Where Are U Now?
Can’t Feel My Face.
Shake It Off.
2015 was a year of deceptively simple songs, each top-40 hit a seeming call-and-response with the one that preceded it. Bieber (sigh) came back. Hip-hop dominated. Adele destroyed. And yet, there was good music to be had.
Herein: a playlist for 2015 that acknowledges some of the popular stuff but highlights a whole lot more that went under the radar. All in, you’re looking at the 51 songs that were on heaviest rotation at InsideHook HQ — and below, the 11 albums that are worth a listen start-to-finish.
There’s a guy seemingly time warped from a ‘50s prom. An unexpected pop masterpiece from someone who was supposed to be a one-hit wonder. Hell, we even found some guitars — no small feat in 2015.
Coming Home | Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges is a young singer who sounds like an old hand at blues, gospel and soul, with tweed on his person and a tube-amp sound dripping with honey. His debut on Columbia Records dropped just a few weeks shy of his 26th birthday, and within the month the title track made Spotify's Top 10 Most Viral Tracks. This is all to say that the record has a solid throwback sound, made all the better by the fact that it's brand-spankin'-new, giving us hope for the next generation of musicians.
Standout track: Coming Home
Why you should care: Because summer's six months away, and you're gonna need a little pick-me-up between now and then.
-Reuben Brody, LA Editor
In Colour | Jamie xx
If there was one thing to take issue with in UK R&B trio the xx’s first two albums, it was a lack of depth: there are some great tracks, sure, but don’t they all kind of … sound the same? On In Colour, though, Jamie — the shy, hoodie-wearing producer who founded the group — proves that off the leash, variety is pretty much his calling card. Where most popular dance music has fallen completely out of touch with its roots in recent years, Jamie moves seamlessly from UK garage (“Gosh”) to Afro-Caribbean beats (“Obvs”) to classic R&B samples (“I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”) with an ear for nostalgia that belies his 27 years.
Standout track: “Loud Places”
Why you should care: Because there is simply no instrument that will put a smile on your face and a shimmy in your shoes faster than a steel drum, and the steel drum is to Jamie what hyperbole is to Kanye West.
Emotion | Carly Rae Jepsen
When a friend told me Emotion was one of the albums of the year in June, I laughed at him. Four months later, I’m in a bar in Brooklyn when this early-’90s Madonna or Janet-esque ballad comes on. “What is this?” I ask my iPhone. Carly Rae Jepsen — yes, that Carly Rae Jepsen, of 2014 teeny-bopper chart-topper “Call Me Maybe” fame — iPhone responds. While not totally devoid of the MTV anthems that made Jepsen a star (“I Really Like You,” “Run Away With Me”), Emotions has enough dreamy synth melodies and plucky, Seinfeld-esque basslines (see: “Warm Blood” and “All That”) to keep this listener coming back.
Standout track: “All That”
Why you should care: Because your neonate-aged daughter does, and you’ll embarrass the s*** out of her when you chaperone her to the concert and belt out a chorus at full bore.
-Walker Loetscher, Managing Editor
b’lieve i’m goin’ down | Kurt Vile
The Philly native and War on Drugs co-founder has garnered comparisons to Neil Young and The Boss, but his records and live performances show him as something less easy to pin down. This record is a notch or three mellower than the last few releases — stacks of amps swapped out for a banjo, of all things, but hey: it works. Layered and nuanced, with lyrics dripping in the amount of ego that toes the line between “Is this a joke?” and “This is profound.”
Standout track: “Pretty Pimpin’”
Why you should care: Because despite what your jaded buddy says, it’s still possible to innovate with axe and pen.
-Athena Wisotsky, Web Producer
The L-Shaped Man | Ceremony
New Order put out a new album (it’s OK). Former bassist Peter Hook got grumpy about it. And both parties clung to their long-ago, pre-NO collaboration: Joy Division. But f*** heritage. Only one band — a California hardcore band that made the year’s biggest musical pivot (seriously: this is them before) — captured the post-punk gloom and jittery aches of the late Ian Curtis and his now divided compatriots.
Standout track: “The Separation”
Why you should care: Because you can’t listen to “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Isolation” forever, old man. Embrace the old-sounding new.
The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us | Beach Slang
“What’s the difference between Beach Slang and the Replacements? About thirty years.” A slight roast opened the recent show by the Pennsylvania band, whose garage-punk sound and heart-on-sleeve emotions (seriously, look at that album title) do hint at Paul Westerberg’s old band. But Beach Slang adds a bit of Pixies guitar crunch and hints of the Lehigh Valley late ‘90s pop-punk scene to their addictive, shoulda-scored-a-John-Hughes-movie sound.
Standout track: “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas”
Why you should care: Because you need a band with guitars to shout along to. We all do.
-Kirk Miller, Nation Editor
Brunch | Just For Men
My favorite undiscovered make-you-wanna-shimmy gem of the year. Flirty, clean and serene. Just For Men — full disclosure: not solely for men — is two guys riding in a time machine back to the synth-laden mid-’80s. Their debut album — Brunch — is a comedic, well-composed, light-hearted electro EP built on equal parts Madonna and Don Draper. Think ELO playing a high school prom in 2015: it’s dance music for optimists.
Standout Track: “Material”
Why you should care: Because it’s only so often you come across an album equally suitable for a cuppa morning joe or hitting the dancefloor past midnight.
-Shari Gab, New York Editor
DS2 | Future
Prior to DS2, I never paid Future — of Atlanta strip club fame — much mind. But after reading high praise for his new album all over the Interwebs, I decided to give it a listen. Thank you, Interwebs. The album devotes itself almost entirely to two themes: strip clubs (where Future got his start) and lean (his drink of choice). Neither of those are really a part of my life, but hey, a man can dream. Built on shake-your-insides bass and Future’s signature mumbled, promethazine-addled delivery, DS2 cements Nayvadius Wilburn as one of the most creative hip-hop artists of the moment.
Standout Track: "F*ck Up Some Commas"
Why you should care: Because for the first time since Ludacris told “b*tches” to “get out the way,” Atlanta is a hotbed of hip-hop influence.
-Eli London, VP of Marketing
II | Fuzz
Black Sabbath is now 47 years old and Ozzy Osbourne has gracefully aged into a living, breathing benzodiazepine. Luckily for us, there's Fuzz, an "all-star" group from In The Red Records that shreds through metal riffs like a gang of nipped-up cats at a rug factory. Their sophomore album is a nostalgic ode to grimy ‘70s rock complemented by undertones of T.Rex, Bowie and Zeppelin.
Standout Track: “Say Hello”
Why you should care: Because occasionally you have an evening when you’d rather sit on the couch and roll up a doobie than act like the adult you’re supposed to be.
-Mike Falco, Lead Visual Designer
The Epic | Kamasi Washington
The first time I heard The Epic, I stopped everything I was doing and listened slack-jawed from start to finish. Here’s this tenor saxophonist, Kamasi Washington. He’s a player on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, easily the most ambitious hip-hop release of the year. Then he drops this giant statement of a jazz record that stands up to — and I don’t say this in jest — Coltrane or Parker. It’s ensemble work at its finest. Spiritual. Distinctly modern. Cosmic. It pushes all the boundaries without stepping outside of them.
Standout track: “Change of the Guard”
Why you should care: Because when jazz makes a triumphant return to the mainstream (it will), we’ll look at back at this record as a defining moment.
Choose Your Weapon | Hiatus Kaiyote
The follow-up to Hiatus Kaiyote’s 2013 debut Tawk Tomahawk, a record I wholeheartedly recommend to this day. Choose Your Weapon features some of the Australian jazz and soul outfit’s most progressive work. The songwriting draws on all kinds of futuristic rhythms and genres to create an album that is mind-bending and dynamic, and everything is anchored down by the rare and remarkable vocal stylings of lead singer Nai Palm. All this makes for a deeply fresh and original sound you won’t hear anywhere else.
Standout track: “The Lung”
Why you should care: Because soul is alive and well, and still a place for live instrumentation and smart songcraft.
-Michael Nolledo, Chicago Editor