Best Albums of 2015: Staff Picks

Best Albums of 2015: Staff Picks

While most publications have chosen to go with one definitive list of top 2015 albums, we at Bandwagon have decided to take a more holistic approach.

This best-of roundup looks to go beyond our editors, Daniel Peters and Hidzir Junaini, to include everyone in the Bandwagon office! Each staff member has diverse tastes stemming from very different influences, and we thought it’d be prudent to give everyone a voice in this matter.

From our tech guys to the designer girls, here’s everyone’s carefully considered picks for the top five albums of 2015.


The Epic | Kamasi Washington 

Blown away by the intensity, epic (no pun intended) technicality and arrangement. The Epic live at the Regent Theater is a must watch. Thanks Daniel, my editor for pulling me over to the TV one evening insisting I check him out. 

Choose Your Weapon | Hiatus Kayote

Quirky neo-soul. Unconventional chord progressions that pique my interest greatly. Favourite track, Fingerprints. 

The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam | Thundercat 

Crazy tasteful basslines, but not in the fashion you usually see from bassists with his level of pedigree. A rather atmospheric and haunting album that’s one of the standouts for me. 

Ego Death | The Internet

So much groove, a real enjoyable album. Was stoked to see Janelle Monáe on the album, she’s great. 

For One to Love | Cécile McLorin Salvant 

She has got to be one of the hottest Jazz vocal prospects of 2015! Just her and an acoustic trio throughout the album, and she manages to keep it so interesting from start to finish. Great versatility and nice music theatre element thrown into what is a fabulous Jazz record. 

To Pimp a Butterfly | Kendrick Lamar

At this point, is there anything there is to say that hasn't already been said? Even with its surprise release in March, heaps of praise were drawn from the get-go, at least once Kendrick Lamar pulled himself out of his constructed interview with Tupac on 'Mortal Man'.

But months on, the shock and awe are still left in its place. Kendrick pulled a major hat-trick on this one — while not a general criteria to judge on most rap albums (or any album), he was able to elevate his lyrical dexterity, his keen ear for musicality (backed by an amazingly assembled band), and managed to capture a space in time in America's history and, along the way, perfectly transform the energy of immense tension into pure exultation in the face of seething problems, which is little wonder 'Alright' has resonated with thousands, if not, millions of listeners around the world. Even so, he still manages to masterfully weave in his own personal struggles.

At the end of the album, you're not left with any answers, but an assurance that Kendrick will go down as a voice for a generation, and To Pimp A Butterfly will be an incredibly important album to look back to.

The Powers That B | Death Grips

Death Grips may pull fast ones with unusual public stunts, but they do little to obscure the breathtaking heights they've pulled with The Powers That B, which is essentially two very different aspects of the group's sound bundled together. On paper, it's strange but it has become the perfect culmination of the band's progress as of yet.

While that still doesn't make it my personal favourite from them — still reserved for The Money Store — the mind-bending layers in Niggas on the Moon and ferocious punk assault on Jenny Death remind me why they're still my favourite music group to exist right now. 

White Men Are Black Men Too | Young Fathers

Even as this album continues to run under the radar, Young Fathers made a bold sonic statement on record with White Men Are Black Men Too. The award they received for their past album, the Mercury Prize, somehow convinced them to pull off something completely different, and their sheer disregard for the expectations from anyone around them is both hilarious and a testament to why I like the band so much.

With no warning, White Men Are Black Men Too, with all its joyous indie pop instrumentation and lo-fi production, shed away any industrial-laden beats that permeated their past records. But somehow, they still sound as cynical and dark as ever, providing a lens into the world we live in which they only can provide.

The Epic | Kamasi Washington

Even with the combination of spiritual jazz revivalism and its release on Brainfeeder, I was still cautious to approach The Epic, fearing hype may take over any semblance of genuine fondness I might have over it (a three-part, three-hour album isn't something you get every year). I took months to listen to each disc — digesting the overwhelming grandness of opening track 'Change of the Guard', the head-spinning instrumentation on 'Miss Understanding', the smart reinterpretation of 'Clair de Lune', and the stunning emotional resonance of 'Henrietta Our Hero'.

But now, months on after its release in May, it has grown tremendously and, taking time to digest every track, there isn't anything else for me to say except, for all its saturated use in the modern vernacular, the album truly is epic.

Sun Coming Down | Ought

Jumped on this late, even though I enjoyed their debut More Than Any Other Day last year, but the band's angular post-punk oddities have evolved even further, churning out an album more refined than their last, and I couldn't be more happy about it. Turning out eight songs running just slightly over 40 minutes, they pack in a bounty of ideas that still feel fresh after my 15th listen.

Even if you don't dig this album as much as I do, I hope we can all agree 'Beautiful Blue Sky' is a masterwork.

Honourable mentions: Oneohtrix Point Never's Garden of Delete, Travi$ Scott's Rodeo, Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion, Protomartyr's The Agent Intellect and Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell.

The Epic | Kamasi Washington

It’s travesty that this album wasn’t nominated in the Grammy’s ‘Jazz Album of the Year’ category, but hey, since when have the Grammys been relevant anyway? As its title implies, this album is monumental in depth and breadth, and staggering in its vision. The epic stars the masterworks of saxophonist Kamasi Washington, and while his skill on his instrument is sublime, it’s efforts as a composer that truly astounds. Here he corrals his 10-piece band, a 32-piece orchestra, and a 20-person choir to create one of the most spectacular jazz albums in recent memory.

To Pimp A Butterfly | Kendrick Lamar

This isn’t just one the most groundbreaking rap albums of this year, To Pimp A Butterfly is a game-changer for the genre in general. In terms of craft, lyricism, production and contextual importance, this LP is untouchable. The scale of ambition here would overwhelm any other rapper, but Kendrick Lamar is a once in a lifetime talent who manages best this album’s grandiose themes with unparalleled talent. More than just entertainment, Lamar aims to elevate hip-hop culture and the African-American community to new heights on the back of his Compton upbringing and his uncompromising songwriting.

Summertime '06 | Vince Staples

It’s been a banner year for hip-hop, but no debut has made a larger impression than Vince Staples’ Summertime 06’. In recent years, his mixtape and EP output has impressed with its insightful brevity, but it seems like he has saved his sharpest and most complex verses for this unencumbered document. This isn’t so much a statement as it is an essay, and it's one that exhilarates from first track to last. Inner-city plight is common meat for many rap albums, but the way Staples’ sinks his teeth the dark and desensitized portions of humanity is sensational.

Carrie & Lowell | Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens’ latest surpasses the greatness of Illinois, and I can’t think of a higher compliment than that because that album was a masterpiece. Brazenly open and filled with nuanced storytelling, Carrie & Lowell’s poetry feeds the soul and wrenches the heart. Delving deep into religious contemplation and human struggle, it’s unfaltering rawness evokes the spare folk of Seven Swans, just elevated by the experiences and songwriting refinement Stevens has accumulated in the preceding years. This album is filled with the troubadour’s demons and almost nothing is as compelling as hearing him face them.

Surf | Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment

This collaborative album from Chance The Rapper and Donnie Trumpet is backed by Peter CottonTale, Nate Fox, and Greg Landfair, Jr — an all-star cast by any means. And that's even before mentioning the scene stealing guests on show here like Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae, amongst many others. Skeptics might postulate that there are way too many cooks in the kitchen, but amazingly, Surf proves to be even greater than the sum of its parts. Vibrant, triumphant and unabashedly joyful, this Chicago supergroup’s mish-mash of neo-soul, jazz fusion and hip-hop is frequently infectious and totally irresistible.

Emotion | Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae gets it. The best thing about relationships is the getting there part. She loves the chase and this is the perfect soundtrack to the realisation that you really, really, really like someone enough.

Carrie & Lowell | Sufjan Stevens

It’s simple, honest and heartbreaking. “Fuck me, I’m falling apart.”

The Neon Hour | BP Valenzuela

Youths these days. She’s only 19 and she came out with this gem of a debut. I can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Lightfoot | tide/edit

I discovered Foreign Languages earlier this year and I didn’t wanna miss out on the next one. An Alternate Ending is still on loop. I soundtracked my year-end-narrative writing with this one.

If I Was | The Staves

The beautiful, dreamy harmonies are still there but this time, everything is much darker and intense and for lack of a better word, painful – must be the Justin Vernon touch.

<I°_°I> | Caravan Palace

I've always had a tender spot for gypsy jazz and swing, and this year sparked a revival in my love for it with this band's new release. Granted, they really amped up the 'electro' in their unique brand of electro swing with Robot, but it still had all the manic scatting and jazzgasmic noodlings that I adored in their previous record Panic. Still staunchly believe they are a band best experienced live, but until I do get to see them on stage, I'll settle for any new material from this offbeat French ensemble on my earphones/speakers.

Demo Songs | The Perfect Sports

Yes, this technically isn't a 2015 release, but the Nagoya quartet's first and only EP has come out tops among the myriad of bands that I've listened to all year in my constant search for quality math rock (mississippiroid comes a close second). Clever attacks, beautifully lyrical riffs, and supertight dynamics; it's such a shame that they stick around longer to produce more stuff, but sometimes one EP is enough to leave a lasting mpression. 

Demon Diaries | Parov Stelar

The godfather of electro swing is still going strong to this day even with his already impressive repertoire of original releases and remixes, as evident from this year's Demon Diaries. Featuring a darker, sci-fi noir-esque sound, Parov has done it again blending crisp jazz instrumentations with a surreal hyperfuturistic soundscape. I'd imagine this is what a detective story taking place in the world of Tron would sound like. Love it.

Beat Tape 2 | Tom Misch

What appealed to me about Tom Misch's music was his legit virtuosity as a guitarist that he managed to pair seamlessly together with an ear-catching feel-good electro house sound. Featuring some great guest artists that elevate it to a perfect summer soundtrack, this is the record I keep returning to for a guaranteed pick-me-up.

Ego Death | The Internet

Sexy, sultry, and oozing with style, you can't help but succumb to the feels of each pounding beat and fat bass note. Syd the Kyd's gorgeous vocals bring something otherworldly to their frighteningly addictive take on the neo-soul/trip hop genre. Great music to get it on with your lady friend.

The Agent Intellect | Protomartyr

A good ol’ post­-punk record. Energetic. Brooding. Emotive. Just the way I like it. Essential tracks: 'The Devil in His Youth', 'Pontiac 87', 'Why Does it Shake?' and 'The Hermit'. Also, shout-out to the visual artist behind this album artwork.

­ Ego Death | The Internet

Ego Death is possibly the smoothest R&B, acid jazz record of the year. Their last two albums were quite a let down, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I think The Internet finally managed to capture and do justice to Syd tha Kyd’s smoky vocals. Really looking forward to them performing at Laneway next year.

Abyss | Chelsea Wolfe

Abyss was probably my most anticipated release of the year, mainly because Chelsea Wolfe is my favourite singer-­songwriter. I may have underestimated her abilities of creating a more soul-sucking, grim record than Pain is Beauty but boy, was I wrong. With tracks like 'Survive', 'Carrion Flowers' and 'Grey Days', Wolfe managed to encapsulate the experience of falling into an abyss in the most dense, yet ethereal, and compelling way possible. This album came straight outta the seven layers of hell. 10/10 would recommend to those who are feeling dark af.

To Pimp a Butterfly | Kendrick Lamar


Summertime ’06 | Vince Staples

I wish I could end this list with Frank Ocean’s long awaited (maybe non­existent) album or Kanye’s SWISH. Regardless, Summertime '06 was a banging record. Some may say his lyrics are too repetitive or conventional but I think it was intentional just so it can be easily digested by listeners. Favourites: 'Street Punk', 'Hang n Bang' and 'Norf Norf'.

Honorable mentions: Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear, Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Multi ­Love, FKA Twigs' M3LL155X, Viet Cong's Viet Cong.

Work It Out | Lucy Rose

Huge fan of hers. The new album strayed away from her acoustic songs, but lovin' the upbeat and pop feel because her voice maintained the essence of what I see as "Lucy Rose".

What A Time To Be Alive | Drake & Future

No one cooler than Drake and what better way to come out with an album with Future. Also, great album to pretend I'm cool and from the hood.

Art Angels | Grimes


Another Eternity | Purity Ring

Gives me good vibes!!!!

Purpose | Justin Bieber

Only because it is bloody catchy and haven't been able to stop listening to his new album. #believe #neversaynevertojusticebeaver

Ugly Cherries | PWR BTTM

PWR BTTM has written a whole album of songs I wish I had written. Satisfying, fun garage rock with heartfelt, earnest lyrics — it's all I've ever wanted. There's just something about the yearning lyrics and unpretentious riffs that seems very fresh to me. Ben and Liv show us that they're still figuring out life and love, same as the rest of us. And at the end of it, you'll feel less alone than you did before you started listening to it.

Time/Space | Charlie Lim

Um... I've been a Charlie fan for years but now that he's recently become a friend, I feel a little awkward hahahaha. But hey, being a #1 fan-friend is better than being a #1 fan right??

That said, I love this album, especially the broody parts (nearly everything). In 'Light Breaks In', my favourite part is bellowing along at "tell me your despair and I'll show you mine".

Carrie & Lowell | Sufjan Stevens

It's a hard feeling to describe, when you lower the needle on this vinyl. You know that feeling when it's late at night but you're wide awake, yet you don't feel like doing anything and you feel a little empty and melancholic? This is so good for those kind of times.

soma | .gif

I haven't listened to this as much as I'd have liked, and when I think about the album, I still get very excited thinking about the next time I'm going to listen to it. I think Hidzir puts it better than I can. Fav songs: sate, ibid.

All Night | Houses

Sorry it's not a 2015 album! I've gotten through this year with the help of a playlist I have that consists of like 6 tracks I listened to over and over again, so I haven't been listening to enough entire albums. One of the songs on that playlist is "Reds", from this album. Lots of good memories listening to this on nights where I'd just be alone on the balcony of my flat in a tiny German town, staring at darkness and empty hills in the cold. It was very tranquil.

Born in the Echoes | The Chemical Brothers

I was waiting in line for the portaloo at Hardwell Singapore when a kid chatted me up. I told him I was looking forward to the album by The Chemical Brothers and he exclaimed, "What! That shit's old!"

Well, f*ck you, kid! The Chems will always be more timeless and relevant than your EDM feel-good bullshit. With the duo drawing from their pre-Come With Us sounds to char their own path, the album doesn't disappoint. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Helios | Erebus | God Is An Astronaut

A darker, heavier atmosphere with a tinge of prog-metal makes this their best showing since The End of the Beginning and All is Violent, All is Bright.

Caligo | Spor

I only discovered Spor this year, but apparently Jon Gooch has been around for a long time, also playing under his Feed Me stage name. Neurofunk that's not too heavy and arguably treads on the safer side. Still like it though.

In Colour | Jamie xx

An accessible take on 90s and 00s British club music, In Colour has become my go-to album when I'm looking for a listen that's not particularly demanding on the ears and brain.

7 | Paul Kalkbrenner

I discovered Paul Kalkbrenner while researching the sets at ZoukOut 2015. Amazing music which sounds like "Play"-era Moby. I love it.

I'm a junkie for Touhou doujin circles and indie jpop, so:

Girls in The Mirror | Hatsunetsumiko

Funky, uplifting beats is what I would describe this album. Was recommended to me on reddit by a couple of people. Worth a listen!

極彩色 (Gokusaishoku) | れをる (Reol)

niconico is a popular video site in Japan, similar to Youtube. Utaite is a term to describe people in niconico who upload covers of previously released songs, and Reol is one of the most popular utaites on that website.

Gokusaishoku is her first (record-label signed) album, and it had a decent range of music and really showcased her talent well.
I had a penchant for SoundHounding the songs I really like, so when the moment I searched for three consecutive songs from the album at Tower Records while they were demo-ing it in the store, I immediately went to purchase it. Really liked MONSTER and 染.

Yasou Emaki | Wagakki Band

Maybe I'm a sucker for oriental music, but they are one of the very few that I can get my fix after Rin' disbanded. What's more, they blend it with rock! The MV of Akatsuki no Ito, one of the songs in the album, features them in a temple up in the clouds while fending off a dragon. What's not to like?

World Trick | FELT

This doujin circle was introduced to me by my friend, and I've been listening to them ever since. Really liked the tracks 'Let It All Out of You' by long-stay singer Vivienne and 'Landscape' from the album. A good mix of upbeat techno and ballads and instrumental pieces in between!

POP | CULTURE 04 | Alstroemeria Records

Because Alstroemeria Records is finally picking up again. Extricate and Back Down were my favourite tracks from this album. Have to listen to Track 5 (Restart / タカナシトリコ | Camellia / 少女綺想曲 ~ Dream Battle / 東方永夜抄).

To Pimp a Butterfly | Kendrick Lamar

To Pimp A Butterfly has become an unassailable critic's darling this AOTY season, but with good reason – truly great music surpasses the status of sound to become cultural signifiers, points in history. Inane pop songs often reach those heights, but I doubt anything will beat how "Alright" became an anthem of confidence amidst desperation and darkness for the Black Lives Matter movement in America this year.

Carrie & Lowell | Sufjan Stevens

A friend who went to a Chicago show of the Carrie & Lowell tour told me that Sufjan Stevens cried throughout the night. When I heard that my heart clenched with sympathy for Suf but I understood completely: how else do you perform this incredible album night after night, singing lyrics that tremble with old memories and fresh pain? 

Deep in the Iris | Braids

Not enough people know about Braids, which is something I'm upset about – their third album (and second album to be nominated for the Polaris Music Prize, just so you know) is a melange of smart synths, Raphaelle Standell-Preston's beautiful voice and her compelling lyrics, weighted with far more emotion than you see at first. Listen to "Taste" and try not to well up.

Emotion | Carly Rae Jepsen

I reviewed EMOTION for Bandwagon earlier this year and looking over what I wrote, everything still rings true: it's a joyous album that's always pure but never disingenuous. Despite all the critical acclaim, EMOTION still performed poorly sales-wise, but this was the pop album I had on rotation this year.

Summertime '06 | Vince Staples

With Summertime '06, Vince Staples has made a demanding album – it's an hour-long listen that speaks unflinchingly of violence, neglect and alienation. But I couldn't stop revisiting the hollow, pitched-down sirens on "Norf Norf," the fire Spanish verse on "Loca" and Jhene Aiko buoying Staples with her smug seduction on "Lemme Know," among other great musical moments on this debut.

Return to the Moon | EL VY

I’m going to be cheeky and say it has close to ALMOST everything that comes wth a new The National album but you’ll have to work for it and scroll from N to E on your phone.

Foil Deer | Speedy Ortiz

I just need everyone to love this band just enough for the promoters to bring them in.

Wildheart | Miguel

The perfect album to put on after you are satisfied with yourself after having just completed something distressing like cleaning out the cat litter and/or keeping your girlfriend happy. 

Wellness | Last Dinosaurs

Windows down, spinning on the highway kind of music, you will feel dancey, you will have a hopeful outlook on life and you will not crash your car.

Multi-Love | Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Tell me you can’t dance to that riff in 'Extremely Wealth and Casual Cruelty'.

Peripheral Vision | Turnover

It’s always heaps interesting when a band releases a record that strays away from their old sound which you’ve first associated with – and that’s exactly what Virginia emo quartet Turnover did with this release. But trust me, it’s a huge step up and if I could objectify this one, it’d very much feel like a soft warm blanket of purity and overwhelming calmness – the kind you’d want to wrap yourself in and roll around. Just take a listen to 'Dizzy On The Comedown' and tell me you don’t feel the same.

Darkness Forgives | The Saddest Landscape

Hands down the sickest emotional hardcore record released this year – even though the outfit has never really managed to busk in the glory of its post-hardcore counterparts. Put simply, 10 tracks of thundering rage, unrelenting despair and mad feel(z).

Fear of Failure | Malfunction

If you are keen on the likes of Expire and Backtrack, this one’s definitely for you. Plus, you’re served with a healthy dosage of melody and melancholy along with the face-melting aggression. Perfect tunes for rampaging your way through the most agonising peak hour crowds at Outram Park/Raffles Place.

Kintsugi | Death Cab for Cutie

Definitely a top album for many, but what intrigues me the most about the record is the whole thing about the craft of gold repair for cermaic faults, as prompted by its title. Maybe Gibbard wanted us to perceive the album leaning more towards the beauty of being broken rather than being fixed? I mean, with the departure of Walla and the divorce with Deschannel, Gibbard’s got a lot on his plate doesn’t he? So many questions, so little answers. But well, 'The Ghosts of Beverly Drive' kills me all the time.

Heirs | And So I Watch You From Afar

Straight-up math/post-rock that isn’t meant to induce sleep, served sizzling hot by Sargent House’s resident Irish gladiators. And if you were in love with All Hail Bright Futures, screw the naysayers because this one’s equally good!

Throwaway Love Songs | June Marieezy

I used to have a lot of reservations about June Marieezy. For the longest time, I couldn't get her music. But this album did me in, and now I can't stop listening to her whenever I need good vibes — which is most of the time. I'm kind of in love with this girl now.  

Strangers to Ourselves | Modest Mouse

We fans waited eight years for this! And the wait was so worth it. The album had everything about Modest Mouse which I initially fell in love with (that recklessness that makes you feel all the feelings being one of them), but somehow it all seems more "solid", more mature now. 

Around the World and Back | State Champs

Derek DiScanio has the best voice in pop punk right now, hands down. This album makes me feel a bit like I'm a teenager again — in a good way! It puts me in such a cheerful mood, probably out of gratitude for being done with that time in my life. I listen to it when I'm traveling, when I'm writing, while working out, even while doing the laundry. 

Underneath the Roots | Fools and Foes

Full disclosure: I'm friends with these guys, but that means I can attest to how hard they worked on this EP, which turned out splendidly. Here you can hear the band's collective influences of punk, math, folk and post-rock, which somehow brings a kind of despondency you can dance along to.     

Arigato, Internet! | Reese Lansangan

It's not a surprise why Reese is so popular. She's so funny and colourful and bright (both vibrant and smart!), and these are all reflected in her songs. I'm so happy she finally released an album. It's so well-produced, too. Plus the art is beautiful