Holy moley, 2015 was a crazy good year for new music.
From the early moments of spring to the last days of winter, this entire year was packed with some of the most innovative releases to date. New sounds came out, many artists pushed boundaries and with one more revolution around the sun, some damn good music was shot out into the universe.
No doubt, the toughest part of such a good year in music is narrowing down our favorites into one comprehensive list -- a list to fully express how many times our minds were blown.
Enter the Marmoset Deliberation Chamber. Once we entered and the doors were sealed, we cried, laughed and argued, which led to more laughing while crying...and one person even peed their pants. After hours of this ever intensifying cycle, we emerged bleary-eyed and only a little whiskey drunk, with ink on paper and our list in hand.
If you're into streaming, we created a Spotify playlist of our favorite 25 albums of 2015 (plus 15 honorable mentions) to make your listening experience easier. Over 30 hours of some of the best music 2015 had to offer. Listen here.
Now, onto the list...
1. Carrie & Lowell // Sufjan Stevens
Firmly placed at the top of our list is the quiet, yet immensley powerful new album from Sufjan Stevens. It seems like he took a couple years to fully let these songs marinate and emerge in their raw and vulnerable state. Moving along like a fever dream haze, each song keeps a bare-boned feel, with guitar and hushed vocals leading the way. Drawing from a deep well of emotion, each song is incredibly personal and keeps digging deeper into a healing silence. There's an innate human connection in how intimate and inventive this album is. At one point or another, Carrie & Lowell was on repeat in all of our headphones at Marmoset HQ, especially of Behind the Scenes Phenom, Kaitie Todd and Artist Relations Manager, Brandon Day. Marmoset Co-Founder, Ryan Wines says he actually wept the first couple of times he listened to it.
2. Currents // Tame Impala
This is the breakup album that will make you rethink what a breakup album is. Each song is an exercise in meticulous attention to detail, with some of the group's catchiest hooks to date. From open to close, songwriter, Kevin Parker produces spacey and infectious grooves within each densely-arranged track. Moving from riff-heavy guitar jams to keyboard and disco beats, this album tests how far a song can go before venturing out to space and into chaos, right before reeling back into one dancey body of work. Music Supervisor, Eric Nordby and Studio Manager, Katie Seaton have a choreographed duo dance routine mapped out to the entire album. It's that good.
3. Multi-Love // Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Multi-Love is a series of colorful outbursts packed into one psychedelic freak-out of an album. Portland locals and general weirdos Unknown Mortal Orchestra have created one of our favorite records this year with their pop-laden, 60's inspired bizarro-funk. Multi-Love requires multiple listens. Every second counts and features a treasure trove of effects, layered into subtle tracks that are newly discovered with each listen. Don't worry though, UMO enthusiasts Director of Music Production, Rob Dennler and Artist Relations Badass, Steve Schroeder are drawing out graphs and notations to each moment in the album. There is a method behind the madness of this album -- a loose and enigmatic method, but a method nonetheless. And it's one worth getting to know.
4. To Pimp A Butterfly // Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar's dense masterpiece explores the complex relationship between power, politics, unrest and civil movement within personal snapshots that feel both raw and vulnerable. Bridging together future-jazz flurries (from contemporaries Thundercat and Kamasi Washington) with hard-hitting beats, this album moves like a tapestry of sound and ingenuity. Digital Team Lead, Shane Geiger and Community Ambassador, Stirling Myles have been geeking out to this album for the entire year, since there's so much to dig through between its perfect balance of artistry and arrangement. You will return to this one again and again. Watch the intense and stirring music video for "Alright" below. And don't miss Kamasi Washington laying down the brass during the outro of the last track.
5. Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit // Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett has one again blasted us out of the room. Her new release Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, says a lot with simplicity. Her music is charged with a gritty punk rock ethic, machine line drums, jangled and distorted guitar and a lyricism that feels more like a conversation with a close friend. Her stories are delivered more by talking than singing and unwind into a literary mosaic of pop-culture pieces and anecdotes. We sometimes catch Community Ambassador, Bob Werner and Project Coordinator, Allison Soule mouthing the lyrics while working at their desks. All throughout this album, there's a hint of humor, making for an entertaining study into a generation.
6. Darling Arithmetic // Villagers
It's safe to say that Licensing Coordinator, David Katz has played this album at least 2,015 times. It makes sense, because from the very first track, you're completely taken in by its beauty. This ethereal folk record is colored with brushstrokes of gentle guitar, plodding piano and subtle electronic hues that create a serene, pastoral soundscape. Let's get emotional.
7. Viet Cong // Viet Cong
Dissonance never sounded so good. The self-titled release from the Calgary-based ensemble Viet Cong mends together pop songs with sharp angles and jagged textures -- never giving listeners a moment to settle. Yet, around each turn, there are pockets of harmony that are equally surprising and jarring at the same time. On any given day, you'd probably hear this blasting out of Director of Music Production, Rob Dennler's studio. It's really gets him pumped. And if you looked closely enough, you'd probably see him air drumming along to the odd time signatures like the music nerd that he is.
8. The Epic // Kamasi Washington
To put the music of Kamasi Washington into words is like trying to convey what a color sounds like, or what noise the astral plane would make. Washington's jazz odyssey is something that feels like it was written in a space / time vacuum and brings tidings from the future. Dense arrangements come in and out of wonderful chaos, landing into thick, funky grooves. Some jazz critics are already calling it the greatest jazz recording in 30 yeares. It's THAT good. Rumor has it that Co-Founder, Ryan Wines has this album as his alarm clock. Oh, and he may or may not sleep in sunglasses.
9. Cool It // Sam Cohen
If you were to look at Sam Cohen's music as a series of watermarks, you'd trace the amazing history he's had in bands like Apollo Sunshine and Yellowbirds, all the way to the high tide that would be his more recent solo efforts. Cool It is a culmination of Cohen's entire catalog of influences spanning from psych-pop bliss to lo-fi prog-rock synth goodness. This album will leave the goofiest smile on your face -- just ask Producer, Tim Shrout and Music Supervisor, Emilee Booher. There's a bright array of sound that comes out of each track, acting as a great, cohesive introduction to Cohen's matured and promising songwriting. There may not be a cooler record on the list. Seriously.
10. T R A P S O U L // Bryson Tiller
Every Friday afternoon is "Hip Hop Friday" at Marmoset HQ. This means that Digital Team Lead, Shane Geiger fills the studio with some of the most innovative hip hop coming out these days. Bryson Tiller's T R A P S O U L always had a way of turning heads. Equal parts raw trap beats and smooth R&B vocals, there's something hypnotic that happens when the two meet. Tiller's album is nothing short of genius and blurs the line between common binaries of genre.
11. Goon // Tobias Jesso Jr.
To listen to Goon is to read direct passages from the diary of Tobias Jesso Jr. Heartfelt and straight to the point, these classic-sounding, piano-based ballads of love and love lost toe the line between Paul McCartney's bounce and Randy Newman's whimsy. Licensing Coordinator, David Katz and Project Coordinator, Jessica Cassady went to see Tobias live this year and came back changed. There's a charm to this album where you don't have to dig too deep to hear someone's vulnerable experience. Honest and free-from lyrical pretentiousness, Jesso Jr.'s debut is a remarkable one and embraces a good cliché every now and then.
12. Many Moons // Martin Courtney
All 10 tracks in this debut offering from Real Estate's frontman, Martin Courtney, feel like an easy stroll down a windswept boardwalk, or like drifting off to sleep in your favorite comfy chair. There's a ton of space to sink into with every melody and texture, washing in and out of focus and lulling the listener into a meditative state. Maybe it's the secret ingredient in what makes our Community Ambassador, Bob Werner so calm and chill. One dose of Many Moons a day keeps the mental traffic away.
13. Volume 1 // Magic Sword
If you haven't seen a live performance from the mysterious duo Magic Sword, make it the next one you see -- whether or not you're a fan of sci-fi fantasy, you'll be a firm believer after the first song. Their debut offering Volume 1 is a force, where intergalactic tales of epic wars meets the Drive soundtrack. The two band members -- who choose to remain anonymous-- are creating some of the most engaging synth-pop on our roster, combining keytars, hard hitting drum machines, glowing light up swords and some sweet saxophone solos to craft their own brand of dark electro-pop. We're all huge fans over here and during their legendary performance at our recent Hott Summer Nights party, Co-Founder, Ryan Wines and Senior Project Manager, Victoria Semarjian could be seen right in front, swinging their own blue glowing Swords of Power.
14. Sound & Color // Alabama Shakes
It's exciting to be able to follow one of your favorite bands and watch them grow and experiment in new and different territories. Alabama Shakes' Sound & Color has gone in an imaginative direction and we couldn't be more blown away. Treading away from their roots in blues-rock and picking up pysch-rock and garage punk in the process, they have emerged with an exploratory record that sheds any attempt to pigeon-hole them into a specific sound. Change can be unexpected and sometimes challenging, but for devout fans like Financial Affairs Nerd, Matthew Lemine, and Studio Manager, Katie Seaton, the change is good and welcomed.
15. Another One // Mac Demarco
Much akin to his general, casual demeanor, Another One is a fitting title to Mac Demarco's newest release this year. However, there is little casual about Demarco's music -- there's a lot of intention behind the unique and warbly tones and textures behind his own brand of indie-pop. A little Jimmy Buffet influence makes its way onto this album, giving a easy breezy beach feel to each song, immediately bringing visions of drinking Cuba Libres on a sun-bleached coast to mind. Demarco's melodies are catchy as ever and his music is approachable and literally draws you in -- like on the album when Demarco himself shares his address and an invitation to coffee. We're thinking that Director of Music Supervision, Eric Nordby and Community Ambassador, Andrea Feehan might be the first to take him up on his offer.
16. B'lieve I'm Goin Down // Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile's long, illustrious career and impressive catalogue of releases show time and time again what solid albums he's able to come up with. As a followup to one of our favorite albums from 2013, Wakin' on A Pretty Daze, he came out with another collection of confident indie-pop in 2015. Drawing from influences like Dylan, Petty and Henley, B'lieve I'm Goin Down offers another strong series of songs that effortlessly stop you in your tracks and keep you coming back for more. The only thing we're waiting on is Marmoset Producer, Tim Shrout's cover of Vile's track "Pretty Pimpin'" -- the music video for it below.
17. Dark Place // Jessie Baylin
There's a little of everything in Baylin's newest record, Dark Place. Each song pulls from its influence to create a larger, eclectic album that still manages to feel cohesive at the same time. There's a little '90's synth-pop, a little straight up rock and even some '70's country that makes an appearance. Music Supervisor, Nicole Wilson shared this album with us and we can't stop listening to it.
18. Portraits // Maribou State
Electronic duo Maribou State manage to make digital music that feels like a hike in the woods, with the city nowhere in sight. Portraits is a dance record full of piano, strings samples, and a slew of soulful guest vocals. There's a very human feel within all of the drum machine beats, providing a warm, earthy tone that we can't get enough of. The only downside to seeing them live is the slight possibility of witnessing the awkward dance moves from Community Ambassador, Stirling Myles at the show.
19. Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper // Panda Bear
Avant-garde freak psych-folk group Panda Bear just released a beautiful, brightly decorative album of psychedelic bliss. Artist Relations Intern, Quinn Kennelly and Community Ambassador, Bob Werner have been repping this album hard around the studio all year. This is a powerful ode to passing on, yet it brings in a revelatory element, with tons of joyful pop hooks. Densely layered sonic textures sneak their way in there too, drawing up images of the Beach Boys playing in outer space. Float on.
20. The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam // Thundercat
It's not enough that bass virtuoso, Stephen Bruner (aka Thundercat) gets to work on genre-bending albums with artists like The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, and Kamasi Washington -- he has to go and create one of the most insane R&B albums to date, too. But to call it just R&B would be a huge disservice -- there's something different, something more with this piece of work. Rising to a prominent place in Co-Founder, Ryan Wines' list, this album stands completely apart from everything you've ever heard. Bringing in friends Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus, The Beyond... moves beyond any genre as we know it, more like intergalactic journeys into the unknown. It's one of the few releases of 2015 that actually makes Marmoset Producer, Rob Dennler do the Cabbage Patch.
21. Coming Home // Leon Bridges
At only 25 years old, Leon Bridges has become a household name -- and he's got the golden voice to back it all up. His monumental soul and doo-wop influenced debut, Coming Home draws inspiration from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and most notably Sam Cooke. This album serves to show that love ballads and a good doo-wop brass section will always give us shivers of excitement, no matter what era we live in. Music Supervisor, Nicole Wilson hasn't changed this vinyl on her turntable since first spin.
22. Ratchet // Shamir
This album was introduced to the Marmoset gang during our weekly Listening Hour session by Original Music Producer, Katy Davidson. And oh man -- get ready for the most light-hearted, mind bending, beat-driven collection of songs in 2015. Business Affairs Coordinator, Beth Martin will attest to this. Borrowing from the likes of Michael Jackson and and the self-aware disco beats of Saturday Night Fever, it's impossible not to be lifted into a better mood while listening to Shamir's debut, Ratchet. This album shines with a bright optimism that is infectious and incredibly dancey. Try not to move your feet.
23. Gone by the Dawn // Shannon and the Clams
Much in the spirit of the west, Shannon and the Clams have forged their own path with their most recent album. Gone By The Dawn embodies the free spirit of the west, creating open and expansive landscapes with sweeping, dynamic peaks and valleys. Diving deep into introspection, the band emerges with honest and raw lyrics over their cavalier AM radio lo-fi goodness. Pairing perfectly with the spirit of the road, you might find this as the perfect soundtrack to Music Supervisor, Ron Lewis' epic cycling trips.
24. In Colour // Jamie xx
This debut album by British producer Jamie xx is fittingly named -- spanning an entire spectrum of vibrant moods in just under an hour, led by quirky samples and bright, infectious hooks. In Colour moves like a collage of memories that weave in and out of focus, managing to rise to great anthemic heights and remain intimate all at the same time. Marmoset Executive Assistant, Kaitie Todd knows it from front to back. This is a great, dance-y electronic album through and through, bringing music with a pulse that transcends pressures of "cool".
25. Gentle Warnings // Jack & Eliza
There's a lot of sound coming from just these two people. You wouldn't think that catchy pop music could be written without drums, but the lo-fi grittiness of the guitar in Jack & Eliza's music -- not to mention the duo's truly moving melodies -- lends a space for the harmonized vocals to have more room to play. Each song on Gentle Warnings is tightly orchestrated and bears a matured pop sensibility that runs a consistent course through the album. Sometimes you can hear Financial Affairs Coordinator, Matthew Lemine hitting some pretty sweet falsetto notes with his headphones on.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
— Click on titles for easy access listening on Spotify —
Ego Death by The Internet
Self Titled by Natalie Prass
Teaspoon to the Ocean by Jib Kidder
Have You In My Wilderness by Julia Holter
PC Music Vol 1. by Various Artists
Goes Missing by The Cairo Gang
Who Me? by Juan Wauters
Before the World Was Big by Girlpool
Synesthesiac by Jack Garratt
Abandoned by Defeater
Froot by Marina and the Diamonds
Unbreakable by Janet Jackson
Self Titled by The Domestics
I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty
If I've Only One Time Askin' by Daniel Romano
Black Diamond Pearl by 1939 Ensemble
Austin (EP) by Matthew Logan Vasquez
My Dreams Dictate My Reality by Soko