As 2015 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at some of the best musical releases of the year. It was a remarkable time for Canadian artists. Drake released a number one album alongside a heavily anticipated collaboration with Future, breaking records along the way. The Weeknd broke into the mainstream charts and remained there consistently, establishing himself as someone here to stay. Justin Bieber released a very well-received album in the latter half of the year.
Surprisingly, none of those releases made the cut for our favourite albums (though they were definitely close). It just goes to show the amount of high-quality music released in 2015. Here are our picks.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
If you’re into rap or hip-hop, it’s easy to focus on the most popular artists without experiencing any diversity. Today, the traditional community values instilled by Biggie and Tupac have been all but forgotten. Rappers just go off about the same things: money, women, and the hood. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is a look back at rap when it was a community culture and when rappers cared about where they came from. More importantly, Lamar gives us an album that’s casual and great to listen to. Whether you’re studying or going out, it’s applicable to whatever you’re doing. -Christopher Moreau
Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect
I won’t deny there’s a huge personal bias behind the decision to name Brandon Flowers’ The Desired Effect as my number 1 album of the year, but hot damn — there are some fantastic songs on this album. Flowers is most known for being the lead singer of the Killers, but his latest solo album is incredibly fun and fast-paced, which fits perfectly with his established style as a Las Vegas stadium-rocker type. Some fans of his work may complain that the album feels a little too similar to the sound of the Killers, but at least Flowers isn’t going the way of some other lead vocalists who strike out on their own with solo material; it’s better for an artist to make music that sounds somewhat familiar than to create something so disparate from their previous work that they lose all of the charm and style they’d been able to amass. Thankfully, with the inclusion of standout tracks like “Lonely Town” and “Can’t Deny My Love,” listeners receive the same high-quality material that we’ve come to love and expect from Flowers. -Tim Rauf
Of Monsters and Men – Beneath the Skin
Icelandic band Of Monster and Men’s second studio album, Beneath the Skin, is fantastic. Beginning with the epic “Crystals” and finishing with the tenacious “We Sink,” the album is water flowing in a rocky stream; it is both smooth and rough, and it is absolutely beautiful. Compared to 2012’s My Head Is An Animal, Of Monsters and Men’s newest release is a bit tighter conceptually, speaking eloquently of the human condition. While Beneath the Skin might not have an instant hit like “Little Talks,” each track is solid, with “Organs” being a standout. Overall, with the band’s adventurous sound, Of Monsters and Men nailed it in 2015. -Ana Holleman
Braids – Deep in the Iris
Braids released their latest album in April, but I only discovered it in October (thanks, Spotify!). For Deep in the Iris, the band has returned to using real instruments (just like on their first album, Native Speaker). I’m glad for that. This lends the new songs a heartiness that was lacking in their last album, Flourish // Perish. On Iris, Austin Tufts’ drums and flow back layers of synth and quirky sound snippets. Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s vocals are angelic as ever, and her lyrics focus mainly on the complex strands of relationship that pull us through the different phases of ourselves. The depth of the music and the lyrics on this album give me the feels. And as a bonus, it’s great for studying. -Virginia Dowdell
Neon Indian – Vega Intl. Night School
Neon Indian hadn’t released anything since 2011’s Era Extraña, but following a series of well-received singles, 2015’s Vega Intl. Night School was highly anticipated. The band takes 80s pop and combines it with significant distortion and melodic vocals in songs like “Annie” and “The Glitzy Hive,” and adds other techno and chillwave elements in tracks like “Slumlord.” The album plays well from start to finish, pulling in sounds from all over the place, including a Spanish-speaking emcee of sorts in “Slumlord.” Overall, Neon Indian’s third release has great replay value, and, similarly to the rest of the albums in this list, plays well for studying. The strange sounds interspersed throughout the album aren’t jarring enough to distract you while you’re cramming, but will pique your interest with a thorough listen. -Kyle Muzyka