Dec. 29 2015 04:24 PM

Five CityBeat writers pick their favorites of the year

By the time you've read this article, chances are you've already made your way through quite a few year-end lists. But we can't put 2015 to bed without offering our own personal picks for the best album of the year. Similar to past years, five different writers chose five different albums to highlight, from punk to folk-rock, and psychedelic soul to goth R&B. Here are our favorite albums of 2015.

s/t (Matador)

Dark aesthetics seeped into a lot of the best records of 2015, from metal to hip-hop, and the growing resurgence of industrial and post-punk sounds. Yet, to date, Atlanta's Algiers is the only band I know of that actually released an industrial soul record. Owing as much to Cabaret Voltaire and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds as they do to Nina Simone and Mahalia Jackson, the trio delivers a passionate and unconventional mixture of styles that's only derivative in that the band is transparent about their influences. What they turn those influences into, however, is something unique and captivating. Singer Franklin James Fisher belts with the fire of a gospel singer, tackling colonialism and institutional racism against eerie, sometimes cacophonous arrangements, whether growling against a ghostly chain-gang percussion on "Blood" or laser-beam electro-industrial beats on "Irony. Utility. Pretext." It's a secular revival meeting with genuine hellfire and brimstone, with more than a few choice words for America's fucked-up, racist history. Amen.

— Jeff Terich

Beach Slang
The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us (Polyvinyl)

I saw Beach Slang perform most of this album the night of the Paris terrorist attacks. It began as a dour night. The loss of human life and the subsequent social media finger-pointing and moral tongue wagging had diminished my faith in humanity. Then, Beach Slang took the stage. Their album The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us had already been in my top 10, but that performance sold me. Their mix of punk and power-pop was a joyful and hopeful affirmation of art's perseverance against terror. James Alex sang—like he does on the record—like there would be no tomorrow. His lyrics often touch on never being too old to feel young, and that's how we sang along. We shouted to earnest confessionals, romantic gestures and youthful calls to arms. For about 40 minutes, the outside world didn't matter and we all just felt lucky to be alive.

— Ryan Bradford

D'Angelo & the Vanguard
Black Messiah (RCA)

Releasing a highly anticipated album is one thing. Doing it after a self-imposed 15-year hiatus is another. And while the reluctant heir to the R&B monarchy of Marvin and Stevie rushed the release Black Messiah amid the demoralizing clusterfuck of racial violence at 2014's end, it certainly didn't dull the impact. The album's intricate analog production stays every bit as sharp as the message throughout, yet its politics uplift and empower, never dragging it down. Switching from keyboard to guitar as his weapon of choice, D'Angelo also distances himself (hopefully for good) from the ridiculous neo-soul tag with plenty of P-Funk/Prince-worthy funk and rock hooks. There are no trap beats, no easily recognizable samples and not a single flavor-of-the-month guest appearance. Black Messiah is a well-researched case study in black music, covering a multitude of influences, but never aping any of them. Itís a timeless masterpiece, the significance of which may not be felt for as long as it takes D'Angelo to make another album.

— Scott McDonald

Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop)

"Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity," bellows Josh Tillman toward the end of his second record under the Father John Misty pseudonym. It's a fitting summarization of a record from an unabashed egotist who just happens to be falling in love throughout the album. Listeners should not expect to hear folky, beardy bullshit just because Tillman used to be in Fleet Foxes. Instead, Tillman dabbles in baroque-pop, country and even mariachi music, all while lyrically coming across like a Leonard Cohen-type prophet for vapid millennials. Which prompts the question: Is Father John Misty a character? A vehicle for Tillman to spew his instinctive rants on everything from L.A. hipsterdom ("The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.") to societal alienation ("Bored in the USA")? It could be those things, but what he lacks in tact he more than makes up for with stellar songcraft and showmanship. Honeybear is the sound of a narcissist learning how to feel and being saved by love. Even assholes need love.

— Seth Combs

Joan Shelley
Over and Even (No Quarter)

The final song on Joan Shelley's third album, Over and Even, is called "Subtle Love," and it's the prettiest song on the prettiest album anyone released in 2015. I know because I heard every single recorded sound that came out this year. (OK, not really.) But it's hard to imagine anyone out-pretty-ing Shelley, a Kentucky-based folk singer with a quiver full of stunning songs, a voice sent straight from heaven and a sideman who happens to be one of Earth's finest guitar players, Nathan Salsburg. Across Over and Even's 12 tracks, the two weave a web of softly plucked acoustic beauty, leaving Shelley ample space to work her magic. With a voice that's cozily modest but unmistakably compelling, she spins misty tales of love, loss and loneliness, with a lyrical aesthetic that's somehow both earthy and ethereal. Shelley's world is one worth getting lost in. Good luck finding your way out.

— Ben Salmon


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