WPGU’s Top Albums of 2015: #1-10

10. Kurt Vile – b’lieve I’m goin’ down…

I like to imagine that when Kurt Vile picked up the piano for songs on this album, he just put down his guitar and a recording engineer rolled over the piano to his seat. He just makes the whole album-making thing feel so effortless. He couldn’t even be bothered to pronounce all the syllables in “believe.” But it gives his music that easy-going, very human air that we like to breathe in every now and then to clear our sinuses. He’s even become more confident in his natural ability, laying off some of the effects that would serve as cushions between him and the audience. But here we get to hug and feel him on songs like “All in a Daze Work.” It’s weird but it feels nice. -Mateo Muro

9. Gary Clark Jr. – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim

Had Gary been born into the early beginnings of blues, he would have fit in there perfectly between BB King and Buddy Guy. Hell, if he had been born anytime soon after, he could have easily been a guitar god in the blues rock movement, playing with Clapton or Page. Instead, he’s born into a world that’s been there done that and now wants to explore other possibilities that the guitar has. While Sonny Boy Slim in no way waters down his soloing abilities, we now see Gary taking more interest in his songwriting. We see him dig deeper than usual in the folksy gospel “Church” and we hear him sing more emotionally in tracks like “Our Love.” Gary just shows no matter what he does, he does it with heart. -Mateo Muro

8. Torres – Sprinter

A bunch of people have lauded Torres for her second album, released last May, and I believe the praise is well deserved. There are elements to Torres’ sound that reach back to bygone music movements, but she evades full classification. The one real consistent factor in the album is just how dense each song sounds. Everything else is fluid, and the album’s versatility is a testament to her talent as a songwriter and composer. Between tracks “New Skin” and “A Proper Polish Welcome,” this is exactly the kind of album I wish I could have listened to in high school, and could have had a few years to digest before writing about. There are definitely some slow burners on this album, but the patience of listeners is duly rewarded with rich climactic payoffs. I mean, those last couple minutes of “New Skin”…holy cow. -Claire Schroeder

7. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a story about a man facing his neuroses. Some say this story is a parallel to Patrick Stickles’ life, but it definitely has a more universal appeal. Everything you love about Titus Andronicus is still here: the rambling guitar anthems, musical theater atmosphere, and their references to previous albums. Definitely check out “Dimed Out,” and “Fatal Flaw” and have a grand old time. -Julia Antonson

6. Wilco – Star Wars

Wilco celebrated 20 years of existence in 2015, and when you think about other bands that have survived 20 years, it’s pretty spectacular that Star Wars is an album people are hailing on best-of-the-year lists rather than saying it’s a sign that they should begin their exit from the music scene. Still, that’s not entirely surprising, seeing as how this album embodies all of Wilco’s best songs. The risky, abrasive rock to the soft, contemplative country and everything in between finds a niche somewhere in the album. It’s relentlessly and unabashedly what everyone would hope for from a Wilco album, which is synonymous with it being truly amazing. -Emma Goodwin

5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

I was originally going to pick this as my staff pick but we all agreed that since everybody here loved this album so much (a rare thing, especially for something that is not Sufjan Stevens), it had to make it in the Top 50 this year. This album has it all. Lyrics are not only clever and rhythmic in a poetic way, but also take on the challenging subject matter of this country’s racial issues. It’s tied with the Black Lives Matter movement, which will make 2015 an important year in history, but the album also gets real personal with Kendrick’s confused feelings on his fame. That makes this album one to go down in music history, but it also has great crossover appeal for us alternative lovers to first notice it. It’s mostly due to its bold musicality, using live instrumentation, samples from varied places like progressive jazz to Sufjan Stevens, and super cool poem reading that gets longer and longer after some songs. Go listen to this album again and again and again. -Mateo Muro

4. Joanna Newsom – Divers

Anyone who read my review of this album must know by now that I have an undying love for any and all projects created by Joanna Newsom. I’ll admit, her music can be a bit of an acquired taste, and I would recommend that people new to her work do not start with Divers (The Milk-Eyed Mender is really the best gateway into her work). However, the work that it takes to interpret Divers both as a collection of musical pieces, as well as from a literary standpoint, more than pays off in the end. Newsom is simply a brilliant artist, and Divers showcases both her creativity and her evolution from earlier “freak-folk” leanings. Every single song on the album is worth a visit, each strong for individual reasons. -Claire Schroeder

3. Tame Impala – Currents

Currents is an introspective ride through the transformation of psych rock to more electronic-based creations, marking a new chapter in the musicology of Tame Impala. Different from InnerSpeaker’s hazy feel and Lonerism’s harder guitar-based groove, Currents is a statement of a rite of passage and the acceptance of change in Kevin Parker’s sound, stylistically. The album begins with a determined beat in “Let It Happen,” giving off the entire feel for an album that is set off to a journey in Parker’s conflicting mindset, and final liberation of old ways, thoughts, and ideas. Letting go of the dominant lead guitar, Parker brings in a more heavy use of enhanced bass lines, catchy keys, and finger-snapping melodies. It is the proclamation of not only the musical evolution of Tame Impala, but personal as well to those who can relate and ride with its tide. -Kayla Martinez

2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

Sufjan Stevens started a solo project. He went half a decade where the only peep from him was a revamped Christmas album. If you weren’t at least a tad afraid he would never really return, I applaud your level-headedness. But this album is almost an entire 180 for Stevens. It’s not the symphonic extravaganza-ed fanfare permeating through Illinois, and it isn’t the robotic orchestra of newness that obliterates logical thought in Age of Adz. It is a calming, emotional testimony that breaks your heart into such small pieces you think it’s beyond repair before the low melodies attempt to rebuild. It’s pure and gentle, an entire range of emotions with the intensely creative songwriting to match. The symbolism is obvious, the relatablity to something so personal to the author is ridiculous. With songs that could seem so innocent and easy, so much is conveyed. It is the epitome of less is more, and, for all intents and purposes, it is a perfect Sufjan Stevens album. -Emma Goodwin

1. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

It feels like Courtney Barnett has been around for so long that I was shocked when I realized Sometimes I Sit is actually her debut studio album. The Australian “tell it like it is” cool kid has been an NPR favorite pretty much ever since “Avant Gardener,” but this album gave her the room to expand her style and demeanor into a larger, very impressive sculpted work. Some people shrug off Barnett’s vocals as too much like “talk-singing,” with lyrics that venture a little too far into realism for comfort. However, the divisive elements of her work are what, I think, showcase her brilliance. Barnett is specific and upfront, just going out and showing people who she is (with a take-it-or-leave-it shrugging attitude). But, as many successful writers have found, extreme specificity makes connection with an audience all the more powerful whenever people relate to whatever’s being expressed. In other words, Barnett is a great poet simply by being herself and refusing to sugar-coat or exaggerate beyond belief. She proves, a la Harvey Pekar, that incredibly interesting things can be found in mundane, everyday occurrences. Also, she gets major cred in my book for her line in the chorus of “Pedestrian at Best”: “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you” (basically my life motto). -Claire Schroeder

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