My Top Albums of 2015: #25-1 (with commentary)

#25: Viet Cong, Viet Cong
A gloomy and dark outing characterized by extensive use of electronic sounds and oddly harmonized vocals. Absolutely mesmerizing.
#24: The Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird Is Home
Kristian Mattson continues to expand his sound beyond his “single man with an acoustic guitar” beginnings. The fact the he’s always played with a percussive, energetic, full sound (even by himself) makes his move to using a full band and sound less jarring than you might expect. Anchored, as always, by exceptional lyrics, open tunings and his always expressive voice.
#23: Nate Reuss, Grand Romantic
A Fun. album in all but name, Reuss’ “solo” debut features loads of “ear worms” with Wall of Sound production and great hooks.
#22: Asaf Avidan, Gold Shadow
This Israeli singer has one of the most original and powerful voices out there. Like a number of powerful singers over the years, there’s an element of androgyny here: it could be a male or female voice. On this collection, he wraps his remarkable pipes around songs equal part crooner, Wall of Sound and Brill Building.
#21: Modest Mouse, Strangers to Ourselves
One of the quirkiest bands out there is back after eight years with an almost new lineup, although you’d never know it: their unique sound remains intact. Songs twist and bob in unexpected ways, accentuated by Isaac Brock’s chanting voice.
#20: Grimes, Art Angels
Wildly varied and ambitious, Canadian Claire Boucher’s 4th album as Grimes is a tour de force with techno, pop, dance and rock colliding in all sorts of wild ways.
#19: Death Cab for Cutie, Kintsugi
The 8th Death Cab for Cutie album (and first released since Chris Walla left, although he apparently played on the record) is melancholic, both in words and sounds. “Black Sun” is a particular stand-out: cool and haunting.
#18: the bird and the bee, Recreational Love
Smart, well-crafted dance music with electronic beats and Latin rhythms
#17: Circuit des Yeux, In Plain Speech
This is a dark, dramatic album featuring Haley Fohr’s distinct (and mesmerizing) baritone (an unusual range for a female singer). Listening to this album is like listening to a symphony with each song representing a different movements. There aren’t a lot of lyrics, and the music is relatively dark with dramatic builds and a hint of atonality.
#16: Susanne Sundfør, Ten Love Songs
Even thought she’s Norwegian and not Swedish, Susanne Sundfør seems to have reached across the border and absorbed the ABBA-derived Swedish genius for pop melodies. This collection of (duh!) 10 songs showcases her genius for expressive pop with an orchestral sweep.
#15: Telekinesis, Ad Infinitum
Telekinesis is, with very few exceptions, Michael Benjamin Lerner sitting in his home studio producing great synth pop with unbelievable hooks and strong rhythm.
#14: Ryan Culwell, Flatlands
An exceptional tour of a specific area (the Texas Panhandle) from this talented singer-songwriter. The songs are thick with dust and wind in these tuneful character sketches. “Amarillo” and the title track are fantastic.
#13: My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall
My Morning Jacket makes big, generous rock ‘n’ roll with a strong hippyish vibe and corresponding sense of optimism (just listen to album opener “Believer (Nobody Knows)”). The musicianship is exceptional throughout and the palette extends to soul and jam-band sounds.
#12: Matt Pond PA, The State of Gold
Terrific synth-pop!
#11: Josh Ritter, Sermon on the Rocks
There is, IMHO, no better singer-songwriter than Josh Ritter in the U.S. today. His musical curiosity and Dylanesque lyrical gifts raise him well above the pack. On his latest LP, he moves from the intimate post-divorce setting of his previous release (The Beast In Its Tracks) to a broad collection of Americana in which he often occupies the voice of characters at the edge of America.
#10: Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Grief has produced some amazing works of art. Add this album to the list as Stevens brings his considerable talents to bear upon his mother Carrie’s 2012 death and his parents’ relationship. Beautiful and touching without ever crossing into maudlin.
#9: Toro y Moi, What For?
Chad Bundrick’s “sound” evolves constantly (to the point where it’s very difficult to even characterize). This is a highly melodic and poppy outing with a sheen of Beatlesque psychedelia. 
#8: Fantasma, Free Love
If you like South African music (think Juluka or the raw Indestructible Beat of Soweto that inspired Paul Simon to create Graceland), then give this album a whirl. A fusion of traditional South African styles (such as mbaqanga), hip-hop, house, electro-pop. Breathtaking!
#7: The Very Best, Makes a King
Comprising a Malawan vocalist and a British DJ, The Very Best brings together a wonderful blend of sounds and influences into something that manages to sound organic and seamless. It ranges from troubadour ballads like “Mwang Banga” to great dance tunes like “Sweka.”
#6: John Grant, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
Quirky hardly begins to describe John Grant. First there’s his voice, deeper than most to begin and then further distinguished by by his sometimes growly, sometimes offhand delivery. Then there’s his subject matter…
#5: Dan Deacon, Glass Riffer
Fair or not, there’s a tendency to think of electronic music as cold, unnatural, and/or club-centered. Dan Deacon blows this image with this upbeat, lively, fun collection of beats and chants. There’s a sense of play throughout in the driving chanted words (it’s hard to use words like “verse” and “chorus” here).
#4: Joanna Newsom, Divers
It’s almost impossible not to hear Kate Bush at her most experimental in Joanna Newsom’s voice. She’s spectacularly talented, and relentlessly inventive and creative, coming up with a sound that I suspect most people will either love or hate.
#3: Purity Ring, another eternity
As with Dan Deacon’s Glass Riffer, this is a terrific example of how electronic music can be lush, warm and tuneful. Every track is strong, but “Heartsigh” is a particular highlight.
#2: Jenny Hval, Apocalypse, girl
One of the most original albums I’ve ever heard, this is like one extended tone poem on what it’s like being a woman in today’s world. At times sacred, at other times profane, the range of sounds and thoughts, connected by repeated phrasing, is breathtaking.
#1: Julia Holter, Have You In My Wilderness
Julia Holter is a remarkable talent, producing mini-symphonies often tied around her harp playing and orchestral arrangements.

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