Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

The album that the modern world has been waiting for. The major records to have captured the public consciousness in recent years have been either self-important ego riots (hello Kanye) or tepid retro-pop (Adele, Taylor Swift). Kendrick is interested in being heard by as many as possible, but not at the expense of being able to articulate the riches of social and political wisdom that he has to offer. And all of this is set to a daring blend of progressive hip-hop production, drawing from, amongst others, Kamasi Washington’s vanguard-pushing jazz and Thundercat’s electro psychedelia. It is the most ambitious and most impressive record of 2015, and for some time before that too.


Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Vital, direct, punk-inflected guitar music. Courtney’s lyrics have given me more entertainment this year than pretty much anything else – hell, even her song titles are worth more than most bands’ entire careers. It isn’t just her wit, although that would be enough, but her storytelling. Opening track ‘Elevator Operator’ is the track I’ve listened to most, and I still marvel at its economy in telling such a poignant, poetic mini-tale. She’s a mean guitarist to boot – let’s hope this is just the start for Ms. Barnett.


Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness

This is easily Holter’s most accessibly release to date, but it still maintains her unique sense of bizarre artsiness that drew so many to her music in the first place. But here, for the first time, she has allowed some of her real life personality to seep into her music – her vocals ring out like never before, her lyrics are more intelligible, her songs are catchier. She has let the light in, and it has made her music even more attractive. Album standouts ‘Feel You’ and ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ are infectious, and as good as anything Julia has done.

Sea Calls Me Home

Kamasi Washington – The Epic

This is a daunting piece of work: a full 173 minutes of virtuoso modern jazz, split into 3 separate hour-long suites. Fair enough, that is immediately going to put off the vast majority of the public, or even of committed fans of new music. And it does require a higher level of devotion than anything else I’ve heard this year, but the rewards are huge. The recurring themes, the irrepressible energy of the incredible list of personnel, the different artistic directions that the runtime allows for, the mind-bending interplay of musical elements – these are all thrilling components of this masterful album.


Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass

In contrast to Kamasi, this is simply one of the easiest albums of 2015 to fall in love with. Nine enormously warm (credit goes in large part to the wonderful production of Matthew E. White) and honest songs are performed with such confidence and dexterity by Natalie that it is hard to believe that this is her debut album. Whether it is the Nina Simone-style swell of opener ‘My Baby Don’t Understand Me’ or the Muscle Shoals backing to ‘Your Fool’, there are riches everywhere you look. As winter draws in, this will keep you warmer than any woolly jumper or open fire.

Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

The highest British album on my list, Wolf Alice’s long awaited debut has the feel of a singles collection. Right enough, three or four of the 13 tracks were previously well established, but that still leaves up to ten tracks that were not – they all feel like old friends, but they cannot be. The album starts with a beautiful, wistful, English folk track, before moving through hard rock, Pixies-esque loud-quiet indie, Cocteau Twins-style ethereal beauty, amongst several others things. It has stood up very well to repeated listens as the year has go on, and frankly could easily have been higher on my list.


Algiers – Algiers

Like Kendrick, here is a band with a burning need to speak out about the world that they see. An experimental trio from Atlanta, Georgia, they named themselves after the post-colonial struggle in the capital of Algeria, and it is this kind of revolutionary politics that defines their music. Their sound has been described as ‘dystopian soul’, which is evocative, but doesn’t really clear anything up – there are traces of gospel, industrial, noise rock, post-punk, African-American work songs, and too many others to go through. The lyrics are intelligent and furious, and the band are similarly outspoken on social media. The world is better off with artists like Algiers in it.

Black Eunuch

Clarence Clarity – No Now

A British singer-songwriter with a flair for the eccentric, this is what you wait a long time for – a debut album with enough individual identity and experimental nous to demand your attention. His maximalist approach to composition and production is reminiscent of other such leftfield outlaws as Gonjasufi, Grimes or Ariel Pink, but comparisons of any sort are too limiting – Clarence Clarity is unlike anybody else. Exactly what he’s on about at any given moment I have no idea, but enjoying the confusion and disorientation is part of the fun of ‘No Now’.

Those who Can’t, Cheat

Laura Marling – Short Movie

I am an unashamed fan of Laura Marling – this is her fifth album, and all five have made my top tens of their respective years. This album keeps the pace of her extraordinary career so far, continuing her development as an observational songwriter and formidable performer. This time around, she wrote the album during her time living in California, and it is infused with the existential ennui that so many others have discovered in the Mojave Desert. The album’s best track is ‘False Hope’, in which she is trapped in a NYC apartment during Hurricane Sandy, bemoaning the noise from downstairs in full Barton Fink style. Five great albums by the age of 25, it’s really quite annoying.

I Feel your Love

Sleaford Mods – Key Markets

It’s been a long time coming, but this is finally the year that the Sleaford Mods became an unignorable presence on the British independent music scene. ‘Key Markets’ is their eighth album, and their transparent fury at the fuckers that are in control of their country has never been clearer. Christ knows what American listeners make of Jason Williamson’s references to Nick Clegg or Lauren Laverne, but why should they understand it. This is music written honestly from the point of view of two angry, forty-something punk rockers who refuse to grow old quietly. If anything, it is depressing that there is not a lot more music coming out of the UK in 2015 like this.

No One’s Bothered



Tame Impala – Let It Happen

Viet Cong – Continental Shelf

Alabama Shakes – Don’t Wanna Fight

Jamie Woon – Sharpness

LoneLady – Groove It Out

Missy Elliott (ft. Pharrell) – WTF (Where They From)

Roots Manuva – Don’t Breathe Out

The Chemical Brothers – Go

Bjork – Stonemilker

Deerhunter – Snakeskin



Richard Dawson at Soup Kitchen

I went to this gig on a trusted recommendation, with very little knowledge about Dawson. I came away with my new favourite artist. His most recent album ‘Nothing Important’ alas came out last year, or else it would be very near the top of my 2015 list. His ability to channel the spirit of traditional North Eastern English folk music is almost supernatural – he appears to lose control of his body at times. His crowd interaction is also the best I have seen this year, and having seen him twice since this gig, I am counting the days until his next tour.

Mikal Cronin at Sound Control

One of the most bizarre and most memorable gigs I have attended in years. The brilliant Mikal Cronin managed somehow only to draw 44 fans to his show – so few that I was able to count them exactly. The gig was consequently held in the downstairs bar area, a small space that was still too big for the vanishingly modest turnout. And yet, the bizarre circumstances actually became the reason that this was so special. Cronin and band realised all the more acutely the passion of the fans who did show up, and staged a magnificent set comprised of songs predominantly from his brilliant last two albums.

Mac DeMarco at Albert Hall

The Albert Hall took the unusual step of opening its doors at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon this September, and by the time I arrived several hours later, the place was understandably merry and ready to be entertained. When Mac DeMarco took the stage, the place was giddy with anticipation, and he and his band fed off it brilliantly. As the crowd impressively overcame their inebriation to remember the words to even the most obscure of DeMarco album tracks, I can honestly say this was the best crowd that I was a part of in 2015.

D’Angelo at The Apollo

When D’Angelo rushed forward the release of ‘Black Messiah’ shortly before Christmas last year, it took the world by surprise. Shortly thereafter, a tour was announced, and many people of my generation had for the first time the opportunity to watch the great man perform live. The show did not disappoint, with D’Angelo channeling the tantric stage persona of James Brown, whilst enjoying the backing of an extraordinary band, most notably the great Pino Palladino on bass.

Flying Lotus at Academy 1

This was much closer to a club night in spirit than a gig – the main didn’t begin until after the customary gig curfew of 11pm. Flying Lotus conducted his electro-hip-hop magic from inside a giant projected laser-cube, the physical realities of which I am still none the wiser about. The interactive digital graphics projected onto the backdrop were every bit as psychedelic and frenetic as FlyLo’s fascinating music, and on stage contributions from Thundercat were rapturously received. Highlight of the night was probably the inclusion of Kendrick’s ‘Wesley’s Theory’, which was produced by FlyLo, and which was fresh in minds at the time.

Max Pilley

I'm a refugee in Manchester, having successfully escaped Birmingham in 2007. I'm a soon-to-be journalism student, used to edit the music section of the Manchester Uni paper, and have done a little radio production to boot. I've been adding bits and pieces to Silent Radio since 2012, mostly gig reviews, but a few albums too. Also hoping now to get involved with the brilliant radio show. When doing none of that, you can usually find me at some gig venue somewhere around town.