So far this decade has seen an abundance of stellar album releases, even in a land of singles sales. For 2015, it was hard to pick through to find the gems, but when you did, they shined as bright as anything in the first half of this puzzling decade.
While not quite as accessible as his previous hit CD, John Grant's Grey Tickles, Black Pressure was worth the effort it took to wrap your head around its odd sound. Shifting from full strings to a more Talking-Heads-in-1977 sound, this album feels like a transitional record, but it still fully satisfies. If you ignored this one, give it a few more spins or see him live for the full effect.
If you're a fan of Grant, but had trouble with that shift from guitar/strings to electric, Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear was more Grant than Grant was. While lacking the gay sensibility of Grant, Father John Misty is just as pointed lyrically, but even more emotionally exposed and with that same deep, growling delivery.
Bitter founding bass player Peter Hook has to be pissed that New Order has made their finest album since the '80s with Music Complete. Fans of their electronic dance and fans of their more alt-guitar based songs will finally both be satisfied, plus the bass never sounded so good.
Like New Order, who'd have thought Janet Jackson would make her best album since at least 2004's Damita Jo? With Unbreakable, Janet got back with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to tap into their old chemistry from her first two decades, without replicating or imitating the sound. While I missed the hard-then-fast format of previous albums, I was rewarded with a diverse, creative new Janet sound that also played well live.
Janet aside, lacking a good Kylie, Katy, or Rihanna jam this year, Jess Glynne turned out to be the saving dance diva with her debut, I Cry When I Laugh. Filled with infectious pop gems sang with as much depth and gusto as a Florence track, there's no "growing into" loving this album. It's a love-at-first-sight favorite.
I was hesitant to include either of this year's smash albums ( also see Adele ), but looking deeper, I couldn't help but include Taylor Swift's 1989. She's had a long road from tween country favorite to pop goddess, not winning too many new fans along the way. But with 1989, she's made an album so pure and sparkling even the most jaded hipster had to finally give in and admit she has immense talent. Honorable mention to Ryan Adams' full album cover of 1989. Great companion piece, but no standalone.
Even outside pop, 2015 was a fantastic year for strong, indie women. Courtney Barnett, Alabama Shakes and Bully all had amazing releases, but my favorite of all was Torres' second album, Sprinter. At first an acoustic troubadour, she worked with PJ Harvey's Rob Ellis to turn it up ( and out ) with shades of PJ, Cocteau Twins, Lush and even Diamanda Galas, but still creating a sound all her own. I've been waiting for a revolution in rock to wash away the bland taste we're currently stuck with, and Torres and the aforementioned ladies listed could and should be it for 2016, if all goes well.