueprint for the future, omnivorous in its approach to style, and it maintained unbelievable consistency over its mammoth running time. Listen to this on a great pair of headphones or an expensive set of speakers and do justice to the old-school joys of wonderful musicianship, with the extraordinary Kamasi Washington at the center of it all. – Jay Chirinos
Listen: “Clair De Lune”
#3: Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Detroit-born multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens’ albums inhabit a very particular style of folk that is breathy, weightless, and sublime in its fluidity, and in 2015 he crafted what may be his most hauntingly personal album to date, an unfiltered, autobiographical account of his experiences, memories, and utterly conflicting feelings towards his mentally unstable, absentee mother Carrie, who died from from stomach cancer in 2012, and his stepfather Lowell, who played and continues to play a crucial role in his life, even running his Asthmatic Kitty label from time to time.
Stevens has been known for his narrative storytelling ever since his 2000 debut, A Sun Came, but something about the way he recounts his relationship with these two people on Carrie & Lowell is so tangible and affecting that the album feels as though it is his way of self-medicating. And luckily, in return, we as an audience get a beautifully subtle, poetic album with instrumentals that evoke your childhood music box, making the entire LP feel both nostalgic and heartbreaking. – Jillian Goldfluss
Listen: “Should Have Known Better”
#2: Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Josh Tillman’s second studio album as Father John Misty solidifies his standing as a mad musical genius. This Americana opera is near-perfect, with a distinct point of view that is almost quintessentially “Los Angeles.” It’s a combination of the urban and natural, featuring a host of traditional influences, from folk to mariachi, used in ways that are still incredibly contemporary.
The Father John Misty pseudonym may be satirical, a personality created specifically for this music, but Tillman’s ballads feel more “real” than many of those released by today’s pop stars. Album opener and title track “I Love You, Honeybear” blows in like a breeze in Laurel Canyon. Let it whisk you away into the weird and somehow impossibly beautiful world of Father John Misty. – Melissa Karlin
Listen: “I Love You, Honeybear”
#1: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
I suppose I could say for the sake of suspense that the competition for the #1 spot on this year’s Top 50 list was fierce, that it came down to a tiebreaker vote with a Twelve Angry Men-style debate over the merits of several releases, but that would be a lie. In the half-dozen years LA Music Blog has been releasing this list, never before has an album landed the #1 spot by such a wide margin, but since its release way back in March, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly has seemed destined for the top.
In 2012, Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City landed the #2 spot on this list (narrowly beat out by another local, Frank Ocean), and that album’s follow-up manages to surpass its predecessor by nearly every measure. With dense lyrics backed by a seamless blend of jazz, spoken word, hip hop, and funk styles, To Pimp A Butterfly was the album we all dared to hope Kendrick Lamar would release next.
The themes of race and race relations are pervasive throughout the album, which is at times a celebration of Lamar’s African-American heritage and highly critical of it at others. Its ability to reflect the current socio-political landscape of the US earns To Pimp A Butterfly the rare distinction of being not just a brilliant or enjoyable or fascinating album (though it is all of those things and more), but an important one, and far and away deserving of its spot atop LA Music Blog’s Top 50 Albums of 2015 list. – Kristin Houser