Jake and Michael’s Top 10 Albums of 2015

Album CollageIn case you didn’t see the post from yesterday, we here at the Jet Fuel Review Blog are celebrating the end of the year with a handful of end-of-the-year lists. Yesterday, we posted the Jet Fuel Jukebox’s Top 50 Songs of 2015, and today we follow suit of every other publication under the sun (Like this one, this one, and this one, to cite a few) and present to you mine and Jake’s top 10 albums of 2015!

Michael: Creating this list was incredibly tough for me, as I was forced to cut many records off my list that I actually really love. I’ve been going through my backlog of records that I’ve needed to listen to and actually stumbled upon a couple of latecomers that have fallen pretty high on my list. The list you see below could be different by the end of the week, when I stumble upon some record that I somehow missed. But for right now, this is my final top ten albums of 2015 and I’m sticking to it!

Jake: This year has been an interesting one for me musically. Being an avid pop fan, 2015 gave me some of the best records in the genre in years. Many albums that made my list truly surprised me, but kept me coming back for more. While I left many behind that just barely missed the cutoff, the following albums truly represented my mood and emotions throughout the year.

Jake and I will present our respective top ten lists in order starting with number ten and moving down to number one, beginning with Jake’s number ten, then my number ten, then Jake’s number nine, and so on and so forth.

So, let us begin with:

Jake’s #10 album: Justin Bieber – Purpose

Yes, that’s correct. Long gone are the days that Justin Bieber was the punchline of many jokes regarding his music. His latest album, Purpose, is easily one of the most mature and well-produced records of the year. With a heavy EDM/R&B influence, it almost felt like the laughably cheesy music that he used to record no longer exists. While the star definitely has his personal struggles, being able to create a cohesive and sonically mature album isn’t one. And I won’t lie — I found myself listening to this more and more as time went on. So congrats, Biebs, you’ve won this round.

Michael’s #10 album: The Arcs – Yours, Dreamily

I can say with certainty that Yours, Dreamily is 2015’s best album of 1973. The Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach founded this side project, The Arcs, in 2014 and the band released their first album this past summer, but you wouldn’t be wrong to think that Auerbach had dug this album up from some dingy recording studio that hasn’t been used in 40 years and simply attached his name to it. Where The Black Keys’ last album Turn Blue went in a 70s psychedelic route in almost entirely uninteresting ways, Auerbach makes up for that with Yours, Dreamily. Yours, Dreamily has that blues-inspired sound you’d expect from a Dan Auerbach project, but there’s a great mixture of psychedelic, soul, and garage rock sounds in here, too.

Jake’s #9 album: Halsey – BADLANDS

Ashley Frangipane, otherwise known by her stage name Halsey, made her colorful debut with one of the year’s best albums, BADLANDS. Even before the album, there was a ton of buzz about Halsey, who ultimately became the most talked about act at 2014’s SXSW festival. It is with this hype that she released BADLANDS, an electropop/alternative concept record built upon her desolate and lonely emotional state while writing the album. Songs such as “Gasoline,” or the emotional “Roman Holiday,” reflect where alternative pop is in 2015, with strong choruses, highly personal lyrics, and a perfected aesthetic.

Michael’s #9 album: Madeon – Adventure

EDM? Really? Yeah, really. I usually stray far away from anything that relates to the EDM crowd, but man, Madeon’s debut LP Adventure is truly great. The 21-year-old French DJ puts forth a particularly feel-good, completely synth-led album that is entirely infectious. Adventure makes great use of its many guest vocalists, with album highlights “Nonsense” and “Pay No Mind” featuring Mark Foster (Foster the People) and Michael Angelakos (Passion Pit). If this is what Madeon is coming up with for his debut, I look forward to seeing what the versatile DJ has coming in the future.

Jake’s #8 album: Troye Sivan – Blue Neighbourhood

Before starting his highly acclaimed music career, 20-year-old Troye Sivan began as a successful YouTuber. Being able to transition words from videos to songs has not been an easy task for other YouTubers. However, Troye proved to be unlike the rest. His debut album, Blue Neighbourhood, is a moody, dark, and haunting album. The album truly is genre-less, as it incorporates sounds from all kinds of music. Highlights are the opening track “WILD” and the Lana Del Rey-esque “TALK ME DOWN.”

Michael’s #8 album: Preoccupations – Viet Cong

Preoccupations’ (fka Viet Cong) self-titled post-punk effort is a brilliant album and even more impressive being that it’s their debut. This is definitely a tougher album than my last two picks and the picks I have ahead. Viet Cong doesn’t feature any love songs or poppy melodies, instead leaning hard on being loud and abrasive with screechy guitars atop melodic, dark synthesizers. Each song sounds different from the last, and yet the seven tracks on this LP all fit together so well. Standout track “Continental Shelf” is one of the best songs of the year, but every track on this album is stellar and calls for repeated listening, especially the 11-minute long trip that is the closing track, “Death.”

Jake’s #7 album: Ryn Weaver – The Fool

First off — you, the reader, need to pay attention to Ryn Weaver. The 23-year-old California native released her debut album, The Fool, this year, and something about it is truly captivating. Whether it’s the first single, the headbanging “OctaHate,” or her dazzling, charming voice — something about Ryn demands attention. The Fool includes 11 tracks, each one displaying a different side to the singer, with her quirky folk-pop sense blending with executive producer Michael Angelakos’ electronic elements. The album is truly a heartfelt and whimsical ride, and one that promises a bright future for the singer.

Michael’s #7 album: Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

It’s at this point that I’ve realized that each of my last three picks have been debut LPs, and so is this one. I suppose it’s been a fantastic year for newcomers, huh? And here we have Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett. Her album Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is a blast from start to finish. This indie rock album bops along with quick guitar-driven tracks that are only bolstered by Barnett’s interesting, half-talking vocal delivery of her quippy lyrics. “Pedestrian at Best” is a seminal track that may just be the best indie rock song of the year.

Jake’s #6 album: Selena Gomez – Revival

If you’ve previously read my review of this album, you likely already know how much I enjoy this one. It’s such a welcome change for the former Disney starlet. Showing a true artistic growth was the goal for Selena, and that is exactly what Revival achieves. In the album, there are themes of self-empowerment, lost love, and finding oneself after experiencing trauma. While I may have sung along to the “Love You Like a Love Song” of the past, I can genuinely appreciate the music and messages Gomez has to offer with this album — making it easy to both sing along and feel confident in oneself (this is not a nod to another former Disney starlet’s album that was released this year, which definitely did not make it anywhere near this list.)

Michael’s #6 album: Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION

I am as surprised as anyone by the fact that a new Carly Rae Jepsen album is actually really great. My only exposure to Jepsen before this album was her infectious (yet annoyingly so) 2012 hit “Call Me Maybe.” I had no interest in this album before its release, nor did I even know it was coming. On a whim, after seeing some really positive reviews, I gave her new work, E•MO•TION, a shot.

Now, anytime anyone brings Jepsen or this album up in a negative way, I come to her defense 100% of the time no matter who I’m talking with, citing this as one of my favorite albums of the year. E•MO•TION ended up being my most played album on Spotify this past year (292 streams, seriously) and it is definitely one of the sweetest pop albums in recent memory. Jepsen churns out about a dozen essential bubblegum-pop hits on this album, all stocked with catchy, sing-along choruses, and danceable instrumentals.

Jake’s #5 album: Ellie Goulding – Delirium

Not a surprise to anyone, really. I’ve been highly anticipating this album ever since her previous effort, and while it may not live up to that one, Delirium is still easily one of the best of the year. The album displays almost every side of the British songstress, including her folk roots, and her electro-pop tendencies. Though the album is a lengthy 23 tracks, each song is able to contribute to the story of her rise to fame. Working with top-notch producers, the album achieves what it was set out to do — make her a main force in the music industry.

Michael’s #5 album: Neon Indian – Vega Intl. Night School

Vega Intl. Night School is a dirty album full of dirty themes and even dirtier synths, all from the mind of chillwave darling Alan Palomo. When you listen to it, you feel as if you’ve just stumbled into the coolest and yet scummiest 80s nightclub — and it’s great. The album is drenched in a sensible neon-lit 80s aesthetic that pulls you in and doesn’t let go until its 51 minutes are up. Palomo infuses 80s 16-bit synth-pop with 70s funk/disco in an utterly amazing way within this album. Some tracks are danceable while others are slower, darker and mysterious, but the entire tracklisting is killer. Palomo can be equated to Prince in his vocals throughout the album, but it’s really in the final track on the album, “News From The Sun,” that Palomo actually emulates Prince so well that it’s scary. “Slumlord” and “Street Level” are just a few of my favorite songs among a multitude of standout tracks that paint Neon Indian as one of the greatest acts in synth-pop today.

Jake’s #4 album: Marina & The Diamonds – FROOT

One of the year’s earliest releases turned out to be one of the best and most delicious — pun intended. Marina & the Diamonds’ third release, FROOT, is a confident, refreshing work in a day and age filled with synths and cliched lyrics. FROOT is a colorful, thought-provoking piece, discussing topics of modern day society, fallen relationships, and how emotional turmoil made her into a stronger person — said strength is reflected in songs like “Happy,” “Can’t Pin Me Down,” and others. Also, coming off of her highly produced sophomoric effort, it is nice to see that for her new album, each song was solely written by Marina herself. Like she states in “Can’t Pin Me Down,” Marina is truly proving that she’s “never gonna give you anything you expect.”

Michael’s #4 album: Tame Impala – Currents

Tame Impala’s third album opens with an intimidating, nearly eight-minute long track, “Let It Happen.” The space-y synths and upbeat, groovy basslines carry this and the following 12 tracks of this album along in wondrous fashion. Where Tame Impala’s previous efforts were best equated to 70s psychedelic rock, with Currents, the band’s focus has shifted to a more electronic and dance-focused sound, and this is ultimately for the better. The aforementioned “Let It Happen,” along with tracks “Eventually” and “The Less I Know The Better” are essential, with the latter featuring perhaps the best bassline of the year, along with possessing the ability to make me want to dance anytime I hear it.

Jake’s #3 album: Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface

Twenty One Pilots have been on a constant high from their major label debut Vessel. Garnering a large fan base throughout the years, the anticipation for their latest album, Blurryface, was at an astronomical high. The album is a melting pot of sounds, containing elements of rap, pop, alternative, and more. Songs like “Lane Boy” and album highlight “Heavydirtysoul” truly build upon their established sound without alienating their core fans. The album is the duo’s best yet, and was a summer staple for me. After seeing the band live this past month, I can say with certainty that Blurryface is one of the best albums of this year.

Michael’s #3 album: Marina & The Diamonds – FROOT

The third album from Welsh pop-star Marina Diamandis begins with a somber, chilling track entitled “Happy.” At the outset, the song may come off as dreary and sad, but it’s really about how Marina Diamandis has overcome a longtime sadness to finally find happiness. It’s a wonderful opening to a very personal and reflective album, which just so happens to be one of the absolute best pop albums of the year. The titular track follows “Happy,” and provides a more upbeat, funky disco aesthetic that gets the party started. Marina Diamandis’ main appeal has always been her singing voice, and her voice is front and center in each of these tracks, effectively spotlighting her incredible vocal range. FROOT never lets up, dishing out a dozen phenomenal pop songs that all sound unique from the last while still retaining the distinct Marina & The Diamonds style.

Jake’s #2 album: Adele – 25

Hello, it’s me…writing about Adele again. A few weeks have passed since I published my review of this flawless album, so if you want my full thoughts, check out my previous write-up on it. 25 is a perfect follow-up to Adele’s colossal album, 21, tapping into her mainstream-leaning melodies while allowing breathing room for her massive voice to soar. While experimentation is scarce, growth is still a huge factor in this blockbuster album. It also makes for the perfect soundtrack for the encroaching winter season.

Michael’s #2 album: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar’s third album, To Pimp a Butterfly, will likely be universally lauded as the most important album of 2015, and with good reason. The album runs at an hour and twenty minutes, which doubles up most albums on this list and even almost triples up the length of some, and yet the album breezes by. This is due to the fact that the album is entirely enjoyable, and basically perfect from start to finish. The incredible instrumentals — which take inspiration and samples from funk and jazz music — contributes a lot to why I love this album so much. Lamar’s lyrics are on point throughout, speaking to many problems that face the African-American community in America. Tracks on the album can really bump and go well in party settings, but at the same time, the lyricism that Lamar employs here deserves your full undivided attention, and even contemplation. 

Jake’s #1 album: Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION

2015 was a landmark year for unexpected musicians, and no one is more of this case than Carly Rae Jepsen. Effortlessly being the best pop album in years, E•MO•TION manages to obliterate any other release by simply focusing on one thing: music. The thing that is most effective about this album is the fact that it is just simply a girl singing the music she loves. No gimmicks; no famous squad to deal with bad blood; no tongues sticking out. Simply music. Every track evokes a sense of nostalgia, with the album being a modern day homage to the 80s. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact highlight because every song is essential to the theme and message. Thank you, Carly Rae, for delivering the album of the year, and reminding everyone that pop music is fun and cool to listen to. #BuyEmotionOniTunes

Michael’s #1 album: Grimes – Art Angels

This is one that I did not expect. I’ve been somewhat a fan of Claire Boucher (stage name Grimes) for a little over a year now, but I’ve mostly kept my distance. Before Art Angels, I’d only heard her 2012 effort Visions, and liked it somewhat, with some tracks becoming favorites of mine, but the album as a whole wasn’t particularly spectacular to me. When Grimes’ new LP Art Angels was announced in mid-October with a November release, I was skeptical.

Though I did think that the single released with the announcement, “Flesh Without Blood,” was a killer song, it was such a departure from anything else Grimes had done before. I wasn’t sure how to take this change. I previously loved the dark, synth-heavy sound she used to carry, but “Flesh Without Blood” revealed a renewed Grimes; one with a far more marketable and sensible, mainstream-but-still-not-entirely-mainstream, pop sound.

The opening track on Art Angels, “laughing and not being normal,” is a short, orchestral-led track with mostly incomprehensible vocals. Yup, it is still Grimes, alright. Then we move onto “California,” which again doesn’t feel like the Grimes the world has known for years. The upbeat, handclap-backed track is a refreshing style change for the young artist. The only misstep on the album is the third track, “SCREAM,” which features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, and also a lot of literal screaming. To me, there’s really just nothing to enjoy in this track. 

However, misstep aside, the stride that Grimes hits on this album after the third track is awe-inspiring and completely unparalleled this year. “Flesh Without Blood;” “Kill V. Maim;” “Pin;” “Realiti;” “World Princess part II;” the album really never stops delivering phenomenal, unconventional pop hits. The songs here perhaps lie in mainstream pop, but Grimes’ voice and her instrumental work on this album land her in a league of her own. The final track, entitled “Butterfly,” is a perfect sendoff on an album that sees Grimes blossom into a seemingly new artist. I can’t wait to hear what she has next.

— Jake Johnson, Music Blogger
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor

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