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There are few things that define a period of time better than the music we listened to. The musical landscape of 2015 gave us albums of rebirth, rebranding, and reinvention. Needless to say, it was a record year for album releases. Read on for our favourites of the year.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake
What a time to be alive. Drake is probably the only rapper to drop two full albums, win a rap beef, drop an almost number one single all while on a “break” from recording his real fourth album, Views From The 6.
The Boy dropped the album in February with no promotion Beyonce-style as an early Valentines gift to us. The first five tracks are explosive, reiterating the fact that Drake is one of biggest rappers in the game right now–not that he’d ever let you forget. If You’re Reading This is sentimental, romantic, reflective and moody. It had iconic lyrics that ranged from disses (You need to act your age, not your girl’s age) to bars perfect for Twitter bios and Instagram captions (we need a FuelBand just to see how long the run has been).
If You’re Reading This was much more than a mixtape. It was a reminder to us that Drake can do anything he wants. It was a font. It was a meme. It was a 17-track love letter to Toronto. The lyrics of Know Yourself are etched onto our glowing hearts—”with my WOES” sings our new national anthem.
Revival, Selena Gomez
Selena Gomez may have almost two decades in the spotlight under her belt, but releasing an album as a teen and releasing one as a woman in her twenties are two very different things. On Revival, Gomez sounds like a newcomer dropping their impressive debut, with the singer finally finding her own voice, both in subject matter and in a lower register at the mic.
Gomez explores her sexuality and new-found adulthood with songs like Revival, Good For You and Hands To Myself while pleasing longtime fans with soaring ballads Nobody and Perfect. Working with artist Charli XCX, Gomez plays with theatrics in her songwriting on Same Old Love, a gamble that pays off with the album’s second single.
After enduring highly publicized break ups and sharing her battle with lupus, Gomez isn’t wasting any time throwing herself a pity party. Sending the haters to the left with Kill Em With Kindness and Me & My Girls, Gomez sounds like an actress playing herself on her second solo album.
EMOTION, Carly Rae Jepsen
In case you haven’t caught on, we at Much are all CRJ superfans. That’s what makes this album so frustrating, despite being one of THE best pop album of the year, it hasn’t been reflected in sales, media appearances or tour plans (Jepsen is opening for Hedley on their Canadian tour this spring).
EMOTION is a reflection of the best of the ’80s. From the Cyndi Lauper-influenced tracks to the shimmering Prince-esque, All That, Jepsen encapsulates the same love-stricken and carefree music of that era. From the moment opening track, Run Away With Me, starts with a blaring saxophone, you know you’re in for a good time. It doesn’t take too much to enjoy CRJ’s music: you don’t have to think too hard to related to the lyrics, and even if you don’t, the tracks still make you want to dance.
Coming off of 2012’s Kiss, an equally enjoyable and overlooked record, Jepsen is still trying to shake the title of a one-hit wonder. Despite the massive success of Call Me Maybe, a song title that follows her name at every mention, she’s still working on turning the non-believers into fans. She’s done quite an amazing job with EMOTION. If you don’t believe us, try finding a best albums of the year list that doesn’t have EMOTION on it. You can’t.
Purpose, Justin Bieber
In the year 2015, almost seven years after Biebermania infected the world, it finally became cool to like Justin Bieber. The once troubled singer finally seems to have put his role as tabloid fodder in the past to focus on music again and we couldn’t be happier.
After a few rocky years, 21 year-old Bieber once again found his Purpose, literally and figuratively, with his return to music. Teaming up with Skrillex and Diplo, Bieber successfully experimented with EDM sounds on his hits Where Are U Now and Sorry. But it wasn’t all about flashy lights and tricks in the studio on Purpose. His collaboration with Ed Sheeran on the stripped down Love Yourself and in songs written with longtime collaborator Poo Bear, Bieber knows that sometimes less is more, letting his smooth vocals and thoughtful lyrics do the heavy lifting.
Not ready to simply climb the charts thanks to swooning acoustic ballads and electronic effects, Bieber shows growth as a songwriter on Purpose and Life Is Worth Living, while experimenting with darker moods on The Feeling with Halsey.
Singing for the first time about fame in a way that makes the young celebrity appear vulnerable instead of whiny, Purpose is a transition album taking Bieber from teeny bopper to manhood.
Adele’s follow-up to her world-renowned 21 was one of the most anticipated records of the year. While there were whispers earlier in the year that she was gearing up to release 25 by the end of 2015, we were still caught off guard when she wrote a lengthy letter prior to the release of the first song, Hello.
When Hello dropped, the world stood still. The stunning video it was accompanied by reminded us all that although Adele has been out of sight for three years, she was not out of our minds. Or hearts.
Adele soared to the top of the Billboard charts where she belongs with ease. When the full record was released a week later, no one wanted to talk about anything else other than Adele, 25, and the many, many, MANY, records she smashed without batting an eyelash.
She told us in her letter that if 21 was about heartbreak, 25 would be about nostalgia. Now older, a mother and an wildy successful artist, 25 was a lot different than 21. Though there were heart-wrenching ballads that we loved, like the Bruno Mars co-written and produced track All I Ask, a majority of the tracks explored a different side of Adele. The more upbeat Water Under The Bridge and River Lea reveal a matured woman seeking solace or affirmation for something other than a simple heartbreak. Even with its late November release, 25 still dominated the year with 2016 gearing up to be yet another Year Of Adele. And we couldn’t be happier.
Beauty And The Madness, The Weeknd
Toronto native Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, is not a pop artist. Yet, with his third studio album, Beauty Behind The Madness, Drake’s OVO labelmate released one of the biggest pop songs of 2015.
New fans of The Weeknd who bought the album based on the commercial success of the MJ-inspired Can’t Feel My Face were likely shocked to find a mostly pop-free record full of drugs, sex, a lot of misogyny. While these are topics The Weeknd has become well versed in thanks to his previous two albums, Beauty And The Madness shows growth from the singer in subject matter, production, and experimentation with other genres. Tesfaye even branched out with collaborations, working with Labrinth, Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey, aka three people who aren’t Drake.
The Weeknd made his brand of trance-inducing mood music more commercial on Beauty And The Madness thanks to producers Kanye West and Max Martin, who helped the singer keep the soul-wrenching emotion that fans initially fell in love with on the underground artist’s mixtapes. While we appreciate all the risks taken on Beauty Behind The Madness, maybe a few less ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’ on the next album, okay?
Currents, Tame Impala
We thought we had Australian five-piece Tame Impala figured out from their previous records Innerspeaker and Lonerism. But like a familiar stranger, their 2015 masterpiece Currents showed us an entirely new, yet still recognizable, Tame Impala.
If Innerspeaker and Lonerism had us feeling like we were stuck in a psychedelic trip, then Currents is the morning after–a snap back to reality, waking up groggy with the realization that you’re still alone. In essence, Currents is break-up album. It feels like stages of grief that follow heartache. There’s regret (Cause I’m A Man), bitterness (The Less I Know The Better) and finally, acceptance with Let It Happen, all within the mish-mash of warbled guitars, funky bass and crystallized synth sounds.
Yes I’m Changing is a telling statement coming from this band. The entire album suggests a major transition for frontman Kevin Parker and company, with themes of letting go and letting it happen. So far, we like where the waves are taking us.
To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
Before even playing a single note of Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy winning third studio album, the title, To Pimp A Butterfly, acts like a lightbulb going off. The listener is immediately informed that this is not another run of the mill rap album or pop album, or simply a list of songs from some guy Taylor Swift digs. Instead, To Pimp A Butterfly is a collection of stories from one of this generation’s greatest poets.
The Compton native is able to weave between verses on love and heartbreak into what it feels like to be a black man in America without missing a beat. A philosopher of the streets, Lamar tells his story about the violence he experienced in inner city LA, making his experiences commercial without making them glamorous.
Lamar dances like a butterfly with his groove-friendly tracks and stings like a bee with his melodic, rapid-fire rapping style. Putting himself comfortably among some of histories greatest storytellers on record, Kendrick has the social awareness of Common’s 2005 Be, the mainstream appeal of Lauryn Hill’s 1998 The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and the quick-tongued wit of Kanye West and Eminem. But he’s always 100 per cent Kendrick.
By Celina Torrijos and Allison Bowsher