Chart Attack - The Albums That Defined 2015

The Albums That Defined 2015

From Lana Del Rey's distinctly female gaze to A$AP Rocky's psychedelic turn, we examine the releases that best defined the year in music.

- Dec 30, 2015

The Albums That Defined 2015 explores how this year's most influential records have shaped and reflected the wider music landscape. Over the 8-part series, we thought about the year's music trends — say, outsider voices in country or L.A. as a setting — and how they speak to the larger social, cultural, and political themes of the day. The whole series is collected and excerpted below. Click the headings to read full articles.

Lana Del Rey’s Honeymoon and the rise of the female gaze

lana del rey honeymoon cover

I’ve spent my life as a woman watching as, and listening to, men tell me what women are like. Turn the tables around — put a woman in charge, even of the stories of her own hysteria, as female emotions and sexual desires have long been deemed (this is where we get to Robert Altman’s 3 Women and psychotic females as an idiom or genre dominated, of course, by the voices of men) — and people freak out. And that’s awesome. It says something about where we’re at as a culture right now: namely that we’re not there yet. - Kristel Jax

Miguel’s Wildheart, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and L.A. as a battleground of conscience

Miguel Wildheart cover

L.A., and California in general, has long been a source of inspiration in popular music. It's shifted over the years from the idyllic days of “Surf City” to its position in the counterculture movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, to the more debauched glam of the sunset strip. But it would be impossible to talk about the influence of Los Angeles on popular music without mentioning Compton. The neighbouring city’s importance in terms of L.A. County’s musical output in the past 30 years is immense, and it has an equally important role within the history of black culture. - Michael Rancic

The New Outlaws: Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton and when outsider country is allowed inside

Kacey Musgraves Pageant Material cover

Overall though, Musgraves’ success, and her commitment to holding on to that sparkling country sound while standing up for doing whatever the hell you want — this time including sexual freedom and drug use — was seen as, if not a sea change, at least a changing of the tides in commercial country. Our own independent Canadian artists had been hoisting their outlaw flags high for a while, including Toronto’s Lindi Ortega and “King of Mosey” Daniel Romano. But here was someone doing it on America's biggest country stage… and getting awarded for it. - Matt Williams

Seaway’s Colour Blind and the stigma around “pop punk”

Seaway Colour Blind cover

“Stubborn Love” should be ranked among the best pop songs of the year, with a chorus so explosive it could finally make the leaning tower of Pisa collapse. Colour Blind has the throttle at 100 with stellar drumming, blazing guitars, catchy choruses, hooks for days and massive chants built for live audiences. Ryan Locke and Patrick Carleton are like Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge - they go together like ice cream and apple pie. Above all else, the album pushes the genre exactly where it needs to go: deep into the pop realm. - Ryan Parker

From A$AP Rocky to Kendrick Lamar, 2015’s best psych records were hip-hop

A$AP Rocky At. Long. Last. A$AP cover

It seems fitting that the aesthetics of the '60s and early '70s has gained a new currency, especially when another unpopular American war bubbles overseas and civil rights have come to the fore at home (blackness in America, but also marriage equality, reproductive rights and Islamophobia). Like rock and roll 50 years ago, hip-hop reflects the sentiments of America's urban centres at street-level. And at this moment marked by extreme partisan tension, much of America wants to explore a different path. As Rocky offered: a new direction, kinda like an old one. - Chris Hampton

Björk’s Vulnicura to HEALTH’s Death Magic, pop embraces its metal side

Bjork Vulnicura cover

More than window dressing, Krlic’s work and contributions to Death Magic andVulnicura reinforce their conceptual frameworks: framing HEALTH's atonal bursts of anti-guitar into Hans Zimmer-inspired pop blasts and deepening Björk's grief so that she may come face to face with it. As someone who understands metal music on a deep level, Krlic is able to bend its extremity to all sorts of music, drawing attention to the abject and bringing what we resist or ignore to the forefront. - Michael Rancic

Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden of Delete heralds the golden age of the laptop composer

Oneohtrix Point Never Garden of Delete cover

The universe of Oneohtrix Point Never's Garden of Delete, with its epic-scale production accompanied by the TBs of extra-musical content (Blogspots, Discogs pages, official fictional social media accounts), is so information-dense, mythological and symbol-laden that it seems beyond the scope of what one creator could achieve. But, as we've gotten our sea legs, culturally speaking, for hyper-linked travel — 4chan and Reddit investigations, YouTube blackholes, detective games, Tumblr aesthetic — and we've each become content generators ourselves — Instagram, Dubsmash, Vine — Garden of Delete is a testament to exactly the kind of power a savvy producer might today wield. - Chris Hampton

Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear and counterculture’s quaint conservatism

Father John Misty I Love You Honeybear cover

Though he spent the year poking and smirking at pervasive cultural phenomena from behind his novelty sunglasses, as a cultural figure himself Father John Misty is actually very, very conservative. Yes, I Love You, Honeybear offers a sharp take on courtship and infatuation that includes ugliness and jealousy. But what's more conservative in 2015 than a beard with a guitar? What's more old-fashioned than wordy folk-rock about love, boredom and the (white, male, middle-class) human condition? At this point "the next Dylan" is almost sounds a curse. Even if the music is clever or insightful, it feels boring by default. It feels done to death. - Richard Trapunski

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