My Favorite Albums of 2015

Year-end lists are a futile exercise in artifice, encapsulating a chronologically related series of artistic statements in a purely subjective manner…so of course I do one of these every year. As part of the contributing staff of the Columbia Free Times, my votes went into that paper’s just published list here. 

For that, we were asked to submit our own list, with comments. As is my own tradition, I’m posting mine in full here.

Top Ten Albums of 2015

1. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

Tasked with furthering the success of 2013’s lauded Southeastern, Jason Isbell delivers on the stately authenticity that has become the trademark of his evocative Americana. His nasal twang and ability to turn a gut-punching lyrical phrase imparts stunning sincerity to songs about how free will and decisions made combine to create our own stories. Add in a backing band on top of its game, and you’ve got something priceless.

2. Adele, 25

The rare moment when massive popularity meets massive talent.

3. John Moreland, High On Tulsa Heat

Songs that are gut-wrenchingly honest and honestly hard to listen to, but also hard to stop listening to.

4. Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line, Wake

If popular country music was still this swinging and original…but it’s not.

5. Seth Avett and Jessica Lee Mayfield, Seth Avett and Jessica Lee Mayfield

An album full of lovingly rendered versions of the late Elliott Smith’s songs.

6. Murder By Death, Big Dark Love

The carnival band for weird America, Balkans-meet-Barnum & Bailey.

7. Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow Is My Turn

Former Carolina Chocolate Drop extending her old-time bona fides into breathtaking new old sounds. (realizing now that this was a late 2014 release, but I listened to it a lot this year so I’ll leave it here)

8. American Aquarium, Wolves

Best bar band in America, with a live show to prove it. The songwriting lifts this above that reputation.

9. Doomtree, All Hands

Hip-hop is either pop-driven or bereft of meaningful content these days, Dessa and the rest of this collective have an all-hands-on-deck approach to making hard-hitting classic rhymes that don’t pull any punches for popularity’s sake.

10. Translator, Sometimes People Forget

Semi-obscure 80’s college rock act from California and a footnote in pop music with “Everywhere That I’m Not,” these live in-studio takes and demos of early and unreleased songs are a raw, unpolished look at what they would become.

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