2015 was a big year for fans of music, both locally and beyond. Dormant greats made monumental comebacks with long-awaited new releases, while other beloved groups released their final works in search of new projects, and some new favorites even made their debuts, becoming instant classics.
We recognize that year-end best-of lists are completely subjective, but if you’re a reader of Noise & Color, you’re already subjecting yourselves to our cultural curation. And we sure as shit love lists – hell they’re how we learned to read as kids (Trailer Park Boys reference for those not in the loop…). With so many great releases this year, it was hard to whittle this list down, but enjoy our 15 favorite releases of 2015.
Dam-Funk – Invite the Light (Stones Throw)
Arguably one of the most prolific funk musicians of the past 25 years, 2015 saw yet another solid release from Dam-Funk with Invite the Light. While it may not have been as well received as Toeachizown, Invite the Light definitely holds its own. The record draws on many influences, from Zapp to Prince to Snoop and everyone in between. In a nutshell, Dam-Funk is our generation’s George Clinton. – A.S.
Listen if you like: Egyptian Lover, Parliament-Funkadelic, Flying Lotus
Dungen – Allas Sak (Mexican Summer)
After a five year hiatus, Swedish psych pop maestros, Dungen, reminded listeners that they’re still in firm command of the modern psychedelic music world with the release of their sixth LP, Allas Sak. The potency of their intricate and entrancing songwriting is undeniable with complex rhythms, dueling guitars (or guitar and flute) and four-part vocal harmonies that dip in and out of delicate instrumentals and mind-blowingly heavy jams. For the quick listen, check out “Allas Sak,” “Franks Kaktus,” and “Sista Festen.” – T.L.
Listen if you like: Working For a Nuclear Free City, A Place To Bury Strangers, Life On Earth!
Here We Go Magic – Be Small (Secretly Canadian)
It’s going to be difficult for Here We Go Magic to make another song as instantly lovable as “How Do I Know”, but they make some valiant attempts on their newest album Be Small. “Stella”, in particular shines with the same pop energy that made Here We Go Magic so well known, but Be Small on the whole feels more introspective and carefully crafted than A Different Ship. Hopefully it won’t take another three years for their next album to come out, but if Be Small is any indication Here We Go Magic is only going to keep getting better from here. – S.E.
Listen if you like: Woods, Dr. Dog, Joanna Gruesome
Jacco Gardner – Hypnophobia (Polyvinyl)
Hypnophobia is creepy, ethereal and sonically lush. Basically, it’s everything you could ever hope for from Jacco Gardner. His innate ability to blend sound and simultaneously give every instrument clarity is what sets him miles apart from other psych artists. Title track “Hypnophobia” and many others on the album feel like they could have been pulled from Cabinet of Curiosities, but opening tracks “Another You”, and “Grey Lanes” are decidedly more pop-centric showing how Gardner’s skill spans several genres. – S.E.
Listen if you like: Wampire, Temples, Mark Bolan
Kamasi Washington – The Epic (Brainfeeder)
Yet another classic release from Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder — it’s the aptly titled Kamasi Washington album The Epic. This behemoth of a record clocks in at just under 175 minutes. Yes. 175. That’s not a typo. The last few years in particular have been kind to Washington as he’s had the chance to play with jazz legends like Harvey Mason and Stanley Clarke, as well as more contemporary acts such as Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, and of course, Flying Lotus. On The Epic, Washington walks the lines, making jazz accessible to even the most previously disinterested listener while simultaneously pushing the envelope with virtuosic ability that will please even the harshest of critics. His re-imagining of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” is definitely a pleasing cut, but honestly, the whole album is well worth the listen. – A.S.
Listen if you like: Charlie Parker, Thundercat, Robert Glasper Experiment
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Interscope/Aftermath/Top Dawg)
Kendrick has been putting stuff out since like… 2003. Seriously. I’m not even fucking with you. The talent — while often raw — has been undeniable from the get-go, although his evolution from K-Dot to Kendrick Lamar was definitely a welcome change. Whether it was something like “Compton State of Mind” (the title track off a hard to find mixtape from 2008 or something), “Wanna Be Heard” (from the Kendrick Lamar EP, my personal intro to Kendrick), basically any track off of Overly Dedicated, or any of the later stuff (Section.80, Good Kid), his 2015 effort To Pimp a Butterfly is definitely a sign of growth and progress. Kendrick’s career is truly a tale of carving out a dedicated niche, hustling, and earning every single penny, and it’s really a pleasure to see him earning global recognition. Even though it’s not my favorite Kendrick record, TPAB is undeniably the year’s best combination of socially-charged and infectious tunes, dominant on all fronts. – A.S.
Listen if you like: Isaiah Rashad, A$AP Rocky, Outkast
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Quarters! (Flightless)
Melbourne’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are known for taking listeners on a musical trip – a Tardis ride back to the 1960’s where psychedelia knocked endless boots with garage rock per everyone’s enjoyment. If you’ve yet to witness this with King Gizzard and their already standing five albums, Quarters! will take you there. Set up in four perfect quarters (each song runs at 10 minutes and 10 seconds), each track is like its own journey through twangs, structured drumming and acid trip effects. Plug in, turn on and surf on rainbow colored waves and sound clouds. – C.P.
Listen if you like: Mild High Club, Wampire, The Shivas
Mac DeMarco – Some Other Ones (self-released)
I’ll probably get some flack for picking Mac’s instrumental release over the much-fawned over Another One (both pretty lazy names, by the way, but hey “slacker rock” amirite?). The truth is, I much preferred Some Other Ones — it’s hookier, it’s slinkier, it’s sleazier. It gives us bouncy melodies and jangly riffs that are more reminiscent of 2, but channeled through the Salad Days and Another One palette. And on top of all that, hello, it’s a fucking BBQ soundtrack, and who doesn’t love BBQs, especially with all this climate change? – A.S.
Listen if you like: Real Estate, Courtney Barnett, Tame Impala
Palehound – Dry Food (Exploding In Sound)
With the release of Dry Food, this was Ellen Kempner’s year for sure. The brainchild of Kempner, Palehound has come a long way from 2013’s Bent Nail EP — which really was every bit as brilliant and set the bar quite high in all honesty. Fortunately, Dry Food met (and exceeded) those expectations, winning a Boston Music Award for New Artist of the Year, getting a great drop on NPR, and breaking the 8.0 barrier on Pitchfork. Bravo, Palehound! – A.S.
Listen if you like: Speedy Ortiz, Krill, Colleen Green
Sam Cohen – Cool It (Easy Sound)
Thanks to aimlessly watching the live feed from Pickathon this year as I sadly could not attend, I stumbled onto Sam Cohen, a songwriter that’s become hands down one of my favorite artists of 2015. Pitchfork may have not loved Cohen’s debut LP Cool It, but let’s face it, that’s become one hell of a bullshit publication. Without over-layering or overproducing tracks, the album relies heavily on simple yet catchy drum and bass grooves, leaving room for gentle and thoughtful vocals to define each song. If you haven’t heard him yet, I’d suggest starting out with “Let The Mountain Come To You,” “The Garden,” “Unconditional Love,” and “Don’t Shoot The Messenger.” – T.L.
Listen if you like: American Wrestlers, Happyness, Ultimate Painting
Tame Impala – Currents (Interscope)
Tame Impala surprised diehard fans of Innerspeaker and Lonerism with the release of Currents in 2015. The band’s frontman and production wizard, Kevin Parker, adjusted his songwriting formula away from guitar-centric rippage in exchange for heavier use of electronics and synthesizer, and a stronger general feel of club banger hits. But it only takes a couple listens through to realize that Parker’s infamous bass grooves are still there, driving the songs with the real meat and potatoes. Though Currents is a stretch from what Tame Impala fans fell in love with originally, technically speaking the album may well be their strongest to date, it merely appeals to a broader audience. Can you really blame them for evolving their sound? – T.L.
Listen if you like: Mac Demarco, Pond, Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated at Last (Castle Face)
In 2015 we saw Thee Oh Sees return from an “indefinite hiatus” with a full new lineup. The return wasn’t a big surprise as John Dwyer has seemed to shit out golden hits in his sleep consistently over the last decade, but the album his new group emerged behind is a true gem of his lengthy discography. Mutilator Defeated at Last combines the best parts of Dwyer’s slower, synth-based side project, Damaged Bug, in addition to what we’ve grown to love about T.O.S. The songs feel more thoughtful than the group’s previous albums which rely more heavily on the garage/punk aesthetic. – T.L.
Listen if you like: Ty Segall, Black Lips, Wand
Thundercat – The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam (Brainfeeder)
Here’s the best kept secret of this list: Thundercat is the brains behind the whole damn thing. Yet another brilliant Brainfeeder release, The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam comes from the mind of a musician who played a huge role in two of the other releases on this very list (To Pimp a Butterfly and The Epic). That’s right. Thundercat worked on 3 of our 15 best of the year — that’s 20% of the best records of the year, people! Earlier, I called Dam-Funk “our generation’s George Clinton”… I guess in that case, Thundercat could be considered our generation’s Herbie Hancock. Which is coincidental in its own way, since Herbie’s featured on this record as well. – A.S.
Listen if you like: Herbie Hancock, D’Angelo and The Vanguard, Roy Ayers
Viet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar)
Hardly ever does a band come out onto the scene hot with both a mob of strong willed followers counteracted by yet another mob of angry and offended boycotters. Whether you take the Calgary band’s name under political offense or pleasure, you can’t really deny the sheer post punk greatness that flows all throughout their self titled debut album. A proven force first established with their 2014 EP, Cassette, Viet Cong did it again with the January 2015 release, seamlessly shifting between discordant guitar chords and swift transitional riffs that operate on a medium of delicateness and harsh execution. – C.P.
Listen if you like: Protomartyr, No Joy, Women
Wand – Golem (In the Red)
Holy shit, Wand, what a group of talented young shredders. Just when you may have been getting tired of Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees, Wand emerged from an oversaturated L.A. garage rock scene like true psych metal phoenixes. Their 2014 debut studio album Ganglion Reef put them on the map, but 2015’s Golem showed that they have every bit of chops as their influences, if not more. Must-listen tracks include “Self Hypnosis in 3 Days,” “Melted Rope,” and “The Unexplored Map.” – T.L.
Listen if you like: Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, White Fence
Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect (Hardly Art)
Built To Spill – Untethered Moon (Warner Bros.)
Fuzz – II (In the Red)
Have some other favorites you wish we’d included? Let us know in the comments!