The Oberlin Review’s Top 25 Albums of 2015


Courtesy of Deafhaven

Deafheaven, a band that draws from metal, shoegaze and post-rock to craft their unique sound, stares into the camera. The San Francisco band’s third album, New Bermuda, stands out as one of the best of 2015.

Danny Evans, Arts Editor

December and January are Arts editor Danny Evans’ favorite months of the year, but not because of the holidays — he just loves year-end album lists. Here’s Evans’ contribution to the already overwhelming field of Top Albums of 2015 lists. Check it out for some popular picks and lots of records found in the recesses of Bandcamp.

  1. Deafheaven – New Bermuda

Ever since Deafheaven broke out with 2013’s excellent Sunbather, music fans and critics have devoted an enormous amount of time to arguing about whether the San Francisco five-piece qualifies as a metal band or not. Deafheaven’s newest offering New Bermuda will only add fuel to the fire. The album contains some of Deafheaven’s most traditionally metal riffs (such as the Slayer-esque opening riff to “Brought to the Water”) but also some uncharacteristically soft material (like the calming, acoustic guitar-laden outro of “Gifts for the Earth”). But who really cares if Deafheaven is a metal outfit? Any band this kick-ass deserves attention, no matter what genre it plays.

  1. Palm – Trading Basics

One dominant trend in rock music in 2015 has been the reemergence of off-kilter, rhythmically complex indie rock that bands like Slint and Polvo pioneered 20 years ago. Philadelphia’s Palm stands out from the ’90s-worshipping pack — many of whom are labelmates with Palm on Exploding In Sound Records — with impressive dual-guitar interplay, baffling song structures and a surprisingly serene melodic sensibility.

Tracks from Trading Basics, like “Ankles” and “Doggy Doctor,” find Palm showing off all of these traits at once while still constructing great songs.

  1. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside

Earl Sweatshirt has always come offasasortofbabyMFDoomwho could never live up to his forefather’s name. As entertaining as the bleak humor and deftly composed lyrics of 2010’s Earl and 2013’s Doris were, neither record riveted from front to back. However, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside squashes every criticism that’s been thrown at the formerly OFWGKTA-affiliated rapper. The LP features Earl at his haziest and most depressing, and it’s absolutely mind-blowing.

  1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar’s genre-defying To Pimp A Butterfly seems to have taken on a powerful symbolic significance for many in a year of racialized violence, and for good reason. On this introspective yet party-worthy album, Lamar simultaneously sounds more triumphant (“Stuck a flag in my city, everybody’s screamin’ ‘Compton!’ / I should probably run for mayor when I’m done, to be honest”) and more political (“And we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho”) than ever.

  1. Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete

Daniel Lopatin has never been one to stay stuck on one style or idea for a particularly long time. 2010’s Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol.1 arguably invented the vaporwave genre, while 2011’s Replica drew its repetitive sounds from television advertisements and 2013’s R Plus Seven offered anxiety-ridden ambient soundscapes. Garden of Delete represents yet another stylistic change, wearing a surprising EDM influence on its digitally rendered sleeve.

  1. The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Harmlessness

Some might find it easy to dismiss The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die as a gimmick. From its irritatingly long name to its nine-piece live lineup, many of the band’s qualities seem worthy of fun-poking at first. However, on Harmlessness, the Connecticut emo revivalists prove themselves worthy of the hype with epic post-rock textures (“I Can Be Afraid Of Anything”), mathy riffs (“Ra Patera Dance”) and plain old catchy songwriting (“January 10th, 2014”).

  1. mewithoutYou – Pale Horses

Fan excitement surrounding mewithoutYou seemed to fade after 2006’s Brother, Sister. Perhaps the Philadelphia art-rockers were victims of an industry-wide movement away from loud indie rock bands. But 15 years into their career, mewithoutYou have jumped right back into the emo spotlight with Pale Horses, which might just be their strongest offering yet. Fans of La Dispute, Defeater and the leagues of other popular bands who might not have existed without mewithoutYou have to check out this album, which offers relevant lyrics (“I was born of a thought of mine / I was the ISIS flag design”) and some of the five-piece’s heaviest, most memorable choruses ever (“Red Cow” and “Rainbow Signs”).

  1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell 

Carrie & Lowell represents a return to his roots for Detroit multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens. Unlike his last album, 2010’s ambitious The Age of Adz, the record consists of mostly acoustic folk cuts. It’s also a highly personal LP, featuring downbeat songs about the tumultuous lives of Stevens’ mother and father. But fret not, Sufjan fans — despite its dark subject matter and diminished scope, Carrie & Lowell is probably Stevens’ greatest achievement yet.

  1. Sumac – The Deal

Aaron Turner has taken part in some of the most innovative heavy metal projects of the last 20 years, including Isis, Old Man Gloom and Twilight. His new band, Sumac, features contributions from two other metal luminaries — Brian Cook (Russian Circles, Botch) and Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) — and fits into an experimental metal idiom these musicians often work in. But Sumac doesn’t fall victim to “supergroup syndrome”; in fact, The Deal finds the band sounding like a more cohesive unit than just about any other metal band out there.

  1. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down

Kurt Vile’s last album, 2013’s anthemic Wakin on a Pretty Daze, was one of that year’s top records, so folk rock fans waited for b’lieve i’m goin down with bated breath. At first, the LP underwhelms — it feels less massive than Wakin on a Pretty Daze, with its plucked banjo parts and hilarious lyrics. However, b’lieve i’m goin down is a real grower; repeated listens reveal its witty songwriting and crisp production.

  1. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
  2. Wrekmeister Harmonies –Night of Your Ascension

  3. PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries

  4. Wilco – Star Wars
  5. 15. Liturgy – The Ark Work
  6. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
  7. Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Star
  8. Odwalla88 – Earth Flirt
  9. Mount Eerie – Sauna
  10. Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls

  11. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

  12. Mastery – Valis
  13. Young Thug – Barter 6
  14. KEN mode – Success
  15. Death Grips – Jenny Death